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The Truth about the English Reformation

Fifth  Session:    The English Reformation

July 14, 2015    7:00-8:30 p.m.    Heiring Auditorium


Anglo-American culture has been anti-Catholic for almost 500 years – ever since the English Reformation.

Henry VIII

  • Henry VIII and his many wives (was one of them his daughter?) …
  • St. Thomas More (did he really keep a torture chamber in his home?) …
  • Thomas Cranmer, liturgist and liar …
  • The romantic and tragic Mary Queen of Scots …
  • Cecil, a disfigured villain (Shakespeare’s Richard III in the flesh) …
  • Shakespeare himself (was he a closet Catholic?) …
  • The mysterious Marlowe, playwright and double agent …
  • Jesuits and the “Gunpowder Plot” …
  • Oliver Cromwell and the Irish Holocaust (why do they get far less attention than Hitler and the Jewish Holocaust?) …

Colorful and controversial, the English Reformation still lives all around us.

Every Christian – Catholic or Protestant – needs to know these things. Questions, commend and arguments are welcome.

The last session in this series is on August 11, 2015: The Results of the Reformation.



Who started the English Reformation?
King Henry VIII, and his two chief minions, Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell.

We’ve all heard of King Henry VIII; but who was Thomas Cranmer?
Cranmer wrote the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.  He was also the most dishonest man I’ve ever heard of.  The casuistry and equivocation of the Jesuits were nothing compared to Cranmer.

And Thomas Cromwell was a Puritan warlord who became dictator of England, right?
No, that was Oliver Cromwell, a later member of the same family.  Thomas Cromwell helped create Anglicanism; Oliver Cromwell tried to replace it with Puritanism.  Thomas was bad; Oliver was worse.

Why did King Henry VIII break with the Pope?
Henry wanted two things the Pope wouldn’t give him:  (1) a second queen (and then a third, and a fourth…); and (2) the wealth held by the English church.

Anne Boleyn was King Henry VIII’s second queen.  Was she also King Henry VIII’s daughter?
There is some evidence–gossip based on association–that Anne Boleyn was Henry VIII’s daughter before she became his wife.  This evidence is as strong (or as weak) as the evidence of the alleged misdeeds of Pope Alexander VI.  If people believe all those lurid tales about Pope Alexander, they should also believe that Henry VIII married his own daughter.  If people refuse to believe that Henry VIII married his own daughter, they should also refuse to believe all those lurid tales about “the Borgia Pope”.

Was the English church corrupt?
Some churchmen are always corrupt.  The English Cardinal and Chancellor, Thomas Wolsey, was notoriously worldly; and some English monasteries deserved to be reformed or suppressed.  But whatever its faults, the English church was not as corrupt as the English secular regime, which used “reformation” as an excuse to pander to Henry VIII’s lust and greed.

What did King Henry VIII do with the Church’s property?
He sold it to rich usurers, who became the new English aristocracy, more corrupt and oppressive than Catholic churchmen had ever been.  Then he used the proceeds to create the British Navy.

Did St. Thomas More really keep a torture chamber in his own home?
This is a popular Protestant slander, but there is no reliable evidence to support it.  However, one of Queen Elizabeth I’s Protestant minions really did keep a torture chamber in his own home.

Was St. Thomas More perfect?
No.  Nobody’s perfect.  More was a lawyer-politician who could be just as slippery as any other lawyer-politician.  More is a saint, not because he was perfect, but because he finally chose to do the right thing even at the cost of his life.

Wasn’t the Anglican Church actually established, not by King Henry VIII, but by Queen Elizabeth I?
Elizabeth finished what Henry had begun.  But Henry began it, and Elizabeth finished it along the course that Henry had already set.

Was Queen Elizabeth I a great queen?
She had good points and bad points.  English patriots and modern feminists have exaggerated her good points and minimized her bad points.  The real masterminds behind Elizabeth’s throne were William Cecil and his son Robert.  The Cecils kept Elizabeth in power by turning England into a police state.  Elizabeth died miserably, abandoned by her courtiers and despised by her subjects.

Was Shakespeare a closet Catholic?
Not positively, but probably.

And what about Christopher Marlowe…?
Most people have never heard of him.  Marlowe, like Shakespeare, was a playwright.  He was also a secret agent of some sort in the murky Elizabethan underworld of religious plots and persecutions.

Did Jesuits equivocate?
In an attempt to dodge the English police without telling outright lies, some Jesuits “equivocated”, i.e. made ambiguous statements which they hoped their questioners would misunderstand.  Equivocation was later repudiated by the Jesuit Order and by the Catholic Church as a whole.  However, the Jesuits at their worst were not as bad as Thomas Cranmer, author of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.  Cranmer’s career of duplicity, hypocrisy, betrayal, and bare-faced perjury is unmatched in all history as far as I know.

What is Jesuit casuistry?
Casuistry means “the study of cases”.  It refers to any legal or ethical system which allows general rules to be adapted to particular circumstances.  English anti-Catholic myth portrays Jesuits as having overly flexible principles.  So in English, “casuistry” or “Jesuitical casuistry” are Bad Words.  Yet the ordinary English and American legal systems are more casuist than Jesuit ethics ever were.

Did any Catholics resist the English Reformation?
Yes.  In England, overt resistance was crushed by Henry VIII’s military forces, while covert resistance was crushed by Elizabeth I’s police state.  In Scotland, Catholicism was suppressed over the course of about 200 years.  In Ireland, Catholicism held on, although Irish Catholics were almost exterminated.

Why are the Irish…well…the way they are?
In the 1600s, Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans tried to exterminate Irish Catholics by a combination of massacre and starvation.  Uncounted numbers died–probably millions.
But some survived.  In the 1800s, the British government tried starving them again.  Some still survived.  Their descendants seem to have become a bit surly.  Can we blame them?

We’ve all heard about Hitler’s Jewish Holocaust.  Why haven’t we heard so much fuss about these Irish Holocausts?
Good question.

Have Catholics in the British Isles ever resorted to terrorism?
Yes.  In the “Gunpowder Plot”, a few desperate English Catholics tried to blow up King James I and the British Parliament.  More recently, the Irish Republican Army (“IRA”) made itself notorious.

Was such terrorism justified?
No.  Terrorism is never justified.  The Catholic Church did not sponsor the “Gunpowder Plot” and never approved of the IRA.

Didn’t a Jesuit priest defend, and evidently approve of, the “Gunpowder Plot”?
No.  The English executed a Jesuit priest because he refused to reveal the “Gunpowder Plot” after one of the plotters confessed it to him.  The priest defended the seal of the confessional; he did not approve of the crime-in-the-making which was confessed to him.

Why did Reformation succeed in England?
The English Reformation was imposed from above–forced by the government, the wealthy, and a few Protestant zealots on a mostly-unwilling populace.  A good deal of force was used; but in the long run, most Englishmen accepted Reformation because Catholic externals were maintained as cover for a gradual Protestantizing.

Did Reformation make England better?
Depends on what you mean by “better”.  The English state, and the upper levels of English society, became richer and more powerful.  The new Navy made England a formidable military power.  Capitalism got out of control.  England’s medieval Catholic social safety net was demolished; the lower classes, both rural and urban, were impoverished; and “Merrie England” became an industrial slum.

What’s wrong with this whole picture?
In effect, Protestants say they reject Catholicism because they cannot accept people like Pope Alexander VI and Cardinal Wolsey as leaders of the Church.  But they accept people like King Henry VIII, Cranmer and the two Cromwells, who were worse than any bad Catholic churchmen, as leaders of the Reformation.  It shows phoney the usual excuses for the Reformation are.

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