Anglican apology


This week’s article discusses the Catholicity of the Universal Church. I have been writing an article about the church as a whole in a continued hope for Christian unity. But this week, something more pressing caught my attention.

The Church of England shared a link to its “History of the Church of England” page on social media. The post caused a backlash that led to the CofE banning replies on Twitter.

The relevant tweet read: “The Church of England is the Christian Church in England.

Our roots go back to the days of the Roman Empire, when the Church was founded in what was then the Province of Britain.

To learn more about our history, visit http://cofe.io/OurHistory.

One might think this is quite friendly until one reads the reply, especially one from a Roman Catholic. The boiling atmosphere really caught me off guard. Now, anyone who follows my work will realize that I have no love for the Church of England as an institution. I left a few years ago after a pretty public fight, so there wasn’t any love lost between us. However, they are correct on this point. The history of the Church of England is far more interesting and nuanced than the revisionist view that “fat dandy Henry VIII invented a new church and that the Church of England has no Catholic roots”.

Regular readers will know that my theology is incredibly Catholic. Most Protestants thought I was a piece of cake away from swimming the Tiber. I have a problem with contemporary interpretations of papal supremacy. This week I learned that there is another dogma that I do not share with my Roman brethren, and that is the outright denial of the Catholic roots of Anglicanism.

Henry VIII was responsible for some horrific atrocities. Eamon Duffy describes them well in his book Stripping the Altar. The Dissolution of the Monasteries was one of the worst crimes in English history – absolutely horrific. I’ve written before about how the Reformation was a mistake. Any church division is not conducive to Christian unity; the body of Christ should be whole.

That is, Henry VIII was a human being, a fallen individual, just like the rest of us. History is not black and white and we can paint him as the villain all day long. But it’s important to look at history holistically and focus on the big picture. His corruption did not rob the Church of its heritage. Even he doesn’t have that strength.

In retrospect, much of the chaos in the history of the English church could have been avoided if Pope Clement VII had annulled Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and given him the opportunity to father a son who would produce an heir to the throne. The Pope will not set a precedent. This may be a political decision rather than a theological one. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, nephew of Queen Catherine, took control of Rome. The Pope therefore refused to dissolve Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine, but unfortunately this had nothing to do with the sanctity of marriage. But this is neither here nor there.

Henry VIII was a Catholic king. The current king of England is called Fidei Defensor because Parliament bestowed this title on Henry VIII and his successors for their defense of the Anglican faith. But before that, Pope Leo X awarded it to Henry VIII in recognition of his book Assertio Septem Sacramentorum. In The Defense of the Seven Sacraments, Henry VIII outlined the importance of the sacraments in what has been called “one of the most successful works of Catholic polemic produced by the first generation of anti-Protestant writers”. Henry VIII called Martin Luther a heretic – which is ironic considering how many Anglicans worship Luther today.

As an incredible Catholic, Henry VIII did not set out to create a Protestant church, certainly not in the same form as the Protestant churches of continental Europe.

Henry VIII still divorced and secretly married again. He was excommunicated and in return he separated the English Church from Roman authority. In 1536, Henry VIII approved his Ten Articles of Religion, which became the basis of the Bishops’ Book (also known as the Christian Institution). Over the next three years, this work developed into The King’s Book, which contained six religious articles from the Church of England, “which reaffirmed the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, the taking from the hands of the laity during Holy Communion, The rationality of the Holy Grail, the religious beliefs of the clergy.” Celibacy, observance of vows of chastity, permission for private masses, and the importance of ear-to-mouth confession. ” [1539] This is not your grandmother’s Protestantism.

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