England is a very interesting country. It is a nation who’s Empire once spanned the globe and spread English values to the farthest reaches of the Earth. I live in Canada which was founded as an English colony. The country also has a very rich Catholic history. If you were to visit England 500 years ago, you would have seen about 900 religious houses throughout the country. These included monasteries, abbeys, priories, convents, friaries, and other religious houses. The religious life was by no means restricted to the clergy. They played a large role in the life, culture, and economy of England. What happened to this rich Catholic monastic life?
Basically in the 1530’s Thomas Cromwell managed to manipulate King Henry VIII into breaking with the Catholic Church. Cromwell and his cronies then annexed all of the religious houses in England, looted their properties and their treasuries. A clear violation of the eighth commandment. Not to mention, it had an immediate impact on English life as many poor and homeless would often receive food and shelter from these monasteries.
When one reads Hilaire Belloc’s book How the Reformation Happened, he clearly focuses the blame mostly on Cromwell and not Henry VIII. Apparently in the 1540’s, England was still mostly Catholic in terms of theology. According to Belloc, if you were walking the streets of England in the 1540’s while Henry VIII was still alive, the average person would have professed Catholicism and simply said that the King and Pope were having some issues. Belloc even suggests that toward the end of his life, Henry VIII probably wanted to reunite with the Pope. Unfortunately this didn’t happen. Though Henry VIII eventually turned on Cromwell and executed him, the King died before re-unification could happen and Britain slowly slipped into Protestantism over the next 100 years.
In the 1800’s there was a huge Catholic revival in England called the Oxford Movement. Honest scholars in England recognized that the Church of England had no history and was essentially a fake Church. They then began to dig into the Church fathers. This resulted in waves of British intellectuals converting to Catholicism. Many of them even became staunch Catholic apologists such as John Henry Newman, Henry Edward Manning, Dom John Chapman, Adrian Fortescue, Frederick William Faber, GK Chesterton and this is just getting started. Many more could be named.
England has also graced the Church and the world through many Saints. These include, St. Edmund Campion, St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher, St. Thomas Beckett and the great Doctor of the Church Bede the Venerable from the 8th Century.
Why do I mention all of this? I do simply because England now has a choice to make. The Church of England will be dead within our lifetimes. It’s on its last few gasps. Where will England go from here? Islam is certainly a possibility as England has a growing and zealous minority of Muslims. An even greater danger is secularism. Britain certainly has a lot of atheists like Richard Dawkins who would like to see all religion in England gone. Another probability is that England could return to its Catholic roots. For 900 years, England was staunchly Catholic. It has a much longer history under Catholicism than it does under Protestantism. I believe it’s time for England to abandon Cromwell’s experiment and return home. The clergy of England could join the Anglican Ordinariate and correct the mistake that they made almost 500 years ago. The Douay-Rheims Bible can replace the King James Bible as the Bible of the common man. The Book of Common Prayer can be retired and consigned to the museum where it belongs. It’s all possible. It could happed. Let’s all pray for it!