The Catholic Soul of England

Glastonbury Abbey – A Monastery that stood for over 800 years before Cromwell executed the Abbot and looted the treasury

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!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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5 thoughts on “The Catholic Soul of England

  1. Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII were mostly political change agents; not spiritual. The whole thing by Cromwell and Henry VIII was his motivation for annulment and divorces and a male heir and any political intrigue connected with gaining political power.

    The real founders of the Reformation in England were the spirituality of Thomas Cranmer (executed by Bloody Mary), William Tyndale (executed in Belgium following Henry VIII’s orders, despite Thomas Cromwell’s attempt to intervene), counselors to Edward VI and Elizabeth 1, and many of the almost 300 martyrs that Bloody Mary put to death, including John Rogers, Thomas Bilney, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, etc.

    The Douay-Rheims Bible is not a good translation of the Bible, since the NT is not a translation from the original Greek, but from the Latin Vulgate. An example of a terrible translation is of Matthew 4:17 – “do penance”, one of the great mistakes in the history of the church from Jerome’s time to the Reformation. The Greek word is better translated, “repent” and involves an inward change of heart and mind, a inward turning. The “doing” of truly good deeds are the results of true repentance. But the “do penance” of Roman Catholicism carries the connotation of doing the rituals or deeds (prayers to Mary, pilgrimages, trafficking in relics, giving alms to the poor, crawling up steps, etc.) that the priest requires one to do in order to get satisfaction and forgiveness of sins, after contrition and confession to the RC priest.

    • Hello,

      Thanks for the feedback. I partially disagree with your first statement. I think Cromwell was a spiritual agent who used Henry VIII for political purposes. This is at least how Belloc portrays it. I think Henry VIII was essentially Catholic in theology as he kept the liturgical and sacramental rites fully intact during his lifetime. Again, I’m going off Belloc here. However, I do agree that those you mentioned were the ones who promoted Protestant theology in England. I’m actually surprised that you left out one of the most important ones – Richard Bayfield.

      I have posts dedicated to the DR Bible and why it should be used so I won’t get into that here.

      I will ask one thing of you though. Do you know a book on the history of the English Reformation that is not super biased in favor of their side? They’re hard to find. You have Hilaire Belloc and William Cobbett as the super biased Catholics and John Foxe as the super biased Protestant. Do you know any fair and balanced literature on the English reformation?

      • I agree with you that Henry VIII remained Roman Catholic in his theology and belief per your statement.

        I think Henry VIII was essentially Catholic in theology as he kept the liturgical and sacramental rites fully intact during his lifetime.

        Thanks for the info on Richard Bayfield – interesting! I am not an expert on all the individuals involved.

        I don’t know of an unbiased history of the English Reformation that I have read all the way through. But some Protestant professors have recommended Diarmond MacCullough’s works ( he has written on the English Reformation, Thomas Cranmer, Edward VI, and the Reformation in general, among other works – google him and see the reviews at Amazon also). (see also the Wikipedia article on him – he also is credited with a BBC film about Thomas Cromwell.)
        I have Diarmond MacCullough’s “The Reformation” but I have not read it all, only skipped around. I got disappointed in it because of the lack of exact quotes in references, although the author is indeed knowledgable. It is a massive treatment (792 pages- but is about all the Reformation and background and surrounding events and politics, not just the English side.)

        Some of the reviews of his book, The Reformation, say it is excellent and even in treatment of both the Protestant side and R.Catholic side.

        Another thing I found out later, after purchasing his book on The Reformation, is that he is a homosexual (he self-identifies as “gay”), and that, I admit, made it negative for me; (but it is possible that he has, as much as humanly possible, I suppose, kept that separate from his analysis of history) but as I look at it again, he does not take the Protestant side; he seems to be even in his criticism of both sides. But, I have not read the whole thing. I am going to use the index more to get to issues that interest me, as it is a big book.

          • I actually have heard of him and did know that he was a homosexual. Looking at him on Wikipedia though it seems he really focuses on the reformation in England which is exactly what I’m looking for right now.

            I always thought that he was a generic reformation historian, as in he covered it all; he does in some of his books but as Wikipedia indicates he has a lot specifically on the English reformation which is what I’m really trying to study now. I’m not focusing that much on the continental reformation(as Anglicans call it) right now.

            Thanks for the reference.