Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Foundatios of the Anglican Church XXV

Henry VII Tudor
Well, our story of the Church of England is coming to its crunch—the break with Rome.  We have seen that there has been an uniquely English Church since at least the second century with the early Christian communities in York, Chester, London, and other Roman towns.  These local churches were in communion with the Church at Rome but, given the geographic distance, were quite independent of it.   While they maintained the same beliefs as Christian communities throughout the Empire, they selected their own bishops, developed their own liturgy, and maintained their own practices. At this point of history, the Church at Rome and its bishop served as a focus of unity and orthodoxy among Christians around the known world but did not in any way supervise the vast network of Christian communities stretching from India in the east to Britain in the west.  This English Church only marginally survived the Anglo-Saxon invasions and did so with an infusion of leadership and vitality from the Irish Church which also has an ancient and very distinct (from the Continental Churches, most especially from the Roman Church) history.  This is not to say that the English or Irish Churches were not in communion with Continental Churches but it is to remember that they had their own peculiar customs and rites as well as a hierarchy that was not influenced (much less appointed) by Rome.
We also saw that with Augustine’s mission, sent by Gregory the Great, a second strain of Christianity, one that was influenced by Rome, was introduced into Britain and that it took a while for the these two strains to join together and that in their joining together the English Church retained its ancient rites of Sarum, York, Hereford, and Lincoln as well as a variety of distinctly English customs and usages.  And while the devotion of the Anglo Saxon kings and faithful to Saint Peter strengthened the bonds of England with the papacy, the policy of later kings such as Henry II, John, Edward I, Edward III and Richard II, was to enact legislation limiting papal power in England.  Note, “limiting” not “eliminating.”   The royal policy was to protect the rights of the King in England against intrusions whereby appeals were made over the King to Papal authority both in secular and ecclesial matters.  The Kings saw themselves as governors of the Church as well as of the State, but remember in the Middle Ages, Church and State were inextricably joined in the reality of the nationhood. 
One of the crucial areas where papal and royal authority came into conflict was over the naming of bishops.  While bishops were “elected” by their Cathedral Chapters, both the Crown and the Papacy demanded a voice in the election.  Nominations to a See were usually carefully negotiated so that both King and Pope were satisfied.  However, with the 1393 Statute of Praemunire (there was a 1353 Statute of the same name and a 1306 Statute of Provisors that provided a foundation for these later acts) it was explicitly claimed to be the right of the King alone to “present” candidates for ecclesiastical preferment.  Moreover, the same act declared that "… if any purchase or pursue, or cause to be purchased or pursued in the court of Rome, or elsewhere, any such translations, processes, and sentences of excommunications, bulls, instruments or any other things whatsoever ... he and his notaries, abettors and counsellors" shall be put out of the king's protection, and their lands escheat.” It was forbidden by these various statutes as well for any Englishman to pay any tax or fees to powers outside the realm.   While such was the law, Rome expected its due and in fact the Crown looked the other way while English churchmen applied for their appointments to be confirmed by Rome and while they, the English churchmen, paid the appropriate (or at times, inappropriate) fees to the Roman Curia.   So what we in fact have is a dual allegiance of the Church to both Crown and Papacy and, while the law claimed, or attempted to claim, one thing, in fact the relations of the English Church and Rome were quite cordial and correct.
There was political trouble in England, however.  In 1399 Henry Bolingbroke seized and deposed his cousin, Richard II and claimed the throne for himself.  Richard was a weak and vacillating man at a time when England needed a strong king and Bolingbroke was strong; nevertheless, Bolingbroke—now Henry IV—did not have as strong a claim to the throne as did Edward Mortimer and England entered a period of political instability and civil war.  Henry IV’s grandson, Henry VI, himself was overthrown by Edward Duke of York, a descendent of Edward III.  This was the period known as the Wars of the Roses—the conflicts between the House of York (the white rose) and the House of Lancaster (the red rose).  The Wars of the Roses came to an end when in 1485 Henry Tudor (a Lancastrian) defeated Richard III (of York) who himself had seized the throne by murdering his nephew, Edward V, a boy of twelve. 
To cement the peace, Henry (a Lancastrian) married Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV.  (A curious side note:  The portrait of Elizabeth of York is the model for the four queens of playing cards: Spades, Clubs, Diamonds, and Hearts.)   
The point of all this is that England, after 1485, was in a newly found and yet unstable peace.  HenryVII Tudor was on the throne but there were other claimants whose rights, by strict rules of primogeniture, were stronger.  Civil War was always a possibility.  England was still a feudal state with a strong nobility and should leading men of that nobility desert King Henry for another claimant such as Edward Plantagenet, the Earl of Warwick or the brothers Edmund and John de la Pole, Dukes of Suffolk, Henry could have been in deep trouble.  In fact, well into the reign of Henry’s son, Henry VIII, the House of Tudor had to worry about maintaining their hold on the Crown.  Political stability was the chief policy of all the Tudors.  And it was the need for political stability in England that would eat away at the bonds of union between the Church of England and the Catholic Communion.  

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