Sunday, November 17, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church LII

A question to consider is: Should Henry have gotten his annulment? 

Martin Luther defended
Katherine's cause against
an annulment.
The refusal of the annulment was purely political and shaped by the interplay of Medici and Imperial policies.  (Pope Clement VII was a Medici and Katherine was the aunt of the Emperor Charles V.)  Did Henry’s case have sufficient merits that he should have, if it had not been for the political aims of the Medici Pope, Clement VII, received an annulment from his marriage to Katherine of Aragon?
Before we go directly to that issue, we need to look at Katherine’s claims that her marriage to Henry’s brother, Arthur, had not been consummated.  Arthur was fifteen when they married; Katherine sixteen.  They were both in good health.  The marriage was solemnized and the couple was publicly bedded with prayers and a blessing by William Warham, then Bishop of London.   The marriage lasted only five months before Arthur died of a malady, probably influenza, which Katherine survived.  Although the Bride and Groom were young by today’s standards, it would be probable that the marriage had been consummated, but….
In order to obtain the required papal dispensation to marry the brother of her deceased husband, Katherine swore an oath that the marriage had not been consummated.  Now Katherine had plenty of reason to swear this oath—it was very much to her advantage as it involved both inheriting a crown and attaining a husband with whom she was in love.  But…in an age and in a court-culture where duplicity was the routine form of communication, Katherine stands as a monument to an inflexible integrity.  For her whole life Katherine could be counted on to tell the truth no matter what the cost; she was incapable of dishonesty.  If Katherine said the marriage was not consummated—you can take it to the bank. 
Shortly before her death, Katherine herself—in a frenzy of anguish about the consequences of her refusal to cooperate in the annulment process— acknowledged to the Imperial ambassador that had she ‘gone quietly’ i.e. acceded to the annulment, Henry would have been granted it.  She is undoubtedly right.  The annulment would have been granted, however, not on its merits but for political reason even as it was denied for political reasons.  Uncontested annulments of various royal marriages were routinely granted through the period before the Council of Trent—and often afterwards as well as in the case of Napoleon and Josephine’s marriage to permit Napoleon to marry Marie Louise of Austria in hopes of an heir. 
Thomas Cromwell in 1530 suggested to Henry that he poll the canon law faculties of the universities of Europe for opinions regarding the annulment.  The overwhelming response was in favor of the King’s argument.  While academics were always looking for patronage and Henry was in a better position to grant patronage than Katherine, they had to offer sound arguments in the King’s favor and many credible tracts were produced.  It was all a bit of a charade however as the universities did not have the power to grant annulments and while their arguments were meant to push the Pope into the King’s corner, Clement’s own political  interests made such pressure irrelevant to his decision.  Nevertheless, the Universities showed that credible canonical arguments could be made.  On the other hand, had Katherine been in a position to offer patronage, she too would have found her support among the academics.  Bishop Fisher, one of the leading voices of Church reform in England and a good theologian and canonist, went to the scaffold for defending the marriage. 
Curiously enough, two voices in favor of Katherine and the marriage were Martin Luther and William Tyndale.  We all know the former.  The latter was an English priest who was a pioneer in introducing Protestant thought into England in the 1520’s.  Tyndale provided an early translation of the Bible into English for the common folk to read.  Tyndale was arrested and executed in the Netherlands for his Protestant ideas in 1536, the year of Katherine’s death.  Both Luther and Tyndale said that it was unscriptural for Henry to end his marriage, but then each of them wanted to make the point that the Pope didn’t have the authority to over-rule the scriptural adjunction that what God has joined, man must not divide. 
In the end, I think we can say that were it not for Imperial/Medici politics trumping English politics, Henry would have gotten his annulment.  I also think, however—and I am not a canon lawyer—that for him to have gotten the annulment would have been a gross miscarriage of justice.  In the end, Katherine is vindicated.    

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