Let’s take a look in this entry at Stephen Gardiner—yet another English Churchman who sided with Henry VIII in his break from Rome but later regretted the choice and stood firm against the tendencies to introduce Protestant doctrine and liturgy in the Church of England.
|Gardiner's Cathedral at |
It is interesting that Henry was seeking a treat against the interests of Charles just at the time when he was beginning his efforts to divorce Charles’ aunt, Katherine of Aragon. This political maneuvering only served to harden Charles’ efforts against Henry and his policies and Charles’ resistance to the sought-after annulment. In many ways Henry mismanaged the politics of his sought-after annulment but he did have an able agent in Gardiner. Gardiner was sent by Henry on a number of diplomatic efforts to win support for “The King’s Great Matter,” i.e. the annulment. In 1528 Gardiner was sent to the papal court where his superior knowledge of canon law served him well on Henry’s behalf, but as Clement was determined for reasons of his own—and Medici interest—not to give Henry the annulment under any circumstances, ultimately Gardiner failed in his mission. Henry appreciated his efforts, however, and made sure he was given a number of prestigious Church positions with generous salaries. (Henry was not one to pay his agents out of his own pocket.) In 1531 Gardiner went to his alma mater, the University of Cambridge, to convince the university to support the King’s claim that the marriage to Katherine was against Divine Law and he was successful in his arguments. This was not as easy an effort as might be supposed as Katherine was very popular and the Boleyn faction was deeply resented, but the King hoped that if the leading universities of Europe—and Cambridge was one—supported his case from a legal stance, that the papacy would be forced to grant the annulment. Again, Henry did not realize that Clement was anxious to please the Emperor in the hopes of forging a marriage between his (Clement’s) illegitimate son Allesandro and the Emperor’s illegitimate daughter, Margaret, which would restore the Medici to power in Florence. In the end, an apparition of Christ in Glory could not have gotten Henry his annulment. Henry appreciated Gardiner’s winning over Cambridge and rewarded him by naming him Bishop of Winchester. As the break with Rome had not yet taken place, the appointment was submitted to the Pope for approval and approval was given in the hopes of placating Henry. However, the following year Gardiner showed his independence from Henry by writing the “Answer of the Ordinaries”—the collective response of the English Bishops to the complaints about the Church that Henry was trying to use as leverage to force the bishops into compliance with his plans.
Gardiner supported the King in his case for an annulment and it was his legal skill that Thomas Cranmer drew on in issuing the annulment of May 1533. Moreover, Gardiner—the canon lawyer—drew up the appeal over the Pope to a General Council that Henry was contemplating to win his annulment. In 1535 Gardiner wrote the treatise De vera obedientia (Concerning authentic obedience) to provide a canonical justification for Henry’s being head of the Church. And he wrote Henry’s response to Clement when Clement threatened to depose Henry as King.
Gardiner was supportive of Henry but he was also an ardent foe of Protestant ideas coming from the Continent. Gardiner was one of the staunchest proponents of the 1536 “Six Articles” which was an attempt to check the spread of Protestant doctrines in England. He also smelled the rat of heresy in Cranmer and tried—unsuccessfully— to expose Cranmer as a heretic in hopes that Henry would turn against his Archbishop.
Cranmer was a crypto-Protestant and Henry knew it, but as much as Henry did not want the Church to fall away from its Catholic practices, he needed Cranmer to support the Royal Supremacy. Henry ignored Cranmer’s Protestant sympathies and Cranmer, as long as Henry was alive, did not deviate from Catholic practices—at least in public.
Once Henry was dead however, the battle between the Catholic party headed by Gardiner and the Duke of Norfolk and the Protestant party headed by Cranmer and the Duke of Somerset, uncle to the new king, broke out in full force. Even before Henry’s death, Norfolk had been charged with treason and imprisoned where he remained through the reign of the new king. After Henry’s death, Gardiner was deprived of his see and himself imprisoned for resisting the innovations that Cranmer was introducing into the liturgy.
Things change and the young Edward VI died but a boy. His older half-sister Mary succeeded him and was determined to restore the Catholic faith. Gardiner was one of Henry’s bishops she brought out of prison and restored to their sees with the blessing of the Pope. Stephen Gardiner died while Mary was still on the throne and was buried in his cathedral of Winchester. His tomb, an impressive piece of Italian renaissance masonry, can still be seen today. Gardiner was succeeded by John White who was deprived of his see and imprisoned when Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558.
Stephen Gardiner was another of those men who were Catholic at heart but whose ambition and loyalty to the crown blinded them to the possibilities of what might happen when the Church of England was removed from the universal communion. This is the problem at which we need to look. We will see that the Church of England, once it was removed from the Roman Communion, became, well, English. It became identified exclusively with the national interest of England and its crown and lost an identity that transcended the particularities of race and politics. We will see that the Church of England had some great vitality in the latter sixteenth century and in the seventeenth century, but that vitality could not be sustained because it was isolated from the wider experience of Christendom. The same thing happened to some extent to the Roman Church as it lost so much of its vitality in northern Europe and it became very, well, Italian. Fortunately for us Catholics, while the papacy fell victim to this narrow nationalism, branches of the Catholic Church that survived in Eastern Europe, in Ireland, in Spain and its colonies, and elsewhere managed to develop their own specific traditions and identities as well and would balance out the baroque enthusiasm of Italian Catholicism. In fact, an English Catholic Church would survive—somewhat underground—and develop very differently than the more Italianate papacy. That English Church would bring Catholicism to the Americas and plant a very non-Roman sort of Catholicism in Maryland and Pennsylvania and provide the roots for an American Catholic Church today. In many ways the Maryland Catholicism in which the American Church has its roots is somewhat shaped by the Puritan sobriety that would characterize Anglicanism in and after the reign of Elizabeth I and the conflict between this more restrained Catholicism and the exuberant immigrant Catholicism that would come with later waves of immigrants from Italy, Germany, and Eastern Europe manifests itself in the conflicts within American Catholicism today.