Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Henry VIII in Hell? wonders Rowan Williams

Of course, it's an open question as Rowan Williams puts it. We don't know who is in Hell or if anyone is. It's better that we concentrate on who is in Heaven, who has gone before us in holiness. But it's just an interesting notion that the Archbishop of Canterbury wonders if the founder of the Church of England was saved by the prayers of a man condemned because he would not accept the king's majestic authority and control of the Church in England:

"If Henry VIII is saved (an open question perhaps) it will be at the prayers of John Houghton. If any persecutor is saved it is at the prayers of their victim. If humanity is saved, it is by the grace of the cross of Jesus Christ and all those martyrs who have followed in his path."

If we wonder where Elizabeth I is now, Heaven or Hell, would it be by the prayers of one or many of those Catholic priests so hideously tortured and executed during her reign that she enjoys paradise? Or Mary I, one of the victims at the stake (if they ever did utter such prayers)?

Archbishop also cites H.F.M. Prescott's novel, The Man on A Donkey, reflecting on Robert Aske hanging in chains from York Castle in his agony:

In one of the great historical novels of the twentieth century, Hilda Prescott's 'The Man on a Donkey' we follow the events around the Pilgrimage of Grace, events around the time, of course, of the martyrdoms we commemorate today. And towards the end of that extraordinary novel, we watch and listen to Robert Aske, the leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace, in his last anguished moments, hanging in chains from the Keep of the Castle in York: "God did not now nor would in any furthest future prevail. Once he had come and died. If he came again, again he would die, and again and so forever, by his own will, rendered powerless against the free and evil wills of men. Then Aske met the full assault of darkness without reprieve of hoped for light, for God ultimately vanquished was no God at all. But yet, though God was not God, as the head of the dung worm turns, so his spirit turned blindly, gropingly, hopelessly loyal, towards that good, that holy, that merciful - which though not God, though vanquished - was still the last dear love of a vanquished and tortured man."


"Robert Aske hangs in chains still, but (as Hilda Prescott Prescott's novel portrays it) a discovery has been made as he falls from level to level of despair and desire 'For now, yet with no greater fissure between then and now, and as a man's eyes are aware where no star was of the first star of night, now he was aware of One, vanquished God, Saviour who could as little save others as himself. But now, beside him and beyond, was nothing - and he was silence and light.'"

The Archbishop made these comments in his sermon on May 4, commemorating the Carthusian martyrs, an annual observance since 2004. This year was the 475th anniversary of their executions.
The entire sermon is an interesting meditation on the Cross of Christ standing at the center of the world.


  1. Very interesting!!!

  2. You might notice that the Prior is holding his heart in his hand. At his martyrdom, being hung, drawn, and quartered, he cried out, "Jesus, what will you do with my heart?" The artist is Francisco de Zurbaran, who also painted "The Bound Lamb" and "Saint Serapion" and was featured in the exhibits of Spanish Art in London, Indianapolis, and Washington, DC.

  3. Ah John Houghton - relative of Fr. Bryan Houghton, right?