Thursday, February 9, 2012

More on the HHS Mandate and the English Reformation

Chris Matthews from MSNBC sees the connections too:

"If the church teaches it's morally wrong to use birth control, how can you make the teacher pay for the birth control without losing their authority, their moral authority?" Matthews asked today when discussing the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that many religious institutions provide contraception to their employees. "If you can make them do it, they can't teach it anymore."

Matthews recalled the stories of Thomas More and Thomas Becket when explaining his thinking. "I guess I grew up watching movies like Becket and A Man for All Seasons and seeing the church and state go to war with each other and being told stories from the Old Testament about the Maccabees, about people, families being told you got to eat pork," he said. Matthews added that it is "frightening" to him "when the state tells the church what to do."

Thanks very much to my facebook friend, Penny McKelvey, for pointing this story out to me! It just demonstrates that knowledge of history helps us see connections and distinctions in current events. The great difference between the English Reformation and the subsequent Recusant era and the crisis the Catholic Church--and all organized religion in the USA--faces today is that we have a representative democratic republic. The voters have an official voice and can protest against their elected officials. We have a constitution to refer to. The martyrs and the Catholic survivors of the sixteenth and seventeenth century did not have our methods for protest. Even though St. Thomas More brilliantly argued his case at his trial, the verdict and the sentence were already determined.

Catholics in sixteenth century England could either conform to the Church of England or pretend to conform to the Church of England. They could actively work to overthrow the monarch to change the regime and the religion, which meant treason, violence, and probably execution if the rebellion failed. The Catholic martyrs chose to be absolutely true to their faith, certainly, and suffer the consequences of disobeying laws that made Catholic priesthood in England, aiding a Catholic priest in England, attending Catholic Mass in England, or becoming a Catholic in England all crimes punishable by death. Chris Matthews is definitely correct in seeing the English Reformation and now the HHS Mandate as events in the long battle between Church and State.

UPDATE: PLEASE NOTE: I will be on the Son Rise Morning Show Monday Morning, February 13 at 7:45 a.m. Eastern; 6:45 a.m. Central to discuss the connections commentators are seeing between the HHS Mandate and what I call the "Tudor Mandates" (Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy and Elizabeth I's Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity). Listen live here.


  1. Agree. This impacts all of us not just Catholics.

  2. Exactly; because the issue is not contraception, it's religious freedom! Thank you.

  3. Well, in all fairness, the English had a constitution, too. Both the unwritten English Constitution and the Magna Carta should have prohibited Henry from doing what he did. Oh well.

    What we have that St. Thomas didn't is a Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

  4. St. Thomas More, the Cardinal Designate Bishop Fisher and the Carthusian charterhouse of London were singular amidst a mass of pseudo Catholics. Do we have any parallels to these hero's today - Scott Roeder are the closest i can find. These are the opening salvo's of a long battle- the "Reformation" was a pseudonym for a grand exercise in greed, perfidy and lies- as is "women's health issues" - I'd welcome the blog spending time on what was the common persons thinking' at the time - 1535- 1610 - was the pilgrimage of grace a singular event?? in the reformation- what actions if any did the regular people take- i noticed early on that Henry is not buried in Westminster- a place he plundered- is that due to the common man objecting if that were tried or his alleged request to be buried near j seymour?- sorry for mixing too many topics; they are related, if even by only a thread...

  5. gedda fan, I cover much of what you're looking for about the common person's reaction in my book, Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation. I'd suggest you check it out. The Pilgrimage of Grace was not a singular event and I've covered other uprisings like the 1569 Northern Rebellion and other attempts on this blog, too.

  6. Titus, both St. Thomas More and Robert Aske cited the Magna Carta in their protests against Henry VIII's Supremacy and the Suppression of the monasteries. As Clare Asquith succinctly states in her Shakespeare code book, "England was not a free society"!