Saturday, September 1, 2012

The English Reformation Today, Episode Five

I begin month two of this three month commitment to a weekly radio show--The Engish Reformation Today! Today we'll discuss--and I hope you'll call in so we do have a discussion--the reign of Mary I, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon's daughter, who was the first Queen Regnant of England. She was the first queen to be crowned and anointed in almost the same ceremony as all the previous kings of England (with slight adaptations due her sex) and she restored Catholicism in England--and she also had Protestants and heretics burned alive at the stake. That's why she's often called "Bloody Mary" of course.

For the opening prayer, we'll begin with this prayer to Our Lady of Walsingham:

O blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Walsingham, Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother, look down in mercy upon us, our parish, our country, our homes, and our families, and upon all who greatly hope and trust in your prayers, (especially the intentions of the Radio Maria community). By you it was that Jesus, our Savior and hope, was given to the world; and he has given you to us that we may hope still more. Plead for us your children, whom you did receive and accept at the foot of the Cross, O sorrowful Mother. Intercede for our separated brethren that with us in the one true fold they may be united to the Chief Shepherd, the Vicar of your Son. Pray for us all, dear Mother, that by faith fruitful in good works we all may be made worthy to see and praise God, together with you in our heavenly home. Amen.

Our Lady of Walsingham, Pray for us.

Today's topic is certainly not without controversy. Mary I came to the throne intending to restore Catholicism and the ties of the Church in England with the Pope and the universal Church--and I'll certainly describe the constructive program developed by Reginald Cardinal Pole the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury--a program that even anticipated many of the reforms of the Council of Trent. In addition to all those positive efforts, however, her government revived and enforced the Heresy Laws that had been repealed during the reign of Edward VI--and we have to evaluate the repercussions of the heresy campaigns that led to the executions of almost three hundred men and women, burned alive at the stake.

As background, I offer this review article I wrote for First Things magazine in 2009 that summarizes the state of Marian studies at that point. Here's an exceprt:

Why so much attention now on this queen, whom many historians and common opinion have written off as an anomaly the history of English monacrchy—bigoted, cruel, and foreign? Part of it must be the overall fascination with the Tudor dynasty. Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn, and Henry’s other spouses have been studied enough: It’s just Mary’s turn—and a new interpretation of her old story will provoke interest

I propose that the attention is more securely founded upon the revisionist history of the English Reformation. The work of Eamon Duffy, Christopher Haigh, John Bossy, Alison Shell, and others have demonstrated, at least, that the English Reformation was not the break with the past the Whig historical myth of progress in English history proclaimed. Some English people wanted to remain Catholic; they wanted the Mass, devotion to Mary and the saints, prayer for the dead, and the monasteries to stay open, and they did not like the religious changes Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth I legislated and forced on them. The history of rebellion, resistance, and recusancy throughout those reigns represents a clear pattern.

Then what was the role of Mary I’s reign in this history of religious change? Was it just another religious swing back and forth during the Tudor dynasty? Was her re-establishment of Catholicism simply a revival of the Middle Ages without consideration of the efforts of the Council of Trent and the counter-reformation movement?

Eamon Duffy answers that last question with a well documented, cogently argued, “not hardly.” Reginald Cardinal Pole, who came within a few votes of being elected pope in 1549, led the Catholic revival in terms Thomas More, John Fisher, John Colet, and Erasmus would have understood: centered on the sacraments, Sacred Scripture and tradition, homilies and catechesis, humanist learning. Duffy’s book focuses on Pole’s program for reform and renewal that anticipated the Council of Trent: diocesan seminaries, resident bishops, a comprehensive catechism—even tabernacles on altars and an English translation of the Holy Bible. . . .

These five reevaluations [the books I reviewed] of Mary I and her reign offer not apologies or whitewash but argue for a more dispassionate awareness of her circumstances, efforts, and achievements. Whether or not this new view of Mary I is accepted may depend on open-mindedness and a willingness, for instance, to understand the propaganda of John Foxe and the Black Legend of Catholicism in English History.

The crucial issue for the success or failure of her reign was whether she had a Catholic heir to succeed her. Since she did not, Elizabeth succeeded to the throne and dismissed all of Pole’s bishops save one. As Elizabeth ignored her last will and testament, historians ignored Mary’s circumstances, forgot her efforts and achievements and she gained a nickname she might not deserve. But she and Cardinal Pole left a legacy beyond the fires of Smithfield: an underground counter-reformation Catholicism in England, supporting the faithful and ready for revival again—even if it had to wait almost 300 years.

And I would say this trend in studying the reign of Mary I has continued--her reign is NOT just an anomaly in the progression of England as a Protestant country--but that the legacy of her reign is decidedly mixed. On the one hand, her Archbishop of Canterbury had certainly turned around the Catholic hierarchy and many of the priests, recalling them to the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" Church: only one bishop from her reign submitted to Elizabeth I's Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity when all BUT one submitted during the reign of Henry VIII. But on the other hand, the fires of Smithfield and the propaganda opportunity seized by John Foxe and others, created a cultural memory about the perils of a Catholic ruler or even Catholic influence on society that endured throughout the centuries, revived during the reign of James II, and contributes to a certain anti-Catholicism even today.

I welcome all listeners of Radio Maria US to my blog, whether you're listening on one of their radio stations or on line or through one of their apps. Next week on The English Reformation Today we'll discuss the establishment of the via media Church of England in Elizabeth I's first Parliament and the beginning of recusancy in England. I invite you to call in with questions and comments toll-free at 866-333-MARY(6279). Just a reminder, too, that podcasts of previous episodes of The English Reformation Today are available on the Radio Maria US website.

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