Henry Viii And His Reformation Of The Church In England

2940 words - 12 pages

Henry VIII and his Reformation of the Church in England

Henry VIII, in his Reformation of the English Church, was driven
mostly by political factors, but also partially by a belief that he
was one of the Kings of the Old Testament. Although the initial break
with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries seem to be the work
of a monarch who has changed his religious colours, and turned from
Catholicism to Protestantism, they were in fact only a means for
gaining money and divorce. By 1547, England was still essentially
Catholic.

Many traditional historians, such as G. R. Elton and A. G. Dickens,
believe that the Church originally came under attack in 1529 because
the laity were not satisfied with its work. According to Elton, 'If
one thing can be said of the English people early in the sixteenth
century it is that they thought little of priests.' People were
resentful of the wealth of the Church, (it owned approximately one
third of all the land, and the incomes of some of the great abbeys
exceeded the revenues of the greatest temporal lords), as they felt
that they could make better use of it. They were also aggrieved by the
Church courts, and more specifically the rights of benefit of clergy
and clerical sanctuary, especially after the Hunne case. This view
also seems to be supported by contemporary opinion. Evangelicals, such
as Simon Fish, had new ideas, and believed that the Church was wrong,
while even members of the clergy, like John Colet, seemed to be
dissatisfied with the work of the Church. Christian Humanists, for
instance Erasmus, wanted a better and more accurate version of the
Bible, and even totally devout laypeople such as Sir Thomas More were
criticising the work of the Church. It was generally believed that
'the parish clergy were ill-educated and ignorant, unable to
understand and sometimes even to read the Latin of the services;
often, too, they were wretchedly poor.' (Elton). It therefore seems
that the poor state of the Church was the reason for the initial
Reformation.

However, modern historians are now taking a kinder view of the
pre-Reformation Church. As J J Scarisbrick said, they were 'fairly
conscientious men trying to do a conscientious job.' There were
contemporary complaints, but no more than there had been previously,
and the English Church was in a much better state than others, such as
the European Church. Professor J. J. Scarisbrick and Dr Christopher
Harper-Bill have presented a picture of the Church which, although far
from perfect, was acceptable to the majority of its members and
continued to enjoy considerable support at all levels of society.
Contemporaries such as Colet and More who demanded reform were not
condemning the Church, but simply measuring it by their own, extremely
devout standards. Lollards, who aimed much...

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