The Church in England's Need for Considerable Reform in 1529
Many historians argue, that it is not true to say, that before the
Reformation England was a land shrouded in the mists of ignorance;
that there were no schools or colleges for imparting secular education
till the days of Edward VI.; that there was no real religion among the
masses, apart from practices such as pilgrimages, indulgences, and
invocation of the saints; that the people were up in arms against the
exactions and privileges of the clergy, and that all parties only
awaited the advent of a strong leader to throw off the yoke of Rome.
But there were a number of problems, which need to be considered.
Many historians have argued that the people of the early 16th century
agreed with Henry in his decision, to break with Rome because the
church in England was a deeply unpopular institution. Anti-clericalism
according to this line of argument was widespread. As G. R. Elton puts
it, "People in England thought little of Priests".
The clergy were widely despised. Archbishops and Bishops were disliked
for their wealth and ostentation, with Wolsey being an obvious
example. He always had fine clothes, expensive jewellery and had
several homes, which was a sharp contrast to the example set be Jesus
in the Bible. Moreover they were seen as being guilty of pluralism and
therefore non- residence as they were constantly moving between their
Another grievance towards the Bishops was that many of them ignored
their vow of chastity by having mistresses and illegitimate children.
The lower clergy and parish priests hadn't got a better reputation.
They were viewed as both rapacious and ignorant. Because people at
this time lived in isolated rural communities and the priests were the
only effective representatives of the universal church, they were very
important for the vast majority of the English people. And if these
priests were ineffective, many peasants would suffer.
It was argued, that they are not doing their jobs properly. That could
be traced back on the low educational standard and that it was so very
easy for somebody to become a parish priest. An example: A 16th
century survey of the diocese of Gloucester showed, that out of 311
clergy 168 could not recite the Ten Commandments, and 33 could not
locate them in the Bible. 10 could recite the Lord Prayer, and 39 did
not know where to find it in the Bible.
The Church was the central building - usually the largest - in any
English village or town. In the beginning of the 14th century, many of
these buildings even in very poor areas were undergoing restoration,
refurbishment and especially enlargement. This indicates that the
Churches at the local level were thriving and that their congregations
were increasing. This was another factor, which made the...