Henry Viii

From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [1]

king of England, was born in Greenwich June 28, 1491. He was second son of Henry VII and queen Elizabeth (of York). His elder brother Arthur, Prince of Wales, dying in 1502, Henry became heir apparent. In 1503 a dispensation was obtained from Julius II (pope) to allow Henry to marry his brother Arthur's widow (Catharine of Aragon) a match which turned out sadly enough. Henry came to the throne April 22, 1509. The early years of his reign were comparatively uneventful. Wolsey became prime minister about 1513, and governed, for about fifteen years, with a view to his own ambition as well as to the passions of his master; but, on the whole, England prospered under his administration. (See Wolsey). Henry was at this time an ardent advocate of Roman views in 1521 he published his Adsertio Septen, Sacramen Form Adversus Martinum Lutherun (4to), for which service the pope conferred on him the title of Defensor Fidel, which the sovereigns of England still retain. (See, for details of the controversy between Henry and Luther, Waddington, History of the Reformation, ch. 21.) In a few years Henry began to grow weary, of his queen. His male children died, and he fancied that Providence punished him in this way for having contracted in unlawful marriage with his brother's widow. The question of the legitimacy of this marriage had never been fully settled, even by the pope's authorization. At all events, it was easy for a prince of Henry's temperament to believe that the marriage was unlawful, when such a belief was necessary to the gratification of his passions. Moreover, the Spanish queen was unpopular in England. Henry had recourse to an expedient suggested by Cranmer, "namely to consult all the universities of Europe on the question whether the papal dispensation for such a marriage was valid,' and to act on their decision without further appeal to the pope. The question was accordingly put, and decided in the negative by the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, Bologna, Padua, Orleans, Angiers, Bourges, Toulouse, etc., and by a multitude of theologians and canonists" (Palmer, Ch. History, p. 159). Henry had clearly made up his mind to marry Anne Boleyn as soon as the divorce from Catharine could be accomplished. "Anne was understood to be favorably disposed towards those new views on the subject of religion and ecclesiastical affairs which had been agitating all Europe ever since Luther had begun his intrepid career by publicly opposing indulgences at Wittenberg ten years before. Queen Catharine, on the other hand, was a good Catholic; and, besides, the circumstances in which she was placed made it her interest to take her stand by the Church, as, on the other hand, her adversaries were driven in like manner by their interests and the course of events into dissent and opposition. This one consideration sufficiently explains all that followed. The friends of the old religion generally considered Cathainle's cause as their own; the Reformers as naturally arrayed themselves on the side of her rival. Henry himself again, though he had been till now resolutely opposed to the new opinions, was carried over by his passion toward the same side; the consequence of which was the loss of the royal favor by those who had hitherto monopolized it, and its transference in great part to other men, to be employed by them in the promotion of entirely opposite purposes and politics. The proceedings for the divorce were commenced by an application to the court of Rome in August 1527. For two years the affair lingered on through a succession of legal proceedings, but without any decisive result. From the autumn of 1529 are to be dated both the fall of Wolsey and the rise of Cranmer. (See Thomas Cranmier).

The death of the great cardinal took place on the 29th of November 1530. In January following the first blow was struck at the Church by an indictment being brought into the King's Bench against all the clergy of the kingdom for supporting Wolsey in the exercise of his legatine powers without the royal license, as required by the old statutes of provisors and premunire; and it was in an act passed immediately after by the Convocation of the province of Canterbury, for granting to the king a sum of money to exempt them from the penalties of their conviction on this indictment, that the first movement was made toward a revolt against the see of Rome, by the titles given to Henry of the one protector of the English Church, its only and supreme lord, and, as far as might be by the law of Christ, its supreme head.' Shortly after, the convocation declared the king's marriage with Catharine to be contrary to the law of God. The same year Henry went the length of openly countenancing Protestantism abroad by remitting a subsidy to the confederacy of the elector of Brandenburg and other German princes, called the League of Smalcald. In August, 1532, Cranmer was appointed to the archbishopric of Canterbury. In the beginning of the year 1533 Henry was privately married to Anne Boleyn: and on the 23rd of May following archbishop Cranmer pronounced the former marriage with Catharine void. In' the mean time the Parliament had passed an act forbidding all appeals to the See of Rome. Pope Clement VII met this by annulling the sentence of Cranmer in the matter of the marriage, on which the separation from Rome became complete. Acts were passed by the Parliament the next year declaring that the clergy should in future be assembled in convocation only by the king's writ, that no constitutions enacted by them should be of force without the king's assent, and that no first-fruits, or Peter's pence, or money for dispensations. should be any longer paid to the pope. The clergy of the province of York themselves in convocation declared that the pope had no more power in England than any other bishop. A new and most efficient supporter of the Reformation now also becomes conspicuous on the scene, Thomas Cromwell (afterwards lord Cromwell and earl of Essex), who was this year made first secretary of state, and then master of the rolls. (See Thomas Cromwell).

In the next session, the Parliament, which reassembled in the end of this same year, passed acts declaring the king's highness to be supreme head of the Church of England, and to have authority to redress all errors, heresies, and abuses in the Church; and ordering first-fruits and tenths of all spiritual benefices to be paid- to the king. After this, various persons were executed for refusing to acknowledge the king's supremacy; among others, two illustrious victims, the learned Fisher, bishop of Rochester, and the admirable Sir Thomas More. (See John Fisher); (See Thomas More). In 1535 began the dissolution of the monasteries, under the zealous superintendence of Cromwell, constituted for that purpose visitor general of these establishments. Latimer and other friends of Cranmer and the Reformation were now also promoted to bishoprics; so that not only in matters of discipline and polity, but even of doctrine, the Church might be said to have separated itself from Rome. One of the last acts of the Parliament under which all these great innovations had been made was to petition the king that a new translation of the Scriptures might be made by authority and set up in churches. It was dissolved on the 18th of July 1536, after having sat for the then unprecedented period of six years. The month of May of this year witnessed the trial and execution of queen Anne in less than six months after the death of her predecessor, Catharine of Aragon and the marriage of the brutal king, the very next morning, to Jane Seymour, the new beauty, his passion for whom must be regarded as the true motive that had impelled him to the deed of blood. Queen Jane dying on the 14th of October, 1537, a few days after giving birth to a son, was succeeded by Anne, sister of the duke of Cleves, whom Henry married in January, 1540, and put away in six months after-the subservient Parliament, and the-not less subservient convocation of the clergy, on his mere request, pronouncing the marriage to be null, and the former body making it high treason by word or deed to accept, take, judge, or believe the said marriage to be good.' Meanwhile the ecclesiastical changes continued to proceed at as rapid a rate as ever. In 1536 Cromwell was constituted a sort of lord lieutenant over the Church; by the title of vicar general, which was held to invest him with all the king's authority over the spirituality. The dissolution of the monasteries in this and the following year, as carried forward under the direction of this energetic minister, produced a succession of popular insurrections in different parts of the kingdom, which were not put down without great destruction of life both in the field and afterwards by the executioner. In 1538 all incumbents were ordered to set up in their churches copies of the newly-published English translation of the Bible, and to teach the people the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, in English; the famous image of our Lady at Walsingham, and other similar objects of the popular veneration, were also, under Cromwell's order, removed from their shrines and burnt (English Cyclopedia, s.v.).

But Henry never abandoned the special Romanist opinions to which he had committed himself personally by controversy. "When, in 1538, the princes of the League of Smalcald offered to place him at its head, and even to alter, if possible, the Augsburg Confession so as to make it a common basis of union for all the elements of opposition to Rome, Henry was well inclined to obtain the political advantages of the position tendered him, but hesitated to accept it until all doctrinal questions should be settled. The three points on which the Germans insisted were the communion in both elements, the worship in the vulgar tongue, and the marriage of the clergy. Henry was firm, and the ambassadors of the League spent two months in conferences with the English bishops and doctors without result. On their departure (Aug. 5,1538) they addressed him a letter arguing the subjects in debate the refusal of the cup, private masses, and sacerdotal celibacy to which. Henry replied at some length, defending his position on these topics with no little skill and dexterity, and refusing his assent finally. The Reformers, however, did not yet despair, and the royal preachers even ventured occasionally to debate the propriety of clerical marriage freely before him in their sermons, but in vain. An epistle which Melancthon addressed him in April, 1539, arguing the same questions again, had no better effect. Notwithstanding any seeming hesitation, Henry's mind was fully made lip, and the consequences of endeavoring to-persuade him against his prejudices soon became apparent. Confirmed in his opinions, he proceeded to enforce them upon his subjects in the most arbitrary manner; for, though on all other points he had set up the doctrines of the Augsburg Confession,' yet on these he had committed himself as a controversialist, and the worst passions of polemical authorship-the true odium theologicum' acting through his irresponsible disposition, rendered him the cruelest of persecutors. But a few weeks after receiving the letter of Melancthon, he answered it in his own savage fashion" (Lea, Sacerdotal Celibacy, p. 481). In 1539, under the ascendancy of bishop Gardner (q.v.), the "Six Articles" were enacted, in favor of transubstantiation, communion in one kind, celibacy, private masses, and auricular confession. (See Six Articles), vol. 1, p. 442. Cromwell endeavored to mitigate the severity of the government in its cruel persecutions of all who would not accept these articles, and lost his own head for his temerity in 1540. In the same year Henry was divorced from Anne of Cleves and married to Catharine Howard, who, in 1541, was herself repudiated and executed for adultery. He then married his sixth wife, Catharine Parr, who survived him. The licentious monarch died Jan. 28 1547.

Much has been made by Roman Catholic controvertists of the bad life of Henry VIII as an argument against the Reformation. On this point we cite Palmer, as follows: "The character of Henry VIII, or of any other temporal or spiritual promoters of reformation in the Church, affords (even if it were not exaggerated) no proof that the Reformation was in itself wrong. Admitting, then, that Henry and others were justly accused of crimes, the Reformation which they promoted may in itself have been a just and necessary work; and it would have been irrational and wrong in the Church of England to have refused all consideration of subjects proposed to her examination or approbation by the royal authority, and to refuse her sanction to reforms in themselves laudable, merely because the character of the king or his ministers were unsaintly, and his or their private motives suspected to be wrong. Such conduct on the part of the Church would have been needlessly offensive to temporal rulers, while it would (in the supposed case) have been actually injurious to the cause of religion, and uncharitable judgment of private motives. It must be remembered that although Henry and the protector Somerset may have been secretly influenced by avarice, revenge, or other evil passions, they have never made them public. They avowed as their reasons for supporting reformation the desire of removing usurpations, establishing the ancient rights of the Church and the crown, correcting various abuses prejudicial to true religion, and therefore the Church could not refuse to take into consideration the specific object of reformation proposed by them to her examination or sanction. Nor does the justification of the Church of England in any degree depend on the question of the lawfulness of Henry's marriage with Catharine of Aragon or with Anne Boleyn; such matters, as Bossuet observes, "are often regulated by mere probabilities," and there were at least abundant probabilities that the marriage with Catharine was null ab initio; but this whole question only affects the character of Henry VIII and of those immediately engaged in it; it does not affect the reformation of the Church of England" (Palmer, On the Church, part 2, chap. 1). (See Church Of England).