A is for Anglican: The Anglican Story, Part I

The real story of how Anglicanism came about is far more complex than Henry and his many marriages! Read the ‘A is for Anglican’ series: The Anglican Storyby Rene Jamieson to find out more.

The Anglican Story, Part I:

A Brief Background

The tension between Rome and England did not erupt during the reign of Henry VIII. It had existed for centuries.

The tension between Rome and England did not erupt during the reign of Henry VIII. It had had existed for centuries.  More than one English king had severe disagreements with the Pope of his day, and the English monarchs were unhappy that the Pope had more power in their realm than they did. They also resented the fact that the Pope too often got involved in internal politics, and that clergy who strayed for whatever reason could not be tried in English courts, only in Rome.  Henry VIII and his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, were of the opinion that the Pope acted more like a secular prince than the head of a church.

The English people greatly resented the fact that at any given time only one Englishman would be appointed cardinal and it was highly unlikely that the other 49 cardinals (the majority of whom were Italians) would ever vote in an English Pope (actually, one Englishman did make the cut. That was Nicholas Breakspear back in 1154. He took the name Adrian with the regnal number IV, and he was Pope for four years. To date Adrian IV is the only Englishman ever to occupy the throne of Peter.) The English, especially those in the south where the majority of the population lived, were not happy about the use of Latin as the language of the church.

By the late 14th century the theologian John Wycliffe (the man who first translated the Bible into English), who headed a group of religious dissidents called the Lollards, was openly refuting the Catholic doctrine of transubstantation, voicing disgust that too often clergy – from bishops down to parish priests – were never in England attending to the spiritual needs of their flocks, but elsewhere, tending to their purses and their own advancement. Wycliffe died in 1384, but the seeds were sown. The English, to put it mildly, were ripe for The Henrician Reformation.

John Wycliffe speaking to Lollard preachers.Theologian John Wycliffe and his group of religious dissidents, the Lollards, sowed the seeds for Henrician Reformation in England.