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Excerpts, Part 22: The Henrican Schism


Cromwell was condemned to death by an act of attainder, and executed on 28 July 1540, eight days before the last of his victims from the London Charterhouse. One must once more use the term Divine irony to describe the fact that the bodies of Cromwell and Anne Boleyn were both buried in the chapel of St. Peter-ad-Vincula together with those of John Fisher and Thomas More whose deaths they sought so eagerly. In 1876 Queen Victoria gave permission for the repair and renewal of the chapel, which had fallen into a deplorable state of disrepair. Burials had been made so hastily, and the bodies of those already buried had been disturbed by new burials. It was found necessary to take up the floor and remove all the human remains from the body of the church and to rearrange them in the chancel. This was done with all care and reverence.

Monsignor Hughes considers that the death of Cromwell can be seen as bringing to an end the epoch making events in English history in which St. John Fisher had been so intimately involved:

The execution of Thomas Cromwell, on July 28, 1540, is the last violent act in the revolutionary drama that fills, almost to a day, the eleven years that followed Campeggio's adjournment of the trial at Blackfriars. Henry VIII, as Cromwell promised him in 1530, has had his own way, and not only without loss, but with great profit to his royal authority and to his personal fortune. The English king has defied the pope and he has successfully withdrawn his realm from the pope's authority. Over religion, now organised within his realm as a thing independent of the pope----over its doctrines, over its clergy and officials, over its corporate life and its wealth----he has been acknowledged, as its head, to possess personally an authority greater than any pope has ever claimed over any part of the Church. The bishops, now, hold their offices as his gift; they are, in law and in fact, the "ministers of the king's spiritual jurisdiction". 85


Despite the breach with Rome, the dissolution of the monasteries, and such measures as the abrogation of certain holy days, what took place in England under Henry VIII was in no way comparable to the Protestant reformations in continental Europe. England was in a state of schism rather than heresy. Heresy laws were enforced far more strictly in England than were similar laws in Catholic countries in communion with the pope. The penalty for anyone denying transubstantiation was burning at the stake. Those who denied the necessity of Communion under one kind for laymen, celibacy of the priesthood, the inviolability of vows of chastity, the necessity of private Masses, and the necessity of auricular confession were to be hanged. The immemorial Latin liturgy was still celebrated unchanged throughout the kingdom, but for the removal of any references to the pope or to St. Thomas Becket. But these doctrines were upheld and the Mass was still celebrated only because this was the wish of the king. If the king wished otherwise both doctrine and liturgy could be changed, and this was to be the case in 1547 when Henry died and his sickly nine year old heir Edward, the son of Jane Seymour, came to the throne. He was no more than a puppet of his Protestant dominated Council, dominated, where religious policy was concerned, by the great survivor of Henry's reign, Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer had concealed his Protestant views and his Protestant wife from Henry. If the king had known of either he would certainly have shared the fate of Thomas Cromwell. [Emphasis added here and below.] Cranmer's aim was to obliterate the Catholic faith from the face of the land, and in this aim he was to succeed because Edward was "the only Supreme Head in earth of the Church of England called Anglicana Ecclesia," and what Cranmer wanted the Supreme Head would decree. This was precisely what St. John Fisher had foreseen and had given his life to oppose. The supremacy of the pope is the foundation of historical Christianity, and once this principal has been rejected there is no aspect of historical Christianity that cannot be rejected with it.

85. Hughes, op. cit., p. 369.


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