Cleaning Ladies' Chit Chat

Cleaning Ladies' Chit-Chat (13)

I learned at school about the six wives of Henry the Eighth, but what about his children?  Did he have any?

Yes indeed, and highly significant they were!  All three of his three legitimate children followed him on the throne.

Quite a record!

First was his son, Edward VI, son of Jane Seymour.  When he came to the throne the Protestant cause went ahead.  Archbishop Thomas Cranmer produced the first Prayer Book in the English language.

Who was next?

Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, was a passionate Roman Catholic.  She put the clock back and set about returning the country to the Roman faith.  She had several Protestants burned at the stake, a brutality that turned people against her.  She was also unpopular because she married the Catholic Philip, King of Spain.

Wasn’t she followed by Elizabeth?  Good Queen Bess?

That’s right.  Having lived through the six-year reign of her Protestant half-brother, and five years with her cruel half-sister “Bloody Mary”, Elizabeth was determined to unite the country, so she avoided religious extremes.

I need to get the hoover out; let’s talk more next time. 

Cleaning Ladies’ Chit Chat (12)

So, how did this business of Henry rejecting the Pope but holding his beliefs affect the country?

Well, it seems that Henry, who was well known for his lack of constancy, (think of the wives) was much the same when it came to his faith.  I think Henry’s real driving force was maintaining his hold on the throne and securing it for future generations.  His political needs however, did see some real changes in the religious practices of the country, encouraged by his advisers.

Why was this?

Many of his advisers, such as Thomas Cromwell, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Shaxton and Edward Fox supported the Protestant cause, as did his sixth wife, Catherine Parr and influenced Henry in policy decisions, particularly when Henry needed the support of German princes who had embraced Lutheranism.

What sort of changes did the ordinary people see in the churches?

 Although William Tyndale’s translation into English of the New Testament had initially been banned in England as heretical, Cromwell and Cranmer persuaded Henry to allow the publication in England of a vernacular Bible.  This combined Tyndale’s New Testament with Coverdale’s translation of the Old Testament and was edited by Thomas Matthews resulting in it becoming known as Matthew’s Bible in 1537.  In 1541 Henry issues a Royal Proclamation ordering every parish in England to have a copy for public use, although Henry did try in 1543 to prevent anyone below the rank of gentry from reading the Bible.  It makes you realise, doesn’t it, just how radical the Bible was seen then?  There was a real fear that it would initiate social change.  By the end of Henry’s reign there was an English Bible and much of the Roman Catholic paraphernalia was being removed from the churches, but services were still held in Latin and priests were not yet allowed to marry - a real mish-mash.

What happened after Henry’s death?

I think we should save that until next time.

Cleaning Ladies’ Chit Chat (11)

Well, we’ve arrived at one of the most important turning points in the Church’s story - the Reformation.

Wasn’t that all about Henry VIII wanting a divorce?

Well, there was more to it than that and a significant part of the story is more the result of politics than religion.

What happened?

Henry had been hoping for the Pope to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon on the basis that Katherine could not prove she had been a virgin when they married.  Henry was desperate for a son and Katherine was now past being able to bear children.  The only solution for Henry was a new and young wife.  Following the sacking of Rome by Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor (who happened to be the nephew of Katherine), the Pope became a virtual prisoner and any chance of an annulment for Henry disappeared.  Another way had to be found.

It was Thomas Cranmer, after being unexpectedly promoted to Archbishop of Canterbury, who eventually annulled the marriage with Katherine after Henry had secretly married Anne Boleyn.  Henry, then threatened with excommunication, made Parliament pass the Act of Supremacy, placing him at the head of the church and it was the threat of invasion from the Catholic Powers, France and Spain, which led to the dissolution of the monasteries to fund the defence.

So it seems that Henry was not interested in changing his faith as much as in securing the throne.

That’s right.  In fact Henry retained a Roman Catholic theology to the end of his life.  Martin Luther in Germany had written that the Church only had two sacraments – Baptism and Eucharist, instituted by Christ, and Henry wrote a defence of the traditional Catholic teaching that there were seven sacraments.  The Pope was so pleased that he gave him the title “Defender of the Faith” but withdrew it after Henry’s break with Rome.  Parliament restored the title to his heir, but with the meaning “Defender of theProtestant Faith”. 

So it’s a bit of a muddle!  A king holding the Pope’s beliefs but rejecting the Pope.

Yes.  It did, however, open the door to the theological changes sweeping across Europe.  We’ll talk about those next time.

Cleaning Ladies’ Chit Chat (10)

We finished our last chat talking about John Wycliffe and his desire that ordinary people could read the Bible for themselves.

That’s right, and after his death the Lollards became an underground movement among the poor, using a Bible translated into English.  They were branded as heretics and a few were burned at the stake.  The bishops were concerned that ‘ordinary’ people might get strange ideas about the Scripture.

I suppose it all came to an end then for the next hundred years or so until the Reformation.

But it didn’t stop the flowering of mysticism in England with some notable proponents like Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, the unknown author of The Cloud of Unknowing and Julian of Norwich.  Rolle and Hilton both lived as hermits and followed values such as poverty, tribulation, prayer and meditation as the means by which the soul is led to the love of God.  More unusual was Julian of Norwich who was actually a woman.  She came to the brink of death when she was thirty years old and experienced a series of revelations, sixteen in all.  She recovered from her illness and withdrew from the world, living in a cell attached to St Julian’s Church in Norwich.  Her teaching was based on faith and charity; prayer and contemplation; contrition and compassion.  Julian went beyond the others in directing her message to all who form one body in Christ.  She is responsible for two books, both entitled Book of Showings, an early Short Text and a more developed Long Text.

I’ll have a look on the internet; I expect I might be able to find a copy. 

Cleaning Ladies’ Chit Chat (9)

What happened during the Middle Ages?

Well, the Church continued to grow and became increasingly powerful and wealthy under the leadership of the bishops.  But not everyone was happy about that and one particularly interesting dissenter was John Wycliffe, a theologian at Oxford University, who came to prominence towards the end of the14th century.

What did he do?

He believed that the Church’s teaching at the time was contrary to the Bible and he denied the doctrine of transubstantiation (bread and wine literally become Christ’s body and blood) during the Eucharist.  He emphasised the importance of Scripture and the preaching of the Gospel.  He also initiated the first translation of the Bible into English; he thought it was important that ordinary people could read it for themselves.

How did that go down?

Not very well!  Wycliffe was accused of heresy although he was never brought to trial.

He was quite lucky then!  I suppose he was suppressed by the Church?

Yes, to some degree.  But not before he had influenced others.  A movement was started by some of his colleagues and spread amongst townspeople, merchants and even the lower clergy and became known as Lollards.  The word comes from the Dutch language and means ‘mumblers’.

So Wycliffe was pretty influential then.

I think so; his religious and social doctrines anticipated those of the Reformation in the 16th century.

Cleaning Ladies’ Chit Chat (8)

We finished our last conversation just as the Middle Ages began and the next few centuries saw a steady growth of the Roman Church in England both as the religion of the nation and in a position of power within the country, with the bishops and monastic leaders having key roles on King’s Council.

How did this mainly affect ordinary people?

Well, the Church dominated everyone’s life and religious observance gave shape to the year’s calendar.  The rituals celebrated important moments in people’s lives, from birth to death; not unlike the Christian life in our time.  The Church’s teachings also underpinned mainstream beliefs about morality, the meaning of life and the afterlife.  Pilgrimages to holy places were also popular.  The faithful were able to atone for their sins and seek miraculous cures; there was a strong belief in the power of holy relics.

Some of that is familiar to us today isn’t it?

Except then church was attended by most of the population, unlike today.  The parish church was the foundation of the Christian community and dissent was dealt with severely.  Those that disagreed with the teachings of the Church were considered heretics and could be physically punished and even killed.  I’ll see if I can find anything out about any prominent believers at this time before we meet again.

OK, I’ll look forward to hearing about that.

Cleaning Ladies’ Chit Chat (7)

Do you know – I had little idea of the level of turmoil in wider society during the advent of Christianity in England.  It’s not something you really think about is it?

I agree and of course it continued in this way for several centuries.  There were periods of calm, for example when King Alfred ruled...

The one who burnt the cakes?

That’s the one.  Anyway he was successful in defeating the Danes, eventually uniting England and developing laws based on the Bible.  In the years that followed new dioceses were created and local landlords began to build small chapels on their estates and appointing priests.  They supported the priest by tithes (a tenth of the produce) and the glebe which was the priest’s own field.  This was the beginning of the system of parishes in England.

So this would have been the beginning of the church establishment as we are familiar with?

That’s right.  By the time Henry the Second’s reign began in 1154 Christianity was part of life and is evidenced by the presence of churches in towns and most villages and there was an absence of any clear division between church and state.  Loyalty to Christ had endured and survived the many incursions from foreign powers.

Cleaning Ladies Chit Chat (6)

We came to the conclusion last time we talked that there was a lot of quarrelling amongst the English in the 7th Century.  How long did it go on for?

On and off for quite a long time.  The Anglo Saxons were reluctant to let go of their Nordic mythology.  The Venerable Bede, in his book, An Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in ad 731, describes how the missionary Paulinus came to England to talk about life after death.  This was a concept that was alien to the Anglo Saxons but answered the question they most wanted answered.  Over time their poetry began to reflect the story of the Saviour in a way that could be understood, culminating in a poem entitledThe Dream of the Rood about Christ as the young hero, a warrior who was tortured on the cross, killed but not defeated, and raised to immortal glory.  But this settled period came to an end when the Vikings looted and wrecked the monastery of Lindisfarne before continuing to move southwards.

So no sooner had the Anglo Saxons accepted Christianity then along came the Vikings.  Weren’t they pretty bad?

Probably not as bad as they are painted.  Although there were repeated skirmishes over the next two centuries the Vikings were more interested in trade and many settled here.  Their pagan background made them receptive to the introduction of the Christian God; they were used to the idea of more than one!  Gradually they converted to Christianity.  Those that settled here often married English women who were Christian and introduced their husbands to Christianity.  There was also political and social pressure for the Vikings to convert to Christianity, particularly if they wished to trade with the Christians.

Not necessarily the best reasons.

No, but better than enforcing their own pagan religion.  We can talk about what happened next when we are cleaning again.

Cleaning Ladies’ Chit-Chat (5)

I have been wondering how long it took for Christianity to take hold in England after the arrival of Augustine.

Well, it was not plain sailing.  Not all the Anglo Saxons were willing to abandon their pagan religion, particularly in the east of England.  Even where Christianity took hold there is evidence that inspectors of the English Church reported to Rome that many of the people still worshipped the old gods and wore pagan charms, and there are complaints that survive from that time that even the clergy, monks and nuns kept up the Anglo Saxon habit of getting drunk!  There was also conflict with the Celtic Christians.

What was the problem with the Celtic Church?

They had a reputation for self denial and prayerfulness, quite different from the Anglo Saxon Christians.  The Celtic Church had also stayed faithful to the tradition of St Columba, an Irish monk who founded a monastery on the island of Iona, and this had become a source of controversy when calculating the date to celebrate Easter.  At the Synod of Whitby in 664 King Oswiu of Northumbria ruled this would be done according to the customs of Rome.  After this there was a split in the Celtic Church with some of the clergy retreating to Ireland.

They seem to have been a troublesome bunch!

Cleaning Ladies Chit Chat (4)

Did you remember to find out what happened after the Anglo Saxons invaded?

Yes, I discovered that the Saxon invaders gradually won the upper hand in England and Wales, whereas in Ireland and Scotland Christianity continued to thrive and grow.  These churches, however, lost contact with Rome and free of that control developed independently into the Celtic Church.  Meanwhile England and Wales reverted to paganism.  By the end of the sixth century the pagan kingdom of Kent dominated most of England, south of the Humber.

But things must have changed.  How did that happen?

Well, the King of Kent, called Ethelbert, had married a Bertha, a Christian princess from Europe.  This seemed to have offered an opportunity for Pope Gregory to send Augustine with a party of forty monks to England.  They landed in Thanet, probably in 597.  Bertha must have had considerable influence with Ethelbert because Augustine and his monks appear to have begun baptising the people, starting with Ethelbert, very soon after their arrival.  This began the reinstating of Christianity in England and Wales.

That’s amazing – I shall be interested to discover what happened next.

Cleaning Ladies Chit Chat (3)

When we last chatted it was about how Christianity started, but how long did it take to reach this country?

Surprisingly quickly; it is likely that Christianity first reached these shores during the Roman Invasion in the First Century, with stories of Jesus first brought here by soldiers, artisans and traders.  There is evidence that three British bishops attended the Council of Arles in France in 314ad, so in just three centuries there was already a hierarchical church here in Britain.

That’s incredible; did the Church grow from strength to strength after this or were there any problems?

Well, there was a big problem when Britain was invaded by the Saxons, who were pagans.  The people of Britain were ill equipped to defend themselves against the invaders and many of the Christians began to retreat to the western edges of the British Isles, to Cornwall, Wales and Ireland, for safety, while the pagan religion of the Saxons replaced Christianity in other parts of Britain.

That’s terrible; the people must have been very scared.

I think so; there appears to be no evidence of them trying to evangelise the invaders.  Things must have changed though; I’ll find out what happened next before we next do the cleaning here.

Cleaning Ladies’ Chit Chat (2)

We finished our last chat with you saying that Jesus wasn’t planning to start a new religion.  So what did he do?

The roots of Christianity are found in Judaism; the first Christians were Jews.  They became a sect within Judaism; unlike other Jews they believed the Messiah had come and that this was Jesus.  The majority of Jews were still waiting; for them Jesus didn’t fit their understanding of the Messiah.  They were expecting someone more like a great warrior who would be able to release them from Roman rule.  The followers of Jesus who formed this new sect weren’t called Christians but followers of the Way.  It was these people that Paul persecuted, hunting them down because they came to be seen as heretics. 

How did they come to be called Christians?

That was when the faith, which spread quickly, reached a city called Antioch, the capital of Syria.  The followers of the Way were nicknamed Christians then by the inhabitants – it was meant as an insult but clearly it caught on!

I know that Christianity spread very quickly but how did this happen?

The Romans inadvertently helped with this by developing trade routes, both by road and sea, to connect all parts of their Empire.  Travel became much easier than it had been and this allowed the Disciples and Paul (after his conversion) to take the Word of God to many other places in a relatively short period of time.

Perhaps next time we could talk about how it reached us?