English Reformation

Here is an essay from the UK’s Catholic Herald by an author who wrote two novels set around the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.

Eight years of research and two books later, I feel a complex tumble of emotions – intrigued, humbled, exhilarated, saddened and outraged – over what I learned about England’s lost monastic life.

Both my regular readers will shocked to hear:

In most books on the reign of Henry VIII the refrain is the same: the numbers of monks, priests and nuns had dwindled by the 16th century, and many questions had already been raised about the abbeys’ financial and moral soundness. After the monasteries were closed and their occupants evicted, no one much cared, except for some rebels in a failed uprising in the north known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Two books that went deeper into the topic made me start to question that conventional wisdom: G W Bernard’s The King’s Reformation described the extreme brutality the king doled out to those who opposed him. It went beyond the executions of Sir Thomas More and Cardinal John Fisher – monks and friars who did not want to forsake the pope and swear an oath to Henry VIII as the head of the church were imprisoned, starved, hanged, beheaded and even carved into pieces. Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England made a convincing argument that the Catholic faith was a vibrant and essential part of daily life when Henry VIII broke from Rome because he could not get an annulment from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Most significantly, by dissolving the monasteries the king was able to seize a colossal amount of money.

I’ve commented before over how people’s default image of religious cruelty tends to be ‘Spanish Inquisition’, not the English under Henry (or even better, any of the lovely pagan practices – crucifiction, say) :

Abbot Richard Whiting, 81, refused to surrender Glastonbury in 1539. He was arrested, imprisoned in the Tower of London, convicted of treason and dragged on a hurdle to the top of Glastonbury Tor. There, he was hanged, drawn and quartered, his severed head nailed to the gate of the deserted abbey.

(h/t to Amy Welborn)

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

3 thoughts on “English Reformation”

  1. Dear Joseph,

    Thank you for your recent musings on business. It sure made me think of how businesses, at least in my case, are subtly made to tell (white) lies by a system that discriminates more than any Klansmen ever could. Being designated to communicate in codes to which you are restricted and do not convey the true problem (diagnosis) nor being able to convey by restricted code (or pay flow chart) what was performed, leads to using “what works” in order to get through the system. Then the codes of thousands of like businesses, doing the same out of necessity, get plugged into statistics that are chimera. This chimera is then paraded as “what the businesses do” and “what they are good for” and used for more restrictive regulations, codes, and segregation. Do you think this is what a good-hearted politician feels like as he slowly loses his soul in order to “get things done?”

    More on the topic of the above Reformation post: I recently read The Swerve, How the World Became Civilized, by Stephen Goldblatt. It is a horribly card-stacked account of the Middle Ages with more contradictions than a Catholic pro-abortionist, yet it won a Pulitzer and was recommended. Mainly it is a dirty laundry rant against Catholicism and how religion retarded Progress, specifically that of Lucretius and Epicurius (materialism and hedonism) Have you read it and do you have any thoughts on the book? I read a review in retrospect by R.R. Reno of First Things (which would have saved me reading it) but it doesn’t seem to reconcile with many of my thoughts on the book. I hope to give my thoughts to the person recommending it and thought you might help me clarify. If you are otherwise disposed, please feel free to ignore my forward, but humble request.

    1. Steve,

      Thanks for the comment. I remember reading reviews of the book when it came out, and writing disparaging comments (maybe even to the R R Reno review?). Key point: I’ve read Lucretius, and there are very good non-conspiratorial reasons why he wasn’t more popular or influential: 1) despite the Swerve’s anachronistic attempts to read modern prejudices (and therefore value) into it, it’s just not a very good book. When copying a book means I’m raising a flock of sheep, killing and skinning them, and prepping the skins into velum, and making my ink and writing each letter by hand, Lucretius goes to the bottom of the pile, under the pre-Socratics and the gospel of Thomas. It has enough interesting thoughts to have survived, meaning that some monks in some monasteries thought it worth copying, but hardly attains the status of a great classic. 2) It just doesn’t say what the Swerve’s author pretends it says – Lucretius wan’t anticipating modern physics or modern creation myths – he was making a smart adolescent’s attack on the received (neo-Platonic) wisdom of his day.

      But, no, I haven’t read it. should I? I dread sending Amazon $11 for the Kindle version – it will only encourage them.

      1. The Swerve probably wouldn’t be worth putting into your reading queue, but it does show how sentiment, if not history, can be modified by the telling of stories (“but it’s Non-fiction!!”) with a certain slant, even if the slant is obvious. It hearkens to the fiskings Mr. Flynn has had to do on certain subjects — Yes, Goldblatt has a large section on Hypatia of Alexandria! Lots of defrocked Pope John XXIII (3 claiming popes at the time), a little Galileo, and some Hun(?) (the Bohemian forerunner to Luther). Lots of dirty laundry with claims of “curiosity” being a mortal sin.

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