by Elizabeth Stewart

Church of the Cross pastoral staff recently led adult education classes teaching about the basics of Anglicanism. The classes used the book The Anglican Way by Thomas McKenzie as a starting point. The classes were:
October 5 – The Various Streams of Anglican Identity
October 12 – The Roots of Anglicanism
October 19 – Anglican Spirituality and the Church Year
November 2 – Anglican Sacraments

If you have come to Church of the Cross from another Christian tradition, perhaps you have had to give an answer to someone who was curious about your move to “that church Henry VIII invented because he needed a divorce.”

In 1527, Henry VIII did in fact, petition the pope for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and he did break ties with Rome, declaring himself the Supreme Head of the English Church when the pope would not grant that request. He did seize the assets of the church in England, dissolving 800 monasteries in a gigantic real estate grab.  However, the story of our Anglican roots is far more complex and inspiring than just these two well-known bits of history.

We began to flesh out the story by getting to know a few of the characters in the drama of the English Reformation in the 16th Century.  (How many can you identify?)

1. I am an Englishman who lived before the Reformation.  I was one of the first to translate the Bible into English. I was an early critic of the Papacy and clerical power.  My followers were known as Lollards.

2. I am a key figure in the Protestant reformation. I sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church which I felt had been corrupted.  Some people say the Reformation really began when I pinned my 95 theses to a church in Wittenberg in 1517. 

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The answers to the quiz are at the very bottom of the post.

3. I worked on translating the Bible into English though it was illegal. I avoided capture for many years, but was eventually burned at the stake for blasphemy. My dying words were: “O God, open the King of England’s eyes.”  My prayer was answered. Henry VIII ordered an English Bible to be placed in every church after he broke ties with Rome. Over 90% of the King James Bible is my translation.

4. I was given the title, Defender of the Faith for my writings against Martin Luther. I remained mostly Catholic, but allowed some reforms, such as requiring all churches to have an English Bible. Later I made myself the Head of the Church of England after the Pope would not grant me an annulment of my marriage to Catherine of Aragon. (If I mentioned my six wives, it would make it too easy to identify me.)

5. Mom and Dad were a famous Spanish King and Queen. I was married to the English heir to the throne named Arthur. When he died shortly after our marriage, I was married to his younger brother. He decided our marriage was contrary to God’s will and wanted out. I had one child who survived – a daughter named Mary but because my husband was desperate for a male heir, when the pope said, “no” to the annulment my husband asked for, he broke with Rome and married my lady’s maid, Anne.

6. I am the mother of Elizabeth I.  My marriage to the King was turbulent because I had a strong will and attempted to influence Henry in political and religious matters. After my husband’s first wife died, my position became more insecure. He took a new mistress, Jane Seymour and wanted rid of me. Thomas Cromwell accused me of adultery and I was beheaded at the Tower of London on 19 May 1536. Three weeks later my husband married Jane Seymour.

7. Within 24 hours of the execution of my future husband’s second wife, I was betrothed to him and we were married three weeks later on 30th May 1536.  I was never crowned Queen. I gave birth on 12 October to a son, Edward. The boy was christened on 15 October, but I was weak after the birth and died on 24 October. My husband believed me to be his only true wife and I was the only one buried with him in his tomb at St Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle.

8. I was the first Protestant Queen of England.  My Religious Settlement of 1559 made the Church of England Protestant by law. I had a divided country that I sought to unite though and sought to find a middle way that was neither radically Protestant nor Catholic.  I executed as many people as my half- sister Mary, but my reign was ten times as long! 

9. I am the son of Jane Seymour, my father’s favorite wife. As the only surviving male heir to the throne of Henry VIII, I succeeded him in 1547. Having been educated by Protestant tutors, the church under my reign became the most Protestant it would ever be.

10. I was England’s Catholic Queen after my half- brother Edward’s reign.  I reversed all the reforms he achieved and returned the country to the true Catholic faith.  I was committed to restoring Catholicism so I executed many Protestant heretics, earning myself the title of Bloody Mary.  

11. I am a friend of Thomas Cranmer and Hugh Lattimer. I became Archbishop Cranmer’s chaplain in 1538.  I was a member of the commission that helped to prepare the first Book of Common Prayer.  I was arrested under Mary and burned at the stake in Oxford with my friend Bishop Hugh on October 16, 1555.

12. I was known for my preaching during the Reformation in England. It got me into trouble though and had to endure several trials for heresy.  My last words became famous.  As I was about to be burned at the stake under Mary along with my friend Nicholas Ridley, I cried out, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as (I trust) shall never be put out.” 

13. I was Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary (briefly). I am the principal figure in the English Reformation and primarily responsible both for the first Book of Common Prayer (1549) and its first revision (1552), the 42 Articles (later reduced to 39), and a book of Homilies that were circulated among the churches. I had a free hand during the reign of Edward VI in reforming the worship, doctrine and practice of the Church. Mary burned me at the stake in Oxford because of my reforming activities and because I supported my king’s request that Lady Jane Grey succeed him.

14. I wrote a key work at the end of the 16th century called,  Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. I would hesitate to say it myself of course, but others have called it one of the finest expositions of Anglicanism. In it, I expound the unique way Anglicans affirm the triangle of Scripture, Tradition and Reason as our sources of authority.

Henry VIII

Reform of Structure

Lutheran ideas reached a group of Englishmen at Cambridge early in the 16th Century, among them, Thomas Cranmer and William Tyndale. When Cranmer came into the employ of King Henry VIII he was already familiar with some of the movements taking place on the continent.  The pressing issue for Henry, however was political. Henry had written against Luther and earned himself the title, “Defender fo the Faith.”  He was not much interested in church reform, but he was interested in having his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled. The first reform under Henry then, was a reform of structure: namely, a break with Rome, with Henry making himself Supreme Head over the Church.

The reform of structure under Henry provided the opportunity for Thomas Cranmer, the key figure in the English Reformation, to slowly begin to bring about other reforms of doctrine, worship and education. The church remained essentially Catholic under Henry, though it was under Henry that a Bible in English was placed in every church.

Edward VI

Reform of Doctrine

It was under Edward VI, that the church adopted many of the changes in doctrine that were also taking place on the continent. Edward’s reign was the flowering of the English Reformation.

The doctrine of purgatory and the industry around indulgences and prayers for the dead were done away with. The number of sacraments was reduced from seven to our two Gospel Sacraments (Baptism and Communion). Grace came to take precedence over good works.  The understanding  of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist changed from the Catholic view in which the elements are only the real body and blood of Christ, to a sacramental view in which the bread and wine remain bread and wine, but the real presence of Christ is spiritually present as well. Tradition also took a lower place to scripture in the English Church.


Monarchs of the English Reformation.001


Reform of Worship

The church was as Protestant as it would be in the 16th century under Edward. When his Catholic half-sister, Mary succeeded him, she completely reversed all the reforms which had occurred under Edward, and returned the country to Catholicism.

Elizabeth I

Under Elizabeth, England became Protestant again. She had to bring a confused and divided country back together.  Church attendance was compulsory. Conformity of worship was achieved through the 1559 Book of Common Prayer. However, uniformity of thought was not required – a characteristic of Anglicanism which has remained.  Elizabeth’s way was a path between Catholicism and radical Protestantism, which has been called the via media.

A fictitious story of the Reverend James Whyte (from The Anglican Spiritual Tradition), who lived through the back-and-forth of 16th century  England helped us imagine the human story and how the confusion of the times might have affected the local parish priest and his people.

Religious Shifts in the English Reformation.001

We concluded with a prayer for unity written by Thomas Cranmer, central figure of the English Reformation. What a debt of gratitude we owe to the man whose elegant, poetic, and inspired prose has helped to form and shape disciples of Christ for 450 years.

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions.  Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly Union and Concord: that, as there is but one Body, and one Spirit , and one Hope of our Calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and father of us all, so we may henceforth be all of one heart, and of one soul, united in one holy bond of Truth and Peace, of Faith and Charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee: through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.


Recommended Reading:

Christian History Magazine, Issue 48:

The Anglican Spiritual Tradition by John Moorman


Answers to quiz:

1.k 2.i 3.h 4.e 5.l 6.d 7.m 8.g 9.b 10.n 11.j 12.a 13.c 14.f