Saturday 4 June 2022

Reformation in England - Raymond Edwards - CTS Concise Histories

Reformation in England
Dr Raymond Edwards
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781860823855
eISBN 9781784693145
CTS Booklet H505

This is the ninth volume from Dr Raymond Edwards that I have read. Over the last several years, I have read over 275 volumes from the CTS. I have read books from many series, and many authors. I have read several books that are part of the CTS Devotions and Prayer Series. I have read many in the CTS Biographies including biographies from the Saints of the Isles Series, and the Great Saints Series. Of the books I have read by Dr Edwards they have been a mix of Biographies, Concise Histories or Prayer books. This is the second book by him that I have read in the CTS Concise Histories Series.

The description of the booklet is:

“The events of the Reformation led to centuries of bitter theological disputes, wars, persecutions and power struggles. This summarises the events which led up to the Reformation in Europe, and particularly in England.

The events of the Reformation led to centuries of bitter theological disputes, wars, persecutions and power struggles, and its consequences endure to this day. This booklet looks at the events which led up to the Reformation in Europe, and particularly in England. It shows how much that was good was lost in this conflict.”

About the series we are informed that:

“CTS Concise Histories reveal the truth behind some of the most important and controversial events in the Church’s history.”

The chapters in the book are:

The Continental Background
The Church in England
Popular Resistance
Queen Mary
Elizabeth I
How Catholic was England under Elizabeth?
James VI and I
Bibliographical Note

This volume was published in 2006 the eBook edition was released in 2017. Currently it is only available as a digital volume. I have been absolutely fascinated reading about English Catholicism. I was raised Irish Catholic and my Maternal side is Scottish, family and teachers had not much good to say about the English. Reading about the English Martyrs and the English Reformation has been fascinating. Some of the volumes from the CTS have opened my eyes to so much that had been missing in my education. And this volume was an excellent read. I highlighted many passages when reading this booklet. Some of them are:

“English-speaking Catholics are at a disadvantage when considering the history of their faith. For generations, and throughout the English-speaking world, the accepted accounts of the great religious upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which led to the division of historic Western Christendom into Catholic and Protestant camps, were almost all written by non-Catholics, who saw these religious changes as an inevitable and wholesome part of the growth and development of the modern democratic state.”

“So what actually did happen? How, and when, and why did England stop being a Catholic country?”

“In the account that follows, I focus on events in England, for a number of reasons. The majority of my readers are likely to be most familiar with this story, or some version of it; the course of events in Scotland, at this time an independent country, is quite distinct, although the stories do at times intersect; I do not have the space to treat it here in extenso.”

“Religious life in England was flourishing. There were roughly nine and a half thousand parish churches, and upwards of eight hundred religious houses (of monks, nuns, and friars, of dozens of different orders); plus countless lay institutions - craft guilds, pious associations and confraternities - devoted to charitable works and to prayer for the dead, which was also the main activity of countless small chantry chapels endowed for the purpose.”

“Nor was this religion stagnant; detailed studies of the early 1500s have shown a high level of voluntary expenditure on renewing church fabric and decoration (English woodcarving and statuary was internationally famous) and a rich devotional life centred around processions on great feast days, mystery plays, pilgrimages, intense devotion to local patron saints, and the broader social cohesion brought by fund-raising activities such as parish ales. At every level, English society was saturated with the Catholic faith.”

“As in every age, the Church was in need of reform: bishops and clergy were often worldly, unfaithful to their vows, preoccupied with money and status, heedless of those notionally under their care. Some critics, more extreme, saw superstition and wilful misleading everywhere. None of this agitation was new, or necessarily unhelpful; there is nothing in Erasmus, say, that you cannot also find in Bernard of Clairvaux, or a host of other medieval churchmen exercised about the state of Christendom.”

“This provision affected over four hundred houses. The majority of the monks and nuns either accepted nominal pensions, or requested transfer to other larger houses (these transfers typically never happened). The evidence of irregular living collected by the commissioners is highly suspect; at best, it may represent the type of internal gossip invariable in religious communities; at worst, simple invention practised for gain. The Crown’s need for immediate money was so acute that a large proportion of former monastic land was quickly alienated at bargain prices.”

“It does not seem likely, as has been suggested, that the desire to seize monastic wealth was in itself a reason for Henry’s breach with Rome; but it was an undoubtedly convenient by-product.”

“Other consequences of the dissolution are less quantifiable; the disruption to the social fabric by the removal of the substantial practical charities of the religious foundations must have been considerable; whilst the sheer aesthetic loss of buildings, painting and woodcarving, metal and jewel-work, not to mention the vast numbers of manuscripts destroyed, is simply incalculable, but can only be accounted a cultural, educational and literary disaster. The surviving fragments of England’s medieval artistic heritage can only hint at the magnitude of our loss.”

“1574 also saw the arrival of the first ‘seminary priests’, ordained from amongst the Catholic exiles at colleges in Douai and Rome; they were joined by Jesuits six years later. Something like six hundred priests came to England on the mission before 1603. Counter-reformation standards finally penetrated into the English Church with these seminary priests and Jesuits. Royal policy had previously been one of passive waiting for obstinately Catholic clergy, survivors of Mary’s reign, to die off, and adherence thus to perish by inanition. With this infusion of new priests, the Government moved to active persecution.”

“Three quarters of a century after Henry VIII’s break with Rome, Catholicism in England was still numerically strong; small but devoted groups of priests brought the sacraments where they could, and in places local magnates and gentry were able to offer some measure of protection from legal penalties. But Catholics were disbarred from Royal service, from the Universities, and all but the lowest reaches of the Law: public life was effectively closed to them. Recusancy fines were enforced sporadically, but could be in the long term crippling.”

This booklet was a fascinating read. Over the last few years I have read several biographies from this period, about English Saints and Martyrs. This book is an amazing volume to help give an overview of the period. It gives great history, looks at a few ‘what if’s’ and gives a solid history. It is an excellent read in a wonderful series.   

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

For reviews of other books in the CTS Concise Histories series click here.

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