Irishmen were shut out by law from abbeys and churches within the English boundary; and the ill-will of the natives shut out Englishmen from churches and abbeys outside it.
Henry VIII Makes Himself Head of the Church of England, featuring a series of excerpts selected from A Short History of the English People by John R. Green published in 1874. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
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He had written against Luther; he had persisted in opposing Lutheran doctrine; he had passed new laws to hinder the circulation of Lutheran books in his realm. But influences from without as from within drove him nearer to Lutheranism. If the encouragement of Francis had done somewhat to bring about his final breach with the papacy, he soon found little will in the French King to follow him in any course of separation from Rome; and the French alliance threatened to become useless as a shelter against the wrath of the Emperor.
Charles was goaded into action by the bill annulling Mary’s right of succession; and in 1535 he proposed to unite his house with that of Francis by close intermarriage, and to sanction Mary’s marriage with a son of the French King if Francis would join in an attack on England. Whether such a proposal was serious or no, Henry had to dread attack from Charles himself and to look for new allies against it. He was driven to offer his alliance to the Lutheran princes of North Germany, who dreaded like himself the power of the Emperor, and who were now gathering in the League of Smalkald.
But the German princes made agreement as to doctrine a condition of their alliance; and their pressure was backed by Henry’s partisans among the clergy at home. In Cromwell’s scheme for mastering the priesthood it had been needful to place men on whom the King could rely at their head. Cranmer became primate, Latimer became Bishop of Worcester, Shaxton and Barlow were raised to the sees of Salisbury and St. David’s, Hilsey to that of Rochester, Goodrich to that of Ely, Fox to that of Hereford. But it was hard to find men among the clergy who paused at Henry’s theological resting-place; and of these prelates all except Latimer were known to sympathize with Lutheranism, though Cranmer lagged far behind his fellows in their zeal for reform.
The influence of these men, as well as of an attempt to comply at least partly with the demand of the German princes, left its stamp on the articles of 1536. For the principle of Catholicism, of a universal form of faith overspreading all temporal dominions, the Lutheran states had substituted the principle of territorial religion, of the right of each sovereign or people to determine the form of belief which should be held within their bounds. The severance from Rome had already brought Henry to this principle, and the Act of Supremacy was its emphatic assertion.
In England, too, as in North Germany, the repudiation of the papal authority as a ground of faith, of the voice of the Pope as a declaration of truth, had driven men to find such a ground and declaration in the Bible; and the articles expressly based the faith of the Church of England on the Bible and the three creeds. With such fundamental principles of agreement it was possible to borrow from the Augsburg Confession five of the ten articles which Henry laid before the convocation. If penance was still retained as a 0sacrament, baptism and the Lord’s Supper were alone maintained to be sacraments with it; the doctrine of transubstantiation, which Henry stubbornly maintained, differed so little from the doctrine maintained by Luther that the words of Lutheran formularies were borrowed to explain it; confession was admitted by the Lutheran churches as well as by the English. The veneration of saints and the doctrine of prayer to them, though still retained, were so modified as to present little difficulty even to a Lutheran.
However disguised in form, the doctrinal advance made in the articles of 1536 was an immense one; and a vehement opposition might have been looked for from those of the bishops like Gardiner, who, while they agreed with Henry’s policy of establishing a national church, remained opposed to any change in faith. But the articles had been drawn up by Henry’s own hand, and all whisper of opposition was hushed. Bishops, abbots, clergy, not only subscribed to them, but carried out with implicit obedience the injunctions which put their doctrine roughly into practice; and the failure of the Pilgrimage of Grace in the following autumn ended all thought of resistance among the laity.
But Cromwell found a different reception for his reforms when he turned to extend them to the sister-island. The religious aspect of Ireland was hardly less chaotic than its political aspect had been. Ever since Strongbow’s landing, there had been no one Irish church, simply because there had been no one Irish nation. There was not the slightest difference in doctrine or discipline between the Church without the pale and the Church within it. But within the pale the clergy were exclusively of English blood and speech, and without it they were exclusively of Irish. Irishmen were shut out by law from abbeys and churches within the English boundary; and the ill-will of the natives shut out Englishmen from churches and abbeys outside it.
As to the religious state of the country, it was much on a level with its political condition. Feuds and misrule told fatally on ecclesiastical discipline. The bishops were political officers, or hard fighters, like the chiefs around them; their sees were neglected, their cathedrals abandoned to decay. Through whole dioceses the churches lay in ruins and without priests. The only preaching done in the country was done by the begging friars, and the results of the friars’ preaching were small. “If the King do not provide a remedy,” it was said in 1525, “there will be no more Christentie than in the middle of Turkey.”
Unfortunately the remedy which Henry provided was worse than the disease. Politically Ireland was one with England, and the great revolution which was severing the one country from the papacy extended itself naturally to the other.