SO WAS HENRY 8th FOUNDER OF THE ANGLICAN CHURCH?
Henry 8th was a poster boy for intrigue and scandal in the 16th century tabloids. His court briefings would have made front page news and hogged the 24 hour news cycle! And so its odd to hear people saying that this fellow was founder of the Anglican Church or that the Anglican Church was the result of a divorce.
“Wasn’t Henry 8th founder of the Anglican Church? Bolivian history textbooks under Roman influence resoundingly reply – Yes! The irony is that some low evangelicals would probably agree to this soap opera view of church history. Some might not even bother with the issue. This post does not arise out of any desire to defend the Anglican Church but rather reflects my interest in European Church history. So if you like to know something about Anglican origins…read on…
The gospel according to some historians was brought to the British Isles by an unknown cast of merchants, soldiers, tradesmen. The Anglican Church traces its beginnings to the 3rd century in Britain; Bishops from the British Isles were present at the council of Arles; an indigenous sort British Christianity (call it Celtic if you wish) existed prior to the coming of the first Roman missionaries in the 6th century.
Pope Gregory sent Augustine in the 6th century to the British Isles as a missionary to help in the evangelisation of Britain. Like it or not, the Roman church was a later accretion within British Christianity. The Roman and British faith traditions went through a period of interpenetration with Rome being the dominant partner. This interpenetration however did not dissolve Rome and Britain into one religious and political entity. Regional, cultural and religious differences in Europe coupled with medieval political intrigue provided the setting for a topsy - turvy relationship between Rome and the British ruling elite throughout the centuries. Everything came to a head in the 16 the century when Pope Clement did not allow Henry to divorce his wife and remarry; Henry was desperate for a male successor to the throne. The swirling forces of the Reformation and regional nationalistic loyalties gave Henry the necessary groundswell to cut links with Rome and assert a popular sort of Protestant Christianity in Britain. Rome however had its supporters in the royal court as well as in the streets. Henry’s actions triggered conflicts in the country and Britain was characterised by convulsions during the reigns of Henry’s successors - Edward and Mary. Queen Elizabeth, during her 40 year reign, stabilized the country, and provided the structures necessary to keep the Church of England intact. The rest is history…
So was the Anglican Church the result of a divorce? No it was not and here’s why.
Henry 8th’s divorce did not herald the beginning of the Anglican Church but was rather one of the many events in the 16th century which indirectly set the stage for the renewal of the British church. The tectonic religous plates were already shifting before the divorce: educated laity were reading the Bible, Luther's ideas were taking root; slowly but surely superstitions were being questioned. History suggests that the Anglican church was not a renegade Roman Church that Henry managed to make Protestant through his divorce. Henry, the astute politician that he was, rode the Reformation tiger, assumed ecclesiastical powers and freed himself from Roman dominance.
So who was responsible for the origins of the Anglican Church? It’s great public relations to have a Luther, Calvin, St. Francis or a Cho Yong Gi as founder of your movement or Church. Anglicans however will have to settle for a cast of unknown evangelists. The Anglican Church, not unlike the New Testament gentile churches in Rome and Antioch, traces its beginnings in the 3rd century through the labours of dynamic lay people – soldiers, businessmen and merchants. And wait a minute - isn’t that Christ's Church in action!!