The British and North American Experience Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

  1. Reformations of the Sixteenth Century

  2. Henry VIII and the break with Rome-1530’s–The people of England and Wales were well known for their piety and their good relations with the pope. Monasteries flourished and parish churches were full and vibrant. King Henry VIII, more interested in his own selfish interests than theology or church law. Married to Katherine of Aragon, she had only one daughter by him and he wanted a son to ascend to the throne. He wanted a divorce from her and he thought he had a good case. She had been the wife of his older brother, now dead. He petitioned Rome and the pope refused, not the least was some pressure from Katherine’s nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor. Thomas Cromwell convinced Henry that the king of England had no superior under and the pope was the least person he had to bow to for anything. Cromwell used the English parliament to make a complete break with Rome, but Henry detested Lutheranism or any other form of Protestantism. Although he gained immense wealth from the Catholic church properties he acquired as a result of the break with Rome he still considered  himself Catholic and never condemned the monastic life nor would he allow the clergy to marry. Cromwell reversed the ban on publishing the Bible in English.

    B. English religion in flux (1547-1559)–with Henry’s death the Protestant Reformation flourished in the realm. For whatever reason Henry allowed his son Edward, from his wife Anna Bohn to be tutored under devout Protestants and Protestantism flourished for a short time. He died of TB three years after he became king and his elder sister Mary, Katherine of Aragon’s daughter, became queen. She was Catholic and began a campaign to rid England of all Protestants. She had no problem ordering the execution of any who did not obey. Nicknamed “Bloody Mary”. Unfortunately her reign lasted less time than Edward’s and she died of cancer. Her half-sister, Elizabeth, daughter of Anna Bolin became queen and as the living symbol of Henry breach from Rome she restored once more Protestantism in England.

  3. The Elizabethan Settlement–this settlement produced a hybrid church. It had no links with Rome. It restored the Common Book of Prayer. It allowed clergy to marry. It looked very much like Calvinism except the queen retained the offices of bishop, priest and deacon. Many in the church were unhappy with this arrangement of the church. The queen held her ground and those who continued to express their disapproval on the grounds the church still looked too Catholic were called Puritans. These broke off from the new church and founded their own church called Separatists. High officials and many other refused to participate in the official functions of Elizabeth’s church and remained loyal to Rome. Priests were encouraged to come back to the realm. and Elizabeth began her own persecutions killing three hundred. In spite of all of this a Catholic presence in England remained.

  4. The Reformation in Scotland–Scotland was a proud independent kingdom and always on bad terms with England. The Protestant reformation in Scotland was as confused as it was in England. However, the Protestant leader John Knox, 1513-1572, managed to coalesce the nobility of Scotland with a mixture of Calvinism and the Church of England. Called Presbyterians.

  5. The Seventeenth Century: Toleration out of Conflict

    A. The beginnings of Anglicanism: the English Civil Wars–in 1573, William Laud, a future Archbishop of Canterbury, proclaimed that the English church was as Catholic as the Roman Church. The only difference was England’s church had a king, not a pope. The church of England became known as the “High Church” or Anglicans.  From 1603 to around 1658 various churches sprang up in defiance of the tightly structured Presbyterians of Scotland and the High Church of England. Fiercely independent, small churches sprung up, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Quakers. All fought each other for dominance and all fought against the Catholics, especially in Ireland Horrific massacres were carried out against the Catholics in Ireland and they have never been forgotten to this day.

  6. Restoration and the ‘Glorious Revolution’–with the death of Elizabeth the death of the monarchy of England also occurred and the country remained in chaos politically until an army commander, George Monck properly diagnosed what his country needed was to return England to a monarchy and the Stuart family line. He returned the exiled King Charles 11 to the throne and with him came the High Church of England in full force.

  7. British religion in a new setting: North America–British missionaries settled in North America in the northern sections of the country and established permanent colonies This witnesses a powerful influence on the American way of life that has been until recently a very “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant” ethos in the leadership of the U.S. The puritans fled to Virginia in the new Americas and became known as the Pilgrim fathers. They spread to Massachusetts, New Hampshire and all of New England. Protestant dissentients broke off from one another and the Congregationalists spread as rapidly in New England as did the Puritans. Catholics still being persecuted in areas of Europe also came to America in hopes of being free from religious persecution. In America the Catholics were no more liked here than back in the old country. This dissension between religious groups caused the settlements to expand westward in a steady pace just to find a place where they could practice their religion in peace. The Congregationalists hanged the Quakers. In 1692 they held the famous Salem Witch Trials which discredited them on a  large scale as a valid religion and the first American dream was shattered as a place of refuge. Toda Y Congregationalists are called United Church of Christ. William Penn, a Quaker secure Delaware and Pennsylvania as two places where religious freedom was granted from the king of England. Here Lutherans and Mennonites gathered free from fear to worship God. In these states are the beginnings of a new view of religious tolerance where the state had no active role in regulating churches. A very new thing.  Because the great influx of British islanders, they were to set the pattern of English in the America with little or no tolerance for the native American. Dubbed Indians, they were forced out of their native lands, killed or exploited to the point of extinction. Because of the English, America became what it is today.

    D. Towards Toleration–America became the model of religious toleration among people of God, but it did not come without much bloodshed and bigotry. Generally Americans began to believe that no war should be fought over religious grounds in the seventeenth century.