I used to be an Anglican, and a protestant one at that. How is it that my mind has been so irrevocably changed? I don’t even know myself. Can the title of this post get any more outrageous? I can think of few ways that it can that can be written here without swearing or uttering the unspeakable. But I’ve been thinking about this for a long time on a pot boil and suddenly my subconscious feels the need to say it to the world.
The reformation was a tragedy, a calamity, a disaster, it saw huge numbers of Christians separated from the corporeal Church, and after this brutal and violent event the victims and their ancestors not only accepted it, but came to like it.
The Anglican Church is perhaps the perfect example. This country was not protestant, it was very happily Catholic right up until the moment Henry the 8th became infatuated with a woman other than his wife, needed an annulment even when he has specifically asked the Church to rule that his first marriage was valid… Henry also decided to rob the Church blind and destroy the monasteries which were providing a great deal of the country’s social safety net. These were not the acts of a religious reformer, or part of a popular clamour for reform, these were the acts of a tyrannical despot, the Church being the only institution that posed a limit to his totalitarian whims. Has nobody stopped to think that if Spain had managed to successfully invade England, and restored Catholicism, perhaps they’d have been welcomed with open arms by a big portion of the country, just like the French in Mali?
The history of religious oppression spirals down all the way to its lowest ebb, Oliver Cromwell, the puritans and iconoclasts of the English revolution who destroyed a great portion of the remaining beauty to be found in the parish churches of this country. They were like the Taliban, declaring that all images are idolatry and this culminated in Cromwell committing mass murder in Ireland on a monumental scale and banning Christmas.
So what does this have to do with today? surely this is all water under the bridge? Well over Christmas I was watching Rowan Williams on TV in ‘goodbye to Canterbury’ and when he went down to the crypt of the cathedral he pointed to some painted bits in the early medieval (Catholic) style and said, in no uncertain terms, that people were sick of all this gaudy decoration and wanted to go back to a simpler and plainer style. The man makes me sick, he so manipulatively couches this gigantic misreading of history in genial tones, and everyone says ‘oooh isn’t he nice’ when he has just spoken a despicable untruth.
The comic book style of art which the puritans so despised was incredibly accessible to the average Joe in the pew helping them to engage with the gospels and identify with the lives of the saints even if they couldn’t read. This was the imposition of an ideology by an intellectual elite (who happened to fill the ranks of Cromwell’s new model army and were thus armed to the teeth) over the simple faith of people who had drawn inspiration from Christian religious art for centuries.
Also the chances that the entirety of Canterbury cathedral’s decor was like that of the crypt are very small indeed, though to an extent we will never know, but you can take a look at surviving portions of Durham Cathedral’s catholic decoration to know what we were robbed of. It was a simple and elegant nature motif in the form of green vines on a pale background. Quite simply Durham would have looked absolutely stunning, as it is the cathedral now resembles a tomb, a tomb with fantastic architecture, but a tomb none the less.
But this destruction of the ‘reformation’ isn’t just limited to smashed stain glass windows, destroyed organs, the stripping of the altars and whitewashing of walls. It has penetrated to the very core of Christian theology so that many beautiful, elegant and above all vibrant elements of Christian tradition are disposed of.
One of the first things to go out of the window of course, was the doctrine of transubstantiation, the most core belief of them all. The belief that guarantees that the Mass is spiritual, regardless of the level of the congregation’s theological savvy. Its the new covenant of the last supper made tangible and accessible to every Christian in a simple yet supremely powerful way. This was a doctrine Jesus himself was willing to lose all but twelve of his followers over…
It is the most natural thing in the world to pray for the dead, intrusting them to God’s mercy and boundless love. And it is a core belief that God will purify us of sin in purgatory so that Heaven doesn’t have just two human members. This is a very comforting and common sense doctrine above all there to make heaven accessible to us mere mortals… gone. And you’d think if there is no purgatory there would be a big emphasis on confession to reconcile yourself to God in this life? no? oh dear…
It is a core Christian belief of the utter uniqueness of Mary’s role in salvation history, how a woman who had dedicated her virginity to God conceived and gave birth to God in human form. There is the old joke about the protestant who gets to heaven and Jesus welcomes him in and asks him if he’s met his mother… Mary has been kidnapped from her rightful pride of place in Christianity and protestants have been robbed of the great comfort of asking for her intercession. This in a country which used to proudly claim to be our Lady’s dowry…
Protestantism even robs Christians of a tangible corporeal Church on earth, instead forcing its members to settle for an intangible one that somehow all protestants, though endlessly divided, are members of the same church. God created the Church to shepherd his people on this earth, how do sheep usually do without a tangible shepherd? The Catholic Church provides a stable source of infallible teaching so that wave after wave of heresy breaks upon the rock of Peter.
Go without this authoritative teaching source for even a little while and you end up in dire theological territory… and who are the victims of this? the average Joe in the pew of course who are given contradictory, confusing and downright misleading doctrines by woolly headed leaders so desperate to avoid further splitting their communion they will give two diametrically opposed answers to the same question to different people on the same day… remind you of anyone? *cough* Rowan *cough*.
So then, protestants; a hostage of history? How do you stop a hostage from falling in love with its captor?