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Dominion (book) Protestantism

Dominion, 20


How the Woke monster originated

Henry VIII—who, as king of England, lived in fuming resentment of the much greater prestige enjoyed by the emperor and the king of France—had been mightily pleased to have negotiated the title of Defender of the Faith for himself from Rome. It had not taken long, though, for relations between him and the papacy to take a spectacular turn for the worse. In 1527, depressed by a lack of sons and obsessed by a young noblewoman named Anne Boleyn, Henry convinced himself that God had cursed his marriage. As wilful as he was autocratic, he demanded an annulment. The pope refused. Not only was Henry’s case one to make any respectable canon lawyer snort, but his wife, Catherine of Aragon, was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella—which meant in turn that she was the aunt of Charles V. Anxious though the pope might be to keep the English king on side, his prime concern was not to offend Christendom’s most powerful monarch. Henry, under normal circumstances, would have had little option but to admit defeat. The circumstances, though, were hardly normal. Henry had an alternative recourse to hand. He did not have to accept Luther’s views on grace or scripture to relish the reformer’s hostility to the pope. Opportunistic to the point of megalomania, the king seized his chance. In 1534, papal authority was formally repudiated by act of parliament. Henry was declared ‘the only supreme head on Earth of the Church of England’. Anyone who disputed his right to this title was guilty of capital treason. [pages 324-325]

‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is,’ Paul had written to the Corinthians, ‘there is freedom.’ Between this assertion and the insistence that there existed only the one way to God, only the one truth, only the one life, there had always been a tension. The genius of Gregory VII and his fellow radicals had been to attempt its resolution with a programme of reform so far-reaching that the whole of Christendom had been set by it upon a new and decisive course. Yet the claim of the papacy to embody both the ideal of liberty and the principle of authority had never been universally accepted. For centuries, various groups of Christians had been defying its jurisdiction by making appeal to the Spirit. Luther had lit the match—but others before him had laid the trail of gunpowder. This was why, in the wake of his defiant appearance at Worms, he found himself impotent to control the explosions that he had done so much to set in train. Nor was he alone. Every claim by a reformer to an authority over his fellow Christians might be met by appeals to the Spirit; every appeal to the Spirit by a claim to authority. The consequence, detonating across entire reaches of Christendom, was a veritable chain reaction of protest.

Flailingly, five Lutheran princes had sought to put this process on an official footing. In 1529, summoned to an imperial diet, they had dared to object to measures passed there by the Catholic majority by issuing a formal ‘Protestation’. By 1546, when Luther died, commending his spirit into the hands of the God of Truth, other princes too had come to be seen as ‘Protestant’—and not only in the empire. Denmark had been Lutheran since 1537; Sweden was well on its way to becoming so…

Certainly, in the years that followed Luther’s death, the task of steering the great project of reformatio between rocks and shoals appeared an ever more desperate one. Lutheran princes were crushed in battle by Charles V, and cities that had long echoed to the impassioned debates of rival reformers brought to submit. Many exiles, in their desperation to find sanctuary, headed for England, where—following the death of Henry VIII in 1547—his young son, Edward VI, had come to be hailed by Protestants as a new Josiah. This was no idle flattery…

…Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon. Devoutly Catholic, it did not take her long to reconcile England with Rome. Many leading reformers were burned; others fled abroad. The lesson to Protestants on the perils of placing their trust in a secular authority was a harsh one. Yet there was peril too in being a stateless exile. To refugees in flight from Mary’s England, it seemed an impossible circle to square. The liberty to worship in a manner pleasing to God was nothing without the discipline required to preserve it—but how were they to be combined? Was it possible, amid the storms and tempests of the age, for a seaworthy ark to be built at all? [pages 327-329]

A couple of pages later Tom Holland starts talking about John Calvin, from which I would just like to quote this passage:

The shelter that the city could offer refugees was like streams of water to a panting deer. Charity lay at the heart of Calvin’s vision. Even a Jew, if he needed assistance, might be given it. ‘Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.’ The readiness of Geneva to offer succour to refugees was, for Calvin, a critical measure of his success. He never doubted that many Genevans profoundly resented the influx of impecunious foreigners into their city. But nor did he ever question his responsibility to educate them anew. The achievement of Geneva in hosting vast numbers of refugees was to prove a momentous one. [pages 331-332]

John Calvin, as portrayed on the Reformation Wall
built in Geneva to commemorate the four-hundredth
anniversary of his birth. ‘If you desire to have me as
your pastor,’ he told the people of his adopted city,
‘then you will have to correct the disorder of your lives.’

The above image and accompanying text appears in colour in Tom Holland’s book. As we saw in a previous entry of this series in which Spanish Catholics admitted baptised Jews into their kingdoms after the expulsion of the unconverted, the Protestant counterpart made the same mistake: all based on Christian piety (‘Even a Jew, if he needed assistance, might be given it.’).

The subsequent history of Europe speaks for itself. It was not the Jews who empowered themselves: it was the Christians and later the French Jacobins (whom I call neochristians since Jacobins, Catholics and Protestants share the same axiological system) who did so.