(PROTESTANT REFORMATION to 1600 – continued)
Pope Paul III had the power of excommunication.
Henry VIII demonstrated power of a different sort.
The power of the Roman Catholic Church was largely cultural and diminished by kings whose power derived from their military. This diminished power was evident during the reign of Pope Clement VII, who became pope in 1523 at the age of forty-five, while Lutherism was spreading in central Europe.
Clement was the second pope from Florence's most wealthy and powerful Medici family. Looking after the interests of the papacy and the Medici he aligned himself with the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the Fifth, who had more of the power that was supplied by arms.
Francis the First of France had been driven out of Naples, Milan and Burgundy and was set on winning back lost territory. Clement changed his alliance from Charles to Francis and Venice, believing that Charles had become too powerful in Italy. Francis sent an army back to Italy, and his move was opposed by Charles. The mobilized force of Francis, Venice and the papacy were easily overcome by the forces that Charles could rally. Pope Clement became a prisoner in Castle of St. Angelo, from which he could hear the screams of his flock as men, women and children were butchered. After six months he bought off some Imperial officers and escaped disguised as a peddler.
England's King Henry VIII had reigned since 1509 at the age of eighteen. Loyal to Catholicism he suppressed Protestantism with his standard brutality – while making his court a center of Renaissance erudition. By the time he had turned forty-two, he had come into conflict with Pope Clement regarding his marriages. Clement died in 1534 and was succeeded by Paul III and Paul used his power of excommunication against Henry, followed by his rescinding Henry's title as "Defender of the Faith." England's parliament declared that title still valid. Pope Paul had to watch – powerless – as Henry "nationalized" all Roman Church property in England into his personal ownership and sold off these properties to the highest bidders among the aristocracy and the gentry. Roman priests in England were dismissed unless they swore an oath of conformity to Henry's new Church. Those that would not swear the oath were either dispossessed of their livings or executed as "recusants" [dissidents] if they made too much political noise.
Henry VIII believed he was competent enough in theology to head the Church of England and he made himself the "Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England." He stayed with Catholic doctrine and ceremony. And he accompanied his takeover with the Treasons Act, which made it high treason, punishable by death, to refuse to acknowledge the King as head of the Church of England. His old friend Thomas More, another of Europe’s famous humanist scholars, refused to sign the document that made Henry head of the Church of England, and Henry had More beheaded.
Henry executed various Catholics and Protestants, and among those he sentenced to death was the gifted linguist William Tyndale. Tyndale, in addition to creating the Bible into modern English and gaining the wrath of the Catholic Church, had gained the wrath of Henry regarding his marriages. Tyndale was tied to a stake and, given his popularity, he was strangled as an act of mercy before being set afire. He is said to have regained consciousness and to have uttered the final words: "Oh Lord, open the King of England's eyes."
Copyright © 2003-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.