Friday, 22 May 2015


As I hurtled along my journey into Anglicanism I was reminded  
of the elephant in the sanctuary. King Henry 8th.
The nuns had dutifully made us non-Catholic convent girls aware of the lust filled recalcitrant king. How he’d thumbed his nose at the Pope who wouldn’t annul his first marriage so he could marry Anne of Boleyn.
Anne Boleyn
The sisters told how Henry had taken control of the Church in England. Destroyed the monasteries. Published the bible in English. Beheaded two of his six wives.

We teenage girls, starved of romance, were enthralled.  We fantasized about being wooed by a king. We ghoulishly imagined having our heads chopped off.  We didn’t care about Church politics. Nor did we bother about the apostolic succession. This is the belief that the apostles passed on their authority to their successors and so on.

The succession issue mattered to me. So I conducted my own research but Google was still a twinkle in Larry Page’s eye. History books became yet another fascinating side-path in my personal journey.

Fact is, back in Henry’s day Church was predominantly about politics and power. First-born sons inherited the titles land and wealth. So younger siblings often became ambitious priests. (Think Machiavelli and you are getting warm.) The Church had become the high road to political influence and wealth accumulation. Vocation, celibacy and poverty were part of the small print many overlooked. 

Of course there were exceptions on both sides of the English Channel. They brought new meaning to ‘saint’.

Notably the king still gets a surprising mix of good and bad Press.  Several Catholic websites paint him as evil personified, egotistical, harsh, and insecure.  Political commentators are kinder. We Anglicans tend to ignore the elephant.

In a nutshell Henry (1491-1547) played the role of a Renaissance man to the hilt. His court was a centre of scholarly and artistic innovation. Glamorous excess kept him on the brink of financial ruin.
Holbein's The Ambassadors shows the luxurious display expected of Tudor diplomats.Holbein's .
Real and perceived enemies were tortured and executed. All good fodder for modern movies and soapies. 

Henry’s main dispute with the Catholic Church was with papal authority. Yet he was quick to institute the concept of the divine right of kings.

Importantly, despite his excommunication from the Catholic Church, he continued to believe in its core teachings. He also retained the clergy who didn’t tick him off politically. So the apostolic line of succession was not severed. The likes of Cardinal Wolsey and Archbishop Cranmer had all been ordained by Rome. That succession would be continued within England and across the world.
Bishop Steve Moreo was consecrated in St Mary's Cathedral, Johannesburg. 
A former political journalist, I wasn’t fazed by Henry’s shenanigans.  But I must admit to being relieved to learn that it is only in England that monarch is ‘the supreme governor and defender of the faith’. For me separation of State and Church are key.
As defender of the faith and supreme governor of the Church of England Queen Elizabeth even approves the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I was reassured.  But there was an important lesson. Do not confuse Church leadership with God.  

Meanwhile, having bunked the ‘Holy Spirit’ week-end, I’d underestimated the persistence of the Alpha Course facilitators. They arranged a special Saturday session for those of us who hadn’t been able to get away!

Convent raised I was good at guilt. By the Friday I was doing some serious grovelling to God. I was begging, no exaggeration, for the Holy Spirit to give me a good solid zap next day.  If not it would be like attending a Girl Guide camp and returning with no merit badge.

Needless to say, nothing did happen. The Holy Spirit had other plans. Instead I spent much of the Saturday afternoon consoling a distraught woman. She felt the Nicky Gumbel video for that day had instructed her to give up her live-in partner of 10 years. Yet she loved and respected him. She and her daughter were financially dependent on him. A good man, he’d been hurt by divorce and was disillusioned with marriage.

It was my first experience of the tensions between the ‘real world’ definition of family and Church teachings. Do we set too much store on a marriage certificate? It is, after all, an instrument of State? Does the sacrament of marriage not rest more in mutual commitment, caring for each other, respect. The vows?
What do you think?

By the way, I’m finding most of the comments on my blog posts are being made on Facebook. Thank-you. And I’m gobsmacked to find that these pages have been viewed from as far afield as Qatar, India and Sweden. Nine countries in all!

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Have blessed week.


Peter Nickles said...

Informative, entertaining and relevant.....also a little provocative....nothing wrong with that....gets the conversation going.
Thankyou. I think the pictures are a great idea.
More, please.

sunflowers and khakibush said...

Twenty to twenty five years ago I was very much a black and white Christian and then something happened to me. There was no Damascus Road experience, but a slow realization that there are many shades of grey in all our lives. Consequently I have become much more gentle in my approach to various hot potatoes, such as homosexuality, partners, etc. If someone is living with their partner in a loving, committed relationship, who are we to interfere with that. I also think that the marriage ceremony is sort of man made? We have been very good over the centuries at neatening things up, and putting things into pigeon holes. We like to know that this fits here, and that fits there and so we have a handle on life, which causes us to feel secure.

Loraine Tulleken said...

So interesting that the predominantly Catholic Ireland has just voted (in a referendum) for same sex marriage but I think we Christians and politicians often overlook other families - child headed households, grandmothers raising orphans, single parents etc