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Henry VIII, the "Defender of the Faith," and the Origin of the Church of England


    The Episcopalian Church in America is part of the larger Anglican or Church of England Church.  According to (a great site for religion statistics), worldwide the Church of England numbers 73 million (compared with 1 billion Catholics, 70 million Baptists, and 70 million Methodists).  So what is the link of all those Episcopalians to England?  Here we go:

    In the early 1500s, England was Catholic.  King Henry VII (d. 1509), therefore, was Catholic.  He had two sons, Arthur, the oldest, and Henry.  Arthur married Catherine of Aragon (from Spain, another Catholic country) but only stayed married for five months because he died.  After Henry VII died, his son Henry became king and became known as Henry VIII.  He married his brother’s widow, Catherine.  They enjoyed a happy period early in their marriage.  But Henry wanted a male heir and Catherine did not produce one.  But not for trying:  she had three miscarriages, bore one son who died soon afterwards, a daughter who also died early, and a daughter who lived.  The daughter’s name was Mary and she was raised Catholic, an important point.

    During this time, Martin Luther made his break with the Catholic Church.  In 1521, Henry, a staunch Catholic, wrote a book condemning Luther’s views of the sacraments.  In gratitude, the pope gave Henry the title “Defender of the Faith,” an important point.

    Henry decided to divorce Catherine and marry a woman who could give him a male heir.  He asked the pope for a divorce, but the pope said no.  But Henry really wanted a divorce, so he asked his advisors for help.  He was told that he could invalidate the marriage because Catherine had slept with Arthur.  It is a little complicated, but it involves Leviticus 20:21.

    In 1531, Henry decided to divorce Catherine in spite of the pope’s refusal to agree.  In 1532 he married Anne Boleyn, who bore a daughter, Elizabeth, in 1532.  In 1533, the pope excommunicated Henry.  Several acts of Parliament followed, the most important being the Act of Supremacy in 1534 which stated that Henry was “supreme head on earth of the English Church.”  Thus the Church of England was born.  And Elizabeth was raised in the Church of England, an important point.

    Eventually Henry got tired of Anne Boleyn, accused her of adultery, and had her beheaded.  He next married Jane Seymour.  She gave birth to a son, Edward, but she died soon afterward; Edward was raised in the Church of England, an important point.  Next Henry married Anne of Cleves from Germany, but once she arrived, decided her too ugly and legally changed the marriage contract to one where he adopted her as his sister.  He next married Catherine Howard; no children were born and she was executed for adultery.  He next married Catherine Parr, who remained his wife until he died, although she bore him no children.

    After Henry died, Edward VI became king at age nine.  He was raised in the Church of England and so England was Church of England.  He died at age fifteen without marrying.  Mary became queen.  She was raised Catholic and so England became Catholic, although with some bloodshed, which gave her the nickname “Bloody Mary.”  She was queen for five years.  Elizabeth next became queen.  She was raised Church of England and so reverted the kingdom to Church of England.  And she reigned for forty-five years.  Next James of Scotland became king, which resulted in the King James Version, but that is a different story.

    Amazing fact:  After Henry broke from the Catholic Church, he decided to retain the title “Defender of the Faith,” which he had won as a result of writing a book on behalf of the Catholic Church and against Luther.  And the English monarch still holds that title. 


©Mark Nickens 2009


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