HOW KING HENRY VIII's MIDLIFE CRISIS STARTED A FUNKY NEW DENOMINATION BASED ON ANYTHING GOES DOCTRINE, STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE, WITH A FEW WIFE BEHEADINGS THROWN IN FOR GOOD MEASURE.
Should we really be surprised at the Archbishop of Canturbury Rowan Williams's recent, controversial pontifications about the inevitability of sharia law in England, if we stop and recall the early history and beginnings of the Church of England which he now heads?
A brief walk down memory lane should help us understand how Rowan Williams is as inevitable a leader to the increasingly irrelevant Church of England today, as King Henry VIII is to its beginnings in 1534.
The Anglican Church, an offshoot of Roman Catholism, did not begin as a part of the Protestant Reformation sweeping Europe in the mid 1500s, but rather as a quick political fix because England's King Henry VIII couldn't get the Roman Catholic pontiff's permission to divorce his wife and remarry his mistress.
The English Bible History puts it this way:
"King Henry VIII had in fact, requested that the Pope permit him to divorce his wife (Catherine of Aragon) and marry his mistress (Anne Boleyn, who ultimately bore their daughter and future queen, Elizabeth) because among many other things, he desperately wanted to produce a male heir to the throne.
The Pope refused the king's request. King Henry responded by marrying his mistress anyway, (later having two of his many wives beheaded), and thumbing his nose at the Pope by renouncing Roman Catholicism, taking England out from under Rome’s religious control, and declaring himself as the reigning head of State and also the new 'Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England.'
This new branch of the Christian Church, neither Roman Catholic nor truly Protestant, became known as the Anglican Church or the Church of England. King Henry acted essentially as its “Pope”. His first act was to further defy the wishes of Rome by funding the printing of the scriptures in English… the first legal English Bible… just for spite."
Again, Anglicanism was founded as a convenient and quick political fix involving sex, lies, power, long before the time of rock and roll.
While former Catholic monk and declared Catholic heretic Martin Luther worked arduously in Germany to eschew the Roman hierarchy with its rules and regulations regarding the layman's relationship with Christ, and finally broke off from Catholism because of doctrinal differences, it was not the case in England: King Henry could have cared less about doctrine or the importance of the Bible to believers. He just wanted a male heir to the throne and the ability to marry whomever he wanted. To hell with the specifics of doctrine. His favorite doctrine was the doctrine of beheading his wives on trumped-up charges so he could remarry and remarry and remarry.
STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE
And here, at the end of the executioner's axe, the Church of England began. But there's more:
After King Henry's death in 1549, and Bloody Mary's brief reign (and short restoration of the Catholic Church there), Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne of England and further defined the role of the newly formed Anglican Church as follows:
Saying creeds would be important in this new 'church' but no clear, absolute doctrine was necessary, as long as everyone said the uniform ditties found in the Book of Common Prayer.
In A Church Asunder, Peter J. Boyer writing in The New Yorker magazine in April, 2006 describes it this way:
"When Elizabeth ascended to the throne as a Protestant, the realm faced a third religious about-face in a dozen years, and the prospect of civil war was real.
"Elizabeth’s elegant solution allowed her subjects to believe whatever they wished but insisted upon a uniform worship service.
"The vehicle for this “middle way,” as Anglicanism came to be known, was the Book of Common Prayer, which gracefully blended Roman Catholic liturgy with some Protestant principles. The prayer book allowed for the coexistence within one institution of distinctly different interpretations of Christianity, with the unofficial designations of High Church (those parishes inclined toward a more Roman Catholic orientation), Low Church (evangelicals), and Broad Church (those Anglicans tolerant of wide doctrinal interpretations).
"The Anglican way proved remarkably resilient, absorbing the shocks of the English civil war and the Enlightenment, and ultimately planting itself worldwide in the footsteps of the British Empire. In the United States, the Church of England became the Episcopal Church."
The style of Anglicanism had to be uniform as found in that drafty ole Book of Common Prayer, but the substance of Anglican doctrine was always---and still is---up for grabs.
In other words, 'anything goes doctrine' IS the fundamental doctrine ruling the Anglican/Episcopal Church since its inception the middle 1,500s.
With over 500 years of this history in mind, why should we really be surprised at the Archbishop of Canturbury's recent pontifications about sharia law coming to England? When in fact, it's business as usual for the head of the anything-goes Anglicans: a little Catholism here, Protestanism there, and now a sprinkling of Islam and sharia, for good measure.
In the process today, Rowan Williams is re-inventing his liberal, politically correct denomination in a way that would make King Henry VIII proud, and should surprise none of us.
The only thing left to wonder is when and where will the next heads roll.