Monday, August 18, 2008

The Great Divorce

The brutal suppression of the monasteries would soon follow. More than one thousand monasteries and convents were destroyed and monks and nuns turned out into the street to find, in Cromwell’s words, "real work." In destroying them, Henry introduced the modern welfare state. Once, the poor were cared for in dignity and charity by men and women religious. Now they were dependent on the state. Anyone with a passing familiarity with public housing projects can appreciate this bitter fruit of the Protestant rebellion in England.

Indeed, because England was destined for "a unique good fortune in the leadership of the world it is through its effect in England that the Reformation survives today as a world force," (Philip Hughes, A Popular History of the Reformation, 161) and the worst manifestations of it, from Christendom’s first state-sanctioned regicide, to the ugliness of industrialization, to the treatment of indigenous peoples, including American Indians, are this so-called Reformation’s darker legacy. With the exception of literature, English intellectual life declined, and even within English literature, it is the Catholics—Shakespeare, Dryden, Chesterton—who shine. English philosophers are more political theorists, and their ideas sparked the errors of the Enlightenment. The suppression of the Church in England was the dress rehearsal for the French Revolution, the Italian Risorgimento, the Mexican Revolution, and the Spanish Civil War. Henry VIII’s divorce is the reason America is a Protestant country.


Anonymous said...


Rather a selective list of 'shin[ing] authors! Shakespeare is putatively Catholic, anyway: we just can't be sure (despite efforts by Joseph Pearce, Clare Asquith, Peter Milward, etc): and the writer is carefully forgetting about 90% of post-Reformation English Literature. I hardly think that poets like Donne (an apostate), Herbert, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Tennyson, Browning, Yeats, Eliot, Auden; novelists such as Austen, Scott, Dickens, Eliot, Thackeray, Trollope [I won't move into the 20th century] - not to mention playwrights - can be safely classified as inferior to Dryden and Chesterton!

Seriously, though, this sort of writing is dangerous because it comes across so clearly as partial and blinkered. The Reformation was a tragedy, I agree, but one has to face facts: in England, it destroyed painting for hundreds of years and did nothing for music, but literature flourished.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

I with ye baby.

Esp. Donne.

Jeremy said...

That line about American Indians is nonsense too, but when he's right he's right.

Have you read Christopher Haigh's English Reformations? It, like Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars is an excellent examination of the evil period.

Zach said...

What's nonsense about the English treatment of American Indians?

... he asks, having just returned from both the Father Marquette memorials and and Indian powwow being held onsite. Oh, and hearing a long diatribe by a Huron about how it was the French who treated them with respect, not those damned greedy bloody-minded English ...

... obviously some people have longer memories than the typical Americans. :)