The Protestant Reformation In England......



In our secular age and the general decline in interest in religious or spiritual matters most people would now be hard pressed to define Protestantism or its place in our history. Put simply the Protestant Reformation was one of the greatest liberalising movements in all of human history. It's basic precepts was that religion should be based on the individual, not on the authority of a Church. Protestants believe that you are saved by your faith alone - if you are truly sorry for the sins you have committed in your earthly life, then you will be admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven. Protestants believe in the authority of the Holy Bible as God's written and holy word: the scriptures are open to individual interpretation, but man-made traditions or dogmas should not be placed on a par with its teachings.

Protestantism, then, paved the way for the liberal ideas of freedom of the individual conscience. Basing life on the individual may seem an unremarkable idea today, but it was an enormous change in the days when western Europe was governed under the absolute authority of monarchs in civic affairs and the Roman Catholic Church in spiritual matters. As consequence Protestants were often hideously persecuted: for example, in England "Bloody Mary" executed over 300 Protestants by the horrible method of burning at the stake. In France, the French Huguenots were massacred and driven out of the country into Britain and Ireland.

In England, perhaps because the initial break with the Roman Catholic Church occurred for cynical reasons (i.e. - King Henry VIII demands for a divorce), the impact the Reformation had on our society has often been greatly understated. Although Henry VIII himself was fairly religiously conservative, many of his appointees, such as Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and the Lord Chancellor Thomas Cromwell, were confirmed religious radicals, who used their positions to advance the Reformation of the Church of England. Other Bishops such as Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and John Hooper also advanced the cause during the early years of the Reformation during the reigns of King Henry VIII and the boy King Edward VI.

After the death of King Edward VI, the gains of the Reformation were bloodily reversed by the arch Roman Catholic Queen Mary . In Oxford Bishops Ridley and Latimer were put to the flames (to be followed later by Archbishop Cranmer). The strength of their faith can be viewed from the words Latimer spoke to Ridley as the flames engulfed them:

Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.

After the death of Queen Mary, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne, and the gains of the Reformation were restored. The defeat of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, the Spanish Armada and finally the victory of King William III at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 ensures that Latimer's candle burns on in England still, but sadly not as brightly as in the past.

Protestantism and the British Identity

The Protestant Reformation, started by the German Martin Luther and moulded by many other continental reformers in the 16th Century, was not primarily an English or British invention, but it did form perhaps the spiritual dimension to the developing ideas of individual liberty and democracy with had started with King John's signature of the Magna Carta in 1215. As such it unquestionably underpinned and contributed to the development of Anglo-Saxon liberal culture, which has been of such a positive benefit to the world, through the spread of the British Empire and later the ascendancy of the United States of America.

In later centuries Britain became known as the "bastion of Protestantism" and many different strands of Protestantism, such as Methodism and Presbyterianism were developed and vied with the established Anglican church for spiritual supremacy.

Protestantism was essentially the glue which bound the various British tribes together: whether one was a Scot, an Englishman, Welshman or Ulsterman, aristocracy, middle class or working class, it was a common thread which separated the British from the dominantly Roman Catholic European continent. Its essential values of respect for the rights of others and self restraint ensured the success of British liberal democracy, and gave rise to what is generally known as "British Reserve". Indeed, it worth noting generally that no 20th Century dictator came from a Protestant country.

It follows that the decline of Protestantism is primarily responsible for the loss of British identity which has become so acute today. Being British has in the eyes of many become no more than being born on the island of Great Britain, - a definition that by itself is insulting to the Ulster Protestants whose culture is perhaps more traditionally British than that of many "mainlanders" is today.

Sadly, with the decline in religious observance during this century and the social revolution which started in the 1960s, it has been increasingly fashionable to denigrate Protestantism (and indeed Britishness) as outmoded and bigoted. Its detractors constantly fall into the trap of judging the standards of the past by those of today, rather than by the relative development of cultures and countries at any given point in history. Judged by the yardsticks of tolerance and freedom, Protestant cultures have much more to be proud of in this respect than any other: for example - Britain had a Jewish Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli in the 19th Century, and its first black MP in the 1920s. What other cultures can say there were as tolerant in those times? In more recent times, racial and religious minorities have been successfully integrated into the national life, and only a rapidly decreasing minority would suggest that it should be otherwise. Indeed, it is now the high priests of Political Correctness who are deeply illiberal in their outlook with their amoral beliefs that all lifestyles and forms of behaviour are intrinsically of equal merit, no matter how selfish, anti-social and irresponsible they may be.



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