2021-04-03

UU Minute #36

England: Wycliffe to Henry VIII



Our story now makes its way to England, which has its own very distinctive church history. Antitrinitarian thought had popped up in the British Isles at least as early as 1327, when Adam Duff O’Toole was executed outside Dublin for denying the Trinity.

Later that century, John Wycliffe had headed a reform movement of sorts, questioning the privileged status of the clergy, the luxury and pomp of local parishes and their ceremonies, the veneration of saints, the sacraments, requiem masses, transubstantiation, monasticism, and the legitimacy of the Papacy.

Wycliffe, together with supporting associates, produced the first translation of the Bible into the English vernacular of the time – what we call Middle English. The project was completed the year Wycliffe died, 1384. The printing press hadn’t been invented yet, so the Wycliffe Bible didn’t have the impact it otherwise might have.

Still the Reformation didn’t come to England in the form that it swept over the mainland. England did a sort of Reformation Lite, by creating the Church of England – which, to this day, as the Anglican or the Episcopalian church, has a liturgy and worship style that’s halfway between Catholic and Protestant.

While Luther’s Reformation was based on 95 theses of critique against the abuses and corruptions of the Catholic Church, England’s Henry VIII simply wanted to be rid of a wife who, through no fault of her own, had not born him a surviving son – and who also wasn’t as young as Anne Boleyn. Since the Pope wouldn’t grant Henry an annulment, Henry prevailed upon the English church to renounce papal authority. The year was 1534.


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