Martin Luther /

Martin Luther /

He or she is a worshipper in any purely Christian Church, formed after separation from the Roman Catholic Church during what is called the ‘Reformation’. Obviously the word stems from the word ‘protest’: in this case the word was coined after the Imperial Diet was summoned in 1529 at Speyer and comes from the Protestatio made by reforming members of the council, who were against decisions made by its Catholic majority.

The reforming members were followers of Martin Luther, and they were not simply making objections; their speeches showed that they were professing a commitment to what they called ‘the simple Faith of the Early Church’. They said that they believed this simple faith had been spoiled, partially hidden by unnecessary medieval Roman Catholic innovations.

Early Protestants were convinced that the Bible was the sole source of revealed truth, and that it must be made available to everybody in vernacular translation. They wanted greatly to reduce all ceremonial aspects of Christianity and put preaching from the pulpit, and the hearing of the Word of God before any sacramental faith and practice.

Following the Protestatio innumerable sects and churches were formed, all of which were ‘Protestant’: one of these became the established Church in England known as the Anglican Church, recognised by the State and led by the British monarch as titular head. Henry VIII was that titular head who broke with the Roman Catholic Church for monarchical and marital reasons. His young and ill-fated son Edward VI made moves to establish Protestant doctrines and practices, but the formulation of distinctively Anglican principles dates from Queen Elizabeth I.

The second Book of Common Prayer of Edward’s brief reign was revised with modifications and published in 1559. Use of it in churches was enforced by Parliament in the Act of Uniformity, thus establishing authority to be shared between the Anglican Church and the politicians. In 1563 the ‘Thirty-Nine Articles’ were issued by the highest assembly of the Church and adopted by the newly named Church of England as a statement of its beliefs and practices.

The aim of the reformers was to establish a comprehensive, national and episcopal Church with the Monarch as ‘supreme Governor’. Now the politicians (lawmakers) stepped in to call for fines to be exercised against those who refused to attend the new church ceremonies.

It is time for straight speaking: the ‘Catholicization’ of the Church under Archbishop Laud in the 1630s had increased Puritan antipathy to the bishops, and religion was just as much a factor in the outbreak of the English Civil War as the unmovable attitudes of King Charles I, who might have believed firmly in the Divine Right of Kings but was a confirmed man of the Church of England. As it was, after the Civil War and the murder of the King, Anglicanism and Catholicism were actually banned by the Commonwealth and the Protectorate, which preferred to have nothing to do with established churches. Both returned in strength with the Reformation of Charles II.

   After the death of Charles II, and accession of his Catholic younger brother James, the latter’s pro-Catholic policies led directly the so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ which was not a revolution at all, but simply the replacement of a Catholic King by a Protestant (and foreign) King (William III). The Catholics were not forgotten, though those Englishmen who were Catholics were reduced to worshipping secretly in private. The word ‘recusant’ crept unobtrusively into the English language. Roman Catholics did not achieve emancipation until 1829.

The eighteenth century saw little else but squabbles between High Anglicans and Low Anglicans. The nineteenth century saw arguments between John Henry Newman’s High Church tradition in the 1830s, and the ever-increasing evangelical movements. Put simply, the former claimed some historical continuity with the original Roman Catholic Church (pre-Reformation). It stressed the authority of bishops and the priesthood and the essential if not irreplaceable importance of ceremony in services. But the Evangelicals were more Protestant in outlook, not taking much notice of sacraments and traditions, and emphasising the significance of the Bible as the absolute basis of Faith.

During the twentieth century another, infinitely more destructive tradition, that of ‘theological liberalism’ entered the fray, ending, logically enough, with Anglican bishops questioning their own Faith, and writing what were seen as anti-Christian tracts. This inevitably led to a huge decrease in worshippers at Church services, a massive introduction of music as an alternative to prayer, and a gradually lessening use of words such as ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘Our Lord’ or ‘God the Father’. This, combined with the still not credible selling off of Church property, such as vicarages and rectories – led to fewer and fewer Anglican priesthoods, more and more female vacationists, and ever-dwindling congregations.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

Leave A Comment