Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Far Cry From Communal Living

Today's Word:
Acts 4:32-37 (The community of believers held all possessions in common)
Psalm 93:1-5 (The Lord is King, robed in majesty)
John 3:7-15 (Jesus continues his dialogue with Nicodemus on being 'born of spirit')

I confess I was all but going to take a pass today - the Lectionary continues with the passages from the point left off yesterday - until I found in one of the almanac/blogs I frequently visit that two big historical events occurred on this date. Traditionally, it's the 2062nd anniversary of the founding of the City of Rome; much of the impact of ancient Roman civilization is still apparent today.

It's also the 500th anniversary of the ascension of Henry VIII to the throne of England. When this Henry became king, he was all of seventeen years of age.

In roughly 1450 years Christianity had gone from quasi-communal living where everything was owned in common, to a place where the faithful were led around under the guise of the faith by a power struggle between the Church, the various heads of state, and a few folks I'll call "free range" theologians (for the sake of simplicity). This last group somehow seemed to fly under the radar as it were while the papal monarchy and the state monarchies were making and breaking alliances at the drop of a hat (or a crown or a tiara, papal or otherwise).

The Renaissance had taken place. There had been a grand awakening of the human spirit. The movers and shakers of the day were doing that. The entrepreneurs were entreprenuring. Some guy named Cristoforo Columbo claimed to have found a way to India and the East by sailing West. During Henry's reign as king, Ferdinand Magellan would set sail for the first 'world' tour. (He didn't quite finish it, but his crew did).

England didn't get into this new foray in world exploration until long after Henry died; even though Columbus' maiden voyage to the New World took place long before Henry took the throne. In England, he had made himself the center of attention on several fronts which caused a great deal of unrest in England for much of his reign.

Most history buffs can tell the story better than I; just about everyone knows that Henry went through six wives to satisfy his cravings, not the least of which included making sure there would be a male heir to take the throne after him. He condemned Luther as a heretic on one hand, but on the other took for himself the title of Supreme Head of the Church in England when the papacy in Rome would not annul his first marriage, to Catharine of Aragon. Two of his Lord Chancellors were Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell, both shrewd and manipulative power brokers. Where on one side Wolsey used his influence as high clergyman to manipulate people, Cromwell sought to make religion totally subservient to the state. During Henry's reign, Protestants were being burnt for heresy even while Catholics were being executed for refusing to take the oath of supremacy.

In the end, the most succinct way I can put things is that Henry didn't practice what he preached. The background of his early years as king indicate that he was a capable and just ruler until he became fixed on the lack of a son to replace him at the proper time. But it's also evident that the rest of the heads of Europe and the Church were part of the problems of the time and no real solutions were forthcoming. The Faith had become a word that the heads of state and religion were all vieing to defend to their own liking; while the faithful struggled to find God's hand in this, often at the cost of their lives.

Indeed, power corrupts - and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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