Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Assumption Behind the English Reformation

Whenever I read about the English Reformation (as I did today), I'm struck by a particular thought, one that's possibly so obvious nobody ever comments on it. This is it;  that the great mistake of the English Reformation was to assume Christianity would remain the national religion of England.

In the sixteenth century, presumably, it was unthinkable that large numbers of English people would become Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or cease to practice any religion at all.

The architects of the English Reformation seemed to think doctrine and dogma were not very important, because custom and practice could stand in their place. Geography trumped theology. The Church of England was the church of the English people, and fussing over articles of faith was irrelevant.

Well, the vast edifice of vicarages, rectories, parsonages, and all the other quaint terms familiar from M.R. James and Anthony Trollope stories has now become a thing of the past. Bricks and mortar, tradition and custom, these things pass like a dream. Doctrine endures-- if it's built solidly to begin with.

Pragmatism in religion is the least pragmatic thing in the world,  in the long run. Dogma and doctrine is much more hard-headed than settlements and compromise and "the spirit of the law".

This, to me, is one of the great virtues of the Catholic faith. It assumes so little. We recite the Creed every Sunday, including the awkward word 'consubstantial', because it is not taken as read. The basic requirements of the Faith are so minimal (but so clear-cut) because it has to be capable of transplantation into any culture, any situation. Catholicism can be a persecuted minority religion or the established religion. It is truly univeral.

No comments:

Post a Comment