Sermon Queen Elizabeth I and the English Reformation

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1 Sermon Queen Elizabeth I and the English Reformation Here at St Peters we have been embarking on a series looking at key characters in the Protestant Reformation. Today we will be looking at Queen Elizabeth I and her role in the English Reformation. But before we jump into Lizzie s reign and rule, let s re-cap. Recap and Historical Background Martin Luther The Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther, in Wittenberg, Germany in years ago. Prior to Martin Luther, there had been a handful of people who had tried to bring reform to the Roman Catholic Church. Yet it is Luther who is known as the initiator of this great change. Luther wrote 95 Theses, 95 academic reasons why the sale of indulgences was immoral and unbiblical, why the Pope had no authority over purgatory, and why the idea that the good deeds of past saints could be passed on in the form of forgiveness had no biblical foundation. Legend has it that Luther nailed these 95 Theses to the door of the All Saint s Church in Wittenberg on October 31. Luther was an academic, a professor of theology, a composer, a priest, and a monk. John Calvin Following Luther, we have John Calvin, a refugee from France living in Switzerland in the 1530 s. Almost 20 years after Luther s 95 Theses, Calvin published his first edition of the Institutes of Christian Religion. A hefty piece of work that would have needed nine inch nails and a bolt to secure it to a church door. The Institutes is an introductory book to the Protestant faith, systematically covering theological doctrines such as church, sacraments, and justification. Calvin ended up in Geneva, where he brought reform to the church and to the city. Calvin introduced a new form of church governance and liturgy. There were no longer priests, or bishops or popes, but rather, a leadership style that drew on the strengths and gifts of the lay people. As for public worship, that changed dramatically too. The Scriptures were read in the language of the people not in Latin, which hardly anyone understood anyway God s presence in the sacrament of Communion was redefined, songs were used as teaching aids for children and adults alike. Not only was the church of Geneva reformed and reshaped, but so too the city of Geneva. Calvin wrote the rules for the city council after all, he had first trained as a lawyer - and during his time in Geneva there was a revolution of sorts. Luther was a humanist lawyer, a theologian, a pastor, and a second generation reformer. King Henry VIII That s a brief description of what happened in Europe at the time of the Reformation. Over the channel in England we have a very different story. King Henry VIII was also keen to break with Rome and the rules and ways of the Catholic Church, but for personal and political reasons rather than theological ones.

2 Henry was second in line for the English throne. His father had arranged a marriage for his elder brother, Arthur, to the Spanish Catherine of Aragon. She was the daughter of a powerful European family and his hope was that this union would bring strength to the fledgling Tudor House. However, just five months into it, Arthur died. Old King Henry the VII did not want to lose this connection so he proposed that his second son, Henry marry the young widow. Because Leviticus prohibited marriages within close relationships like this one, special papal dispensation for the marriage of Henry to Catherine was obtained from the Pope. 17 years after Henry VIII and Catherine were married, Mary Tudor was born a girl and an only child. Henry VIII wanted an heir, and it was clear that Catherine, being in her 40 s was unlikely to deliver. Because the marriage had had special papal dispensation, Henry wanted to get the whole thing annulled because he shouldn t have married his dead brother s widow in the first place. This time though, there was a different pope. For him to grant an annulment would mean that he would call into question the decision of the previous pope, who had allowed the marriage. This would suggest papal fallibility which Luther, the Reformer, had already made a fuss about. That, and the fact that at the time Rome had been sacked and the pope was pretty much the prisoner of Emperor Charles V, who just happened to be Catherine of Aragon s nephew. There was no way Henry VIII was going to get his annulment. So Henry followed suit and split with the Roman Catholic church. Enabling him to marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn and the four others that followed her. The split happened through political channels, separating the church in England from the church in Rome. However, Henry s case was empowered because there was rising discontent in England for papal authority, clerical behaviour, and church corruption as well as an introduction of Protestant thought and teaching which had come from the Continent. Henry was made the Supreme Head of the Church of England and the pope was displaced. This was a constitutional break from the authority of the pope and of Rome, it was not the introduction of Protestantism. In fact, much of what Henry VIII did after that was very Catholic in thought and practice. Henry was a king who used his position to create division. He had more wives than he had children and his main concern was that the Tudor house would go from strength to strength. Character Study: Queen Elizabeth I Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She was third in line for the throne, following her younger halfbrother, Edward, and her older half-sister, Mary. Edward was crowned the King of England at the age of 9, following his father s death. Edward was England s first monarch to be raised Protestant. His reign was marked by economic problems and social unrest. Edward died at the age of 15. Mary Tudor, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon and a staunch Catholic, became queen, and she reversed Edwards Protestant reforms. Mary reigned for 5 years and during that time she had 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake and imprisoned her half-sister Elizabeth for a year because she was suspected of supporting Protestant rebels.

3 After Mary s death, Elizabeth became the Queen of England in the late 1550 s 40 odd years after Luther, the church door, and the 95 Theses. Since her father s death, England had experience a religious tumultuousness. One of the first things Elizabeth did as queen was to seek to soothe the religious wounds of her people. She had the power to create political and religious change, and she did so in small doses, each mouthful just bearable like Irish Moss cough syrup. Under Elizabeth, the English Reformation occurred in a series of instalments, and she sought the middle way between religious extremes which were causing violence and strife both in England and in Europe. Elizabeth had a knack for holding both Catholics and Protestants in check, lest the blood shed which happened under her sister Marys reign continue. She established a common ground on doctrine and discipline, which could eventually come to be known as the Church of England and the mother church of the Anglican denomination. Elizabeth came to the throne at the age of 25, bearing a wisdom beyond her years. She reigned for 45 years and during that time England turned Protestant, became a leading nation of Europe, won a world Empire, and experienced a cultural renaissance. 1 Her long reign brought a much needed stability to the English people. Elizabeth s contribution to the English Reformation has also be criticised. She was too Catholic for Protestants and too Protestant for Catholics. The Via Media, the Middle Way preserved unity while making room for differences and reducing religious divisions caused by Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I. It was parliament that guaranteed the success of the Elizabeth s policy, first through the Act of Supremacy 1558 and secondly through the Act of Uniformity in Act of Supremacy Historian, Carter Lindberg, describes the first act this way: In April 1559, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy that recognised the queen as head of the English church. All royal officials, judges, and the clergy had to take a loyalty oath acknowledging the supremacy of the crown over the church on pain of losing their office. Elizabeth, however, sensitive to the male chauvinism of the age that precluded a woman filling a priestly or ecclesiastical function, took the title Supreme Governor rather than Supreme Head. 2 The Act of Uniformity The Act of Uniformity described what form the English Church should take and re-established the Common Book of Prayer. Public worship included Roman Catholic vestments and liturgy, but everything was said in English. The language used during Communion has been described as a masterpiece in social engineering. During the Reformation there was a lot of controversy about what the church believed happened during Communion. Did the bread and the wine literally transform into the body and the blood of Jesus when the words were said and the bell was rung? Or was God somehow, mysteriously present in the act of breaking bread and drinking from a common cup, but not in the actual elements themselves? Or was there little significance to the bread and the wine, and the memorial itself, the act of remember God s grace, was the most important thing? The Anglican liturgy which developed was sufficiently vague, allowing for both a diversity in theological opinion and uniformity in worship, in order that all people could share in worship and Communion together. This happened at 1 Carter Lindberg 2 Carter Lindberg 313

4 the time where everywhere else in Europe, Christian groups were writing Confessions of Faith, which separated them from one another. In response, Elizabeth sought to bring unity amidst diversity. Throughout Elizabeth s reign she kept many ambitious suitors living in hope, in her service, and at an arm s length. She was excommunicated by the Pope for being a slave of vice, a usurper of the pope s office and a Calvinist. She kept her head when her Spanish brother-in-law, Phillip II of Spain, called her a heretic and an illegitimate ruler of England (given that the Pope had never annulled Henry VIII s marriage to Catherine of Aragon). Phillip sent the Spanish Armada to invade England in an attempt to overthrow Elizabeth and reinstate Catholicism, but they were defeated. Eventually, reluctantly, Elizabeth executed her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, for sanctioning an attempted assassination of Elizabeth. Connections with Scripture Given all of this history and intersecting storylines, how does this story connect with the story of Scripture? As I was reading and reflecting on the life and impact of Queen Elizabeth I, I was reminded of Paul s instruction to the Ephesian church to: Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Although Elizabeth s Middle Way can be both celebrated and criticised, her actions do speak of a desire to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. In an era where church reform brought church division, and the one, holy catholic and apostolic church was fraught and fragmented, Elizabeth called her people to unity and oneness. Paul also says: Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. In her commitment to bring stability to England and her recognition that she was not the Head of the Church, Elizabeth points us to Christ, who is the head. As head of the church, Jesus confronts us with a different kind of diplomacy, the kind that establishes peace between people and God. True unity does not come from an adherence to an Act of Parliament or an acceptance of a vague doctrine of belief. True unity comes through the power and work of the Spirit of God who enables us to bear with one another in love, to be humble, gentle and patient. It is the Spirit of Christ who builds us and binds us together as the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. In contrast to Elizabeth, Jesus does not present us with a Middle Way. Jesus is the Way, the narrow path that leads to life. Elizabeth needed to care for her people, to create stability and strength for England. However, as followers of Jesus, our concern is not to preserve a kingdom of our own making, whether that be the English Monarchy, the Presbyterian Church or own sphere of power and influence. Rather, our concern is to seek first the Kingdom of God, and God s righteousness.

5 Connections with us Today we have spent some time considering Elizabeth and her role in the English Reformation. We ve seen how her character and conduct can be connected with Paul s words as he implored and instructed the church in Ephesus. What about us? How does this history-lesson-slash-sermon connect with us? Are you a little bit Elizabethan? Are you negotiating middle ground? Are you holding your people together with love? Are you literally trying to keep your head? Are you fighting the Spanish Armada? Are you making difficult decisions and dealing with ridicule? Are you the only normal one in your fragmented and blended family? Is your identity and legitimacy being challenged? Are you being looked down on because you are young, or you are a woman, or you are a red head? Let me encourage you, whatever you are experiencing, whatever hat you are wearing, whether you are a royal, a lawyer, a scholar, a student, a social worker, a medical worker, a parent, an entrepreneur, a teacher, whatever hat you are wearing, allow God to form you and reform you in Christ s likeness. May God build us up and bind us together. E tu kahikatea Hei whakapae ururoa Awhi mai awhi atu Tatou Tatou e Stand like the Kahikatea tree To brave the storms Embrace and receive one another We are one together In Christ we are one. Rev. Cate Williams 20 th August 2017

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