King Henry VIII was a key player in the Reformation, as he singlehandedly split England from the papacy. Was Henry VIII Catholic?
Despite the irony of distancing his country away from the pope despite being Catholic, Henry VIII would be a devout Catholic for his entire life. His split from the pope was largely revolved around his desire to annul the marriage of his wife to marry a different woman who could give him a son.
While critiquing many of the agendas of the Protestant Reformation, he agreed with many of its core beliefs, such as the idea that the bible was the supreme word of god instead of the papacy.
Read on to learn about Henry VIII’s Catholic faith and how he distanced English Catholicism away from the papacy.
Henry VIII’s Faith
Henry VIII was raised and remained a devout Catholic all of his life. He owned a prayer scroll, which was an essential item for any practicing late medieval catholic. These scrolls had illustrations of Catholic symbols, such as the crucified Christ. Prayers were placed across the scrolls in Latin that would act as a guide for daily prayer.
Catholics who owned these scrolls often made them a part of their daily worship, as they felt that touching the scrolls and reciting its prayers would bring them closer to God.
Another common practice during the late medieval period was the purchase of indulgences. This catholic tradition consisted of the Church pardoning sin and lessening the time in purgatory in exchange for money.
The selling of indulgences was one of the central critiques of the Church by Martin Luther during the Reformation. Henry VIII went out of his way to defend the practice against Luther, writing a response called “Defense of the Seven Sacraments.”
The Pope gave Henry VIII the honorary title of “Defender of the Faith” for defending the selling of indulgences. The pope could never have foreseen that this “Defender of the Faith” would soon single-handedly split England from the papacy.
Henry VIII has often been cited as a prominent actor in the reformation, though his reason for doing so largely had nothing to do with religious belief or Reformation-inspired ideology.
Henry VIII formally split from the papacy when Pope Clement VII wouldn’t allow an annulment of his marriage that would let him marry a different woman.
Henry had married Catherine of Aragon upon taking the throne in 1509, who happened to be the widow of his deceased older brother. Henry and Catherine would try to produce an heir to the throne but would have no success.
Catherine would become pregnant six times, but all of their children would either die as stillborn or shortly after being born, though she would successfully have a daughter. With the potential chance of having a son with Catherine diminishing, King Henry began to look elsewhere.
Henry soon started a relationship with Anne Boleyn and decided to marry her. However, this meant that he would have to ask the Roman Catholic Church for an official annulment of his marriage to Catherine.
Henry used his older brother’s marriage to Catherine as grounds for an annulment of the marriage, citing a passage from the Old Testament that said:
“If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an impurity; he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.”
The pope refused this request, as the Roman Catholic Church believed in preserving the sanctity of marriage, especially for rulers who were supposed to set an example for their people.
Henry responded by formally splitting England from Rome, forming the Church of England. He soon began implementing policies that removed Roman influence from English society.
The Act in Restraint of Appeals was passed by English Parliament in 1533, which eliminated the jurisdiction of the Pope in England and the use of Rome for appeals of court cases.
The Act of Supremacy of 1534 was even more devastating to the papacy, as it gave the full power over the Church of England to the English King instead of the Pope. Henry VIII would also close monasteries throughout England.
While rejecting many of Luther’s critiques of the Church, he strongly agreed that the word of the bible was the supreme word of God. Henry VIII would print many new editions and translations of the Bible that were designed to be read both by clergy and regular people.
While Henry VIII agreed with Luther on some core issues and single-handedly split England from the Papacy, Henry VIII remained a devout Catholic until the end of his life.