If England Had Remained Catholic

Public veneration, processions, true feast days, and all the rest.

... Piety is here taken as both negative and primitive, but in Catholic cultures it has an earthy wisdom to it, as Lady Antonia Fraser, the historian and biographer of several of the key Reformation figures, explained to me: "I put my mind back to what I loved about the Catholic Church as a 14-year-old convert, and in fact it's what I still love about it more than 60 years later: it was the religious use of the seasons, the acknowledgement and celebration of the seasons of the year via the feasts of the Church including the penitential seasons. So I still date my letters with such things as ‘22 November, Feast of St Cecilia', which of course celebrates music, to say nothing of Candlemas, just past, which was originally the feast of the lambs, transformed by the Church. So in a Catholic England we would still have all this holy roistering."

But perhaps conjuring up a picture of a still-Catholic England doesn't only have to be a labour of imagination or the result of a trip to out-of-the-way places such as Walsingham. Last year a reliquary containing the bones of the 19th-century Catholic saint, Thérèse of Lisieux, came to these shores. Public veneration of relics, while still commonplace in Catholic Europe, hasn't been seen on any scale in Britain for 500 years. Yet more than 300,000 people queued up to stand in front of the elaborate wooden box (some of Thérèse's bones are on view in Lisieux, but the reliquary was sealed) and many were visibly moved by the experience.

That visceral dimension to Catholic culture was also on display at the National Gallery in London at the start of the year in The Sacred Made Real, an exhibition of extreme Spanish religious art. It is hard to imagine it even being staged 20 years ago, but numbers attending the show exceeded all expectations. A British taste for the trappings of Catholicism that has lain dormant for five centuries may just be reawakening.

The same point, of course, was made in 1997 following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, when public grief was unrestrained. In its aftermath, the hard shoulders of British highways now boast plenty of the sort of roadside monuments to those killed in car accidents that have long been a feature of Italian autostradas and Spanish mountain passes. Like Walsingham, they could be seen as prompts to reconsider one of the great "what ifs" of our history.

The Anglophile world truly cries out for the orthodox and catholic Faith.


Anonymous said…
Interestingly, English Catholicism would be Sarum Rite, rather than Roman Rite, if properly restored from heresy. In became popular in the early 16th century but now is nearly extinct (but not suppressed).
Interesting indeed. Thanks for your informative comment.
Acilius said…
I don't think we can say that an England in which Henry VIII had deferred to Clement's authority would be a Sarum Rite province. The Council of Trent took place after Henry broke from Rome, and that council represented a watershed in church governance. Western Christianity in the pre-Tridentine era was far less standardized than it has been since, so that several rites could coexist in one province.

One might wonder whether the Council of Trent would have been convened, or the Counter-Reformation even begun, had Henry not established the Church of England. Indeed, if we accept the idea that God reveals His Truth to us in history, and that the foundation of the Church of England and the Roman hierarchy's response to that foundation were both historical events, then the idea that one event was dependent on the other would not seem to be a theological issue. On whichever side of the various theological divides one stands, one would then be free to accept any and all counterfactual hypotheses.
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
Well, I had it in my head that instead of Henry not going schismatic (because it was not fully and irredeemably heretical until Elizabeth) that Mary I had an heir and her 'counter-reformation' was a success. Usage of the Sarum Rite peaked under her reign.

Even without Henry, I believe there would have been Trent. The situation in the German states was already bad enough.
Acilius said…
I suppose my main point is about the nature of counterfactual claims. If history is a source of ultimate truth, and we imagine history to have been otherwise than it was, then how do we avoid imagining everything as different than it is? Don't we need special constraints on the counterfactual imagination when we discuss church history if our conception of orthodoxy is rooted in historical magisteria? And if so, what precisely should those constraints be?