Project Canterbury

The Continuity of the Church of England
Before and After Its Reformation in the Sixteenth Century,
With Some Account of Its Present Condition.

Being a Course of Lectures Delivered at S. Petersburg in the Official Residence of the Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod to Audiences Consisting for the Most Part of Members of the Orthodox Church of Russia

by the Rev. F. W. Puller
Of the Society of S. John the Evangelist, Cowley

New York: Longmans, 1913.

Chapter I.
Sketch of the History of the Church of England from its Foundation in the Sixteenth Century to Its Reformation in the Sixteenth Century

I FEEL it to be a very great privilege to be allowed to speak to an audience like this, consisting, as it does so largely, of members of the Holy Orthodox Church of Russia. For the last fifty years, ever since I went as an undergraduate to the University of Cambridge, I have felt a deep interest in the Holy Orthodox Church of the East, and very specially in the Church of Russia.

We, who belong to the Church of England, are naturally drawn to take interest in and to love the Russian Church, because we have so much in common with her. We always think of her as a glorious part of the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, which was founded by our Lord JESUS Christ, the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father, who for us men and for our salvation was made man, being conceived in the womb of the Blessed Mary, the ever-virgin Mother of God.

And we of the Church of England think of ourselves as forming another part of the same Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; and we are therefore accustomed to regard the holy Church of Russia and all the holy Orthodox Churches of the East, as Churches which are sisters of the holy Church of England.

I do not know whether that is the view which you take; but undoubtedly that is the view which we in England take.

Unfortunately a long distance separates our two countries, Russia and England. Not very many Englishmen come to Russia, and not very many Russians come to England; and those, who do come, are for the most part chiefly interested in commerce and other matters connected with the things of this world; comparatively few are primarily interested in the things connected with religion and the Church. So that in England, while the faithful members of the English Church love the Russian Church, they do not know so much about her as they would wish to know. And perhaps it is the same with you here. You have indeed a friendly feeling towards the Church of England; but most of you would perhaps admit that you do not know very much about her.

It was probably for this reason that some weeks ago I had the honour of receiving an invitation from the President of this Society, the Bishop of Kholm, to come to S. Petersburg to deliver a course of lectures on the Church of England. I felt this invitation to be a great honour, and I felt also great joy in my heart. I said to myself:--At last then I have an opportunity of coming into contact with the holy Church of Russia, of getting to know her people, and her clergy, of visiting her churches and her monasteries and her spiritual academies and colleges, of joining in her holy worship, of venerating the shrines of her Saints, and of seeing the fruits of holiness which are produced in her by the Holy Ghost, and by the Catholic faith which she professes. And I thanked God for granting to me this favour, and for allowing me to see Russia and the Russian Church before I die.

But it is time for me to begin the task which I have undertaken, and to speak to you about my mother, the Holy Church of England. And in this first lecture I shall try and give you a rough sketch of the history of that Church.

The foundation of the Church of England began in the year 597, when our Apostle, S. Augustine, with his forty companions landed in the South-East corner of England, at a place situated in what is now called the county of Kent. At that time England was divided into seven kingdoms, and one of those kingdoms was the kingdom of Kent. And the King of Kent was named Ethelbert, and the capital of his kingdom was called Canterbury.

Before coming to England S. Augustine and his companions had been monks in a monastery founded in Rome by the great S. Gregory, that Gregory whom we in the West call S. Gregory the Great, and whom the Greeks call Ho Gregorios ho dialogos, and who in Russia is known as Svyatoe Gregorie Dvoeslov. After S. Gregory had become Bishop of Rome, he sent some of the monks of his monastery with S. Augustine at their head to preach the Gospel to our English nation, and to plant the Church in England.

The fact that it was Pope S. Gregory, who planned this mission to evangelize the English nation, and who sent monks from his own monastery at Rome to carry out the Mission which he had planned, is a fact of great importance. It had a great influence on the future history of the English Church. S. Gregory has always been regarded as the Apostle and founder of the Church of England; and we English recognize that the local Roman Church, over which S. Gregory presided as being its Bishop, is our Mother Church, for which we should naturally wish to feel a filial reverence and gratitude. No doubt in later times this filial feeling has very much diminished and has in fact almost disappeared, because of the exorbitant and tyrannical claims which the later Popes have put forth; but whenever we read or speak about the history of the foundation of our Church, we rejoice to acknowledge that the Roman Church in the time of Pope S. Gregory was a loving mother, to whom under God we owe our very existence as a Church.

I believe that I am not mistaken, when I express my belief that you here in Russia reverence S. Gregory. The liturgy of the Presanctified, which is used in your churches during so many days of the Lenten fast, is called the Liturgy of S. Gregory ho dialogos; and you commemorate S. Gregory in your services on the 12th of March, on which day his name also finds a place in the Kalendar of our English Prayer-book.

Here in Russia your first missionaries came from the great Church of Constantinople, and for many centuries she acted towards you as a nursing mother, sending you Metropolitans, and furnishing you with copies of the Holy Scripture and with liturgical books and with copies of her codes of canon law, and helping you in many other ways. What Constantinople was to Russia, that Rome in early days was to England. But in later times you have been happier in your relations to Constantinople, than we have been in our relations with Rome. Constantinople has not attempted to tyrannize over you, whereas Rome has tyrannized over us, until we could stand the tyranny no longer.

Here I must remind you that our Church at the time of its foundation and for four and a half centuries afterwards was in communion with the Holy Orthodox Church of the East. S. Augustine of Canterbury began to preach the Gospel in England in 597, that is to say 44 years after the fifth Ecumenical Council; and the final breach between the Eastern and the Western Churches did not take place till 1054, that is to say 457 years after S. Augustine began to found the Church of England.

Before I pass on to the later history of the Church of England, I ought to mention that, while S. Augustine and his companions, who came from Rome, were the earliest missionaries who preached the gospel to the English nation, their labours were for the most part confined to the South of England. [There were of course earlier missionaries who evangelized the Britons, now represented by the Cymry or Welshmen; but I am speaking of the evangelization of the heathen English who had wrested the greater part of South Britain from the Britons.] The North and centre of England was evangelized by Celtic missionaries headed by S. Aidan, who came from a monastery built on the little island of Iona, one of the many islands off the West coast of Scotland. These Celtic missionaries were very holy men, who held the Catholic faith in its integrity; but they differed in some minor matters of discipline from the missionaries who came from Rome. S. Aidan began his work in the North of England 38 years after S. Augustine had begun his similar work in the South. At one time there seemed to be some danger that the Christians, who had received their Christianity from Rome, and the Christians, who had received their Christianity from Iona, would refuse to join together so as to form one Church; but in the year 664 a conference of the two parties was held at Whitby, and it was decided that the whole nation, both in the North and in the South, should keep the Roman discipline, and should be organized as one Church, with the Archbishop or Metropolitan of Canterbury, the successor of S. Augustine, as the chief Bishop.

Four years after the Conference at Whitby, a very great man, who was the only Eastern who ever ruled in England as a Bishop, I mean Theodore of Tarsus, became Metropolitan and Archbishop of Canterbury. He was almost like a second founder of the English Church. He reduced all things to order, established new bishoprics where they were needed, and consecrated Bishops for them; he held synods and promulgated canons of discipline; and in preparation for the sixth Ecumenical Council he, with the Bishops subject to him, condemned the Monothelite heresy and made clear the orthodoxy of the Church of England. You Russians, who belong to the great Eastern Church, ought to take special interest in Archbishop Theodore, an Eastern like yourselves, whom God gave to the Church of England to be, as it were, its second founder. He presided over the see of Canterbury and over the whole Church of England from the year 668 to the year 690.

When S. Gregory first sent S. Augustine to England, he had planned that there should be two Metropolitans, one in the South and the other in the North. But S. Gregory's plan was not immediately carried into effect. As we have seen, the North of England was evangelized by Celtic missionaries from Iona, and the Celtic Church had no Metropolitans. Consequently the only Archbishop or Metropolitan in England was the Archbishop of Canterbury in the South. York was the chief city in the North; but the Bishop of York was not a Metropolitan, he was, at any rate from the time of the primacy of Theodore of Tarsus, one of the Bishops of the Province of Canterbury. However, in the year 734 it was determined that S. Gregory's original plan should be carried out, and that there should be two Metropolitans. The larger part of England, containing a good many dioceses, remained under the Southern Metropolitan, the Archbishop of Canterbury; and the smaller part of England, in the North, with only a few dioceses, had for its Metropolitan the Archbishop of York. And from 734 to the present day the English Church in England has been divided into two provinces, each with its own Archbishop. The only exception to this state of things was that for sixteen years, from 787 to 803, a third province was constituted in the centre of England, with Lichfield as the seat of its Archbishopic. But this innovation was soon got rid of.

For rather more than five centuries the Roman Popes interfered very little with the Church of England. Once or twice individuals appealed to the Pope; but such conduct was regarded with disapprobation by the country at large; and if the Pope's decision was disliked, it was ignored and set aside. On some very rare occasions the Popes sent legates to England, but it was at the request of the King. When in later times the Pope claimed to send legates to England on his own initiative, he was told that no legate could be received in England unless the King agreed to such a course being taken. The Pope had nothing to do in those days with the appointment of our Archbishops and Bishops. They were chosen and consecrated in England without any reference to him. Only in the case of the Archbishops, after they had been appointed, and either consecrated or translated, and finally enthroned, they applied to the Pope for the gift of the pall, which he gave or sent to them as a mark of honour, and as a token that they were in communion with himself and his Apostolic see; but the English Archbishops exercised all their metropolitical authority, from the day of their consecration, without waiting for the gift of the pall. Letters and bulls from the Pope could not be published in England, unless the King gave his consent to such publication. I am describing the relation of the Church of England to the Roman Popes from the first coming of S. Augustine to England until the death of King Henry I. in 1135, a period of more than five centuries.

After the death of Henry L, during the four centuries which followed, the Pope succeeded in obtaining little by little a considerable increase of power over the Church of England. How did this come about? I think that it was due in a very large degree to what are called the forged decretals of the Pseudo-Isidore. These documents were forged in France in the middle of the ninth century. They professed to be letters written by the early Bishops of Rome of the first, second and third centuries. And in these letters, these early Roman Bishops are represented as claiming monarchical powers over all parts of the Catholic Church, whether in the East or in the West. In the ninth century there was very little learning in the churches of the West. No one accepts these documents now as genuine; but in the ninth and following centuries they were accepted as genuine. But not much use of them was made until about two centuries after they were forged. It was in the time of Hildebrand, who became, near the end of his life, Pope, and was known by the title of Gregory VII., that these forged decretals began to be inserted into the collections of the canons. But there was not much knowledge of them in England until after the reign of Henry I., when a handbook of canon-law which included a great deal of matter taken from the forged decretals, was published under the title of the Decretum by an Italian monk, named Gratian; and this handbook became extraordinarily popular in all parts of the West, not only on the Continent but also in England. People now learnt to regard the Pope as a spiritual autocrat, who could legislate for the whole Church, and could interfere in every diocese, and could appoint Bishops wherever he liked, and could also depose them from their office at his own will. All spiritual jurisdiction was regarded as emanating from him; and any Christian might appeal from the Church courts of his own country to the great central appeal-court at Rome. And all this vast authority was supposed to have been bestowed by our Lord on S. Peter, who was regarded as the first Pope, and to have been bequeathed by him to his successors in the see of Rome.

There was another event which tended to increase the Papal power in the West, and therefore in England as being part of the West; and that was the sad breach of communion between the East and the West, which took place in 1054, in the time of Pope Leo IX. of Rome, and of the Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople. The result of that breach of communion was in the West to isolate the Roman see, as the only Apostolic see, of which Western Christians knew anything. Before that breach of communion, Western Christians had been familiar with the idea of the Church Catholic having for its leaders the occupants of five apostolic or at any rate patriarchal sees; namely the Bishops of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. But after 1054, four of these five sees were outside the communion which the Westerns recognized as the only Catholic communion; and consequently the see of Rome towered up alone in its majesty as an Apostolic see, whereas before it had been regarded as only one out of five such sees. The result was that the balance of power in the Church was overthrown; and there were no checks to the inordinate development of the claims of the Pope.

So far as I know, the Church of England had absolutely nothing whatever to do with the breach between the East and the West. In those days the English people, living on their island, were very much cut off from the movements of thought and the great events which might be happening on the Continent. We English in all probability did not hear about the cessation of inter-communion between the East and the West until several years after that event took place; and when we did hear about it, we could only have heard the Pope's account of the matter. Unless I am much mistaken, it was the exorbitant and ever-growing claims of the Pope, which were the real cause which led to the sad division of Christendom. And in the eleventh and twelfth and following centuries, the general acceptance of the forged decretals made it almost impossible for Western Christians to realize how baseless and how wrong those claims were.

I shall not say much about the four centuries of Papal domination in England, which lasted from the twelfth to the sixteenth century. The Papal tyranny was so grievous, and the Papal court was so covetous and greedy, that, long before we English broke away from the Pope, we were driven to make very stringent laws to restrain his monstrous claims and his extortionate exactions. According to our ancient customs and laws, when a see was vacant, the new Bishop was to be elected by the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral Church of the diocese; and the election was to be confirmed by the Archbishop of the Province with the approval of the King. But during the thirteenth century the Popes began to reserve to themselves the right of filling all benefices of whatever kind, including bishoprics, which should become vacant during the residence of their incumbents at the Papal court. And in the middle of the fourteenth century, in the year 1363, Pope Urban V. reserved to his own appointment and disposition all patriarchal, archiepiscopal, and episcopal sees, which were at that time anywhere and anyhow vacant, or which should become vacant during his lifetime. This same reservation has since the time of Pope Urban been made by all the Popes who have succeeded him. In this way the Popes made an attempt, which was very largely successful, to rob the various Chapters, Metropolitans, and Provincial Synods of Western Christendom of their rights in regard to the election and confirmation of Patriarchs, Archbishops, and Bishops; and by this robbery they not only increased their power, but they also absorbed vast sums of money into their own treasury; because they forced all those, who were to be made Bishops, to pay very heavy fees in order to obtain their appointment. Thus, for example, during the fifteenth century each Archbishop of Canterbury and also each Archbishop of York had to pay on appointment ten thousand florins of gold into the Papal exchequer; and the Bishops of Winchester, a very richly endowed see, had to pay as much as twelve thousand florins of gold.

Against these and other similar proceedings of the Pope, the English Church and the English nation protested strongly. Several Acts of the English Parliament were passed in the fourteenth century, the final effect of which was that, while the Pope still kept up the form of appointing the English Archbishops and Bishops, he always appointed the person whom the King of England named to him. Thus the King was fully established as the real chooser of the Bishops, a function which he retains to this day. Of course both then and now, though the King practically chose and still chooses the Bishops, they do not become Bishops until they have been consecrated by their Metropolitan assisted by other Bishops of the Province; and if a really unworthy person were chosen, consecration would be refused.

At the end of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth, there were a succession of worldly-minded and in some cases horribly immoral and even unbelieving Popes. I refer to Sixtus IV., Innocent VIII., Alexander VI., Julius II., and Leo X. This continued succession of bad Popes brought the institution of the Papacy into evil repute, and throughout the West prepared men's minds for a revolt from the Papal system. The revolt began in Germany with Luther, and spread from thence to Sweden, Norway and Denmark, to Switzerland, to many parts of France, to Holland, and ultimately to England. But the reformation in England took a very different turn from that which it took on the Continent. There, that is on the Continent, when all reform of the Papacy seemed impossible, men lost heart and lost faith in the Church. They rose in hot rebellion against spiritual wickedness in high places. They overthrew the Church in their anger and manufactured for themselves a new theology and a new organization. They started new Churches having no organic continuity with the ancient Catholic Church which had existed up to that time. In England the movement took quite another shape. Alterations in doctrine did not come for many years. There was no attempt to organize a new Church. There was no rising of the people against their official superiors, "no prophet like Luther to claim their allegiance, no logician like Calvin to dominate their intellects." The English Reformation was carried out by the King and his Parliament acting in conjunction with the Bishops. During the reign of Henry VIII. the main step that was taken was the throwing off of the Papal yoke. We English denied that the Pope had any jurisdiction over the Church of England by the law of Christ. We might have allowed his Patriarchal jurisdiction, conceded to him by the Fathers, because Rome was the Imperial city, or granted to him by Councils, or willingly accepted by us on the ground of our gratitude to the Roman see for having sent to us the missionaries who first preached to us the Gospel. But the Pope would not hear of a mere Patriarchal jurisdiction. He claimed to be the autocratic monarch of the whole Church, by reason of a monarchical authority inherited from S. Peter, and given to S. Peter by Christ.

You, here in Russia, must surely sympathize with us in our determination to repudiate these Papal claims, which were really accepted in an age of ignorance on the authority of documents now known to be forgeries. Popery is based upon forgeries. You never knew anything about those forgeries, and so you never accepted them. We accepted them, not knowing them to be forgeries, but believing them to be true. In time they gave rise to such an unbearable worldly tyranny that we threw off the whole Papal system which had grown out of them. We were enabled to do this in good faith, because the discovery of printing and the spread of the knowledge of the Greek language throughout the West enabled us to realize that the Papal autocracy had never been accepted by the Holy Fathers who lived in the earlier ages of the Church's history, and therefore could not form part of the original divinely given constitution of the Church.

There can be no doubt, I think, that sooner or later the Papal claim to possess a divinely given autocratic jurisdiction over the whole Church would have been repudiated by the English Church and nation. But the moving cause which brought matters to a point, and determined the moment, when the repudiation should take place, was King Henry VIII.'s desire to marry Anne Boleyn, and his consequent wish to have his marriage union with Catharine of Aragon declared to be null and void from the beginning. As you would know, Catharine of Aragon had had for her first husband Arthur Prince, of Wales, the elder brother of Henry VIII. He had died a few months after his marriage, leaving no children. For political reasons it was thought desirable that Henry should marry his brother's widow, Catharine. But the law of God, plainly declared in the 18th chapter of Leviticus, forbade such an incestuous union. That law had been held to be binding on Christians from the days of the Apostles. Nevertheless Pope Julius II. in the plenitude of his Papal power dared to do what none of his predecessors had ever ventured to do. He set aside the law of God, and granted a licence to the young Prince Henry to marry his brother's widow. The granting of this licence or dispensation by Pope Julius was an outrage on elementary Christian morality, and was itself absolutely null and void. [On the invalidity of this dispensation I venture to refer the reader to a book of mine entitled Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister, p. 114, note i.] And the pretended marriage with Catharine was also null and void. If Henry VIII. had been a good man, he might well have felt that his soul was in terrible danger, since he was living in incest and in open violation of God's law. As a matter of fact Henry VIII. was a bad man; but he was perfectly justified in petitioning Pope Clement VII. to declare his marriage null and void from the beginning; and the Pope was bound in justice to do so. But the Pope stood in terrible fear of the Emperor Charles V., who was Catharine of Aragon's nephew, and he continually put off giving any decision in the matter about which Henry was asking for judgement. At last Henry's patience came to an end, and as he could get no answer from Rome, he brought the matter of his marriage with Catharine before the court of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primate of all England; and the Archbishop of Canterbury, having given opportunity to both sides to plead their cause, at last, on the 23rd of May, 1533, pronounced Henry's marriage with Catharine to have been from the beginning null and void.

The Pope was of course furious, when he heard of what had taken place in England, and in March 1534, he pronounced Henry's marriage with Catharine to be a good and valid marriage. [Sixtus V., probably the ablest of all the post-Tridentine Popes, "afterwards declared that Clement had deserved the calamities that befel him, because he had not dissolved so unholy a union." I quote these words from the great Romanist historian, Lord Acton (see his Lectures on Modern History, edit. 1906, p. 137).] In the course of the same year, 1534, first the Provincial Synod pf York, and afterwards the Provincial Synod of Canterbury, put forth Synodical Declarations to the effect that "the Bishop of Rome hath no greater jurisdiction given him in Holy Scripture by God in this kingdom of England than any other foreign Bishop." [Dixon's History of the Church of England from the Abolition of the Roman Jurisdiction, vol. i. pp. 227, 238.] Thus did the Church of England by the acts of her Synods formally repudiate the notion that the Pope had any divinely given authority over her.

It is important to notice that the Church of England never withdrew her communion from the Church of Rome, though she did repudiate the Pope's baseless claims. The breach of communion was brought about by the act of Pope Paul III., the successor of Clement VII. He had the audacity to fulminate a bull, published in December, 1538, in which he professed to depose Henry VIII. from his position as King of England, and in which he excommunicated all Englishmen who should continue to recognize Henry as their sovereign. The bull issued by Paul III. went indeed much further than that. It placed all Henry's dominions and all churches within them under interdict. It deprived all Henry's loyal subjects of all their rights of property, which all comers were authorized to take from them. It absolved all the King's subjects from their oaths of allegiance, and commanded all his judges and other officers and servants to refuse him obedience on pain of excommunication: it prohibited every sort of commerce with him or his adherents, by buying, selling, marketing, carriage of provisions or other goods, or otherwise in any way of business: it declared forfeited to the first takers the goods of those who might carry on such intercourse. In the event of the King still continuing obdurate, it required all the nobility and lay people of his realm to rise against him and expel him, by force of arms if necessary, from his dominions; and it forbade all other Kings and Emperors either to make treaties or compacts with him; the Pope taking upon himself to cancel and annul all such treaties or compacts, present and future; and the Rulers of all nations were enjoined to make war upon him, and so reduce him to the obedience of the Roman see. [The bull is printed in the Magnum Bullarium Romanum (edit. Laertius Cherubinus, 1727, Luxemburg, tom. i. pp. 707-712). See also Burner's History of the Reformation (edit. Pocock, 1865, Oxford, vol. iv. PP- 318-334).] Of course Englishmen were not going to admit the right of an Italian ecclesiastic to depose their King and destroy their country. The bull, so far as its immediate purpose was concerned, was a mere brutum fulmen (a thunderbolt which failed to hit the mark); but it had the effect of putting an end to the intercommunion which had ever existed between the Church of England and the Church of Rome. It was the Church of Rome which separated herself from the Church of England. The Church of England has never by any formal act separated herself from the Church of Rome. From the time of Henry VIII. until the present day, except during part of the short reign of Mary, England and Rome have been out of communion with each other, but the responsibility for that state of things does not fall on our shoulders.

Over and over again the Bishops of the Church of England and also the King of England have protested that they have never had any intention of separating themselves from the Catholic Church. Thus, for example, in 1536 King Henry VIII. desired the venerable Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, to write to Cardinal Pole and to explain to him the sentiments of the King of England. Tunstall did so, and in the course of his letter he said:--"You suppose . . . the King's grace to be swerved from the unity of Christ's Church, and that ... he intendeth to separate his Church of England from the unity of the whole body of Christendom . . . wherein surely both you and all others so thinking of him do err. . . . His full purpose and intent is ... not to separate himself or his realm any wise from the unity of Christ's Catholic Church, but inviolably, at all times, to keep and observe the same." [Palmer's Treatise on the Church of Christ, edit. 1839, vol. i. p. 446.] Similarly Archbishop Cranmer of Canterbury in his noble appeal in 1556 from the sentence of the Pope "to a General Council called together in the Holy Ghost, and representing the Holy Catholic Church," says:--"As touching my doctrine, it was never in my mind to teach contrary to the word of God and the Catholic Church of Christ according to the exposition of the most holy and learned fathers and martyrs. I only mean and judge as they have meant and judged. I may err, but heretic I cannot be, inasmuch as I am ready to follow the judgement of the word of God and of the Holy Catholic Church, using the words that they used, and none other, and keeping their interpretation." [Dixon's History of the Church of England, iv. 502.]

Pope Paul III.'s bull deposing King Henry, and excommunicating all Englishmen who should continue to recognize him as their sovereign, produced no effect in England. The Bishops and Clergy and the whole nation continued to recognize Henry as their king; they took no notice of the Pope's interdict and excommunications. The Holy Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of our Lord continued to be offered in all our churches, the Sacraments continued to be administered, the people continued to come to church. There was no division among them, no schism; all continued to abide in the communion of the Church of England, although the Pope had withdrawn his communion from that Church.

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