Thursday, November 12, 2015

America as a Religious Refuge - Persecution of Jesuits by English Protestants

The Protestant Anglican Church was formed by The Act of Supremacy issued by King Henry VIII in 1534, declared the king to be "the only supreme head on earth of the Church in England" in place of the pope. Any act of allegiance to the latter was considered treasonous because the papacy claimed both spiritual & political power over its followers. 

Henry VIII (1491-1547) After Hans Holbein the Younger (1498–1543)

The Act of Supremacy (which asserted England's independence from papal authority) was repealed in 1554, by Henry's devoutly Catholic daughter Queen Mary I when she reinstituted Catholicism as England's state religion. She ordered many Protestants to be burned. 

Mary I Antonis Mor (1519–1575)

But Mary was reversed by a new Act of Supremacy passed in 1559, under Elizabeth I, along with an Act of Uniformity which made worship in Church of England compulsory. Anyone who took office in the English church or government was required to take the Oath of Supremacy; penalties for violating it included hanging & quartering. Attendance at Anglican services became obligatory—those who refused to attend Anglican services, whether Roman Catholics or Protestants (Puritans), were fined & physically punished as recusants.

Queen Elizabeth I Coronation Portrait

In the time of Elizabeth I, the persecution of the adherents of the Reformed religion, both Anglicans & Protestants alike, which had occurred during the reign of her elder half-sister Queen Mary I was used to fuel strong anti-Catholic propaganda in the hugely influential Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Those who had died in Mary's reign, under the Marian Persecutions, were effectively canonized by this work of hagiography. In 1571, the Convocation of the Church of England ordered that copies of the Book of Martyrs should be kept for public inspection in all cathedrals & in the houses of church dignitaries. The book was also displayed in many Anglican parish churches alongside the Holy Bible. The passionate intensity of its style & its vivid & picturesque dialogues made the book very popular among Puritan & Low Church families, Anglican & Protestant nonconformist, down to the 19C. In a period of extreme partisanship on all sides of the religious debate, the exaggeratedly partisan church history of the earlier portion of the book, with its grotesque stories of popes & monks, contributed to fuel anti-Catholic prejudices in England, as did the story of the sufferings of several hundred Reformers (both Anglican & Protestant) who had been burnt at the stake under Queen Mary & Bishop Bonner.

Anti-Catholicism among many of the English was grounded in the fear that the pope sought to reimpose not just religio-spiritual authority over England but also secular power of the country; this was seemingly confirmed by various actions by the Vatican. In 1570, Pope Pius V sought to depose Elizabeth with the papal bull Regnans in Excelsis, which declared her a heretic & purported to dissolve the duty of all Elizabeth's subjects of their allegiance to her. This rendered Elizabeth's subjects who persisted in their allegiance to the Catholic Church politically suspect, & made the position of her Catholic subjects largely untenable if they tried to maintain both allegiances at once.  In 1588 one Elizabethian loyalist cited the failed invasion of England by the Spanish Armada as an attempt by Philip II of Spain to put into effect the Pope's decree. In truth, King Philip II was attempting to claim the throne of England he felt he had as a result of being the widower of Mary I of England.  Elizabeth's resultant persecution of Catholic Jesuit missionaries led to many executions at Tyburn. Those priests like Edmund Campion who suffered there are considered martyrs by the Catholic Church, & a number of them were canonized by the Catholic Church as the Forty Martyrs of England & Wales, though at the time, they were considered traitors to England.

In the image above is Brian Cansfield (1581-1643), a Jesuit priest seized while at prayer by English Protestant authorities in Yorkshire. Cansfield was beaten and imprisoned under harsh conditions. He died on August 3, 1643 from the effects of his ordeal.

The picture below another Jesuit priest, Ralph Corbington (Corby) (ca. 1599-1644), who was hanged by the English government in London, September 17, 1644, for professing his faith.

Images are from Die Societas Jesu in Europa, 1643-1644 from Mathias Tanner, Die Gesellshafft Jesu biss zur vergiessung ihres Blutes wider den Gotzendienst Unglauben und Laster...Prague: Carlo Ferdinandeischen Universitat Buchdruckeren, 1683. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

See The Library of Congress.

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