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October 17, 1521: Pope Leo X Awards King Henry VIII the Title of Defender of the Faith

Cromwell: In the June of 1521 the King published a book. A theological work. It was called, A Defence of the Seven Sacraments.

More: For which he was named “Defender of the Faith” by His Holiness, the Pope.

Cromwell: By the Bishop of Rome, or do you insist on “pope”?

More: No. “Bishop of Rome” if you like.  It doesn’t alter his authority.

Cromwell: Thank you. You come to the point very readily. What is that authority? For example, in the Church of England…
…what exactly is the Bishop of Rome’s authority?

More: You will find it very ably set out and defended, Master Secretary……in the King’s book.

Cromwell: In the book published under the King’s name, would be more accurate. -You wrote this book.

More: -I wrote no part of it.

Cromwell: I don’t mean you actually held the pen.

More: I answered to my best ability, some points of common law……which the King put to me, as I was bound to do.

Cromwell: Do you deny you instigated it?

More: It was from first to last the King’s own project.

Cromwell: The King says not.

More: The King knows the truth of it. And whatever he may have said to you……he will not give evidence to support this accusation.

Cromwell: Why not?

More: Because evidence is given on oath, and he will not perjure himself. If you don’t know that, then you don’t yet know him.

Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons

 

Four hundred and ninety-six years since Pope Leo X bestowed upon King Henry VIII the title of Defender of the Faith for The Defense of The Seven Sacraments, an attack upon Luther.  Henry had well earned the honor.  Of all the initial anti-Lutheran polemics by Catholics, The Defense is head and shoulders the best:

 

Seeing, therefore, he despiseth all men and believes none, he ought not to take it ill if everybody discredit him again.  I am so far from holding any further dispute with him that I almost repent myself of what I have already argued against him.  For what avails it to dispute against one who disagrees with everyone, even with himself?  Who affirms in one place what he denies in another, denying what he presently affirms?  Who, if you object faith, combats by reason; if you touch him with reason, pretends faith?  If you allege philosophers, he flies to Scripture; if you propound Scripture, he trifles with sophistry.  Who is ashamed of nothing, fears none, and thinks himself under no law.  Who contemns the ancient Doctors of the church, and derides the new ones in the highest degree; loads with reproaches the Chief Bishop of the church.  Finally, he so undervalues customs, doctrine, manners, laws, decrees and faith of the church (yea, the whole church itself) that he almost denies there is any such thing as a church, except perhaps such a one as himself makes up of two or three heretics, of whom himself is chief.  .  .  .  

 

Luther thought it was so effective that he wrote a scurrilous attack against Henry, filled with the barnyard insults that Luther specialized in.  Then Saint Thomas More entered the lists and responded in defense of the King.

All of this of course is deeply ironic in light of Henry’s later rebellion against the Church, however when we put our thoughts down in writing they take on a life of their own.  The Defense of the Seven Sacraments has justly retained its popularity down through the centuries with Catholics.  Henry’s successors have kept the title of Defender of the Faith, even though the faith they purport to defend is the not the Faith that Henry resoundingly defended in the book that earned the title.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

2 Comments

  1. By all appearances, Prince Charles is something of a squishead, a tree hugger with pantheist tendencies and inclined to sample various mysticisms. He’s not been an example of Christian domesticity either, though his wife alienated so many people with her chronic and severe emotional instability that’s its an effort not to let it slide.

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