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Sunday, June 18, 2017

England’s bloody Reformation

England’s bloody Reformation | Podcast | History Extra

"We would instinctively start with the assumption that anybody who dies honestly for their beliefs, conscientiously as they see it we should perhaps consider as a martyr. But that would have been an idea entirely alien to the people of the sixteenth century.

There was a dictum which goes back to St Augustine that a martyr is not somebody who dies for their beliefs. A martyr is somebody who dies for the truth. So who exactly the martyrs are depends on your perception of what the truth is...

The treatment of the bodies even could be subverted. Obviously if a body is burned there's no body to be buried. The traitors who are hanged drawn and quartered are also denied Christian burial. Body parts might be stuck on spikes and put on bridges and gates as a kind of terrible warning of the perils and dangers of defying the authority of the state, or the other bits of the body might be thrown into dung heaps but this actually ironically simply made it easier for the supporters of these victims to collect relics. So we have accounts in Mary's reign of Protestant supporters of the victims gathering up the ashes. In Elizabeth's reign of Catholic admirers of the missionary priests going through the dunghills retrieving bones, stealing the severed heads from the city gates...

Heresy is a terrible crime, it's really the ultimate crime, because it's a crime against God himself. This is a society and which differs from ours in being absolutely non relativist. Let me explain what I mean by that. There is only one truth. Truth is indivisible. So anybody who rejects the truth, who willfully rejects it after having it explained to them and being given an opportunity to get back onto the right path - this person is a heretic... choice is not a good thing when it means choosing willfully to turn away from truth of course.

Because heresy is a crime against God, the ultimate sin, it must of course lead to the damnation of the soul of the heretic. The worst possible fate - an eternity of punishment in hell... what of course makes it worse is that heretics will try and convert others to their views, thereby damming their souls... heresy as a kind of terrible epidemic disease... an epidemic disease which people are spreading deliberately...

That very clear division between religion and politics, and religious motives and political motives which seems very clear to us today is not terribly helpful in looking at the sixteenth century. How can you possibly pick apart religion and politics in a society where people believe every aspect of life has been planned and ordered by God?...

Deciding what is religious and what is political is rather hard I think and when the state is decreeing a particular religious uniformity which everybody should follow, then refusing to accept that decree and choosing your own brand of religious truth is by definition political subversion against the state...

What the Reformation does is that for the first time it introduces a principle of division or perhaps it's better to say pluralism into English society which cannot simply be swept under the carpet or repressed into non-existence so the Reformation is the moment at which English society has to come to terms with the fact that there is going to be division of opinion, there is going to be plurality"
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