Brexit, Presidents and the English Reformation

Despite Henry’s strong desire to break free from Rome, it was in no sense out of sympathy with the same desire shared by the leaders of the Reformation in Germany

“The ‘reform’ that Britain sought under Henry VIII was very different from where it would eventually lead. The sheer unexpectedness of the result of last June’s referendum in Britain left everyone reeling, because no-one really expected it – not even those who had campaigned so vigorously for it.”

 

The idea of the United Kingdom’s pre-Summer vote to leave the European Union, the upcoming vote in the United States to elect the next President and the English Reformation being lumped together in the same sentence may seem ludicrous in the extreme, but it is not without reason.

Those who have followed the events that unfolded in the June referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union (as well as their unfolding repercussions in Europe and around the world) may have noticed that it has been compared to what happened in England under Henry VIII. Secular as well as religious commentators on both sides of the Atlantic have picked up on many similarities between these momentous events and argued that the long-term positive impact of the Reformation may well be a pointer to future benefit from the more recent decision for Britain to sever ties within Europe. Of course, not all scholars and historians agree with this assessment and argue that it should not be overplayed. But, there is enough merit in the comparison, to warrant some reflections in the pages of Place for Truth.

The secular and, interestingly, Roman Catholic commentators who have latched onto this comparison point to the underlying tensions in late Mediaeval Europe which became catalysts for reform. The Holy Roman Empire was coming under strain through internal political and economic tensions. The academic world too was going through its own internal upheaval with the progress of the Renaissance movement. This was not only influencing the academic world, but many other aspects of life and was filtering down to the lives of ordinary people at that time.

More significantly, there had been tension between Britain and Europe for several centuries and longer. This was mainly because of resentment over European interference in British judicial and political affairs and also the levels of corruption in the European corridors of power that lay behind this meddling. Add to this the amount of money that was flowing out of the English coffers to Europe and it was toxic for the relationship that straddled the English Channel.

It is not hard to see how these issues strongly parallel the reasons that caused a majority of British voters to opt for withdrawal from Europe barely four months ago. But there are other similarities too – ones that did not receive much coverage in the academic and journalistic articles that were printed.

A very significant one, from an evangelical perspective, was that the ‘reform’ that Britain sought under Henry VIII was very different from where it would eventually lead. The sheer unexpectedness of the result of last June’s referendum in Britain left everyone reeling, because no-one really expected it – not even those who had campaigned so vigorously for it. So even though the word ‘Brexit’ suddenly came into the English vocabulary, it clearly meant different things for different people. And as the slow process towards formalising the nation’s exit from Europe unfolds (it has at least another 30 months to run) it is becoming clear that its final outcome will almost certainly be very different from what many had hoped it might be.

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