Reformation, 21st Century Edition

I have been taking a series of courses on reformation-era Europe. Having just completed a general course on the Reformation, I am now completing a course on the Tudors and Stuarts in England, a period of time whose history is highly colored by the Reformation.

One of the issues that Protestants had with the Catholic Church (and later with the Anglican Church) was the church hierarchy. Of course, the Pope always came in for criticism (this probably being too mild a word for burning in effigy) by English protestants, but bishops and other elements of church hierarchy also came in for attack. In fact, the Presbyterians, probably the largest non-Anglican Protestant sect in 17th century England, took their name from the presbyters, who were essentially a council of laymen or elders who ran the church (as an alternative to Popes and bishops and such).

One of the difficult issues for the modern American mind to wrap around is the state involvement with religion on these times. Taking just this one issue of church organization and hierarchy, we see a dizzying back and forth in the Anglican Church as a result of swings in religious affiliation and outlook of the monarch and the Parliament. Bishops get tossed from the Anglican Church, then Bishops are reinstated, then they get tossed, and then they get reinstated.   All this punctuated by the occasional execution or locking in the Tower of the odd bishop.  It was deadly serious at the time, but seems a silly pursuit for government today.

Except, I guess, in Connecticut, where the spirit of Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads is alive and well. Because, apparently, the state legislature has introduced a bill to remove priests and bishops from the management of Catholic Church corporations and insist on a council of laymen instead. Weird how history repeats itself, even when you thought it was most unlikely to do so.

Disclosure: I am not Catholic, nor Presbyterian, nor particularly religious.


  1. czekmark:

    Religions have always suffered from the meddling of states into their affairs. For instance in the Roman church, the hierarchy were often the relatives of the royalty who were successful in getting their favorites selected for various church hierarchial positions. On the other hand the church officials had a hand in the selection royalty who depended on the church blessings and support.

  2. Miklos Hollender:

    Interesting course. AFAIK the more radical kinds of Protestants (Dissenters) largely meant the rebirth of Gnosticism: "immanentizing the escathon", trying to social-engineer a perfect society of total equality and lack of selfishness which would mean the end of history. This was the blueprint for all later, secular left-wing stuff.

  3. LOLWUT?:

    Wait, the Connecticut gub'ment wants to get all up in the church's business and tell them how to run things?

    They're gonna have a *slight* First Amendment issue, methinks.

  4. dearieme:

    Cromwell, if I remember correctly, was an "Independent" rather than a Presbyterian. Still, it leaves the Connecticut business looking odd. In Britain we have two established churches and a fair bit of reluctance by politicians to get involved with their internal affairs except where constitutionally they are obliged to, such as appointing Church of England bishops. Even there it may be that they just appoint whomever the Archbish of Canterbury suggests - that would depend on the Prime Minister of the day, I expect. Margaret Thatcher, who was a member of the Church of England, seemed to have more time for the Chief Rabbi than for the bishops. She even went as far as to address the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland once, in a speech devoted to criticising the Church of England for its tendency to spout rubbish about politics. Golly, I miss her.

  5. Another guy named Dan:

    It looks as though the statute is attacking the "corporation sole", which is the usual method of organization of the Roman Catholic and other "top-down" religious organizations. In simple terms, the diocese holds title to all property of the denomoination within its borders. The legal structure is akin to a corporation which has only one issued share of stock, that held by the office of the Bishop.

    Any decisions related to the disposition of the property so held are the sole responsibility of the Bishop, and can be made even over the objection of the local parish councils.

  6. Noumenon:

    I must not know you well enough, because taking an obscure and unpractical course like that is not something I'd imagine you doing. A course at all seems like a lot for someone with a job and a blog. Well, rich people do get more things done.

  7. Beemac:

    Ah the Teaching Company lectures. I recently listen to the "Tudors to the Stuarts" series too. I tend to pick the history and music lectures. I like listening during my commute.