20 April 2015

Reforming the teaching of the Reformation, as seen in Scotland

Professor Eamon Duffy has written a brief article in which he argues why the story of the Reformation needs reforming. Duffy's argument, however, is not simply another attempt at "revisionist" history, but rather an attempt to tell what really happened:
For five centuries England has been in denial about the role of Roman Catholicism in shaping it. The coin in your pocket declares the monarch to be Defender of the Faith. Since 1558 that has meant the Protestant faith, but Henry VIII actually got the title from the Pope for defending Catholicism against Luther. Henry eventually broke with Rome because the Pope refused him a divorce, and along with the papacy went saints, pilgrimage, the monastic life, eventually even the Mass itself – the pillars of medieval Christianity.
All of this was accompanied by tremendous destruction of Catholic churches, cathedrals, libraries, monasteries, etc., not just in England, but across Europe. Over the Easter holiday I witnessed firsthand some of this destruction wrought in Scotland, especially at the ruins of the Cathedral of St. Andrew in St. Andrews.

The above photo was taken from near what had been the main doors of the Cathedral of St. Andrew, looking toward what remains of the wall behind the main altar, behind which was the choir for the canons of the Cathedral.

This photo gives you just a small sense of the size, grandeur, and beauty of the most important cathedral in Scotland, first completed in 1272 (it underwent a few renovations/restorations after that):

John Knox, one of the "reformers" in Scotland, preached so vehemently in 1559 that he roused the people to rip down the trappings in the cathedral. By 1600, the Cathedral of St. Andrew was in ruins, after which the grounds of the Cathedral were turned into a cemetery:

Even the graves of the canons were desecrated:

One of the official signs in the ruins of the cathedral even declared the Catholics had "abandoned" the cathedral complex, without bothering to mention why. Regrettably, I did not take a picture of this sign.

As if all of this destruction were not senseless enough on its own, the "reformers" of the Church of Scotland, after destroying Catholic churches, built their own churches, in Gothic style, complete with stained-glass windows, statues of saints, votive candles, and holy water.

Such destruction in Scotland was, of course, not only reserved to the Cathedral of St. Andrew. A sign in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh noted that "the fortunes of the Catholic Church were affected by the religious leanings of the monarch." A more honest way to put it would be to say that the treasures of the Catholic Church were stolen. What are these treasures to which the sign refers? These:

That's right: the treasures of the Catholic Church "affected" by the monarchs were the vessels and appointments used for the worship of God. You will not likely read about this in most history textbooks.

As a student of history, I have studied this destruction wrought by the so-called Reformation, but, in my 37 years of life, this was the first time I walked in Catholic places destroyed by Protestants. I have, over the years, been in many Catholic places destroyed by Muslims, which is lamentable enough, but there was something especially sad and painful about walking in Catholic places destroyed by fellow Christians, a pain of which I could not find the words to express.

Why is this aspect of the history of the Reformation not well known and discussed in history classes and textbooks? Professor Duffy briefly explains:
At the height of the hysteria, Protestant mythology achieved definitive form in a book that would shape the writing of Tudor history down to our own day. In 1679 Gilbert Burnet, a Scottish cleric, published the first volume of a massive History of the Reformation, an anti-Catholic narrative given scholarly credibility by the inclusion of dozens of documents gathered from public and private archives. Burnet would be the chief propagandist for the “Glorious Revolution” which deposed James II and set the Protestant William of Orange on the throne. His history rammed home the message that Catholicism and Englishness were utterly incompatible: Catholicism was tyranny, Protestantism liberation. “They hate us,” he wrote, “because we dare to be freemen and Protestants.” 

It was a message the nation wanted to hear: Burnet was thanked by a special vote of Parliament. His work was supplemented by John Strype, another ardent “Orange” cleric, in a stream of biographies and collections of Reformation documents, many of them gathered from Foxe’s archives. Till well into the 20th century, historians of the English Reformation would rely on Burnet and Strype for their source materials, in the process perpetuating their late-Stuart take on the Tudor age.
Thankfully, as Duffy goes on to note, "historians no longer take that venerable Protestant version for granted, but it is still alive and well in the wider culture." Still, there is much work yet to be done to give a true and accurate account of what happened, and why.

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