Tuesday, January 19, 2010

England and "the Romish Religion"

The Misfits have climbed another Catholic “literary mountain;" this time, Eamon Duffey’s masterful work, The Stripping of the Altars. Completing the book is a transformative experience. Anyone reading the book will have a new understanding of the Reformation and the great tragedy that befell the medieval Church in England. It will also serve as a cautionary tale—never assume that others will step in to save your faith. Each Catholic is personally responsible for the strength of the Faith. As shown by Duffy, the Faith can be destroyed in two generations if not resisted.

One of the most poignant phrases in the book occurs at the very end of Duffy’s account. He describes the grudging final acceptance of a new Protestant faith by the people of Tudor England after being relentlessly subjected to the depredations on their Catholic faith by Henry VIII, Edward VI and finally, Elizabeth I. He writes, “When the crises of Reformation came [the people] mostly behaved as mercenary, worldly, and weak men and women will, grumbling, obstructing, but in the end taking the line of least resistance, like Bishop Stokesley lamenting his own helplessness in the face of advancing heresy and wishing that he had had the courage to stand against it with his brother the Bishop of Rochester.” (Note: The Bishop of Rochester was St. John Fisher, martyr for the Faith.)

It is interesting to note that as I write this, on [January 16th] 429 years ago, the English Parliament outlawed Roman Catholicism. The 1581 statute stated that it was an "act to retain the Queen's Majesty's subjects in their obedience" and made it high treason to "reconcile anyone or to be reconciled to 'the Romish religion.'" The act made it unlawful for people to go to Mass; persons breaking the law were subject to fines and a year in jail. The people could avoid these troubles by renouncing the Pope and joining the Anglican Church. Most of the English martyrs in the Catholic Church come from the time of Elizabeth's reign, St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More chief among them.

But now, on to the future. We have decided to once again read C. S. Lewis. Our book for February is Lewis’ novel, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. It is a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, a myth that haunted Lewis all his life, and which is itself based on a chapter of The Golden Ass written by Apuleius. (The Golden Ass is the only Latin novel that has survived in its entirety). “The first part of the book is written from the perspective of Psyche's older sister Orual, and is constructed as a long-withheld accusation against the gods. Although the book is set in the fictional kingdom of Glome, Greece is often invoked to give the story a setting in time, as well as to allow for an interplay between the Hellenistic, rationalistic world-view and the powerful, 'irrational', and 'primitive' one.”

For March we will read a play by T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral. Eliot's short play was originally written for the Canterbury festival and tells the story of the murder of Archbishop Thomas Beckett (1118-70) by Henry II's henchmen. One reviewer notes that it “is essentially an extended lyrical consideration of the proper residence of temporal and spiritual power, of the obligations of religious believers to the commands of the State, and of the possibility that piety can be selfish unto sin.”

For April, the Misfits will finally read a book by Minnesota author (now deceased) and firm Catholic, Jon Hassler. (It occurs to me to wonder why we have not yet read a novel by Hassler?) We will read Dear James a novel set in the fictional small Minnesota town of Staggerford. The story features Miss Agatha McGee, an upright elderly resident with a saw-toothed tongue. The novel deals with a relationship that Agatha develops with a pen-pal in Ireland--who she subsequently discovers is a priest. It is rich novel of simmering envy, charity, and finally, redemptive love.

Finally, I look forward to another wonderful year of reading with you, the great books of our Catholic literary tradition. What an adventure in reading it is!

Misfit Buzz


  1. Very interesting post; I will be sure to check out this book.

    I know this is slightly off topic, but I was wondering whether you would recommend Saints and Sinners by Duffy.

  2. Misfit Buzz's response:

    I have not read Saints and Sinners. However, the reviews of the book are generally very favorable. The book is a fairly comprehensive history of the Popes (in 480 pages).

    Myself, I would recommend it based on The Stripping of the Altars (the guy can write!) and the regard one must have for Duffy's scholarship in general.


  3. Cathryn, thanks for the information!

  4. St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More were both martyred under Henry VIII, not Elizabeth.