Support the Café

Search our Site

What if England was still Catholic?

What if England was still Catholic?

The Catholic Herald has some fun with alternative history, playing off the popularity of the TV series Wolf Hall, asking what would England be like if it were still Catholic?

Going after Wolf Hall in particular, there’s this:

When Wolf Hall’s Thomas Cromwell talks superciliously about legions of indolent monks growing rich on dodgy relics, he is spinning Tudor high propaganda, not history.

Medieval monasteries mostly grew because ordinary people gave them money to conduct charitable works. On the eve of the Reformation, most wills, even by people of modest means, contained donations to religious houses for the relief of the poor. A century later, this Christian tradition was gone. Before Henry and Cromwell, London alone had 35 religious hospitals, including St Bartholomew’s and St Thomas’s, which are now both over 800 years old. Religion was inseparable from community caring.

The Reformation’s wholesale replacement of a Catholic framework devoted to the needy (salvation by faith and works of mercy) with a Protestant one of Bible study and personal prayer (salvation by faith alone) altered our society fundamentally, refocusing us into ourselves and cutting off an entire infrastructure of charity. If we still had monasteries with the money to heal, feed, clothe, educate and offer hospitality to the poor, I doubt we would have nearly so many in our society sleeping rough with nowhere to go.


Posted by John B. Chilton


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Whit Johnstone

Likely, if England had remained in the Roman obedience, the GDP of Great Britain would be around 1/2 of what it is right now, and would have undergone a violent civil war in the 1930s between socialists and religious nationalists.

Also, the United States of America is the northernmost state in Latin America, though like the Brazilians, the Americans speak a different language and have a somewhat different culture. This US is essentially limited to what we would consider the Southeastern US plus Louisianna, Oklahoma, and the northern half of Texas. The southern half of Texas is still Mexican This United States is poorer but more racially integrated than our own. The union of the former Dutch, French, and Swedish American colonies is the foremost superpower in the world.

john Kenneth Asel

I read the entire article. It reminded me of the revisionist history series in the old look magazine – If the South had won the Civil War . . .If Hitler had won WW2. . . .etc. The author was blind to the rise of the modern state and the development of British democracy. The Scots seemed to have issues with medieval Roman Catholicism more than the English. He also sees British Christianity as a Mediterranean import alone rather than a hybrid with both Roman and Celtic influences. .So unless you’re a British Roman Catholic who hoped the Ordanariate would actually amount to something not a very possible portrayal. . . . containing the substance of Mitford novels, pleasant perhaps, but wistfully so.

Brian Sholl

Kingsley Amis’s *The Alteration* is a fun alternative history novel tackling this premise. Set in 1976, the Church still rules since Martin Luther had been promoted to pope back in the 16th century. Amis addresses how sex, patriarchy and science might have been affected by the non-event. It was reissued by New York Review Books in 2013.

Roger Mortimer

The Dutch, of course, had a singularly bloodless Reformation.

Philip Snyder

What would happen if the Bishop of Rome had annulled Henry’s marriage on the grounds that Catherine was his brother’s wife and if the Pope had not sought to keep from the English monarchs the rights that Continental monarchs had and that England lost under John.

England may well have remained Roman Catholic for a while longer, but given its distance from Rome and the political as well as religious nature of the Reformation (the further you were from Roman force, the more likely your reformation would succeed), I doubt it would have remained Roman Catholic. It would probably be more like Germany where Catholicism and Protestantism live side by side.

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café