That said, the horse was out of the barn, and the genesis of the Protestant Reformation was at hand. No longer was the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, considered to be the first among equal brother bishops when it came to Christian authority for many Christians following this schism.
A little over a decade later in 1529, King Henry VIII of England appointed Thomas More, a deeply religious Catholic lawyer and scholar as his Lord Chancellor for the kingdom. At that time England had not yet fallen to the Protestant schism and was still united with Rome in its Catholicity. Then King Henry VIII desired an annulment from his wife Catherine in order that he could marry Anne Boleyn. He drafted a letter requesting the Pope’s permission to obtain the annulment and requested that his good and faithful chancellor, Thomas More, endorse his request. More, due to the dictates of his Catholic faith, respectfully refused.
Henry was enraged and over the next couple of years he isolated More in ever greater measure as he purged many of the clergy who supported the Pope that had refused to grant him his annulment. It was becoming obvious to Thomas More that King Henry VIII was breaking away from the church in Rome. This was something that Thomas More could not abide and thus he offered his resignation to the king in 1532. King Henry accepted the resignation but was deeply vexed by what he considered to be More’s failing loyalty towards him.
By 1533, King Henry VIII had already declared himself to be the head of the Church as well as the State so that he no longer fell under Rome’s Christian authority thereby allowing him to establish the Church of England which subsequently allowed him to marry Anne Boleyn. Thomas More, still a loyal English subject, refused to attend the wedding or coronation of Queen Anne but sent a letter of congratulations instead. King Henry was highly insulted by this perceived slight from his friend.
King Henry, on April 13, 1534, ordered Thomas More to take an oath in which he acknowledged the legitimacies of Anne's position as queen, of Henry's self-granted annulment from Catherine, and the superior position of the King as head of the church. While acknowledging Anne as queen, More refused to acknowledge Henry as head of the church, or his annulment from Catherine. The king was furious and had More arrested, tried, and imprisoned in the Tower of London accordingly.
Exactly 482 years ago today on July 6th, 1535, Thomas More was executed for his "conspiracies against the king" accordingly.
Five hundred years later, we now have closer to 30,000 different Christian denominations, all proclaiming their own authority for their beliefs and wildly varying interpretations of Christ’s message for all of us. Sadly, as the world has become ever-increasingly coarse, crass, and not coincidentally more secular, the more orthodox Christian faiths are becoming ever more under attack from society and the state.
There are signs of this rising secularism and attack on sincere religious belief everywhere. Indeed, a little over two weeks ago Sweden’s Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven,
“suggested that all Church of Sweden priests be compelled to perform gay marriages, despite the Lutheran church’s position that clergy members should have the right to refuse… The prime minister indicated in an interview with a church magazine that if a priest cannot bless a gay marriage, they should consider another vocation.
‘We Social Democrats are working to ensure all priests will consecrate everyone, including same-sex couples,’ Lofven told Kyrkans Tidning magazine.
‘I see parallels to the midwife who refuses to perform abortions. If you work as a midwife you must be able to perform abortions, otherwise you have to do something else… It is the same for priests,’ he said…
In the interview, Lofven, who is not religious, defended the perceived political incursion into the practice of religion, saying ‘the church must stand up for human equality.’"This seems to be the trend in which our modern enlightened society is inexorably heading. Indeed, our neighbors to the north in Canada have passed “hate speech” laws that are chilling for Orthodox Christians to say anything negative about the sin of homosexual acts, even from the pulpit.
The government of Wales has proposed registration and inspection of religious schools and churches to evaluate if they are complying with “fundamental values”—an option Welsh evangelicals call highly intrusive and “an unwarranted incursion into private religion and family life.”
In America, bakers, photographers, and other business owners with deeply held religious beliefs have been excoriated in the press, secular society, and even the courts for their refusal to bend to secular law in its requirements to provide goods or services for same sex couples when celebrating what they deem as a religious rite of marriage.
Even former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently questioned Russ Vought, the nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, in antagonistic fashion because of Vought's Christian beliefs, specifically in the form that those that do not accept Christ as their Lord and savior are condemned by God. It is a belief that is common amongst all three of the orthodox Abrahamic faiths that refusing acceptance of their core beliefs invites possible damnation.
Now never mind the minor detail that the United States Constitution itself states that there is to be NO religious test administered for those seeking public office, the fact remains that we, as Americans, should be free to exercise our religious faith and answer to our own consciences in line with our first amendment, and more importantly, God-given rights.
When the state, president, or king would usurp those rights of conscience given to us by God, are we not obligated to follow our faith in God over that of the laws constructed by man?
Sanders wrote in his defense of his statements against Mr. Vought:
“In a democratic society, founded on the principle of religious freedom, we can all disagree over issues, but racism and bigotry—condemning an entire group of people because of their faith—cannot be part of any public policy.”Senator Sanders fails to understand that even people of deeply held religious convictions, (and sometimes especially those very people) absolutely can and do work with and befriend others of differing or no beliefs on a daily basis. Senator Sanders, by his pronouncement would basically preclude any Christian, Muslim, or Jew from holding office by his own secular PC standard. Only the secular world and man’s law should hold sway over our governance in Sanders' world, it would seem.
Saint Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers, politicians, civil servants, and religious freedom, refused to compromise his own beliefs five hundred years ago in order to accommodate the powers of the secular world as commanded by King Henry VIII. He refused to surrender his faith and his integrity even for the crown and at the pain of the forfeiture of his own life. He understood the supremacy of God’s law foremost. More saw it as scripture teaches,
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” ~ Mark 8:36
If only our modern day public servants and leaders were to exercise such integrity and follow the enormously brave example of conscience demonstrated by St. Thomas More.