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A.2 Some Religious History

Until 1538 Roman Catholicism was the only important religion in England, and the influence of papacy was very strong. The papal jurisdiction was abolished by Henry VIII and his Parliament by the “Act in Restraint of Appeal” of 1533, the “Supremacy Act” of 1534 and many others that came afterwards, in particular those that forbid papal taxation. This made the King of England the spiritual head of the English Church although it did not give him the right to interfere in the spiritual field that was the responsibility of the new Church. This eliminated the medieval conflict of jurisdiction between the Church and the State. This royal supremacy was one of the most important elements in the establishment of the Church of England as the National Church.

Between 1535 and 1540 all the monasteries in England were dissolved, their properties were sold or granted to landowners, and their churches very often transformed in parish churches. It does not seem that Henry VIII wanted to help the Protestants and the Reformers in England but, obviously, the overthrown of the Catholics Institutions helped them. The Regency for the young Edward VI had a strong Protestant policy. Mary I (1553-58), on the opposite, was a strong Catholic; she tried to undo all the constitutional changes and repressed the Protestants. Elizabeth I followed her and reintroduced all the changes, and made the Church of England the official religion of the country.

In 1644, two years after the beginning of the Civil War, all Englishmen over 18 years had to sign the provisions of the “Solemn League and Covenant” adopted by the Parliament, which abolished the Anglican power in civil matter. About 80% of the Clergy thought that the new rules were better, signed the Covenant, and continued in their charge as Presbyterian ministers.

After the restoration of Charles II on May 8, 1660, the policy changed again and, in 1662, the ministers had to be re-ordained by the restored bishops. Those who refused were thrown out of their churches. The “1662 Act of Conformity” restored the authority of the Church of England. The members of municipal authorities had to adjure by oath the “Solemn League and Covenant” and take the sacrament according to the rites of the Established Church. In 1664 the first “Conventicle Act” forbade all person above 16 years to meet together for worship, unless they used the liturgy of the “Book of Common Prayers”. In 1665, the “Five Mile Act” obliged the ministers who refused to sign the “Act of Conformity” to reside at least five miles from their old church. In 1672 Charles II issued the “Declaration of Indulgence” which allowed those who did not follow the Church of England to worship in certain places that had to be registered together with the name of their “teacher”. This act lasted only one year and was repelled in 1673. In 1689 the “Toleration Act” allowed people to worship in anyway they wanted, but certification of “places of worship” was still required, and all infants, with the exception of the Baptists, had to be baptised. Before that date all children had to be baptised according to the rites of the Church of England. Those who were not were brought in front of the Archdeacon at a special court in the parish church. This was known as “presentments”.

After the sad experience of the Catholic James II who became king in 1685, to be soon removed in 1688, the Church of England was imposed by law as the State Religion. The Protestants William III and Mary followed James in 1688. The Protestant succession was established by the “Bill of Rights” of 1689 and by the “Act of Settlement” of 1701 that say that the sovereign must be a member of the Church of England. During the 18th century the Church of England was accused, as the Catholic Church before, to forget the spiritual in favour of the material world. An evangelical movement led by John Wesley and George Whitefield was born in reaction to the worldliness of the official church.

The worst civil disabilities (except the inability to be king) of the dissident Protestants ended in 1828 and those of the Catholics in 1829. The “Reform Act” of 1832 changed the relations between the Church of England and the State that was forced to take an impartial attitude towards the other religions. In 1886 a freethinker, Charles Bradlaugh, was admitted to the Parliament and this completed the process of change. The royal supremacy was now going through the Parliament that was not Anglican-only anymore, rather that through the Church. Another stage in the partial separation of Church and state occurred in 1851 when the main universities (among them, Oxford and Cambridge) were removed from clerical control. This led to the creation of seminaries, outside these universities, where ministers were to receive their full Anglican teaching. The first one was opened in Chichester in 1839.

Since then the relations between the Church of England and the other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope, have improved. This is especially true between all the churches that claim their origins in Christ. More or less all of these accept that they are part of the so-called Christian world. The relations with the others (Jewish, Moslem, etc.) have also improved a lot.