Tag Archives: England

Anne, Thomas and a Marriage Story

October 26, 2012


I happened to catch the movie, “The Other Boleyn Girl” the other day. It is the story of Anne Boleyn and it could be said that her story is the other side of St. Thomas More’s story. I am not a historian and I am sure that it can be said that this movie may not be fully historical fact, but it does portray a story that is pertinent for today. It is a story about marriage and the redefinition of it.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of King Henry VIII and his six wives here is the short of it. King Henry wants a new wife and the Pope won’t give him an annulment. He defines himself as head of the church so that he can divorce his wife and marry the woman he is lusting for ~ Anne Boleyn. Anne manipulates her own sexuality to ultimately become queen of England. In the process she becomes the object [or cause] of the fall of the Catholic Church in England and the beginning of the Church of England. Again, I am not an expert on history, but this is the simplistic version of what I know.  You can find more of St. Thomas More’s life at: http://www.marriageuniqueforareason.org/2012/06/22/fortnight-for-freedom-day-2-st-thomas-more-married-saint-and-hero-of-religious-liberty/

Ultimately this historic story is about the defense of marriage. St. Thomas More as Lord Chancellor of England lost his life defending the Church and marriage. Anne, fueled by competitive drive, or possibly in this time of few rights for women – a sense of survival – succumbed to her own desires while fulfilling the desires of the King.

It is sometimes best for me to learn from a poor example rather than a good one. As I watched this film and the portrait of Anne – it struck me that it was her ambition that was her downfall. Her drive to be in control, her manipulation of the truth, her need to succeed that ultimately did her in. She wasn’t alone in this – King Henry’s needs seemed simpler or at least more direct – that of lust and perhaps to sire a son. Which I guess breaks down into sex and power. St. Thomas More was motivated by his knowlege of the truth. What do I want to be motivating me?

How much is our defense of marriage today like that of St. Thomas More’s dilemma?

To stand as the church teaches is not popular –while it may not cost you your life, it may cost you your friends. The acceptance of Anne Boleyn as Queen – redefined Marriage in England and King Henry created his own church so he could define the church to fit his needs. Today we have many who want to redefine marriage to suit their needs. It may be driven by power, lust or a type of manipulation – all under the guise of wanting to profess equality.

Ultimately Anne got what she wanted, but eventually lost her head and St. Thomas More also ultimately died defending marriage by not conceding to Anne as queen. It took courage. St. Thomas More showed us this courage in a few ways. First he lived his marriage rightly by loving his wife until widowed and strongly loved his family. Second, he stood strong on the teachings of the church -even though it cost him his life. He didn’t recognize the marriage of King Henry to Anne Boleyn because he knew that no one could redefine what was defined by God  – not even the king.

I am left wondering how I might behave in St. Thomas More’s shoes. Or maybe I am in them. How will I defend marriage? Our defence of our beliefs on marriage today deals with the same sex marriage issue, but much can be learned from Anne and Thomas.
If you struggle with the “Church” getting involved in matters of marriage or think there is no place for it. The story of Anne and Sir Thomas may give us some historical perspective on what happens when the “state” takes into its hands – redefining marriage. You may want to pick up “The Other Boleyn Girl” and “A Man for All Seasons” and see who you want to stand with? Will you defending the truth or choose to bend with the crowd or follow selfish motives?
A St. Thomas More Prayer for Religious Freedom and more information can be found on the website Unique for a Reason. http://www.marriageuniqueforareason.org

O God our Creator,
from your provident hand we have received
our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
You have called us as your people and given us
the right and the duty to worship you, the only true God,
and your Son, Jesus Christ.
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.
We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.
Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

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Religious freedom, it’s in American bones

June 7, 2012


Roger Williams is my newest hero.

Yes, that Roger Williams, the one you remember from elementary school history class, the Puritan preacher banished from Massachusetts who went on to found a colony of his own, Rhode Island.

A book published this year – “Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty” – goes way past those few paragraphs that your American history course spared.

As politics of our day have breathed life into the topic of religious freedom and the role of the church in civic life, learning more about Williams’ struggles against the all-powerful leaders of his day is timely.

Knowing more about the religious oppression that the Puritans sought to escape, knowing more about how the Puritans themselves oppressed people in the name of religion, knowing more about the deep-seated religiosity of the United States, and knowing more about the hatred of Catholics that lingers still in the United States, all that is even more valuable.

 Prejudice came across the sea

Author John M. Barry takes readers back to 16th century Europe to add perspective to Roger Williams’ life and works. In England and France back then, Catholics were slaughtering Protestants, and Protestants were slaughtering Catholics. They would do so for centuries, even up to the 20th.

The Reformation brought rule of the church together with the rule of kings and queens, linking the two in what was widely accepted as “the divine right of kings,” another flashback to grade school history.

Barry does a thorough job – maybe more than necessary – documenting the historical background so readers know who the Puritans are and why they fled England for the colonies. The history of the colonists once on North American soil seems more pertinent, and Barry covers the waterfront on that era.

There is an incredible amount of I-never-knew-thats in these 395 pages. For instance, did you know:

  • Virtually every government in England and New England fined people who didn’t attend worship – and that it was a revenue stream for those governments?
  • The colonists who arrived with the Massachusetts Bay Company worried that Catholic powers might attack them?
  • The English saw the need to colonize in North America as a bulwark against the further spread of Catholicism because of the Spanish and French incursions in the hemisphere?
  • If the Puritan church in Massachusetts excommunicated a person, no member of the colony – Puritan or not – could eat with them or even greet them on the street?
  • To avoid “heathenish and idols’ names,” Massachusetts stopped using names for the days of the weeks and months of the year?

 Seeking liberty from church and state

Roger Williams sees so much of these actions and prohibitions as misuse of both power and religion. Barry describes Williams’ thinking along these lines in plain language:

“. . . he had seen enough of power. He clearly had no desire to direct other men’s lives. He had even less desire to be directed by others. To him all that mattered was that he and every other person in his plantation (Rhode Island) could worship or not worship God in whatever manner he or she desired. . . .”

“He was saying that mixing church and state corrupted the church. He was saying that when one mixes religion and politics one gets politics.”

It comes as no surprise that it was Roger Williams who is likely the first to write of the need for a “wall of separation” between church and state. Nor that Williams’ religious beliefs influenced Rhode Island to be perhaps the first government anywhere in the world to outlaw slavery.

While not all of Williams’ thinking is worthy of admiration or acceptance, his story carries a level of historic importance to us today. For me, that’s a story that is the root of a conclusion I’ve come to believe more and more holds this kernel of truth: You can’t tell Americans that HAVE TO do anything. We see it playing out in so many things today in civic life and the church — from the provisions of the Affordable Health Care Act to the new translation of the Roman Missal.

Roger Williams brought the cornerstone with him from England in the 16th century. Now in the 21st century – 350 or so years later – U.S. citizens enjoy the freedom of worship that Williams modeled, yet how much influence religion has on civic affairs and how far government can go to impose on one’s religious beliefs, these are topics of the day just as they were in colonial times.

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When it comes to bringing up the gifts at Mass, there’s no place like — well, anywhere BUT home

July 22, 2011


It happened to me again, this time in England, of all places.

On vacation this summer (my treat to myself for my 60th birthday), the closest church to the apartment we rented in the Camden neighborhood of London was Our Lady of Hal (named for a miracle in the Belgian town of Halle). My wife and brother- and sister-in-law and I joined maybe 3-4 dozen worshipers for the 8:30 Mass on Sunday morning.

Of course I was asked to help bring up the gifts.

My wife, Barb, just shook her head.

She shook her head first, because when we were out of town one weekend last year and caught the Sunday evening Mass as St. Peter in North St. Paul, we were asked to bring up the gifts there.

She shook her head, secondly, because we NEVER get asked to bring up the gifts in our own parish. Well, that’s not exactly true; we were asked — once in 28 years — the one weekend where we scurried to get to the 5:30 Saturday evening Mass — which we never go to — and Barb rushed out of the house in sweat pants. She tastefully declined to walk down the aisle with the Eucharistic bread and wine dressed as she was.

Of course it’s not like there’s a badge of honor one gets for  bring up the gifts or any special graces, and it is not a sign of one’s holiness or anything else, but you would think that the odds are pretty good that at more than 1,000 Masses at your parish you might be asked a handful of times to participate in the liturgy in this way.

I keep reminding Barb about how biblical it is that we two “prophets” are not regarded in our own country, so to speak.

(Don’t tell her that when I went to Mass at the St. Paul Seminary recently guess who brought up the hosts!) — BZ


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Mixing Missing Person Case with Marconi?

September 7, 2010


thunderstruck cover


by Erik Larson

For more than half of Erik Larson’s 2006 book, readers have to wonder how the best-selling author is ever going to bring together the story of the invention of wireless telegraphy with the true story of a famous English crime.

“Thunderstruck” is a narrative history that bounces back and forth between the lives of world-renown Guglielmo Marconi and one Hawley Crippen, an American caught up in a sham of a marriage. Once Marconi’s network of transmitting towers and receivers develops to the point of enabling easy wireless trans-Atlantic messaging — and once Crippen apparently has had enough of his wife’s browbeating — what emerges is one of the great chases of all time, one followed around the world thanks to Marconi’s invention.

Ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship dispatches fly through the ether between England and North America, building suspense.

Will Scotland Yard find Cora Crippen alive?

Will the ghastly partial remains of a human being turn out to be the overbearing wife of the kind, timid man?

Will nascent wireless traffic be intercepted by the wrong people, including the yellow journalism practitioners of the early 20th century, and blow the capture of the suspect?

The biography of Marconi almost becomes a by-product of the drama, but it’s an interesting life story all the same. And the 392 pages of the Crown Publishers hardcover eventually make for can’t-put-this-down reading. — bz

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From Shakespeare’s quill to our lips

February 25, 2008


“Shakespeare: The World as Stage,”
by Bill Bryson

William Shakespeare’s birth was recorded in Latin, but he dies in English.

It’s a factoid that summarizes well the impact that playwright and poet Will Shakespeare had on his native tongue — and it’s been a lasting impact. More than 400 years later; English speakers around the globe use — without knowing their source — words and phrases created by the Bard of Avon.

If you’ve ever said, one fell swoop, vanish into thin air, be in a pickle, cold comfort, foul play, tower of strength, you’ve been quoting Shakespeare.

Bill Bryson points to a dozen or so words first found in Shakespeare, too, but he digs up little known facts about Shakespeare the man, not just the literary figure, to keep the interest of any reader, not just wordsmiths.

Bryson posits, for example, that Shakespeare exploited the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1586), leveraging renewed British patriotism to stage his history plays to the audiences of the day.

Those audiences were working people primarily, evidence that Will knew how to write for the masses. Although late 16th century laborers were poor, they found Shakespeare’s plays worth spending a pence or two to get into the Globe Theater for a “groundling” spot.

A couple times throughout the book there references to Shakespeare’s religion. Was he Catholic? Not enough evidence to say one way or the other, Bryson concludes, but what his research offers is insight into the anti-Catholic prejudice of the day.

Catholics were seen as such a threat to the government after the failed “Powder Treason” of 1604, where 36 barrels of gunpowder were found in a cellar beneath Westminster Palace and one Guy Fawkes waiting for the signeal to light the fuse. Bryson reports, “The reaction against Catholics was swift and decisive. They were barred from key professions and, for a time, not permitted to travel more than five miles from home. A law was even proposed to make them wear striking and preposterous hats, for ease of identification, but it was never enacted.”

There’s much, much more about who Shakespeare knew, who influenced his work, the royalty who supported him and his players, and plenty of investigation into the literary question that continues through the centuries: Did Shakespeare really write everything attributed to Shakespeare?

You aren’t likely to be interested in the details that Bryson goes into, but he’s such a good writer even those parts go quickly in this brief, 199-page book. Bryson makes even Will’s will interesting reading. — bz

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