Luther and the English Reformation

Quinten A. Buechner describes how, after 1519, Luther’s books circulated in England, but never entirely convinced King Henry VIII of the reformer’s sincerity.

In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg and, in 1533, an amorous Henry VIII gave his assent to the Act of Restraint of Appeals, thus making a constitutional break with Rome and beginning the English Reformation.

Many historians have ignored the possibility that the two events were connected and have created the impression that the English Reformation just grew or began at some unrelated specific date. Can such an impression be justified, and was there a link between the Lutheran and the English Reformations?

When Henry assented to the Act of Restraint, halting clerical appeals to Rome, he did not intend a religious revolution. He clung to the essentials of Romanist doctrine and, if he felt any true reforming urge, it was mainly in what he considered to be the outward forms of religion. Yet by 1547 the insular Church was fast becoming a definitely Protestant body. What caused such a change? The easiest explanation is that Protestantism was the fashion of the time and that England was catching up on the latest developments.

England had had other reforming movements in her history. The Lollard sentiment of the fourteenth century, which had advocated a type of universal priesthood, still drew some supporters. Discontent with clerical abuses, besides that of the Lollards, was not uncommon. The idea, then, that England was simply joining the latest intellectual and religious trend which appealed to these feelings is not completely absurd.

Such a concept, however, does not explain the English Reformation, nor does it illumine the link between the Luther and the English Reformation, even though the Lutheran ideas in the Reformation may have strengthened English feeling. The English climate of opinion may have been receptive to continental Reformation tendencies, but one must look further for the connexion between the Luther and England.

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