Friday, 4 May 2012
Broken bread and Reformation era saints
who, when your Church on earth was torn apart
by the ravages of sin,
raised up men and women in these islands
who witnessed to their faith with courage and constancy:
give to your Church that peace which is your will,
and grant that those who have been divided on earth
may be reconciled in heaven
and share together in the vision of your glory ...
The words of the collect - "when your Church on earth was torn apart by the ravages of sin" - capture something of the confusions which flowed through these islands during the Reformation era. There was nothing neat or tidy about the allegiances of these years. Henry VIII's wrath created both catholic and protestant martyrs. The papal legate in Marian England - Cardinal Pole - died after being recalled by Rome with accusations of Lutheranism hanging over him. Elizabeth I, as David Starkey's work demonstrates, had deep contempt for the protestant martyr Latimer who spoke out against her place in the royal succession.
Alongside the martyrs, however, were - as Eamon Duffy brilliantly demonstrated in his evocative The Voices of Morebath - the vast majority of clergy and laity conformed under Henry VIII, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth. Such conformity shared something of the Benedictine spirit of "stability", living out the Cross and Resurrection in the particular parish communities to which clergy and laity belonged, even as turmoil raged around them.
Amidst the confusions, the violence, the divisions, saints and martyrs across these islands bore witness to the Crucified and Risen One. It is in the very brokeness of the Church during the Reformation era that we see Him manifested. There is, then, a eucharistic character to the Church's commemoration of these saints and martyrs. In the words of the Didache:
As this broken bread scattered on the mountains was gathered and became one, so too, may your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.
It is a sanctified irony that it is in the Eucharist - a cause of bitter division amongst 16th Christians in these islands - that their martyrdoms and witness are most fully caught up and given their deepest meaning as a sign of the Church's hope and unity.
Posted by BC at 21:53