The White Lily Blog

Still a Little Whiggy
   Reviewers are of the opinion that, regarding “Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation”  by Stephanie A. Mann (Sceptor Press, 2007), the author takes a fresh look at the English Reformation.  One critic on Amazon says, “While she relies exclusively on secondary sources, Ms. Mann is familiar with all the recent scholarship that debunks the Whig theory of English history. This now discredited view held that England’s break with her historic ties to the Church was inevitable and ‘progressive.’ (Four stars–Rich Leonardi reviewer.)

Mrs. Mann actually has not completely purged the Whig (read Labor, or liberal) view from her own mind-set, and so we find, on page xiv in the author’s introduction to her work, “This history of a state church provides citizens of the United States of America a contrasting model to our constitutional relationship between church and state. It might provide us with some insights into the wisdom of our founders, who rejected an official state church at the federal level and provided a foundation for tolerance of differences in religious practice.”

Although Catholicism was the state church that Henry VIII savagely attacked, Mrs. Mann is suggesting that the state that resulted, one that practices ‘tolerance,’ one which makes all ‘churches’ equal under the law, was a desirable outcome, and was therefore, if not inevitable, at least ‘progressive.’ This is the very debunkedWhig teaching referred to, regarding the optimum nature of the state;  it has been seen to be manifestly untrue that such a state was inevitable, and the desirability of such a political expression as the modern secular state has not been Church teaching up to Vatican II.  On the contrary, nineteenth and twentieth century popes warned against it, saying, to summarize crudely, that the ‘neutral’ secular state inevitably leads to state atheism, an unfortunate situation, a disaster, for the spiritual and material life of its citizens, and to religious indifference among its population, with the expected behavioral consequences.

We have seen the consequences in the United States, with fifty five million babies and future home-buyers aborted, the consumer market destroyed, the real estate market destroyed, state-funded euthanasia looming, the marriage contract debased, and all contracts subsequently tainted, as NPR noted recently, covering the new widespread toxic option of just walking away from financial obligations. Apparently it’s ruinous to an economy. These behaviors are all direct and indirect results of the gradual secularization of the state, accompanied by the gradual relativizing of the values taught by the Church specifically due to the public posturing that all religions are ‘equal’ before the law when in fact such a notion is impossible to promote in any discipline whatsoever, from mathematics to cooking, from programming to kissing.  All dancers are not equal, all kumquats are not equal, and to pretend that all religions are equal is ludicrous. Only fictions can be “equal.” We have with secularization made all religions fictional, particular to the individual and hence infinitely amendable when inconvenient, and now we reap the decidedly non-fictional consequences.

James II was an open Catholic, coming after Elizabeth and her terrible pogrom against Catholicism, after the English martyrs, after Mary I and her attempts to restore the true Faith to England, and after Charles II, who vacilated all his life and converted to Catholicism on his deathbed.

Each reign tortured the public with dizzying reversals of religious propriety, and instability was provoked further by the continual spinning off of more protestant rebellions, the evangelicals, the Lutherans, the Calvinists, the Zwinglians, the Arminianists, the Latitudinarians, and more. Yet Mann speaks of James II in this way: “Winston Churchill remarks that we will never know what James ultimately intended [with his steps toward religious tolerance]. If it was to grant Catholics and Protestant dissenters freedom of worship and stop at that, he deserves recognition as a great modern hero. If it was to use toleration as a stepping-stone in making Catholicism the state religion [again] in place of the Church of England, he was a dangerous despot.”

Bear in mind the enormous transfer of property, the theft of it, not only from the Church itself but from private citizens who were, when not disemboweled, taxed and fined out of their Catholicism.  And bear in mind, too (this is the ‘new scholarship’ one reviewer spoke of) that Merry Old England had enjoyed, under the Church, prosperity, peace, and an enviable life-style in which roughly one-third of the year was paid holiday among its working classes, a lifestyle protected by the strict regulation of the Church, one that fetal capitalism stalked with bared baby fangs over the Reformation’s shoulder.  Would that James II had had the eventual restoration of the Church in mind, and not mere ecumenism! That restoration would have cured many ills for England, saved many souls lost in the confusion of sects, sects which deny the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, deny free will, deny the divinity of Our Lord, deny the indissolubility of marriage, deny purgatory and hell. It is endless what they deny and the mischief they have done.

But Mann reverses this honest Catholic line of reasoning. Mann calls, in that statement, for the triumph of the secular state, not the triumph of the Church. This is liberalism speaking. This is the living Whig. For both statements cannot be true, that England didn’t need the reformation, and that the religious state is bad. England was a religious state before the reformation, and the new scholarship is certainly right: she didn’t need changed in any way at all. The English Reformation was unjust, the motives were greed and lust. It bore bad fruit. In upholding the superiority of the neutral secular state, Mann denies all that, and sides with the tired old Whig faction, and not the holy martyrs of England.

Marcel Lefebvre’s ‘They Have Uncrowned Him’ details the Church’s traditional teaching regarding the secular state right up to Vatican II, which abandoned the perfectly reasonable and fruitful preference for the religious state. (He also makes the important point that tolerance of private practice of private faith is completely consistent with the religious state, and that was the general experience throughout Christendom, almost all the time. But tolerance is one thing, absolute right is quite another.) This temporary protestant sickness within the Church itself will be revisited in SSPX’s ongoing talks with the Vatican. SSPX is the dissenting wing, probably most known for their refusal to celebrate the ‘new mass’ and retention of the Latin liturgy, but they have doctrinal criticisms of Vatican II, of which the question of the secular state is one. Lefebvre points out that it is perfectly reasonable to recognize that due to historical developments, we have the secular state, but we don’t have to like it (in the US we have been taught to worship it–the American heresy, it’s called). Giving up this element of our Faith, the recognition that the secular state has a particular and sinister profile robs us of the possibility of a consistent independent political stance that could offer an alternative to many of our ills, overly-concentrated ownership, class warfare, and complete capitulation to capitalism, ultimately (as we are seeing) in favor of the few owning citizens left and against, in fact to the ruin of the working poor. The natural end of the secular state is atheistic state fascism. Traditional Catholicism teaches that. Vatican II made the secular state the desired norm, but it is a temporary error, because this demonstrably differs from tradition and words still count, and the Holy Spirit will steer us clear, back to our harbor. We must, of course, cooperate with the grace by acting (phoning, writing, praying). Works and faith–unless they have changed that too.

Meanwhile, this work by Stephanie Mann, although wonderfully readable and rich in detail, is infected with the bug. It’s still a little whiggy.

6 Comments so far
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Thank you for the thoughtful analysis of Supremacy and Survival, although I don’t think I said what you think I said in the Introduction–I said we can “reflect” on the wisdom of the founders. I did not proclaim that it was perfect or the ultimate goal for human society. That one statement, from the Introduction, is not the main theme of the book, and the entirety of the book demonstrates that I am certainly on the side of the martyrs and not of the State controlling the Church! For instance, on page 29, I note that through Henry VIII’s power grab the State had taken over the Church and this is the theme I address over and over again as the most horrible outcome of the English Reformation–throughout the Tudor and Stuart dynasties, during the Interregnum and even in the Hanoverian/latitudinarian eras. I certainly agree with Edwin Jones (“The Great Myth”) that England has lost its history and its true heritage when stripped of its Catholicism. Also note that I am referring to Winston Churchill’s opinion in your second reference to my text–not necessarily my own. My sympathy, again, is with James II and the Jacobites!

Comment by Stephanie A. Mann

Please note, however, that Edwin Jones is really Whiggy. He goes from describing how Cromwell rewrote English history to eradicate Catholicism from its past–and tracing the repetition of that lie in the Whig myth of England history until Lingard, his great hero–to advocating England’s involvement in the UN, the Euro, and the some new world government, using Tony Blair as the example.

Comment by Stephanie A. Mann

Mrs. Mann, this matter is easily settled. Are you in favor of a Catholic religious state (one which practices tolerance of other faiths, privately practiced, on a case-by-case basis), were it possible–say, on a Catholic planet 200 years from now? Or do you champion the cause of diversity, of absolute equality between religions, with a ‘neutral’ secular state administering society?

Comment by thewhitelilyblog

If that’s the choice, the former.

Comment by Stephanie Mann

Beyond the hypothetical choice you offered, I also think you misread my book if you thought for a moment that I believe the outcome of the English Reformation was progressive or desirable. The English “Reformation” should never have occurred–need never have occurred–and would not occurred–except for Henry VIII’s power grab based on his tender conscience, desire for Anne Boleyn, and goal of having a legitimate male heir. The entire book is dedicated to showing how unjust the English Reformation was, what a weak foundation it set for an established church of compromise, and how Catholics nevertheless endured years of persecution. I’d certainly vote with the majority at a recent debate: England should be Catholic again. Only if it were to be Catholic again would it be England again!

Comment by Stephanie Mann

And that thesis was loud and clear–except for those two stubborn quotes. (Perhaps in a next edition, you’ll put them a different way?) And I hope my own thesis was clear enough: it doesn’t make so very much practical difference now whether we approve of the secular state. We have it. But clarity on the traditional Catholic position ought to give us some political leverage we don’t have now, locked into one or the other party with no good fit in either. (Besides the fact that they’re only one party now.) And the other part of my own thesis was that Vatican II’s change was a change at the level of doctrine, it makes a mockery of not just the English martyrs but all the martyrs for the Faith, and it has to be clarified and returned to tradition!

By the way, I really enjoyed your work in Supremacy and Survival! I learned so much from it and I hope my own readers will go out and get it, and I will not fail to recommend it when these topics come up, as they will, again and again, because in so many ways we are in a second Reformation now, one that happened silently, from the inside.

Comment by thewhitelilyblog

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