THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION IN THE ENGLISH PROVINCE (1)
After his Act of Supremacy was passed through the English Parliament on 3rd November 1534 by King Henry VIII, his dissolution of all English monasteries was more thorough and universal that the effect of Lutheranism had been on the Augustinian monasteries in Continental Europe during the previous twenty years.
Within a week of making himself supreme head of the church in January 1535, Henry commissioned his principal secretary, Thomas Cromwell, to make a detailed survey of monasteries, convents and other ecclesiastical property in England and Wales. This was achieved by Cromwell with great efficiency in a massive document entitled Valor Ecclesiasticus ('Church Wealth').
The suppression of all thirty-five Augustinian houses in England was rapid. It began at Droitwich in May 1538 and ended with the closure of Hull on 10th March 1539.
About three hundred Augustinians were simply forced out into the street, almost always penniless and without any compensation.
One undoubted factor in the failure of English Augustinians generally to take a stronger stance against Henry VIII was their lack of strong leadership.
In this predicament, the members of the Order in England did not appreciate the gravity of the situation so as to formulate and adopt a strong position against King Henry VIII.
Of the three hundred members of the English Province at that time, only a few embraced Protestantism, and only three notoriously so.
These three influential Augustinians joined forces with the royal suppression of religious communities, rather than resist it.
These Augustinians were Robert Barnes, Miles Coverdale and George Browne.
Robert Barnes (1495?-1540) is variously discussed as the former Augustinian Prior of Miles Coverdale, a friend of Martin Luther, a protégé of Thomas Cromwell, and a martyr of King Henry VIII.
As an Augustinian, Barnes had attended the Augustinian studium generale (international Augustinian house of studies) at the University of Louvain, Belgium in 1520-1523.
There he came across Lutheran ideas, and developed strong Puritanical views.
He was then Prior and a teacher at the studium generale (Augustinian international house of studies for scholars to the Order) at Cambridge.
There he became one of the first Englishmen to side openly with Martin Luther
With characteristic imprudence, on Christmas Day 1525 he preached a violent, polemical sermon at St Edward's Church, Cambridge, although he had been forbidden by the bishop even to enter the pulpit.
For this he was imprisoned by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey at Fleet Street Prison for two months in 1526, until he recanted. He was then moved to the prison at Austin Friars Priory, London.
He continued his Lutheran propaganda, and was transferred to the prison at Austin Friars Priory, Northampton. For relapsing, Wolsey condemned him to be burnt at the stake.
By a ruse he escaped imprisonment and fled England. He found refuge in Germany at Wittenberg, where he met Martin Luther in person.
There under Luther’s protection he wrote Acta Romanorum Pontificium, a scathing history of the Popes.
(Continued on the next page.)
For the Augnet photo gallery on Augustinian ministry in England: London (see photos at right), click here.
Photos (at right):
Picture 1: Leadlight of John Stone O.S.A., martyr, at Augustinian Church, Hammersmith, London.
Picture 2: Augustinian Church, Hammersmith, London.
Picture 3: Original altar of St Monica's Church, Hoxton, London.