The Voices Which Will Not Be Silenced
“The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10)
Today is the anniversary of three events which shine a light into the corners of the Reformation, and illuminate the effect that this pivotal event had on different areas of life.
In 1557, Mary I had been on the throne for three and a half years. England had been restored to the Roman Catholic faith after the protestantism of Edward VI, and Cardinal Pole (possessor of a fine beard) was in post as Archbishop of Canterbury. A man of purpose, he was also made Chancellor of both Oxford and Cambridge Universities where he led purges against Reformation thought. Not content with simply dealing with the living, this day saw him excommunicate the deceased Martin Bucer and Paulus Phagius, order that there bones be removed from their graves and burned for heresy. No freedom of academic thought here, not even in the grave.
Seven years later, England was once more Protestant under Elizabeth I. The authority of the Pope over this nation was once more rejected, and the Pope himself was fighting a rearguard action to protect his authority. This was no fight against Protestants, though, but against the Roman Catholic church itself. There had been a large council of Bishops called to deal with Protestantism (the famous Council of Trent), but the Pope wanted to make sure that everyone knew that he stood over and above councils. They could not tell him what to do, he argued, and so he issues a papal bull called “Benedictus Deus” proclaiming that he alone had the right to interpret what the council had said.
So we have academic disputes and politics in the church. All very good, but what does this have to do with the individual Christian? Did these arguments affect them at all?
Well, a century on and arguments are still being had over the role of the monarch in determining the faith of individuals, and in 1681 two women, Isabel Alison and Marion Harvie, are hanged in Edinburgh. In defiance of their persecutors they sing Psalm 84 from the scaffold. Harvie calls out that the government has no charge against her expect her religious views, but she is silenced.
All these incidents show the tension which can often arise between the politics and the Christian faith of the individual. The remarkable thing is that it is faith which wins out. The University of Cambridge became the centre of Protestant thought in the decades after the bones of Bucer and Phagius were burned. The Council of Trent, and the reassertion of the authority of the Pope, did not slow the Reformation and we still remember Isabel Alison and Marion Harvie today.
In Ephesians we read that God seated Christ “ at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21). When politics and the Christian faith clash, the authority of Christ wins out.