Monday, June 23, 2008

 

Henry VIII's Divorce: The Real Story

It is sometimes sneeringly said that the Church of England was founded because Henry VIII wanted a divorce and the Pope would not give it to him. That is the true story that lay under the surface (or, going further, perhaps the true story is that Henry VIII wanted a divorce from Emperor Charles's aunt, and the Emperor objected). The principle at issue, however, seems not to have been divorce, but whether the Church trumped the Bible, exactly the principle that split other Protestants from Rome. Here's what seems to be the story. I'd have to do library research to find if it is correct, however--- web sources are frustratingly vague.

The heir to the English throne, Arthur Tudor, married Catherine of Aragon but died some months later. His brother, the future Henry VIII, wanted to marry the widow. Church law, however, forbade a man to marry his brother's widow, based (somewhat dubiously) on a verse from Leviticus. Henry applied to the Pope for permission to break the rule, and the Pope granted that permission.

The issue was whether the Pope had the authority to grant Henry permission to break divine law.

The Papacy said Yes. Henry said No. Henry submitted the question to various university faculties, and many of them, including ones in France and Italy, agreed with him. The one Protestant university that I've read of him consulting, Marburg, replied that Henry was correct on that narrow issue, but wrong on whether his marriage was invalid, because the underlying church law was wrong.

Update (June 26): I found the key book, Edward Foxe's 1531 The determinations of the moste famous and mooste excellent vniuersities of Italy and Fraunce, that it is so vnlefull for a man to marie his brothers wyfe, that the pope hath no power to dispence therewith. I've posted it at http://rasmusen.org/special/foxe.htm. It's out of copyright, and I think merely scanning it in doesn't count as adding enough to copyright it. It says right at the start:

NOt longe syns there were put forth vnto vs the college of doctours regent{is} of the vniuersitie of Orlea~ce, these .ij. questions, that folowe. The fyrste, whether it be leful by the lawe of god for the brother to take to wyfe that woma~ / whom his brother hath lefte. The seco~de, and if this be forbydden by the lawe of god / whether this prohibition of the lawe of god maye be remytted by the pope his dispensation
Not long since there were put forth unto us, the college of doctors regent of the University of Orleans, these ii questions that follow. The first: whether it be lawful by the law of God for the brother to take to wife that woman whom his brother hath left. The second: and if this be forbidden by the law of God whether this prohibition of the law of God may be remitted by the Pope his dispensation.

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