Church In Need of Reform.

There are two different views as to the State of the church in 1529. For instance there is the traditionalist views that the church was in desperate need of reform and their were regular complaints were made against the clergy. The other view is that of a revisionist historian, that the church was keeping the congregation generally satisfied and changes were brought in by a minority of elites. These cards are examples of how the church was in need of reform and


The Clergy

The clergy was extensively large and this led to people stating that this cheapened and trivialised the idea of having a local or parish priest. Other criticisms made were such about the fact many Bishops had more than one parish to attend. This meant that at times parishioners were left with either no spiritual leader or a very weak substitute. Yes, there were often good replacements but these replacements could never provide the regularity and stable faith that a parish priest provides. The excuse given for this was that one poor parish alone could not have supported one priest, after all at this time being priest was a career.

This therefore led to people believing that a place in the clergy was a possible career path with money at the end of it. This was fuelled more by the fact that Bishops and Priests who were not chosen for being spiritual men – but rather were chosen for there loyalty to the King and country. Although this, and clergy members buying their way into the church, was illegal it was hard to gather evidence to charge people.

This lead to very little of the Bishops being trained theologians thus this created perverse teaching in the churches and ignorant clergy men who led a “naughty life”. This naughty life was one that included an active sex life, gambling and an ignorance of the Catholic teachings.

Some people believed that the Church was too closely linked with the Government. Non-resident clergy (those that worked away from the parishes) generally were corrected educated and left more than capable replacements. Finally some priests were criticised for taking too much of the parish’s money in tithes or mortuary fees. However modern historians have now found this to be untrue and small cases of greed were blown out of proportion to create a misleading image of the clergy. The main criticism of the Pre-Reformation Church was the ignorance and worldly values of the clergy.

Before the revolution most of the Church was adequate and possibly striving. For instance most of the Clergy carried out their duties without complaints from the congregation. Non-Residential clergy tended to be properly licensed and carried out their duties also with no complaint from their parishioners. As an entirety the clergy were not all incompetent and selfish as portrayed in history and most of the Bishops with multiple parishes devoted adequate timing to both parish and administrative duties or arranged a more than suitable substitute.

Also the vast majority of people in England went to Church at least once a week and were more than content with the running of the Church. This shows us that they were happy and loyal to their church. Feast days and religious festivals were celebrated and enjoyed thoroughly throughout the year by everyone. They gave everyone a sense of identity and belonging because they were celebrated as a parish and everyone was given specific jobs to do within the events.

The new printing press was also booming the interest in the church as more and more people were able to understand and interpret what was going on during mass. This also helped clergy members in their sermons, especially those that were not confident enough to write their own. Religious festivals throughout the year helped parishes and parishioners to gain a sense of identity and individuality as each celebrated differently- but all ways were accepted.

It is parishioners’ wills that really tell how loyal people were to the church. In most of the parishioners’ wills there was money left to the church and bequests to orders of friars and nuns. Large numbers of churches were rebuilt or refurbished during this time period – mostly from the money given in wills and the generosity of help from the parishioners.

In conclusion the church appeared to be flourishing because of the commitment its parishioners had and the widespread generosity of them.

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Colet's Sermon, 1511

The reforming Dean of St Paul’s, John Colet, in his sermon of 1511 to Convocation attacked the abuses of the Church and said it must do better. He said that the clergy were “greedy and covetous and took too much interest in worldly affairs”. The fact that one of the Church’s most important priests was addressing the issue of corruption must mean that anti-clericalism existed and the Church was under attack.

Tirades of this kind between churchmen were commonplace. Moreover, the fact that the clergy were talking about such things showed that the church recognised it could do better and were not against reform. The church was not corrupt because they acknowledged the problems and were prepared to act to make things better. Moreover there was no evidence of great reforming zeal after Colet’s sermon in 1511 suggesting his colleagues did not share his views that corruption existed.

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Some churchmen had more than one office, which meant that they could become extremely rich. However these churchmen would not be able to perform their duties effectively with more than one post. Thomas Magnus was Archdeacon of the East Riding of Yorkshire as well as Master of St Leonard’s Hospital, Vicar of Kendal, etc.

It did not matter that bishops were in the diocese because they had a raft of eager recruits to perform their daily duties within the church. Thomas Magnus may have been a pluralist, but he also worked in the Kings Privy Council and the Council of the North. Consequently, he could not devote his time exclusively to his church affairs because of his duties to the king. It was not Magnus’ fault that he had more than one post because the King had the responsibility of giving out offices in the Church and State as rewards to loyal subjects.

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Simony was the act of being chosen for a place in the church through money or other reasons with nothing to do with religion. The church was very closely linked with the Gov. and this led to clergy members having bought their places. Although simony was illegal – it was hard to legislate against.

The higher clergy in the Church were on the whole respectable and well respected. Most were adequate workers and there were no a huge amount of scandal surrounding them.

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Some priests did not visit their parishes very often due to other business with the King & Government. Not only till their fall from power till they actually begin to visit their diocese and churches.

This did not mean that the churches were left unattended as there was a group of Church officials who would deal with the business and duties within the church.

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In England the Pope was a remote and powerless figure. This was not the case in Germany. Antipapaplism was more prominent in 1520s than ever before.

This was not often a massive deal in the church as it meant that now feuds between the King & Pope were a thing of the past.

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Heresy & The Lolards

These people challenged the underlying ideas of the church. They believe the bible should be available to laymen as well as Churchmen. However anyone who spoke against the Church was burnt for Heresy.

Lolards were a small group of heretics – too small and lacked too much power to actually be a threat to the Church. Also they were not widespread across the country.

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Case of Richard Hunne

Hunne was a merchant tailor who was found dead in a prison cell. He was on suspicion of being a Lolard and his body was burnt as such without a trial. This aroused suspicion that the authority was getting rid of evidence.

There was no opposition to the Church before or after the Case of Hunne. This would imply that the church acted correctly and the people generally believed that the best thing had been done.

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Simon Fish’s “A Supplication for the Beggars”, 152

This was a pamphlet written by Fish during his exile. In this he expressed the economic situation, the theological arguments and the anti-clerical argument. He accused the church of robbing people; “fill the hands of the clergy” and that they were trying to take complete control of the country.

This was a pamphlet written by one man who obviously believed the church to be corrupt and broken. Although he gives little evidence to support his ideas and in general there is little evidence for the corruption of the church.

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