Today the Catholic and Anglican Churches outlined an agreement in which all the crazy fringe people in the latter church get to easily join the former. Anglicans dissatisfied with new developments in their church–ordination of women and gay people, for instance–will get to preserve many aspects of their liturgy and theology in the new church, all while comfortably certain that the Catholic Church will never, ever let progress interfere with the faith.
The magnitude of the migration of Anglicans to Catholicism we have yet to see; but regardless, this “apostolic constitution” is a startling act of unity when division has been the name of the religion game for several hundred years now.
So perhaps it is time to reflect on why these two churches even split up in the first place.
The reason for the split was named Henry VIII, and pop culture loves him, his court, and his women. The rest of this post will be a survey of the latest art stuff on the topic of the English Reformation and Henry VIII:
To sum up the important characters involved:
On the Catholic side, you’ve got St Thomas More, writer of Utopia, defender of the One True Faith, friend and later adviser to Henry VIII. He may have burned a few heretics here and there when the stench of Luther reached the British isle, but he is commonly portrayed with sympathy and with a cherubic glow about him. (See: A Man For All Seasons)
On the Dark side, you’ve got Thomas Cromwell, a man of slightly common origins who worked his way up to the English king through promotions as opposed to a title of nobility. He was the architect of the English Reformation. Lately historians have taken to saving him from his serpentine reputation. G.R. Elton argues (in the words of Joan Acocella), “English political policy, formerly at the whim of the nobles, became the work of specialized bureaucracies” under Cromwell. In other words, wow! This man has been key to forging the ways of modern government!
Also on the Dark side is Anne Boleyn, who is either portrayed as cunning, slutty, or cunning and also slutty.
On the sexy side, you’ve got the King himself, who, though fat and likely gross, is commonly portrayed as a babe. He is also purported to have had a murderous and lustful appetite for women and food. Or so I have gleaned from The Tudors.
Most recently and probably most notably, Hilary Mantel, a British novelist, wrote Wolf Hall, a fiction about Thomas Cromwell. Joan Acocella says Mantel portrays him as “a wise minister and decent man.” I am going to a bookstore after work to buy it.
A couple years back, Showtime made the ill-fated show The Tudors. For all its production value and soap-ready source material, this show lacks a coherent or interesting plot. When I look back on the two seasons I have watched, in which Anne Boleyn steals Henry’s heart, Catherine of Aragon is banished, Cardinal Wolsey is banished, Thomas More is forced to be an adviser to Henry, Thomas More is executed, Thomas Cromwell becomes #1 adviser, the English Parliament decides the King and not Rome is God’s earthly authority, and, er, Peter O’Toole becomes pope, I cannot recall a single episode striking me as a particularly tight and well-executed nugget of bodice-ripping costume drama.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers consumes fruit in the most lascivious manner throughout this 3-season series. He also is good at portraying rage through his blank blue eyes, though not so much through dialogue. And Thomas Cromwell, portrayed by the darkly handsome James Frain, seems rather stately, humble and efficient, but not evil, which I guess is refreshing for our times.
Lastly, Eric Bana plays Henry VIII with swagger in The Other Boleyn Girl, and seems to have taken Henry’s characterization: “of powerful but unoriginal mind” to heart. The film version is based on a book of the same title, which gets down with the sex lives of several Boleyns. Ahem… who cares. The brother was gay! The sister was a floozy! This movie features several Hollywood hotties and though I don’t remember all the particulars, I remember thinking that the movie was not as terrible as it looked.
So let us rejoice that the Catholics and Anglicans can agree on a few things and symbolically come back together as one after these 500 years. I wonder how this momentous occasion will go down in the future of art? Perhaps a scene in which Pope Benedict constructs a sign reading “God Hates F***,” or attempts to persuade Rowan Williams to see his side of things, a la Palpatine v. Anakin in Revenge of the Sith: