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Other Confessions

The Church of England broke with Rome over an entirely different issue. King Henry VIII (r. 1509–1547) wanted Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon and leave him free to marry another woman, Anne Boleyn. Catherine had been his brother's wife, and Henry felt that his marriage to her, which was against church law but permitted by an earlier pope, was the reason she had produced no male heirs. Clement refused to act on this request, so Henry's government broke all connections with the papacy, and, with the 1534 Act of Supremacy, made the king head of the Church of England, which remained Catholic in other respects. The government of Henry's son, Edward VI (r. 1547–1553), went a step further and made the Anglican Church truly Protestant, basically Zwinglian in theology. Edward was succeeded by his sister Mary (r. 1553–1558), whose government tried to return England to Roman Catholicism. Mary was succeeded by yet another sister, Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603), whose government returned England to Protestantism, now basically Calvinist in theology, but retaining much of Catholic liturgy and also retaining ecclesiastical government by bishops, rather than creating government by representative church councils called presbyteries, or classes, or synods, which most of the Reformed preferred.

Another group of early Protestants called themselves names like "Brethren," but were often called by their enemies "Anabaptists" and are generally called by modern scholars "radicals." They insisted on using the Bible as the only guide to religious observance, and among the biblical customs they insisted on was the practice of baptizing people into the church as adults, as believers who understood what they were accepting, rather than as infants who were presented by their parents and godparents. Infant baptism had become customary through the Middle Ages, in part because of a growing belief that everyone is born with the taint of original sin, and that this taint must be washed away by baptism before there is any hope for salvation. Any person who remained unbaptized on death, therefore, ran the risk of damnation without any hope of salvation, or perhaps, in the minds of some theologians, to relegation to a place called Limbo that was neither heaven nor hell. Infant baptism also had the advantage of making all individuals immediate members of the community, without any period of probation. By insisting on believers' baptism, Anabaptists changed both the theological and the social meaning of baptism, and that upset a good many people. Anabaptists were often savagely persecuted for their beliefs, beginning in Zwingli's Zurich where an early group of them emerged. They seldom gained the protection of any government. Numbers of them also known as Mennonites, who became ardent pacifists, managed to survive in the Netherlands and neighboring parts of Germany, tolerated but not permitted to participate actively in society.

Meanwhile, Roman Catholics reacted to all these changes by digging themselves in and drawing the lines of permissible belief more strictly than ever before. That work was accomplished primarily in the Council of Trent, which met between 1545 and 1563, under close direction from a series of popes, and prepared a set of theological decrees and disciplinary canons. Most of the decrees adopted ways of defining Catholic beliefs originally developed by Thomas Aquinas, in preference to alternative views originally developed by William of Ockham, Duns Scotus, and other medieval theologians that been widely accepted before the Reformation. The canons required organizational reforms.

One doctrine of particularly wide practical consequence that Catholics refused to abandon was celibacy. They believed that it was a higher way of life for those who could manage it. They insisted that all secular priests remain celibate, and they also wished to continue communities of contemplative monks and nuns, as well as active friars and sisters, that devoted themselves entirely to the work of the church and did not establish families. Almost all Protestants found the lifestyle of celibacy both unnatural and unnecessary. They wanted their ministers to marry and lead normal family lives, to join society and no longer live in a legally separate caste. And Protestant governments confiscated monasteries and convents, turning them into schools or hospitals, or simply selling the properties. This reduced the range of lifestyle options open to the general population in Protestant lands, particularly for women, who now had little choice but to marry and become housewives. Protestants also changed the institution of marriage in several ways. It was no longer permanent, and could be dissolved in divorce, either for adultery or desertion, at the request of either the husband or wife. In practice, however, divorce remained relatively rare.

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