I’d like to discuss this in a way where no one gets overly offended, if that is possible.
I know that those who are part of a church that sprouted from the Church of England thoroughly dislike it when they hear (or read) the following: “your church started because Henry VIII couldn’t get a valid divorce” or much less charitable statements. The typical counter-argument is that “Anglo-Catholicism began much earlier.”
It is the latter I’d like to discuss. I agree that the former is often said in a derogatory manner. I don’t intend to paint the Church of England and her subsequent offspring in a nasty light, but I have distinct reservations on the history of the latter statement especially as it tends to minimalise Henry VIII’s role and the Reformation’s role in the formation of the Church of England.
Yes, there were Celtic traditions adopted into English Catholicism which made it somewhat distinct and it did use the Sarum Mass. At the same time Irish Catholicism was also distinct, as were other regionally variant Catholic churches that did not separate (yes, there is a Church of Ireland, but it is an Anglican Church). Salisbury was not the only diocese to have a different Mass (the Sarum Rite), in fact the Use of Sarum was taken from the Use of Rouen in France.
So it all comes back to Henry VIII who began as a great defender of Rome and severely persecuted the Lutherans in Britain. In fact he wrote the book, In Defence of the Seven Sacraments when the Protestant movement first began (likely written by Thomas More in reality).
The people of England loved Queen Catherine of Aragon and had no real use for Lutherans and Protestantism. It was not until Anne Boleyn became Queen and Cardinal Wolsey was arested that Henry VIII began reading the works of William Tyndale and Thomas Cromwell entered into the king’s inner circle. Cromwell, by many accounts, was a master of realpolitik and an all around terrible individual. He of course helped to frame the very woman that got him his position, on charges of incest, adultery, witchcraft, and high treason - after Cromwell had tortured Anne’s brother and another man.
Then it took a few acts of Parliament and some work by Cromwell to sort things out. Papal authority was abolished by Henry himself. Cromwell dissolved the Catholic monasteries. Royal Supremacy made it high treason to deny the supremacy of the monarch as the sole head of the Church of England. The Act against Papal Authority made an oath renouncing Rome and supporting the monarch a requirement for nearly all secular and religious officers.
Cromwell and Cranmer led the intellectual of the Lollard movement and also included many of Luther’s ideas as well. This led to the venerable Universities of Britain turning out a new, more radical group of Reformist/Protestant leaders of the new Church of England.
In summary, I can understand why Anglicans would not wish to have people like Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell as the founders of their church, but I really cannot see how it can be argued within the bounds of historical reason.
And please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there weren’t Catholics who were nasty individuals as well. There certainly were. I certainly don’t want to go down the road of who was more cruel ad infinitum.
I just cannot see how one can say that Anglicanism truly began prior to Henry VIII.