Ask me anything: Episcopalian Edition


Have they renounced the title of Supreme Governor of the Church of England or do they still have that title?


The still have it. As I understand, the monarch assumes the title of “Defender of the Faith.”


Bit of a story behind that.


Indeed. The Pope bestowed the title on Henry the Eighth for his defense of the Church against Martin Luther. Somehow the title stuck with every one of Henry’s successors.


That’s the usual story and it’s not wrong, per se. But, as with much in history, there’s more.

Henry liked sparklies. Was always on the look-out for a new and nifty title, or gee-gaw to add to his collection. In 1512, he petitioned Julius II to award him the title possessed by Louis XII, “Most Christian King” (you didn’t just call yourself something like that; it was awarded). Not sure if “Most Christian” was a singular, zero-sum title, but Julius did award it to Henry, and, for good measure, secretly gave him the French throne. All he had to do to claim it was to defeat Louis in the then on-going unpleasantness between the Holy League and France. That part never happened, though Henry tried. But Henry got his “Christianissimus”.

In 1515, Henry wanted something else to pad his resume. Various ideas were passed around: “Protector of the Holy See”, maybe “Defender”, from the English side. The first was turned down because it already belonged to the Holy Roman Emperor, the second was the property of the Swiss. Some in Rome countered with “King Apostolic” (interesting combination) or “Orthodox”. The Pope vetoed both. In 1516, the title of “Defender of the Faith” was proposed from England. Leo ignored it, and Henry gave up until May, 1521, when Wolsey wrote once again to Rome, asking for a pretty for Henry. Leo passed it to a committee of Cardinals. Forthcoming were suggestions:

“Rex Fidelis”, “Orthodoxus”, “Ecclesiaticus” ,
“Protector”, “Anglicus”

When the Cardinals inquired just why Henry warranted another honor, the part he had played fighting for the Holy See against Louis, 9 years before, was mentioned. And there was the Assertio Septem Sacramentorum adversus Martinum Lutherum, of which Rome had heard (it was in draft in May 1521, printed in July, sent to Rome in September, after the Cardinals had been considering the matter for a few months. And it was at least partially Henry’s work. Probably). So, before the Assertio was received and presented to Leo, (his copy bound in cloth-of-gold, hand inscribed to Leo, the 27 other copies more mundane), a list of titles for Henry to choose from was shipped to England.

The Assertio probably tipped the scales. About the time it was presented to Leo, Henry chose the same title that had been suggested by England 6 years before: Defensor Fidei . Leo granted it six weeks after he received the book. Doubtless directly inspired by the Assertio, some cardinals then wanted to add a flourish such as Gloriosus or Fidelissimus, but Leo vetoed it.

So Henry got his sparklie, partially because of the Assertio, partially because of the Holy League, partially because he was a pain in the neck. It was intended as a title for him personally, though he thought it was hereditary. Parliament thought it looked nice, and attached it to the Throne, in 1543. Mary took it off, in her Second Act of Repeal, Elizabeth put it back, and it’s there now by legislative fiat. Hence, the title attached to the British Monarchy today is not really the same as the one Henry bore. It’s a gift from Parliament. Just uses the same words.

History is full of interesting stuff.


Strangely, Pain in the Neck was not a royal title passed down through the ages, though several monarchs qualified. D.G. Rex, Fid Def, Dol Coll it could have been, perhaps?


I would really liked it to have been Anglicus. So simple. So direct. So irrefutable.

Or Pain in the Neck, to be sure.

Or my old favorite, Fascinating Train Wreck.


Of course the real irony is that monarchs are not normally known for their piety, deference or chastity.


Well, true. As much as for their political nature. Same true for many in the Church, in the day.

But there was St. Louis.


Read the first part of the second homily (or “homilie”) of the Second Book of Homilies last night (I’m leading a discussion of the homilies for my church). Holy cow is that thing Calvinist. I do not like the early stages of the Anglican Reformation!


“As necessary for these times”. Politics. It never ends.


At least they managed to quash the Zwinglian tendency early on. Gross.


You see again why I cannot have much to do with the ACNA. Though your situation is different.


At least my church rejects priestesses, though my diocese does not. As far as ACNA goes, my church is pretty good.


Count your blessings.


I should add, btw, that I selected the topic for these discussions to give me a reason to read the homilies and then argue about them with a friend at my church. He’s more of the Anglo-Catholic bent than our church is, but less so than I am and generally more defensive of the Articles (which I, at this point, have no problem generally disregarding once we get past the first handful).


The Articles collectively are a curate’s egg, of course. I pity anyone formally bound to affirm them, in toto.


The Church of England still has it because it is the law of the land. UK law says that the Queen is Supreme Governor. The Church of England can’t change that, only Parliament could. However, the Queen has no actual authority over the Church of England, just as she has no actual authority over the civil government.

The idea comes from a belief in a unitary realm (one 16th expression of this is presented in Marsilius of Padua’s Defensor pacis), that the king was given responsibility for overseeing both the secular and ecclesiastical governance of his realm. This theory was a reaction against ideas of papal supremacy in which the popes claimed power to remove kings, etc.

In such a conception, England as a Christian nation did not need a separate ecclesiastical authority. The king could act as governor, and since everyone in Parliament would also be Anglican, Parliament could act as a national synod (encompassing the leading clergy and laity).

Today, the nation’s connection to Christianity is much weaker and there is much more religious diversity, so Parliament has outsourced most of its authority over the Church of England to the General Synod.


Or much else in English government.


I would expect that from someone who doesn’t know much about the RCC. There are great thinkers, theologians and scientists (some famous, e.g. St. Thomas Aquinas) who are RCC for a reason. It takes some digging but Truth is there. The reason why the other churches are not “right” it’s because they are a sample of the first church.
Now humans can be wrong and not know everything, the Pope is human! There is the person and there is the office and the Church teaching. Humans are corrupt and need to learn and can make mistakes but history and information and rules of the Church are truth.
So you can make a general line like, “your church thinks it’s right all the time…” and it would fit if you could back up exactly WHY it’s wrong. Backing up why it’s right is easy but time consuming and it’s a path that each person has to be willing to take to read up on different teachings.

*What I mean by digging is reading and comparing and learning why things are true on each topic you doubt of the RCC.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit