Thursday, April 03, 2008

Defender of the Sacraments

The title "Defender of the Faith" was confirmed for King Henry VIII by Pope Leo X in honor of the King's book Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defense of the Seven Sacraments), which the English king wrote in 1521 in response to the rise of Lutheranism. The book is back in print, with a commentary by Raymond de Souza. To read an older Latin/English edition of the book with commentary by the Rev'd Louis O'Donovan, click here. It is generally agreed that on some counts, Henry misunderstood some points that Luther made (which was first provoked by abuses of the sacraments). But Henry had no misunderstanding about explaining the traditional teaching of the Church and taking a stand for the sacraments. In a cover letter for his book given to the pope, Henry wrote:

Most Holy Father:

No duty is more incumbent on a Catholic sovereign than to preserve and increase the Christian faith and religion and the proofs thereof, and to trans­mit them preserved thus inviolate to posterity, by his example in preventing them from being destroyed by any assailant of the Faith or in any wise impaired.

So, when we learned that the pest of Martin Luther's heresy had appeared in Germany and was raging everywhere, without let or hindrance, to such an extent that many, infected with its poison, were falling away, especially those whose furious hatred rather than their zeal for Christian Truth had prepared them to believe all its subtleties and lies; we were so deeply grieved at this heinous crime of the German nation (for whom we have no light regard), and for the sake of the Holy Apostolic See, that we bent all our thoughts and energies on up­rooting in every possible way, this cockle, this heresy from the Lord's flock.

When we perceived that this deadly venom had advanced so far and had seized upon the weak and ill-disposed minds of so many, that it could not easily be overcome by a single effort, we deemed that nothing could be more efficient in destroying the contagion than to declare these errors worthy of condemnation, after they had been examined by a con­vocation of learned and scholarly men from all parts of our realm.

This course of action we likewise recommended to a number of others. In the first place, we earnestly entreated His Imperial Majesty, through our fraternal love for him, and all the electoral princes, to bethink them of their Christian duty and their lofty station and to destroy this pernicious man, together with his scandalous and heretical publications, after his re­fusal to return to God.

But convinced that, in our ardour for the welfare of Christendom, in our zeal for the Catholic Faith and our devotion to the Apostolic See, we had not yet done enough, we determined to show by our own writings our attitude towards Luther and our opinion of his vile books; to manifest more openly to all the world that we shall ever defend and uphold the Holy Roman Church, not only by force of arms but by the resources of our intelligence and our services as a Christian.

For this reason we have thought that this first attempt of our modest ability and learning could not be more worthily dedicated than to your Holiness, both as a token of our filial reverence and an acknowledgment of your careful solicitude for the weal of Christendom.

We feel assured that our first fruits will be enhanced in value if it be approved by the wholesome judgment of your Blessedness. May you live long and happily!

From our Royal Palace at Greenwich, the twenty-first day of May, 1521.

Your Holiness' most devoted and humble son, Henry, by the grace of God King of England and France, and Lord of Ireland.

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