The Whip with the Six Strings

With the passage of the Act of Supremacy in 1534, Henry VIII broke with the Papacy and declared himself head of the Church of England. His purpose was, of course, to secure himself a divorce, rather than a reformation of religion. Neverthless, for a few years Henry toyed with Protestant ideas and even met with some leading Lutherans, but his instincts were conservative and perhaps it was his excommunication by the Pope in 1538 that finally tipped the balance, and drove him to demonstrate his orthodoxy.

The Act of Six Articles 1539 was the result, An act abolishing diversity in opinions :

  • that set out in six articles the basic doctrine to be adopted by Henry's Church of England, a doctrine that was unresevedly Catholic
  • that defined anyone that refused to accept these articles as a heretic
  • and where heresy once again became a felony, that is an offence punishable by death

It is for this reason that Henry's Church is often described as promulgating Popeless Catholicism; the theology was essentially the same, there was only a different man in charge. But for those of the Protestant persuasion, the Six Articles became known as the whip with six strings or even the bloody whip with six strings, as it was under this Act that many were sent to their deaths as condemned heretics.

However, Henry VII was evenhandeded in his persecutions, for example on 30 July 1540 he had six victims executed at Smithfield; three were Protestants and burnt for heresy and their denial of the Six Articles, and three Catholics were hanged, drawn and quartered for treason in denying the Act of Supremacy.

These Six Articles remained the basic statement of doctrine for the Church of England until 1547, when of course, Henry VIII died, and England came under new management.

The text of Henry's Six Articles as taken from the Act

  • first, that in the most blessed sacrament of the altar, by the strength and efficacy of Christ's mighty word, it being spoken by the priest, is present really, under the form of bread and wine, the natural body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ, conceived of the Virgin Mary, and that after the consecration there remaineth no substance of bread and wine, nor any other substance but the substance of Christ, God and man;
  • secondly, that communion in both kinds is not necessary ad salutem by the law of God to all persons, and that it is to be believed and not doubted of but that in the flesh under form of bread is the very blood, and with the blood under form of wine is the very flesh, as well apart as though they were both together;
  • thirdly, that priests, after the order of priesthood received as afore, may not marry by the law of God;
  • fourthly, that vows of chastity or widowhood by man or woman made to God advisedly ought to be observed by the law of God, and that it exempteth them from other liberties of Christian people which without that they might enjoy;
  • fifthly, that it is meet and necessary that private masses be continued and admitted in this the king's English Church and Congregation, as whereby good Christian people ordering themselves accordingly do receive both godly and goodly consolations and benefits, and it is agreeable also to God's law;
  • sixthly, that auricular confession is expedient and necessary to be retained and continued, used, and frequented, in the Church of God

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