A day that shook the foundations of Britain’s Protestant myth


How odd that it should be the Guardian that grasped the magnitude of what happened yesterday. Andrew Brown, religion editor of Comment is Free, and the possessor of an intellect as mighty and muddled as that of Rowan Williams, writes:

This was the end of the British Empire. In all the four centuries from Elizabeth I to Elizabeth II, England has been defined as a Protestant nation. The Catholics were the Other; sometimes violent terrorists and rebels, sometimes merely dirty immigrants. The sense that this was a nation specially blessed by God arose from a deeply anti-Catholic reading of the Bible. Yet it was central to English self-understanding when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1952 [sic], and swore to uphold the Protestant religion by law established.

For all of those 400 or so years it would have been unthinkable that a pope should stand in Westminster Hall and praise Sir Thomas More, who died to defend the pope’s sovereignty against the king’s. Rebellion against the pope was the foundational act of English power. And now the power is gone, and perhaps the rebellion has gone, too.

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