From the perspective of Anglo-Catholics, the problem with those who guided religious policy under Edward VI is that they abandoned the Henrician vision of a non-papal Catholicism and replaced it with an attempt to approximate Protestant foreign models. Of course such men as Cranmer and Edward’s uncles would not have put matters in those terms. Of course their goals were not least reactions to real abuses in late medieval Catholicism. And of course the ‘Hencrician vision’ may have been accidental and provisional in origin. Nonetheless, Edwardine religious policy gravely complicated the attempt to shape the Church of England as an institution that was neither Calvinist nor Lutheran nor Roman, but was Erasmian, reformed, learned, and not discontinuous in essentials with either the Church of the Fathers or of the Middle Ages. Honest and good people may disagree about the extent of the damage. Certainly recovery from the damage done under Edward began in the next reign with Hooker and others. But the ground to make up was large.
As an illustration of the damage done by the Edwardians, consider an extract from Eamon Duffy’s book, Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor (New Haven & :London: Yale, 2009). Duffy seems to be an agnostic papalist, reminding one of George Santayana, who was said to believe that ‘There is no God, and Mary is His Mother!’ But Duffy’s biases are not the point at the moment. The extract below is cited for its primary material, not for Duffy’s interpretation thereof. It is sufficient for the reader to know that by ‘catholic’ and ‘orthodox’ Duffy means papalist and Roman Catholic. In this passage Duffy notes the relative lack of executions in the diocese of Durham during the Marian reaction:
…from 1556, the aged Bishop Tunstall’s right-hand man there was his archdeacon and great-nephew, Bernard Gilpin. Despite having spent part of Edward’s reign in Paris to oversee publication of Tunstall’s defence of the catholic doctrine of the Mass, Gilpin was a waverer between catholic and reformed beliefs, orthodox on the real presence, but decidedly shaky on papal primacy, the English Bible and the marriage of priests. He was sufficiently suspect among hardliners in the diocese to have set aside a ‘long and comely’ shirt, in case he himself should be brought to the stake.’ (Page 130)
What Duffy is describing in Bernard Gilpin is an Henrician Catholic: a man who rejected the ‘modern’ papacy, accepted the positive value of vernacular Bibles, and was open to the reform of post-patristic developments such as mandatory clerical celibacy. But Gilpin was within the central tradition of the universal Church concerning the Eucharist and other doctrinal matters that were left untouched by Henry’s reforms.
The tragedy of religious developments under both Edward and Mary is that they hardened positions in such a way as to cut off the natural development and reform of English Catholicism. It was appropriate for the Church to incorporate the new learning, to modify or jettison peculiarly medieval accretions, to condemn late medieval Pelagianism, and to reform abuses in the Church in the light of Scriptural and Patristic authority. But by Mary’s day the Henrician evaluation of appropriate religious policy was for the time being no longer an active option. Despite this development, the Henrician Catholics represented a far more adequate balance than either the Edwardian bishops or the papalist Marians.
By the close of the Council of Trent, the Western Christian world was mired in a false bifurcation. On the one side was the Roman Church, centralized in Rome, innovating in doctrine, militant, inflexible on a multitude of secondary issues, and newly strengthened by the Tridentine reforms, the new religious orders, and new systems of education and devotion. The medieval Western Church had held a council about once each century. After Trent the Roman Church waited 400 years before holding Vatican I.
On the other side were the ecclesial bodies of the magisterial Reformers and of the radical Reformers, who in the name of reform and a return to Biblical and patristic sources often cut themselves off from the central tradition of the patristic and medieval Churches in many matters of doctrine and practice.
Anglicans, especially those engaged in what George Tavard called ‘the quest for Catholicity’, sought to avoid the bifurcation. To that end Anglicans often seemed in search of a model of what a Catholic, non-papal, Western Church would look like. The options in fact chosen by some included imitation of the modern papal Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the medieval Western Church. Many simply asserted that the existing Church of England and its formularies were quite adequate and themselves sufficed. In fact the Henrician model illustrated by Bernard Gilpin seems the best mix.