However, Henry VIII was still insistent at that time on Catholicism in everything except loyalty to the Pope. The Pope had named Henry VIII a Defender of the Faith for the opposition that Henry had to Martin Luther, and Henry's theology did not change any because of his rejection of the authority of the Pope.
Thomas Cranmer and some or the other leaders of the Church, however, decided that there was a need to reform what they considered to be the heresies that had developed. Especially important to them were a liturgy and a Bible that was printed in English. In addition to this, they also wanted to do away with some of the beliefs and practices that the Catholic Church had and that they believed did not fit in with Scripture, such as veneration of saints, celibacy for the clergy, and Purgatory. Their desire by accomplishing these things was to return to the idea that everything that was necessary for salvation was contained within the pages of the Bible.
There was a serious clash at that time between John Stokesley, who was the bishop of London between 1530 and 1535, and Thomas Cromwell, who was the lead councilor to Henry VIII. This clash mirrored the clash that was taking place between the Church and the state. Stokesley, was a strong opponent of the idea of Lutheranism, and Cromwell was urging Henry VIII to look at the Lutheran principles of Germany because he felt that England could have some strong allies there. Stokesley used the pulpit to protect the diocese from what he saw as religious extremes, and Cromwell was then forced to rely on other men that had dubious orthodoxy when it came to religion.
Social Changes: The Catholic Church
As for the social changes taking place during the 16th century, "the reformation of the Catholic Church was without a doubt the most important." The Catholic Church had long held much power over the people of England. Many of the people who came to the New World came to escape the Catholic Church and its strict ways. Many people felt that the Catholic Church was very abusive to the people of England, and because they spoke out about it they were persecuted in their home country. They began a religion on their own terms. This was not fundamentally different from the Catholic religion, as they still believed in the same version of God. However, it was very similar to what people such as Martin Luther had done in making sure that the Catholic Church was questioned when it began to make rules that belonged only to the church and not to the Bible.
Originally, the Protestant Reformation worked to divide Christians in Europe into two separate groups. There were many arguments about how things should be done in various religions and whether the Catholic church was doing things properly. Because of this, individuals such as John Calvin and Martin Luther spearheaded the ideas for change that not only changed the countries that they were in but changed the world as well. This created new denominations of Christianity and as these progressed still further sub-denominations of these denominations became apparent.
For example, those who follow Martin Luther consider themselves Lutherans but in America there are three separate and distinct subgroups of the Lutheran Church. One is extremely particular in sticking to religious doctrine and other issues, one is very relaxed in the attitude that it takes toward issues such as homosexuality and women preachers, and the other congregations or sub-denomination falls somewhere in the middle of these things. There is no way to determine which one of these groups is necessarily right or wrong, as it all depends on one's perception.
However, without Protestant Reformation, including individuals such as Martin Luther and Henry VIII, none of these individuals would have evolved in the same way that they have. That is not to say that there would not have eventually been individuals who broke away from Catholicism and chose a different path. However, the way that this occurred had much to do with both the social and the political aspects of America as "it evolved from a small group of colonial settlers into the almost 300 million people that it houses today," and the evolution of England, as well.
Religion continues to change as well, as there have now been openly homosexual individuals accepted not only into churches but even into the ministry in some areas. Women stand at pulpits in many churches across the world while other churches do not even allow women to speak out or perform any of the scriptural readings that many churches have at their services. It is clear that, although individuals now have a choice other than Catholicism, there are often so many choices between various churches and denominations that it is difficult to determine which one is right in the sense of biblical ideals. Many of these churches have similar ideas to each other but there are also radical differences, sometimes even within a particular denomination.
The Protestant Reformation had an influence on American history not only by changing the various religious ideas and denominations that individuals could worship but also by changing the perceptions of these individuals so that they had an understanding of all of the differences that were out there and all of the theories that were available to them. The most important thing that the Protestant Reformation did for history was to show people that they truly did have freedom of religion and that they were not tied to the Catholic Church unless they chose that path.
That is not to say that there is anything wrong with Catholicism but it is not the religion for everyone and it was not the religion for many at that period of time. During the early days, the Catholic Church was very strict and harsh with most of its members and many individuals were not comfortable belonging to it. They had other ideas about what they felt was right for their lives and many who came to America came to escape the confines of the church. While the Protestant Reformation happened in Europe, in a way some of it happened in America as well, as settlers began to realize that they did not have to remain tied to Catholicism and that they were far enough away from England to make choices of their own and get away with these things without fear of the Church.
In this way, the Protestant Reformation did more for history then almost anything else that has happened to date. Those who truly realize this take their evangelicalism very seriously and they are often very devout about what they believe in. This means that they feel the importance of reading their Bible every day and living their life as they feel Christ would have. This is often very difficult to do as humans are not infallible and the stress and demands of daily life make Christian living very difficult at times.
However, those individuals who take this seriously find as much time as they possibly can to do things the 'right' way. This was largely what the Catholic Church wanted from its members when the colonists arrived in American, and what it wanted from England as well, but because the Catholic Church was so harsh and unyielding about many of the things that it required most individuals wanted to leave the Church.
Now, many individuals are coming back to Christianity but they are doing it because they do not feel pressured and they feel that they can have the freedom of religion that is not available in many other countries even in the present day. This freedom is the greatest gift that the Protestant Reformation brought, and Henry VIII helped to make it so. If it were not for Henry VIII, the reformation may not have moved ahead nearly as quickly as it did, and the Catholic Church may not have made the changes that needed to be made in order to ensure that people would remain with or come back to that church.
Becker, Carl Lotus. Beginnings of the American People. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1915).
De Molen, Richard, L. ed., Leaders of the Reformation (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1984)
King, John N. English Reformation Literature. The Tudor Origins of the Protestant Tradition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982)