Today was a bittersweet day for many of us, as it was the last day of class and everybody flies home on Saturday. Upon waking up, we all realized that we had two days left to check off things from our London Bucket Lists. So, we went to our last class, and enjoyed a good lecture and discussion on the English Reformation, and then proceeded to hunt down extra luggage, grab Iranian food, spend time with friends, and go to Camden Market (and not spend all the money we had left).
As far as class goes, we were each assigned a different sermon organized and preached by Thomas Cranmer -- the Archbishop of Canterbury under the reign of Henry VIII. These homilies described and outlined the various beliefs that the new Protestant, English parishioners (as well as the priests) needed to know. Some of the doctrines included how people are “saved” by God, an explanation of “true faith”, the importance of obedience to the King as Head of the Church, and the reading and knowledge of Holy Scripture.
These texts are important because they provide insight into the changes of the Reformation. Until revisionist history became a popular trend in interpreting the past, many historians considered the medieval church to be corrupt, and the Reformation occurred with the purpose of breaking away from this supposed corruption of the medieval Catholic Church. However, if anything, this class has demonstrated that these are simply interpretations, and evidence that the medieval church in England was actually a thriving, communal and non-corrupt institution. For example, lay people would donate candles or money to the church, and in doing so, they were practicing the giving of alms. People would pay the church money upon their deathbeds in order to ensure that priests would say prayers for them after they died, in hopes of shortening their time spent in purgatory. Many critics see this as having the wrong intention and buying your way into heaven.
The existence of mystics such as Margery and Julian, as well as the heretical trials that occurred throughout the country, also pointed toward a church that was potentially heretical in the beliefs of its mystics, and was politically power hungry. However, we were constantly asked to challenge this cynical outlook throughout the course. Perhaps Margery and Julian were so overwhelmed by their true faith that they did in fact have visions, or felt the need to have a closer relationship with God. This desire led to their theological concepts and ideologies. It is completely possible that clergymen did not hold the heretical trials because of blood-thirsty men, but instead, for a genuine fear of a corruption of the church, its beliefs and its community.
In any case, the history of anything always has multiple interpretations. Our course examined a period of time in which church history has always been seen in a slightly more negative light, and a time in which great change was about to occur. We read valuable, numerous texts (and original manuscripts!) which enabled us to challenge the previous interpretations, and potentially come up with our own.
Finally, I think it is important to mention all of the FUN we had while we lived in this beautiful city. There were good times, namely: the Jubilee, the nights of clotted cream ice cream (yes, that happened. And it is simultaneously as fantastic, and terrible for you, as it sounds), the early morning tube rides (which make you want to shower immediately after stepping onto the platform but funny in any case), the pubs and pasties, and the many wonderful excursions outside of London. And, of course, there were some bad times, too…like Stonehenge, which luckily did not result in sickness and thus can become a positive experience to remember for a lifetime. Overall, the trip was quite wonderful, and everyone will miss the beautiful city, the experiences and each other.
(Special thanks to Professor Hornbeck for all the work, guidance, and everything else he has done for the class!)