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How adequately did the Pre-Reformation Church in England meet the religious needs of the country?

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Introduction

How adequately did the Pre-Reformation Church in England meet the religious needs of the country? The subject of the Pre-Reformation church and its effectiveness in meeting the religious needs of the people is an issue that divides historians. There are two main schools of thought on the subject; orthodox and revisionist. It is important that both sides of the argument are carefully examined to be able to formulate an accurate opinion. There are many historians who argue the orthodox point of view, experts in the field such as A.G Dickens, G.R Elton etc.. The long established view has always been that the people of England at this time were beginning to resent the Church for a number of key factors and they were only too happy to follow their king in overturning the Catholic Church. The followers of the orthodox view would argue that the consistent and high taxes (tithes, probates and mortuary fees) were causing widespread discontent and resent between the people and the church. They would argue that the people felt suppressed by the Church and its Cannon Law, constant taxation, debilitating and obvious corruption. A. G Dickens puts forward this attitude in a simple statement; "Anticlericalism had reached a new virulence by the early years of the 16th century." ...read more.

Middle

For example, he comments on Cardinal Wolsey: "Wolsey himself, for all his private vices, was an energetic reformer, who tried to produce better trained and better disciplined parish clergy." This is a very typical example of the revisionist view, recognising the humanity and failings of the clergy but also bringing out that they were still meeting the religious needs of the people. The revisionist argument is that the orthodox view is misleading and inaccurate, they are backed by the last 25 years of research that show that this supposed 'anti-clericalism' was merely a part truth and represented a miniscule percentage of the population. Haigh argues that the Reformation was caused by a number of factors not simply on account of corruption of the clergy. He argues that war costs, political machinations and Henry's strong desire for divorce were the primary cause of the Reformation in England. He proves that interest in the church is not waning at this point by commenting on evidence; "In the 1520's recruitment of clergy reached the peak of the half century expansion" This comment by Haigh helps to back up the revisionist argument that people were having their needs met by showing that more and more clergy were stepping in to help fulfil the religious needs of the English people. ...read more.

Conclusion

The true cause of the Reformation lies not with the people's dislike of taxes and of the clergy but rather with the King and other external factors. The picture that is painted by the evidence available to historians today would seem to suggest that England's people were torn in half, some feeling discontent and anger with the Church and the clergy and some feeling happy with their Catholicism and the way in which the Church met their needs. However it is important to consider whether the evidence is an accurate representation of the time. It may well be that the majority of people in England at this time were perfectly satisfied with the Church and were having their religious needs fully satisfied. There is an obvious possibility that the issues that are raised in the Orthodox view are only representative of small pockets of people and not of England as a whole. Whichever way your opinion takes you, there is not enough evidence to build a completely, airtight case of either of the Orthodox or Revisionist views. However, since the 1970's more and more historians have been joining the revisionist view of the Church's condition and ability to meet the religious needs of its parishioners. 1 D Gleeson 12 N ...read more.

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