What was the greater danger to the Elizabethan Church: Catholicism or Protestantism?
James Kim (g)
Catholicism and Protestantism were both present during Elizabeth’s reign although the society consisted mostly of the latter. Both religious groups were not satisfied with the religious settlement of 1559. The Catholics were unsurprisingly against the already-Protestant establishment while the more radical Protestants were at odd with the too conservative dimensions of Elizabethan settlement. Furthermore, we must all acknowledge the fact that the majority of moderate Catholics and Protestants were willing to conform to Elizabeth’s religious or political ideologies. Many were actually against with the extremists’ zeal to depose the Queen. However, in the wider spectrum, Catholicism posed a larger threat than Protestantism as Catholics were trying to completely eradicate the Church from outside, even from outside the nation as AGR Smith heavily emphasises the international Catholic threat. The Protestants wanted to reform the Church from within and make amendments to the Protestant Establishment rather than destroy it. Although we have no idea how willing people were to keep faith in their religion, the reaction from Elizabethan Church against potential threats would indicate which religious group Elizabeth perceived as the greater danger.
Catholicism can be summed up as a “threat to the independence of the nation” as AGR Smith phrased it. However, during the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, Catholicism really did not pose much threat. They lacked a clear motive or driving force to fuel rebellions against Elizabeth. The Pope had not given any direct pronouncement against Elizabeth, which is why she did not intensify penal legislation against Catholics in the 1560s. At this time, even Philip II did not see a clear reason why he would have to invade England. It was in the 1580s when tension grew between Catholic loyalties and the Protestant establishment. Catholic missionary priests from the Spanish Netherlands started arriving in England. They originated from the seminary of Douai, which was founded by Father William Allen, an English ex-Catholic exile. In the beginning there were a 100 seminary priests willing to risk their lives to bring spiritual guidance to Catholics. These numbers grew to approximately 400 by the end of the 16th century, which highlights the growth in determined priests who wanted to restore Catholicism even though that meant they would become martyrs to the Catholic movement.