Being of English descent, I will forever find the study of English church history to be fascinating. Just studying about the life of one of my great friends, St. Thomas More, has introduced me to the richness and beauty of English Christianity.
When Henry VIII took upon himself the title Supreme Head of the Church in England, More refused to accept this title and later referred to both the Magna Carta of 1215 as well as Henry's coronation oath in 1509 to prove that, under English law, the immunity of the English Church was guaranteed.
The Magna Carta promised the following:
In the first place we have granted to God, and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs forever that the English Church shall be free, and shall have her rights entire, and her liberties inviolate; and we will that it be thus observed; which is apparent from this that the freedom of elections, which is reckoned most important and very essential to the English Church, we, of our pure and unconstrained will, did grant, and did by our charter confirm and did obtain the ratification of the same from our lord, Pope Innocent III, before the quarrel arose between us and our barons: and this we will observe, and our will is that it be observed in good faith by our heirs forever. We have also granted to all freemen of our kingdom, for us and our heirs forever, all the underwritten liberties, to be had and held by them and their heirs, of us and our heirs forever.And in his coronation oath, Henry VIII swore to the following:
Sire, will you grant and keep by your oath confirm to the people of England the laws and customs given to them by the previous just and god-fearing kings, your ancestors, and especially the laws, customs, and liberties granted to the clergy and people by the glorious king, the sainted Edward, your predecessor?Now, after reading all of this, compare it with the Act of Supremacy of 1534, passed through parliament, which stated:
I grant and promise them.
Sire, will you in all your judgments, so far as in you lies, preserve to God and Holy Church, and to the people and clergy, entire peace and concord before God?
I will preserve them.
Sire will you so far as in you lies, cause justice to be rendered rightly, impartially, and wisely, in compassion and in truth?
I will do so.
Sire, do you grant to be held and observed the just laws and customs that he community of your realm shall determine, and will you, so far as in you lies, defend and strengthen them to the honour of God?
I grant and promise them.
Be it enacted by authority of this present Parliament that the King, our sovereign lord, his heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall be taken, accepted and reputed the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England, called Anglicana Ecclesia...So what became of the freedom enjoyed by the English Church from temporal authority? Does the American Church enjoy such freedom within the United States? So long as we have a government that does not have the ability to pass legislation favoring or opposing an establishment of religion. I posit that this freedom has been and can be threatened when government attempts to take upon itself authority to regulate religious affairs. Christians are often accused of violating the supposed separation of church and state, though the original intent of Jefferson's statement was to ensure that the government could not interfere with the affairs of religion. Do you think there are those who wouldn't mind interfering from time to time?
St. Thomas More lost his head because he stood on his principles regarding the freedom of the English Church, not merely in English law, but in obedience to the authority of Christ as guaranteed by union with the See of Rome. He recognized that there was an authority given by God that no temporal, political power may revoke or take upon itself.
For an interesting discussion on the final resting place of his severed head, check out this article: Opening the Roper Vault by Hugh Albin.