Gorkum and Cleves


We should also call to mind today the Martyrs of Gorkum, nineteen Catholic priests, diocesan and religious, hanged on this day in 1572 by militant Calvinist troops. As Chesterton once quipped, it is not as though religious wars are not worth fighting; religion is in fact the only thing worth fighting for. All our wars are still ‘religious’, if not as overtly as the 16th century, taking religion in its deepest sense as that which is master of our affections. It would do us well to ponder what is our own ‘religion’ before we adhere thereto. For where the heart is, there one’s treasure be also.

While on matters of the heart, today Henry VIII had the marriage to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, annulled, the second such for not-so-good King Harry. I guess once you are allowed to ‘put away your wife’; by means fair or foul – Henry had two others beheaded – it can become habitual, which is why divorce should be illegal. In fact, prior to the Protestant revolt, it was unheard of, in those good old Middle Ages.

Anne also unwittingly precipitated the downfall of the scheming Thomas Cromwell, who had arranged her marriage to the King; when Henry saw his bride-to-be, he was aghast at her homeliness, claiming she looked somewhat equine. And this from a man who was so obese, he needed a mechanical lift to move about, his bloated body covered in boils, and likely syphilitic to boot.

Let us not forget that he is the originator of what we now call the Anglican religion, which no longer goes in for beheading, nor for annulments; simple, easy and no-fault divorce now suffices.

Nor are Calvinists any longer are in the business of hanging priests from the rafters of barns.

And perhaps I should add that the Catholic Church no longer goes in for the burning of heretics. All of us have softened – in some ways rightly, in others way not – somewhat over the years.

But there are other religions – one whose adherents begin and end with ‘m’ – that still has large swathes willing to do such zealous, evil work in the name of good. So we ourselves must work for a proper sense of religious freedom, while maintaining the rights and obligations of the one, true Church. Not easy, but well worth the battle.