The Martyrs of Gorkum and Annulled Anne of Cleves

In one of those many mysteries of providence, this day marking the martyrs of China is also the anniversary of the Martyrs of Gorkum, nineteen Catholic priests, diocesan and religious, hanged on this day in July of 1572 by militant Calvinist troops in the midst of the wars of religion, which broke out soon after the Protestant ‘reformation’. As princes cast off the sweet yoke of Catholicism, they placed on their subjects the heavy and stifling burden of their own brand of religion, an interpretation of Christ’s message according to the meandering mind of Man.

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. For religion, as Thomas puts it, in its deepest sense is that which is master of our affections. It would do us well to ponder what is our own ‘religion’, for where the heart is, there one’s treasure be also.

While on matters of the heart, today in 1540 Henry VIII had the marriage to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, annulled, soon after met her, and they had spent a few purportedly unconsummated six months together. I guess it gets easier as you go along, for such was the second annulment – invalid, of course, as not coming from the Church – for Henry, who had had two other of his wives beheaded on trumped-up, ludicrous charges, just to be rid of them, we may suppose. Divorce – which is what annulments would quickly devolve into – was unheard of in Christendom, but then that glorious harmony between Church and State was quickly unraveling, and we see the bitter fruits of such to this day.

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 taken back at what he perceived to be 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 may have been 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. Who needs a bishop or priest to tell you what you may or may not do in your own, ahem, bedroom, as the saying goes?

Nor, we should add, are Calvinists any longer are in the business of hanging priests from the rafters of barns.

As well, in the interests of not exculpating ourselves, is 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 have those 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 which Christ founded, subsisting in the Roman, Catholic, Apostolic Church.

Not easy, but well worth the battle.