Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Two - The Church of Good Society

Church History

King Henry did not follow this suggestion precisely, but he took away the property of the religious orders for the expenses of his many wives and mistresses, and forced the clergy in England to forswear obedience to the Pope and make his royal self their spiritual head. This was the beginning of the Anglican Church, as distinguished from the Catholic; a beginning of which the Anglican clergy are not so proud as they would like to be. When I was a boy, they taught me what they called "church history," and when they came to Henry the Eighth they used him as an illustration of the fact that the Lord is sometimes wont to choose evil men to carry out His righteous purposes. They did not explain why the Lord should do this confusing thing, nor just how you were to know, when you saw something being done by a murderous adulterer, whether it was the Will of the Lord or of Satan; nor did they go into details as to the motives which the Lord had been at pains to provide, so as to induce his royal agent to found the Anglican Church. For such details you have to consult another set of authorities- the victims of the plundering.

When I was in college my professor of Latin was a gentleman with bushy brown whiskers and a thundering voice of which I was often the object - for even in my early days I had the habit of persisting in embarrassing questions. This professor was a devout Catholic, and not even in dealing with ancient Romans could he restrain his propaganda impulses. Later on in life, he became editor of the "Catholic Encyclopedia," and now when I turn its pages, I imagine that I see the bushy brown whiskers, and hear the thundering voice: "Mr. Sinclair, it is so because I tell you it is so!"

I investigate, and find that my ex-professor knows all about King Henry the Eighth, and his motives in founding the Church of England; he is ready with an "economic interpretation," as complete as the most rabid muckraker could desire! It appears that the king wanted a new wife, and demanded that the Pope should grant the necessary permission; in his efforts to browbeat the Pope into such betrayal of duty, King Henry threatened the withdrawal of the "annates" and the "Peter's pence." Later on he forced the clergy to declare that the Pope was "only a foreign bishop," and in order to "stamp out overt expression of disaffection, he embarked upon a veritable reign of terror."

In Anglican histories, you are assured that all this was a work of religious reform, and that after it the Church was the pure vehicle of God's grace. There were no more "holy idle thieves," holding the land of England and plundering the poor. But get to know the clergy, and see things from the inside, and you will meet some one like the Archbishop of Cashell, who wrote to me of his intimates.

I conclude that a good bishop has nothing more to do than to eat, drink and grow fat, rich and die; which laudable example I propose for the remainder of my days to follow.

If you say that might be a casual jest, hear what Thackeray reports of that period, the 18th century, which he knew with peculiar intimacy:

I read that Lady Yarmouth (my most religious and gracious King's favorite) sold a bishopric to a clergyman for 5000 pounds. (She betted him the 5000 pounds that he would not be made a bishop, and he lost, and paid her.) Was he the only prelate of his time led up by such hands of consecration? As I peep into George II's St. James, I see crowds of cassocks pushing up the back-stairs of the ladies of the court; stealthy clergy slipping purses into their laps; that godless old king wakening under his canopy in his Chapel Royal, as the chaplain before him is discoursing. Discoursing about what? - About righteousness and judgment? Whilst the chaplain is preaching, the king is chattering in German and almost as loud as the preacher; so loud that the clergyman actually burst out crying in his pulpit, because the defender of the faith and the dispenser of bishoprics would not listen to him!

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