Friday, 17 September 2010

Washington Post Gets It Wrong, Reveals Ignorance of the Reformation

"LONDON - The first state visit by a pope to Britain, a country that unceremoniously broke with the Vatican over Henry VIII's divorce in the 16th century, seemed doomed to controversy from the start..."
Thus begins The Washington Post's background piece on Benedict's current visit to Britain (click on the post title to read). Spot the error? "Britain" was not a country at the time of the Reformation. The name then referred to the island of Great Britain, or perhaps to the Roman colony of the dim and distant past. But Britain did not come into existence as a nation state until at least 1707, with the union of the English and Scottish parliaments, nearly 200 years after the Reformation. And, in any case, the English and Scottish reformations were quite different in inception and development, a matter which is quite important to note given that the Pope is landing first in Scotland. At best, the reference to Britain as a country at the time of the Reformation is an anachronism, at worst it is a basic error which reveals a woeful ignorance of religious and political history.

Pedantic? Many today might say so. But just consider that these are all historical facts that schoolchildren were once expected to know, at least in the Commonwealth nations. Newspapers of public record and substance should get such things right. Just think how many editorial eyes must have been cast over this report before it went to print - not a thought to inspire confidence in the Post. And then consider further just how much this might reflect the general ignorance in our culture of the English Reformation and the benefits that accrued to Western society from it, that it can be reduced so often in the public imagination, and in supposedly informed commentary, to an unceremonious break with Rome over a divorce. If that's all it was about, what could possibly prevent Anglicans today from returning to Rome?

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