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Defender of the Faith

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Defender of the Faith



When Martin Luther published his ninety-five Theses (1518) and his On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), he ignited a controversy far greater than any he intended or imagined. While many agreed with his desire for a reformation of the Church’s excesses, others leapt to defend the papacy and its teachings. For his Assertion (Defense) of the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther (1521), Pope Leo X named Henry VIII “Defender of the Faith,” a title still held today by British monarchs.



Henry VIII. Assertio septem sacramentorum: or, a defence of the seven sacraments, against Martin Luther. London, 1687

Prominent churchmen on the Continent and in England wrote spirited defenses of the Church against Luther’s “heresies.” People stood for hours inside churches and outdoors in churchyards to listen to sermons like the one shown at right, by John Fisher. These sermons would have been delivered with enthusiasm and fervor. Copies of Fisher’s attack on Luther are very rare, this being one of only two complete survivors.

 

The battle between Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic Church continued with polemical writings emanating from both camps. Attack followed attack, and others like John Fisher and Thomas More joined Henry in defense of the Church and the papacy against Lutheran heresies.

 

With hindsight, the irony is clear: within a dozen years, Henry VIII would break from Rome and establish himself as head of the Church of England.

 

Click the links at right to hear curator Arthur Schwarz talk about Henry's new title, "Defender of the Faith," and the gift thought to have been given to him by Pope Leo X.

 

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John Fisher. The sermon of Johan the bysshop of Rochester. London, 1521?



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