Pope Gregory XIII on Queen Elizabeth I

Basilica, though moving slowly, is attempting to address the various positions on Church and State that existed in the Reformation times.  One thing that many people do not realize is just how radical the Roman Catholic position was regarding civil authority.  They taught that all civil authority (every “human creature” as Unam Sanctam says) must submit to the bishop of Rome.  In the event that this did not occur, the civil authority was considered to be null.  Pius V declared this of Queen Elizabeth of England.

This position became more extreme as powerful monarchs left the Roman church.  Assassinations were ordered and carried out (Henry of Navarre comes to mind, as well as the Gunpowder plot in England), and this was a consistent product of the Roman doctrine.  It is important to note that this was not some accidental phenomena carried out by confused followers, but rather it was the Roman position on civil authority.  Here is a quote from the Cardinal of Como, speaking on behalf of Gregory XIII’s papacy, written to the papal ambassador in Spain and meant to inspire Spanish hostilities against England:

Since that guilty woman (Elizabeth) … is the cause of so much injury to the Catholic faith… There is no doubt that whosoever sends her out of the world with the pious intention of doing God service, not only does not sin but gains merit, especially having regard to the sentence pronounced against her by Pius V of holy memory.  And so, if those English gentlemen decide actually to undertake so glorious a work, your lordship can assure them that they do not commit any sin.

This is a breathtaking quote, but quite understandable within the Roman system.  This also shows you something of how the Reformation actually occurred and definitely explains why King James thought that the militant Presbyterians were Romanizers.

This Gregory was the same pope who celebrated the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre by ordering a Te Deum to be sung in its commemoration.

This entry was posted in church history, Elizabeth I, godly prince by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

5 thoughts on “Pope Gregory XIII on Queen Elizabeth I

  1. Ah, but with the new “presto chango!” theory of language and hermeneutics that Rome seems to be embracing these days, all of this sort of stuff (including Boniface VIII’s Unam Sanctam and Cantate Domino of the Council of Florence) can be conveniently waved away by the appeal to “the development of doctrine” and the Holy Spirit guiding the Magisterium to understand that the intentions of past statements of the Church do not matter but only the intentions of the present Church. Nifty.

  2. I think it is not in the mind of most Roman Catholics that a bull of excommunication was no joke back in the day. If you were excommunicated, it was like the head mullah in Iran putting a fatwa on your head. It was a license for people to take you out.

    In any case, it would be interesting to see Thomist theologians argue the nuances of tyrannicide found in Aquinas, under which an impious and barbaric ruler could only be overthrown in very limited circumstances. No doubt, there would be some Catholic theologians who would argue against the power of the Pope to depose a ruler, even an impious one, and this would be done any time the Pope decided to get out of hand and mix his “temporal” interests with his “spiritual” ones. It would also be done as a justification to sack the Papal palace, which happened several times over the course of history, and take the Pope prisoner, all done by “good Catholics”.

    I would also note, as a student of Latin American history, the authority of the Pope was also invoked to conquer and slaughter the indigenous tribes conquered by Spain, as I wrote about here in the document called the Requerimiento.

    If people like Liccione are dangerous, it is because of their unreflective ultramontanism by which everything that the Pope does or says is somehow guided by the Holy Ghost, and above reproach somehow (with a few “minor” exceptions). That has about as much relationship with traditional Catholicism as fascism has with traditional monarchy. Honesty dictates that we take on history head-on, without the spin. The last thing the Church of Christ needs is spin-doctors.

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