Inspiration comes in the most unique of places. It’s rather odd that I would discover a spiritual icon thanks to the muddled writing of a series whose primary intention seems to be entwining inaccurate history with smut, but that’s how fate works. My interest in the Tudor monarchs began many years ago when I first learned about Elizabeth I. Reading about her naturally led me to her mother, the infamous Anne Boleyn — the second wife of Henry VIII, for whom he made England a Reformist nation. But it was not until The Tudors that I gave his first wife, Katharine of Aragon, much consideration. Prior to that she was a cryptic figure in films — a stern, disapproving older woman without a sense of humor, usually painted as cold and indifferent so as to romanticize Henry’s affair with Anne (and vindicate his abandonment of her for a younger woman).
Where I would like to smack Michael Hirst for messing up history in his Showtime series The Tudors, he did get one thing right: Katharine of Aragon. I tuned in assuming I would love Anne Boleyn as usual, but within two episodes, Henry’s first wife won me over. Her inner beauty, her quiet dignity, her strength … I had to read more about her and did. And in the process of studying her life, and writing about her at length in a novel, God spoke to my heart. I underwent a spiritual transformation while writing that book. I am not the same person I was prior to writing it and will never go back. There comes a time in you life when inevitably you choose someone in the faith that you admire, a mentor of sorts whose actions and life inspire you so much that if you could be half as faithful as they were, you would consider yourself blessed. Katharine became that person for me. She had her faults, but what I admire most about her is her unwavering faith, compassion, and forgiveness during the most turbulent, terrible times in her life — and she had many of them, from abandonment by her father and resulting poverty and humiliation in England after the death of her first husband, Prince Arthur (then, heir to the throne), to her husband’s attempts to divorce her and cruel mistreatment of her, her household, and her daughter.
Most women would have been understandably furious over being mistreated — but not Katharine. She bore everything with dignity and grace, and astoundingly held nothing against her husband or her replacement. One day when discovering her ladies in waiting speaking ill of Anne Boleyn, she told them to be silent and speak not against Anne but pray for her instead. I must admit, I am not all that inclined to pray for my enemies — even though scripture tells me to. But it does make a difference in a person’s heart — if you are praying for someone and for what is best for them, you cannot remain angry at them long and certainly cannot hate them. Undertaking this practice has helped me immensely in dealing with anger and grief, because I no longer feel the need to hold things against anyone — it has freed me. I love that on her deathbed, Katharine had every right to further proclaim her innocence and condemn those who had driven her to an early grave, but instead she wrote a love letter to her husband, forgiving him for all his actions against her and urging him to become right with God. The man cheated on her multiple times! He had an illegitimate son with her sixteen year old lady in waiting! He took her to court and permitted his associates to spread slanderous lies about her! Then he dismissed her from his presence and sent her to a damp, dank castle to die. I don’t even know Henry personally and hope he’s roasting on a poker in hell, but Katharine never held it against him. She was only concerned for his immortal soul.
It delights me that slowly, renewed interest in the Tudors has made more people aware of the majesty of Katharine. Just this past week, my pastor mentioned her in the context of abandonment, while addressing the impact the Reformation had on England. How interesting that he would mention her instead of Anne Boleyn, who has unfortunately become an icon for the Reformation — even though she had almost nothing to do with it, and the way she went about it was entirely immoral and wrong. I find it unfortunate that Katharine was a victim of the Reformation, as was Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More and many others who refused to acknowledge Henry as the highest religious authority in the land (that fat, lusty old thing? I cannot say I blame them!) and perished because of it.
The Reformation came a time in history when it was much needed, when the Church had become more of a political movement than an authentic representation of Christ. But I think God must have wept at the reaction Christians on both sides had to it — if we could even call them that, since their violence contradicts the teachings of what they professed. Jesus said that if your truth is rejected, cast the dirt off your shoes and move on — He did not say, “Burn them alive at the stake before you leave.” Nor does Henry really deserve the credit for bringing the Reformation to England — he quite happily roasted Catholics and Protestants for entertainment at royal banquets. And while he permitted Luther’s teachings to enter his nation merely so that he might obtain a divorce from Katharine, he never abandoned Catholicism — he continued to attend Mass, attend confession, and follow their traditions until his death.
I believe God gives us each things we are passionate about within the body of believers, causes we are meant to fight for. It is time for us to stop fighting amongst ourselves. I have attended many churches in my life. I have attended every kind of Christian denomination you can imagine — and then some. I have attended Mass, gone to Baptist baptisms, listened to hymn services and gone to services that were more like rock concerts. And throughout, one message keeps coming to me: we are all Children of Christ. STOP FIGHTING. Differences in theology mean nothing. When we reach heaven, we are not going to still be arguing about which translation of scripture is more accurate, whether the King James or the New International Version are superior. We are not going to be divided according to denominations. It won’t matter whether or not we believed in immersion or confession. Scripture tells us only one thing is our salvation: belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our Lord and Savior. If you believe that, whether you are Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Quaker, or 7th Day Adventist does not matter.
It was wrong for violence to accompany the Reformation as it did. It was wrong for people to be beheaded and burned at the stake for their beliefs. And it is wrong for our churches, in their arrogance, to assume only they have all the answers and are the only “true” church. We have the Most Important Thing in common, so why allow our differences of opinion to divide us? A house divided cannot stand… and we have an enemy who is very excited about our arrogance, our narrow-mindedness, and our determination to be “right.” The Devil doesn’t care what denomination you are — if he can incite hate for other denominations, dismissal of disagreeing opinions, or pride in being right, he’s won. It’s fine to disagree with theology, but don’t hold it against people. Don’t assume you have it figured out — it might be them who has it figured out. And it doesn’t matter anyway. We are all Children of God, and it’s time to act like it.
I come from an interesting family. Most of them are 7th Day Adventists. In that particular brand of the faith, the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church are considered akin to the Devil in terms of evil. Interesting therefore that the woman I would choose to use as my inspiration for a personal walk with Christ would be a Catholic.
Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?