6 SEPTEMBER 2003, Page 29

From Professor Noel H. Gale

Sir: It was surprising to find that the signatory of the semi-hysterical article outlining the imagined plan of the Vatican to use the EU to extend its sovereignty to Britain was one Adrian Hilton, rather than a rabid evangelical cleric of the old school who still sees the Pope as the whore of Rome. The article, with among other things its emphasis on the Queen's coronation oath to maintain the established Protestant Reformed religion (the Anglican Church) and the disappointment that a coin of Gibraltar no longer gives as one of her titles Defender of the Faith, perhaps needs to be set against a correct historical background.

It was Henry VIII who became the first English monarch to be given the title Defender of the Faith, and he was given it by the then Pope for his part in defending the Catholic religion in a fiercely proCatholic, anti-Lutheran tract in 1521. Most subsequent British monarchs have probably had a rather tenuous claim to the title. The Catholic Church had by Henry's time certainly fallen into errors to which human institutions are heir, but it had begun its own internal reforms at the Council of Constance in 1415, continued by the Council of Trent (1545-63). It had no need of a Luther, nor did Henry, who, rather than inspired by a passion to reform the Church, broke with Rome solely from his violent impatience at the Pope's vacillation and delay in granting a nullification of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, whose chief defects were that she had not given him a son and that her charms were fading. Henry intended England to be held within the strictest bounds of traditional Catholicism save that, to facilitate his divorce, the Pope was to be removed as head of the Church and replaced by the monarch. Almost simultaneously, Henry despoiled the wealth of the Church and divided it among himself and his sycophants, and destroyed the monasteries, with their network of agricultural, social and educational welfare.

This is the background to the established Church of England; a church founded on divorce and monarchical perfidy. Though there is, of course, no deep-laid plan by the Vatican to extend its sovereignty to Britain under the cloak of the EU, there might in fact be some moral rectitude in the return of the ancient churches and universities of England (Oxford, Cambridge) to the heirs of the Catholic forebears who created them, and from whom they were so ruthlessly stolen by Henry VIII and his sycophants, and some value in a return to true Christian values.

Noel H. Gale

Nuffield College, Oxford