This realm of England is an Empire …governed by one Supreme Head and King.’ So proclaimed Thomas Cromwell in his most critical piece of legislation, the Act in Restraint of Appeals in 1533. By calling England an empire, he designated it a sovereign state, with a king who owed no submission to any other human ruler and who was invested with plenary power to give his people justice in all causes. Interestingly, the Act’s critics in Parliament were not so much concerned by its doctrinal corollaries, as by the fear that the Pope might retaliate by organising a European trade embargo against England. The Pope, of course, laid claim to the ultimate divine right. He was, after all, the Vice-Christ, appointed to establish one unified empire under one emperor, belonging to one Church under one God.
England finally rid itself of papal interference in the Bill of Rights of 1689, which declared that ‘no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm.’ It may have taken 440 years from Cromwell’s foundational declaration, but entry in 1973 to the ‘European Economic Community’ brought England back into the Catholic fold, and exactly 460 years after the English monarch was declared sovereign, the present Queen was reduced to vassal status under the terms of the Maastricht Treaty, which rendered her a European citizen and thereby subject to ‘foreign princes and potentates’.
The issue of European religious union is one that has been concealed even deeper than the plans for political union, but the ratchet towards a Catholic Europe is just as real. The Pope’s recent demand that ‘God’ be featured in the emerging European constitution has been echoed by many leading Catholic politicians and bishops. While on the surface such a reference may offend only Europe’s atheist and humanist contingent, it must be observed that when the Vatican refers to God, she sees herself as God’s infallible vice-regent upon earth, the leading organ of divine expression; indeed, according to its publication Dominus Iesus (5 September 2000), as the only mediator in the salvation of God’s elect, insisting that all other Churches, including the Church of England, ‘are not Churches in the proper sense’.