Control Freaks: Henry VIII & The Anglican/Episcopal Tradition
Proverbs 16:1-9

He had failed to see what was coming,
He wondered where he had gone wrong.
He thought that he’d been very careful,
He made sure he was right all along.

They knew he had been far too rigid,
They knew he was always this way.
They knew it was his fault it happened,
They knew they could not have ‘their’ say.

His family had suffered in silence,
His family just did what ‘he’ said.
His family were drowning in sorrow,
His family all wished he were dead.

They knew that his ways wouldn’t alter,
They knew that things must be ‘his’ way.
They knew if they stayed any longer,
They knew that forever they’d pay.

His family they all upped and left him,
His family they went far away.
His family they now had their freedom,
His family could now live ‘their’ way.

He sat all alone and he pondered,
He had given them all of his life.
He couldn’t accept he had lost them,
He still loved his children and wife.

He still could not see why they left him,
He thought they had treated him bad.
He needed to look a bit further,
He blamed them for making him sad.

I know that if he had looked inward,
His family would never have gone.
He could have left them some ‘decisions’,
He’s now only making for one!

This elegy was written by the poet Ivor G. Davies and it is aptly titled “Control Freak.” A control freak is a person who attempts to dictate how everything around them is done. They are often perfectionists protecting themselves against their own insecurities in the belief that if they are not in total control they risk exposing themselves once more to childhood angst. Such persons manipulate others to change so as to avoid having to change themselves, and often use power over others to escape an inner emptiness.

            Do you know any control freaks? Do you work with one or for one? Are you related to one? Are you married to one? Are you a control freak? Control freaks are hard to be around! They can be utterly difficult to deal with! I should know, my wife…my wife tells me that I am one. And I know it’s true. I am a self-identified 8.5 out of 10 on the control-freakism scale. Do you see the irony? I just placed myself on a scale that I invented!

            If you are a control freak or you are close to a control freak, you will certainly identify with King Henry VIII, who founded the Anglican/Episcopal branch of the Protestant Church. Henry is one of the most notorious control freaks in history. Listen to his story!


King Henry VIII and the Formation of the Anglican Church

Henry VIII was born in 1491, the second son of Henry VII. He was intelligent, handsome, physically strong, talented in music, and an avid hunter and sportsman. He became the King of England and the richest man in the world at 18 years of age.

Some consider Henry to have been a negligent king, letting his ministers run the country while he hunted stag. In truth, he was actively involved in the details of anything that he deemed important. He demanded the facts be boiled down to their essence. Then he would listen to the issues and make a quick decision, often in the time it took him to dismount from his horse.

The most important decision of his reign, however, he struggled with for years. But once he determined his course, he followed it with a flurry of decisions that forever changed England and the Christian church.

To cement England’s alliance with Spain, Henry married the Spanish king’s aunt, Catherine of Aragon (who was also his brother’s widow). When Henry defeated France and Scotland in successive battles, his popularity soared. Over the next decade, Henry made and broke peace treaties and engaged in the power politics of Europe.

Henry had always been a religious man and a faithful Roman Catholic. He attended mass five times a day unless he was hunting; then he could only attend three. (Let this be an important lesson to the hunters in our congregation!) He was also interested in theological disputes. In 1521, with Lutheranism infiltrating the English universities, Henry wrote “Defense of the Seven Sacraments against Luther.” Pope Leo X rewarded him with the title “Defender of the Faith.”

By 1526, Henry wanted to end his marriage with Catherine. The alliance with Spain was restricting his international intrigues and he had fallen in love with 19-year-old Anne Boleyn. But most importantly, Catherine had failed to give him a male heir (she did give birth to a daughter, Mary). England had recently survived a bloody and costly civil war; Henry needed a male heir to insure a peaceful succession upon his death.

Getting an annulment was fairly easy in the sixteenth century—if both parties wanted one. But Catherine was unwilling and sought the support of her nephew, Emperor Charles V. The emperor didn’t want to see his aunt disgraced and routed the pope’s troops. Pope Clement, seeing the score, had no choice but to refuse Henry the annulment.

When Anne became pregnant in 1532, Henry moved on his own. He had already forced the clergy to submit to him in all church matters. Now he married Anne in secret, had his new archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, declare his marriage to Catherine invalid, and crowned Anne queen in 1533. Henry and the church teetered on the brink of schism.

When the pope threatened excommunication, Henry plunged ahead. He passed one act forcing all to recognize the children of his new marriage as heirs to the throne. Then he passed “The Act of Supremacy” making him the “supreme head” of the church in England. He dissolved monasteries, redistributing their property to his nobles to reinforce their loyalty. Monks who resisted him were executed, and the money from their treasuries went into his coffers.

Still, he appeared to want a Catholic church—just one that was always loyal to him. “I do not choose anyone to have it in his power to command me, nor will I ever suffer it,” he once said. So, while he broke from Rome, he continued to uphold many Catholic doctrines.

Meanwhile, Henry tired of Anne because she had only produced a girl—Elizabeth. He trumped up charges of infidelity against her, had her locked in the Tower of London and eventually beheaded on the Tower Green. One day after Anne’s execution, Henry was engaged to Jane Seymour and the two were married ten days later. She died the following while giving birth to a son (Edward).

Henry infamously married three more times before he died: the unattractive Anne of Cleves, the promiscuous Catherine Howard, and finally, the elegant Catherine Parr, who outlived him by a year. Here is a little rhyme to help you remember the fate of Henry’s six wives:

Annulled, Beheaded, Died,

Annulled, Beheaded, Survived.


Henry’s break from Rome was fundamentally over control of the English church. Though he instituted some Protestant measures during his reign (like putting English Bibles in all the churches), and though he always supported his Protestant-leaning archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, Henry sided with Rome on key issues of doctrine and practice.

But the events Henry set in motion would not permit England or its church to return to the past. During the reign of his son, Edward VI (1547–53), England turned staunchly Protestant. After a brief return to Catholicism under “Bloody” Mary I (1553–1558), his daughter Elizabeth I set England on a permanently Protestant course.

Thus, King Henry VIII, out of his desire to control everything in his realm, broke with the Roman Catholic Church and founded the Anglican Church which literally means “Church of England.” Today the Anglican/Episcopal church is scattered all over the world. As in its early days, it is still a hybrid between Catholic and Protestant belief which is explained in the Thirty-Nine Articles and practice which is outlined in The Book of Common Prayer. It is amazing to consider how a whole branch of the Christian church grew out of one man’s desire to determine his own destiny.


Determining Our Destiny (Proverbs 16:1-9)

            Most of the control freaks sitting in our congregation today will not establish their own Christian denomination, but unfortunately, many people, like Henry VIII, feel a deep need to control their circumstances and suffer from a desire to determine their own destiny. To some degree, every Christian experiences the tension between doing what we want to do and what God wants us to do. This tension is defined and addressed in Proverbs 16:1-9.

Proverbs 16:1 makes the point that although humans can legitimately make plans, God’s will is definitive as to what will actually happen. One can strategize about the future, but this wise observation would lead one to acknowledge that the future can only be determined by God. Such recognition would stimulate a proper humility and open one up to changes. The purpose of this proverb is not to discourage human planning, but rather to keep people aware that their plans will come to nothing without God’s concurrence.

Likewise, verse 2 speaks to our ability to deceive ourselves concerning or righteousness. It is easy for humans to think that their plans or way of doing things is right or the best, but God is the ultimate arbiter of motives. This mindset leads Solomon to offer sound advice in verse 3—“Commit to the Lord all you do, and he will establish your plans.” The thought here is not that we simply pray for God to honor our plans and to establish them. Rather, it is the idea that we submit our entire life’s action to God, so that even if our human plans are thwarted, we can recognize an even deeper plan at work in our lives.

Verse 4 highlights the level of God’s sovereignty over our lives. God is in control of the wicked acts of human beings and uses their evil for good. (This is clearly seen in the story of the Anglican Church. Even though Henry VIII established it for his own sinful and selfish purposes, God used it to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ even further into the world.)

Even though God uses evil to bring about a greater good, verse 5 reminds us that he still detests the heart of the proud and will be justly punished. (This was certainly the case with King Henry. His pride and arrogance severely diminished his kingdom and he became morbidly obese and died a painful death. Despite his accomplishments, he is still the laughing stock of English history.)

For the sake of time, let me skip down to verse 9, which forms an inclusio, which is a biblical figure of speech where an author concludes a section in the same place he began. In this verse, Solomon makes the same point as in verse 1 that humans may plan their lives, but God is the one who ultimately determines the course of a person’s life. (Longman 227-331)

            This section of Proverbs could have saved the control freak Henry VIII a lot of grief. If he had focused on following God’s will rather than asserting his own will, he would have been much better off. He may have been remembered as one of the greatest kings in English history instead of a blundering buffoon. But we must see how God, in his sovereignty, even used Henry’s flaws and failures to accomplish his redemptive purposes through the Anglican church.

            This passage is especially convicting for control freaks like me, but it is a helpful reminder for all of us that we are not in control of our lives. Even though we make plans and try to carve out our futures, God determines our destinies.

            Therefore, allow me to make a recommendation! Let us stop trying to control everything around us! Let us give up trying to change our circumstances. May we cease from manipulating other people! May we sincerely pray, “Not my will, but thy will be done!” Let us do our part to conform our will to God’s will. And may the Lord establish our steps!


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