Defenders of the Faith!

A Personal Reflection on Recent History

“Defender of the Faith” was the title bestowed in 1521 by Pope Leo X on Henry VIII as a reward for the English king’s “Defense of the Seven Sacraments” against Martin Luther. When Henry broke with Rome, Pope Paul III rescinded the title. It was restored to the king by Parliament in 1544 and is still used by his successors, though Henry’s turnabout made the title an irony rather than an honor.

Irony remains a characteristic of the title even in the Catholic Church. Following the Second...

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.