Renumbering Of The Commandments & Origin Of Protestant Reformation

Most people who are educated have a brief understanding of how the Protestant Reformation began in England under Henry VIII inability to get a divorce (an annulment) from Rome absolving him from marrying his Fathers bride.  The vast majority of writers claim that Henry’s father never consummated his marriage because he was sick and died nearly after being married.  Henry’s venereal diseases couldn’t have assisted in procuring a son.  Nevertheless, their is a very interesting political ploy that most theologians don’t know about Henry’s success at renumbering the commandments permitting him to assault the Church and in so doing created the House of Lord’s in London.

Part of the agenda for the Reformation, was the confiscation of the ‘treasuries’ (the golden reliquaries, the containers holding devotional relics) throughout the Monasteries and Churches of England.  The vast majority of such golden containers were gifts of devout Catholics who wanted to honor the Saint whose relics were preserved in the reliquaries.  These golden gifts are called ‘treasuries’.

In 1527 Leo Jud (Zurich Assistant to Ulrich Zwingli 1584-1531 the founder of Swiss Protestantism) renumbered the commandments by separating the first commandment (I am the Lord Your God, Have No Other God’s Before Me) into two distinct Commandments.  #1 became ‘I am the Lord Thy God.  #2 became Thou Shalt Not Make Graven Images.’  Thus ‘Graven Images’ could now be conveniently interpreted to include the carved golden reliquaries and thus confiscated.

To balance this change in the numbering at the beginning of the Commandments, both Jud and later Henry combined #9 ‘Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbors Wife’ with #10 ‘Thou Shalt Not Covet They Neighbors Goods’.  Both became a single Commandment as ‘Thou Shall Not Covet.’

Everything looked fine to the unlettered, the unread and the unassuming.  But the political agenda was first put in place by verbal and literary war in the renumbering of the Commandments.

Henry’s henchmen were the Archbishop Cranmer, Thomas Cromwell.  Both were beheaded when Henry no longer needed them.  Both men were responsible for the confiscation of the reliquaries and the creation of a hereditary house of Lord’s.

For extensive treatment of this political matter, please check out Dairmaid MacCulloh ‘Thomas Cranmer’, a very long but good read on the assault on the Church by political expediency.

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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