Q — Thanksgiving is almost here. Did the Puritans who came to the New World have any particular opinion about the Catholic Church? Did Catholics take part in persecuting Puritans in England?

A — My response to this question must be brief because I have no informed background in American church history. “Did the Puritans who came to the New World have any particular opinion about the Catholic Church?” In England when the Protestant Reformation got under way after the death of King Henry VIII, in general terms one could say that there were two parties. One party was more sympathetic to the Catholic tradition that had prevailed until that time. This party in time became known as the Anglo-Catholic branch of the Church of England. The other party was much more radical in respect of the Catholic tradition, and indeed of the Anglo-Catholic branch of the Church of England as well. This party in time became known as the “Puritans.” Their thinking and worship were more influenced by such continental Reformers as John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli. They held a very poor opinion of the Catholic Church, its doctrines, tradition and liturgy. The center of their life and teaching was Scripture and “Scripture alone.” I suspect that they would not have been at all favorable to Catholics in the New World.

“Did Catholics take part in persecuting Puritans in England?” In 1547, King Henry VIII died and he was succeeded by his son, Edward VI. Since Edward VI had not reached his majority, rule in England passed to a regency council dominated by Protestants, who attempted to confirm and strengthen their Reformed faith throughout the country.

Edward died at the age of 15 in 1553 and was succeeded by Queen Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Under Queen Mary there was a decided attempt to restore Catholicism, and there was a persecution of “Puritans”/Protestants. Some 280 were executed, earning for Mary the title “Bloody Mary.” In that sense one might say that Catholics took part in persecuting Puritans/Protestants. It was short-lived, however, because when Mary died she was succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

An excellent book on this complex page of church history, but excluding the Puritans in the New World, is Eamon Duffy, “Fires of Faith: Catholic England Under Mary Tudor,” (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009)