It is amusing to see a passing reference in National Review to the movie Elizabeth: the Golden Age as a “Catholic-bashing costume party.” Having seen the movie I don’t remember any discussion of theology (although the costumes were excellent.) I generally find movies inferior to the theatre because of the lack of dialogue and scant verbalization of the character’s thoughts. After all, it’s thinking that motivates people. I enjoy seeing a character’s deliberation especially if principles and abstract ideas are involved. But back to the movie:
Where then is the “Catholic-bashing?” In the movie Philip does more bashing of England and Elizabeth than vice versa. Ah, but that must be it! Philip is seen to be explicitly religious in his motivation. Is it his Protestant-bashing that makes the movie Catholic-bashing? Early in the movie Elizabeth is shown to be tolerant of her Catholic subjects if they remain loyal. The law must be concerned with deed and not belief, she says. We see no such tolerance in Philip.
What does history show? First of all, the Catholic Church didn’t take mass apostasy lightly. And Protestants weren't trying to establish pluralistic societies. Religious wars would last into the next century after Elizabeth. Contrary to the view of the Catholic Encyclopedia, the “victory of Protestantism” wasn’t “complete” prior to the defeat of the Spanish Armada. This defeat secured England’s sovereignty and freed the Netherlands, both which were leaders in individual liberty and freedom of conscience in next century.
Elizabeth is often seen as enlightened for her time. But what of Philip? From the Encyclopedia Britannica:
“Philip's spare and elegant appearance is known from the famous portraits by Titian and by Anthonis Mor (Sir Anthony More). He was a lover of books and pictures, and Spain's literary Golden Age began in his reign. An affectionate father to his daughters, he lived an austere and dedicated life. ‘You may assure His Holiness,’ Philip wrote to his ambassador in Rome, in 1566, ‘that rather than suffer the least damage to religion and the service of God, I would lose all my states and an hundred lives, if I had them; for I do not propose nor desire to be the ruler of heretics.’ This remark may be regarded as the motto of his reign. To accomplish the task set him by God of preserving his subjects in the true Catholic religion, Philip felt in duty bound to use his royal powers, if need be, to the point of the most ruthless political tyranny, as he did in the Netherlands. Even the popes found it sometimes difficult to distinguish between Philip's views as to what was the service of God and what the service of the Spanish monarchy.”
Spain, at that point in time, found it hard to separate God and state even more so than other Catholic nations. But Spain wasn’t without individuals who contributed to the intellectual advancement of liberty. During Philip’s rule, Francisco Suarez criticized the divine-right theory of monarchy in his De Legibus. While building on Aristotle and Aquinas, he argued for “the natural rights of the human individual to life, liberty, and property, he rejected the Aristotelian notion of slavery as the natural condition of certain men.” The state, in his view, “is the result of a social contract to which the people consent.” However, it would be Holland and England that first embodied those views.
By the way, the movie is worth seeing. Given Hollywood's taboo against showing heroes in serious movies, especially war movies, Elizabeth is a welcomed entry. If it is because she is a woman that allows this exemption, so be it. We need more movies of this kind.
Update: "The film’s patriotic theme had greater resonance for domestic U.K. critics. Michael Gove, speaking on BBC Two's Newsnight Review, said: ‘It tells the story of England’s past in a way which someone who’s familiar with the Whig tradition of history would find, as I did, completely sympathetic. It’s amazing to see a film made now that is so patriotic ... One of the striking things about this film is that it’s almost a historical anomaly. I can’t think of a historical period film in which England and the English have been depicted heroically for the last forty or fifty years. You almost have to go back to Laurence Olivier’s Shakespeare’s Henry V in which you actually have an English king and English armies portrayed heroically." Source BBC2