Monday, January 30, 2006
more on st. charles
Some of my more thoroughly reformed brethren have expressed surprise and dimay that there should be a cult of King Charles, that he should be revered as a saint. My devotion to St. Charles, and their dismay, though unfortunate, is to my mind not really surprising. It merely reflects the variegated expressions of the love of Christ among Christians, a variegation that is at bottom of the scandal of disunity -- and indeed at bottom of the English Civil War and the death of King Charles. Broadly (and religiously) speaking, the tension is that between a reformed view of Christianity and a catholic one (the two terms being understood as exclusive of one another). King Charles was unequivocally catholic in this respect, while his enemies were unequivocally reformed. To (over)simplify, King Charles understood the Church, the State, and his place within both as hierarchical in an unreformed sense. And on this point (within the English context) I am with him. That is not to say that the opposition are not Christian, but just that they are not catholic Christians -- again, "catholic" being understood in this slightly technical, exclusive way. And it is a cause for celebration that, in anglo-american society, reformed and catholic Christians seem to have gotten over the urge to kill one another.
It seems to me that we ought to embrace the Christian commonality of the two worldviews. As, for example, I am ready to embrace those very significant elements of of Jonathan Edwards or Kierkegaard wich are Christian, without being exclusively reformed (or lutheran or whatever). Likewise, just as I would uphold the courageous and sacrifical spirit, in imitation of Christ, of Latimer and Ridley, without agreeing with much of their theological project, I think the same attitude can be found by folks in the Puritan tradition for people like King Charles. (Only, I think the theological basis for many of his actions as King was correct as well. But I don't expect the reformed-minded to agree about that.)
I note, finally, the following fact as explanatory of King Charles' being regarded by some as a martyr: he was offered his life if he would abandon episcopacy in the Church of England. He refused, and so he died.
For general edification, I paste below the second nocturn from Matins from the Anglican Breviary for January 30th. I posted it last year on the Feast of St. Charles too. It was obviously written by devotees of St. Charles (i.e. and not by devotees of Cromwell), but as I count myself as an observer of the caroline cult, perhaps it will better explain my perspective.
"Charles Stuart, known to secular history as King Charles I of England, and popularly called The Royal Martyr, was born in 1600, and crowned King of England on Candlemas Day in 1626. His father, who had been James VI of Scotland and afterwards became James I of England, was an ardent convert from Scottish Calvinism, and laboured diligently throughout all his dominions to exalt the doctrines of the priesthood and the sacraments, which the Calvinists had denied. In particular he restored the apostolic ministry to Scotland, with the hope of thereby gradually supplanting the new system with the ancient heritage of our religion. And when Charles acceded to his father's throne, he also was diligent in all these matters. But when he attempted to impose liturgical worship on Scotland, the Calvinists became alarmed, and stirred up an irreverent mob to prevent the use of it; and thereafter the opposition grew until it was evident that the Scots as a nation could not be reconciled to the Church in this fashion. Nevertheless, the succession of the Catholic priesthood, which had been instituted in his father's reign, continued its labours, whereof the Scottish Church of today is the fruit. Meanwhile Charles, with the help of his Chancellor, William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury, introduced numerous ecclesiastical reforms in England, and enforced the discipline of the Church, whereby great antagonism was stirred up against them, as a result of which they both were finally brought to martyrdom."
"For this was the time when the Commons first began the struggle for a constitutional monarchy, which same was contrary to the King's prerogatives as they had hitherto been understood and as Charles tried to defend them. But it was not only because he opposed the politics of his enemies, but also because he stedfastly refused to do away with the Catholic constitution of the Church, that Parliament finally condemned him to death. Whereat he was able to shew how he had within himself the power to undergo all sorts of indignities with true greatness and serenity. For he had ever been a man conspicuous for devotion to God, and for penitence and prayer, as well as for his faithfulness to Christian duties. Therefore, even though he regarded the death sentence passed upon him as unlawful and unjust, he accepted it as a condign punishment from the mercy of God because of his own sins."
From the time of his arrest he spent most of his time in prayer and contemplation. On the day of his execution he gladly made his preparation for death, with the aid of one of the Chaplains allowed to him; with whom he first recited the Office of the day, and then listened with great devotion to the reading of the Passion according to Matthew. Thereafter he received the last Sacraments; by which fortified, he went bravely and cheerily to his death. Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, who knew him well, wrote of him on this wise: He was, if ever any, the most worthy of the title of an honest man; so great a lover of justice was he that no temptation could dispose him to a wrongful action except it was so disguised to him that he believed it just; he was the worthiest gentleman, the best master, the best husband, the best father, and the best Christian, that the age in which he lived produced. Others have testified that he was marked by a virtue of purity and a practice of prayer that shone wonderfully amidst the temptations and distractions to which he was exposed. He was well known for his strict sobriety with food and clothes, and he ever shewed a noble insensibility to flattery. All who knew him were impressed with a certain innocence in him, for even his bitter enemies said of him: He is God's silly vassal. At his execution he affirmed that he was a faithful member of the Catholic Church; which same took place on January 30th, 1649. Afterwards his body was laid in Saint George's Chapel, Windsor; but at the command of his enemies he was buried without the Church's rites, for their hatred of him and of the priesthood was not satisfied, even when they had accomplished his destruction and he is venerated because he gave his life for the things which men of such minds are unable to perceive."
"This man esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches that the wealth of the world. For it is better for us to die, rather than to behold the calamities of our people and sanctuary."
Posted by gwb at 5:19 PM