Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Charles, King and Martyr

What follows is a sermon preached by the Rev'd Peter A. Geromel for the feast of King Charles the Martyr. Fr. Geromel is a priest of the Diocese of the Holy Cross and will be a regular contributor to the New Continuing Anglican Churchman. Welcome aboard, Fr. Geromel!

Today, we celebrate a Feast which is still very much open to debate. It concerns an incident that came on the brink of the Modern World, a world that was transitioning from the time when kings were those who stood up against the barbarian hordes which swept across Europe all the way from the Steppes of Russia, a feudal world. It was a world that was transitioning into the one we have today and the events that shook England at that time would be fruitful in producing the America that we love. At that time, a baptized Christian named Charles was executed, whom we call a “Martyr” and the world recognizes as “Charles I of England,” and some call a good king and some a bad one, even to this day. Today, many of my colleagues have festivals in honour of this gentleman. And today, many of our conservative Presbyterian brethren, with whom we now have many things in common, whom we commend on their upholding of Holy Scripture as inerrant and infallible and joining with us in many of the postmodern battles which we face, still revile as a despot. As a tyrant, like King George; whom the American Christian should obviously, in their minds, perceive as everything we fought against in order to establish Freedom and Equality for all. Indeed, they would ask us to join with them in proclaiming Sic Semper Tyrranis over the grave of this conscientious man.

Yet the readings for today provide a different perspective. The first upholds the king as one to be honoured and the second is meant to show that, generally speaking, those who would dethrone a king are doing so out of envy, namely in the words: “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.” This is basically what happened. The Puritan hordes swept down like an avalanche from off the Alps, descending to bring modern political science and a “new Jerusalem”.

Consider the following about his death: “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. . . . At his execution he affirmed that he was a faithful member of the Catholic Church . . . 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” (Anglican Breviary, 1844).

The Gospel lesson for today is one of Christ’s parables concerning husbandry, as the tending of a field is called. It falls this year between the Gospel lessons of Septuagesima and Sexagesima, both of which are also husbandry parables. Last week, we heard of the Parable of the Hired Labourers. This coming week, with themes I would more particularly wish to speak about, we have the Parable of the seeds falling in various places, rocky ground, good ground, etc. That Parable which I would like to speak about specifically is the Parable concerning the bad seed sown by the enemy among good seed. In that instance, the servants come to the householder and ask him if they should weed the field, pulling up the shoots from the bad seeds. The householder, God the Father, (indeed, the Vulgate calls him patris familias) tells them to allow both the good seed and the bad weed to grow up together until the time of harvest.

But this, as much as I have respect for the Puritans’ zeal, is exactly what they would not do. They, like the servants in the Parable, were impatient. They wished to establish God’s elect beyond the shadow of a doubt and before the time of judgment. For example, at that time, there were Puritan ministers wishing to serve in the Church of England who would refuse to read the Burial Office over those who, in their lifetime, had given no testimony of faith to the (very fallible) minister’s satisfaction, even though they had been baptized. This is perhaps partly why these usurpers of Charles’ throne refused to offer God, on behalf of their lawful king, the proper burial prayers; because he had never in his lifetime given a testimony of his faith to their satisfaction. But he had given it to the Church’s satisfaction and that should have been enough.

Today, we face the same problem. In our area and in our era, there are similarly preachers who claim that if you do not stand up and give a testimony to their satisfaction, even if you have been baptized, you are no Christian. Although “testimonies” can be helpful at certain times and in certain ways, let today remind you that you do not need to give such a so-called testimony before any congregation in order to be a Christian. You are a Christian on behalf of what God has done for you in Holy Baptism, not because of what you have provided to any congregation by way of edification or entertainment. Isaiah 49:16 says, “Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” Christ has testified on behalf of you. He has chiseled you into His flesh. It is true that we must stand up for Him, for Christ says, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Nevertheless, what testimony does he require of the humble Christian, except as St. Paul says, “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward” and as St. Peter says, “Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.” You are a Christian on behalf of what God has done for you, not because of what you have done for a preacher by showing off just how good a job he has done evangelizing you. This smacks too much of what St. Paul writes in Galatians, “For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.”

A prayer during decent Christian Burial says, “We therefore beseech thee, let not the sentence of thy judgment press hard upon him, whom the reasonable prayer of thy faithful Christian people commendeth unto thee: but grant that by the succour of thy grace, he who while living was sealed with the sign of the Holy trinity, may be counted worthy to escape thine avenging judgment.” This is the prayer of the Baptized on behalf of the Baptized. Christ says, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” And so we pray for mercy on behalf of others, hoping to receive the same ourselves. And we should not try to separate the wheat from the tares. We should not so dare. Our duty is prayer.


  1. I do hope all who commemorate Charles I also commemorate his Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. Laud certainly was a martry for the Faith (10 Jan 1645). With him out of the way the Westminster Divines could finish their new confession of faith and implement a new liturgy.

    While I'm not necessarily convinced that Charles (30 Jan 1649) is a Christian martyr for the Faith, I'm certain he was a political martyr. Reminds me a lot of how the Russian Church wants to treat Czar Nicholas; he, too, is far, far more a political than a religious martyr. Both Charles and Nicholas are murdered to replace an old political order with a new political order. In each case, monarchy is replaced by a new tyrant with a new ideology? Which may be why many Western Rite Orthodox commemorate Charles (though not Laud, unlike the ECUSA which does the reverse).

  2. Good point, and one that I had never considered. Thank you.

    Another interesting thing about venerating King Charles is that it was a point of contention between anglo-catholics and anglo-papalists. The latter tended to frown upon observing the Martyrdom of King Charles because there was no such feast in the Roman calendar.