Monday, January 30, 2006


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Today is the commemoration of the martyrdom of Charles I, the last English sovereign venerated as a saint. Charles fostered the beginnings of a revival in Anglicanism. Following the policies of Archbishop William Laud, the Holy Communion was once again seen as the principal action of the Church rather than the sermon, and the doctrine of the Real Presence at the Communion was once again taught in the universities. Vestments began to be worn again and altars were restored in churches, repairing much of the iconoclasm of the Reformation era. Candles were lit once more and a greater emphasis was placed on worship and Church music.

Theologians of the era (the "Caroline Divines") left a rich legacy of spiritual writings such as the sermons of Lancelot Andrewes and The Country Parson by George Herbert. Religious Community life was re-established by Nicholas Ferrar at Little Gidding, later immortalised by T.S. Eliot. Their influence sustained the Church through the dark days of the Commonwealth and were recognised in later generations as a ‘golden age’ of Anglicanism. All of this was supported and fostered by Charles himself, whose own personal piety was widely remarked on in his own time.

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S. Charles, King and Martyr, protector of the Church's privileges

With the loss of the Civil War and the execution of Laud, Charles was left as a prisoner of the parliamentarian and puritan cause. It is now widely recognised that he was offered his life and his throne if he would renounce episcopacy and the Prayer Book and embrace Presbyterianism. Charles understood himself to have a clear duty to the Church of Enlgand as its supreme governor to protect the integrity of its Catholic order. Since he refused to turn it into a calvinist protestant sect, he found himself facing execution. To embrace the crown of life, he laid aside the royal crown and accepted his own crown of thorns. In imitation of our Lord, Charles publicly forgave and prayed for his persecutors. His last word was, "Remember." Charles was beheaded by Oliver Cromwell's government on 30th of January 1649. Anglican loyalists present came forward to dip their hankerchiefs in his blood to preserve relics by which they would remember his last measure of devotion.

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Updates: Some very good resources for further reading about King Charles the Martyr can be found on this page at Project Canterbury. Also, Bishop Jack Iker gave the sermon for the 2006 Annual Meeting of the Society of King Charles the Martyr (USA). He remarked:

In these days of conflict and controversy in the Anglican Communion, which might well be described as a civil war, we do well to remember the example of Charles, King and martyr. For there are many who would urge us to compromise and give in to those who would redefine and reinterpret catholic faith and order, who call the changes they propose "progress"–-and urge us to go along in order to keep the peace. We too are urged to go along in order to get along. But we will not-–and we cannot-–for we believe that the historic faith and practice of the catholic church, which we profess, are God-given, Spirit formed and molded and essential to the apostolic tradition and teaching that we are sworn to uphold and to pass on to the next generation, as we have received them. . . . Remember. Remember there are things worth dying for-–our faith in God is chief among them. Many have done so before us (as Charles did), and many shall do so after us. For "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." (Tertullian).

Read the whole text of his homily here.

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