On February 1, Bishop Martins hosted and celebrated the annual mass for the Society of King Charles the Martyr at the Cathedral Church of St Paul the Apostle in Springfield, which commemorates the martyrdom of King Charles I on January 30, 1649. The homily was given by the Fr David Halt, rector of St Matthew’s, Bloomington. Music was coordinated by the organist of St Paul’s, Carlinville, Diane Akin, featuring a mass setting by composer Richard Shepherd, and featured singers from Blackburn College.
The following is the text of the sermon offered by Fr Halt.
It may come as a surprise, but what we do this day is a bit controversial. At least, based on some of the responses to the publicity for this commemoration. Perhaps our celebration is seen as the exercise of an historic grudge? After all, we celebrate a King who stood up to Puritan excesses, who vied for the Prayer-book, and who stood for the retention of Bishops as essential to the Church. A a good friend, the son of an Episcopal priest, told his first-grade teacher about the Thanksgiving play, “I won’t be a Pilgrim because they killed my king and broke the windows out of our churches.”
While the commemoration of Charles I may be controversial, The Episcopal Church has included royals in it official commemorations, and attempted to expand that list: Aethelbert and Bertha of Kent (616), for their role in accepting the Gospel promulgated by Augustine of Canterbury; St. Louis the sometimes Crusader (1270); Margaret of Scotland (1093); Elizabeth of Hungary (1231); Edmund of East Anglia (870); Kamehameha and Emma (1864). Some had a special devotion to the poor, some to the ceremonies and rites of the Church, some holiness of life through asceticism and prayer, sometimes martyr, and others to the propagation of the Gospel. And the inclusion of Charles because he is a King is controversial? Why so?
For some of our countrymen and women, as well as our co-religionists, the mere celebration of a monarch is antithetical to being a good American. After all, did we not revolt against the tyranny of a King across the water in London? Do we not reject tyranny of any flavor in favor of democratic process, though that in itself is no guarantee that a tyranny will not emerge? The antagonist in our story, Cromwell, being a prime example?
Yet, a poll conducted in 2018 indicated that only 36% of the American populace would view the institution of a constitutional monarchy as worse for the future of our country than our current structure. This indicates that 64% are either neutral or positive on this question, significantly outpacing satisfaction with Congress (24% approval), the Executive (44%), and Supreme Court (43%). In fact, 23 Million Americans tuned in to watch the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and the Sussex’s still make the news, and we still tune in. However, despite American’s appetite for royal news, royal tourism, and scandal, Charles I is contentious?
Perhaps this is due to the controversial, complicated, and conflicted nature of his reign. Here we would run into the arguments in favor, and against, the Divine Right of Kings that were extant in his day, and have been rejected by later generations. As a King, he was truly a product of his time and caught in the historical forces of an emerging “modern” theory of the state. However, that is a topic for another day.
Yet, it is not primarily Charles’ Royalty and Reign that we commemorate. If it were, perhaps we should be celebrating his son instead. Charles II was the opposite of his father. Charles I being a good and virtuous man and a poor King, as opposed to Charles II who had the virtue of being a good King, and a poor man in virtue. It is Charles’ choice to remain faithful to his God that ultimately leads to his martyrdom, his witness to the faith as it has been received, that we commemorate. The choices that he faced are illuminated in our lessons for this day.
The writer of Ecclesiasticus calls his hearers to not be content with a faith and hope that costs nothing, or in their wealth, strength, inclinations, and desires of the human heart. It is easy to be a proclaimer of a Laissez-faire grace unaccompanied by repentance. It is one thing to claim that God will have grace and offers forgiveness, it is another to put a claim to it and live a life that is worthy of repentance. It is comfortable to claim position and privilege and to put hope in that wealth and the strength of our own desires, but to place hope and trust only in the Lord your God is a matter of great urgency and difficulty. Here there is a choice to be made.
It is not only the choice to repent, trust, and hope that must be made, but the choice to make a confession of our own and a recognition of where Supreme Sovereignty rests. This is the good fight, that St. Paul instructs his beloved spiritual son, St. Timothy, to make. Timothy is reminded of his own confession, his public profession, in front of many witnesses. For certain the faith that we share is not one of simple private belief in the inner recesses of our hearts and hearths. No, to “profess” is to be for something, and to be for something is to make a public statement of what you are for, as in the Church, so in the world outside that blessed Body. St. Paul is not loath about equating that profession with the witness, (literally martyrdom) of Christ before Pontius Pilate as he made his own good confession. St. Paul deftly links the two with the same word that is translated as both profession and confession in the Bible for whom Charles’ father took responsibility. In making a public pro-fession, a statement of what Timothy is for, the faith of Jesus Christ, so he makes a con-fession, or a statement admitting he is with Christ. In this his proclaims that he stands with Christ before those who the World sets up as judges, whether appointed by Empire, election, or their own selves. Once more dear friends, here is a choice.
Furthermore, St. Paul unequivocally states that it is Jesus Christ “who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.” Earthly kings are limited in their kingship, and authority, by the One King who rules them all. No human President, Prime-Minister, Parliament, Prince or Protector holds true and eternal sway. When Christ is confessed and professed we proclaim an allegiance beyond the moment and its earthly governance. We claim a place in the Kingdom of Heaven, and proclaim our full citizenship in that realm. A choice to be made.
And that choice includes the consequences proclaimed by Our Lord in Matthew’s Gospel. It is a choice that precludes a faux and easy peace of nicety, but leads to an existential division from those who do not hold with that profession. It is the exercise of a love that is beyond the simple love of kith, kin, and even kings. This is a love of Christ that surpasses all things, leading to the bearing of the cross of Christ and joining in his sufferings for our salvation and the salvation of the world. It is not a rejection of relationships for no higher purpose, but a placing of Christ and His Kingdom as our first priority and love. The paradox of which is, that as we are poured out for Christ, and in love with Christ, so we prove our true love for those in our natural affections. Yet, make no mistake this choice makes foes of those who would stand opposed to the Gospel. But, we are called to make a choice even then, of loving and praying for those who would make themselves our enemies, or more rather, enemies of the Cross.
These are the choices that the Royal Martyr faced in his life, and especially in the days before his execution: of faith, of repentance, of profession of Christ as Saviour and King of Kings, of choosing Christ above all earthly kingdoms, of carrying his Cross, and loving his enemies.
And as we remember him today, we should reflect on how his life shows proof of his faithfulness until death, and deciding to be for Christ Jesus. Perhaps it best to let him speak to us in his own words as recorded in the Eikon Basilike, The Pourtracture of His Sacred Majestie, and containing his meditations and prayers before his execution.
As to dependence he writes:
I thank God, My prosperitie made Me not wholly a stranger to the contemplations of mortalitie. Those are never unseasonable, since this is alwaies uncertain: Death being an eclipse, which oft happeneth as well in cleer as cloudy dayes.
In his meditations he recognizes that he is a sinner in need of redemption.
…but look upon me, O Father, through the Mediation, and in the Merits of Jesus Christ, in whom thou art only wel pleased: for of my Self I am not worthy to stand before thee, or to speak with my unclean lips to thee, most holy and eternall God; for as in sin I was conceived and born, so likewise I have broken all thy Commandments by my sinful motions, unclean thoughts, evill words, and wicked works; omitting many duties I ought to do, and committing many vices thou hast forbidden under pain of thy heavie Displeasure: as for my sins, O Lord, they are innumberable…
It is also evident that he laments his own willful sinfulness in the violation of justice and compromises of the faith to maintain an earthly authority:
For, was it through ignorance, that I suffered innocent bloud to be shed by a false pretended way of Justice? or that I permitted a wrong way of thy Worship to be set up in Scotland? and injured he Bishops in England? O no, but with shame and grief I confesse, that I therein followed the perswasions of worldly Wisdome, forsaking the Dictates of a right-informed Conscience: Wherefore, O Lord, I have no excuse to make, no hope left, but in the multitude of thy mercies; for I know my repentance weak, and my prayers faulty…
Additionally, he clearly states that Christ is the hope of his life, and that that life requires a sacrifice of faith, and death to the self.
…That it is the greatest glory of a Christians life to die daily, in conquering by a lively faith, and patient hopes of a better life, those partiall and quotidian deaths, which kill us (as it were) by piece-meales, and make us overlive our own fates:…
My greatest conquest of death is from the power and love of Christ, who hath swallow’d up death in the Victory of his Resurection, and the Glory of his Ascention.
If I must suffer a violent death with my Saviour; it is but mortality crowned with martyrdom: where the debt of death, which I owe for sin to nature, shall be raised as a gift of faith and patience offered to God.
He shows further his trust and identification with Christ:
O my Saviour, who knowest what it is to die with me as a Man; make me know what it is to passe through death to life with thee my God.
His own words prove his choice of Christ above all and confession of the King of Kings:
Make me content to leave the worlds nothing, that I may come really to enjoy all in thee, who hast made Christ unto me in life, gain; and in death advantage.
That by thy Goodnesse, which is thy Self, thou wilt suffer some beam of thy Majestie so to shine in my minde, that I, who in my greatest Afflictions acknowledge it my noblest Title to be thy Creature, may still depend confidently on Thee.
Charles’ commitment to Christ and his faith is proved by the willing choice to love and pray for those who have called for his head, and condemned him, asking that God forgive his persecutors:
I bless God, I Pray not so much, that this bitter Cup of violent Death may pass from Me, as that of his wrath may pass from al those, whose hands by deserting Me, are sprinkled, or by Acting and Consenting to My Death are embrued with My Bloud.” “O let the voice of his bloud be heard for my Murtherers, louder then the cry of mine against them.” “O deal not with them as bloud thirsty and deceitfull men; but overcome their cruelty with thy compassion and my charitie.
Finally, the most moving content of his prayers is that his hope for them is that they too will experience the redemption that Christ has wrought through his sacrifice:
And when thou makest inquisition for my blood, O sprinkle their polluted, yet penitent Souls with the bloud of thy Son, that thy destroying Angel may passe over them.” “When being reconciled to thee in the bloud of the same Redeemer, wee shall live far above these ambitious desires, which beget such mortall enmities.
Where is the one who can doubt the faith of this author? Who dares to cast aspersions on his confession? Who can hear such words and maintain a hardness of heart that would deny the name of martyr to the one who writes such and bears his neck on the gallows for the love of Christ? For he dies in the hope of resurrection, in love with Christ, and like his Lord with prayer and charity towards those who cut short his life.
While we may honor him for the witness to the Order of the Church (as Episcopalians we should give thanks for his insistence on Bishops as being of the Gospel) and for defending the Prayer-book, we must all the more remember his witness to the faith in his death.
It is incumbent upon us who claim his patronage to emulate his witness in the trials and tribulations of our own day. In a time when we are increasingly divided, and the temptation to excess afflicts both wings of our secular body politic (and dare I say our ecclesiastical one as well), he reminds us that our salvation is not dependent on the rulers and authorities of this world. He calls us to renew our commitment to Christ as our King of Kings. He reminds us that despite our wealth, privileges, and positions, we are truly in need of repentance unto salvation, and that it is Christ who saves, and in whom is found our true hope and calling as His creatures. His witness calls us to publicly proclaim that faith, and to pray for and have charity for those who would proclaim themselves our foes. In this we make our con-fession of Christ and our unity with Him.
May his prayers become our prayers. May we not simply Remember! as an exercise of memory, but as an active following of his example of faith and charity! Blessed Charles, Royal Martyr, pray for us. Amen.