Project Canterbury

The Church in Bondage

By R. A. Hilary Knox
Chaplain Fellow of Trinity College Oxford

London: The Society of SS. Peter and Paul, 1914.

Sermon 4. The Thirtieth of January

Preached before the Society of King Charles the Martyr

HEARKEN UNTO ME, YE THAT FOLLOW AFTER RIGHTEOUSNESS, YE THAT SEEK THE LORD; LOOK UNTO THE ROCK WHENCE YE ARE HEWN. These words are written in the first verse of the fifty-first chapter of the prophecy of Isaiah.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

We are met together, dearly beloved, to celebrate the festival of Charles, King and Martyr, who laid down his life in defence of our most holy Religion in the year of grace sixteen hundred and forty-nine. Discrowned by his people, we dare not doubt that he has been crowned in heaven; and although in the nature of the facts his local canonization cannot, in the present divided state of the Church, be ratified by the Holy See, we are come to pay him that veneration which was paid to every Saint of the Middle Ages long before his cause had been tried, often before his name had been heard, at the Court of the Popes. We claim for him the privileges of a Saint, because he lived a life of personal holiness and devotion unexampled among the princes of his age, because he died at the hands of the enemies, the avowed enemies, of the Church, because his death was sealed by miracles wrought by God's grace even from the handkerchiefs which had been dipped in his blood.

We venerate him also as a martyr, because he might at the last have saved his life if he had been content to lose it by helping to destroy the order of Apostolic [25/26] succession handed down to us from Augustine. We do not thereby necessarily assent to the policy he pursued while yet on the throne, a policy which to him, thinking with the mind of his times, seemed the only possible one for the maintenance of religion in England. It is not the Court of Star Chamber or of High Commission which we commemorate to-day; it is the sentence, the axe, and the block, and the royal blood staining the January snow.

The sainted kings of England have never been her successful kings. No one canonized Alfred, who freed England from the Danes; no one thought twice about canonizing the Confessor Edward, who threw her open to the Normans. And it is the same after the conquest, though no English king since the conquest has been formally beatified at Rome. Henry the Fifth raised the English name high in the councils of Europe, and added half of France to his dominions. Henry the Sixth was a despised weakling, who frequently went off his head, and lost for us all that his father had won. Yet the fifth Henry, while he is admired still as a conqueror, has never yet been worshipped as a Saint; Henry the Sixth is invoked as a Saint to this day by boys at Eton, in a Latin hymn which prays that by his suffrages they may be freed from eternal death. Henry the Eighth changed the religion of a whole country, shed the blood of martyrs on every side, and died in his bed. Charles, whose holy commemoration we celebrate to-day, poured out his own blood for the sake of the Church, after twenty years and more of unavailing struggle. But at this time there is hardly anyone, no matter what his religious convictions may be, who does not execrate the memory of Henry; Charles is still venerated among the faithful, the only Saint who was not a Roman Catholic.

And it is no wonder. Did we not know long ago that God chooses the weak things of the world to confound the wise? And where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? The applause of their generation belongs to them, but not [26/27] the homage and the loyalty of posterity. We venerate Charles, not merely because he was a failure, but in so far as he was a failure. The cause for which Charles lived and fought was the cause of Erastianism, of a system by which the religion of the reigning monarch was to be the religion of the nation, by which the mitre was ever to be subservient to the crown, by which the secular arm was to crush both Protestantism and Romanism alike. But the cause for which he died was that of the triple hierarchy of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, handed down to us by our Saviour through his Apostles. And the cause of Erastianism, for which he lived, is now a cause discredited and outworn; but the cause of the hierarchy, for which he died, has more honour and more appreciation now from the Church of England than it has ever enjoyed since the Reformation. The cause for which he lives in the hearts of his people, for which he lives and intercedes in heaven, is not that of a particular form of Church Government invented in the sixteenth century: it is the cause of our most holy Religion.

And therefore this festivity of Charles the Martyr is not the signal for an outburst of enthusiasm on behalf of a national Church; not a time for preaching sermons about elementary Education and Welsh Church Defence, for cutting ourselves with knives and lancets and crying "O Parliament, hear us": it is rather a time to consider seriously, in penitence and prayer, what is the nature and what is to be the future of this Church of England, this Church which Henry forced upon us, and Charles bought for us with his blood. Since it is not to be what Charles meant it to be when he was yet alive, what is it that he would have it be now, when he sees all things with the full light of the Saints, who are comprehensores in patria? It may be a very serious thing to tamper with money which has been left in trust to us by our forefathers for religious purposes, and it is certainly right that we should spare no trouble in honestly investigating the claims on which we are asked to [27/28] appropriate such trust money to other ends. But assuredly it is a far graver and more important matter to ascertain the ends for which the Providence of God has entrusted us with this Church, this hierarchy, these Sacraments, this great and effectual door for the conversion of England. It may be much that we should have endowments left to us of so many thousands of pounds: it is much more that we should have been endowed with the power of validly conferring Holy Order, of celebrating the Holy Mass, of judging and absolving the penitent sinner with the authority committed by Christ to his Church.

For what end, then, does our Church exist--the Church of Charles, and Laud, and Sancroft, and Pusey, and Liddon, and Neale? Is it in order that it should accommodate itself to the tone of feeling, whatever it may be, which may exist in England at large at any particular time? That it should be overawed by the blustering of politicians, cajoled by the flattery of the newspapers, shamed into silence by the cheap criticism of the man in the street? That it should have its marriage laws regulated by the opinions of legislators, heretics, or Jews, or heathens, who may change their views at any moment in response to the outcry of sentimental novelists? That we should account it a privilege to be represented, as a part of the constitution of the country, by a body of Bishops who do not record their votes in a chamber whose vote, when recorded, is worthless? That in an access of friendly feeling towards the Nonconformists, who refuse to kneel at our altar-rails and receive the gifts of the Holy Ghost, we should allow them to kneel at our altar-rails and receive the Body and Blood of Christ? Is such a Church as that worth a King's ransom?

Or, again, is our Church to be one among other Protestant bodies, allied to them in being based on the evidence of certain texts of the Bible torn violently [28/29] from their contexts, differing from them in preserving the forms of episcopacy, while rejecting all that makes the episcopacy important? Is it to be dated from the middle of the sixteenth century, severed from all continuity with the life of the Church before that date, appealing by a barren argument from silence to the supposed practices of a period from which hardly any records have come down to us? Is it to be allowed, in fact, to slip back into that attitude of deliberate Protestantism, from which Andrewes and Cosin rescued it by their lives, and Laud by his death? Could a Church like that find any real reason to give thanks as on this day for its deliverance from the Presbyterian and the Independent?

Or, thirdly, are we to maintain, as some people seem prepared to maintain, that we, the Church of England, are the only true Church in England? Are we to refer our authority to the patriarch of Canterbury, and say that the Pope never had any real footing in these islands even before the Reformation, except for an occasional friendly visit from one of his legates, and that the Reformation only made our Church become in practice what it had always been in theory, a free local Church? Are we to conceive of Christendom as a great tree, with one branch in the East, and one in central Europe, and a third peculiar to these islands and the United States of America, and hold that the third of these branches was commissioned in some mysterious way to preach its own particular form of the Gospel to all the world of heathendom in direct antagonism to the Church of the Continent? On such a theory as this, every Mass celebrated at Westminster Cathedral is gravely irregular, and every Confession heard there presumably invalid. It may be a theory which would have commended itself to the Anglican Divines of the Royal Martyr's own time, but that was a time in which the nation as a whole was ready to believe in the divine right of Kings, and could with some show of justice hail the successor of Alfred as a proper substitute for the [29/30] successor of Peter. Now, when the nation as a whole believes in the power of Parliament to make and unmake Kings, when the interference of the State in religious affairs becomes daily more disastrous and daily more unpopular, where is our principle of jurisdiction? Where is our seat of Authority?

Surely, in this tangle of issues, this absence of guidance and security, it is natural that we should look unto the rock whence we were hewn, the rock of Peter, on which Christ saw fit to found his Church. Look to it, not for an immediate, but for an ultimate solution of our difficulties, not as a platform on to which we can step off at any moment we choose, but as a haven to which we beat doubtfully through troubled waters. There has been too much already of submission to Rome by twos and threes--submission which means that the whole of our past existence as a Church has been a mistake and a crime, which involves going back on nearly four hundred years of history, and forswearing the memory of great men, into whose labours we have entered, the memory, among others, of the Royal Martyr himself. And at the same time, in this hour of renewed prosperity, when our churches are becoming crowded, and our mass meetings more formidable, and our statistics of confirmations run into larger figures, we Catholics are tending to forget that we have a duty beyond that of bringing the nation to our own point of view; the duty, I mean, of working for the Reunion of Christendom at whatsoever time and in whatsoever manner God in his providence has appointed for us. And then the 30th of January comes round, to remind us that Erastianism is dead; that if we are to have a Church, we must have a theory of the Church; that for us at any rate the Reformation is to be an episode, not an epoch, in Church history. We are not here to curse the memory of Oliver Cromwell, whose work has perished with him, but to abolish the memory of Thomas Cromwell, whose work we can and must undo.

[31] For, after all, in the martyrdom of Charles, as in the Passion of Jesus on Calvary, it is to some extent true to say that it was in ignorance his murderers did it, as did also their rulers. They were in ignorance, at least in great part, because of the destruction of the monasteries, which had been for centuries the home and the school of simple folk; because of the loss of that quietness and tranquillity of order which in all ages men have learned from the City of the Seven Hills; because people had forgotten religion when they forgot the use of the Holy Rosary, and became unfamiliar with the solemn chanting of the Mass, which they could never translate, but not translating could always understand, It is the old irony of history: "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." It took just a hundred years to destroy English religion: in 1549 the advisers of King Edward forced an English Prayer Book upon a country, that groaned to find itself Protestant, and shouted for the restoration of the Mass; in 1649 the same country voted away the life of a . King, because the very Prayer Book seemed idolatrous. Charles died for the Prayer Book: it was the best he had to die for; but the people who remained longest faithful to Charles were the same people who had fought against the Prayer Book a century earlier, rising in arms to abolish it. They were the men of Devonshire and the West Country, who had said of Cranmer's liturgy: "We will not receive the new service, because it is but like a Christmas game"; they were the people of Wales, who up to the beginning of the seventeenth century still drowned every Sunday with the clashing of their rosaries the sound of the hated English Mass. But in England generally the Reformation had done its cruel work too well, and so the sins of Henry were visited on the head of innocent Charles. The murderers of Charles sinned in ignorance, since they and their fathers were not born within earshot of the nightly Angelus, and had never seen the Host carried in procession through their streets.

[32] It is ours, then, if we would take advantage of this holy feast to increase our devotion and advance our salvation, to labour, with the Holy Spirit for our Guide and the prayers of Charles for our succour, in restoring the old faith of the English people, and in helping forward that great day of the Lord, when, without doing injustice to the memory of those prophets and kings who desired it, and died before the sight, we may be once more joined in visible Communion with the rest of the Church on earth. By acts of penitence for the sins of past ages, by fervent prayer for all from whom we are severed, and all who have severed themselves from us, by spreading in our own Church devotion for the Royal Martyr, in whose reign, more than at any other time since the Reformation, Reunion was nearly accomplished, by the acceptable sacrifice of interior devotion and works of charity towards all men, we may still fight under the banner of Charles, still retrieve, though not in battle against flesh and blood, the discomfiture of Marston Moor and Naseby. It is no easy battle, for the world is always ready to grow weary of us, or to be frightened of us, to curse us for traitors and despise us for fools. And meanwhile the great Church of Rome, with whom we long to be at unity, is ever bidding us cut the knot, because it is beyond the wit of man to undo it.

Mother-like she calls us, truant children, and we, conscious of no wayward disobedience, but of an interior guidance that does not readily give up its secret to the hard categories of logical surrender, still cling to our frantic separation, in the hope of a richer and fuller Reunion in the years to come. Looking round us, we dare not claim to be a natural and a healthy branch of the heavenly Vine, but we do claim that in our half-severed branch the sap has not altogether ceased to flow. To our view, Rome too has pretensions to abate, and wrongs to confess, before the heart of England can understand her. Sorrowing she calls us, like that Mother of old, who sought her Son and could not find him, as [32/33] he sat refuting the doctors in the Temple; but we too must be about our Father's business, though we meet our Mother again only after a Gethsemane, it may be, a Calvary. And surely we dare not doubt that Jesus will be our Shepherd, till the time when he gathers his fold together; and that, though we do not live to see it, England will once again become the dowry of Mary, and the Church of England will once again be builded on the Rock she was hewn from, and find a place, although it be a place of penitence and of tears, in the eternal purposes of God.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Project Canterbury