January 30, 2012

Charles, then and now

The following is my address to the 2002 Convention of the Diocese of New York in support of adding King Charles to the Calendar. Portions of it seem oddly timely, so I dig it out in honor of the day. By the way, the motion passed overwhelmingly, but did not make it through the next General Convention.

It feels odd for me, as a lifelong democrat, to be urging support for including King Charles I on the Church Calendar. I have no interest in the divine right of kings.

But it would be unfair for me to criticize Charles for supporting the monarchy. He was, after all, a monarch, one who took his office seriously, believing God had given him a divine responsibility to serve his subjects.

What is important to me, as a member of an Anglican Religious Community, is that Charles supported the first such community, and protected Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding against Purtian attacks. When Charles visited that community and saw their first English Harmony of the Gospels he was so moved by it, that he commissioned a harmony of the Books of Kings and Chronicles, so that he might better study the biblical record of the kings who ruled God’s people.

As kings go, Charles was well-meaning, but unsuccessful. And it would be a mistake to think that those who brought him down were democrats with the people’s needs at heart. On the contrary, Charles’ defense of poor farmers alienated the squires who sought to enclose and strip the land. His insistence on raising the wages of textile workers offended the cloth merchants. Military failures turned the army against him so that they twice staged coups to purge Parliament of his supporters. And Archbishop Laud’s untempered enforcement of the Prayer Book gained the ire of the religious extremists who wanted neither bishops, nor religious communities, nor Prayer Book, nor no not Christmas nor Easter neither! These weren’t Enlightenment Protestants, but religious fanatics who wanted nothing but a theocratic police state in which no one would be free from the dictatorship of the pure and the elect. If you want to know what Charles was up against, you need look no further than the Salem Witch Trials.

Charles is relevant to us today, when power brokers call for “small government,” not out of interest for the poor, but so they can profit through deregulation; when military strongmen join religious extremists to threaten the good of society, and the peace of the world.

Not that Charles was perfect. He was as flawed as any saint on the Calendar, the BVM excepted, of course. But in the day of decision, he stood for something — not only as a lay leader defending the episcopate, or as a pious Christian defending the Prayer Book, but in witness to a whole religious way of life, a way we call Anglicanism.

I urge you to vote to encourage the Episcopal Church to join our sister churches in the Anglican Communion who already commemorate Charles, not for his monarchy but for his fidelity and courage unto death in defense of the Anglican vision of the Christian faith and life.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Evan said...


I know you meant well, but your depiction of the Puritans is completely unfair. Puritan New England was not a police state, and many if not most of those who came to the Bay Colony considered themselves loyal to the Church of England (although they of course wanted to reform it in lien with their beliefs).

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Well said, Tobias!

MarkBrunson said...

I still despise the commemoration of "martyrs" - dying for something doesn't mean a whole lot, frankly.

Everyone dies. Everyone will die, many more painfully than martyrs and for no good reason, leaving behind far more good works and evidence of their faith than any martyr.

Jesus died for our sins - the rest just died.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Evan, our reading of the historical record clearly differs. Puritan New England was established along theocratic lines, and was based on rigid conformity to those values. Obviously the Salem Trials were not typical, but they represent -- fairly I think -- the dangers to which theocracy can lead; not necessarily a police state but a highly "conformist" one -- not afraid to impose severe penalties on dissent. Milder versions of the rule of Puritan thinking -- against other Puritans! -- would be the cases of Williams and Hutchinson. While it's true that many Puritans thought of themselves as still somehow "Anglican" that was likely more in the interest of the royal charters than any conviction as to the institution of Episcopacy, for example.

Thanks, Bryan.

Mark, you will notice I do not use the word "martyr" which I do not think applies in his case. Moreover, I do not think it is Charles' death, but his life, that is worthy of commemoration. His advocacy for the poor and for workers alone is of significance in our current context.

Br. Chris said...

Thanks for this post Tobias. I remember when you first broached this subject, and no small amount of controversy ensued! I agree with you about Puritan New England as well as the rapacious capitalism of most Puritans on both sides of the Atlantic. I don't mean to romanticize the old feudal system. It had lots of problems; but it had its advantages too.

One thing worth noting about the Salem witch trials is that they came at the tail end of the intensely theocratic period in Massachusetts history. They were a reactionary response to the watering down of the Puritan understanding of a covenanted community by the adoption of the Halfway Covenant and the opening up of the colony to more "liberal" influences, not least of which was the Church of England. It's no accident that the trials occurred just a few years after the establishment of King's Chapel in Boston in 1686.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Chris. That is a good reminder about the timing of the Salem Trials -- sometimes tyranny is at is worst just before its final collapse. (Syria, anyone?)

Evan said...

I don't deny that there are many unpleasant things which the Puritans thought and did. All in all, I'm much happier as an Anglican. But presenting Charles I as a staunch, pious defender of godly Anglicanism is, if not demonstrably false, at least highly skewed-- he had a strong interest in preserving the Church of England status quo in order to keep around the hierarchal church structure in which he, the king, ultimately called all the shots as head of the church. The monarchy and episcopate were suspicious of Puritan preachers in England for, among other things, advocating a congregational, non-hierarchical church structure (not under the control of the king) and refusing to preach the pre-packaged, monarch-approved canned homilies and instead trying to instruct the laity in the "uses" of the text in daily lives.

So to portray Charles as simple concerned for proper theology and good order is disingenuous, considering all the battling social and economic interests that came into play on both sides.

The cases of Hutchinson, Williams, and Salem were vastly more complicated than the cartoon version from high school history textbooks you rehash, no matter how much you disagree with Puritan theology (and I should reiterate that I differ with their views sharply on many if not most things).

I must say that I am disturbed at how deeply Anglican identity seems to be bound up in defining ourselves over and against an evil, irrational "other" in the face of whom "we" seem to be civilized, orderly, rational, etc. Back then it was Anglicans vs. "fanatics" (Puritans) and "enthusiasts" (Quakers), now it's Anglicans vs. "fundamentalists" (anybody more conservative than us).

MarkBrunson said...

THAT I grant you. Charles was not a bad guy, and, if we recall that about him, we do well.

My difficulty, poorly expressed as I am extremely ill and in pain, is that people are always tending to the lazier way and will - and have - portray on him as a martyr.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Evan, as I say, your reading of the history is very different to mine. (I rely in this mostly on Kenyon's Stuart England and Tawney's Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. Frankly, I think you are seeing Charles solely through the reducing lens of the "divine right of kings" and seeing everything as somehow about [his] power and control. That is not the way he saw it, of course. He saw it as a matter of duty and service. Obviously he had political and economic concerns (I did address a few of those in my speech), but I don't think you have created an anything like balanced picture here.

As to Hutchinson and Williams, I didn't "rehash" anything, but only mention them. Do you deny that they fell foul of the "control needs" of the Puritan establishment?

Finally, if you deny the existence of the "irrational other" then you are missing a very important aspect of reality. Not that I define myself as over against that -- but I am keenly aware of the existence of such emotion-based and irrational movements towards power and control of others. The existence of the "libido dominandi" is something we dare not solely attribute to others -- but to deny it altogether is to make a very grave error. It clearly does not exist only among "conservatives." But I do in fact hope that Anglicanism reflects a reliance on rationality -- going back to Hooker and the Elizabethan settlement. I do not find that to be at all disturbing.

Mark, sorry about the illness and pain. "Martyr" should be reserved for those who are killed by non-believers in witness to the faith. As much as I admire the "Martyrs of Memphis" even that represents a slippage in terminology. It's a pity we don't have a simple word for the concept "someone who dies in the process of serving or saving others..." "Martyr" is the "easy" choice, but it isn't quite right. And for Charles it is even more inappropriate, except in the popular sense of a "martyr to the cause."