From a Corruptible to an Incorruptible Crown
An Address given by Professor David Flint at Evensong on Sunday 30th January, 2000, commemorating the Martyrdom of King Charles 1 of England. Professor Flint, a practising Catholic Anglican, is Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Authority.
On that sad, bitterly cold day 351 years ago, the 30th January 1649, before he was to die, Bishop Juxon offered these words of comfort to King Charles I:- "There is but one stage more . . . which though turbulent and troublesome yet is a very short one; you may consider it will soon carry you a great way; it will carry you from Earth to Heaven, and there you shall find, to your great joy, the prize to hasten you, a crown of glory."
And the King replied; "I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world".
From a corruptible to an incorruptible crown...
I take as my text words which were to have been read at the King's funeral, but which were prohibited. They are from the Fifteenth chapter of the First Epistle of the Blessed Apostle Paul to the Corinthians.
(Indeed, they are part of the very lesson prescribed in the Burial Service)
"All flesh is not the same flesh; but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption; it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
"And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; he last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit, that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
"Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption."
The theme of this text was no doubt the inspiration for the King, for among his last words were those I have just read:- "I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance can be, not disturbance in the world"
With your leave, I propose to speak first on the martyrdom of the King. And second on the reasons why it is right that we remember this act of martyrdom.
THE MARTYRDOM OF THE KING
The 30th January 1649 is a day which, is at one and the same time, a day of infamy, a day of sadness and yet, a day of glory.
It is a day of infamy, for the murder of an anointed king shakes the very foundations of civilization.
Shakespeare reminds us of the enormity of this crime of, this crime of the murder of a King, of Regicide. Thus Richard II laments:-
"Not all the waters in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm from an anointed king;
The breath of worldly men cannot depose
The deputy elected by the Lord:"
Not all the waters in the rough rude see can wash the balm from an anointed King.
That the unlawful execution of the King constituted a murder - the heinous crime of Regicide - there can be little doubt. Indeed, the King himself reminders his tormenters of this. When the president, Bradshaw, reminds him he was before a court of justice, the King replies, dryly - "I am before a power."
A power. Not a court, a power. And the King throws the proceedings into disarray when he points to its fundamental illegality. Hear the King's own words:-
"No earthly power can justly call me (who am your King) in question as a delinquent . . . I would not any more open my mouth upon this occasion, more than to refer myself to what I have spoken, were I in this case alone concerned: But the duty I owe to God in the preservation of the true liberty of my people will not suffer me at this time to be silent."
And then the King reminds his tormenters of this fundamental proposition that a prosecution must be ruled by law:-
"There is no proceeding just against any man, but what is warranted, either by God's laws or the municipal laws of the country where he lives . . . Now I am confident this day's proceedings cannot be warranted by God's laws . . . Then for the law of the land I am no less confident that no learned lawyer will affirm that an impeachment can lie against the King . . . One of their maxims is "the King can do no wrong..."
And the King reminds the so-called court that it was constituted only by one part of the Parliament, by a vote of the House of Commons. Even then only by a House purged of every member - except those in league with Cromwell. For as the King says:-
"The major part - are detained or deferred from sitting. But how the House of Commons can erect a court of Judicature which was never one itself (as is well known to all lawyers) I leave to God and the world to judge. And it were full as strange, that they should pretend to make laws without (the) King or Lords' House..."
And then the King, with remarkable prescience, anticipates Cromwell's response - that the people have an inherent right to overthrow a tyrant. Now this is a right which will be claimed one century later in France and the United States. But it is a right which can be so terribly abused. As it was against Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. And as it was even more grotesquely abused in our own century. At Yekaterinberg. When not only the Tsar and Tsarina but also their children and servants were so brutally slain.
But let us go back to 1649.
Can Cromwell truthfully say that the trial is justified because the people have risen up against the King?
Charles anticipates this. Hear again the King's own words:-
"And admitting, but not granting, that the people of England's commission could grant you (this) pretended power, I see nothing to show that; for certainly you have never asked the question of the tenth man of the Kingdom, and in this way you manifestly wrong even the poorest plowman, if you demand not his free consent . . . nor can you pretend any colour for this your pretended Commission without the consent at least of the major part of every man in England of whatsoever quality or condition, which I am sure you never went about to seek, so far are you from having it.
"Thus you see that I speak not for mine own right alone, as I am your King, but also for the true liberty of all my subjects, which consist not in the power of government, but in living under such laws, such a government, which may give them the best assurance of their lives, and property of their goods."
And the King concludes his impeccable answer, which Cromwell does not rebut and which Cromwell knows he cannot rebut:-
"Thus having showed you briefly the reasons why I cannot submit to you pretended authority, without violating the trust which I have from God for the welfare and liberty of my people, I expect from you either clear reasons to continue my judgement, showing me that I am error, . . . or that you withdraw your proceedings".
So the King's trial was delayed. The trial was of course little more than a show trial of the sort we have seen in Soviet times. Those who sat are well aware of the illegality of their proceedings. And the "judges" are well aware of the monstrous and bloody conclusion that Cromwell demands of them.
Charles was right to say that he stood for the rule of law and the liberty of his people. For under the Lord Protector that liberty was to be snuffed out. Even the simple pleasures of life were proscribed. The Lord Protector controlled the parliament, the council. He was to even take the right to nominate his successor. Palaces and vast areas of London were to be dedicated to his use.
And so the 30 January was a day of infamy and it was a day of sadness. But, my brethren, it was also a day of glory.
For Charles died not only defending the rule of law, and, as he saw it, the liberties of his people. He died for more than that. He died so that the Church itself, our Church, might live. That is why he achieved the glory of martyrdom. He was prepared to concede more political power than any Tudor King had. But he would not deny his Faith. He would not preside over the death of the Church.
In the struggle with Parliament, it was clear that by 1641 the constitution had been changed to the disadvantage of the King. In fact that Parliament is now much the same position as was to be guaranteed later by the Bill of Rights at the time of the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
But although Charles had given up so much, even more was demanded. And that related to the Church.
Let us recall that once the English Church had been cut off from Rome in the previous century, it could not fail to be influenced by what Gardiner calls "the tides of opinion flowing in from the perturbed continent". (Samuel Rawson Gardiner, The Constitution Documents of the Puritan Revolution, 1625-1660, 3rd edn, Oxford University Press, 1979, XV, XVI.) Indeed, at the end of Elizabeth's reign the doctrine taught by the greater part of the clergy was Calvinist. While Elizabeth insisted on the use of the Book of Common Prayer, she was flexible. For example, she tolerated the refusal of some to wear the surplice. But Elizabeth's successor, and Charles' father James I were not so wise.
This festering dispute was more than about the wearing of the surplice. It was about doctrine. It was about discipline. For within the Church there would always be those who would join in the Creed and say with conviction: "And I believe One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church"
One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. One which attaches special value to the doctrine of sacramental grace and the sacred ministry. One which regards the episcopacy, the bishops, as divinely ordained successors to the Apostles. One which finds comfort and authority in the writings of the Fathers and the early Councils.
The disputes about vestments and ceremony were of course the more visible evidence of a tension within the very bosom of the church, a tension which has lingered these four centuries and which is but a mirror of the whole Church.
So we find in 1628, a House of Commons Committee rails against the placing of the Communion Table, and against praying towards the East, against the use of pictures and candles, against standing during the Gloria, against making the sign of the cross. And there is outrage against the King in his "Declaration of Sports" in 1633. He promises that on Sundays after divine service "our good people not be disturbed, letted or discouraged from any lawful recreation, such as dancing, either men or women; archery for men, leaping, vaulting or any such harmless recreation, nor from having of May games, Whitsun ales and Morris dances, and the setting up of May poles." (But there is ". . . still prohibited all unlawful games... as bear and bull baiting and at all times in the meaner sort of people by law prohibited, bowling...")
Archbishop Laud's (and the King's) great mistake was the failed attempt to impose the Anglican liturgy on Scotland. This encouraged the English puritans who dominated parliament to want not only to remove all political powers from the King; they were determined to change the fundamental nature of the English Church so that it would no longer be part of that One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
So, in the Grand Remonstrance of 1641, which the Commons published, with studied discourtesy, even before the King had seen it, the Puritans call for the suppression of "oppressive and unnecessary ceremonies" and that the bishops lose their right to vote in parliament. Then there is a call that the King abridge "their immoderate power usurped over the clergy and other your good subjects which they have perniciously abused to the hazard of religion, and (the) great prejudice and oppression to the laws of the Kingdom, and just liberty of your people".
But soon the Parliament wants even more. Civil War is now inevitable. In 1642 they effectively demand that all government be in their hands. Parliament would have unlimited powers. It would be a dictatorship. Early in the war, in the Oxford Propositions the Parliament insists the King agree to a Bill:- "for the utter abolishing and taking away of all Archbishops, Bishops, their Chancellors and Commissioners, Deans... Chapters, Archdeacons, Canons... Chanters... Sacrists... Vicars Choral and Choristers of any Cathedral or Collegiate Church."
The English puritans are now in the ascendant. They have tasted blood. Not only do they call for Sabbath observance, there is a Bill for the perpetual suppression of stage plays. The religious enemy is now not only Popery, but to this is added "Prelacy". Prelacy - that is the very concept, the truth of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. That now is the target.
But prelacy, the Apostolic Succession is fundamental to the King. So, the King, now in captivity, replies to the Speaker, in 1647, in these words:-
"That for the abolishing Archbishops, Bishops &c., His Majesty clearly professeth that he cannot give his consent thereunto, both in relation as he is a Christian and a King; for the first he avows, that he is satisfied in his judgement that this order was placed in the Church by the Apostles themselves, and ever since their time hath continued in all Christian Churches throughout the world, until this last century of years; and in this Church in all times of change and reformation it hath been upheld by the wisdom of his ancestors, as the great preserver of doctrine, discipline and order in the service of God. As a King at his coronation, he hath not only taken a solemn oath to maintain this order, but His Majesty and his predecessors in their confirmations of the Great Charter (the Magna Carta), have inseparably woven the right of the Church into the liberty of the subjects".
But he offers a compromise. This is the continuation of the existing de facto presbyterian government of the church for three years. That is not enough for Cromwell.
And that is the King's stand. He will not surrender on this point. On this he is firm.
Now in captivity he writes about this to his Roman Catholic wife, Queen Henrietta Maria who is in France. But she has little sympathy with his "tiresome conscience". Surely, she argues, any promises he makes need not be permanently binding. And surely it is better in the end to be a Presbyterian King than no King at all. After all, it is not as if he were a Roman Catholic (Christopher Hibbert, Charles I, 1968 p.240)
But the King will not give way. His conscience will not allow him to abandon the Church. He will not renounce his belief, the belief in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
And so he is to die for this, to die, he says, as a "Christian according to the profession of the Church of England." And a martyr.
THE REASONS TO REMEMBER THE KING'S MARTYRDOM
So, I come to the second part of my address. Why should we observe what was Charles' final admonition - "Remember"? And what is all this to us, in a distant land and at another time?
My dear brethren. The King's martyrdom is of living significance for this reason. His sacrifice was not only for those who profess the Anglican faith, but all who affirm the Creeds. And while Anglicans may disagree on ceremony and on doctrine, they are united in their support for the Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds.
The Constitution of the Anglican Church in Australia contains three Fundamental Declarations. So fundamental they cannot be altered (s.66). They are:-
First, "The Anglican Church of Australia, being a part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, holds the Christian Faith as professed by the Church of Christ from primitive times and in particular as set forth in the creeds known as the Nicene and the Apostles' Creed."
Second, "This church receives all the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as being the ultimate rule and standard of faith given by inspiration of God and containing all things necessary for salvation."
Third, "This Church will ever obey the commands of Christ, teach His doctrine, administer His sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, follow and uphold His discipline and preserve the three orders of bishops, priests and deacons in the sacred ministry."
His Grace the Archbishop of Sydney (Donald Robinson, Archbishop, 1982-93) in 1986, sitting on the Church's Advisory Tribunal, held that the phrase "the three orders of bishops, priests and deacons... indicates that both 'the sacred ministry' and "the three orders" in that ministry are well-known and require no further definition within this Chapter.
"It is not enough to recognize merely some form of ministry, or to preserve the names of the three orders, or three orders of anyone's devising. "The three orders of bishops, priests and deacons in the sacred ministry" can only be the ministry and orders referred to in the Thirty-Nine Articles (see for example articles 19, 23, 26, 32 and 36) and in the Book of Common Prayer, especially the Ordinal. Just as "the canonical Scriptures" in Section 2 of the Fundamental Declarations depend on the Thirty-Nine Articles for their correct definition (see Section 74), so "the three orders...in the sacred ministry" depend on the Articles and Prayer Book for their correct definition. This definition claims catholic and apostolic, not merely Anglican, status for the three orders. The orders are in fact common to the Anglican, Roman and Orthodox communions. The sacred ministry itself is declared in the Ordinal to have been "appointed for the salvation of mankind", and the orders in that ministry are said to have been in Christ's Church "from the Apostles' time and to have been appointed by God's divine providence."
His Grace concludes:
"There can be no doubt that what Section 3 commits this Church to preserve are these orders in this sacred ministry."
This is the carefully considered opinion of the Archbishop of Sydney. In it, His Grace points out that the three orders of the sacred ministry are not merely Anglican, they are common to the Anglican Roman and Orthodox communions.
So the reason all Anglicans (indeed all Catholics, Roman and Orthodox) should give thanks for the life and service of the Martyr King is that he stood his ground. He could have surrendered. He could have washed his hands. As Pilate did. Then there would be no Church of England as we know it, as an integral part of that Holy Catholic and Apostolic church. It would not have been only the King who died on that day in January 1649. It would have been that link, the Apostle Succession, which comes to us through Augustine. That line from Augustine would have ended. As well that precious jewel the Book of Common Prayer would not have survived. It certainly would not have made its equally indelible stamp on our liturgy. And It would not have made its indelible stamp on the language and culture of the whole English speaking world. My brethren: we must therefore be eternally grateful to the Martyr King that by his life he saved these treasures for us.
I return to that sad, bitterly cold day in London. That day of infamy. The trial had been delayed because of the King's brilliant and irrefutable argument that the trial is illegal. Cromwell has put pressure on those charged with the execution to sign the Death Warrant.
Its cruel words come down to us today:-
"Whereas Charles Stuart, King of England, is, and standeth convicted, attainted, and condemned of high treason, and other high crimes; and sentence upon Saturday last was pronounced against him by this Court, to be put to death by the severing of his head from his body; of which sentence, execution yet remaineth to be done; these are therefore to will and require you to see the said sentence executed in the open street before Whitehall, upon the morrow, being the thirtieth day of this instant month of January, between the hours of ten in the morning and five in the afternoon of the same day, with full effect. And for so doing this shall be your sufficient warrant. And these are to require all officers, soldiers, and others, the good people of this nation of England, to be assisting unto you in this service.
"To Col. Francis Hacker, Col. Huncks, and Lieut.-Col. Phayre, and to everyone of them."
And the death warrant bears the signatures of the men whose hands are to be forever soaked in blood:-
"Given under our hands and seals.
Oliver Cromwell &c. &c."
And so on that bitterly cold day, the 30th January the King woke between five and six.
"I will get up", he says to his servant, "I have a great work to do this day. I fear not death, death is not terrible to me. I bless my God that I am prepared." He speaks with Bishop Juxon for an hour, and then receives the Sacrament. The Second Lesson at Mattins on 30 January is especially relevant. it is the 27th Chapter of St. Matthew, the Passion of Our Lord.
Then he is taken in procession with drums beating to Whitehall. He probably sees the scaffold. It is half past ten. The King waits in his room for the knock at the door which will signal the walk to the scaffold. He waits and he waits. He is to wait until almost two. And why this final torment to the King? Two reasons are suggested. Those to whom the death warrant is directed have then to sign the order of execution. One, Colonel Huncks, loses his nerve. Cromwell intervenes. He shouts at him - he is a "peevish fellow". But still he will not sign. Cromwell decides to go ahead without his signature.
The other reason is that the republicans forget the elementary proposition that they can kill the King. But they cannot kill the Crown. They forget the law of royal succession expressed in the acclamation: "The King is dead. Long live the King." The Crown passes immediately on the death of the King to the Prince of Wales. And there is no time to pass legislation to declare a republic. This is to be done later. So they pass a so-called law making it an offence for anyone to proclaim a new king. In this they are to fail dismally. It has no effect. Charles II's reign begins on that same day, the 30th January 1649.
So, near two o'clock, they finally bring the King to the scaffold.
Divided by ranks of soldiers from the crowds, he addresses some words to those who can hear. He begins by forgiving his murderers. He declares that he has forgiven all the world, "and even those in particular that have been the chief causers of my death: who they are, God knows, I do not desire to know, I pray God forgive them.
"I wish that they may repent, for indeed thy have committed a great sin in that particular; I pray God, with St. Stephen, that this not be laid to their charge. Nay, not only so, but that they may take the right way to the peace of the Kingdom: for my charity commands me not only to forgive particular men, but my charity commands me to the last gasp the peace of the Kingdom..."
He addresses himself to the role of the people: "Truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever; but I must tell you their liberty and freedom consists in having of government, those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own".
And finally, he affirms his faith: "that I die a Christian according to the profession of the Church of England, as I found it left me by my father . . . I have a good Cause and I have a gracious God; I will say no more"
Then Bishop Juxon says, "There is but one stage more, which though turbulent and troublesome, yet it is a very short one; you may consider it will soon carry you a very great way; it will carry you from Earth to Heaven; and there you shall find, to your great joy, the prize you hasten to, a Crown of Glory."
And the King replies, and once more, listen to his wisdom, his grace: "I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world."
He now takes off the insignia of the Garter, the last of his jewels; he gives it to the Bishop with the one word, "Remember."
The King stands for a moment raising his hands and eyes to Heaven and praying in silence, then slips off his cloak and lies down with his neck on the block. The executioner bends down to make sure that his hair is not in the way, and Charles, thinking that he was preparing to strike, says, "Stay for the sign."
"I will, an' it please Your Majesty," says the executioner.
A fearful silence falls on the little knot of people on the scaffold, on the surrounding troops, and on the crowd. Within a few seconds the King stretches out his hands and the executioner on the instant and at one blow severs his head from his body.
A boy of seventeen, standing a long way off in the throng, sees the axe fall. And he remembers as long as he lives the sound that broke from the crowd. (C.V. Wedgwood, The Trial of Charles I, Collins, London, 1964)
"The blow I saw given and can truly say with a sad heart at the instant whereof there was such a groan by the thousands present as I never heard before, and desire I may never hear again."
Such a groan... as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again...
The executioner seizes the Kings head and holds it up, saying, "Behold the Head of a traitor!"
The cavalry disperse and scatter the people.
The body is taken to Blackfriars. The King's head is sewn on and the body embalmed.
Cromwell will not allow the body to be buried in King Edward's chapel. This is far too dangerous - it may become a shrine. The King is buried secretly at Windsor. The use of the Book of Common Prayer is already prohibited by Parliament. No exception is allowed. Bishop Juxon is not permitted even to read the burial service. He carries the Book of Common Prayer with him - closed. He refuses to extemporize in the Puritan fashion.
In that vault lies the body of Henry VIII. On one side, his third wife, Jane Seymour. His sixth wife and widow Katherine Parr was to have been buried on Henry's other side. But she married again and is buried elsewhere. That is to be King Charles' tomb.
And so, the King's body was lowered into the vault in silence.
As Redmond observes, they are strange companions in death: "The King who broke the Church of England from the Roman communion to gain political advantage and to satisfy his sexual appetite, and the King who died because he saw in the Anglican faith the best and purest form of the Christian doctrine and the Church Militant on earth."
And so on that day of infamy, that day of sadness, and that day of glory, the King goes from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown.
Let us recall the concluding words of the lesson from St. Paul, the lesson which was not permitted to be read at the King's burial:-
"Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold I shew you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality; then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."
Charles went, as he said, from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown. He died that the Church might live.
Let us pray (according to the Collect for the Order for Evening Prayer on the 30th January)
"And now, to Almighty and Everlasting God, whose righteousness is like the strong mountains, and thy judgements like the great deep; and who, by that barbarous murder (as on this day) committed upon the sacred Person of thine Anointed, hast taught us, that neither the greatest of Kings, nor the best of men, are more secure from violence than from natural death: Teach us also hereby so to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom, and grant, that neither the splendour of any thing that is great, nor the conceit of any thing that is good in us, may withdraw our eyes from looking upon ourselves as single dust and ashes; but that, according to the example of this thy blessed Martyr, we may press forward to the prize of the high calling that is before us, in faith and in patience, in humility and in meekness, in mortification and in self-denial, in charity and in constant perseverance unto the end: And all this for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ his sake; to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end." Amen.