Why Charles and why a martyr?
The more observant of you today (30th January) will notice that the site has up a picture of Charles I and the collect for today. It reads:
King of kings and Lord of lords, whose faithful servant Charles prayed for those who persecuted him and died in the living hope of your eternal kingdom: grant us by your grace so to follow his example that we may love and bless our enemies, through the intercession of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Now, let’s be totally honest – Charles the First was a bit of a pompous fool. He led the country into a disastrous civil war on the basis that he was absolutely convinced that he had a divine right to rule, and that these icky un-noble commoners should really know their place. He tore the land apart and in doing so inadvertently created the dictatorship which followed him that put his excesses of authoritarianism in the shadows.
And yet, at the moment when he could choose to save his life, he chose not to. Offered the choice of saving his neck (or at least the thing on top of his neck) by allowing the church to become congregational, or standing by his belief that the catholic church is built on episcopacy, he decided that the manner in which the church was divinely organised (as he saw it) was a non-negotiable. Bishops were the key focus of the unity of the church since the first century, and to dispense with them would be to dispense with not just the organisational church but also the very essence of its organism.
So he went to his death rather than allow under his reign the removal of the “bene esse” of the church. Shortly after the Restoration he was canonised by the Church of England, the last person to be treated in this way. Let’s all for one day, put aside the fact that his promotion of Laud to Canterbury began the dissolution of the Electionist heritage of the BCP and the Articles, and remember a man who was prepared to go to his death rather than betray Christ.