Shrine of St. Frideswide, Christ Church Cathedral Oxford.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

King Charles the Martyr, 30 January.

St. Charles is often depicted rejecting his crown of state for a crown of thorns.
BCP Calendar with St. Charles
Charles I of England is known to many Anglicans, mostly in the Church of England, as a martyr because he protected the Church from being separated from its ancient roots. He died partially because, the Calvinist Puritans who captured him wanted him to remove episcopacy, the apostolic line of bishops, from the Church in England and completely cut it off from from the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that it was. He refused to replace the ancient faith of the Church with a new version, the Calvinism advocated by Puritans even if it meant his death.
     Charles was born in 1600, son of King James VII of Scotland and Anne of Denmark. He became Prince of Wales in 1603 at the Union of the Crowns when James became James I of England also. It was during James's rein that the Church of England began to re-establish high-church elements within the Anglican tradition. But at the same time a low-church faction within the church, known as the Puritans. Succeeding Archbishops of Canterbury and other Church of England bishops re-emphasized liturgical ceremonies and the decorating of churches with religious iconography. Puritans however were opposed to any sort of decoration and even called for the re-organisation of the church hierarchy through dismissing the historic episcopate. Charles succeeded to the throne in 1625 and later appointed William Laud, previously a bishop of St. Davids, Wells and London, to the see of Canterbury. Laud was a firm supporter of the high-church argument in the Church and was opposed to Calvinism. Laud and Charles carried out a number of reforms in the Church based on retaining it's catholicity. Both men with much of England's support battled against Puritans and Presbyterians, insisting upon episcopacy, and the following of the Book of Common Prayer, which called for a high-church liturgy. The Puritan vs. Royalist debate turned into civil war in 1640s after Laud tried to impose a new Prayer Book on the rebellious Scottish Calvinists and England's Puritan's too feared that he would suppress their voice in the Church. When it came to an end, King Charles was captured and condemned to death by a Puritan parliament. He was offered his life, and even his throne if he would consent to the destruction of the historic episcopate but refused. Destroying the Episcopate would have made the Church of England into a sect, rather than a part of apostolic succession and of Christ's Church. On January 30, 1649 Charles was beheaded, and since recognized as a martyr as he died for the survival of the Church of England, canonized, and added to the Book of Common Prayer as a major feast after the restoration. His cult has survived since his death, known as the Society of King Charles the Martyr.

One of the many problems troubling the Church, including the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox Churches, is unity. Unity is presented as crucial to Christ's Church because it wipes away the face of hatred or contempt within that holy institution. Charles the martyred king, though not the more typical, self humbling saint found on this blog, is a focal point for that unity and reminds us of the importance of the oneness of the Church descended from Christ's work while he visited us 2000 years ago and glued to him, to doing that work today. The one and ancient liturgy used by the Church, the one and ancient episcopal polity of the Church, the one and ancient faith of the Church should not contradict the one, ancient, ever-living and ever-saving savior, Christ, who is the Church. For the Church to spread the one true faith of the one God, we must be one, united body.

Collect (adapted from the "Festivals and Lesser Festivals of the Church of England").
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 so to follow his example that we may love and bless our enemies and celebrate the and spread the one good news together, through the intercession of your Son, Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Church Unity: The First Council of Nicaea. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Feast, January 12; St Aelred of Rievaulx

Cistercian power: Rievaulx Abbey

     Aelred was born the son of a priest in 1110, in the Northumbrian town of Hexham. He was for a while a high-ranking official in the court of King David I of Scotland. David endorsed several monasteries in Scotland during his reign and is himself considered a saint. Aelred left Scotland in 1134 to join the quickly growing Cistercian foundation at Rievaulx in northern Yorkshire, deeply inspired by their austerity and isolation. Rievaulx was one of the greatest Cistercian abbeys in England with many acres of farmland, used mainly for sheep grazing, and several hundred brothers and lay brothers. Aelred was Abbot at a Lincolnshire house before he was invited back to Rievaulx to be abbot there. He is known primarily as a historian of English saints, especially those from the north, and of certain royal lines. As a high-ranking ecclesiastic in the north of England, where the cult of saints had been ingrained in local culture since the 7th century, it is not surprising that he recognized the importance of having scholarly hagiographies where the exact details of their holy lives could be recorded and preserved before it was too late. We could perhaps say then that he is the "William of Malmsbury" of 12th century Northumbria. Among his books include "The Life of St. Ninian", "The Life of St. Edward the Confessor" (his most famous), and "The Lives of the Saints of the Church at Hexham." His equally devotional works, "The Mirror of Charity," "Pastoral Prayer," and "On Spiritual  Friendship," explore  Christian love as exemplified by Christ and the significance of maintaining a devoted and saturated relationship with God in a monastic community.
     St. Aelred died on 12 January 1167 and was buried in the chapter house of Rievaulx Abbey, from which his relics were later translated into the church. He was never formally canonized as the custom of Papal canonization was not yet clear in that part of the country (as it is in the Orthodox churches). But his cult was known in England and in French Cistercian communities as a saint.

Ruins of Rievaulx Abbey quire.
     St. Aelred still urges us to use fasting and self-denial as a form of religious devotion and as a way to grow closer to Christ. What better way than living and loving like he did? Local saints were very important to St. Aelred and the Church of his time; today, the significance of patron and local "saints" has increased because it they are a way for Christians to connect to Christ with a human example and leader who they can personally and physically reflect upon an consult. As for Aelred's thought's on the religious life, a life fully dedicated to the work of Christ can be lived both within and without of the cloister. Aelred discouraged the religious he instructed, which included monks, nuns and anchorites, from growing attached to certain objects or developing preferences for foods. Though I am certainly not suggesting to give up ice cream forever, a conscientiously more austere life with a focus on service and community points back in the direction of Christ's life and that of his disciples. The Church through its bishops and priests should encourage parishioners to follow variations of a "home-rule" which would include daily prayer and periodic fasting with food as well as with spending. Thus the intimacy of the Church's communities would increase with Christian observance that seeped into more than just the Sunday dimension of people's lives and experience of Christ.

Collect (From the Episcopal Church):
Almighty God, you endowed the abbot Aelred with the gift of Christian friendship and the wisdom to lead others in the way of holiness: Grant to your people that same spirit of mutual affection, that, in loving one another, we may know the love of Christ and rejoice in the gift of your eternal goodness; through the same Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.