IS CHARLES I A SAINT? (Part II)

SKCM patron (and honorary Vice President of the Friends of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham) Lord Nicholas Windsor has written “Although a small society we remain very active and lively in providing a fitting organisation to keep the memory of the life and death of King Charles. It was the Blessed John Henry Newman who recalled the Church to remember ‘our own Saint Charles’ and John Keble who wrote, ‘It is as natural that the Church of England should keep this day [30th January] as it is that Christ’s Universal Church should keep Saint Stephen’s martyrdom.’ In the King’s personal piety, devotion and support of the Church, his ecumenical understanding (far advanced for his day), his patronage of the Arts in the service of God, his inspiration of the Christian classic, Eikon Basilike and of course his martyrdom, we have much to REMEMBER and be thankful for.”  It is certainly clear to the premiere Catholic layman of the United Kingdom that Charles I is an important part of the continuing patrimony – even as those figures earlier referred to are part of Eastern Catholicism’s heritage.

No less an Ordinariate figure than Fr. John Hunwicke has opined on the matter: “One may, surely, hope for an ecumenical and ecclesiological climate in which King Charles may achieve the style Blessed Charles; in which he will be regarded as the Ordinariate’s Gift to the whole Catholic World; in which the King’s weakness in giving his assent to Acts of Parliament under which Catholic priests were cruelly martyred … to an Act of Attainder under which a loyal servant of the Crown was executed … will be seen as moments in his growth into holiness and the eventual strength of Martyrdom. If it had not been for blessed Charles, would there now be an Ordinariate?”

Now that the first chapter of the SKCM has opened in an Ordinariate parish, how might Catholic devotees of the “White King” proceed? Since judgement on the Sanctity of Charles I is reserved to the Holy See, at this stage there cannot be, among Catholics in communion with Rome, Masses in honour of Charles as a Saint, which have of course long been the point of the SKCM in its strictly Anglican manifestations. But there certainly can be evensong commemorations and/or requiems on January 30, the day of his murder and December 7, the day of his birth – in similar manner to the way French and other Catholics commemorate Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. On May 29, Restoration Day, Votive Masses of Thanksgiving might be offered. But there is more.

As earlier noted, my late friend Fr. Jean Charles-Roux was a patron of the Society of King Charles the Martyr. A noted Catholic theologian (and, as it happened, chaplain on the set of Mel Gibson’s The Passion), Fr. Charles-Roux penned a pamphlet for the SKCM entitled The Sanctity of Charles I. He opened that work with a startling declaration:

Charles I, sole saint of the Anglican Communion since the Reformation, ought, in my view, to be canonised by Rome and acknowledged by the Universal Church, as one of the great Princes of Heaven, as a living illustration of how the union of Christians is to be achieved, as a major historical figure, meant by Providence, to instruct men about the doctrine and order of salvation. For the sanctity of this King is no mere private, domestic, or inner one, but one stamped with predestination and prophecy, moulded and proven by public events, and thus obviously purposed by the Almighty, to stand out through the succession of centuries, in order to present to the whole of mankind a positive and human image of principles and truths of everlasting value.

He goes on to attempt to prove his assertion, and it would be too long to rehearse the whole of his argument here. But amongst other things, Fr. Charles-Roux quotes a particularly telling letter from the King to Queen Henrietta Maria: “None of the reformed Churches abroad, except the Lutherans, can justify the succession of their priests; which, if the Church of England could not undoubtedly do, she would have one less son for me.” In this we see echoed one of the major concerns which has led many an Anglican to Rome since the 19th century – and even more so since women’s ordination. Thus, it would seem to me that Catholic members of the SKCM have a three-fold mission with regard to the memory of the King: commemoration; education (in the sense of learning and propagating the truth about him, as against the rather shallow prevalent modern view); and lastly – as with any fledgling candidate for beatification by the Holy See – private prayer for miracles through his intercession.

When alive, as did all the Stuart Kings and their predecessors on the English throne, and the Kings of France as well, Charles I was reputed to have the power of healing scrofula – “the King’s Evil” – by laying hands on the afflicted and praying. Samuel Johnson had this done for him by Queen Anne, apparently with success (the Hanoverians ceased the practice, but the Stuarts in exile continued to do so – resulting in the creation of several Jacobites!). But after Charles’ murder, healings of this and other diseases were apparently accomplished by application of various cloths dipped in his blood. If the Royal Martyr is indeed in Heaven, perhaps such miracles will be forthcoming. The SKCM could act as a clearing house for any such reports, until at last a diocese in the British Isles or one of the Ordinariates opened an official enquiry into his cause. At that point, the usual procedures would hold sway.

In addition, Catholic SKCM members should cultivate devotion to the 18 Catholics martyred by Parliament “under” Charles I – who in essence shared their parliamentary murderers with him, most especially Anglican converts William Ward and Henry Morse. Tyburn Convent, a shrine to the martyrs near Marble Arch, should become as much a place of Pilgrimage for Catholic SKCM members as it was for Queen Henrietta Maria (she also played a role in the propagation of devotion to the Sacred Heart). So too should it be with such Martyrs’ shrines as Ladyewell in Lancashire. Indeed, all the English and Welsh, Scots, and Irish martyrs should be foci of our devotion. There is also the approved cultus of Bl. Karl, who, as noted earlier, shares so many traits with the Royal Martyr, and already boasts Ordinariate members among his clients.

But there is yet more that Catholic devotees of King Charles can do. As previously noted, the Neo-Jacobites of the 19th century were of both Communions, as is the current membership of the Royal Stuart Society. As a result, the commemorative calendar of the latter is a useful example for the matters we are discussing. As a general rule, these are: January 30, Charles I (wreath-laying in Trafalgar Square, Evensong at St. George’s Windsor); February 8, Mary Queen of Scots (Catholic Requiem Mass); May 29, Restoration Day (banquet); and James II, June 10 (wreath laying at his statue, and occasionally a Catholic Requiem – being the birthday as well of James III, it is often called “White Rose Day”). On one occasion, 2014, the RSS sponsored a Mass for Bl. Karl I’s feast day (October 21) at the London’s Church of the Assumption and St. Gregory, but this was a one-time event. That church has also hosted Requiem Masses for the deceased members of the House of Stuart on various occasions (in 2014 in cooperation with the Latin Mass Society of Great Britain). It is now the Principal Church of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which covers the British Isles. These commemorations are, for the stated reasons above, all particularly relevant to Catholic members of the SKCM. It is also wise to bear in mind that Henry VI, Katherine of Aragon, Mary Queen of Scots, James II, and his Queen, Mary of Modena have also been the subjects of causes for beatification which – for various reasons unconnected to themselves – are halted at the moment. Perhaps renewed interest, publicity, and prayers can restart them as well.

There are some, Catholic and non-Catholic, for whom the very notion of Charles I’s sanctity is anathema; there others in both camps who are just as convinced of it. It is well that it be so – this is why every Saint’s cause until the time of St. John Paul II had a devil’s advocate, whose role was to disprove the sanctity of the candidate, if possible. This was and is a necessary function, as the Church offers for her children’s veneration only those she is certain are in Heaven. There are an enormous number of Servants of God (folk whose causes have been introduced officially); whether it be Queen Isabel of Spain or Julius Nyerere, most of them come complete with built-in supporters and critics – although, as a Cradle Catholic myself, I wish them all well. At the end of the day, however, opinions do not count in this area – only objective reality; interestingly enough, for most of the office’s history, if the devil’s advocate failed to disprove the sanctity of an individual and canonisation was successful, he did penance at the altar of the new saint. For the Catholic, the ultimate judge of that reality is the Church herself. Until at some level of authority a cause is completed or condemned, Catholics are as free to argue in favour of the sanctity and pray for the intercession of a candidate as to adduce evidence against it – provided, of course, that all is done in the spirit of charity. Without that, it is ridiculous for either side to prattle about sanctity!

But regardless of whether or not Charles I is ever raised to the altars of the Catholic Church, like Louis XVI, Karl I, or Nicholas II, he remains a powerful symbol – a Sovereign willing to shed his blood for Catholic truth and for his people against organised tyranny and what has become the modern State; an entity which in our day has become so bold and so powerful that it presumes to alter at its whim the nature of marriage, of gender, and even of what might be called human. Whatever his or their failings in life, their deaths call for our admiration, and perhaps one day our emulation. Let us leave the White King and his brother Sovereigns with a poem by 19th century Catholic convert Lionel Johnson:

BY THE STATUE OF KING CHARLES AT CHARING CROSS.

To William Watson.

SOMBRE and rich, the skies;

Great glooms, and starry plains.

Gently the night wind sighs;

Else a vast silence reigns.

 

The splendid silence clings

Around me: and around

The saddest of all kings

Crowned, and again discrowned.

 

Comely and calm, he rides

Hard by his own Whitehall:

Only the night wind glides:

No crowds, nor rebels, brawl.

 

Gone, too, his Court: and yet,

The stars his courtiers are:

Stars in their stations set;

And every wandering star.

 

Alone he rides, alone,

The fair and fatal king:

Dark night is all his own,

That strange and solemn thing.

 

Which are more full of fate:

The stars; or those sad eyes?

Which are more still and great:

Those brows; or the dark skies?

 

Although his whole heart yearn

In passionate tragedy:

Never was face so stern

With sweet austerity.

 

Vanquished in life, his death

By beauty made amends:

The passing of his breath

Won his defeated ends.

 

Brief life, and hapless? Nay:

Through death, life grew sublime.

Speak after sentence? Yea:

And to the end of time.

 

Armoured he rides, his head

Bare to the stars of doom:

He triumphs now, the dead,

Beholding London‘s gloom.

 

Our wearier spirit faints,

Vexed in the world‘s employ:

His soul was of the saints;

And art to him was joy.

 

King, tried in fires of woe!

Men hunger for thy grace:

And through the night I go,

Loving thy mournful face.

 

Yet, when the city sleeps;

When all the cries are still:

The stars and heavenly deeps

Work out a perfect will.

About Charles A. Coulombe

I am a Catholic Historical speaker and author.
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2 Responses to IS CHARLES I A SAINT? (Part II)

  1. Peradventure says:

    Given that Charles A. Coulombe has in the past professed the strictest interpretation of “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus,” I am a bit curious to know how can support the veneration of Charles I as a saint.

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    • Charles A. Coulombe says:

      Because I believe his professions of Catholicity to several Popes, and because his desire for reunion with Rome was one of the things he was murdered for. He was baptised, accepted the teachings of the Catholic Church, and the Spiritual Supremacy of the Roman Pontiff over the Church – that is what it is to be Catholic; I have known a number of outwardly Catholic prelates who could not fulfill all three of those requirements.

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