[This is a series of biographical sketches of Anglican men and women whose lives have been exemplary in virtue and/or have made significant contributions to Anglicanism’s expression of the Gospel. Written from the perspective of full communion with the See of St. Peter, including such papal statements as St. John Paul II’s encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, this series will occasionally acknowledge differences between Anglicans and Catholics where they exist and will do so in a spirit of charity and respect. However, the intent is to focus less on differences than on opportunities for mutual enrichment between the Anglican and Catholic traditions and on shared spiritual treasures that already unite us.]
Born: 19 November 1600 (Dunfermline Palace, Scotland) – Died: 30 January 1949 (Whitehall Palace, London)
[The image is of Anthony Van Dyck’s oil painting, “Charles I and Henrietta Maria Holding a Laurel Wreath” (1632)]
To most who lived in seventeenth-century Europe, separating politics from religion would have been inconceivable. Not that theologians, both Catholic (Roberto Bellarmino, S.J., and Francisco Suárez, S.J, for example) and Anglican (Richard Hooker), were not contributing to theological developments in this direction. It is therefore difficult to understand Charles I’s motives during his reign and leading up to his assassination/martyrdom/murder apart from his firm belief in that period’s understanding of the divine right of kings, which is a notion that—as Robert R. Reilly’s _America on Trial_ argues—was a detour from the Catholic tradition.
But the religio-political situation of Charles I’s time leaves no question that among the reasons he bravely faced death was his belief that religion in his realm should be episcopal, not presbyterian or congregationalist. For this reason, he might be regarded not only as one of the Caroline Divines but as one who wrote a basic ecclesiology not in ink but in his own blood. His witness strengthened the High Church position in the Church of England and therefore the basis on which the Oxford Movement could be built and on which Anglicanorum coetibus could be written. Saint or not, blessed or not, venerable or not, we benefit from his courageous stand.
The courage of Charles’s wife, Henrietta Maria, is also worth noting. As a princess from the French court, Henrietta Maria had been raised Catholic. She remained Catholic when she married Charles. They both grew to love each other sincerely, which was not part of the job description in royal marriages. But regardless of Henrietta Maria’s support of her husband’s royal duties and all that the crown meant to those of her lineage in those days, she refused to be crowned queen since doing so would mean renouncing her faith. Charles surely learned something of religious conviction and courage from his wife.
Br. John-Bede Pauley OSB, PhD