Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Charles I and the Puritans deserved each other.

This being the week when some of the more Anglo-Catholic and Erastian among us celebrate St. Charles, King and Martyr, I think it a good time to expound my views on the combatants in the English Civil War, views confirmed by my recent trip to England – and views which are sure to offend everybody. (And these are just my views. I don’t claim to be a great scholarly authority.)

Now there are people I respect who revere Charles I, and there are (non-Anglican) people I respect who revere Oliver Cromwell. But I am not among any of them. I think Charles I and the Puritans deserved each other.

And I’ll demonstrate this with a couple photos I took on my trip.

Let’s take on Charles I and his obnoxious Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud first.

It was less than a hundred years before that the attempt by the very Catholic wing of the Church of England to dominate and push out (and kill) more Protestant Anglicans proved to be a bloody disaster cut short only by the death of Bloody Mary herself. And, yes, under Edward VI before her, the then ascendant Protestants committed more than their share of excesses as well. The combat between the two sides was tearing England asunder.

In her wisdom, Elizabeth rejected the extreme courses desired by both sides, helping mold the glorious Anglican via media tradition and bringing relative peace to England for almost a century.

But did Charles and Laud learn the lessons from that history? No! In a divided church, they imposed their pet “catholic” Arminian agenda on the church and nation, disregarding Parliament in the process and almost willfully inflaming divisions into war.

(Hmmm. Pushing a pet agenda in spite of divisions, steamrolling the opposition, disregarding important instruments of authority, willfully inflaming divisions . . . sounds familiar.)

The statue of Mary and Child ++Laud placed over the door of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford illustrates this willfulness well.

Note that Mary has a crown, reflecting the Catholic doctrine that she’s been crowned the Queen of Heaven. Even with my Anglo-Catholic tendencies, I find that over the top and can only imagine how much this offended more Protestant Anglicans of the day.

Strangely, the child Jesus has no crown or even as much as a halo. Surely, the Laudians didn’t think Mary more exalted than Christ. But, at least in this instance, they clearly were more concerned with exalting the Virgin than with exalting Him.

If a Latin scholar would inform us what the inscription above the statue means, I’d appreciate it. But I think “Domimina” means “Mother of God.” (CORRECTION: I completely misread that, largely because I was reading left to right instead of down the left page then down the right page. See the first comment.)

Now this statue isn’t from the interior of a insular catholic parish down the road, but was placed over the door of the most prominent church in Oxford, right on High Street. One could hardly be more provocative at the time. And indeed this statue played a prominent role at Laud’s trial later on.

(Not to mention the statue is just artistically in poor taste – the ultimate Anglican sin.)

Charles’ pushing a “catholic” Arminian agenda on a country and church that had many Calvinists, combined with an obsession with his own authority pushed England into Civil War and, ironically, brought about the defeat of his own religious agenda, much of which was admittedly praiseworthy. It wasn’t until the 19th Century that the Church of England became nearly as Catholic as Charles desired.

Charles and Laud’s divisive actions also provoked a great backlash that brought about the short but destructive reign of the Puritans.

And I will take them to task in due time.

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