Friday, March 21, 2008
Thomas Ken, Bishop and Non-Juror
Thomas Ken in the course of his lifetime was both rewarded and punished for his firm adherence to principle. He was born in 1637 and reared by his half-sister Anne and her husband the well-known angler Izaak Walton. He became a clergyman and served for a year at the Hague as chaplain to Mary, Princess of England and Queen of Holland, niece of King Charles II of England and wife of the Dutch King William of Orange. During this year he publicly rebuked King William for his treatment of his wife the said Mary, which may be why he was chaplain there for only a year. Upon his return to England, he was made Royal Chaplain to King Charles. The King had a mistress, Nell Gwyn, and for his convenience wished to lodge her in his chaplain's residence. Thomas sent the King a sharp refusal, saying that it was not suitable that the Royal Chaplain should double as the Royal Pimp. Charles admired his honesty and bluntness, and when the bishopric of Bath and Wells became available soon after, he declared, "None shall have it but that little man who refused lodging to poor Nellie!" Ken was accordingly made a bishop. When Charles was on his deathbed, it was Ken whom he asked to be with him and prepare him for death.
Under the next king, James II, brother of Charles, matters were different. James converted to Roman Catholicism, the religion of his mother, and political turmoil followed. James issued a decree known as the Declaration of Indulgence, which decreed that various public offices formerly open only to Anglicans, should thereafter be open to all persons. It was feared that the King would appoint large numbers of Roman Catholics to positions of power, and eventually transfer to them the control of the government. When the King commanded the bishops to proclaim the Declaration of Indulgence, seven of them refused to do so and were by the King's command imprisoned in the Tower of London. The people of London rioted, and the bishops were freed and carried in triumph through the streets of the city. Soon after, Parliament offered the crown to the King's daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange (see above) and James fled into exile.
William and Mary naturally began their reign by demanding oaths of allegiance from all persons holding public positions, including the bishops. Thomas Ken and others (known as the Non-Jurors -- the older meaning of "juror" is "one who takes an oath," hence "perjurer" as "one who swears falsely") refused to take the oath, on the grounds that they had sworn allegiance to James, and could not during his lifetime swear allegiance to another monarch without making such oaths a mockery. They were accordingly put out of office.
Although Ken wrote much poetry, besides his hymns, he cannot be called a great poet; but he had that fine combination of spiritual insight and feeling with poetic taste which marks all great hymnwriters. As a hymnwriter he has had few equals in England; it can scarcely be said that even John Keble, though possessed of much rarer poetic gifts, surpassed him in his own sphere. In his own day he took high rank as a pulpit orator, and even royalty had to beg for a seat amongst his audiences; but his sermons are now forgotten. He lives in history, apart from his three hymns, mainly as a man of unstained purity and invincible fidelity, to conscience, weak only in a certain narrowness of view which is a frequent attribute of the intense character which he possessed. As an ecclesiastic he was a High Churchman of the old school.
No Propers as for Good Friday
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