In these much less deferential times, it is difficult to imagine how important it was for the senior Anglican clergy in George Herbert's day to be approved of and sponsored by the 'establishment', which in effect meant the King and his court. Although challenged in the subsequent English Civil War, the position of the monarch as head of the established Church still survives and can give rise to difficulties.
Prince William is to be married this year, and among all the great and the good saying “how nice for them and the country” a dissenting voice complained about the media frenzy and reminded people what happened last time. Bishop Broadbent was disciplined and removed from office within 2 days, despite a full public apology. This seems heavy handed to me as there are Bishops who are marrying homosexual couples without the agreement of the Anglican Communion and others who are installing women Bishops, and others who are refusing to come to the Lambeth Conference or other meetings, and no action is taken against them!
Still, George Herbert would not have been surprised that it is who you know, not what you do, that matters. Himself a victim of changing personalities and the whims of royals and their supporters. The question is, what makes someone Anglican, and is supporting the monarchy a key part of it? We swear an oath of allegiance, but I thought that was about agreeing to keep the rules of the land, rather than personal loyalty to the Windsors? I guess its all about interpretation.
Nowadays you might think that the Anglican Church was part of the armed forces, and that support for troops was a key Christian belief. Of course that is easily put aside by the fact that in Herbert’s day, there was no army.
We forget that standing armies are recent ideas, and that before that people were summonsed from the fields to fight for the King, and often had to go back because food was running out at home. That’s real allegiance and loyalty! Once fighting became a career option it changed the nature of how it was handled and their position in society. The Bible is full of military stories and adventures, but Jesus didn’t say that much. The role of pacifism in faith has been debated since the first converts in the Roman Army wrestled with their conscience about whether to swear loyalty to Caesar or to God.
George Herbert’s public oration to Prince Charles in 1623 urged pacifism and in effect denounced Charles’s plan to incite war with Spain. This action, like Bishop Broadbent’s outburst, almost certainly put paid to any hope of him having a political career on the death of King James I. A great disappointment for him at the time, no doubt, but just think what we would have lost if he’d kept his head down. Here we are all these years later still wondering who we are really serving, are we making progress, or just going round in circles?
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