I have often thought that Clio, the Muse of history, alone among her distinguished sisters from the Olympian heights, must be counted a failure. While Euterpe and Terpsichore and the other Muses preside over successful departments of the arts and sciences, Clio is destined to be the figurehead for a singularly undistinguished discipline. “History is bunk” opined Henry Ford and I see no reason to dissent from his point of view except to say that it is a generalisation and such things are not without their dangers. Not all history is bunk by any means, and today historians are spending a great deal of time pulling up the weeds which have grown in the historical gardens, rooting out the errors and deliberate frauds and trying to discover the actual realities behind the written words. It is no easy task, for those who wrote history were usually biased. As long as history is written by the victors do not expect a totally accurate account of a battle.
But my early opinion of Clio was unfair; Beautiful maiden of Olympus, Apollo made no mistake when he chose you. After all, history and its close cousin theology are both written by humans, theology being the history of human thought about God. So, Clio, you had difficulties which your illustrious sisters did not, and we should admire you now in these iconoclastic days as you preside over the labours of those who are seeking to topple the old idols and get nearer to the truth. The task is well under way. In the last month (I am writing this in February 2005) there have been two examples of firmly held beliefs being overthrown by the advancing tide of truth. Let me briefly outline those examples.
Last month on British television there was a programme which challenged the accuracy of the accepted stories about Captain Bligh of the Royal Naval vessel “Bounty.” Captain Bligh has always been regarded as a tyrannical bully of the worse sort, an exceptionally cruel man who exercised a merciless discipline over his unfortunate crew. Eventually the long-suffering seamen could take no more of it and mutinied. Bligh cast the ringleaders adrift in some of the ships lifeboats and left them to their fate while he and loyal crew members went on with their business. The castaways eventually found land on Pitcairn Island where their descendants live to this day.
However, the historian who researched the matter found solid evidence that the true story was quite different. Far from being a sadistic bully Captain Bligh turned out to be an exceptionally “laid back” officer who had gentle and kindly ways. He banned the use on his ship of some of the worse forms of punishment and all in all was a real gentleman. In any such situation there will be those who mistake gentleness for weakness and seek to exploit the matter to their advantage. Some of Bligh’s crew members did just that and eventually went too far. Faced with the prospect of a Court Martial when they returned to England they took the easy option and deserted the ship when it was near the fertile and hospitable Pitcairn Island. On this island the miscreants made their home.
Or take another historical conundrum, the Shroud of Turin. Long believed by many to be the burial shroud of Christ, it was exposed in 1988 to have been a painting dating from the middle ages. A piece of cloth taken from the alleged relic for carbon dating purposes gave results which “proved” that the cloth was not old enough to have been associated with Jesus and stains on the cloth sample were correctly interpreted as pigment. The cloth more or less vanished from the arena of public interest and Cardinal Anastasio Ballestrero of Turin stated that in the light of the evidence produced by the carbon dating he had no choice but to accept that the Shroud was fraudulent.. Now it has resurfaced again, thanks to the diligence of Raymond Rogers, who was doubtful of some of the claims which arose from the investigation and decided to look into the matter. His conclusions are astonishing, to say the least.
Rogers discovered that the sample obtained for carbon dating was actually taken from a patch and not from the Shroud itself. There are a number of such patches and their date of application is known. The cloth suffered damage when the church in which it was housed at the time caught fire. So we know the date of the patches – 1532 – but they do not give us any clues regarding the age of the Shroud itself. The painting medium is present in the carbon testing sample but is entirely absent everywhere else. Raymond’s comment on this is quite deserved,
“This stuff was manipulated. It was coloured on purpose.”
So history is being re-thought and re-researched. This brings me to the title of this article. I wish to bring before you two Monarchs, widely separated in space and time, who display quite remarkable similarities of character. They are Charles II of England and Jesus, King of the Jews around two thousand years ago
What is that you say? No indeed, I do not jest. No, to the best of my knowledge I am not completely raving mad. Charles II was an evil man, I hear you say, a fornicator of the first order, a hypocrit who deceived several of his fellow monarchs on the Continent of Europe in order to obtain treaties and agreements. On behalf of the Merry Monarch, as he was called, I plead guilty to both of those charges but enter a plea in mitigation which states that his fornication was not harmful to the Realm or to anyone except possibly himself, and that though he did deceive his Continental equals the purpose was not selfish. He did what he did in order that his subjects might have a better life. He was, I submit, a good King, in my opinion one of the shining lights of the British Monarchy. “Comes the moment cometh the man” runs the old proverb and Charles was certainly the man of the moment. The society which he inherited was fragile and constantly on the verge of civil strife. and it was Charles who held it together. He did not at all deserve the damning comment of the young Queen Victoria who stated “We like not Charles II.”
Jesus has also been wrongly treated by history, but in the opposite way. He reluctantly accepted the throne for one reason only – to use his position as King to prevent a war between the Jewish people and the Romans. But he quickly became, in the eyes of many people, the Son of God. Jesus went up in public esteem to the point of being regarded as Divine whereas the unfortunate Charles has been reduced by the passage of time to the role of a major sinner. Charles might well have used about Jesus the words which are sometimes attributed to John The Baptist “He must increase while I must decrease.”
That Jesus was of the Royal Blood, a descendant of King David, is rarely disputed today. I will not here go into the implications of this as they are set out in the article named “The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus” on this website. Rather will I proceed to show the similarities between these two great men.
There was a remarkable coincidence of circumstance in the young lives of both men. They were both exiled, forced to flee from their native lands by stern political pressures. We know that the exile of Charles lasted for twelve years and covered his youth and early manhood, but we are less certain about the exact period covered by the exile of Jesus. The traditional assumption is that it was relatively short and that he returned a baby or at most a toddler, but that must be filed firmly in the “assumptions” file. He MAY have been born many years before the death of Herod in 4 B.C. and spent his most formative years in exile. If that is so then his childhood circumstances were remarkably closely parallel to those of Charles II. He would have grown up acutely conscious of his position and in all probability there would not have been a lot of money to go round. The experience of poverty may, in the cases of both our heroes, have engendered the sympathy for the poor and needy which was an outstanduing characteristic of both of them, and may also have contributed to their outstanding tolerance.
The tolerance of Charles is almost mind-blowing in its intensity. We might expect that the King, when newly restored to the throne, would wreak revenge on those who had been the cause of his exile. Yet when Parliament decided to pass an Act of Indemnity and Oblivion which effectively gave a pardon to all who had taken the Parliamentary side in the Civil Wars, Charles enthusiastically supported it. In fact he became its main supporter in Westminster and was constantly pressing Parliament to get the bill through quickly. The House of Commons, however, fretted over detail, holding up this tolerant Act, while the King, who had more cause to be resentful about the anti-Royalist forces than almost anyone else, became its chief supporter.
Excluded from the Act when it finally became law, were the regicides who were directly responsible for the execution of Charles father, Charles I. The action of Charles with regard to these must surely constitute one of the strangest Royal pardons in history. No Act of Parliament, no picking over the legal implications by dozens of lawers but simply a quickly scribbled note passed across the table to Hyde at a Council meeting. The note read “I am weary of hanging – let it sleep.” Ten of the regicides had already suffered execution but the remainder were pardoned purely on the authority of that hastily scribbled document. Incidentally, the event serves to draw attention to the disputed ground between King and Parliament. It was by no means certain what powers the Monarch retained for the law was vague and left too much room for individual interpretation. but where there was any rumour of a doubt about the matter Charles intervened in such a way that would bring benefit to his subjects. We should not forget either that it was an act of no small courage for the King to so employ his prerogatives for he must surely have had in mind on each occasion that his father had gone to the scaffold for less. Equally the courage of King Jesus was revealed in his acceptance of a plan which might (and did) lead to the cross.
Deservedly the most well known of Charles’ uses of the Royal Prerogative was the Christmas Declaration of 1662. In this Charles issued a universal pardon to all who were imprisoned because of their religious beliefs and stopped the proceeding with legal trials of those who still awaited the verdict of the Courts of Law. The greatest surprise and shock in this Royal indemnity was the fact that Catholics were included in the King’s mercy at a time when England was fiercely and fanatically anti-Catholic. Most prisoners were released but only for as long as it took Parliament to over-rule the King and restore the intolerant status quo. Short term success for Charles was followed by long term failure but the Merry Monarch deserves full credit for trying.
The Act of Uniformity was one of Charles pet hates. It sought to impose uniformity of prayer in all churches in the land and any church minister who refused to comply would be deprived of his living. This made the Anglican church in effect the only legal church in Britain and because some clergymen and some congregations refused to accept either the principle or the wording of some of the set prayers, threatened to divide the country on the religious issue more than it had ever been divided before. On Saint Bartholomew’s Day, August 24th 1662, the Act became effective and a number of clergy, around two thousand, were forced to leave their parishes. As we have seen, the attempt by Charles to overturn this unhappy situation by the Christmas Declaration was only temporarily successful.
The tolerance of Charles takes centre stage in any evaluation of his life, but that of Jesus is, at first sight, not so obvious. Yet we do not have to dig very far in order to find it. Let us consider the first sermon which he is recorded as having delivered, that in the synagogue at Nazareth. (Luke chapter 4 verses 16 to 30.) Jesus said, in effect, that although the Jews were God’s chosen people, so was everybody else. He picked out some recorded Old Testament stories in which non-Jews were seen to be more spiritual than the Jews. This was by no means a popular sermon and the outcome was that the enraged congregation dragged him out of the synagogue and tried to murder him. He escaped by means that are not recorded. Just as the attempts of King Charles to obtain religious toleration revealed his great courage, so the courage of Jesus is highlighted by the incident at Nazareth.
Jesus and Charles also come together in their love of ordinary people – indeed of those classes frequently despised by our race. In the Gospels the phrase “publicans and sinners” occurs frequently as people whom Jesus is accused of fraternising with. “Accused” is the right word. The society of the day, as a whole, despised these people. The publicans were Jews who collected taxes on behalf of the occupying Romans. In the eyes of most Jews they were traitors to their country. Few Jews would even speak to them, let alone eat with them, yet Jesus clearly invited them to his parties – or attended theirs – frequently if we are to judge by the number of criticisms which this behaviour attracted. “Sinners” appears to be a euphemism for prostitutes, another despised and rejected class which Jesus accepted.
It was well known that Charles patronised the local taverns around Westminster, especially those across the river in Southwark, the region south of the Thames which housed London’s Red Light District in those days.. He seems to have left an address as a contact point when he went on such forays, for when the Great Fire of London broke out in the autumn of 1666 his close friend, the statesman Samuel Pepys, knew exactly which brothel to go to in order to find his Royal master. Charles spent the rest of the night helping to convey buckets of water from the river to the conflagration. Another tale told of Charles’ evening forays is that he debated in a tavern the question of whether flying fish existed! It is hard in our security conscious time to imagine a Monarch casually popping down to the “local” for a beer or two but such action was characteristic of the easy-going Charles.
Clearly Charles liked the easy-going, laid-back way of life, and so, I venture to suggest, did Jesus. The accusation that he was “a drunkard and a glutton” indicates a man who enjoyed life. Jesus pointed out that the same body of critics had called John the Baptist mad because he drank no wine and lived a frugal life style eating only locust beans and wild honey. Incidentally, John, like Jesus, was of the Royal line of David and as such could claim to be the King of the Jews. Being three months older than Jesus he actually had the prior claim. Had Herod not assasinated John then he, rather than Jesus, would have had to take the throne on that vital night in Gethsemane, and the fate of the Jewish people would have rested in the hands of a fanatic. (For my views on the Jewish succession and the actions of Jesus on the night before the crucifixion see the article entitled “Duality in the Gospels” on this website.)
Both Charles and Jesus showed by their respective actions in a time of social need that they regarded the Office of King as being that of a servant to the people. Jesus accepted the Crown in order to save the people from the horrors of war with Rome. Charles used his position as King to give, or at least attempt to give, religious freedom to all his subjects. In this attitude we see clearly in practice the old historical concept of the Servant King, a concept which in the history of the world has been more honoured in the breach than in the observance. In the financial crisis which hit the nation shortly after the Restoration, Charles met some of the accumulated debts out of his own very depleted personal resources, and this was to prove to be the first of many occasions in which Charles spent his own money for his subjects benefit.
This point has been well presented by Arthur Bryant in his well researched book entitled “King Charles II.” He writes:
“It says much for Charles that, crippled as he was from the very start, he continued throughout his life to pay off, as best he could, the debts of his predecessors.”
In both of the Monarchs under review we find a deep desire to change society for the better. The England inherited by Charles II was indeed a violent one and fights between the members of the various trade guilds were a common sight. These often got out of control, indeed it might be argued that there never was any control. Many a butcher died just because he was a butcher and the fish merchants did not like butchers! Public cock fights and dog fights horrified the sensitive soul of the King and he did all that was possible to cleanse his society of its dark side. King Jesus also looked at the society of his day and saw many ways in which it could have been improved. His Gospel was a social one and his concept of the Kingdom of God was of a society which outlawed war, where all the citizens shared their possessions and where love and happiness reigned supreme. In fact, Jesus was in the tradition of the group of people who have become known as the seventh century prophets because in or about the seventh century B.C.they advocated social justice and a war on poverty and want and held that these ideals were of more value than some forms of religion.
Both Jesus and Charles, therefore, made bold attempts to reform society but both came up against opposition from the very people who we would expect to back such a concept.
Apart from his well-known sexual promiscuity the feature about Charles which seems to be predominant in many peoples minds was his alleged deviousness and tendency to deceive. I have run the contents of this article past a number of friends on a kind of peer assessment principle and without a single exception the only doubt expressed has been about his honesty. Yet I put in a plea for Charles in this arena also, albeit only a plea in mitigation. On the occasions when Charles deceived his fellow monarchs on the Continent of Europe he did what he did because it would bring better conditions for people. The concept of the Servant King was still very much to the fore. Yes, Charles deceived the King of France over the proposed marriage of William of Orange to Mary of England, but only because public knowledge of the proposal might have engendered civil strife. For Charles again the welfare of the people was the only yardstick by which any action had to be measured. His promise to become a Catholic was politically correct, and was indeed what Charles wanted, but the fact that he intended to delay his official conversion until he was on his deathbed was a ploy. Yet we have to admit that it fulfilled the contract to the letter if not in the spirit.
King Jesus did not, as far as we know, engage in any such political strategies as Charles did and on the only recorded occasion when he became part of a political plot there was no attempt to deceive anybody. This was on the night when he took the Kingship in order to prevent war with the Romans. Jesus placed himself in considerable physical danger on that occasion but to him what was important was the welfare of the people. Here he stood on common ground with Charles. The two Monarchs lived out their lives as embodiments of the Servant King ideal.
I refer the reader once again to the article entitled “Duality in the Gospels” on this website for a fuller discussion of the events which, if my understanding of the situation is correct, led a reluctant Jesus to accept the Crown because the alternative was war with the military might of Rome, a war which the Jews could never hope to win. Suffice it to say here that the incident shows that Jesus was as pragmatic as Charles and responded in an equally decisive way to the needs of the moment. On a smaller scale than the world of Kings and international politics we can see the pragmatism of Jesus in the story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter. While everyone is celebrating the event Jesus is conscious of the fact that the child needed food and he calls out over the festive tumult “Give her something to eat.”
I have dwelt at some length on the similarities between the two Monarchs. In order to balance the books, as it were, it is only fair to look at the points in which they are unalike. There is no suggestion anywhere that Jesus was a sexual libertine of the Charles II stable. The main point of difference which I can see lies in the fact that whereas Jesus was a pacifist, Charles spent a good deal of time and money maintaining an army and a navy. However, the comparison is hardly a fair one. Charles was essentially a man of peace. He hated war but in the political situation in which he found himself it was necessary to get his pragmatism into gear for the sake of the defence of his people. Jesus was in an entirely different position. In his case war was imminent and to all appearances unavoidable. From the point of view of the Jews it was also unwinnable and Jesus saw it as his task to prevent it. A comparison of the two kings on this issue is therefore unfair having regard to the totally different contexts.
We began by seeing similarities between Charles and Jesus in the events which ruled their young years, the events of their exiles. Now, as we find them in the declining years of life another great similarity emerges. They both appear to be failures. We have sufficient records of the words and emotions of the aging Charles to feel ourselves on firm ground when we say that he saw himself as a failure. The religious tolerance which was so near to his heart had not been achieved. The occasions on which he had attempted to grant his people freedom of faith and worship by the exercise of the Royal Prerogative, especially in the Christmas Declaration, had all been frustrated by Parliamentarians. There was still intolerence in the land, a land which had not responded as thoroughly as Charles would have wished to his pleas for harmony and peaceful living. Members of Parliament were still mindful of the attempts of Cromwell to give Parliament supreme power. Should they not stand up for that noble tradition and keep the King in his place? It was a strange situation indeed for lovers of democracy. The democratically elected Parliament failed to deliver what the people wanted but the King, whose position was based on hereditary rights and owed nothing at all to the democratic process, earnestly desired to obtain freedom and happiness for his subjects.
We do not know for certain whether, as many people believe, Jesus survived crucifixion and went to live in Persia. If he did then he must have awaited news from his Kingdom with some apprehension. His Gospel of peace and love was beinng pushed out by the fanatic Paul. Like Charles his feelings must surely have been of failure. He had, it is true, achieved a great success in having managed to stop a war with Rome, but he had only put off the evil day. .A generation later Rome came in all her might and trampled the Jewish nation into the ground. A Persian Jesus could not cease to feel a failure as he heard of his gospel going more and more into eclipse. It was not politicians who thwarted him however, as was the case with Charles, but the half-mad religious fanatic called Saul. This man, before changing his name to Paul, by which we know him today, achieved tbe tremendous task of taking over the young Christian church and altering its nature out of all recognition. In place of a gospel of peace and love he put a mystical framework which was little concerned with the things of this world and seemed to pass by the sufferings of humanity without a care. The tolerance of Jesus was replaced by a dictum to the effect that women should never be accepted as full church members. Paul even went to the length of calling himself an apostle, which he certainly was not. His easy gospel which offered the redemption of sins without any effort on the part of the sinner was more acceptable to the populace as a whole than the acrive and challenging edicts of Jesus. Gradually, under the wilting influence of Paul, the Church in Jerusalem which had held the words of Jesus in great esteem became submerged. Paulianity not Christianity gripped the world. Christianity cannot be said to have failed in this world for it has not been tried. The apostate – not apostolic- Paul saw to that.
But had they really failed? If Charles II had not marched onto the scene of history when he did would the state of Britain today be as good as it is? I think not. Charles was the ideal character to meet the times in which he lived. Is it not possible that some of his ideas found their way into the hearts and lives of some of his subjects, leaving in them a desire to build into the fabric of the nation the ideals of one of its greatest Kings? And, despite the many and grevious errrors of the church, errors such as the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades and the persecution of those who were on one side of the religious fence by the occupants of the other side in the days of Charles, can we not justly claim that some of the sweet and beneficial philosophy of Jesus has escaped from the swaddling clothes of Paulianity to breath a beneficial air over the world. They being dead yet speak and we would do well to listen to their voices.
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