March 20: Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, 1711
March 20, 2011 15 Comments
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Thomas Ken was born in 1637. Throughout his life he was both rewarded and punished for his integrity. His close relationship with the royal family began when he became chaplain to Princess Mary of Orange at The Hague. Ken was appalled at the Prince of Orange’s treatment of his wife, and rebuked him publicly.
In 1683, Ken returned to England and became chaplain to Charles II. His integrity stirred him to rebuke Charles for lax behavior. When Ken was notiﬁed that the King’s mistress, the actress Nell Gwyn, was to be lodged at his house, he refused, saying, “a woman of ill-repute ought not to be endured in the house of a clergyman, and especially the King’s chaplain.” The King took no offense, but in the next year made Ken the Bishop of Bath and Wells, declaring that none should have the position except “the little black fellow that refused his lodging to poor Nelly.”
In 1688, when Charles’ successor, James II, tried to undermine the authority of the Church of England, Ken was one of seven bishops who refused to read the King’s Declaration of Indulgence, which offered toleration to Protestant non-conformists and to Roman Catholics. The seven bishops were sent to the Tower, but were acquitted in the courts, and became popular heroes. After the resolution of 1688, however, Ken’s conscience did not permit him to swear allegiance to William of Orange, who became King William III. As a Non-Juror, Ken was deprived of his see.
Ken’s conscience would not let him rest and his disagreement with others of the “Non-Juring” party over various matters troubled him for the rest of his life. He deplored the Non-Juror schism, and after the accession of Queen Anne, he made his peace with the Church of England.
A man of deep piety, Ken was the author of several religious works which were immensely popular in the eighteenth century. He is best known as a writer of hymns, particularly the well-known evening hymn, “All praise to thee, my God, this night,” which concludes with his doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings ﬂow.”
I Almighty God, who didst give to thy servant Thomas Ken grace and courage to bear witness to the truth before rulers and kings: Give us also thy strength that, following his example, we may constantly defend what is right, boldly reprove what is evil, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
II Almighty God, you gave your servant Thomas Ken grace and courage to bear witness to the truth before rulers and kings: Give us strength also that, following his example, we may constantly defend what is right, boldly reprove what is evil, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Preface of a Saint (2)
From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?
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