The Moral Commonwealth
Take away the wicked from before the king,
And his throne shall be established in righteousness.
MY KING," pronounced the Protestant martyr Robert Barnes, "does not care about religion!" 1 What kind of presumptuous nonsense was this that dismissed the Supreme Head of the English Church and Defender of its Faith as a pharisee? How could a prince who had spent his life laboring in the Lord's vineyard, clipping and pruning the formularies of the true faith so that his subjects might live "in one faith, one hope, one charity" and, best of all, in one perfect agreement, be lacking in religion? 2 How could the royal theologian who had, in his own words, "travailed to purge and cleanse" his kingdom of hypocrisy, superstition and "sinister understanding of Scripture" be wanting in faith? 3
The root of the issue dividing the King from Barnes and all those who felt the devil's breath close upon them was essentially semantic. No one denied that man's life was a moral drama, but for the healthyminded monarch morality was an organizational matter of external obedience to a prescribed code of righteousness, while for Barnes and the "sick souls" of his world it was a question of internal spiritual contentment. In theory there should have been no conflict between the two definitions. If individual conscience is in harmony with the spiritual aspirations and institutional procedures of society, socially acceptable actions--joining pilgrimages or peace corps, founding monasteries or libraries, spreading the gospel or clearing the slums--will produce inner satisfaction. In fact, society rarely achieves such a perfect balance of ethical values and social techniques. Either the rules of