22 March 2013

With the Saints in Lent (38): Thomas Ken, 22 March

Thomas Ken (1637-1711) … a window in Wells Cathedral, installed in 1885 to mark the bicentenary of his consecration as Bishop of Bath and Wells

Patrick Comerford

Thomas Ken (1637-1711), Bishop of Bath and Wells, nonjuror and hymn writer, is commemorated in the calendar of the Episcopal Church on 21 March, in the Calendar of the Church of England on 8 June, but is remembered today [22 March] in the calendar of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Thomas Ken was born in Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire, in July 1637 and in his childhood he was cared for by his half-sister Anne and her husband the well-known angler Izaak Walton (1593-1683), author of The Compleat Angler and biographer of Richard Hooker, John Donne and George Herbert.

He was educated at Winchester College, Hart Hall, Oxford, and New College, Oxford. He was a Fellow of New College and received the degrees BA (1661), MA (1664) and DD.

He was ordained priest in 1662 and worked first in a poor parish in the Diocese of Winchester and then at Winchester College for ten years.

In 1674, while he was teaching at Winchester and a canon of the cathedral, Thomas Ken visited Rome with Izaak Walton.

He spent a year in The Hague in 1679-1680 as chaplain to Princess Mary, 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 Queen Mary.

When he returned to England, he was chaplain to King Charles II for two years. King Charles wanted to lodge his mistress, Nell Gwynne, in his chaplain's residence. However, Thomas sent the king a sharp refusal, saying it was not suitable for the royal chaplain to be the royal pimp: “A woman of ill-repute ought not to be endured in the house of a clergyman, and especially the King’s chaplain.”

When the bishopric of Bath and Wells became available soon after, King Charles is said to have declared: “None shall have it but that little man who refused lodging to poor Nellie!” Thomas Ken was consecrated Bishop of Bath and Wells at |Lambeth Palace on 25 January 1685.

One of his first duties as a bishop was to attend King Charles was on his deathbed.

After James II became king, he issued the Declaration of Indulgence, amid fears he would appoint large numbers of Roman Catholics to public office and positions of power. When he ordered the bishops to proclaim the Declaration of Indulgence, seven bishops, including Thomas Ken, refused and were imprisoned in the Tower of London on 8 June 1688.

Ken and the six other bishops were put on trial with the others on 29 and 30 June. When they were acquitted and freed, they were carried through the streets of London in triumph.

When James II abandoned his throne and fled and his daughter Mary was offered the throne along with her husband, William of Orange, Thomas felt unable in good conscience to foreswear the monarch to whom he had taken an oath of allegiance.

He was deprived of his bishopric in August 1691, and was replaced by Richard Kidder, Dean of Peterborough.

Thomas Ken spent his final 20 years in quiet retirement as a private tutor at Longleat, the Wiltshire home of Thomas Thynne, 1st Viscount Weymouth. When Bishop Kidder died in 1703, he was invited to return to his diocese as bishop but declined.

He prayed: “Our God, amidst the deplorable division of your church, let us never widen its breaches, but give us universal charity to all who are called by your name. Deliver us from the sins and errors, the schisms and heresies of the age. Give us grace daily to pray for the peace of your church, and earnestly to seek it and to excite all we can to praise and love you; through Jesus Christ, our one Saviour and Redeemer.”

Thomas Ken began encouraging his fellow non-jurors to return to their parish churches in 1710. He announced his intention to do the same, but died before doing so. Before his death, he wrote: “I am dying in the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith professed by the whole Church before the disunion of East and West; and, more particularly, in the Communion of the Church of England, as it stands distinguished from both Papal and Protestant innovation, and adheres to the Doctrine of the Cross.”

He died on 19 March 1711. He was buried at dawn the following day, beneath the East Window in Saint John’s Church, Frome, in his former Diocese of Bath and Wells. At his funeral, his friends sang his hymn: “Awake, my soul, and with the sun.”

He was known for his books of sermons, but he is best remembered for several hymns, including:

All praise to thee, my God, this night (Irish Church Hymnal, 63).

Awake, my soul, and with the sun (ICH 51; New English Hymnal, 232).

Glory to thee, my God, this night (NEH 244).

Glory to thee, who safe hast kept (NEH, 233).

Her Virgin eyes saw God incarnate born (NEH, 182).

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

Because Saint Joseph is commemorated on the date of his death [19 March], he is commemorated in the Episcopal Church on 21 March. However, Thomas Cranmer is remembered on that date in other calendars, and so Thomas Ken is commemorated on 8 June, the day he was imprisoned in 1688, in the Church of England, and on 22 June, three days after his death, in the calendar of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Thomas Ken … died on 19 March 1711


O God, from whom all blessings flow,
by whose providence we are kept
and by whose grace we are directed:
help us, through the example of your servant Thomas Ken,
faithfully to keep your word,
humbly to accept adversity
and steadfastly to worship you;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


Jeremiah 9: 23-24; Psalm 15; II Corinthians 4: 1-10; Matthew 24: 42-46.

Post Communion Prayer:

God, shepherd of your people,
whose servant Thomas Ken revealed the loving service of Christ
in his ministry as a pastor of your people:
by this eucharist in which we share
awaken within us the love of Christ
and keep us faithful to our Christian calling;
through him who laid down his life for us,
but is alive and reigns with you, now and for ever.

Tomorrow (23 March):

No comments: