Today we celebrate the feast of St. Stanislaus of Cracow, as well as commemorating the Fourth Sunday after Easter. St. Stanislaus was born in 1030 at Szcezepanow in Poland. He came from a noble family and showed signs of great piety from an early age. He was ordained priest by the Bishop of Cracow, who subsequently appointed him to a canonry at the cathedral. His ministry brought about a great reformation of morals and many, both clergy and laity, sought his advice. After the death of the bishop of Cracow, St. Stanislaus was himself consecrated bishop in 1072. At that time Poland was ruled by Boleslaus II, a monarch noted for his ruthless and unscrupulous conduct. St. Stanislaus was the one man who was not afraid to stand up to him. Boleslaus’ rule was characterised by injustice and oppression. He also led a dissolute lifestyle on a personal level. He caused the wife of a nobleman who had repelled his advances to be carried off by force and lodged in his palace. Others were fearful of criticising the king’s behaviour, but St. Stanislaus rebuked him and said that if he did not repent of his sinful behaviour he would bring upon himself the censure of the Church. The king ignored his appeal and St. Stanislaus formally excommunicated him. Furious with rage, the king ordered his guards to kill St. Stanislaus. They could not bring themselves to do this, so the king went and murdered St. Stanislaus himself. There were clearly political considerations behind the antagonism of King Boleslaus to St. Stanislaus, and the interpretation of the events leading to his murder by the king remains controversial among historians. In the long term the murder of St. Stanislaus fatally undermined the king’s position and he subsequently fell from power. St. Stanislaus’ example made such an impression on the Polish people that he became the country’s patron saint. In speaking truth to power he stood in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, who constantly preached the truth, boldly rebuked vice and patiently suffered rather than compromise in the face of injustice.
In the Old Testament there is a constant tension between the kings who exercised power, and the prophets who preached righteousness. While the authority of the civil power in the person of the monarch ultimately came from God, with power came responsibility. It was the role of the prophets to be the watchmen to the house of Israel, to exhort the people and their rulers to follow the old paths and not to follow the multitude to do evil. Then as now there were false prophets who prophesised smooth things, who told the people and their rulers what they wanted to hear. By contrast, the true prophet was often an uncomfortable and disturbing figure, a voice crying in the wilderness, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear, as Ezekiel put it. The prophet Nathan confronted King David over his adultery with Bathsheba. The prophet Elijah confronted King Ahab over the murder of Naboth to acquire his vineyard for the king.
All of us are constantly tempted to water down the Christian faith to make it more palatable to our audience, and to reduce it to something that people feel comfortable with. But the truth is more important than diplomacy. The peace that Jesus promised his followers was one that the world ultimately could not give. We cannot ultimately win the world by the world’s own methods.
This was true in the time of the Old Testament prophets, and it has also been the case throughout Christian history. Indeed, in Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples (which we are reading on these Sundays between the Third Sunday after Easter and Pentecost) he foretold that as he had met with persecution in the world, so too would those who are truly his followers. He foretold the persecution and tribulation which they would endure for the sake of his name, the need for witness, and the coming of the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, which the Father would send in his name to guide, to strengthen and to cheer. The word Paraclete is notoriously difficult to translate into an English equivalent. It has been rendered Advocate or Counsellor, but the word our older English versions use is Comforter, and perhaps this still represents the best English equivalent. For in the long term the coming of the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, is a thing of unspeakable comfort to those who are faithful. It is not comfortable to this world, for the Spirit speaks of sin, righteousness and judgment. “About sin, they have not found belief in me. About rightness of heart, because I am going back to my Father and ye see me no more. About judging: he who rules this world has the sentence passed on him already.”
There is much rejoicing in this country at the present time due to the coronation of a new monarch. It is impossible for us to pass any final judgement on his person, but we can certainly judge his actions. It is clear that he has strong leanings towards syncretism and his personal lifestyle cannot be reconciled with the Christian faith. He shows no signs of repentance for his past adulterous behaviour and has been encouraged in this by the leadership of the Church of England, the national Protestant religion. This may seem an excessively harsh and judgmental statement to make. It is now said that all lifestyles and religions are valid, and it is discriminatory to make any kind of moral judgement between them. Certainly it is right to respect those we disagree with, but according everyone respect is not the same thing as the contemporary post-modern fashion of saying that all lifestyles and religions should be accorded equal esteem. The true light that lighteth every man has not left himself without witness in the different religions of the world, but this is very different from saying that they should all be seen as equally valuable. The claim that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us is something that St. Augustine did not read in the books of the Platonists, whatever valuable insights they undoubtedly contained. Likewise other religions offer only good advice. It is Christianity alone that brings good news, the good news of salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The world takes offence at the proclamation of the Gospel and will see us as harsh and judgmental. But we always need to remember when we attempt to make any kind of moral judgment that we too are fallen and fallible human beings, and our perspective is limited by this. In any case the primary moral condemnation should not be directed at others, but at ourselves, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace. We know that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God who comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ. He offers us forgiveness if we repent of our sins and, by the power of the Holy Spirit gives us grace to think, will and do that which is good.
Let us pray that we will follow the example of St. Stanislaus, and, always mindful of our own shortcomings, constantly speak truth to power in our own time and place.