Today the church remembers the author of one of your favorite hymns and stalwart keeper of his word: Saint Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, Creator of Earworms.
Saint Thomas Ken was the son of barristers in 17th Century Britain. In these turbulent times factions between Protestants and Catholics loomed large over everything, including the crown. Saint Thomas was an Anglican priest and chaplain to King Charles II (namesake of the current King of England). Though he was the confessor of King Charles, he would not allow the king’s mistress to enter his home…and the king respected him for this. In thankfulness for both his service and with respect for his uncompromising word, King Charles II made Saint Thomas Ken the Bishop of Bath and Wells.
In 1684 King James II ascended to the throne as King Charles’s successor, and though King James II was a Roman Catholic, Saint Thomas Ken gave him his allegiance. This sworn allegiance, though, did not prevent Saint Thomas from speaking up with King James II attempted to undermine the authority of the Church of England, and this political stand had a political price.
Saint Thomas was thrown in the Tower of London for refusing to do as King James II decreed.
King James II was deposed only four years later shortly after Saint Thomas was acquitted, but though William of Orange took the throne, Saint Thomas had sworn his oath to King James II and felt he couldn’t betray that word (even though King James had thrown him in the stocks).
Saint Thomas Ken was removed from his bishopric and died on this day in 1711.
Despite the political and ecclesial turmoil of the time, Saint Thomas Ken was able to do some majestic penmanship behind his ecclesial desk. He is remembered and celebrated even today when the church sings the melodious morning hymn, “Awake, my soul, and with the sun” (ELW 557), and the contemplative, beautiful, and tear-inducing evening hymn, “All praise to thee, my God this night” (ELW 565).
It’s that last one that most probably know him for.
Saint Thomas Ken is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes turbulent times can produce wonderful moments of beauty.