THE Magi Kings, as we have already observed, have been followed to the Crib of Jesus by saintly Christian monarchs; and it was just that these should be represented on the Church's Calendar during the season which is consecrated to the Mystery of his Birth. The eleventh century is one of the most glorious of the Christian era, and gave, both to the Church and the various States of Europe, a great number of saintly Kings. Among them Canute the Fourth of Denmark stands pre-eminent by reason of the aureole of his martyrdom. He had every quality which forms a Christian prince: he was a zealous propagator of the faith of Christ, he was a brave warrior, he was pious, and he was charitable to the poor. His zeal for the Church (and in those days her rights were counted as the rights of the people) was made the pretext for putting him to death: he died in the midst of a sedition as a victim sacrificed for his people's sake. His offering to the new-born King was that of his blood; and in exchange for the perishable crown he lost, he received that which the Church gives to her Martyrs, and which can never be taken away. The history of Denmark in the eleventh century is scarce known by the rest of the world; but the glory of that country's having had one of her kings a Martyr is known throughout the whole Church, and the Church inhabits the whole earth. This power, possessed by the Spouse of Christ, of conferring honour on the name and actions of the servants and friends of God, is one of the grandest spectacles out of heaven; for when she holds up a name as worthy of honour, that name becomes immortalized, whether he who bore it were a powerful king or the poorest peasant.
We find the following life of this holy King given in the Lessons until recently used in the Breviary.
Canutus Quartus, Suenonis Esthritii Danorum regis filius, fide, pietate et morum honestate conspicuus, eximiæ sanctitatis a teneris annis specimen dedit. Paternum sceptmm summa omnium acclamatione adeptus, religioni promovendæ sedulo incumbere, Ecclesias redditibus augere, et pretiosa supellectili ornare cœpit. Tum zelo propagandæ fidei succensus, barbara regna justo certamine aggressus, devictas subditasque nationes Christianæ legi subjugavit. Victoriis autem plurimis gloriosus, et divitiis auctus, regale diadema ad Christi crucifixi pedes abjecit, se et regnum illi subjiciens qui Rex regum est et Dominus dominatium. Corpus suum jejuniis, ciliciis, et flagellis castigavit. In oratione et contemplatione assiduus, erga pauperes profusus, erga omnes beneficus semper fuit, nec unquam a justitiæ, divinæque legis semita deflexit.
His aliisque virtutibus imbutus, ad supremum perfectionis apicem sanctus Rex properabat. Accidit autem, ut Angliæ regnum a Wilhelmo Normannorum duce formidabili exercitu invaderetur; Anglis vero Danorum opem implorantibus, cum succurrere rex decrevisset, belli expeditionem Olao fratri commisit, qui regnandi cupiditate illectus, arma vertit in regis perniciem, militibus et populo contra ilium concitatis. Nec defuerunt rebellioni fomenta; cum enim rex editis legibus decimas Ecclesiis solvi, Dei et Ecclesiæ præcepta servari, transgressores puniri sanxisset; plerique perversi ac scelerati homines exacerbati, primum quidem tumultuari, tum plebem commovere, ac tandem sanctissimo regi necem moliri coeperunt.
Sciens igitur rex futurorum præscius, mortem sibi propter justitiam imminere; ea prænuntiata, ad Ecclesiam sancti Albani martyris Othoniæ tanquam ad locum certaminis profectus est, et Sacramentis munitus, agonem suum Domino commendabat. Mox ibi adveniens conjuratorum multitudo, Ecclesiæ ignem admovere, fores confringere, et in eam irrumpere tentarunt. Quod cum perficere non possent, ad fenestras accedentes, saxa et sagittas in sanctum Regem, flexis genibus pro inimicis orantem, magno impetu jaculari non cessarunt, donec lapidum et telorum ictibus, ac tandem lancea confossus, glorioso martyrio ante altare, extensis brachiis procumbens coronatus est, sedente in Apostolico throno Gregorio Septimo. Multis postea miraculis Martyrern suum illustravit Deus: nam gravi penuria et diversis calamitatibus oppressa Dania, patrati sacrilegii pœnas luit. Plures etiam variis languoribus afflicti, ad ejus tumulum remedium et incolumitatem consecuti sunt; cumque Regina sacrum ejus corpus noctu clam surripere, et alio transferre conaretur, emisso cælitus ingenti splendore perterrita, a proposito cessavit.
Canute the Fourth, son of Sweyn Estrithius, King of Denmark, was conspicuous for his faith, piety, and purity of life, and even from his infancy gave proof of exceeding holiness. Having been elected by the votes of the people to the throne held by his father, he at once began zealously to promote religion, to add to the revenues of the Churches, and to provide the same with costly fittings and furniture. Being also inflamed with zeal for the propagation of the faith, he refused not to enter into just war with barbarous nations, which, when he had conquered and subdued, he subjected to the law of Christ. Having obtained several glorious victories, and increased the riches of his treasury, he laid his regal diadem at the feet of a crucifix, offering himself and his kingdom to him who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He chastised his body by fasting, hair-shirts and disciplines. He was assiduous in prayer and contemplation, liberal in his alms to the poor, and ever kind to all, never deviating from the path of justice and the divine commandments.
By these and other such virtues the holy King made rapid strides to the summit of perfection. Now it happened that William, Duke of Normandy, invaded the kingdom of England with a formidable army, and the English sought assistance from the Danes. The King resolved to grant them his aid, and intrusted the expedition to his brother Olaf. But he, from the desire he had of getting possession of the throne, turned his forces against the King, and stirred up the soldiers and the people to rebellion. Neither were there wanting motives for this rebellion; for the King had issued laws commanding the payment of ecclesiastical tithes, the observance of the commandments of God and his Church, and the infliction of penalties on defaulters; all which were made a handle of by perverse and wicked malcontents, for spreading discontent, exciting the people to revolt, and at last, to plot the death of the saintly King.
Foreknowing what was to happen, the King saw that he would soon be put to death for justice' sake. Having foretold it, he set out to Odense, where, entering into the Church of St Alban the Martyr, as the place of combat, he fortified himself with the Sacraments, and commended this his last struggle to our Lord. He had not long been there, when a band of conspirators arrived. They endeavoured to set fire to the Church, to burst open the doors, and to force an entrance. But failing in this, they scaled the windows, and with great violence threw a shower of stones and arrows upon the holy King, who was on his knees, praying for his enemies. Wounded by the stones and arrows, and at last pierced through with a spear, he was crowned with a glorious martyrdom, and fell before the altar with his arms stretched out. Gregory the Seventh was the reigning Pontiff. God showed by many miracles how glorious was his Martyr; and Denmark was afflicted with a great famine and sundry calamities, in punishment of the sacrilegious murder which had been perpetrated. Many persons, who were afflicted with various maladies, found aid and health by praying at the tomb of the Martyr. On one occasion, when the Queen endeavoured during the night to take up his body secretly and carry it to another place, she was deterred from her design by being struck with fear at the sight of a most brilliant light, which came down from heaven.
O holy King! the Sun of Justice had risen upon thy country, and all thy ambition was that thy people might enjoy the fulness of its light and warmth. Like the Magi of the East, thou didst lay thy crown at the feet of the Emmanuel, and at length didst offer thy very life in his service and in that of his Church. But thy people were not worthy of thee; they shed thy blood, as the ungrateful Israel shed the Blood of the Just One who is now born unto us, and whose sweet Infancy we are now celebrating. Thou didst offer thy martyrdom for the sins of thy people; offer it now also for them, that they may recover the true faith they have so long lost. Pray for the Rulers of Christian lands, that they may be faithful to their duties, zealous for justice, and may have respect for the liberty of the Church. Ask for us of the Divine Infant a devotedness in his cause like that which glowed in thy breast; and since we have not a crown to lay at his feet, pray for us that we may be generous enough to give our whole heart.