WILLIAM SAUTRE’S CHARIOT OF FIRE
When Richard II, King of England, was deposed in 1399 AD and was succeeded by Henry IV, King Henry decided to schedule a meeting of the parliament at Westminster. Knowing that the new king wanted to get a grasp of what was going on in the kingdom, a parish priest named William Sautre, a good man and faithful servant at the Church of St. Scythe the Virgin, in London, and also known to be on fire with the zeal to transform the Church into one that was true to the Word of God, asked if he could speak to the parliament and the new king. But some bishops of the Church were aware of Sautre’s eagerness to reform the Church’s ways, were less than enthusiastic about his request.
So, on Wednesday, February 12, 1400, Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, in a meeting with his provincial council, spoke against letting Father Sautre speak. He pointed out that Sautre had once appeared before the bishop of Norwich, and after being asked about his objections to the way the Church was going, the bishop of Norwich put it this way, “Sautre renounced and abjured divers and sundry conclusions heretical and erroneous; and that, after such abjuration, he publicly and privately held, taught, and preached the same conclusions or such like, contrary to the catholic faith, and to the great peril and pernicious example of others.”
They spoke a different dialect of English in those days. So, if you have trouble with this 15th-century vocabulary, the bishop was saying that Sautre was being accused of speaking against many practices and beliefs of the Church that he considered heretical and inaccurate. His actions were considered to be detrimental and caused great trouble for the church since it encouraged other believers to think the same way. As a result, the archbishop of Norwich ordered that these charges against Sautre be written down on a scroll.
- He will not bow down in front of a replica of the cross on which Christ suffered, but only to Christ, who suffered on the cross.
- He would sooner bend a knee to an earthly king than to a wooden replica of the crucifix.
- He would rather bow in honor in front of the bodies of the saints than to a wooden replica of the crucifix of Christ on which He hung if it were placed before him.
- He would rather bow to a man truly contrite than to the wooden replica of the crucifix.
- He would rather bow to a man that is predestined for heaven than to an icon of an angel of God.
- That if any person vowed to visit the monuments of Peter and Paul, or go on pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Thomas à Becket, or anywhere else, in order to obtain any temporal benefit, they should not be forced to keep that vow but feel free to distribute the expenses raised to fulfill his vow as a contribution to the poor.
- That every priest and deacon should feel more bound to preach the Word of God than to recite the fixed prayers at regular intervals.
- That, after the pronouncing of the sacramental blessing over the communion bread, the bread remains of the same nature that it was before because it is still only bread.
On Friday, February 14, 1400, after Sautre was confronted with these charges, and was asked to renounce or revoke them, he answered that he would not renounce any of them. His refusal only made the Church hierarchy even more uncomfortable, so they continued to interrogate him. Then on Wednesday, February 19, 1400, they demanded that Sautre be held accountable by the Church for his stance on these issues. The council decided to punish him gradually, so first, they took away his status as a Priest and demoted him to Deacon, then to Sub-deacon, then to Acolyte, then as an Exorcist, then as a Reader, then as a Sexton and then as a Greeter at the church door. Finally, they considered him nothing more than a secular layperson.
While under the banner of the Church, Sautre was not subject to the civil laws of the land. But now King Henry saw this as an opportunity to gain the support of the Church hierarchy, and so he issued a warrant which was sent to all the sheriffs of London to be carried out. In the indictment, Sautre was denounced as a heretic because he caused great pain and suffering to the Church. Therefore, the police authorities were directed to arrest Sautre and prepare to have him burned at the stake in a public place and announce it to all the people so they could come and watch. If they failed to do so, they would also be punished.
But right up to the moment when he was tied to the stake, and the kindling wood was set on fire, Sir William Sautre, champion of the Word and soldier of the cross refused to take back any of his beliefs and died a martyr for the Christ he preferred to bow down to rather than a replica of a wooden cross. A British historian noted that after William Sautre was martyred, that for King Henry, “Neither was the time of his reign very quiet, but. full of trouble, of blood and misery.” But Sautre went out rejoicing. Knowing that the day would come when all those who plotted against him will be shown to have really been plotting against the Son of God. Therefore, they would have to stand before the eternal Judge and face the punishment for their rejection of the true Gospel. – Dr. Robert R Seyda