Where should the monarchy go now?

 — June 8, 20028 juin 2002

Ian Bradley is Reader in Practical Theology and Church History in the School of Divinity in the University of St Andrews. His book, God Save the Queen: The Spiritual Dimension of Monarchy, is published by Darton, Longman & Todd.

The celebrations of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee reached a high point this past week. The stunning success of the festivities shows that the British monarchy has climbed back into the affection of the people. What does it need to do to stay there? A Church of Scotland minister looks particularly at the monarch’s role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith.

What is the purpose of monarchy in the twenty-first century? Even if the institution does still have relevance, can there be any justification for maintaining its sacred and spiritual character and the close links between Crown and Church? These questions are inevitably being asked in this Jubilee year of the Queen’s accession, and it is important that they are debated in religious as well as secular circles.

Progressively shorn of much of its political and constitutional significance in the past two centuries or so, the British monarchy has been left with four broad directions in which to develop – encouragement of and active involvement in “good works” and philanthropy (the so-called “welfare monarchy”); ceremonial splendour and public show (the monarch as tourist attraction); subject matter for tabloid journalists and paparazzi (the nation’s longest-running soap opera); and that indefinable amalgam of metaphysical, magical and moral elements which go to make up the spiritual dimension of monarchy.

There is considerable unease about this last aspect of monarchy today. Among those who do defend the institution, there is a general consensus that it should be secularised. In his important recent book The Crown and the Constitution, Vernon Bogdanor, the Oxford constitutional expert, advocates “a secularised monarchy more in keeping with the spirit of the age”. The influential pamphlet published by the Demos group in 1998, Modernising the Monarchy, calls for the secularisation of the monarchy through curtailing all its religious roles and links with the churches. Several senior courtiers also seem to want to downplay the spiritual element in royalty, as evidenced by the comment made by one of them to a journalist interested in Prince Charles’s strong spiritual leanings. “I think we’ve had rather too much of the sacred, don’t you? He needs to be seen as a good bloke.”

Yet might it not be that now more than ever we need a monarchy which is primarily spiritual and metaphysical in its role and perception? In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the United States and the subsequent war in Afghanistan, the British are increasingly conscious of the multifaith nature of their nation today and the need for more understanding and dialogue between faiths, especially between Christianity and Islam. Loyalty to the Crown, understood primarily in metaphysical and spiritual rather than in political or ethnic terms, may be one of the most important ways of helping to bind together the dangerously atomised and separated communities which exist in contemporary Britain. Building on already strong feelings of respect and, indeed, reverence for the person of the monarch could help in integrating ethnic and religious minorities and encouraging feelings of belonging among more recent immigrant communities. It is significant that the recent report into the causes of last summer’s inner-city riots recommended the introduction of an oath of allegiance for immigrants involving a promise to “be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen”.

That the concept of sacred monarchy still speaks to human instincts and needs today is clear from such diverse phenomena as the contemporary search for male identity on the basis of affirming “the king within”, the huge popularity of the Disney musical The Lion King with its theme of the metaphysical links binding monarch, land and people, and the Church-led movements to restore monarchy in several former Communist countries in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

Sacred kingship has been a central element within the Judaeo-Christian tradition, as indeed it has been in most of the world’s great religions. That many people of widely differing religious persuasions in contemporary Britain still feel a sense of the sacredness and otherness of royalty, and feel touched and even blessed by a kind of grace when in contact with it, is clearly attested by the research of the social anthropologist Anne Rowbottom on the effects of royal visits.

I sense that both the Queen and her eldest son and heir have a greater sense of and commitment to this sacred dimension of monarchy than many of their advisers. Both, whether consciously or intuitively, are increasingly articulating and standing for the value of religious faith against unbelief and secular materialism, while also championing tolerance against fundamentalism. In the Queen’s case, this comes naturally from a deep and orthodox Christian faith. She has been concerned to underline the religious significance of important anniversaries, like the dawning of the third millennium, and to make known her wish that her Jubilee should be marked by church services and seen as an occasion for religious observance as well as for partying.

Her recent Christmas broadcasts have been notably spiritual and personal in tone. In her Christmas 2000 broadcast, which drew a record number of letters of appreciation, she spoke powerfully and directly of the importance of the spiritual dimension in people’s lives and said that “for me, the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability to God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life”. Her 2001 Christmas broadcast emphasised the central role of the Church and of faith in times of tragedy and dislocation, and made a wider call for a renewal of the values of community and tolerance. In it, as in other recent statements and actions, like the invitation to Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O’Connor to preach and stay at Sandringham this January, the Queen is clearly indicating a subtle shift from the monarch’s traditional role as Defender of the (Protestant Christian) Faith to a broader and more inclusive role as defender of religious faith more generally – and focus of loyalty and tolerance in the community of multifaith communities which the United Kingdom has become.

This latter role has been particularly associated with and, indeed, to a large extent pioneered and defined by Prince Charles. The first heir to the throne since the Stuarts to take an intellectual interest in religion, he has manifested his passionate concern for the spiritual through ways as diverse as his attachment to the language of the Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised Version of the Bible, his deep interest in both Orthodox Christianity and Islam, his insistence that the millennium should be a catalyst for reflection rather than for partying, exemplified by his own decision to mark it with a retreat at a Greek Orthodox monastery on Mount Athos rather than a visit to the Dome and, above all, through his long-standing personal crusade against the rising tide of secular materialism and scientific reductionism.

Several reforms are needed if the spiritual dimension of the monarchy is to be reaffirmed and its potential for healing and community building to be released. The ban on Roman Catholic succession to the throne should go. So should that part of the coronation oath which binds the sovereign to upholding the Protestant Reformed religion. There is absolutely no case for continuing to associate the Crown with anti-Catholic discrimination and prejudice, especially when polls show that Roman Catholics are among the Queen’s most loyal subjects – indeed, so it has long been. A multidenominational and multifaith religious council analogous to the Privy Council and presided over by the monarch should be set up with permanent statutory authority and a remit to keep a watching brief over and advise on issues of community relations, religious discrimination and the overall spiritual health of the nation.

There is a strong case for abolishing the sovereign’s role and title as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. This is separate from the question of whether or not the Church of England should remain established, and it is unfortunate that the two issues are so often confused. It is quite possible, and may well be desirable, for the Church of England to remain the recognised established national Church in England without having the monarch at its head. This is the position of the Church of Scotland, legally recognised as the national Church with a special responsibility to make the ordinances of religion available to everyone in the land. While in Scotland the Queen is a full and loyal member of the national Church, to whose annual assembly she sends her personal representative as Lord High Commissioner, a role which is regularly fulfilled by a member of the royal family, and which this year has been undertaken by the Queen herself. There is much to be said for a similar relationship being developed between the Crown and the Church of England, ideally in the context of a more broadly based and ecumenical “reestablishment”.

It seems anomalous for the sovereign to retain the title “Defender of the Faith”, with the rather exclusive connotations that it has come to have. Given that it was actually bestowed by Pope Leo X on Henry VIII in recognition of his defence of the Catholic faith, it is ironic, to say the least, that it has become particularly associated with the defence of Protestantism. Much better to have the monarch recognised as “Defender of Faith”. This could still be represented on coins of the realm (as long as we have them) with the abbreviation FD or Fid Def.

THE structure and form of the next coronation need sensitive attention and it is certainly not too early to be thinking about them now. It is the coronation service which more than anything else establishes the givenness of hereditary monarchy and asserts its sacred character and divine ordination. It should retain as its central element the consecration and anointing of the new sovereign. It is not, however, absolutely essential to this sacramentality that it remains embedded in an Anglican communion service. Within the next coronation service, there should be participation by those from other Christian denominations, perhaps by introducing a ceremony of laying on of hands in which representatives of all the major Churches take part. There is every reason, too, to involve leaders of the main non-Christian faith communities in the inauguration rites of future British monarchs and enable them to acknowledge their fealty to and their sense of the sacredness of their new sovereign. It may be that this is best handled by mounting a separate interfaith inauguration ceremony, possibly at Westminster Hall, following a Christian coronation service at Westminster Abbey.

What is vital is that those planning the next coronation do not move in a secular direction and seek to diminish its metaphysical elements and its sacramental emphasis on consecration. Sensitively and imaginatively conceived, the next coronation could, like the last one, be an act of national communion speaking in as united a voice as our disparate community and country are capable of about the centrality of the values of sacrifice, loyalty, faith and commitment.

Posted: June 8, 2002 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=6732
Categories: TabletIn this article: Anglican, Church of England, monarchy
Transmis : 8 juin 2002 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=6732
Catégorie : TabletDans cet article : Anglican, Church of England, monarchy

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