Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Catholicism and Anti-Catholicism of the British Monarchy

 From Crisis:

After the arrival of St. Augustine of Canterbury in 597, England became a gem of Christendom, with many of her monarchs leading the way. King Alfred the Great fought against the pagan vikings to keep the island Christian, and King Edward the Confessor was a model of sanctity. Many English Monarchs enthusiastically supported the medieval crusades, fighting to stop the spread of Islam and regain the Holy Land for Christianity. Even King Henry VIII was a stout defender of the faith against the heresies of Martin Luther before his falling in with Anne Boleyn. 

It would be mistaken then, to simply dismiss the British Monarchy as an anti-Catholic institution that must be wholly rejected by Catholics today. Its history shows a deep connection to the defense and spread of Catholicism, in spite of the stains of the Reformation-era monarchs. I would argue then, that the British Monarchy is like a glorious and beautiful fruit tree, with roots extended deep into the ground. But next to that tree grew up a thick weed that became intertwined with the trunk and branches of the tree. It began to cover the tree’s beauty, and even to suck the nutrients from the tree, stifling its growth and health. Its fruit is no longer beautiful, no longer healthy to eat. (Read more.)


From The Catholic Thing:

Among Protestants, one of the great objections to Catholicism has always been that Catholics (also known as papists or Romanists or mackerel-snappers) are prone to “superstition.”

This objection was particularly strong among those situated at the Puritan end of the Protestant spectrum.  Puritanism, which Edmund Burke described as “the Protestantism of the Protestant religion,” made a great attempt to purge all “superstition” from Christianity.  For the Puritans, only two things were holy: God and the Bible (which was the literal word of God).

And thus Puritans made sure that their Christianity would be quite free of many things that ordinary Catholics felt to be holy—things like statues and paintings of saints, stained-glass windows, priestly vestments, rosary beads, religious medals, so-called “holy days” (including Christmas), shrines, pilgrimages to Canterbury, and so on.  By making these and a thousand other trivial things holy – said the Puritanical among Protestants – Catholics were subtracting something from the holiness of God.

The Puritans even demoted the mother of Jesus from the high rank Catholics had given her and did this despite the very high rank that the New Testament, especially the Gospel of Luke, had given her.  The Catholic veneration of Mary seemed to Puritans to be a kind of adoration, something due to God alone.  Catholics had turned Mary into a goddess, they believed, thereby undermining the unique divinity of God.

Half, or more than half, of the great Catholic cathedrals of the Middle Ages had been dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  These cathedrals, to the Puritan mind, had little to do with true religion.  They were monuments of art – monuments of architecture, painting, sculpture, and stained-glass window-making – and they were monuments of superstition, but they were not true monuments of true Christianity.

And therefore, when the Puritans – after they had finished demolishing much of the idolatrous art of the old church buildings of the Catholic religion, and after they had trashed the shrine of the “holy blissful martyr” at Canterbury – built their own church buildings, they took care to make sure that these new and improved buildings would be free of the idols that would excite the superstitious feelings of semi-Christians.

Next to the fall foliage and probably surpassing it in loveliness, the most charming features of the New England countryside are the many old Congregational churches still standing.  The New England Congregationalists were precisely the people Burke had in mind when he spoke of “the Protestantism of the Protestant religion.” (Read more.)


From First Things:

The image of the anointed monarch is one that pervades Scripture, giving us the title—“Christ”—by which we acknowledge our Savior. For the literary and historically-minded, it is an image that also haunts Shakespeare’s dramas and the starkest debates and conflicts of British political history. It has been used to mystify and exalt monarchy in ways that most of us would now find uncomfortable at best.

But if we step back a little from the history and think a moment longer about the theology of anointing, we might understand better what the journalist’s question was driving at. Anointing—in baptism or ordination—signifies that someone is being given a new place in the community of God’s people. It is not a job description, nor is it a blank check for power and privilege. It creates a relationship, with God and with the community of faith, and promises grace to make that relationship live and thrive.

The coronation service has this much in common with ordination: It singles out someone to occupy a position whose point is to manifest something about the whole community’s life—and to do so first by just being there, holding the ideals and aspirations of the community (and also carrying its projections). It is the rationale of the theological tradition that tells us that priesthood is not about an individual’s successful or meritorious performance but about fidelity to a position, for the sake of the community’s peace and well-being. It does not exempt priests from censure and judgement where needed, nor does it confer on them an unchallengeable right to win every argument. That is not the point. They are there so that we can gather around something other than our preferences and anxieties and prejudices; around a gift of “kinship” in which we can stand together before God.

And this is what the royal anointing means at its most important level—a gift of the Holy Spirit to hold a fragile human person in faithfulness to this place where community can gather for restoration and renewal. There is no doubt at all that this was exactly what Queen Elizabeth believed about her role. It was a vocation for which she had been blessed and graced, and the anointing was at the heart of it. Sometimes at Windsor Castle she would show visitors her small book of daily devotions from the weeks leading up to the coronation itself—prayers and meditations that had been written for her by the then archbishop of Canterbury. It was obvious that these meditations had sunk in deeply, and that she still shaped her life according to what was laid out there.

People wondered why she did not abdicate as she became a little more frail (though her physical health remained extraordinarily robust until the very last months). But she never saw her role as something she could lay down. In this, she echoed Pope John Paul II, disregarding the pressure of advancing age and vulnerability because the position was not one in which what mattered was success, performance, public glamor. But what she did do was plan very carefully for the transition to her successor, sharing out responsibilities, shifting expectations, gently preparing the nation as much as she could for her departure.

It was typical of her striking lack of egotism. When I held the role of archbishop of Canterbury, I had to meet a large number of political leaders across the world; I can truthfully say that not one impressed me in the same way the queen did. Not one had the same degree of attentiveness, unpompous clarity of mind and response, lack of prickly or defensive reactions. She could be abrupt, she could be caustic; she had a powerful sense of the absurd and a real impatience with clichés and flannel. Yet her profound kindness was always in evidence, and her dry and deflating humor was a great gift in keeping matters in perspective. (Read more.)


From The Catholic Herald:

The Servant of God, James II (so we must call him, since his cause was opened by the Archbishop of Paris in 1734; it may be dormant but has never been closed – and boasted at least 19 miracles at the time it was opened!) officially converted to Catholicism in 1670 with his wife, Anne Hyde, after a fairly immoral life. Their daughters, Mary and Anne, later successively to usurp the throne, remained Protestant. James’s wife died a year later, and he remarried in 1673 to the Italian Princess, Mary of Modena. He assumed the throne on his brother’s death in 1685, and the birth of a son precipitated the first successful invasion of England since 1066.

He went into a holy and prayer-filled exile in France, dying at St Germain-en-Laye in 1701. Almost immediately miracles began to occur at both his temporary resting place at St Germain, and his more permanent one in Paris at the English Benedictine St Edmund’s Church (now the Schola Cantorum of Paris – the chapel survives, although the body was destroyed at the Revolution). The English Benedictines became custodians of his memory and offered prayers and so on for his canonization. The horrors of the French Revolution led to the Servant of God’s cause going on the back burner; regardless of whether James is ever canonized, there can be no doubt of his Catholicity.

His coronation is the key point here, however. Although James II did not receive Communion during the Coronation Rite (having done so with his Queen the previous evening at Mass at Whitehall), he did swear the same oath his father swore, with the Pope’s permission: “Will you grant and keep, and by your Oath confirm to the People of England, the Laws and Customs to them granted, by the Kings of England, your lawful and Religious Predecessors, and namely, the Laws, Customs, and Franchises granted to the Clergy, by the glorious King St Edward, your Predecessor, according to the Laws of GOD, the true Profession of the Gospel established in this Kingdom, agreeable to the Prerogative for the Kings thereof, and the ancient Customs of the Realm…”

He responded “With a willing and devout Heart, I promise and grant my Pardon, and that I will preserve and maintain to you, and the Churches committed to your Charge, all Canonical Privileges and due Law and Justice, and that I will be your Protector and Defender to my Power, by the Assistance of GOD, as every good King in his Kingdom, in right ought to protect and defend, the Bishops and Churches under their Government.”

From that moment, with Papal approval, the Catholic King James was head of the Anglican Churches of England, Scotland (the latter would revert to Presbyterianism upon his overthrow), and Ireland. He was then anointed and crowned by the Anglican Archbishop. In exile, James acted as head of the English, Scots, and Irish Catholic institutions scattered around the Continent; but he and his son, James III, and grandson, Charles III, continued to be recognised as rightful sovereigns and heads of the Church by the so-called “Nonjurors”- Anglicans who refused to accept the new order of things. One of the few remnants of this headship of these Protestant churches by the Catholic Stuarts is the Protestant cemetery in Rome where Keats and Shelley are buried – and which was created by James III in 1716.

But this is not the last example of a Protestant Church being headed by a Catholic. The Protestant churches of Bavaria, Saxony, and Austria were all headed by their respective Sovereigns. In the last case, for two years it was Bl. Emperor Charles of Austria. As noted in the last article, he resembles the British Charles in his role as family man; here is another point of resemblance! At any rate, as shown by his son James II, Charles I’s coronation by and headship of the Church of England need not be an impediment to his eventual canonization – if, of course, he is indeed in Heaven. (Read more.)


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