Today is the feast day of St Stephen of Hungary. When he was crowned, a little over a thousand years ago, his nation was a new member of Christ’s Church.
I always enjoy reading the letter which King Stephen wrote to his son and heir; the Church gives this letter for us to read in the liturgy today, at the office of matins. One is tempted to copy that letter and send it to the Prince of Wales:
I advise and counsel you above all things to preserve the Catholic and Apostolic Faith with such care that you may be an example to all the subjects given you by God, and all the clergy can say that you are truly a Christian. But if you fail to do this you may be certain that you cannot be called either a Christian or a son of the Church. The seeds of that the Church were sown by Christ our head; afterwards they were transplanted, firmly rooted and propagated throughout the world by his members, that is, by the apostles and the holy fathers.
“Ah”, I hear you say, “but Prince Charles isn’t a Catholic.”
Whereas he might not be subject to the canons of Holy Roman Church, he does profess, after all, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.’ And his Church, or, as the actual Church would call it, his ecclesial communion, believes itself to be catholic. To be catholic means more than to be a Latin Rite Roman Catholic. There is one Church, after all, and by baptism, all Christians, whether or not they are incorporated into the visible Church - that subsists in the Catholic Church - they enjoy an invisible, mystical relationship with it.
English kings are crowned, in fact, the only European monarchs who are still crowned since Pope Paul gave away his symbol to bind and loose on earth, as well as in heaven. Like popes, they are crowned in a quasi-secular and sacred ceremony. The king, or queen, wears sacred vestments: a belted-dalmatic, a stole and a cope; is anointed with oil (the Council of Trent determined that the anointing of kings with chrism was not in itself a sacrament, but a sacramental); is crowned by an albeit invalid Archbishop, who also places on his finger a ring, the symbol of the catholic faith. And it all takes place under the lofty vaults of a church.
The ceremony is also secular is flavour (the sacred and secular are not as strictly defined as liberals would try to argue). Before the sacred anointing and coronation may continue, the king is first acclaimed as king by the people; a king must request coronation in our constitution. This symbol of acclamation means, effectively, that the King of England is an elected monarch, in a sense. The he signs the oath to defend the laws and traditions of his realms and the Church. Only then is he crowned, and receives the obeisance of the nobles.
The coronation ceremony is not something to play around with, as Prince Charles would like to do (not to wear the sacred vestments, for example). It is not a multi-cultural ceremony. There is no such thing as a multi-cultural society. Society has one culture; there are many societies on our islands. It is not a multi-faith society. Similarly, a society cannot have more than one faith. English society is not schizophrenic.
Constitutionally, England is a Christian state. It is the king’s role - the Crown’s role - to uphold the Christian religion, as we see St Stephen explaining. Tampering with the coronation ceremony - the essential bits, anyway - surely invalidates the king’s constitutional mandate, and the Crown remains vacant.
Perhaps, considering that the powers of the Crown are exercised by His Majesty’s ministers of state, we should look at the rest of the letter.
After exhorting the heir to the throne to remember his Christian dignity and vocation, the saint talks about the virtues of rulers, which apply just as much to royalty as they do to our political leaders. (Because of the disconnexion with the see of Rome, the Crown, and therefore political leaders, have authority over the state clergy, too. Most of them do not realise this.)
What does St Stephen number among the kingly virtues? Duty, first of all, because by fulfilling our duty, we attain to happiness, which involves graciousness to friends and strangers, the rich and poor, friend and enemy. Be patient with both the powerful and the feeble. Show mercy to those who are suffering. “Be courageous: not puffed up by properity nor cast down by adversity.” Be humble. Be moderate in punishment or condemnation. Act justly (justice, of course, involving equity, not just law-following). Be noble. Do not insult others. Do not lust. Unless a king - or political leader - has these virtues, “no man is fit to rule.”
As queen, what is Queen Elizabeth doing to fulfill her coronation oath? We all talk very nicely about what she has done, ‘working hard’ for our nation for sixty years. But has she actually done her job properly?
What has happened under her reign? Women have been admitted to Anglican orders (further severing the Church of England’s delicate barely visible and delicate relationship with the Catholic Church); prisoners are left to rot in gaol; a person can legally change their gender; abortion has been legalised; homosexuality is positively encouraged; same-sex marriage is on the horizon. The list goes on.
Like society in general, the state has been suffering from a profound crisis of identity. The re-definition of marriage is a perfect example. From whence comes the Crown’s mandate to make such laws? Such laws are unconstitutional. The function of the state is to codify divine and natural laws into socially appropriate situations. The state simply does not have the potency to change natural laws. The state only has authority over civil society, not nature. If such laws are passed, then anyone who claims to the Catholic, and supports such laws, they, effectively, sever their visible relationship with the Church, and, therefore, cease to be Catholic. Moreover, if such laws are passed, same-sax couples who ‘marry’ are not married.
Those Catholics who wrote to the London Times on Monday, including Tina Beattie and Martin Prendergast, whose hands were consecrated with sacred chrism, should beware of their pending self-excommunication from Christ’s mystical body. And for what? To prove one’s credentials to liberal society? Because one has gay friends, and it’s ‘nice’ for them to get married? It’s not a problem or a sin to be a homosexual. Man’s sexuality is an integral part of his creation, which ever way that is oriented. It does mean, however, that God has called the homosexual person to a different way of living his or her life. It is painful for those who cannot participate in aspects of life which a heterosexual person may be called to do (not all heterosexuals get married, or, indeed, are able to get married; remember persons with certain disabilities cannot get married). We don’t push our friends off cliff tops, unless we are mentally disabled in some way. Thou shalt not kill, I think it says somewhere: that involves spiritual murder. Being a Christian does not mean being nice, and being nice like Christ was. Being a Christian means being Christ, through through the grace of adoption, and, therefore, being religiously virtuous. Religion is a virtue, not a Sunday worship service. “Remember your dignity, O Christian soul,” as Leo the Great tells us. A Christian should, first of all, desire to bring all persons into Christ’s body, completing their creation. The Christian should also encourage and support persons in their sacred vocations, and not lead them down the wrong path into error. We should be signs of what is yet to come; not facilitators of earthy lust and sensual gratification.
When Jesus on his judgement seat asks, ‘what did you do to the least of my brethren?’ Will we be able to say, ‘I tried to bring them to you; I tried to pull them out of the muddy ditch of error and death, and comforted them, and gave them a new life for your glory’? Or will we have to say, ‘I led them into sin, and did not help them out of doom they were heading towards, and kept them separate from you’? And in return, will Jesus say to us, ‘then go to hell, because you cut yourself off from me in your earthly life, and you cut off others from me too.’ Or shall he say, ‘you lived a good life with integrity on earth, join me in heaven with our friend you helped to save.’
To paraphrase St Stephen: “if you are in a position of leadership and fail to be an example of a good Christian, you may be certain that you cannot be called either a Christian or a son of the Church.”