God Save The Queen

The Spiritual Dimension of Monarchy

Michael A. Clark

The book of this title by Ian Bradley was written to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. It both celebrates and explores the religious and spiritual dimensions of monarchy. For the first time in a very long while someone, other than of our own fraternity, has produced a scholarly book with old and new arguments and fresh perceptions of the monarchy in its biblical and spiritual context. It is a very important and valuable contribution to the theological as well as the political debate over the future of our monarchy, in what we believe and know to be the Davidic Throne upon Earth. 
AS Reader in Practical Theology in the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews, Ian Bradley paused more than once during the composition of his reflective, calm and fair-minded essay, to ask why he felt so strongly the need to write it. It was certainly not because of encouragement from those around him. One of his academic colleagues expressed incredulity that he should devote his time to exploring and propping up an institution long past its sell-by date.

An acquaintance of the author, who is a high-powered lawyer, said he was wasting a year of his life on a ridiculous and futile project. What is more surprising, is that a senior member of the Queen's ecclesiastical household described Bradley's emphasis on the spiritual dimension of monarchy as "eccentric." If only these heady and high-minded people knew of what Throne they dismissed as fading and beyond caring about.

In many ways, as he states at the outset, it is an unlikely book to emerge from the author's word processor. Not being cast in the mould of the archetypal diehard royalist, in his youth he was fascinated by the period of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, and was a convinced Roundhead. His political inclinations have always been Liberal and he has long been a fervent pro-European who still believes in the European Union being a good rather than a bad thing -- this no doubt explains his last thoughts, which appear not to be so well thought out. As a Campbell he has never had much time for the Jacobite cause and the excesses of Stuart monarcholatry.

So what is he doing, as he says, writing a book which is strongly, indeed passionately, supportive of the institution of monarchy and which seeks to explore and promote its spiritual dimension? Very few recent commentators have analysed or acknowledged its spiritual dimension. The lack of attention paid to this aspect of monarchy by both academics and journalists is, he observes, in marked contrast to its manifest importance in the life of the Queen and other members of the royal family and in the popular perception and experience of royalty.

It is significant to read in his introduction, that when he last checked the Royal Insight magazine on the official royal web-site, the word "church" produced 37 matches. This was exactly the same number as "government" and an indication of how important religious and church engagements are in the royal diary (In numerical terms, the number 37 is the number of The Word and also the twelfth prime number, 12 being the number of government).

According to polls, forty years ago a third of the United Kingdom population believed the Queen to have been specially chosen by God. While this may no longer be true, studies by social anthropologists confirm that for many people encounters with royalty take on the character of a religious experience. This is hardly surprising, Bradley says, when one considers how many of the occasions when the monarch and other members of the royal family are most visible and have the highest public profile are religious in character. The media coverage continually reinforces the image of a churchgoing Queen who leads her country in the worship of God.

What is important in this he says, is that the reality matches the image. The Queen is a considerably more faithful Christian than the vast majority of her subjects. Another of the catalysts which led him to write the book was the experience of being in the presence of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the royal family at Sunday morning worship at Crathie Parish Church near Balmoral. Their evident and sincere faith not paraded but understated and reserved, was, he found, profoundly moving and inspirational.

Witnessing it made him all the more angry that the deep personal faith of present members of the royal family is almost universally ignored in the entire debate and discussion about the future of the Crown. This sadly seems to be as true among those within Court circles as among journalists and academics. Bradley says he has been surprised to find members of the ecclesiastical household downplaying the spiritual significance of monarchy, or perhaps simply being embarrassed about affirming its Christian dimension. Although the author does not say so, we know it is because there is no understanding of what Kingdom and Throne is in the midst of them.

He points out that it has been left to a small number of academics, not all of them personally sympathetic to monarchy and none of them from the disciplines of theology or religious studies, to point out the continuing spiritual dimension of royalty and its profound impact upon the people. Even this is often seen as an essentially secular phenomenon.

It was while he was watching the service in Westminster Abbey in November 1997, marking the 50th anniversary of the marriage of the Queen and Prince Philip, that he was provoked to write to The Times, London, which summarised the concerns Bradley felt. This led him directly to embark on the book. The letter published on 22nd November, 1997, said:

In all this talk of a Royal Family more in touch with public opinion, we are in danger of missing the essential nature and purpose of monarchy.
The monarchy is not a democratic institution, still less the creature of popular opinion, but rather a divinely instituted symbol and mystery. At their coronations, our kings and queens are anointed in a ritual which has its origins in Old Testament times and underlines the spiritual nature of their calling. They are thereafter accountable first and foremost to God and not to a fickle populace so easily manipulated and swayed by the mass media. Their role may not be to lead public opinion, though in deep and subtle ways they can both express the mood of the nation and also exert a powerful example, but most certainly they are not there to pander to it.

We need to think much more about the religious basis of monarchy and the exercise of its spiritual function. In the case of our present Queen, it has been expressed in a sacrificial commitment to duty and public service and a sure and steadfast Christian faith fortified and nourished through regular churchgoing. In the case of her eldest son, who I fervently hope will be our next King, it may well take a different form, in keeping with his declared desire to be defender of faith and his deep sensitivity to spiritual issues.

The Royal Family were clearly engaged in and deeply moved by [the] service at Westminster Abbey. Many of the courtiers and commoners attending it, by contrast, were caught by the television cameras chatting, giggling or maintaining a sullen silence through the great hymns of the Christian faith. 

They might care to reflect on the message of those familiar words which rang through the Abbey as the Queen and Prince Philip left. God will save the Queen, not public opinion and certainly not the media.

While he misses the crucially important point of the monarch being Defender of the Faith, Bradley says that he chose to end that letter with the first line of the national anthem, which he has also used for the title of his book.* This is because it speaks so clearly and strongly of the spiritual dimension of monarchy.

This is undoubtedly a book that our readers should study. It deals with the history of sacral kingship through the Old and New Testaments (or Covenants), Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and Medieval England up to the present day. The author makes the point in chapter five on the Protestant Project that the essential function of kingship in the nation under God is to maintain and administer national affairs in respect of the spiritual dimension of the national covenant with Jehovah. In pages 96-97 he says: 

"The first English Prayer book of 1549 established a tradition that continues to this day by including a prayer for the monarch to be said in parish churches every Sunday." This thought is linked to what we know to be true about the Tudor monarchy, Wales and our royal Israel heritage, by his reference to "Images of the king as the Lord's anointed and God's deputy on earth were frequently invoked. Edward VI was inevitably compared with Josiah, an earlier boy king who had purged his land of idols and whose discovery of the 'Book of the Law' was taken as a direct precedent for the production of the Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552."

One wonders why theologians do not see the obvious witness to our Israel heritage in all this history concerning the spiritual dimension of our monarchy. The (pagan) alternative to the king being the Lord's anointed is of course the Pope, which many probably still wish to return to and why the Act of Settlement is so important to maintain. We are also given to wonder why those of the fervent Protestant witness still do not see the obvious witness to our Israel heritage in the British monarchy. Perhaps they are fearful of being labelled in some respect. This is not the time to fear the compelling truth, when our very heritage as the People of the Book is in peril.

One respected reviewer of Bradley's work brings out the vitally important point about the Coronation Service and the monarch being Defender of the Faith. Yet he does not attempt to approach the whole point of why the British monarchy was separated from Rome and why we follow the biblical pattern to the letter. We might excuse it as blindness, but the hour is late and in 2004 the second phase of the Reformation is now due, when we must begin to break with the EU-Babylon as a nation. 

The night is far spent and the day is at hand when Protestants everywhere must awake to the great shout of restoration and the reality of what the God of Israel is doing to fulfil His command, "Come out of her, my people" (Revelation 18:4). 

Finally, although the last thoughts developed in this engaging book appear to be somewhat lacking and not well thought out, we must say that it is very refreshing to see the work of an author who does not attack or express ignorance of the Kingdom, or British Israelite teaching. He mentions it in passing twice, as being fully in context to understanding what the British monarchy is all about. The first reference comes at the beginning of his first chapter on Monarchy in the Old Testament (p. 1) and the second is in his fourth chapter dealing with the Coronation Service in context of the Stone of Destiny (P. 81).

The supportive comments by others of this work (rear cover), must also be of considerable reward and encouragement to the author. In the words of Anthony Howard of the Church Times it is "A first-class historical survey of all that has happened in the relations between Church and state since the days of Henry VIII to those of the present Queen and Tony Blair.


* God Save the Queen: The Spiritual Dimension of Monarchy by Ian Bradley. Pub. 2002 by Darton, Longman and Todd, London. 218pp, ISBN 0-232-52460-2 paperback. 

Available from Covenant Books, 121 Low Etherley, Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham DL14 0HA, England. Price £11.95 post paid.
 

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