King Charles III May Bring a New Approach to ‘Defender of the Faith’

LONDON — At her coronation in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II was anointed with holy oils by the Archbishop of Canterbury and fiance ruling not only according to British law, but the “laws of God”, in her role as “Supreme Governor of the Church of England” and “Defender of the Faith”.

She was faithful to that vow. Her devotion to “Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace” was a fundamental and defining pillar, although sometimes overlooked, of her life.

Now, as his son Carlos III takes office, he has apparently accepted the responsibilities of his religious titles without reservation. But he will bring a markedly different personal view of religion and spirituality to the role.

What kind of monarch will King Carlos III be? Different from his mother.

“The queen was very explicit about her Christian faith, but Charles’s is of a different nature,” said Ian Bradley, emeritus professor of cultural and spiritual history at the University of St. Andrews, who has written extensively on faith and religion. monarchy. “His is more spiritual and intellectual. Charles is more of a ‘spiritual seeker’. ”

While the monarch’s authority within the church is largely ceremonial, it is still important. The king will formally approve all new bishops, for example. And pronouncements from the crown, especially on something as personal as faith in God, carry special weight.

Particularly in her later years, Queen Elizabeth II was clear in expressing her beliefs, often citing the “guiding light” of Jesus, especially in her annual televised Christmas message seen by millions.

Many attribute his change of tone to his Christmas address in 2000, when he said, “For me, the teachings of Christ and my own personal responsibility before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.”

The queen was sometimes referred to as the “last true believer,” said Stephen Bates, a longtime royal and religious affairs correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, now retired. “She is the most religious sovereign since the [Protestant] Reformation” of the 16th century, he said.

While public affirmations of faith are second nature, if not a requirement, for American leaders, they are unusual in Britain, a highly secular nation, where an aide to former Prime Minister Tony Blair once quipped: “We don’t make God “.

“We have a kind of concern about our politicians and our leaders expressing their faith, and to some extent this extends to the monarchy,” Bradley said. “He is seen as un-British.”

Despite the decline in church membership and influence in British daily life, the monarch remains a powerful symbol of the church; British coins feature the image of the queen and Latin letters meaning “By the grace of God, queen and defender of the faith.”

Like his mother, Charles is a regular churchgoer and is clear that his faith is Christian. in his first address to the nationthe day after the queen’s death, Charles cited her “responsibility” to the Church of England, “in which my own faith is so deeply rooted”.

“In that faith and the values ​​it inspires, I have been raised to harbor a sense of duty to others and to have the utmost respect for the precious traditions, freedoms and responsibilities of our unique history and parliamentary system of government. he said. It was remarkable how quickly he placed faith in the context of more secular “values” and “duty.”

In a life of 73 years as king-in-waiting, when he was able to speak more freely than he does now as monarch, Charles seemed to reframe a less doctrinaire religious and spiritual stance, even giving it its own title.

Carlos said in a 1994 documentary that he was more of a “defender of the faith” than “the faith.” He questioned the impulse to prioritize a particular interpretation. “People have fought to the death over these things,” he said, “which strikes me as a peculiar waste of people’s energy, when really we’re all aiming at the same goal.” Instead, he said, he preferred to embrace all religious traditions and “the pattern of the divine, which I think is in all of us.”

When the question was put to him again more than two decades later, clarified his commentssaying: “It has always seemed to me that, at the same time that you are a Defender of the Faith, you can also be a protector of religions”.

The title of “Defender of the Faith” dates back to the 16th century, when it was bestowed by Pope Leo X on King Henry VIII for his defense of Catholicism. When Henry broke with the Catholic Church, he clung to the title, but now defended the Anglicanism of the Church of England.

Charles has long been an advocate for environmental causes, with a passion that Bradley described as “eco-spiritual.” In his 2010 book, “HarmonyCharles called for a “sustainability revolution” to reverse environmental threats to the planet, which he blamed in part on “the spiritual dimension of our existence” being “dangerously neglected during the modern age.”

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In the book, Charles took issue with “empiricism”, the view that since science cannot prove the existence of God, God must not exist. That kind of thinking, he wrote, “elbows the soul out of the picture.”

In an increasingly multi-cultural nation with a full rainbow of religions, Charles has long expressed an interest in and support for all forms of belief, particularly Islam and Judaism.

His mother also crossed new limits in that regard. She was the first British monarch to enter a mosque. Unlike her predecessors, she knew a succession of popes. In her sixtieth year on her throne, in 2012, she said the church “has a duty to protect the free practice of all religions in this country.”

Pope Francis, as well as British Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Sikh leaders, have effusively praised Elizabeth since her death.

As the queen shared more about her faith, British society became more secular.

According to the National Center for Social Research, church membership has fallen sharply over time, with just 12.5 per cent of Britons in 2020 considering themselves members of the Church of England, compared to nearly 36 per cent in 1985. Of those who considered themselves Anglican in 2020, more than 40 percent said they “never” attend services.

As in the United States, British society in recent years has become less dependent on and structured around institutions that were once the bedrock of everyday life. The center’s research showed that people who claimed “no religion” rose from 34.3 percent in 1985 to nearly 49 percent in 2020.

As the number of worshipers declines, hundreds of historic churches have been decommissioned and converted into apartments, offices, pubs, spas, shops and even sports centers with climbing walls.

The church has changed in important ways, including a decision in 2002 to allow divorced people to remarry in the church. Three years later, Prince Charles and his longtime partner, Camilla Parker Bowles, both divorced, were married in a civil ceremony that was blessed immediately after in a chapel at Windsor Castle by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Now king, Charles is the first divorced monarch since Henry VIII, although two of Henry’s prolific series of marriages technically ended in annulment, not divorce.

It was not until 2018, when the son of Charles prince harry got married American actress Meghan Markle in the same chapel where her father’s marriage had been blessed, a royal wedding of a divorced couple was held with the full blessing of the church.

How the Church of England has changed on divorce, from Henry VIII to Meghan Markle

Still, Charles’s admitted adultery (with Camilla) during his marriage to Princess Diana before their divorce in 1996 does not sit well with some Britons.

“It’s hard to celebrate a man who has been an adulterer and has well-known if arcane religious views,” said Bates, the former Guardian correspondent. “If the monarchy stumbles, where does that leave the established church?”

Somehow, Charles’ brand of faith, with a greater focus on spirituality than dogma, brings him more in line with the British public.

Bradley said a small movement within the church already wants to see him formally cut off from the monarchy and the government. In a country with so many religions and so many people who don’t identify with any faith, Bradley said critics of the church are wondering “if it can really still claim to be the nation’s church.”

“It has given us a lot of confidence,” said Zara Mohammed, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, the largest group representing the UK’s estimated 3 million Muslims. “We consider him an admirer of Islam and a friend of British Muslims. It’s great to see how he understands how the UK has changed. He sees a more holistic picture and the power of all faiths and diverse communities working together.”

While any change in the monarch is unlikely to bring people back to the Church of England, Charles could be a more relatable “Defender of the Faith” to some members of the church.

“He represents those people who may not have a vibrant faith, but have a sense that God loves,” said Andi Britt, 58. Britt is a human resources executive at IBM in London, who came with his wife, Jane. , on Sunday morning to lay flowers in honor of the queen at Buckingham Palace.

“It represents a faith and a God who welcomes people, no matter how close they feel,” said Britt, who described himself as a “committed Christian” and a member of the Church of England. “I think he represents a lot of people who just aren’t as sure or don’t have as strong convictions: people of faith, different religions, or no faith.”

Boorstein reported from Washington.

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