King Charles III could bring a new approach to the ‘defender of the faith’

LONDON – At her coronation in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II was anointed with holy oils by the Archbishop of Canterbury and promised to govern not only according to British laws, but the “laws of God”, in his role as “supreme governor of the Church of England” and “defender of the faith”.

She was true to that vow. His devotion to “Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace” was a fundamental and defining, though sometimes overlooked, pillar of his life.

Now that his son Charles III is taking over, he has obviously accepted the responsibilities of his religious titles wholeheartedly. But he will bring a markedly different personal view of religion and spirituality to the role.

What kind of monarch will King Charles III be? Different from his mom.

“The Queen has been 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 the monarchy. “His is more spiritual and intellectual. Charles is more of a “spiritual seeker”. ”

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

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

Many trace her change in tone to her 2000 Christmas address, when she said, “For me, the teachings of Christ and my own personal responsibility before God provide a framework within which I try to live my life.

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

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

“We have a kind of unease about our politicians and our leaders expressing their faith, and to some extent that extends to the monarchy,” Bradley said. “It’s considered un-British.”

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

Like his mother was, Charles is a regular churchgoer and his faith is clearly Christian. In his first address to the nation, the day after the Queen’s death, Charles cited his “responsibility” to the Church of England, “in which my own faith is so deeply rooted”.

“In this faith and the values ​​it inspires, I was raised with a sense of duty to others and with the utmost respect for the treasured 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”.

During a 73-year life as king-in-waiting, when he was able to speak more freely than he can now as a monarch, Charles seemed to stake a less doctrinaire religious and spiritual position – even giving it its own title.

Charles 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 for these things,” he said, “which strikes me as a strange waste of people’s energy, when we are all aiming for the same ultimate goal.” Instead, he said, he preferred to embrace all religious traditions and “the model of the divine, which I think is in each of us”.

When asked the question again more than two decades later, he clarified his remarkssaying: “It has always seemed to me that, while at the same time being a Defender of the Faith, one could also be a protector of religions.

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

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 fact that “the spiritual dimension of our existence” has been “dangerously neglected at the modern age”.

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In the book, Charles challenged “empiricism”, the view that since science cannot prove the existence of God, God must not exist. This kind of thinking, he wrote, “takes the soul out of the picture.”

In an increasingly multicultural nation with a full rainbow of religions, Charles has long expressed interest and support for all forms of belief, especially Islam and Judaism.

His mother also broke new ground in this regard. She was the first British monarch to enter a mosque. Unlike her predecessors, she met a succession of popes. On her 60th year on the throne in 2012, she said the Church “has a duty to protect the free practice of all religions in this country.”

Pope Francis, along with Britain’s Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Sikh leaders, have all praised Elizabeth profusely since her death.

As the Queen spoke 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% ​​of Britons in 2020 considering themselves to be members of the Church of England, down from nearly 36% in 1985. Of those who considered themselves Anglican in 2020, over 40% said they “never” attend services.

Similar to the United States, British society has in recent years become less dependent and structured around institutions that were once the foundations of daily life. The centre’s research has shown that the number of people declaring “no religion” has risen from 34.3% in 1985 to almost 49% in 2020.

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

The church has changed significantly, 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 which was blessed immediately afterwards 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 marriages have technically ended in annulment, not divorce.

It wasn’t until 2018, when Charles’ son Prince Harry married American actress Meghan Markle in the same chapel where his father’s marriage was blessed, that a royal wedding of a partner divorced took place with the full blessing of the church.

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

Still, adultery Charles (along with Camilla) admitted when he married Princess Diana before their divorce in 1996 doesn’t sit well with some Britons.

“It’s hard to celebrate a man who has been an adulterer and has well-known but obscure religious views,” said Bates, the former Guardian correspondent. “If the monarchy stumbles, what about the established Church?

In some ways, Charles’ brand of faith – which emphasizes spirituality more than dogma – puts him more in tune with British audiences.

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

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

Although a change of monarch is unlikely to bring people back into the Church of England, Charles could be a closer ‘defender of the faith’ for some church members.

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

“He represents a faith and a God who welcomes people no matter how close they are,” 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 of themselves or don’t have such strong beliefs – people of faith, people of different faiths, or people without faith.”

Boorstein reported from Washington.

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