The Catholic Thing
The Queen, the Pope, and the Mystery of Monarchy Print E-mail
By Fr. Dwight Longenecker   
Thursday, 10 April 2014

Something there is that loves a monarch. Despite the ascent of the common man, the hubris of hoi polloi, and the domination of democracy, there is still a faint and quaint nostalgia for palaces and princes, emperors, potentates, and pontiffs.

We love the ceremony, ritual, and romance. How dull life would be without some pageantry, pomp, and circumstance. But is that all there is to it – no more than the love of a good parade?

I was twenty-three when I left my native America to live in England. I was a three-piece suited snob – wary of the crassness of the crowd and the mediocrity of the masses. I was also afflicted with Anglophilia – the love of all things English. Having read the great writers, I was determined to become an Anglican country parson like the seventeenth century poet George Herbert. 

By a stroke of good fortune and a touch of divine providence I went up to study theology at Oxford, was ordained into the Church of England and ended up as a country parson. I lived in a big vicarage and even wrote some poetry.

During my sojourn in England, I adapted to English ways. I drank tea and got used to being damp. I learned to say “trousers” instead of “pants” and “semi-articulated lorry” instead of “truck.”

I was delighted and dismayed by the English habit of saying one thing and meaning exactly the opposite. I grew to love the countryside all gold and green, the mellow villages, Kings College Cambridge, wacky English comedy, stodgy food, warm beer, and the BBC. I also came to love the Queen.

At first, I regarded HMQ with a mixture of mild amusement and curiosity. She was the age of my mother and was a bit like her. With her hats and handbags she managed to be majestic and down to earth all at once.

Despite her palaces and limousines the Queen seemed approachable and ordinary. Her humanity showed through as she watched her children make disastrous marriages. She viewed the disintegration of British society and the decay of the Church of England with a kind of stoical detachment. She did her duty with dignity. She turned up and continued to turn up.

      Her Majesty and His Holiness

When she met Pope Francis, I considered how the two of them hold historical offices far greater than themselves. The curmudgeonly champion of the common man would grunt and say, “She’s just Mrs. Windsor, and he’s just Father Bergoglio. They put on their undergarments one foot at a time like the rest of us.”

Yes, yes. We know. But perhaps there hovers above Mrs. Windsor and Father Bergoglio another mystery: the mystery of monarchy.

Queen Elizabeth has always managed to retain both her regal air and her common touch. She wears a headscarf or a crown according to the occasion. Everyone lauds Pope Francis for moving out of the Apostolic Palace and adopting a simple style, but even the pope must realize that the papacy is bigger than himself, and that the traditions and trappings of the monarchical papacy developed for a reason.

The successor of the Prince of the Apostles is the Steward of the King of Kings. It is right that he should live in a palace and process as a prince, just as it is right that the Queen of England should travel in the state coach, wear the crown, and ermine and bear the scepter and orb at her coronation – and for the opening of parliament. At those times Mrs. Windsor and Father Bergoglio cease to be ordinary and assume an extraordinary role in the drama of history. They should play their part.

The role of monarch is ancient, rich and deep. Every society has a kind of king – a figurehead who stands as the representative for the whole society’s identity and ideals. When she wears the crown Mrs. Windsor is not Mrs. Windsor. She is England. When Father Bergoglio wears the miter he is not Father Bergoglio. He is Catholicism.

Furthermore, the symbolism of monarchy is written deeply into the Judeo-Christian story. God’s servant Samuel anoints David the King, and God’s servant John the Baptist anoints the one who inherits the throne of his father David. Jesus the anointed speaks of the coming kingdom (not the coming republic) and the vision of heaven is always one in which the blesséd circle around the throne of the everlasting king.

This is why monarchy is important, and why it is a sad and shallow gimmick to throw it away in a misguided attempt to be “just an ordinary guy.” One could argue that the mystery of monarchy is even more important in an egalitarian age, and the universal affirmation, and affection given to the Queen and the Pope would support that argument.

There is more: the mystery of monarchy reminds us that we all have a part to play in a larger, more mysterious drama, which only occasionally is seen. When Mrs. Windsor and Father Bergoglio don their robes and crowns and assume their greater roles, we who believe are reminded that we too are adopted sons and daughters of the great King of Kings. We are all prophets, priests, and kings – princes and princesses in the court of the everlasting king, and one day he will return to claim his own.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s latest book is The Romance of Religion – Fighting for Goodness, Truth and Beauty. Visit his blog, browse his books, and be in touch at

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Comments (20)Add Comment
written by Aramis, April 10, 2014

With due respect, I find your Anglophilia almost as baffling as your reverance for the latest schismatic monarch in a long lines of monarchs and dynasties that have wrought murder and destruction on the church and the faithful in lands they were either responsible for or conquered outright. I know they have charming accents, but as a catholic I think there are easier cultures to fall in love with. Heaven is indeed a kingdom and not a republic, but when man puts on pretense of imitating the True King's power it does not tend to lead to a just ordering of society. The Romans understood this, and jealously guarded their republican institutions. It was only when they became enthralled of "pomp and circumstance" of monarchy that their society came unglued.

My Anglican hero is George Washington.
written by Augustine Thomas, April 10, 2014
The Queen is utterly useless. She hasn't protected Christianity in any meaningful way and has only raised vain, stupid children who went on to do the same.
Comparing her to a pope, even one as mediocre as we have now, is disgraceful.
I'd get nostalgic for Catholic England, Wales and Scotland, but Anglican Britain is Satan's playground and a heretic's paradise. They have done as much damage to the unity of the Church as any group of apostates or other heretics.
written by Augustine Thomas, April 10, 2014
The queen*
written by schm0e, April 10, 2014
...and that perhaps we ought to take up the responsibilities of the occasion that come with *our* offices.

The crown isnt to make the queen feel special -- its to make the "common man" see who he is. This is wrapped up with humility (especially that of the one who wears the crown) and might be a way out of that morass that the "me" generation handed to us.
written by maineman, April 10, 2014
With all due respect to Aramis, I find his rendition of history baffling and highly distorted. And the author is correct, monarchies tend usually to make us better, such as we are, not worse, at least when they are theoretically grounded in the firmament of the church.

Surely the central lesson of the last century and present times is the essential untrustworthiness and potential destructiveness of so-called liberal, secularist democracies. After all, the 100 million and counting death toll of the last 100 plus years was not wrought by kings and queens but by duly elected leaders such as Hitler and representatives of "the people" like Mao and Lenin.

And the assault on life and on Jesus' church is now being carried forward by our elected representatives in the west.

In other words, as above, so below.
written by elle, April 10, 2014
Aramis, mine too referring to George Washington. I would add some martyrs Fisher, Thomas Moore, etc.
Also Father, I find nothing to do with dignity when the wearer of the crown of England supports SSM & Abortion.
written by Jack,CT, April 10, 2014
Fr, Wonderful read Thanks; BTW,Glad you
came "Back down to earth!"
written by Howard Kainz, April 10, 2014
Hopefully, the Pope will not become a mere figurehead who just dots the "i's" and crosses the "t's" like present-day constitutional monarchs.
written by Athanasius, April 10, 2014
I understand the point being made, and I agree with it generally, notwithstanding the particular failures in England. Ronald Reagan understood this as well, and always carried himself with special dignity when in the Oval Office or on official business. There is something within us that calls forth and responds to ceremony and fancy dress. It has its place and should not be lost in our society's current race to make everything familiar and vulgar.
written by bill russell, April 10, 2014
The Queen has met more people (estimated 4 million personally spoken to by her)and is known to more people (her face is on the currencies of 70 countries)than any mere mortal in history, without ever having uttered an ill word. It is not her fault that her government is what it is. There are few Catholic monarchs left, and everyone has approved approved abortion and other crimes. The King of the Belgians gave his Royal Assent to the child euthanasia act. (And although a Catholic king by law is under the direct canonical discipline of the Holy Father, Pope Francis has done nothing to censure him.)
written by Hen, April 10, 2014
This was a fun read, though even I on occasion call pants trousers.
written by April, April 10, 2014
Bill Russell, "without ever having uttered an ill word" ? From what I understand she spoke rather slightingly to the Holy Father on this very visit. I'm not familiar with her record anywhere else, but surely that can't be the first time. In this case, she arrived twenty minutes late and instead of an apology made an excuse that was a clear put-down "oh, we were having so much fun with the person we were with." I have to think that is not the most polite thing to be saying if you are late to an engagement, at least I wouldn't say it: it implies that the person you were with before is so much more important than the person you are with now. The thing to do if you are late is offer a humble apology for breaking your word (you'd said you'd arrive at a certain time, but you didn't), not making any excuses, just an apology for your wrong. If you must work in some not-so-subtle put-down, let it be towards yourself for being so undependable.
written by Clare Krishan, April 13, 2014
I love my Queen also.
Dear Mrs Mountbatten nee Windsor; or if you're even more pedantic than me, the honorable Mrs Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (since the United Kingdom's royal line hasn't been 'native' since the passing of the Act of Settlement - the last 'native' heir, a Stewart scottish-marcher Lord died a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church; in turn his legitimate descendents would be found in a branch of Bavarian gentry.)
As an espoused Mountbatten, she carries her hubby's Polish Catholic great-grandma's patronym, an elevation gifted by German Lutheran in-laws who took pity on the morganitic wasteland the progeny were consigned to (ie considered illegitimate for hereditary purposes). Cross Julia Hauke's Hrabianka horizontally-demi-escutcheoned coat of arms with her vertically-demi-escutcheoned Hessische coat of arms and you get a beloved English cake
written by Matthew J. Ogden, April 13, 2014

Don't listen to the cranks and the naysayers. Remember, whenever people ridicule monarchy, all of their incoherent ramblings amount to saying this: "Hey! You know what would make this world a much better place? More politicians!"

That's how absurd democracy is. There's a reason the ancient and medieval philosophers denigrated democracy: it's just awful.

Now in the embarrassing case of the United States, this is a country that has all three bad forms of government simultaneously: a tyranny because of separation of church and state; an oligarchy because of capitalism; and it tries to be a democracy. They've managed a combination Aristotle would have thought impossible. It's the three heads of the awful red, white, and blue hydra.

Having said that, I do hope that you, Father, are perhaps a monarchist as I, and many young people, are today. This is especially the case in the Church, but also beyond. Australia is seeing a resurgence of enthusiasm for the monarchy (and Elizabeth is their sovereign) driven almost entirely by young people. These are many Australian monarchist societies now, with combined membership of about 5000 people. But they are rapidly growing, and almost all of them are under 35.

Unlike the older generation, indoctrinated into the New World Order of democratic capitalism, they realize the present system is a sham, and socially suicidal. They want kings and popes. They want throne and altar. And they're the future.
written by Michael D. , April 13, 2014
As for The Queen supporting legislation in favour of same sex marriage and other permissive legislation set in opposition to Traditional Christian teaching, I can understand your respondents concerns and criticism.

However, under the terms of her Coronation Oath, which is protestant, The Queen swears to uphold God's Laws, but as they are defined by Parliament. If Parliament - which proclaimed Henry VIII as Supreme Governor of the C of E - decides that abortion and same sex marriage are God's Laws, then The Queen is, by her Coronation Oath, compelled to assent to any law put before her. In fact, The Queen would be breaking her oath if she refused.

And let us remember, the unborn have, at present, no legal rights in The USA, because seven judges decided to interpret the US Constitution in such a way as to remove those rights.

The Constitution of the USA, does not defend the traditional definition of marriage nor marriage in Natural Law.

I'll give the Old Girl in London this, she understands the meaning of duty, service and sacrifice and the whole of her life has been at the service of her subjects.

Compare this with with our elected and self-serving politicians.
written by Brennan , April 13, 2014
Yes, modern democracy has been almost universally corrosive of Catholic culture (or just culture period). Historically, it has been the union of throne and altar that has enabled Catholic culture, and Catholic nations such as in Europe, to develop.

I love C.S. Lewis' quote on Charles Coloumbe's Monarchy FAQ page:

"Monarchy can easily be debunked, but watch the faces, mark well the debunkers. These are the men whose taproot in Eden has been cut: whom no rumour of the polyphony, the dance, can reach---men to whom pebbles laid in a row are more beautiful than an arch. Yet even if they desire mere equality they cannot reach it. Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes or film stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison."

written by John Michael Akers, April 13, 2014
I thought this article was great! My sentiments exactly.
written by Thomas Gallagher, April 14, 2014
Well, Father, you've now sweetened your tea with a few heaping spoonfuls of the usual saccharine monarchist drivel, much of it from Catholics who use monarchy to attack "democratic liberalism and socialism." As if liberalism (i. e. the endorsement of free markets, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and, most importantly, freedom of worship) were not a good thing. We can all be sentimental lovers of the symbolism of monarchy, and its pageantry too, but the United Kingdom is a liberal democracy, like the U. S. A.

When we awaken from our childish reveries about queens and kings and the panoply of monarchy, we need to be grownups and realize that monarchy is simply a gloss over liberal, democratic regimes of all sorts, all over the world. King Juan Carlos of Spain, for example, cemented a liberal, democratic regime in place in 1981 when he declined to offer public support to army officers who were attempting a coup against the democratically elected parliament.

The deeper question is, Why do so many Catholics despise democracy and the liberal tradition? This hatred is nowadays a bit more understandable, as we suddenly find liberal regimes violating freedom of worship by limiting Catholics in THEIR freedom of worship. But historically, liberal democracy has protected free worship, as Father John Courtney Murray argued influentially, and it can do so again. It is also well to remember that liberal, democratic regimes contributed enormously to the defeat and utter destruction of the two great anti-religious ideologies of the modern world--fascism and communism.

Why can Catholics not see this? The medieval scholastic endorsement of monarchy, and its 18th and 19th century corollary of support for absolutist regimes like the Catholic Austro-Hungarian monarchy, still seems to linger in the air, doesn't it, like a stench?
written by joe m, April 14, 2014
loved this. thanks.
written by Michele Fritze, April 17, 2014
I have always had soft spot for the monarchy of England, but there are always glitches in the system. Non of the above mentioned governments have come out against abortion and same sex marriages, yet the Bible teaches against them. Sodom and Gamorrah came to sorry end and life exists from conception, yet abortion and same sex marriages are allowed in nearly all governments. It's petty to have a 'go' at the Queen....she has to sign what parliament decides. She is only the Head of Staste in name. Remember her uncle and Mrs Simpson and the Abdication. We should have more compassion for the person she is.....there is much she doesn't like and has had to put up with....but she took a solemn oath to stay Queen for life. I also don't know why this pope's simplicity is bugging so many. Rather be the good 'Catholics' you profess to be and pray for Holy Mother Church and Our Holy Father the Pope. Prayer is the only way God will sort out this sorry world.

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