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.