Andrew Marr is usually good value, especially in the wilderness that is Sunday morning television. This week, despite the crush of Jubilee pressure, he did not disappoint, with a feisty performance against the Prime Minister over Hunt and leading Toynbee & Bremner into giving a livelier take on the papers than usual.
But what stopped me in my tracks was the interview with the eloquent the Right Honourable and Right Reverend Bishop of London, Richard Chartres. We’ll leave aside the fact that the cathedral of the same name may be the most brilliant edifice to man’s faith in the Western World and that his affable nature made the interview pleasurable in comparison to the rough-and-tumble Paxo-esque nature of most interviews on the show.
Chartres is also Dean of the Chapels Royal, which means, roughly speaking, he’s a vicar with parishioners at Buckingham Palace—hence his appearance to discuss, among other things, the continuing use of Fidei Defensor (defender of the faith) by the monarchy that still appears on all our coins, albeit reduced to “F.D.” these days. (It is rumoured that Charles does not wish to use this title, should he become monarch, which says much for his sense of propriety.) But, genial as he was, it was both the argument His Grace made and the assumed context within which he made it that got right up my nose.
First of all, the ‘F.D.’ bit. Granted by Pope Leo X in 1521 to a youthful Henry VIII for a treatise denouncing the protestant heresy being preached by Luther and his ilk, this was all made something of a travesty by Henry’s subsequent unilateral establishing in 1530 of the Church of England with himself conveniently as head so that he could use its vast wealth to pay off debts and fund his lifestyle. Although the title was revoked by Pope Paul III, Henry’s English parliament of lackies contrived to re-award it as “defender of the Anglican faith”, in direct contradiction of the original award.
When Unionists speak of the strength of tradition, I often wonder whether they mean to gloss over such dissolute effrontery to truth and principle or whether they operate the Orwellian model where we have always been at religious loggerheads with Eurasia. When Chartres tried to interpret the fuzziness of Latin translation (no definite articles) to mean ‘of faiths’, implying the importance of faith communities in holding society together, it just smacked of philosophical convenience.
What got my goat far more was the way His Grace regarded the Anglican Church ipse facto as the being establishment and that, despite declining numbers who attend Anglican services, could operate as a political wing of the monarchy and with their authority. There was, he averred, little mood for disestablishing the Church—i.e. removing the monarch as its head. Ministering to his own religious superior was not anomalous.
For a Scot—albeit a non-religious Scot like myself—all this makes me feel ignored. Leave aside that 16 Anglican bishops sit in the Lords while the Scots have none because they don’t believe in bishops. Leave aside that the 1707 Act of Union, for all its ugly flaws, did ensure that the Church of Scotland would not be part of the established Anglican church. We have a Scot like Marr, who should know better, chatting to a man who clearly thinks the Church of England is sole authority in such matters.
Far be it from me to dictate how the Anglican (or any other) Church operates within itself. It may well be a force for good and part of the complex weave that keeps society together. But even if the CofE no longer forbids Catholics being Head of State and accepts women as equal aspirants to the throne, we still inhabit Henry’s morally suspect 16th, rather than our enlightened 21st, century if someone accedes to be head of a church—much less head of state—simply by accident of birth. But the English, from His Grace on down, continue to fail to distinguish between England and its Union with us.
For us Scots, there is a simple solution to such arcane and morally suspect dilemmas: choose to be, not just in a country that once had no truck with such nonsense but in one reasserting its right as a sovereign state to again have no truck in future.