Sunday, April 4, 2010

Christianity and Monarchy

This being Easter it is as good a time as any to take a brief look at the relationship between monarchy and religion; in this case with a focus on Christianity. The ties between cross and crown are as old as the religion itself. It was as Christ the King that Jesus suffered death and the faith was confirmed by His ascension as King of Heaven. Christianity became acceptable due to the Edict of Milan granted by Emperor Constantine the Great who later became the first Christian Emperor of Rome. Later, Emperor Theodosius the Great made Christianity the official and exclusive religion of the Roman Empire, ushering in the era of Christendom.

From these beginnings there was always a very clear cooperative relationship between the imperial monarchy and Christianity. The earliest ecumenical councils were called, not by the Pope, but by the Emperor with the Pope validating them later. Even the papal title Pontifex Maximus or Supreme Pontiff was originally a title of the Roman Emperors which was passed to the Bishop of Rome by the Emperor Gratian. Being so far removed from the Roman Empire it may be hard for modern Christians to understand just how central the role of the Emperor was to the idea of a truly Christian society. This became especially pronounced with the shift in imperial power to the Eastern Roman Empire and even more so after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. In Constantinople the Emperor was recognized as the vicegerent of God on earth and the relationship between the Church and the monarchy was a very close on and would always continue to be so.

In the west the lack of such a relationship could not be endured and in 800 it was restored with the Holy Roman Empire when Pope St Leo III crowned Charlemagne in Rome on Christmas Day. Monarchs, east and west alike, were anointed with holy oils, dressed in clerical style garb and crowned in memory of Christ being crowned with thorns. The significance of this was so great that the monarchial coronation was often referred to as the eighth sacrament. This form of altar and throne relationship, continuing traditions from the Roman Empire, did come under attack with the start of the Protestant movement, however, Protestant Christianity also contained a very strong cooperation between cross and crown of a different sort. Protestantism would never have moved beyond its embryonic stage were it not for the Prince-Elector of Saxony, Frederick III, coming to the defense of Martin Luther and harboring him while he was in opposition to the Emperor.

Luther condemned rebellions and was particularly vociferous in his condemnation of the Peasants Revolt which was done in the name of Protestantism. He called for loyalty to the German princes, reminded his followers of the Biblical commands for obedience to Caesar in temporal matters and referenced the Divine Right of Kings. While other Protestant sects diverged from this view Lutheranism maintained the authority of the local royals. In time the Lutheran states of northern Europe all set up national churches under the leadership of the monarch which still survive today in Scandinavia. Protestantism also flourished in England with a unique style in which the monarch was exalted as ‘Supreme Head of the Church on earth’ and non-resistance to royal authority effectively became the bedrock principle of the Church of England as it was originally founded. It is also, to date, only in the British monarchy that the full, medieval style coronation ceremony is still performed with the monarch remaining head of the national Church of England in the Protestant fashion but also still retaining the title “Defender of the Faith” which was a title originally given to the English king by the Pope when the country was still Catholic.

The character of Kings is sacred; their persons are inviolable; they are the anointed of the Lord, if not with sacred oil, at least by virtue of their office. Their power is broad---based upon the Will of God, and not on the shifting sands of the people's will...They will be spoken of with becoming reverence, instead of being in public estimation fitting butts for all foul tongues. It becomes a sacrilege to violate their persons, and every indignity offered to them in word or act, becomes an indignity offered to God Himself. It is this view of Kingly rule that alone can keep alive in a scoffing and licentious age the spirit of ancient loyalty, that spirit begotten of faith, combining in itself obedience, reverence, and love for the majesty of kings which was at once a bond of social union, an incentive to noble daring, and a salt to purify the heart from its grosser tendencies, preserving it from all that is mean, selfish, and contemptible.”
-- Archbishop John Healy of Tuam

A priest who is not a monarchist is not worthy to stand at the altar table. The priest who is a republican is always a man of poor faith. God himself anoints the monarch to be head of the kingdom, while the president is elected by the pride of the people. The king stays in power by implementing God’s commandments, while the president does so by pleasing those who rule. The king brings his faithful subjects to God, while the president takes them away from God.”
-- Metropolitan Neomartyr Vladimir of Kiev


  1. Where did you find this excellent quotation from St Vladimir, Metropolitan of Kiev?
    He was the very FIRST Hieromartyr of what they call the Communist Yoke. So many hierarchs - Metropolitans, Archbishops and Bishops -followed after him to Solovki and other gulags....

    [Tomorrow is the Feast Day of St Tikhon, the last authentic Patriarch of Russia. I went to visit his quarters in the monastery where he was held under virtual house arrest in Moscow, under the thumb of the Bolsheviks. Most people believe he was poisoned by them so they could bring in their own substitute "church" which Stalin later did under "patriarch" Sergius.
    Anyone traveling to Moscow can see St Tikhon's impressive relics in the front of the main Cathedral of the same monastery where he was held, the Donskoy.]

    As far as Met. Vladimir, he's always been my absolute favorite of all the New Martyrs of Russia!

    It's not generally known but despite his high office, the Metropolitan went right to the meetings of the 'workers' and explained to them why they should not believe the Bolsheviks deceptive propaganda.

    Met Vladimir was bold enough, too, in that inauspicious revolutionary climate, to try to persuade the working class to return to the Church.
    He also wrote pamphlets against alcohol and was a strict tea drinker himself.
    Such strictness is remarkable among the Russian clergy, plagued for over a millenium by weakness for vodka.
    The story of Met Vladimir's martyrdom outside the gate of the historic Kiev Caves Lavra is very moving. Too sad to remember the details.

    St Vladimir of Kiev is a good one to pray to as he had an especially strong character.

    If one looks at the general icon of All New Martyrs of Russia, one can see him prominently placed center right, as I recall without looking at it, in a miter and the blue mantia [mantle] of a Metropolitan. [Published by Jordanville, NY's Holy Trinity Monastery, should anyone have interest.]

    Speaking of artwork, I like the evocative image at the top of this post to illustrate the vitally important topic, though not much appreciated today!

  2. As to the quote, I'm afraid I can't say. I had collected a ton of like quotations for my old website and just had to save them all to a word file before the site was closed. I envy you being able to visit the relics of St Tikhon; he was a heroic man. Imagine having the courage to stand up and condemn the Bolsheviks for the murder of the Tsar. They just killed the most powerful man in all Russia, probably the most powerful ruler on earth at the time and St Tikhon stands up to denounce them! Likewise, St Vladimir, to me, was an example of the most true Christian monarchist because he was faithful in good times and bad. He had the wisdom (and daring) to oppose Rasputin before the Tsar which made him very unpopular at court and yet, despite this, his loyalty to the Little Father never wavered in the slightest. The picture is from the coronation of Charles VII of France, in the whole painting you see St Joan of Arc standing alongside -another example of a royalist loyal to her King even when that king was unfair to her. This is true Christian service; obeying the harsh judgments as well as the good and gentle ones.


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