Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Christian Churches and Monarchy Today
Protestant churches have, at various times and in various places, been both opposed to monarchy and supportive of it, depending on the situation. Originally, the teachings of Martin Luther sparked widespread opposition to the idea of any traditional authority at all, secular or spiritual, which was manifested in the “Peasant’s Revolt” in Germany. Luther himself, who was sheltered by a German prince, quickly tried to make amends by calling on the princes to slaughter the disloyal peasants and the Protestant cause soon came to be wedded to the monarchies of the various nations which embraced it. In England, for example, Protestantism came into power in a rather round-about way. It started very much with loyalty to the Crown being paramount above all else and this meant what was largely a continuation of Catholicism but with the King (Henry VIII) rather than the Pope at the head of it. It was only later, during the regency of the unfortunate King Edward VI, that the Church of England actually became Protestant. From the time of Queen Elizabeth I onward, Protestant Christianity and the monarchy seemed to be inseparable. The same could be said for countries such as Denmark or Sweden.
This was, of course, in a country that was largely Catholic and in Protestant countries, the bonds between the Crown and the national church generally went on proudly together. The break between the established Protestant churches and the cause of monarchy came relatively quite recently. In some ways, these churches remained at least nominally monarchist even longer than they remained at least nominally Christian. There were even a number of news stories this year that, after a long period of precipitous decline, attendance at the Church of England was growing along with the revived sense of national pride and patriotism that grew up around the “Brexit” referendum. However, given the reaction of the Anglican hierarchy to the outcome of that vote, I would not be too hopeful about this continuing. These established Protestant churches remain, today, officially supportive of the monarchy in its current, purely ceremonial form, but they are increasingly abandoning any pretense of actual Christianity and embracing, even championing ideas which run directly in opposition to the very fundamental idea of monarchy. Of course, the monarchies themselves have been poked, prodded and cajoled into going along with this trend which works directly against the long-term survival of the monarchical institution.
Why do I bring this up? Because it undermines the idea that royals are set apart, that their bloodline matters and it seems to go hand in hand with the other changes in society, the borderless, internationalist world the Swedish pastors are so fond of in that Europeans seemed to have stopped caring about the bloodline of their royals at the same time they stopped caring about their own. It all feeds into the narrative of the egalitarians that we are all the same, we are all interchangeable, “everyone is special” which means that no one actually is. It is simply an unavoidable fact that monarchies are being dragged along with this revolutionary, egalitarian mindset. To say that male primogeniture is “unfair” is true, in the terms of the egalitarians, but it is no less “unfair” than saying the firstborn is heir rather than the second or third. By these standards, *monarchy* is unfair and they will always see it as such. Likewise, it would be absurd to argue that a monarch must be a descendant of a certain bloodline, a lineage with historic roots in the country, but that the people of said country could be anyone from anywhere. This is obviously not conducive to monarchy nor is it in line with Biblical Christianity which Protestants once prided themselves on. Even a cursory reading of the Bible will show immediately just how important genealogy, bloodlines and national history was to the Christian religion.
As the popes became real or potential rivals for power with the emperor and lesser monarchs, the papal attitude toward monarchy tended to shift depending on the situation. An important distinction was that the popes tended not to be anti-monarchy, simply anti-whoever was the strongest monarch. So, the Pope would ally himself with the republican city states of northern Italy because they were not a threat to him while the Emperor in Germany was powerful enough to be so. Later, the popes, as we have discussed previously, tended to alternate between the Germans and French depending on who was the least threat to them. So, for example, when the German Emperor became the most powerful Catholic monarch, the Pope would support the King of France against him and, alternately, when the King of France became the most powerful Catholic monarch, the Pope would throw his support behind the Emperor in Germany. This was generally a successful strategy in maintaining papal control over central Italy but it also meant that any time a Catholic monarch emerged who was strong enough to unite Christendom, the Pope would be working to undermine him, even, ultimately, if that placed him on the same side as the Protestants such as during the time of papal opposition to King Louis XIV of France and by extension his Stuart cousins in Britain.
However, that era ended with him after which the world got its first, short-lived, taste of a liberal pope. When Blessed Pius IX came on the scene he reversed all of his predecessor’s policies. He not only let the revolutionaries out of prison but appointed them to high office under a new constitution that brought laymen into the government of the Papal States. He championed the cause of Italian nationalism and urged the Emperor of Austria to withdraw his armies from Italian soil so that all his children might live happily in their own national territory. Then he was ousted by a republican mob and instantly reversed himself in every regard, allying himself with a Bonaparte President-turned-Emperor to maintain his rule over Rome. Ultimately, history proved that Pius IX had attached himself to a falling star and with the downfall of Napoleon III, Papal rule over Rome ended too and Rome was once again the capital city of a united Italian peninsula. However, it would take some time before the papacy would count as lost what had been lost and this would lead to some unusual situations such as Pope Leo XIII making peace with Protestant Prussia and allowing French Catholics to participate in republican politics while still refusing to deal with the Catholic King of Italy or allowing Italian Catholics to participate in politics in the Kingdom of Italy.
Nonetheless, in theory or in terms of general concepts, the Catholic Church remained pro-monarchy throughout all but its recent history. It would be wrong to heap all blame for changing on the Second Vatican Council (aka ‘when the hippies took over’) as the creep had started before that but it does represent the most visible break with the traditional teachings of the Church of Rome of the past. Democracy, freedom of conscience, separation of church and state etc, all once condemned by the Church suddenly became embraced as good things. Attitudes which were once lauded as being devout and pious have recently been criticized as being rigid and dogmatic. Holding fast to sacred traditions was previously considered a divine commandment only to now be regarded as Pharisaical and putting ‘form’ ahead of ‘substance’. What was once considered being reverent is now considered exclusionary and un-Christian. It should come as no surprise that even while the current Roman Pontiff has received glowing praise from the secular elites, mass attendance and religious vocations have continued to decline rapidly. A lukewarm faith doesn’t seem to be winning many converts, indeed those in the most heavily Catholic part of the world, Latin America, are either moving to the very Protestant United States (with the encouragement of the Church) or are converting to Evangelical Protestantism in their own countries brought by American missionaries.
Much has also often been made of the national character of Eastern Orthodoxy after the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the lack of unity and nationalist attitude of the various churches often being compared, unfavorably, to those united with Rome. Again, however, this can be rather unfair and, upon reflection, I think may be exaggerated by those eager to have something over the Orthodox. After all, for much of the history of Eastern Christianity, most of these national churches were under the rule of Muslim conquerors and surely that would have contributed to nationalistic attitudes more than the administrative divisions of their Church. The divisions of Eastern Christianity may have also actually been beneficial in at least one way. Since their entire outlook on how the Church was supposed to work required a unity that did not exist, it meant that no one had the power to change things or mess things up as, I think it would be hard to argue, did happen in the West. Furthermore, while Orthodox Christians have often opposed each other, the same could be said for Catholics and Protestants as well. For that matter, one could simply point to the very existence of Protestantism in the West, which the papal office did not prevent (and, indeed, at times exacerbated) whereas no similar division of such magnitude ever happened in the east where Church and Crown were more firmly on the same side.
It cannot escape notice, however, that while Christian monarchs still reign in the west, none do so in the east. However, that is not very significant when one considers how this came about. Catholic France was already on her third republic by the time the monarchy fell in Russia and the Orthodox monarchies in Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia were not overthrown by their own people but conquered and demolished by the invading Soviets. It also says something about the strength of monarchist sentiment in the east that the idea of a limited, ceremonial monarchy always remained rather alien to them. The Czar of Russia remained an absolute monarch practically until he was overthrown and the Romanian, Bulgarian and Yugoslav monarchs all were effectively absolute monarchs as late as just prior to World War II with the “King’s Government” of Boris III in Bulgaria in 1935, the “January 6 Regime” of Alexander I in Yugoslavia in 1929 and the “National Renaissance Front” of Carol II in Romania in 1938. Even the “August 4 Regime” in Greece under George II of 1936 was somewhat similar. The point is that, monarchy in these Orthodox countries not only survived but was quite robust up to the very end.
What has been done is significant though and I think worthy of praise. It would be great if Protestant and Catholic leaders would follow the example of the Orthodox in this regard because the Orthodox leaders who speak out in favor of traditional authority are, as such, the only ones offering a viable and proven alternative to the liberal malaise of modern times. Western Christian leaders are, sadly, not doing this and, indeed, are moving ever further from genuine Christianity in favor of a “social justice gospel”. It is, for this reason, not surprising that while right-wing dissidents in the east rally around the Church, similar dissidents in the west have begun rallying around a sort of neo-paganism. That would be unfortunate enough from a Christian point of view and yet, worse than that, it seems to invariably be a neo-paganism of the Celtic or Germanic variety which has little to offer. As I recently pointed out, if you are of European descent, unless your lineage is Greek or Italian, your pagan ancestors were not much to write home about. They became some of the most advanced and outstanding civilizations the world had ever seen in the Christian era, but as far as non-Christians go, the Egyptians who built the pyramids, the Jews who built the Temple of Solomon or the Babylonians who built the hanging gardens could rightly ask the worshippers of Odin and Thor just what they had ever done that was so impressive.
Altar and Crown, both must be restored.