in service of the
Making sense of Monarchy
Called not to be served, but to serve
Do I have any credibility to contribute to the debate? Perhaps not, for I am a republican in Australia but a monarchist in Britain. It is not that I am confused, it is that contemporary Australian demographics makes a Republic a necessity, whilst British conventions remain well served by the obligations of office placed upon the monarch.
As Australia moves inexorably towards a republic, I both rejoice and am saddened. Australia comprises a population drawn from the four corners of the planet, for whom a foreign head of state makes absolutely no sense. But in becoming a republic how will we ensure our new head of state will make the same commitments to service that Charles was obligated to make at his coronation. Meaningful and lasting service deepens a sense of sacred, value beyond self.
Australia’s political and civic psyche appears to have moved beyond any real sense of the sacred as a primary value. Measurements are made in economic terms. Critics of the monarchy at home (Britain) and abroad have used the same measurement – what economic contribution do the Royals make? Politics is all about economics, nothing deeper. Unless we are lucky enough to find a Mary McAleese, how would an Australian president draw us into a deeper sense of who we could and should be. Politicians have demonstrated they are incapable of doing that.
There can be little doubt Charles is underestimated, and equally underestimated is the burden he undertook to carry at his coronation. There is no reason to doubt he will take these oaths as seriously as did his mother, Elizabeth ll.
Two key symbols at the coronation are orb and sceptre. The orb represents the spiritual dimension of existence and the sceptre its material dimension. To what I consider to be our considerable loss, we Australians appear to have abandoned any meaningful sense of life’s sacred or spiritual dimension. Perhaps worse, many who do acknowledge such dimension are territorial, using dogma to exclude, ambitious for superiority, even domination. Spirituality necessitates humility, awe in the presence of that which is greater than self. It also requires that we acknowledge we are but a small part of a greater whole that deserves our service. Charles is right to have included all dimensions of religious expression in his coronation. While being an Anglican Christian by conviction, he recognises that spirituality is inevitably part of ethnicity, place of birth and culture. His Anglicanism is authentically that.
This inclusiveness and conviction is drawn from his deep Christian faith and from his traditionalist philosophy. I commend the following link to this philosophy:
Those who rightly wish Britain, or specifically the crown, to face up to the scandalous horror that was British acquisition of Australian land and resources, and the slaughter of Aboriginal people, may well be making a serious mistake in opposing Charles because of his association with the crown’s ignominious history. At his coronation he accepted symbols of justice and mercy as hallmarks of his service. He must stay out of politics, but he is to be a champion of what is right. Contemporary politics may be challenging enough, but as many commentators have pointed out, he must face the contemporary consequences of historical injustice, perpetrated in the name of the crown in many countries of the previous British Empire. Already some West Indian Nations have made clear the stench of historical slavery cannot be ignored. I expect him to observe his oath and exercise his influence towards meaningful recognition of, and responsibility taking for, the past.
It should surprise no one that his commitment to the environment is an expression of his Christian conviction. We can only hope that, as attention is given to the ʹVoiceʹ, a gift to all Australians from its first nations people, aspects of spirituality which undergird their culture may reignite this dimension now lost in most Australians. By the manner of his life, Charlesʹ role as monarch is to nourish and strengthen a deep sense of connectedness to the sacred - inclusive of the natural order. Life is too easily reduced to the mundane.
It is said Charles wishes to modernise the monarchy. This should be applauded. If the coronation is essentially about the person, Charles, then its pageantry and expense is obscene. If on the other hand, it is about the citizens of Great Britain and other realms, then at a cost of 1 or two pounds per citizen it is not. It was my experience of Great Britain that paraphernalia relating to the monarch of the day was far more likely to be found in labourers’ cottages than in the mansions of the elite. On the day of his coronation Charles swore allegiance in service to the people. I personally found the invitation to the people to swear allegiance to him awkward. If it had been worded differently, namely that we were invited to swear allegiance to the same values, service, justice, mercy, God: I would have had far less difficulty. The invitation as it stood sat uneasily within Australian culture.
The oil used in the coronation was harvested from the Mount of Olives and consecrated by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III, and the Anglican Palestinian Archbishop in Jerusalem, The Most Reverend Hosam Naoum. The symbolism should not be hard to grasp in terms of what is expected from the sovereign. The Mount of Olives was the place of Jesus prayer before the crucifixion. It is expected the sovereign will embrace a deep sense of service. Clearly it was this spirit that defined the life of Queen Elizabeth.
Much is made of the extraordinary privilege and wealth of the Royal family. There is no denying this reality. However, does this privilege and wealth gift them with greater personal contentment or happiness than most of their citizens? The evidence suggests not. Indeed, it could well be the case that much of what is described as privilege is experienced as burden. We don’t want them to be like us, we expect them to be different. It is when they behave like us, when the muckiness of life envelopes them, they no longer fulfil the role we expect of them.
Greater wealth is seldom the source of personal wellbeing. How that wealth or privilege is exercised is the channel of such contentment.
The crowning of the monarch was accompanied by George Frederick Handel’s Zadok the Priest which reminds the monarch, as do the orb and sceptre, of life’s two dimensions. Zadok was accompanied in the crowning of Solomon by Nathan the Prophet. The role of the prophet is to call all, especially earthy rulers, to account in justice and righteousness. This is also Charlesʹ burden.
Let me conclude with two quotes from one of the more interesting coronation invitees – Nic Cave
I am not interested in anything that doesn’t have a genuine heart to it. You’ve got to have soul in the hole. If that isn’t there, I don’t see the point.
All of our days are numbered. We cannot afford to be idle. To act on a bad idea is better than to not act at all, because the worth of an idea never becomes apparent until you do it.