“Some of these comments have revealed grave misunderstandings of how the British Constitution operates.”
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In a previous essay, we considered the nature of civil authority both in itself, and in relation to the British Monarchy and the English constitution.
I concluded that piece by stating that whatever anyone may think of Charles III, his politics, philosophy, religion, theories of kingship, or of unknown “efficient” forces benefiting from his “dignity”, he is our King.
Far from being an illusion used solely to dignify what Bagehot called “the efficient” institutions of government, our monarchy is more real than many of its establishment proponents realise, or might wish to be true. In England, the King is the living principle of authority, order, law and liberty, embodying these things, and receiving authority directly and immediately from Almighty God himself. If we value these good things, then it is right and proper to reverence him.
But following King Charles III’s accession in September 2022, some Catholics have voiced serious reservations about both the King and the House of Windsor. Some of these comments – however well-meaning – have revealed grave misunderstandings of how the British Constitution operates.
There are indeed reasons for concern. I have addressed some of these points in the previous part, and noted that accepting and reverencing the King as head of state does not entail accepting anything contrary to the truth or the law of God.
In this piece, let’s briefly consider some of the reasons and reservations that Catholics have about King Charles III and the British Monarchy in general.
It is notorious that the British Monarch is the head of the schismatic and heretical Church of England, and is crowned by Anglicans in an Anglican ceremony.
There are some who believe that Catholics cannot be subject to a non-Catholic head of state – or that it is impossible for us to owe or offer him our allegiance as his subjects. What should we make of this?
First, as we saw in the last piece, St Paul commands his readers to reverence kings and princes. At that time, such persons were by not members of the Church. It is false to say that the non-Catholic heads of state of formerly Catholic countries are illegitimate.
It is false to suggest that headship of a natural society such as the state requires membership of the supernatural society of the Church. Such an idea is contradicted by Holy Scripture and by the Church herself. It is contradicted also in particular, by the Church’s long recognition of the British Monarchy.
It is also very far from the actual conduct and sentiments of English Catholics. During the period of mourning for Queen Victoria in 1901, Cardinal Vaughan prescribed the following observances for the accession of King Edward VII, following the death of Queen Victoria:
“What then can we do? Everywhere a deep sentiment of loyalty and patriotism is swelling within the heart of the Catholic community in England, and seeking for some outward expression. Gladly and eagerly shall we join in the purely civil and social mourning, as in the civil honours that will be generously offered by the nation to the memory of such a Queen. Where there are church bells they will be tolled in sign of mourning, and the national flag may be run up half-mast, either within or without the precincts of our churches.
“We fully and acutely share in the national sorrow and the anxiety inseparable from such a period. We trust and pray that the noble traditions established by the Mother will be carried on and perfected by her Son. The attachment of Catholics to the Throne and the Dynasty are beyond suspicion. [Emphasis added]
“We proceed, then, to prescribe, in order that the Divine blessing may rest upon the successor to the Throne, upon the nation, and upon ourselves, the recitation, in the Mass, of the collect, “Deus, Refugium nostrum” until further notice, tamquam pro re gravi.”
To repeat the words of Cardinal Vaughan for emphasis:
“The attachment of Catholics to the Throne and the Dynasty are beyond suspicion.”
Laws in the United Kingdom are made with the sanction of Lords and Commons – but always with Royal Assent. Many wicked “laws” were passed in the reign of Elizabeth II, who never refused Royal Assent to any of them. There is no sign that King Charles will do so either. Some argue that the Monarch does not even have the power to do so (a debate which we shall not enter here).
Under present conditions, the practical reality is that the Monarch has increasingly become little more than a figurehead who lends dignity and legitimacy to those who are “actually” governing.
In my opinion, Catholic theology prevents us from taking this as an exhaustive understanding of our monarchy, but it remains a practical reality at this time.
As such, giving Royal Assent does not mean that the Monarch personally initiated such laws, nor that they can be considered the Monarch’s own laws and policies.
The more important question relates to the nature of the Monarch’s cooperation with evil through the granting of Royal Assent to evil laws. Personally, I cannot understand how abdication would not be preferable to giving assent to certain proposed laws in recent times.
However, I do not wish to enter into this discussion here, but rather to dismiss the idea that laws passed with royal assent can be attributed to the Monarch as his (or her) own personal policies.
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Following the accession, one commentator asserted that King Charles III was “certainly” going to persecute true Catholicism in the UK.
As already discussed, the Monarch acts as a figurehead. There are no signs that it is about to change, or that such a change would be politically possible.
King Charles III assuming the power to persecute anyone would entail an entire revolution in the British Constitution. Such a thing cannot be predicted with any kind of certainty, and the idea is a total misconception of the lay of the land.
Many believe that Charles III is “woke”, having been interested in issues such as climate change. Others point to his apparently “indifferentist” views on religion.
In fact, in spite of certain interfaith spectacles, it is far from clear that “woke” or “liberal” are appropriate terms to use for the King. Far from being a simplistic indifferentist, it seems from his references to René Guénon that he has a far more intellectual interest in “perennialism” – an esoteric philosophy which proposes a “transcendent unity” between religions.
This is not a positive thing, and in some ways it may be worse than merely following a trendy zeitgeist. But it is important to have an accurate understanding of what is before us. Once we recognise this, we may have a more accurate context for understanding his interest in environmental matters (which sometimes figure in perennialist circles).
For those interested in the topic of perennialism – and its disturbing prevalence among traditional Catholics – I refer readers to Alistair McFadden’s 2021 study ‘Observations on the Influence of the Occult in Traditional Catholic Discourse.’
As discussed in the previous piece, the opinions and actions of the Monarch can be of great importance, and he can lend dignity and prestige to the various ideas that he espouses.
This can indeed be very harmful – but this does not prevent him from being the King, or make it illegitimate for us to honour him as such and celebrate his coronation.
Some believe that the House of Windsor is illegitimate, either because some other royal house is considered to be legitimate, or because the members of the royal house are not Catholic.
We should also avoid substituting romantic sentiments for true political doctrine and historical reality. The Church supported the Jacobite claimants for a time, but then ceased; and since the early nineteenth century – at the very latest – it is quite clear which line is considered legitimate in this land.
The last Jacobite claimant, and the last descendant of the deposed king James II, was his grandson Henry Cardinal Duke of York who died in 1807. It seems very strange – some two centuries later – to treat an obscure German aristocrat, who does not claim the throne, as an obviously better figure around which Catholics should rally.
This is also to leave aside the question of the role of the Church in recognising and legitimising heads of state. This objection often implies a very simplistic understanding of this matter.
We are all aware of the various political problems of the last decades (if not centuries), and we should be under no illusions about how the British Monarchy has been used for evil.
But the criticisms given above don’t address the real problems, and lack foundation in political philosophy, Catholic doctrine, and historical fact. For these reasons – and even more because of the reasons discussed in the previous part – there should be no scruples or obstacles for Catholics recognising Charles III as their King, and celebrating his coronation with our countrymen.
Having seen this, we are in a position to consider what exactly we are celebrating in the coronation of Charles III – who, as we know, is already the King and head of state – and what Catholics might stand to benefit ourselves from observing the coronation itself, and from joining in the celebrations.
I shall endeavour to answer these points in due course.
Why do we celebrate a coronation? A sermon by Mgr Ronald Knox
The WM Review – Why ignorance and prejudice are a dangerous mix – Cardinal Newman and the British Constitution
The WM Review – Is monarchy just an illusion, used to dignify shadowy forces?
The WM Review – Why we are mourning Queen Elizabeth II’s death
Walter Bagehot – The English Constitution (1867)
St Thomas Aquinas – On Kingship. Despite the title, this is about more than just Kingship: it also deals with the purpose of civil authority in itself. In Opuscula I, from the Aquinas Institute (UK readers) and online at Aquinas.cc
Mgr Paul F. Glenn – Sociology
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 Letter from Herbert Cardinal Vaughan, 1901. Available at https://fsspx.uk/en/news-events/news/death-queen-76405
 To repeat: this is an essay explaining motives for reverence towards the Monarch, not an explanation of the British Constitution.
 William Roper, The Life of Sir Thomas More, pp 103-4, Templgate Publishers, Springfield, Illinois.