Prince Charles: Faith's defender
david at virtueonline.org
Fri Dec 5 13:08:30 EST 2014
Prince Charles: Faith's defender
By Alistair MacDonald-Radcliff
November 27, 2014
Interventions by Prince Charles in support of persecuted Christians are,
according to a senior Anglican adviser who knows his interfaith work
well, examples of a commitment to religious freedom born out of his role
as heir to the throne.
Nearly two decades ago the Prince of Wales observed that the level of
misunderstanding between the Islamic and Western worlds was "dangerously
high". The subsequent advance of militant Islam and the increasing
persecution of Christians in the Middle East have given his words a
painfully prophetic ring. He has recently and conspicuously stepped up
his public interventions to reflect his deepening concern.
In part, his is a straightforward humanitarian response to an urgent
crisis, to suffering and need, combined with a frustration at the lack
of effective international engagement to end it. But there are further
dimensions deriving from his wider constitutional position and likely
future role as monarch, as well as Supreme Governor of the Church of
England. These root his interventions in the historic dynamics of
monarchy and the life and work of the present Queen.
Prince Charles' sensibilities are clearly similar to those of his mother
who, as heir to the throne, set out the enduring themes for her life in
1947. As Princess Elizabeth she was on a tour of South Africa with her
family when, on her twenty-first birthday, she made a speech broadcast
by radio dedicating her life to the service of the Commonwealth.
The future Queen stated, in the confidence of "an unwavering faith, a
high courage and a quiet heart", that "my whole life whether it be long
or short shall be devoted to your service". This mandate was solemnly
sealed at her later coronation, during which, at its most sacred moment,
Elizabeth became quite literally set apart and anointed by God (so
sacred was this rite that it was not shown by television cameras or
recorded on film).
This firmly Christian commitment has provided the bedrock for the
Queen's entire reign with, at its heart, what one senior prelate
commended as an "uncomplicated faith".
Her eldest son's own faith is perhaps less clear-cut and more
embellished, yet it too has been a driving force throughout his life. At
the age of 20, he entered into solemn commitments "in faith and truth"
at his investiture as Prince of Wales. Ever since, he has pursued a
spiritual quest of great breadth and depth causing some proponents to
speculate, naively, that he was on the point of conversion, all at once,
to Russian and Greek Orthodoxy as well as Islam. The truth is rather
that, as he once explained to Jonathan Dimbleby, "I am one of those
people who searches. All the great prophets, all the great thinkers,
those who achieved a far greater awareness of the aspects of life which
lie beneath the surface, all share the same understanding of the
universe, of the nature of God, of the purpose of our existence, and
that's why I feel it's so important to understand the common threads
which link us all in one great important tapestry."
The practical reality is, however, that he is a personally sincere
Anglican Christian. He has his own chapel at Highgrove -- his house and
estate in Gloucestershire -- and close friendships with a number of
bishops including the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, and the
retired Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, as well as the former
Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, who has spoken warmly of the
Prince as "a man of great stature and vision" and "a committed Anglican
who takes faith seriously".
Nevertheless, in the quest to reach out to everyone in the realm, Prince
Charles has been tempted to interpret the historic title of English
monarchs since Henry VIII, of Fidei Defensor, to mean defender of faith
in a wider sense, rather than merely Christian. This prompted the
recently retired Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to issue an
unusually blunt clarification stating that as Defender of the Faith, the
monarch "has a relationship with the Christian Church of a kind which he
[or she] does not have with other faith communities". Against this
background it is striking and telling how publicly Prince Charles has
taken up the plight of Christians in the Middle East. At a reception for
them last December at Clarence House, he said the decline of Christians
in the region represented a major blow to peace as Christians are part
of the fabric of society. "For 20 years, I have tried to build bridges
between Islam and Christianity and to dispel ignorance and
misunderstanding ... [but] we have now reached a crisis where the
bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed ... through
intimidation, false accusation and organised persecution," said the
On Wednesday last week, Prince Charles spoke out on behalf of Armenian
Christians facing persecution in Syria and Iraq. They are descendants of
survivors of the Armenian genocide committed by the Ottoman Government.
They fled to Syria a century ago.
Addressing the Primate of the Armenian Church in the United Kingdom,
Bishop Vahan Hovhanessian, at the church of St Yeghichè in London, he
said: "I greatly admire the courage and faith of your flock who are an
example to us all of faith, quite literally, under such grotesque and
As heir to the throne, which is by convention above politics, there are
certain restraints upon what Prince Charles can say and how forcefully
he can say it. Yet he has dared to speak out directly when others --
most notably Western political leaders -- have shown a reticence and
hesitation that is hard to explain.
On 4 November, in his video message for the parliamentary launch of the
"Religious Freedom in the World Report -- 2014", compiled for the
charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), he told religious leaders that
they have a responsibility to ensure that people within their own faith
tradition respect those outside it, saying: "We have yet to see the full
potential of faith communities working together." He also called for an
acknowledgement that the future of a free society depends on recognising
the crucial role played by people of faith.
To speak in this way is to take on two major issues at once. First, it
is a challenge for the Middle East to preserve the place of Christians
and other minorities within it. Here, once again, it is important to
note another royal thread. For in making this point, Prince Charles
enjoys the support of several royal families in the region and most
particularly that of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. He has worked
extensively with both Prince Hassan and Prince Ghazi of Jordan and is
close to King Abdullah, who has led the nation in offering a refuge to
displaced Christians from Iraq and Syria despite having far too few
resources for the task.
One of the most striking features is the royal solidarity across the
region -- from Saudi Arabia to Morocco -- with the British royal family
by virtue of history and standing. Also notable is the fact that amid
the upheavals of the "Arab Spring" the region's monarchies have so far
proved significantly more stable than many of the republics.
But Prince Charles has also challenged the West, where the public
doctrine of the state is seemingly ever more secular. In the face of
this, to link a free society to the role of faith is an act of courage
Inevitably, there are those who have been keen to allege that Prince
Charles is somehow improperly meddling by expressing any views in public
at all, and even worse in expressing his views to members of the
Government privately. This has led to long-running attempts, led by The
Guardian newspaper, to force public disclosure of his letters to
Ministers. In his defence, the Prince's Private Secretary, Sir Michael
Peat, has distinguished between "political issues" and "matters of
public policy" and indicated that "if an issue becomes party political
or politically contentious after His Royal Highness has raised it ... he
will not do so in public again". Within this framework, the matter of
Christians in the Middle East engages Charles on the religious and
humanitarian level, which is a cross-party matter. And he is also well
covered by the public interest dimension, while the more he engages, the
more he creates precedent for expanding the liberties and role granted
to him through emergent convention and "accepted practice".
The definition offered by the former Lord Chief Justice of England, the
late Baron Widgery, that "a true convention is one founded in
conscience" would seem most fitted to the prince's case. For that, in
the end, is the ultimate grounding of his concerns, informed as his
conscience is by the fullness of his royal vocation.
In 1947, as the Queen came to the end of her dedication speech, she
referred to a motto -- which belongs to successive Princes of Wales --
"Ich dien" ("I serve"). Perhaps this German phrase can itself be
illumined by a Latin one, highly appropriate to Prince Charles: "Servire
regnare" ("To serve is [truly] to rule").
The Revd Canon Alistair Macdonald-Radcliff served as senior adviser to
the World Economic Forum's Council of 100 and was Quondam Dean of All
Saints' Anglican Cathedral in Cairo
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