Damian Thompson is a delightful writer, and a ferociously witty Roman Catholic. So I applaud his kind and generous words about the beauty of the Anglican service many millions of us around the world watched this morning. The royal wedding was indeed moving, and I’m sure he was not alone in his sentiment: “The service made me proud to be English and — just for a split-second — wish I was an Anglican.”
But — speaking as an Anglican myself — I confess that I found the occasion rather bittersweet. Thompson writes: “It pains me to say it, but when it comes to religious pageantry, Catholics cannot hold a candle to the Church of England. The Anglican choral tradition is the finest in the world; its anthems perfectly capture the sentimental grandeur of great state occasions.” This is all true (though I would add that, before Vatican II, Catholics could certainly hold their own in this regard). But the rub, to me, is in those final words: “great state occasions.” I do find it rather sad that Anglicanism, this great religious tradition, now impacts on public consciousness primarily as a prop to discredited political institutions, i.e. the British monarchy. Consider the irony: One of the key arguments against Catholicism (during the Reformation and since) has been its entanglement with secular regimes and its consequent wielding of excessive power in politics. In the 19th century, it had to be dragged kicking and screaming into a relinquishing of its secular power over Italy; and the popes, in a fit of pique against this defeat, declared themselves “prisoners of the Vatican.” And now look what’s happening this weekend: Millions watch an Anglican service only because it features secular “royals”; and millions will watch the beatification of a pope — one who had no more secular authority over Italy than his “prisoner of the Vatican” predecessors — and do so as a tribute to his purely spiritual authority.
But enough cavilling. Anglicanism is beautiful enough, and diverse enough, not merely to survive but to thrive; today’s occasion, maybe, will help it see better days than it recently has. And I must add, despite my disdain for the monarchy, that I wish all the best to the young couple who were the focus of that happy occasion: To Citizens Kate and William, all best wishes for a happy and blessed married life — and thank you for a great day.