The widespread coverage of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations has included nearly every aspect of Her Majesty's long and distinguished reign, but little enough has been written about her role as ‘Defender of the Faith’.
This is a historic title first bestowed on an English sovereign in 1521 when Pope Leo X rewarded Henry VIII for his pamphlet condemning Martin Luther. When Henry severed links with the Vatican, Pope Paul III deprived him of the title, but this was restored to the King by Parliament in 1544.
Technically Queen Elizabeth II remains ‘Defender of the Faith’ but this is not an empty title for a woman whose lifestyle has shown a deep and consistent religious commitment.The Queen does so in a non-preachy manner, and she lives out her Christian beliefs.
For example, in her Christmas broadcast in 2010 she went out of her way to praise the historical importance of the upcoming 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, that glorious and poetic heritage of Biblical scholarship which has given so many everyday expressions to the English language.
In many of her recent Christmas messages she has quietly underlined the importance of the Christian faith to her personally, but in a way in which her subjects can be encouraged to become better people and better citizens.
Throughout her reign she has attended church not only on the major state occasions, including many Royal weddings but almost everywhere she goes, and her Christmas worship at Sandringham each year is part of the fabric of our national society.
She is making a statement that church-going is part of her life, and that she retains great strength from doing so. She has had to face so many crises, not only national and international but also personal, that it seems only natural that she is sustained in her inner life and given strength to face all the considerable challenges that have come her way.
The Queen is not only ‘Defender of the Faith’ but also in her wide regard for other religions as well as Christianity she is also a ‘defender of the faiths’, something which we in Northern Ireland might take to heart.
During her reign she has seen many Prime Ministers come and go, as well as Archbishops of Canterbury, Popes and countless other church figures. As history unfolds, the Queen remains steadfast in her beliefs and in her example. (She is not perfect, however, and I read recently with amusement that she is a ‘chocoholic’, just like me.)
Seriously, however, her Christian witness is all the more important in an age when the religion is under such attack from secular society. This is demonstrated in different ways, from the mindless banning of Christian jewellery in the workplace to the intellectual onslaught from humanists and atheists, some of whom are becoming as intolerant as the worst of the bigoted Christians they continually criticise.
The Queen, very wisely, has never attempted to counter directly such attacks on Christianity, but she has shown a much more positive way of dealing with these verbal arrows by living a lifestyle which people the world over admire.
She has crossed many denominational boundaries, and this was well-illustrated by her successful state visit to the Irish Republic last year where she won many thousands of admirers from very different backgrounds.
Undoubtedly she feels a sense of divine mission, and she has served her country and its people with unfailing loyalty. In turn she has been recognised rightly for being the remarkable woman she is.
In short she has made the term ‘God save the Queen’ a true blessing on all she has achieved, and she is worthy of the utmost respect.