(CNSNews.com) – When Britain’s new monarch is formally enthroned, among the titles he will assume, in line with tradition dating back to the 16th century, will be that of “Defender of The Faith” – “The Faith” referring to the doctrine of the Church of England (Anglican Church).
Prince Charles automatically became King Charles III at the moment Queen Elizabeth died, but his official accession and formal coronation await.
Several decades ago, the then-Prince of Wales generated debate over the question of adopting a more inclusive title – “Defender of Faith” – reflecting a more ecumenical view of the world, and an interest in other denominations and religions.
Many Christians and traditionalists were appalled at the idea of a change, which would have required parliament to amend longstanding legislation enacted in 1953.
But in a 2015 interview, the heir to the throne indicated he would not seek that amendment, and suggested his views on the matter had been misinterpreted.
“I said I would rather be seen as ‘Defender of Faith,’ all those years ago, because, as I tried to describe, I mind about the inclusion of other people’s faiths and their freedom to worship in this country,” he told the BBC.
“And it’s always seemed to me that, while at the same time being Defender of The Faith, you can also be protector of faiths.”
“It was very interesting that 20 years or more after I mentioned this – which has been frequently misinterpreted – the Queen, in her [2012 Diamond] Jubilee address to the faith leaders, said that as far as the role of the Church of England is concerned, it is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions,’ Charles continued.
“Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country. I think in that sense she was confirming what I was really trying to say – perhaps not very well – all those years ago. And so I think you have to see it as both. You have to come from your own Christian standpoint – in the case I have as Defender of The Faith – and ensuring that other people’s faiths can also be practiced.”
The interview quote was reproduced on the Prince of Wales’ official website, which underlined that, “The Prince clarified he would in fact be ‘Defender of The Faith.’”
The prince’s clarification was met with dismay by Britain's National Secular Society (NSS), which wants royal oaths and titles to be “more inclusive and appropriate for the modern era.”
“There have been two major changes in society since the Queen came to the throne,” the organization’s campaign manager, Stephen Evans, said at the time. “Firstly, there is now a vast number of people who do not identify with any religion; and secondly, there is a wide variety of religions and denominations in the modern U.K.”
Even the earlier-proposed “Defender of Faith” title would only have addressed the second of those two trends, he said.
“The monarchy has a long history of adapting as society changes; it must now be time for the institution to adjust to the fact that a large proportion of Britons are non-believers,” Evans argued. “Ideally, that would mean the head of state not have any constitutional entanglement with religion – or religions.”
Queries sent to the NSS about its stance today brought no response by press time.
Responding to news of the Queen’s death, the NSS tweeted, “Whatever your politics or beliefs, one certainty is that the nation has lost a dedicated and extraordinary public servant. We offer our sincere condolences to everyone affected by her death.”
In addition to the title of “Defender of The Faith,” the new king will, like his mother and every monarch since Elizabeth I, also have the title “Supreme Governor of the Church of England.”
(Elizabeth I’s father, Henry VIII, founded the Church of England and titled himself its “supreme head,” but his daughter chose not to. Historians differ over whether she was motivated by a desire to placate Roman Catholics; to appease those who believed a woman could not be head of the church; or to underscore the doctrine that Christ is head of the church.)
While “supreme governor” of a church born out of a breach with Catholicism, Queen Elizabeth II took significant steps to improve relations with the Catholic Church, visiting the Vatican several times and hosting papal visits to the U.K. in 1982 – the first ever by a reigning pontiff – and in 2010.
She was a woman of deep faith, and her traditional Christmas broadcast included personal expressions of that faith, increasingly so since 2000, when she spoke of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, “a man who was destined to change the course of our history.”
Recognizing that not all her listeners would share her faith, or any, she continued, “Whether we believe in God or not, I think most of us have a sense of the spiritual, that recognition of a deeper meaning and purpose in our lives, and I believe that this sense flourishes despite the pressures of our world.”
“This spirituality can be seen in the teachings of other great faiths. Of course religion can be divisive, but the Bible, the Qur’an and the sacred texts of the Jews and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, are all sources of divine inspiration and practical guidance passed down through the generations.”
Then she returned to her own faith: “For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.”
Queen Elizabeth: ‘Jesus–a Man Whose Teachings…Have Been the Bedrock of My Faith’ (Sept. 8. 2022)
Queen Elizabeth: ‘Christ’s Example Helps Me See the Value of Doing Small Things With Great Love’ (Sept. 8. 2022)