This Royal Wedding is an act of faith in a world of doubt
Today we celebrate the joyous occasion of the marriage of His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales K.G. with Miss Catherine Middleton. His Grace wishes them many long and happy years together.
The occasion brings to mind that on 28th May 1533, His Grace declared the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to be good and valid. As a consequence, both His Majesty and His Grace were abruptly excommunicated by the Pope. The Church of England then split from Rome more for political than theological reasons, and through centuries of controversy, social upheaval and cultural change, we are where we are today: another royal wedding in Westminster Abbey in accordance with the distinctly Anglican Book of Common Prayer and the asymmetrical fusion of Scripture with reason and tradition. Two billion people – a third of the planet – will today witness and experience something of the Reformed Catholic faith which asserts that Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: the Bible is open, the priesthood is pastoral and worship is common.
God willing, this royal couple will one day be King William V and Queen Catherine of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. At that same moment, King William will also become the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, just as every monarch has been since Henry VIII. He will be the guardian of the Church’s authoritative formularies, its polity and its confessional identity of affirmation and restraint.
In the postmodern relativist and secular context in which marriage appears increasingly to mean whatever one wants it to mean, today we celebrate what Christians have done for 2000 years and man has done for millennia: the union of a man and a woman. Not just any man, of course: Prince William’s royal lineage can be traced all the way back to King Alfred the Great. When he kneels at the 1000-year-old altar of Westminster Abbey, he does so as the representative of a British institution as ancient as the Church itself, under whose aegis he is joined in holy matrimony. This is not a fairytale: Prince William and Catherine Middleton do not enter the institution of marriage unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly; but reverently, discreetly, soberly, and in the fear of God.
Marriage is not an exclusively Judaeo-Christian institution; it is a union observed in all cultures, and seems, according to Aristotle, to exist by nature. Marriage in the Bible is essential for the functioning of society, and is the model used to explain the mystery of Christ’s relationship to the church (Eph 5:25-32). The Church of England ‘affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman’. This has its basis in the Old Testament, where God says: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him’ (Gen 2:18). It continues: ‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh’ (v24). Although these verses do not purport to define marriage, they do describe its origin, and are therefore crucial for understanding the Bible’s teaching on marriage.
There are three principal purposes for marriage arising out of this: the procreation of children, companionship, and sexual union. Marriage is a covenant before God which Jesus confirms with the phrase ‘God hath joined together’ (Mt 19:6). When that marriage is royal, the joining is all the more important because in its symbolism it embodies something of the hopes of the nation. We do not care much for our drab politicians and we care even less for our pompous prelates. But our Monarch is loved, admired and respected the world over: the institution is worthy of our support and loyalty. One perceives in Prince William an understanding of and commitment to his duty, but it is increasingly apparent that he also possesses something of the common, modernising and even rebellious touch of his mother: he is immanent and tangible, if a little unknowable.
There will be some misanthropic negativity today, expressed even in the chat thread below. People will moan about the excess and cost; some will mutter about it being time for a republic; some will remind us of spurned former Labour prime ministers; others will scoff at the circumstance and hasten to remind us of Prince Charles’ infidelity and the fact that a third of all marriages end in divorce. Such is Britain.
But His Grace exhorts his readers and communicants to revel in the pomp and majesty and celebrate joyously all day long, because this ceremony represents stability and continuity in an age of insecurity and uncertainty: it is an act of faith in a world of doubt; it is hope in despair.
God bless Prince William and Princess Catherine of Wales.
O merciful Lord and heavenly Father, by whose gracious gift mankind is increased; bestow, we beseech thee, upon these two persons the heritage and gift of children; and grant that they may see their children christianly and virtuously brought up, to thy praise and honour; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.