Coronations In Catholic Theology
by Charles A. Coulombe
The character of Kings is sacred; their persons are inviolable; they are the anointed of the Lord, if not with sacred oil, at least by virtue of their office. Their power is broad -- based upon the Will of God, and not on the shifting sands of the people's will... They will be spoken of with becoming reverence, instead of being in public estimation fitting butts for all foul tongues. It becomes a sacrilege to violate their persons, and every indignity offered to them in word or act, becomes an indignity offered to God Himself It is this view of Kingly rule that alone can keep alive in a scoffing and licentious age the spirit of ancient loyalty that spirit begotten of faith, combining in itself obedience, reverence, and love for the majesty of kings which was at once a bond of social union, an incentive to noble daring, anda salt to purify the heart from its grosser tendencies, preserving it from all that is mean, selfish and contemptible. -- John Healy, early 20th Century Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam, Ireland. (P.J. Joyce, John Healy, pp. 68-69).
It is easy, given the opposition in recent times of many Catholic French-Canadians and Irish to the Crown, both in Ireland, Canada, and Australia, and their subsequent espousing of republicanism, to assume that Catholicism and republicanism are somehow organically connected. But this would be as foolish a notion as citing the New England Puritans, the South African Afrikaaners, and those Ulster-Scots involved in the 1798 Irish revolt as proof that Calvinists must be republicans (although that is indeed an argument often heard in the U.S.).
In this year of the 40th anniversary of the coronation of Her Majesty Elizabeth II as the Queen of Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon (sad to think of the last three and twelve others which attained dominion status during this reign becoming republics, and of the five colonies which became republics on independence), it were well to think of the origins of and theology underlying the rite of coronation, which after all owes its begin nings (like the other services of Anglican ism) to Catholic roots. Thus, a quick survey of authentic Catholic teaching regarding monarchy in general would not be out of place, followed by a consideration of coronation theology in particular, and ending with brief descriptions of some of the more notable as illustrations thereof.
Before Vatican II, in every monarchy in the world (including Great Britain) after High Mass on Sundays, some variation of the following prayer was said:
We beseech Thee, Almighty God, that thy handmaid Elizabeth our Queen, who has been called by thy kindness to rule over this kingdom, may also receive from Thee an increase of all virtues. Fittingly adorned with these, may she be able to shun all evil doing, (to conquer her enemies), and, finally, being well pleasing before Thee, may attain with the Prince Consort, and their royal offspring to Thee, Who art the Way, the Truth, and the Life.This was, then, the official desire of the Church -- the well being of the lawful monarch of the land. Even during the "troubles" in Ireland, when disloyalty among Catholics was rife (not, the honest will admit, without some provocation on the part of the Protestant Ascendancy there), such stalwarts as the Archbishop of Tuam were vocal in their support -- not of the Ascendancy, of course, but of the Crown, anointed of God. Similarly, the noted Irish spiritual writer and Abbot of Maredsous, Belgium, Dom Columba Marmion, O.S.B. Wrote on 22 May 1921, at the height of the Anglo- Irish war:
Poor Ireland is in a sad plight; & unless God gives very special help & light, I don't see any way out. England will never give us a republic as long as she has a soldier to carry a gun; & Ireland won't be satisfied with anything less. l am not for separation from England, nor for a republic; but I desire a very large measure of "self-determination'; such as you have in Australia.The Irish conflict was not, however, the first time that the Church had had to witness the unhappy spectacle of her children fighting a legitimate monarch of alien race and religion. As the Irish problem was a never-ending sore on the face of Europe, so too was the Polish. When the Poles rose against Tsar Nicholas I in 1831, Pope Gregory XVI wrote the bishops of that country:
When the first report of the calamities, which so seriously devastated your flourishing kingdom reached our ears, We learned simultaneously that they had been caused by some fabricators of deceit and lies. Under the pretext of religion, and revolting against the legitimate authority of the princes, they filled their fatherland, which they loosed from due obedience to authority, with mourning. (Cum primum cap. 1).Responding in the same encyclical to the claim that, the Tsar being Orthodox, the Catholic Poles owed him no allegiance, the Pope replied:
We are taught most clearly that the obedience which men are obliged to render to the authorities established by God is an absolute precept which no one can violate, except if by chance something is commanded which runs counter to the laws of God or of the Church. "Let everyone", says the Apostle, "be subject to higher authorities, for there exists no authority except from God, and those who exist have been appointed by God. Therefore he who resists the authority resists the ordination of God wherefore you must needs be subject not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience sake" (Rom 13.1,2,5). Similarly St Peter (1 Pt. 2.13) teaches all the faithful: "Be subject to every human crea ture for God's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to the governors sent through him... "for (he says) such is the will of God, that by doing good you would silence the ignorance of foolish men". By observing these admonitions the first Christians, even during the persecutions, deserved well of the Roman emperors themselves and of the security of state. "Christian solidiers, "says St Augustine, "served an infidel emperor: when it came to the subject of Christ, they recognised no one except Him who is heaven. They distinguished between the eternal Lord and the temporal lord, but also were subject to the temporal lord because of the eternal Lord" (St Aug on Ps. 124). (op. cit., cap. 3).Of course, Gregory XVI had lived through the upheavals of the French Revolution, which had toppled so many thrones. In response to this, and in particular to the murder of Louis XVI, Gregory's Predecessor, Pius VI said in his allocution of July 17, 1793, Pourquoi Notre Voix:
The most Christian King, Louis XVI, was condemned to death by an impious conspiracy and this judgement was carried out. We shall recall to you in a few words the ordering and motives of this sentence. The National Convention had no right or authority to pronounce it. In fact, after having abolished the monarchy, the best of all governments, it had transferred all the public power to the people -- the people which, guided neither by reason nor by counsels, forms just ideas on no point whatsoever; assesses few things in accord ance with the truth and evaluates a great many according to mere opinion, which is ever fickle, and ever easy to deceive and to lead into every excess, ungrateful, arrogant, and cruel ... (cap. 2).
Obviously, this monarchy, the "best of all governments" which Pius was defending was not the limited sort of monarchies with which we are familiar in the Common wealth, Benelux, Scandinavia, and Spain today, but the mediaeval Catholic concept of the institution. In addition to its more this-worldly functions, this sort of monarchy had a demi-priestly character. The Kings themselves, hereditary for the most part, were not merely the equivalents of our heads of state. For just as Papal and Imperial authority were considered to be divine in origin, so too was Royal. Yet the Kings often had little power: no power of income tax, nor of regulation, nor of the secret police, nor of so many of the myriad interferences we have come to accept as the rightful appurte nances of governmental power. Instead, as Kenelm Digby says:
...the whole state was founded on the pacific type of the best kingdom. The pacific character of royal majesty was a religious idea, emanating from what was believed of the celestial dominations and powers; for it was a devotional exercise in reparation of the sins of anger; passion, and revenge, to offer to God the peace, mildness and tranquility of the thrones. The Christian religion had put everything in its place, so that the hierarchy of men was as complete as that of angels in the order shown by Dionysius. As in the latter; thrones are after the Seraphim and Cherubim, so in the state, physicalforce was regarded after love and science. In the ancient Christian sculpture, dominations, which command angels, and principalities, which rule over men, are represented with crowns and sceptres; but powers which command the Satanic race are shown with spear and shield, since the devil only yields to force. Therefore, the crown and sceptre were the symbols of royal power; and the maxim was "Tis more kingly to obtain peace than to enforce conditions by constraint".It is important to remember that just as Christendom was one body in religious matters, so it was in temporal matters also. This is admirably summed up by James, Viscount Bryce, in his The Holy Roman Empire (pp.102-105):
The realistic philosophy, and the needs of a time when the only notion of civil or religious order was submission to authority, required the World State to be a monarchy: tradition, as well as the continued existence of a part of the ancient institutions, gave the monarch the name of Roman Emperor. A king could not be universal sovereign, for there were many kings: the Emperor must be universal, for there had never been but one Emperor; he had in older and brighter days been the actual lord of the civilised world; the seat of his power was placed beside that of the spiritual autocrat of Christendom. His functions will be seen most clearly if we deduce them from the leading principle of mediaeval mythology [as the ignorant call it], the exact corre spondance of earth and heaven. As God, in the midst of the celestial hierarchy, rules blessed spirits in Paradise, so the Pope, His vicar; raised above priests, bishops, metro politans, reigns over the souls of mortal men below. But as God is Lord of earth as well as heaven, so must he (the Imperator coelestis) be represented by a second earth ly viceroy, the Emperor (Imperator ter renus), whose authority shall be of and for this present life. And as in this present world the soul cannot act save through the body, while yet the body is no more than an instrument and means for the soul's mani festation, so there must be a rule and care of men 's bodies as well as their souls, yet subordinated always to the well-being of that element which is the purer and more enduring. It is under the emblem of soul and body that the relation of the papal and imperial power is presented to us through out the Middle Ages. The Pope, as God's vicar in matters spiritual, is to lead men to eternal life; the Emperor; as vicar in matters temporal, must so control them in their dealings with one another that they are able to pursue undisturbed the spiritual life, and thereby attain the same supreme and common end of everlasting happiness. In view of this object his chief duty is to maintain peace in the world, while towards the Church his position is that of Advocate or Patron, a title borrowed from the practice adopted by churches and monasteries choosing some powerful baron to protect their lands and lead their tenants in war. The functions of Advocacy are twofold: at home to make the Christian people obedient to the priesthood, and to execute priestly decrees upon heretics and sinners; abroad to propagate the faith among the heathen, not sparing to use carnal weapons. Thus does the Emperor answer in every point to his antitype the Pope, his power being yet of a lower rank created on the analogy of the papal... Thus the Holy Roman Church and the Holy Roman Empire are one and the same thing seen from different sides; and Catholicism, the principle of the universal Christian society, is also Romanism...For this reason, both the Emperor and the Kings had in a sense a demi-priestly character, conferred by their coronations. They were firstly the defenders of the Church within their realms. A sort of sub-diaconal character was theirs, and various kings were often traditionally canons of one or several of their cathedral cities. Kings also often had liturgical roles. The Byzantine Emperor, successor to Constantine in the East, played a focal part in the liturgical life of Constantinople. On the feast of the Annunciation, he would attend the Divine Liturgy at the church of St Mary Chalkopratia, following under the arch on two columns separating the sanctu ary wherein rested the casket containing the girdle of the Blessed Virgin. Christmas would find him descending from the Imperial gallery in the same church in procession through theassembled dignitaries to the sanctuary. He would then ascend the steps into the sanctuary and receive communion, alone among all lay-folk in doing so. At the Kiss of Peace on this day, the Patriarch would kiss the Emperor and three newly baptised. The people would chant to their Emperor:
May He who gives life exalt your power, Princes, in all the world. May he subject the foreign nations so that, like the Magi, they bring gifts to your Imperial Majesty.In the Byzantine Calendar, 1 January is the feast of St Basil, which Emperor and court celebrated within the palace grounds. Therein a procession went to the church of St Basil. The Emperor, sitting in his throne within that church received dignitaries; three groups of foreigners -- an Armenian prince, Bulgarian allies, and the Armenian prince's chief officials -- would enter the precinct of the throne bearing gifts in emulation of the Magi. Every other major holiday of the Church Year was marked by the Emperor and his court. Holy Week saw him go into seclusion, doffing his crown, leaving his throne empty and all acts of governance to his Eparch, the civil governor of Constantinople. On Holy Saturday he would lay down a hundred pounds of gold before piscina in front of the high altar of Hagia Sophia in emulation both of Nicodemus's hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes brought for the embalming of Christ, and of the gold of twenty-four elders laid beside the crystal Apocalypse. Then the Emperor retired to reappear wearing his crown and carrying in his right hand a pouch of dust and in his left a cross, signifying his own death and the inevitable judgement by the King above all earthly Kings. When, after 1453 and the fall of the Imperial City, the Grand Dukes of Moscow laid claim to be successors of the Byzantine Emperors, they imported, along with the Double-Headed Eagle on Gold banner, much of this ceremonial. On the Epiphany, for example, the Tsar and his court would process to the nearest river for the ritual blessing of the waters in commemoration of Christ's baptism in the Jordan.
No less impressive was the liturgical ceremonial surrounding the court of the Holy Roman Emperor. Throughout Latin Christendom, he was prayed for in the Good Friday Collects and the Holy Saturday exsultet. In addition to these, the Missal included among its collections of collects, secrets, and postcommunions to be said at the discretion of the priest after those required by the Proper of the Day, a set to be said for the Emperor. The collect thereof is very revealing:
O God, the Protector of all kingdoms and in particular of the Christian Empire, grant to thy servant our Emperor N.; always to work wisely for the triumph of Thy power; that being a prince in virtue of Thy institution he may always continue mighty by virtue of Thy grace.In the light of the words of Viscount Bryce quoted earlier, it will be obvious that in the popular imagination, the Emperor indeed stood next to the Pope. This was shown very clearly at the reading of the seventh lesson of Matins, sung before the Pope's Christmas Midnight Mass at the Basilica of St Peter:
It relates the publishing of Emperor Augustus' edict, commanding a census of the whole world. This seventh Lesson, according to the Ceremonial of the Roman Church, is to be sung by the Emperor; if he happen to be in Rome at the time; and this is done in order to honour the Imperial power; whose decrees were the occasionof Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem, and so fulfilling the designs of God, which He had revealed to the ancient Prophets. The Emperor is led to the Pope, in the same manner as the Knight who had to sing the fifth lesson; he puts on the Cope; two Cardinal-Deacons gird him with the sword, and go with him to the ambo. The lesson being concluded, the Emperor again goes before the Pope, and kisses his foot, as being the Vicar of the Christ whom he has just announced. (Dom Prosper Gueranger; 0.S.B., The Liturgical Year, vol.II, "Christmas"; bk. i; p.l 60).In an era when throughout Christianity East and West the Liturgy penetrated every facet of life from the farm-house and fisher's cot to manor-house and castle-keep, when the whole year was subject to the Church calendar, every royal court in Christendom responded to the holy days in like manner. Christmas was observed by them with great solemnity, the King of England waiting anxiously for the branch and blossom of the Glastonbury Thorn which then as now would bloom on Christmas, despite the cold (as a reminder of its origin in the staff of St Joseph of Arimathea; when bringing the Holy Grail to England he planted his staff, and it took root, becoming the famed Thorn). New Year's Day was always marked by a solemn High Mass, after which the various Kings would receive the great officers of state, the leading bishops and abbots, and foreign envoys. On Epiphany, monarchs presented their principal church or chapel royal gold, frankincense,and myrrh; to this day the Lord Chamberlain presents these gifts on behalf of the Queen (George III was the last to do it himself) to the Chapel Royal, St James's. The Carnival season was celebrated at court with as much jollity as in present day New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro; Lent followed with fitting penitence and fasting. Maundy Thursday would see the sovereigns wash the feet of twelve poor men. This lasted until 1918 at Vienna and Munich. In England it was done by the King until James II was replaced with William of Orange, who delegated this task to his almoner. After 1731 this was changed again into a presentation of Maundy Money by the almoner to a group of old people at the Chapel Royal, Whitehall. In England also, Good Friday saw the blessing by the King of rings, which were then distributed among the people and were credited with the ability of curing cramp. All the Kings of Europe would march in the Corpus Christi processions which occurred in their respective capitals. All of these activities were symptoms of the expected standard of public spirituality.
This standard took various forms in various countries; each nation developed over long centuries its own specific style of monarchic devotion and holiness. In France, this was what was called the religion royale, centring around the Holy Ampulla containing chrism delivered by the Holy Ghost to St Remigius in 496 and used at the French coronations; the ability of the Kings of France to heal scrofula (of which more later); devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Assumption; and the quasi-priestly characteristics of the French Crown, such as receiving communion in both kinds, being members of certain chapters of canons, and being allowed to touch the sacred vessels. Among the Habsburgs of Austria grew up the Pietas Austriaca, which included devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Cross, the Immaculate Conception, and Corpus Christi.
It might be objected that these practises were mere formal devotions, rote exercises -- not unlike formal services in prep school chapels. But they elevated even mediocre monarchs; those who followed them sincerely became the royal saints like Edward the Confessor and Louis IX who were the glory of the Middle Ages. Sanctity is rarely among the stated goals of a modem head of state.
In some cases, the monarch was believed to have miraculous powers. So the Kings of England and France cured scrofula (called "The King’s Evil"). This "touching for the King’s Evil", was an important part of French and English Mediaeval Kingship. The formula used by the King of France when touching the sufferer was "the King toucheth thee; God healeth thee". The last of the French Kings to touch was Charles X; of the reigning English, Queen Anne (who, incidentally touched the infant Dr. Samuel Johnson). As it was held that only kings of rightful lineage could touch effectively, Louis Phillipe did not attempt to, and William of Orange sent those who applied to him to the Court-in-exile of the Stuarts in France; those who recovered from their disease after this trip inevitably became convinced Jacobites. But even the last of the Stuarts, Henry IX, Cardinal York, kept up the rite.
In like manner, the King of Denmark cured epilepsy, the King of Hungary jaundice, and the Holy Roman Emperor, successor of Charlemagne, was said to have some control over the weather (so in Germany fine warm weather is called Kaiserwetter). The Kings of Castile were resorted to by the possessed for exorcism, as we see in Alvarez Pelayo’s 1340 work, Speculum regum, written to King Alphonso XI:
It is said that the kings of France and of England possess a [healing] power; likewise the most pious kings of Spain, from whom you are descended, possess a power which acts on the demoniacs and certain sick persons suffering from divers ills. When a small child, I saw myself your grandfather king Sancho [Sancho II 1284-1295], who brought me up, place his foot upon the throat of a demoniac who proceeded to heap insults upon him; and then, by reading words taken from a little book, drive out the demon from this woman, and leave her perfectly healed (quoted in Marc Bloch, The Royal Touch, p.88).
Whence came this quasi-clerical, and in the above cases miraculous power? How was it conveyed to these ordinary mortals? Whence, indeed, came the authority of Kingship itself? True it was, that in most countries, the Crown was passed along by hereditary right; Poland, the Empire, and the Papacy by election. But in both sets of cases, the added charism, so to speak, required something more. That something is implied by the benediction of the cramp-rings by the King of England on Good Friday:
O Lord, sanctify these rings, sprinkle them with the goodness of Thy heavenly dew and benediction, and consecrate them by the rubbing of our hands which thou hast deigned to bless, according to the order of our ministry, through the anointing of the holy oil, so that what the natural metal cannot effect may be accomplished by Thy grace ... (quoted in Bloch op. cit., p. 106).The anointing of holy oil, to which the prayer refers, took place at the rite of coronation. While the coronation was not itself held generally to confer the Kingship, it nevertheless seemed to be necessary for the royal personage to enjoy the fullness of the graces thereof. It will be remembered that, although his father had died in 1422, Charles VII of France continued to be called the dauphin because he could not be crowned at Rheims. which city was in English hands. It was not until St. Joan of Arc cleared them from Rheims in 1429 and Charles was accordingly crowned that he was called King Charles VII. So important was this coronation that it was often called the eighth sacrament. The exact form varied from country to country, and we shall look at a few presently. But the general elements were similar. The King was generally crowned by the Primate — the leading bishop of his country (Canterbury for England, St. Andrews for Scotland, Rheims for France, Toledo for Castile. etc.). He was anointed, usually on the head, hands, and shoulder blades, at least, with holy oil, and he would be presented to his people. The great lay and churchmen of his realm would offer homage, and the crowds would shout acclamations. Of all of this, however, it was the anointing which was considered most essential.
It must be remembered that, for Mediaeval Christendom, as for modern-day Catholicism and Orthodoxy, God was held to act through material persons. In the person of His priests, He brought Himself onto the altar under the appearance of bread and wine; He took fallen mankind and trans-formed them via the waters of Baptism into His adopted children; He heard the sins of said children in Confession and absolved them after giving them suitable penance. In the person of His bishops, He consecrated more bishops, confirmed mature Christians, ordained priests, dubbed knights, consecrated bells, churches, graveyards, and other things, and crowned kings. In the person of His kings, he dispensed justice and mercy in the temporal sphere. In the persons of His Popes and Emperors, He administered the others. Yet, mediaeval man was no less aware of the obvious human failings of these folk than we would be (nor at all reluctant to denounce them). It is just that they were much more aware of the divine nature of their callings than we are.
But in similar wise, God was held to give grace through material substances. Bread and wine, obviously. But he might use chalk, ashes, bells, palms, gold, incense, salt, or oil. In whatever case, these things were specially blessed or consecrated (just as human beings needed to be), exorcised — removing them so to speak from the circles of fallen nature dominated by Satan, and employed.
There are three kinds of holy oils consecrated by bishops on Maundy Thursday. The oil of the sick is used in the sacrament of Extreme Unction. Chrism we shall look at more closely shortly. But the oil of catechumens, used extensively at baptisms, is what was generally used at coronations:
The oil of catechumens is also used for the anointing of priests and for the conse-cration of kings and queens. How magnificent is the symbolism which anoints the forehead of the baptised with the same oil as is used for the hands of a priest and for the head of a king! The newly baptised do indeed become sharers in the priesthood and in kingship. (Dom Fernand Cabrol, O.S.B., Liturgical Prayer, p. 225)But chrism is still more precious an oil, made as it is with balm. It is and was used for the consecration of bishops, chalices and altars, for the blessing of bells, and for the dedication of churches. It was considered to be the noblest substance in the Church’s arsenal. As mentioned in part one, the French Kings were anointed with chrism from an ampulla brought by the Holy Ghost for the baptism and coronation of Clovis as King of the Franks in 496. It was used at each coronation up to and including that of Louis XVI. In the Revolution, the ampulla itself was destroyed by the mob, but some of the contents were rescued. These in turn were used for the coronation of Charles X in 1825. Other nations clamoured for the privilege. It was conceded to England and Sicily from time immemorial, and to the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem as the realm of Our Lord Himself. Finally, Pope John XXII granted the same privilege to the Kings of Scotland, in return for an oath to extirpate heresy from the country being added to the coronation ritual there. As a result, these four Kings considered themselves foremost in Christendom. But now it would be useful to examine a few of the particular coronations themselves, to see the principles we have enunciated at work.
We will start in the later days of the Byzantine Empire, in the great City of Constantinople. As inheritor of the tradi-tions of the Roman Empire, two symbols early were worn by the Emperor as symbols of his authority: the chlamys or purple robe (originally the sign of Roman generals in the field), and the crown or diadem, first worn by Constantine in imitation of Eastern rulers. The first successors of Constantine, like his predecessors, were simply proclaimed by their troops and accepted by the Senate and people of Rome, who then did homage. But to these elements of acclama-tion and homage was added formal presentation of the crown. As Christianity spread throughout the Empire, the anointing of Saul as King of Israel by the Prophet Samuel was seen as a foreshadowing of Christian Kingship — the more so because anointing was also a part of the sacramental structure of the Church already. At last, the whole ceremony, formerly open air, was moved indoors, into Hagia Sophia, the great cathedral of Constantinople.
In its final form, the Patriarch placed the chlamys on the Emperor, made the sign of the cross on his forehead with chrism, and then put the crown on his head. Before each of these actions, he silently read a prayer, the one for placing of the chlamys giving the flavour of the whole:
O Lord our God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who through Samuel the prophet didst choose David Thy servant to be king over Thy people Israel; do Thou now also hear the supplication of us unwor-thy and behold from Thy dwelling-place Thy faithful servant N whom Thou hast been pleased to set as king over Thy holy nation, which Thou didst purchase with the precious blood of Thine only-begotten Son: vouchsafe to anoint him with the oil of gladness, endue him with power from on high, put upon his head a crown of pure gold, grant him long life…After the actual crowning, the people assembled in the mosaiced glory of Hagia Sophia crying out "Holy, holy, holy," and "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of goodwill". Then the Emperor received Holy Communion in one kind; the standards and halberds carried by the glittering troops were dipped and raised again. The clergy and senators prostrated themselves then; not, indeed, to the Emperor per se, but to the Living God Whom he had just consumed — becoming as it were a living Holy Grail. After this came the acclamations. The cantors sang verses such as "Glory be to God in the highest ... This is the great day of the Lord ... This the day in the life of the Romans". To these, the people would reply, "Many, many years to you, autocrat of the Romans", and the like. At last, the Emperor left the church and entered into the adjoin-ing metatorium, whereupon he mounted his throne and accepted the homage of lay and clerical dignitaries. After this, he had the right to enter the sanctuary and perform the liturgical duties mentioned above.
Because of its association with the Three Kings and with the Baptism in the Jordan, the Epiphany was a favourite date for Byzantine and other coronations. In the former case, when the rite was performed on this day, a prayer was recited which perfectly sums up the identification of the church as Chosen People of the New Covenant with Israel, that of the Old; and which underlines the identification of Church with Empire described so vividly by Viscount Bryce:
May He who today was baptised by the hand of the Forerunner; proclaim you Emperors by His own mighty hand, bene-factors crowned by God, and show to the world that you are good. After sanctifying the Empire by water; may He baptise it with oil of incorruptibility, and give to the Romans safety, mighty protection, glory, and the imperial majesty.As in the East, so in the West. While the East enjoyed an unbroken line of Emperors from the time of Constantine, in the West it ended with the deposition of Romulus Augustulus in 476. From that time on, it was considered that there was only one Emperor in Christendom, he of Constantinople. However, as his ability to inter-vene in Italy grew less and less (the Byzantines being engaged with Muslims, Avars, and other enemies), the Pope must needs look about for protectors nearer home. These appeared in the form of the Franks. In reward for their defence of the Holy See against the Lombards, St. Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor on Christmas Day, 800. As with the Epiphany, the Third Mass of Christmas became thereby a favoured time for coronations — William the Conqueror choosing it, as one example. That first Holy Roman crowning was a simple affair indeed, with the Pope surprising Charlemagne by putting the diadem on his head and thrice saying "To Charles Augustus. crowned of God, the great and peace-giving Emperor of the Romans, long life and victory!!
In time, however, this simple beginning developed hugely. By the High Middle Ages, the Holy Roman Emperor was expected to be crowned four times: first of the three kingdoms the Emperors generally were sovereigns of (Germany, Italy, and Burgundy), and lastly for the Empire, the res publica Christiana. Of his three Royal crowns, the most important was the German, election to which guaranteed the Imperial diadem.
The Electors were those princes, ecclesiastical and lay, to whom the privilege of determining who should be German King and Roman Emperor fell. Called "Eminence" like the Cardinals who do the same for the Pope, they were both territorial magnates and great officers of state. Three ecclesiastics: the Archbishop of Mainz (arch-chancellor of Germany); the Archbishop of Trier (arch-chancellor of Burgundy); and the Archbishop of Cologne (arch-chancellor of Italy); and secular lords: the King of Bohemia (arch-seneschal); the Count Palatine of the Rhine (arch-steward); the Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg (arch-marshal); and the Margrave of Brandenburg (arch-chamberlain) made up the electoral college. As great officers of state, they each played key roles not only in the election itself but in the following coronation of the Emperor-elect as King of Germany.
Both events took place during the Middle Ages in Charlemagne’s old capital of Aix-la-Chappelle, or Aachen, where the tomb of the Great Emperor is, and where his memory remains even today, undiminished.
The German coronation was performed in the basilica where Charlemagne lies. The Archbishop of Cologne presided, and the Emperor elect was presented to him by the other two Archbishop Electors. The oil of catechumens was used, and the Emperor’s head, nape of the neck, breast, right arm between elbow and wrist, and palms of both hands anointed therewith. After this, he was vested with what were called the Imperial and Pontifical robes (including buskins, a long alb, a stole crossed priest-wise over the breast, and the mantle). Then the regalia (sceptre, orb, and sword of state) were presented to him. At last, the three archbishops-elector jointly placed the Crown of Charlemagne on his head. Mass was then said, during which the new Emperor received communion in one kind. Afterwards, he was inducted as a canon of Aix-La-Chapelle.
The crown of Burgundy was bestowed on him in the cathedral of St. Trophime in Arles by the Archbishop of that city. To Milan’s church of San Ambrosio, or else at the cathedral of Pavia, the Emperor would then repair in order to be crowned King of Italy. He would then don the famous Iron Crown of Lombardy, which within its circlet boasts a band of iron, beaten out of one of the nails which fastened Christ to the cross.
When at last in Rome, the Emperor elect was given his Imperial coronation. In front of St. Peter’s, the Pope would be enthroned and sur-rounded by his cardinals at the head of the steps. There the Emperor kissed his foot, and recited the following oath:
In the name of Christ I, N., the Emperor, promise, undertake and protest in the presence of God and Blessed Peter the Apostle, that I will be the protector and defender of the Holy Roman Church in all ways that I can be of help so far as I shall be supported by the Divine aid, according to my knowledge and ability.The Emperor would be met at the silver door of St. Peter’s by the Bishop of Albano, who recited over him the first coronation prayer. Conducted inside the church, he was taken to the centre in front of the sanctuary, where the Bishop of Ostia recited the second prayer. Thence the Emperor went to the confessio of St. Peter where was recited the Litany of the Saints; the Bishop of Ostia conducted him to the Altar of St. Maurice, and anointed him on the right arm and between the shoulders. Alone, he proceeded to the High Altar, where the Pope presented him with a naked sword which he flourished, and then sheathed in its scabbard. He was given the scep-tre by the Pope, who then set the crown on his head. This action was accompanied by this prayer:
Receive the sign of glory in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; that, despising the ancient enemy, and despising the contagion of vices, you may so love judgement and justice, and so live mercifully, that from our Lord Jesus Christ Himself you may receive the crown of an eternal kingdom in the fellowship of the saints.
The Pontiff concluded the proceedings with the coronation Mass, during which the Emperor served him in the same manner as a sub-deacon, handing him the cruets and so on. He was later made a canon of St. John Lateran. The whole order is given in the Roman Pontifica, whence it was found until purged by John XXIII in 1962, along with ordos for crowning kings, dubbing knights, bestowing the cross on crusaders, and many other beautiful things.
The other successor of Charlemagne was the King of France. At the cathedral of Rheims, he was anointed: first on the top of the head in the form of a cross, between the shoulders, and at the bending and joints of both arms; this was done of course with chrism into which had been mixed a particle from the sacred ampulla. Standing up, the new king was invested with the dalmatic, tunic, and royal robe; all were of purple velvet sprinkled with fleur-de-lys of gold and represent-ing the three orders of deacon, sub-deacon and priest. Kneeling again, his palms were anointed, and he was given the gloves, ring, and sceptre. Then the Peers of France, great magnates and officers of state like the electors in Germany were summoned by name and called to assist their King. These were the Archbishop of Rheims, the Bishops of Langres, Beauvais, Chalons, and Noyon, the Dukes of Burgundy, Normandy, and Guienne, and the Count of Champagne. The Archbishop then took the crown from the altar, and set it on the King’s head. After this came the enthronement, and the showing of the King to the people. Then followed High Mass, during which the king received in both kinds. Afterwards the King was made canon at Lyons, Embrum, Le Mans, Montpellier, St. Pol--de-Leon, Lodeve, and several other cathedrals. The third day after the coronation he touched for the King’s Evil.
Across the Channel, his brother of England was conducted the day before the coronation itself in a procession from the Tower to Westminster Abbey. There he spent the night, being instructed by the abbot as to his royal responsibilities. The next morning he went to Westminster Hall, and among other ceremonies was elevated onto a throne called the Marble Chair. After this, a procession with the regalia was gathered and marched into the abbey church. The King marched with it, supported by the Bishops of Bath and Durham, and wearing a cap of estate. Inside the church, thrones (one of which is the famous coronation chair, under whose seat rests the Stone of Scone whereupon early Scots kings had been crowned) had previously been set up. The King ascended this, at which the Archbishop of Canterbury called for the Recognition. This duly performed, the King proceeded to the High Altar, offering both a pall to cover it and a pound of gold. Next followed a sermon preached by one of the bishops, the administration of the Royal Oath by His Grace of Canterbury, and singing of the Veni Creator and a litany. Then the Archbishop anointed the King with the oil of catechumens on his hands, breast, between the shoulder blades, on the shoulders, on the elbows, and on the head; then at last with chrism, again on his head. After the anointing, he was vested in dalmatic and an ankle-length tunic, which had large golden images on both sides. Then came buskins, sandals and spurs, sword and belt, stole, and at last the royal mantle, woven throughout with golden eagles. When he was properly vested, the Crown of St. Edward was placed on his head by the Archbishop, the ring placed on his wedding finger, gloves drawn over his hands, and the cross-topped sceptre given him. Then the golden rod with the dove on top was placed in his left hand. After this, the bishops and nobles enthroned their King, while was sung the Te Deum. After this, was crowned the Queen, and then the Mass proper to the occasion sung, at which the royal couple received communion in one kind, and the King alone received a draught of wine from St. Edward’s stone chalice. The Mass concluded, the King and queen were revested, and had other crowns placed on their heads by the Archbishop. Then the participants processed to Westminster Hall.
Therein was held the state banquet, during the first course of which, three horsemen rode into the hall. The two on either side were the earl mar-shal on the left and the lord constable on the right. In between these was the King’s hereditary champion, the head of the Dymoke family; he was armoured from head to toe, with red, white, and blue plumes in his helmet. At the entrance, a herald read the champion’s challenge:
If any person of what degree soever, high or low, shall deny or gainsay our sovereign lord N., King of England, son and next heir unto our sovereign lord the last king deceased, to he the right heir to the imperial crown of this realm of England, or that he ought not to enjoy the same; here is his champion, who saith that he lieth, and is a false traitor, being ready in person to combat with him; and in this quarrel will adventure his life against him, on what day soever he shall be appointed.The champion then threw down the gauntlet. Twice more the challenge was made, in the cen-tre of the hall and in front of the King’s table. After this last, the King drank to the champion out of a silver-gilt cup, which was then given as the champion’s fee. The English coronation remains much the same today although at the Reformation it was translated into the vernacular and the oaths changed. Despite this, and despite the fact that the Catholic Church does not recognise Anglican orders, James II was permitted by the then Pope to receive the crown at the hands of Archbishop Sancroft (although he did not of course receive communion from him) — which for Catholics might be considered to confer on the British ceremony a meaning which other Protestant coronations might not have.
In other realms, the proceedings were much the same with certain local variations. Mediaeval Sweden’s Kings were crowned by the Archbishop of Upsala in his cathedral (after the Reformation it was done in Stockholm’s Storkyrka). His Grace anointed the new King on the breast, temples, forehead, and palms, after which he conferred the crown. Then the state marshal proclaimed: "Now is crowned king of the Swedes, Goths, and Wends, he and no other". Although the Lutherans retained the anointings in Sweden, the minister of justice took to jointly placing the crown on the king’s head. A similar change took place in Norway, where the coronation took place in Trondheim cathedral: although the anointings were maintained, the 1814 law directed the country’s Prime Minister to jointly place the crown with the Archbishop of Trondheim.
Castile’s and later Spain’s kings were crowned either at Toledo Cathederal or the church of St. Jerome in Madrid, by the Archbishop of Toledo. After the anointing, they would be invested with sword, sceptre, crown, and orb. In Bohemia, while the Archbishop of Prague would crown the King, the Queen received hers from the Abbess of the Noble Ladies of Hradschin, a chapter of secular canonesses ensconed close to the royal palace. Both in Poland and Aragon special cere-monies accompanied the King’s sleep the previous night; in the first case, he had to greet the procession of lay and clerical notables which arrived in his bedroom prior to conducting him to Cracow Cathederal, lying on his bed fully vested. In the latter, he must spend the night before in vigil, just as a squire would before his receiving the accolade of knighthood.
The Reformation, however, meant the beginning of the end for the miraculous world view which produced the coronations of Christendom. In the Lutheran nations, anointing was retained, although the new theology provided no real justification for doing so. But the new religions destroyed the very concept of Christendom, of a united Empire and Church, of all the hundreds of unities which gave the coronations their original meaning. If before the reality was never attained, afterwards even the aspiration disappeared. As Vladimir Soloviev, "the Russian Newman", revered by Catholics and Orthodox alike today put it in his Russia and the Universal Church (pp. 30-31):
For lack of an imperial power genuinely Christian and Catholic, the Church has not suc-ceeded in establishing social and political justice in Europe. The nations and states of modern times, freed since the Reformation from ecclesiastical surveillance, have attempted to improve upon the work of the Church. The results of the experiment are plain to see. The idea of Christendom as a real although admittedly inadequate unity embracing all the nations of Europe has vanished; the philosophy of the revolutionaries has made praiseworthy attempts to substitute for this unity the unity of the human race — with what success is well known. A universal militarism transforming whole nations into hostile armies and itself inspired by a national hatred such as the Middle Ages never knew; a deep and irreconcilable social conflict; a class struggle which threatens to whelm everything in fire and blood; and a continual lessening of moral power in individuals, witnessed to by the constant increase in mental collapse, suicide and crime such is the sum total of the progress which secularised Europe has made in the last three or four centuries. The two great historic experiments, that of the Middle Ages and that of modern times, seem to demonstrate conclusively that neither the Church lacking the assistance of a secular power which is distinct from but responsible to her, nor the secular State relying upon its own resources, can succeed in establishing Christian justice and peace on earth. The close alliance and organic union of the two powers without confusion and without division is the indispensable condition of true social progress. It remains to enquire whether there is in the Christian world a power capable of taking up the work of Constantine and Charlemagne with better hope of success.
It was precisely this aspiration which all the various liturgies of coronation in all their rich-ness symbolised.
The form survived, however, long after the spirit departed. But the age of Revolution and "Democracy" doomed even that. After the abdication of Francis II in 1806, no more Holy Roman Emperors were crowned. In 1830, Charles X, last legitimate Bourbon to rule France and last French King to be duly crowned, was deposed. Over the course of the 19th century the Kings of Denmark and Sweden gave up the rite; the king of Spain had done so earlier. The end of the First World War saw also the demise of coronations in Hungary, Saxony, Prussia, Bavaria, and Russia (a most elaborate rite, descended directly from the Byzantine). The 19th Century-created realms of The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia-Yugoslavia, and Albania never adopted the practice, although Roumania’s King Ferdinand was crowned at Alba Julia in 1922, alone of all his nation’s rulers to be. At last, Olav V, in 1957, decided to dispense with his country’s coronation rite, also (although his son, King Harald, had a sort of inauguration popularly called a "coronation", it was not). Finally, and most tragically, in 1978, Pope John Paul I declined the traditional elaborate Papal coronation also, a decision repeated later that year by the present pontiff. Thus, the rite was abandoned in the very centre of the religion which had given it birth.
So we are faced with the paradox that the single most Catholic rite of governance is preserved today only in Great Britain and the Commonwealth; the 40th anniversary of its last performance must be of especial significance not only to the subjects of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II around the world, nor just to Anglicans beyond the borders of her realm, but also to those Orthodox and Catholics who con-tinue to hold the traditional teachings of their faiths in regard to government. It may be that such Catholics are a minority of present-day French-Canadians, and that concerned subjects in general might be a minority of English-Canadians. Nevertheless, one meeting ground between the two groups may be found in the mystic occurrence of the coronation, whose meaning was a common tongue of governance to French and English alike, as well as to all of Christendom. It may be claimed that the phrase "By the Grace of God" is now and never was any more or less of a polite fiction than "By the Will of the People". Surety there are always powers behind any throne, elected or hereditary. But the aspirations of a nation — towards either the heavens or else the horizon (not to say the ground) determine in large part the quality of that nation.
L.G. Pine very appropriately observes:
Our immense progress in physical science unaccompanied by moral or spiritual growth means either that we face the nightmare of impending destruction or the indefinite prospect of an uneasy truce, ever bordering on actual warfare, between the most powerful states. In the meantime the proliferation of machinery never stops and, with rare exceptions, individual life becomes standardised in an ever fiercer chase after more expensive cars, refrigerators and tele-vision sets, and in the pursuit of sexual experience. It may help, then, to look back to a simpler, more human and attractive age. (Titles, p. 12).This 40th anniversary year (1993), then, should, in pursuance of this goal, cause us to reflect upon two concrete tasks. The first, is to ensure that another coronation does take place, and that the sentiments expressed by the King’s champion are our own. Secondly, to work to keep Canada as one of the realms the new King will inherit with the crown of his fathers. Beyond that, however, we must remember that mere perservation is never enough. Crowns and coronations symbolise a world-wide heritage which needs to be regained.