Thursday September 8. The world learned, through the mainstream media, that Queen Elizabeth II had just passed away. Death is always cruel and painful, whatever the circumstances. Nevertheless, analysed from a purely material point of view – the only one that seems to have the right to exist in our times – the general commotion that followed the news seems, in many respects, to have exceeded all reasonable limits.
If she had passed away under unexpected and violent circumstances, one could attribute the general public reaction to surprise. However, we have to admit, no one is eternal. Setting aside some jesting speculation about her immortality that has circulated, how is it really possible for the passing of a queen in her nineties, whose health had visibly deteriorated in recent months, to be unexpected and cause surprise?
She was a head of state, of course. But what had she done for Brazil, Spain or any other country outside the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, to make her death an object of attention and sadness in every corner of the planet? What is more, she represented a nation that at different times in history – as painful as it is to say – has favoured plundering and piracy, infringing the laws of sound international relations.
And even in her own lands… To what extent could she consider them “hers” considering that the present English constitutional monarchy granted her no executive power and that, on the contrary, throughout her reign she had to gradually relinquish her few remaining prerogatives or, worse still, sanction with her royal signature many decisions which, without the slightest doubt, caused her the greatest repulsion? On what, then, was the nostalgic gratitude of the people based, who in concrete terms had received nothing from her?
If this were not enough, for all those who do not profess Anglicanism, the gulf between them and their monarch took on yawning proportions. Not even religion – which gathers people of different races, languages and nations together into one body of brothers – did they share in common with her! Indeed, Elizabeth II was not only outside the Catholic fold, but was the head of a national church, with everything execrable that this means. The sum of these factors makes all the more inexplicable the almost universal feeling which, even within the sphere of the true Faith, marked that September 8.
And that is not all. The most intriguing thing is that the tributes paid to her did not emerge from dusty history books, featuring medieval men from the 11th or 13th centuries, nor were they inspired by fictional figures from a novel or fairy tale. No, they came from individuals of the most independent, pragmatic and “enlightened” society that has emerged to date: the 21st century!
To materialistic eyes, once again, such a picture would seem to depict just one more psychological anomaly so frequent in the contemporary world. Elizabeth II, however, represented more than what such eyes, limited to the flesh and blind to the spirit, are able to perceive. Her long existence – in a certain way the last echo of the Faith planted by St. Gregory the Great in the land of the Angles – seems to have entailed a mission well beyond the borders of the United Kingdom. So, on that day, not only did a venerable old woman depart this life; a page was turned in history.
Yes, it is the end of an era charged with suffering and misfortune, but also with heroism and glory, which men have rightly styled Christendom or Christian Civilization, and whose first lines were traced by God’s love in bestowing His design upon it.
Covenants of love between God and men
On many occasions, God descended to one of His elect to seal a covenant of love. Owing either to His infinite largesse or to natural human limitations, this bond is not restricted to that chosen soul, but extends to the people or institution arising from it, for centuries to come. So it was with Noah, from whom arose, by reason of the covenant, a new civilization; with Abraham, who begot nations and inherited boundless lands; with David, in whom God blessed royalty, constituting him as ancestor of the Messiah.
When, with Clovis, a new rainbow was extended between the Creator and a kingdom that was being baptized, God showed that His modus operandi with humanity was perpetuated in the New Testament. Thus, with Charlemagne, a civilization marked by the Cross of Christ was solidified: at one and the same time the Holy Empire was born and the divine predilection for the First-Born Daughter of the Church was confirmed. Centuries later, in the union of goodness, grandeur and sacrifice, France would glimpse the plan that hovered over her, knowing a true monarch in St. Louis IX.
In a similar way, different nations – St. Stephen’s Hungary, St. Casimir’s Poland and St. Ferdinand’s Spain, among others – could be considered in the light of the divine plan.
And the England of St. Edward?
On that unforgettable Thursday in September, God seemed to indicate through nature that this was the perspective by which the great change that had occurred would be understood in its true proportions. Above Buckingham Palace, a double rainbow adorned the sky. What could the age-old symbol of the divine covenant evoke, if not the predilection that the Isle of Saints had enjoyed in God’s plan? A predilection marked in the person of St. Edward the Confessor, whose virtues graced Christianity and whose crown would gird the brow of all English monarchs to this day.
With this pact, what great mission was entrusted to England? Who knows whether, guided by the divine call, she was to bring about the union of Heaven and earth in her mountains and plains, and above all in her children! To this end even her nature seems oriented. Who, contemplating her exquisite lawns, does not recall the carpets of Paradise? Who, hearing British voices singing, does not mistake them for a choir of Angels? Who, seeing the uprightness towards which the English spirit so readily tends, does not marvel that the disorder of sin has somehow touched them less?
The eyes of the Church turn with nostalgia to that past in which she had placed so many hopes in the land of the Angles. Hopes which she saw rewarded in contemplating its firmament dotted with English Saints, but which were frustrated when, almost five centuries ago, her schism drastically separated that beloved country, drenching it in blood and engulfing it in violence.
Yet, mysteriously, something of that first blessing remained. The nation was unfaithful, but God would remain faithful, for He could not deny Himself (cf. 2 Tm 2:13). The pact that had been established with St. Edward would somehow produce the fruits that the divine will desired.
Last glimmer of Christian Civilization
Not one, but two rainbows hovered over the palace. Perhaps because Elizabeth II represented two covenants: the one the Most High had made with the long succession of English monarchs, and the one He had instituted with Christianity, of which the Queen was the last symbol.
If the dawn of Christian Civilization was full of promise, during that wondrous blossoming of plans, its sunset was accompanied with sadness and sorrow, even on the part of today’s increasingly animalized humanity. In recent decades, while the lights of Christendom gradually faded, Elizabeth II continued to shine – albeit with many of the shadows inherent in the revolutionary process in which we are immersed – and she did so in a special way, representing all the lights that had once illuminated the world.
This is the page of history that now comes to an end. Notwithstanding the scratches, the black lines and the blots men have left on it, Providence wanted to end its last line with a golden period. That is why tears flow, in a mixture of sorrow for the end and respect for the quality that this gold has demonstrated.
Here I call the reader’s attention: it is easy to write poetically about something that has passed; it is admirable to see that, in the matter in question, poetry merely describes the reality.
Inexorable in the fulfilment of duty
Indeed, it is not enough to possess royalty to be respected by the masses, nor to wave from an imposing balcony to gain the good graces of the public. People are only captivated if they perceive goodness in the one who governs them.
With his usual eloquence, St. Thomas Aquinas observes that when this happens, the admiration of the subjects knows no obstacles, not even the sovereign’s death. “Who can doubt that good kings live in a sense in the praises of men, not only in life, but still more after death, and that they subsist in the loss felt for them? But the name of wicked kings either immediately vanishes or, if they were notorious for their malice, they are remembered with horror.”1
Nevertheless, to be a good ruler is no simple task. Elizabeth discovered this at an early age and strove to prepare herself to live up to her mission. She would embrace the cross of sovereign to the end, as she had promised on her twenty-first birthday: “My whole life, whether long or short, will be devoted to your service.” Seventy-five years later, how many sacrifices she had made to fulfil her word!
In a world of constant change, where the winds of novelty threatened to shake even the most solid principles, and defending the values of civilization became an anachronistic concern, she stood as a point of reference amid the instability of our times or, as an English taxi driver remarked, “the only constant we have had in our lives.”
Perhaps without having in mind what philosophers and Saints define as perfection in her position, everything for Elizabeth II was summed up in this word: duty. Without promulgating laws or imposing sanctions – and even more than if she had resigned out of aversion for the advances of evil in the 20th and 21st centuries, thereby accentuating the apparent futility of her position – by the example of her own conduct she fulfilled the monarch’s ideal: renouncing her own good, she fought for the common good, promoting virtue and reproving error.
Symbol of a loftier reality
During the queen’s Lying-in-State, thousands of people filed by to bid her farewell. With a feeling that few could explain, during the few seconds in front of the coffin, everyone sensed they had been well repaid for the hours – and even days – they had waited on the streets of London for this moment. “She worked seventy years for us; one day’s queue is nothing,” some said.
Once in front of the coffin, they showed an almost religious reverence – a curious expression of a deep-rooted sense in their souls, which centuries of indoctrination in the denial of hierarchy and transcendence have not been able to extinguish.
I said an “almost religious reverence.” This is not a random choice of words, nor do they refer to her status as the head of Anglicanism, but they indicate that, as the highest expression of authority – the “monarchical point” of a society – she constituted a link between men and God.
Indeed, the human being is conscious of his own dependency. A pilgrim on this earth, he naturally and spontaneously seeks someone who can bring him into connection with the Most High, and this is the most excellent role of one invested with authority. As an image of the Supreme Good – who governs all with justice and sustains all with mercy – Elizabeth II impressed society with her grandeur, while supporting it with her goodness.
Moreover, by not basely divesting herself of her dignity, but by maintaining the ancient ceremonies and customs, she made accessible to the human soul – thirsting for symbols – a reality higher than the palpable one; she expressed through gestures, dress and protocol, the lofty notion of her own nobility and the sublimity of her mission.
In accord with the dictates of modern logic, inferiors should feel oppressed by such an attitude… But that was not what was seen nor what hearts revealed in those days of mourning. On entering Westminster Hall, many ladies bowed before the one who no longer lived, but had won their admiration. “For me, the Queen is my female role model,” said one young woman. “I didn’t know how much she meant to me,” a man from Malaysia said in tears.
Much more than the funeral of a queen
We now come to the very crux of these lines. Are all these values and principles extinguished with Elizabeth II? Before affirming or denying, another question is in order. Who, apart from this sovereign, represented them in the world? Which of the Christian monarchies still vigorously expresses its own significance, as she did?
We know that she was not without her imperfections, and therefore she is not an example in every respect. Yet even her enemies, accusing her of crimes that not she but others committed in the name of the crown, acknowledge that much beyond her person, with her miseries and errors, Elizabeth II represented an order of things. Her funeral rites, carried out with all possible pomp and feeling, was not hers alone; with her were buried the values of which she was a symbol.
What will this mean for our days? A new and uncertain future is opening up before us: it is the first time since its creation that humanity has been deprived of such values. Will society be able to subsist? Into what abyss will it plunge? These are questions that only time can answer.
On the occasion of Empress Zita’s funeral, held in grand imperial style in the Austrian republic of 1989, Le Figaro Magazine ran an article entitled Europe Bids Farewell to Its Last Empress. It was true. What title to give this article in circumstances at the same time so similar and yet so different? This time it was not just to an empress, but to Christian Civilization, that humanity bid farewell.
Let us implore the same Lord who raised up Christendom as the excellent fruit of his Most Precious Blood and sowed the whole earth with the wonders it has produced, to bring it to an even more perfect rebirth, for the full and effective realization of the request enshrined in the pages of the Gospel: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” ◊
1 ST. THOMAS AQUINAS. De regno ad regem Cypri. L.I, c.11.