Antidisestablishmentarianism

Dr Edward Norman, Canon Treasurer of York Minster, argues that the sins of Prince Charles have no bearing on his public role. This article first appeared in the Church Times.

Few Supreme Governors of the Church of England have practised Anglicanism to the letter. Two sovereigns have not been Anglicans at all (the first two Georges were Lutherans), one was a secret Roman Catholic (James II), the founder of the C of E was himself divorced (Henry VIII), one was a practising homosexual (James I), several have been known adulterers, and all of them, when north of the border, are Presbyterians.

This is not a record which suggests that personal adhesion to the church establishment teachings has consistently been regarded as an essential requirement for the office of Supreme Governor. The fact is that the Church is built into the fabric of the Constitution: it is the body entrusted with the maintenance of spiritual truth and which serves as the reference for the moral foundations. When anyone asks what is the moral basis of the law in England, they can be pointed towards this constitutional provision.

The link of Church and State is an historical survivor of the ancient confessional state; it is society continuing to uphold a belief that behind the fickleness of politicians, the easy manipulation of opinion, and the general shabbiness of public conceptions of truth and duty, there nevertheless resides a permanent reference to higher principles unaffected by the squalid natures of all of us.

Some people occupy posts which symbolise the historic vocation of society and preserve its formal structures for future generations. Their personal worthiness - indeed the worthiness of any of us for anything - scarcely comes into it. The State and the Constitution are taken to have permanent features which are untouched by the personal circumstances of their present guardians.

It may be, of course, that the time has come to revise or to destroy this provision. It may be that the pursuit of liberal freedoms and the existence of a pluralism of values within the intelligentsia and the governing elites - and perhaps even within wider society - is now such that the exclusive maintenance of the Christian religion as the higher note of public association is outmoded.

The Prince of Wales himself, in his suggestion that his future constitutional role might be broadened to embrace the defence of other faiths, has hinted at an adjustment. It is not actually a very likely one. The only really serious philosophical difficulty with the State Church derives, not from unequal patronage, but from the existence of a link between government and religious opinion of any sort.

The idea of a future sovereign undertaking, in the Coronation Oath, to maintain Hinduism, Islam, and so forth, alongside the Christian religion, happens to match the prevailing penchant within educated opinion for regarding all religions as more or less the same. But it is a transient phase. Truth, particularly religious truth, has exact content, and the relativising of religion is an indication not of higher wisdom, but of increased scepticism.

This difficulty apart, the Prince of Wales is admirably suited to be Supreme Governor of the Church. That he is a confessed adulterer and may soon be divorced - which, even in the most generous moral understanding of the Anglican divines, are not helpful qualifications - is hardly relevant. He is plainly a man given to public duty, who has a marked dedication to the historical continuity of the Constitution. His duty as Supreme Governor will be to see that the union of throne and altar is preserved, and that he will do.

If the constitutional process itself determines change, on the other hand, and if a future parliament decides upon a disestablishment, then he is a man who can be relied upon to do his duty, and to help in winding up the present arrangements with as much dignity as may be available.

Such an eventuality, incidentally, would not be without support within the Church itself. The link with the state dedicates the life of the nation but only in a highly symbolical sense. No one can any longer suppose that the governing elites, or Parliament, refers to the bishops when determining public policy - even in the most precise questions of personal morality.

But while the present arrangements exist, the person who symbolises the state's adhesion to higher truth is not to be regarded as personally exempted from the moral frailties of us all.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific