The Problem With a Multi-Faith Coronation

By Gavin Ashenden

When one of my previous bosses, a university vice-chancellor, wanted to show his contempt for a problem, he would dismiss it as a “theological” issue. I always thought this showed a lack of a grasp of both history as well as theology, but then he was an economist. Coronations usually throw up political problems. This one is producing theological ones, and it is creating waves.

The publication of the liturgy for the impending coronation of King Charles III has been delayed. It is being suggested by those in the know that this is because the King has taken one theological view of the purpose of a coronation while other people, as yet unnamed, a different view.

“Ask in my name,” promised Jesus “and you will receive.” And so we do. All Christian prayer is made as an act of trust that Jesus was who He claimed to be, always implicitly, often explicitly: “we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord”.

At the heart of this is the question of what happens if you offer a prayer in a Christian Church, abbey, or chapel dedicated to Jesus, at a service invoking the presence of Jesus, but you do it “in the name of” Shiva, Mohammed, Buddha or even perhaps Gaia? Two obvious questions present themselves: does this honour Jesus? Is it consistent with the values and intentions of the occasion? (…)

The challenge facing many Christians in a multi-cultural, multi-value zeitgeist is that while believing in God may or not be a challenge, believing in Jesus certainly is. G(g)od in his pluriformity of meaning can unite. But Jesus divides on account of his outrageous (to some) claim that He is the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the father except by him (John 14.6).

This is what is known as the scandal of particularity. It is embedded at the heart of Christian (and Jewish) revelation. It is so profoundly counter-cultural, that for many people, repetitively brainwashed by relativism and universalism, it is not only unacceptable, but also deeply offensive.

However, an understanding of its claims is essential to grasping the cultural stress the Church lives with and contributes to.

However problematic it may be to our indoctrinated world-view, most of us in practice adopt this scandal of particularity in the way we live and love.

We love some individuals uniquely and exclusively; our spouses and children, for example. This principle of concrete-to-universal knowing and loving is well expressed by John Duns Scotus. He reminds us that God only created particulars and individuals, a quality he named “thisness” (haecceity). Thisness also grounds the principle of incarnation in the concrete and the specific. You can’t really love universals. It’s hard to love concepts, forces or ideas, though we often pretend to for the sake of appearing virtuous. (Ideology may just be the ego wrapping itself around such abstractions.)

But it was C.S Lewis whose clarity of thought made most sense of this angle of approach. Acknowledging that in the Christian narrative God’s peculiar way of choosing particular people for his purposes is an offence to our modern sensibilities, he wrote:

“To be quite frank, we do not at all like the idea of a ‘chosen people’. Democrats by birth and education, we should prefer to think that all nations and individuals start level in the search for God, or even that all religions are equally true. It must be admitted at once that Christianity makes no concessions to this point of view. It does not tell of a human search for God at all, but of something done by God for, to, and about Man. And the way in which it is done is selective, undemocratic, to the highest degree. After the knowledge of God had been universally lost or obscured, one man from the whole earth (Abraham) is picked out. He is separated (miserably enough, we may suppose) from his natural surroundings, sent into a strange country, and made the ancestor of a nation who are to carry the knowledge of the true God. Within this nation there is further selection: some die in the desert, some remain behind in Babylon. There is further selection still. The process grows narrower and narrower, sharpens at last into one small bright point like the head of a spear. It is a Jewish girl at her prayers. All humanity (so far as concerns its redemption) has narrowed to that.” (Miracles, Chapter 14)

The reason that Jesus is the only way to the Father, is that it was only in Jesus that that the Godhead entered creation in order to square the impossible circle of free will holiness, justice, forgiveness and love.

To the surprise of many, the English (now British) concept of both Kingship and coronation grows organically out of this ideology of particularly. (…)

The conflict between Charles and the Church is because Charles’ values and philosophy, defending all the faiths, whilst reflecting the culture of the age, not only reverses this relation of the particular to the universal, but wipes out the claims of the unique particulars of Jesus; a way, not the way. (…)

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