According to some sources, King Charles III and the Archbishop of Canterbury are at odds over the role “other faiths” might play in the Cornonation next month. The well-known Catholic religious commentator, Catherine Pepinster has written:

“Is it wise for the Christianity of the Coronation – an ancient ceremony dating back more than 1,000 years – to be diluted so that, in the name of diversity, other faiths are included? Anglican canon law effectively rules out representatives of other faiths being actively involved in services if those faiths do not accept the Holy Trinity of Christian doctrine – the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

Daily Mail 11/4/23

With all due respect to Ms Pepinster, I am not sure she is an authority on Anglican canon law, so we shall see about that aspect of the matter. But the King has raised, as was his wont as Prince of Wales, an interesting question when it comes to “faiths.”

The title “defender of the faith,” was given to Henry VIII by the Pope for his defence of the faith against Lutheran assaults, and it has been retained by all subsequent monarchs. The late Queen, whose life of service provides abundant evidence of the way her faith inspired her, took the view that being defender of the Christian faith did not mean excluding other faiths. It has been pointed out by some critics that no other faith would allow the presence of other religions at their sacred events, but is that a good reason to imitate a bad example? Christianity is for all who will receive it, and how will they do that if we shut ourselves off in our own little solipsism? Is it not rather a sign of strength that the King is confident enough in his own faith and that of the Church of which he is supreme governor, that he wants other faiths to have some sort of presence at the Cornonation?

We must always beware of hypothesising ahead of the facts – not least as that is a common trope of the “culture wars.” Other faith leaders have made sensible comments:

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the former founding Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: ‘It is appropriate the formal ritualistic prayers of the Coronation ought to be Anglican as the King is from the Anglican faith. But the presence of other faith leaders will signify the importance that the King represents all the faith communities in the Kingdom.’ Pradip Gajjar, a Hindu leader, said: ‘This is a Christian ceremony for a Christian King. I don’t see a problem with that.’

Nor should Christians see a problem with the King’s Coronation making appropriate acknowledgement of the other faiths practices by those over whom he rules. The key word is, of course, “appropriate”. But, the lurid imagination of the critics aside, is there any reason to suppose that the King, the Archbishop and those who advise them, would do anything against canon law? Of course, to some, the idea, put forward by the then Prince Charles back in 2015, that he saw himself as ‘defender of all faiths,” is anathema, but in the unlikely event that they migh stop to think, a moment’s reflection might suggest that in an age marked, in the West, by an aggressive secularism, people of all faiths have a common interest. They may not agree of the nature of God, but they do agree on rejecting the simple binaries of post-Enlightenment thought. They agree with Hamlet’s words to Horation “There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” 

A cornonation, the first (and for some of us probably the last) many of us will have seen in our lifetime, is a mystical event. The annointing of the Monarch with Holy Oil was considered so sacred that a veil was drawn over it at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation; it will be interesting to see how it will be handled this time. But it is entirely appropriate that a Christian monarch should wish other faiths to be represented at such a time.