Still more curious was Tony Blair’s immediate determination to go to Rome. No prime minister has ever attended a papal funeral before, and with good reason. Britain is not a Roman Catholic country — though admittedly anyone who has read the British newspapers over the past few days might be forgiven for supposing that it was. The papacy stands for autocratic and hierarchical principles and attachments to ancient dogmas that are alien to the British state.

Not merely that, but Rome is emphatic that the Church of England, where the Prime Minister is at any rate nominally a communicant, is heretical. As far as the Vatican is concerned, the Anglican settlement is illegitimate and has no merit. Pope Leo XIII made this plain in his papal bull, Apostolicae Curae, of September 1896, which declared that Anglican orders ‘have been and are completely null and void’. This means that so far as the papacy is concerned, the Archbishop of Canterbury is no more than an old man in a skirt, though no Roman cardinal or bishop would be rude enough to express such a view. This is what made it such an audacious decision by the British Prime Minister to decide at once to abandon his duties to the British Crown and travel to the Vatican instead. ~Peter Oborne

Even as someone who fondly remembers our scarcely lamented Loyalist cousins and was well-versed as a child in the Protestant mythology of England and America, still invoked even today by Mr. Oborne, I often forget that there are a few (although admittedly very, very few) who still believe that the British monarchy means something and that the Church of England actually bears some relationship to the identity of the people of the United Kingdom. These few must truly be the oldest of the old guard, and I don’t write this really to ridicule them, but to marvel at how they can possibly maintain their commitment to institutions that have become something so very different from what they were or were supposed to be.

Monarchy and established churches are often quite good in my view, but I am still somehow amazed that Mr. Oborne was writing the words quoted above. It is almost like accusing someone in America today of ‘Popery’ or calling someone, in the American context, a Tory as a derisive remark. Reading Mr. Oborne’s article, it might as well have been Gregory XIII who had died with the occupant of the throne being not Elizabeth II but Elizabeth I. Far be it from a reactionary such as myself to take issue with anyone’s anachronisms or traditional attitudes–the Tory might say that the British still have some remnant of their old institutions, while we have nothing remaining from the Old Republic, so we are even more preposterous for remaining attached to these memories. And Mr. Oborne is correct that Blair failed in his tasks as Prime Minister, and that it is surely one of his official duties to attend to the affairs of the Crown.

But except in these very technical and legal senses, what does the Crown mean any longer? Why should a Prime Minister take more seriously the technically uncanonical marriage of the Prince of Wales, when this wedding in itself makes a mockery of the role of Defender of the Faith that the selfsame Prince will one day presumably take up in the continuation of a weary legacy of futile protest against Rome? As the conservative Rev. David Phillips notes in the linked article, the Church of England cannot rightfully legitimise Charles’ adulterous affair. Yet, as if to prove my point about the CoE, Archbishop Rowan Williams intends to do exactly that–a perfect example of two corrupt, broken-down institutions scratching each other’s back. Can the Crown still be meaningful enough that Blair’s outrages against it have resonated with very many?

But how can anyone take seriously the objections that Britain is “not a Roman Catholic country” when it is no longer an Anglican one, or a Christian one for that matter, either? For nearly a thousand years England was an Orthodox and then Roman Catholic country–why should the last four hundred years be privileged as definitive, especially when it is that four hundred years that have seen the secularisation and finally de-Christianisation of the sceptred isle? How does one take seriously the Church of England as anything other than a quaint national institution useful for coronations and the maintenance of some of Britain’s museum-churches, governed as it is by a “Druid,” ministered to by women and simply full of prelates who don’t believe in the most basic Christian doctrines? Soon there may be women bishops–little wonder if Rome does not today recognise Anglican orders!

How can one seriously identify Anglicanism with Britain, when only a generation after the union of England and Scotland under James I the kingdom was ripped apart by the very simple attempt to bring Anglican liturgy to the Scots? Surely at some point a Tory loyalty to Anglicanism becomes a kind of antiquarianism that no longer makes any sense; it might have done even in the era of C.S. Lewis and Eliot, but no longer. As for that truly rare individual who actually thinks the compromise Thirty-Nine Articles and Book of Common Prayer are theologically superior, I can only console him that he is in very select company.