Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Elizabeth I, March 24, 1603, R.I.P.

As she came into the world on the eve of the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, so Elizabeth I died on the eve of the feast of the Annunciation in 16o3. Without her and her own vision of the Christian faith and the Church, there would be no Anglicanism. With what her half sister Mary had done in terms of her Spanish marriage with the introduction into England of the Spanish inquisition, any lingering sentiment for the Roman See and the Roman faith was largely vanished. But without Elizabeth's policy of re-introducing the Book of Common Prayer and supporting the English Church, it would have been overwhelmed by the doctrine of either Geneva or Zurich. Instead she returned it as close as it was humanly possible to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church as she herself put it of "the earliest bishops and Catholic fathers."

There have been many who have attempted to portray her as a person largely without religious faith. If that had been true it would have been much easier for her to have retained the Roman religion in England. But her actions, and chiefly those kept from the scrutiny of the world, reveal her as a person of deep faith. She attended daily morning and evening prayer in her own chapel. And there the Eucharist was celebrated with her bishops, largely against their will, acting as priest, deacon and subdeacon (to quote one of them) "in the golden vestments of the papacy" with music provided by Byrd and Tallis. In addition it was her practice to read a chapter of the New Testament in Greek and a chapter of the Old Testament in Hebrew every single day while the book in which she wrote prayers of her own composition remained a secret until her death.

Many Anglicans know of the quote which once graced the newletter of the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen and has appeared in many Anglican blogs including this one, But let me conclude this post with another. "There is one thing higher than Royalty: and that is religion, which causes us to leave the world, and seek God." Elizabeth could not leave the world because she saw her rule as an act of service to her people, but in her very first interview with the Spanish ambassador after she became queen she told him that her colours were black and white, those of a vowed religious. I doubt if he understood but he reported everything she said faithfully to Philip, his master. And we, from the long view of history, have a much better chance of knowing that she meant every word so that in the end, she, more than any other, deserved the title of "Defender of the Faith."


charles said...

Hello Bp. Lee,

When you say, "subdeacon", should we take that as 'clerk' or a continuation of minor orders in the chapel royal? In ACC canon, and I believe old PEC, the lay workers/readers are to vow assent to the doctrine and canons of the said Church. Is this sort of vow any different than that of minor orders of old? How far to go with continuity/discontinuity w/ English High Church here?

Canon Tallis said...

The position of subdeacon was a minor order in the medieval church, but the person was essentially a lay clerk. But when the Eucharist is celebrated solemnly, the person who sings the epistle was always referred to as the 'subdeacon' even though in certain English usages, he might very well be either a deacon, a priest or even a bishop. When Cardinal Wolsey celebrated solemnly at court, his assistant ministers were normally bishops and evidently from what her own bishops wrote to their friends in Zurich, Elizabeth I had that custom followed in her own court chapel. Another place that it was normally done in England and according to English use was at episcopal consecrations where the two assisting bishops would be vested as deacon and subdeacon with the addition of gloves and mitres. I saw pictures of an Anglican consecration in Africa where this was done in the sixties and it was really very impressive.

aaytch said...

I don't think that Elizabeth would appreciate the acronym "R.I.P" used in respect to herself, given that it implies the heretical doctrines of purgatory and praying for and to the dead, all of which is denounced in the strongest possible language in her Prayer Book, the 1559 BCP.

Canon Tallis said...

I would advise you to read both the Liber Precum Publicarum and Elizabeth's own works, especially her own prayers. It might just help if you were to give yourself to Bicknell's A Theological Introduction to the Thirty Nine Articles.

While Elizabeth and the English Church certainly rejected popular Roman teaching about the place of the dead, she at least had the advantage of being far more theologically sophisticated than most since she read both Greek and Hebrew.

Benton H Marder said...

Great Eliza, by a blogster, called 'the Blessed Elizabeth', was also responsible for certain passages in the Articles and Homilies that leaned to a more 'Catholic' tone, which mightily annoyed the unco' guid. The more one reads of her, one realises that she was indeed Supreme Governor of the Church in her time.
Some are bewildered about the cross in her chapel, wondering if the Corpus signified sympathy with Rome. Far from it. Lutherans used the Cross with Corpus. This reminded ambassadors that Lutherans enjoyed the protection of the Holy Roman Empire; Calvinists did not. For her diplomatic reasons, she wanted ambassadors to equate the Church with another reformed Church with which they were familiar. So, the Cross would be on the altar some of the time, and sometimes not. The usual Calvinist style of worship wasn't congenial to Gloriana. She would, however, have loved the likes of Bach
In a similar context, we recall that King Charles Martyr, in a last conversation with his daughter, commended a book, saying that it would ground her against Popery. Charles, too, would have enjoyed Bach
These comments are to demonstrate that a love of beautiful worship did not necessarily mean support for Roman claims or assertions.
In +, Benton