It might seem archaic, but the coronation of a British monarch, with all its complexity, symbol and ritual, speaks volumes about democracy and the rule of law.
The coronation is not only a Christian service but a ceremony that marks the moment when the monarch, in Saturday night’s case King Charles III, swears to protect the rights and freedoms of the people of the realm.
Australia is one of 14 realms loyal to the British monarch – a legacy of our often neglected and sometimes unfairly maligned cultural heritage.
In a recent article published in today’s The Australian by Henry Ergas, the author argues that the monarchy and its heritage protect our freedoms from politicians who might think they are the highest authority.
The coronation of a monarch goes back centuries. Its broad form was defined by Dunstan, a Benedictine monk who crowned King Edgar, King Edward the Martyr and King Aethelred the Ill-Counselled.
The coronation, Ergas reminds, is marked by three elements: the promise of justice, the gift of grace and the fusing of the temporal and the eternal.
The first element of the coronation is the oath, in which the monarch swears to uphold true peace, forbid all unrighteous things, and enjoin justice and mercy in all decrees.
This oath is a powerful reminder of the importance of justice and the rule of law in a democracy.
These principles must guide the monarch, and by extension our politicians who swear allegiance.
No one is supposed to exercise political power in a constitutional monarchy like Australia without reference to these higher laws.
The monarch is reminded that their power is limited, and they are held accountable for their actions before God, who transcends human power structures.
The second element is the liturgy of anointment, which initiates the monarch into a new life in Christ.
The anointment is symbolic of a new life, and the monarch is expected to cast away their old life and be reborn. The anointment and the performance of Handel’s Zadock the Priest and Nathan the Prophet speaks powerfully of the place of spiritual guidance to the ruler and to the right of citizens to speak truth to power.
The ancient Jewish king David committed adultery and murder and it was Nathan who confronted him.
This is a powerful reminder to the monarch and by extension everyone in his realm who holds political power that they are not above being challenged if they do the wrong thing.
The presence of four swords – the sword of state and the three swords of justice – is a reflection of the virtues of strength, honour, fidelity and mercy that the crown requires to defend the realm and impartially administer justice.
The third and last element is the reminder of human mortality. The old and battered Coronation Chair, built in 1297, nearly destroyed in 1916 by a suffragette who hid a homemade bomb behind her feather boa, reminds the monarch of their mortality.
Whether one is a republican or a monarchist, it is the monarchy and its heritage that protect our freedoms from politicians who might think they are the highest authority.
Australia’s head of state is the Governor General, an Australian, whose ceremonial role places him above the Prime Minister of the day in rank.
Above the Governor General and at the top of our constitutional system is the King who, according to the Coronation ceremony, is answerable to God.
This should remind all politicians that while they might like to act like God, sitting above them is a King whose coronation ceremony is a constant reminder to them that they are not.
Do you like this page?