Thursday 20 April 2006

The Act of Settlement

The Act of Settlement has been mentioned to me as a contradiction between my Catholicism and my monarchism, but I have been here before.
I question the viability of a Catholic community that devotes any great energy to the question of ascending the throne while the born sleep in cardboard boxes on the streets and the pre-born are ripped from their mothers’ wombs to be discarded as surgical waste. Far from being a term of abuse, the word “Papist” is in fact the name under which the English Martyrs gave their lives, and expresses the cause for which they did so, making it a badge of honour, to be worn with pride.

And yet, and yet, and yet…

The Established status of the Church of England was already a century and a half old at the time of the Act of Settlement, and is wholly unconnected to it. Anyway, in the 1990s, the Courts ruled that that status entailed what everyone had always known to be the case: that the doctrine of the Church of England – “the reformed Protestant religion as by law established in the Realm of England” – is whatever Parliament says it is at any given time, be that the ordination of women (as was the matter in question), or reincarnation, or the infallibility of Papal definitions ex cathedra, or anything else at all. All that it is necessary for a monarch to do in order to uphold this “religion” is to grant Royal Assent to Ecclesiastical Measures just as if they were any other Bills passed by Parliament.
Those who would most resist any change to the Act of Settlement are those who insist that the Church of England is confessionally Calvinistic as a first principle rather than, as is in fact the case, only until such time as Parliament sees fit to repeal or replace the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, and not a moment longer. Such people are mostly not in England (where they are mostly not members of the Church of England), but in Scotland (where the monarch is required, in ecclesiastical terms, to do nothing more than preserve a Presbyterian pattern of polity) and in Northern Ireland (where, as in Wales, the monarch has no formal ecclesiastical function whatever).
However, it is in Northern Ireland that a large Catholic community, by far the single largest religious body (as the Catholic Church also is, narrowly or otherwise, in each of England, Scotland and Wales), is crying out to be bound more closely to the British State, with which certainly a very large proportion of its members, and probably the majority, identifies very strongly. In view of what the Coronation Oath actually means, then let the Act of Settlement be repealed if that would help that binding, long complete and unthought about everywhere else in the United Kingdom (even, it seems, on Merseyside and in the West of Scotland).
What was established in 1688, with strong Papal support (see my previous post on Northern Ireland), was in fact the Catholic principle previously given practical effect in 1399 in England, and even more ingrained in Scotland, as against both Gallican princely absolutism and its metamorphosis into the theory whereby the new gentry-cum-mercantile republic was sovereign even over the Prince.
English Jacobitism, in particular, was what would now be called an Anglican, rather than a Catholic, phenomenon, when it was not just a ragbag of everyone (Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers, smugglers, the lot) opposed to the Whig hegemony. Catholics hardly featured, since they simply did not share the underlying philosophical and theological assumptions; rather, they fully accepted Parliament’s right to determine the succession to the throne, even when it was inconvenient to themselves.
Each of the Commonwealth Realms is a linear inheritor of that age-old tradition, which is the peaceable alternative both to the bloodletting anti-republican pseudo-monarchism coming down from Buridan through the French Counter-Revolution, and to the bloodletting anti-monarchist pseudo-republicanism against which it came to react, historical aberrations both.
The Parliament of each Commonwealth Realm therefore has the absolute right to determine the succession to its own throne; but they mercifully choose to exercise this right in unison, and may that ever remain the case. (It is perfectly illiterate to suggest that the repeal of the Act of Settlement would revive any Stuart claim to the throne.) So, again, if the repeal of the Act of Settlement helped to keep even one country in this family, then, in view of the above, by all means let it be repealed, though only by unanimous consent among all the Commonwealth Realms, since its continuation would also be a price well worth paying in order to preserve the unity of that family.

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