[I've heard the anecdote before, only concerning Lady Thatcher when she was Prime Minister, but the point is well made]
"...In an age of short attention spans, celebrities fade quickly. Rare is the personality who becomes, in the term wrongly and tiresomely used by writers with limited vocabularies, “iconic.” An ephemeral perception of things makes it hard to understand public significance apart from celebrity-based “popularity” and “approval ratings.”
I mention this because of the continuing celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. It is the nature of her office, and confounding to anyone who does not understand the institution, that she did nothing to earn her position other than being born. But that notion is reassuring to all of us who are made heirs of salvation by the gratuitous mercy of Christ the King...
.... Elizabeth II has displayed a constant sense of duty and responsibility, knowing that with the perquisites of her office comes an unrelenting publicity that will not cease until her last breath – far different from public figures who may hope to retire and play golf. The example of growing old gracefully and publicly is another gift of a monarch in contrast to mere celebrities who use the limelight to create an illusion of agelessness. It is said that when a Hollywood starlet, about to be presented to the Queen, worried that the colors of their dresses might clash, she was told that Her Majesty does not notice what others are wearing ..."
Read it all here
He is right about the contrast.
But what is most evident, to this observer at least, is how much, during the Queen's sixty year reign, things have changed. We have moved from the essential optimism of the early 1950s, (even after the social, political and economic exhaustion in Britain following Hitler's war) with all its talk of a 'new Elizabethan age' in which it was still possible to hold ambitions for the culture similar to those discussed by T.S. Eliot in his 'The Idea of a Christian Society.' (1939) to our own atomised post-Christian, post-modern societies where we now as 'people of faith' feel our way delicately through the wreckage of much of what seemed so enduring.
That the Queen is still there, with her vocation as a Christian monarch clearly intact and her sense of sacred duty in no way diminished by the passing of the years, should be reassuring and say something to us about the resistance and durability of older, "pre-democratic" values. Yet if we look behind the facade, we become only more aware of the great contrast between the faith of the Sovereign herself and the spiritual and ethical relativism of so many of those who last week were waving their Union Flags so enthusiastically in celebration of her Diamond Jubilee.
We also are brought to recognise the sheer impossibility in 2012 of even conceiving of an idea of a Christian society (in Eliot's phrase, "some notion of where we want to go before we arrange to start upon a journey") which would be practically possible to implement in a deeply relativistic, multi-cultural context. There is no going back.
There are some reasons for optimism in the rediscovery of a 'hermeneutic of continuity' across various traditions (alas, probably too late for some) but under the all-pervasive and therefore largely unconsciously operating influence of secularisation our Christian divisions are undoubtedly sharper focused than they have been for many generations, thereby minimising the possibilities of cooperating in the implementation of a single social agenda on the part of the Church. If we are reading the social and cultural barometer correctly, worse is to come - perhaps even the 'totalitarian democracy' of which Eliot warned.
We should refuse to despair: the Faith has a remarkable propensity (that of the Holy Spirit himself) to renew itself in the face of seemingly inevitable decline and disaster. The great evangelistic movements of the middle ages, founded by St Francis and St Dominic, are obvious examples of this. Closer to our time, who could have predicted the influence of the Oxford Movement on a church slipping inexorably into erastian heterodoxy? Things which have become forgotten or hidden or overlooked for generations, have a habit of bursting into new life if even a small remnant takes the trouble to keep them alive. But we are now in imminent danger, in this corner of the ecclesial world at least, of losing much and of closing the doors on what will not be recovered.
I was sent this quotation from Eliot, again from The Idea of a Christian Society. You probably know it - it's one of those passages which, once read, remains always beneath the conscious mind:
"If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready made. You must wait for the grass to grow to feed the sheep to give the wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism. We should not live to see the new culture, nor would our great-great-great-grandchildren: and if we did, not one of us would be happy in it."There's an interesting treatment of these and related issues at The Imaginative Conservative [here]