Three conversations today – much on Social Media, but some actually (yes!) with Real People – bring me back to where I was last week for Joe and Asiye’s wedding.
It is an architectural jewel, and the Treasury stores artworks that are beautiful and priceless. I reflected on the human cost of such a glorification of empire – the taxing, the fights, the cajoling, the bullying – while caught in admiration of the artefacts and in wonder at the Cathedral building. Easy to fall in love with this art; easy, maybe, to fall for the propaganda of who is actually in charge. So here is a brief thought from a Christian perspective. Clearly, only from a Christian perspective: even in writing this, Pullman’s Magisterium looms from the shadows.
I often like to test out how chant would sound in places connected with that piece of music. This version of the Laudes Regiae, the Royal Praises may not be quite as I would wish (because I’m picky) but gives a sense of what is going on in this lengthy chant to welcome emperors, popes and others. Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat. I should have liked to sing it in Aachen – but wouldn’t dare, if I’m honest: a chicken clucking in a convocation of eagles.
But how do I translate that refrain? Or more particularly how would I want to translate it in these turbulent times, when a President is proclaimed in the US in salvific terms, and when Catholics in the UK Cabinet seem oblivious to so much Catholic teaching?
The first translation might be
Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ is the Emperor.
But I wonder. Too easy to feel buoyed up by this, seduced rather, into thinking it is Christ who has put the King, the Pope, the Emperor, the President in control. The intrigue, the backstabbing, the battles, the bribes: it is Christ who has done this. Time, I think, in a world where we know our “rulers” better than that, to turn it on its head.
It is Christ who is the conqueror, Christ, the King, Christ, the Emperor.
After all the Laudes continue:
Ipsi soli imperium, laus et iubilatio
per immortalia saecula saeculorum.
To him alone (sc Christ) is the imperium, the praise of the jubilation, for the undying ages of ages.
Not someone who thinks they are important when an election falls their way; not someone who rises to power because of support for this colleague or that… The Royal Praises are another Sic Transit Gloria Mundi – or more: our leaders, or rulers, or ministers or whatever are too easily portrayed as executors of the will of God when they are (or can be) no more than Shift, the ape who is gulling the Narnian people in C S Lewis’ The Last Battle.
Christian liturgy and theology is rather better than a wa y of glorifying people on power – or can be…