Royal Weddings and a Love Stronger Than Death

In the course of my studies, I have recently been appreciating the first volume of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s sociology, In the Cross of Reality: The Hegemony of Spaces. A remarkably brilliant thinker and a perceptive critic of sociologists’ aspirations to the methodologies of the natural sciences, Rosenstock-Huessy displays a peculiar alertness to the living and spiritual character of society and its processes. Reading Rosenstock-Huessy helped further to crystallize some of the thoughts that watching the royal wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle this last weekend had initially precipitated.

 

Monarchy, Representation, and the Imagination

A peculiar characteristic of the United Kingdom’s public life is the presence of a family at the heart of it. Like a quaint and eccentric folly, the Royal Family is an arresting feature of our nations’ existence, yet its purpose—particularly in the modern world—is by no means immediately apparent.

To modern technocrats such an institution may appear to be a strange irrationality, a now largely benign relic of a less enlightened age that retains a residual grip upon our affections and imaginations. Shorn of most of its historic power, the monarchy is a relatively harmless mitigation of the liberal disenchantment of our national life, an indulgence of romantic notions of nationhood that we probably should have outgrown.

Yet, as an institution, the monarchy is a stubborn though decaying holdout house against a liberal politics. Even as it collapses into ruin, the crumbling edifice of the monarchy bears witness to a strikingly different model of nationhood than those of prevailing ideologies.

In The Ways of Judgment, Oliver O’Donovan highlights the fact that nationhood is a work of moral imagination, rather than mere technical construction:

To see ourselves as a people is to grasp imaginatively a common good that unifies our overlapping and interlocking practical communications, and so to see ourselves as a single agency, the largest collective agency that we can practically conceive. A people is a complex of social constituents: of local societies, determined by the common inhabitation of a place; of institutions, such as universities, banks, and industries; of communities of specialist function, such as laborers, artists, teachers, financiers; of families; and of communities of enthusiasm such as sports clubs and musical organizations. To have identity as a people is to be able to conceive the whole that embraces these various constituents practically, as a coordinated agency. When it is no longer possible to discern the constituent elements within the whole, each with its stock of tradition, its reserve of memory, and its communal habits of practice, then the whole dissolves before our eyes. It also dissolves when it is no longer possible to think of these elements as acting, in some sense, together and for one another. [150]

Peoplehood is not a ‘rational’ or scientific entity, but something that organically develops from the realities of human life in community over great spans of time (and the temporal element of peoplehood is a crucial dimension that isn’t so clear within the O’Donovan quotation above, even if it is so within his work more generally). Where peoplehood is absent, government ceases to be ours. It becomes an imposition upon the ruled, where it should be the servant of the common good of a people that has existence apart from it. No small amount of the concern around issues such as rapid mass immigration arises from the fear that they represent government-mandated erosion or extinction of the organic structures of peoplehood. The feared result is a radical reconfiguration of the relationship between the government and the nation: the government becomes the technocratic engineer of a nation whose fabric is slowly reduced to that of a threadbare and artificial economic existence, deprived of a robust peoplehood and the agency that can accompany that.

Corresponding to peoplehood is representation, which O’Donovan argues requires ‘recognition’: we must ‘see ourselves’ in our representatives, both affectively and cognitively.

The false turn lies in the thought that representation is founded in the will. It is founded in the imagination. That the representative may act for us, and we in him, it is necessary that we see ourselves in him. Representation is a case of symbolization; the representative “stands for” our consciousness of our common association. [159]

The relationship between a people and their representatives can be a sort of marriage. Their representation of us can exceed the merely contractual visions of liberal political theory, having both the force of eros and the power of glorious spectacle at its heart.

The mistaken confusion of representation with the legitimating process of elections blinds us to its true character. The contrast between the monarchy and British members of the European Parliament is instructive here. While the latter are elected to act on our behalf, they do not represent us in anything remotely like the powerful way that the unelected monarchy does. A deep peoplehood is recognized in the representation of the monarchy that is strikingly absent in the realm of European politics, which, because of the lack of truly ‘representative’ agencies, feels ‘faceless’ and technocratic. Liberalism’s failure to grasp the imaginative character of representation yields a politics that can feel inhuman, disconnected, and distant.

 

The Living Channels of Society

Much of the strength of Rosenstock-Huessy’s work, as I have already intimated, lies in his appreciation of the living character of a true society, a living character most particularly seen in the human ordering of time. Reflecting upon his insights has much to teach us about the power of the Monarchy and the Royal Family as representative entities and how and why this power is failing.

A living society (which could be a single family, a church, a town, a nation, or some larger people group) is distinguished by its establishment of a realm of human spirit within the axes of reality (inward, outward, forward, backward). Such a society has an inward realm of communion and an outward agency into the world and over against others. It transmits its spirit forward into the future, while growing in the legacy of those who have gone before. Societies need to uphold their strength at each of these axes. At each of these axes, societies are vulnerable to breakdown. Children can break away from their parents in revolution. Decadent societies can fail to transmit their spirit into the future through sacrifice. Our outward relations can go awry in the hostile relations of war. Our inward relations can fracture through internecine strife as brethren fail to live in peace or as the bond of marriage fails.

The health of society along each of these axes is sustained in large measure through language. Where we lose the capacity to sing together, for instance, the inner life of a society weakens. Where we lose the ability to keep our vows, we fail to move our spirit into the future.

As we conceive of society as a living entity, one of the things that becomes more apparent is the crucial particularity and alterity of its variegated organs and members. As bearers of living social meaning across time, fundamental human differences and relations become exceedingly important. The bride and beloved is not the same person as the mother, for instance: between those two figures—between the beauty of the former and the dignity of the latter—lies a passage and transformation of human spirit. In time, the mother will mature into yet another sort of person still, characterized by a new set of potencies. Likewise, there are seasons of a man’s life, as the boy develops in succession into an apprentice, a wanderer, a man, a father, a master, a grandfather, an old man, and an ancestor. The speech by which each figure can sustain and strengthen society differs: men and women and persons of different stations in life cannot speak in the same manner. Even if they say the same words, they are doing so as persons who bear social reality in differing ways.

The life of society requires children to rejuvenate it, young persons to enliven and make it dynamic, mature persons to temper it, and elders to embody its culture. As the life of society involves accomplishing both communication between and progression from one generation to another, differences in age and station in life are of great consequence. Similarly, the disjunction of the sexes—the inescapable intervolved alterity of males and females in the various stages of their lives—is an essential feature of the living organism of society. Forging a fruitful peace between the sexes and accomplishing the healthy social passage and transmission of life through their relations is essential for the well-being of society. Rosenstock-Huessy writes in the book I mentioned at the outset:

The split between the sexes goes far deeper than any political, social, and religious division. It indicates a partition of humanity that surpasses all the others. For none of the others affects us so much in every last fiber of our physical being. The proof of this lies in the fact that any man and any woman can, in togetherness, create a new human being. In biology, this fact is recognized as the sign of the unity of a kind. No other divisions within our kind can be regarded as presuppositions for survival; and no other cleavage can be bridged so triumphantly. Overcoming this cleft in our sexuality therefore denotes the highest achievement. Accordingly, the reversal of this law brings no surprises to the fore—which is to say that whenever this cleft is not overcome, the lechery that then prevails wrecks destruction on our kind.

When the sexes fail to attain peace, humankind suffers devastation. An unsuccessful amnesty between man and woman is war par excellence… But if a “foundation for peace” does ensue, this happy event becomes an heirloom for the children. These children learn from their parents that they, too, have been endowed with the strength to endow peace. They have before them a “clan” of their own, where two clans comprising two sexes became one body comprising two persons. [211]

Marriage and the family are a chief organ by which the life of a society is transmitted between persons and across times. Churches are other such organs. The Monarchy has been another.

 

Transforming Time

In an age such as ours, it is easy to think of time as a succession of quantifiable and fungible temporal units, whether seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, or years. Rosenstock-Huessy writes:

The hour of an industrial plant will run its course correctly to the extent that it is fungible and interchangeable. It should not be noticeable whether the clock strikes 1 p.m. or 11 p.m. The twenty-four-hour day of industry is totally incompatible with that of the ancient day-laborer, and measures out an opposite time scale. The day of the ancients was anthropomorphic, subject to human experience. Moreover, it was irreversible and unrepeatable. But twenty-four-hour days are abstract things. They run along in a uniform stretch, as if they were reversible—as if the hours 1-2 and 4-5 and 23-24 could exchange places with one another. They are all indifferent to their “functionaries.” For example, it is quite immaterial whether the work is done in four shifts of six hours, in three shifts of eight hours, or in two shifts on twelve hours each. It has no bearing on the processes, as such. [192]

However, the time of a people is structured quite differently. It is forged through such things as sacrifice in war, marriage and child-bearing, education (which traverses the gap between ‘distemporaries’ and transmits the life of a culture), and the keeping of vows. Rosenstock-Huessy observes, for instance, the way that participation in armed conflict thrusts young men into a different form of temporality. In laying their lives on the line for their country, members of armed forces enter into a time that exceeds the bounds of their own lifespans.[1] They must become part of a ‘swell of time’ that involves both their ancestors and their descendants—a span of at least three generations (about a century), when one includes their own—which gives meaning to their sacrifice. They are prepared to sacrifice their lives in order that something of the past may endure into the future. The commander of men in the army must ensure his men’s connection with this greater time and summon them to the actualization of their own time. On account of the brotherhood formed in war, veterans can speak to us as the ‘deputies of the dead’, bringing the obligations that the sacrifice of the fallen places upon society to its mind, calling us to make good on the hopes that inspired them. Remembrance of such sacrifice alerts us to the fact that our communities are not the pure possession of the merely living, but that we have a duty to the dead.

Rosenstock-Huessy sums up his point as follows: ‘[I]n every transformation, the spatial creature man steps into a temporal space: into a generation by marriage, into a century by death-defying service, into the hour by work, into political time through mass movements.’

 

Marriage as Temporal Transformation

Marriage serves to forge peaceful relations between the sexes, bringing together a representative of each. And the concept of ‘representation’ must be permitted its fuller sense in this context: every husband or wife stands for the larger company of their sex across the ages. In their particularity they stand for its totality and in each marriage there is an icon of the union of the two halves of humanity. Mark Searle observes the way this truth is expressed in marriage liturgies:

[E]ach new couple takes its place in the succession of generations, hopeful of doing its duty by God’s grace, and of being blessed with children and an old age in which they see the succession continued in their children’s children, before they pass to their reward. Even more than that, the whole succession of generations is somehow summed up in this bridal pair: in a certain sense, they become Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, and the rest. They become more than themselves, assuming a role which transcends their individual lives and loves and faith: they become Everyman and Everywoman, the archetypal Man and Woman, king and queen, icons of the holy nation wedded to its God.

In addition to forging peaceful relations between the two halves of humanity, marriage is ordered towards the transmission of life from one generation to the next. The peaceful and fruitful union of the sexes in marriage creates a representative society, a society that can stand for the whole. It is also a generative society, in a way that society abstracted from marriage and the family cannot be. Husband and wife are blessed with fruitfulness, with the potential to bring new life into the world and to be an iconic and hospitable union. Within this bond children can know peace and welcome, and their living and organic belonging: their very existence arises from and represents the loving union that their parents share.

Like soldiers on the front line, each married couple must step beyond their private and limited time to become participants in and bearers of a time they exceeds the scope of their own natural lives. Marriage is intrinsically ordered towards the bearing of children and the loving transmission of society’s life to those yet to be born.

 

The Power of Marriage

A marriage has the potential to be an ‘intrusion’ of new life into society, preventing society from ever becoming ‘total’. It continues in the intergenerational work of knitting together the two halves of humanity in love. It founds a new society, laying the foundation of a shared domain that will produce children and the life of a household that will restore family member and guest and spread out into the wider world. It connects our time to times before and after us. A Christian marriage can even be an icon of eschatological time, of the great Sabbath rest we await, and the joy of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

The power of a wedding is prospective in character, a power enacted in the successful ‘decision’ represented in a faithful lifelong marriage. It is the power of a binding vow faithfully discharged. In a society where promises are kept, the vows of a couple at their wedding is the foundation of a new world that can endure beyond their death. Where promises are kept, the ‘I do’ of the wedding is a statement of immense power, inspiring the sorts of sacrifices by which a couple’s life and love can survive their deaths.

On account of the transmutation of the private romantic bond into world-founding vows delivered in the wedding ceremony, society is constantly renewed and refreshed in the unions of its sons and daughters. In their wedding, a ‘pair of lovers can pull a whole community along with them and elevate it for all time.’ The wedding is a ‘high time’, an occasion where the rich springs of society’s life in the committed union of husband and wife are disclosed and society itself is reinvigorated. ‘At a celebrated marriage the settled order of society makes room for the entry of a new pair of bearers of reality.’ The public wedding is a break with the quotidian and an event within which a wider society sees itself represented: ‘On wedding days the world of love overpowers and overwhelms the world of work.’

Yet in an age of divorce where vows are not kept, where labour and industry have become alienated from the realm of the household, and in a society where little life is transmitted from a generation to its successor, the wedding is sapped of much of its significance. Where weddings have been reduced to private affairs, time itself is left barren. Rosenstock-Huessy points out:

“Society,” however, is thereby cheated of its polar relationship to the “union.” Society is a cooling-down process, an adjustment to daily routine, which must therefore be constantly reenergized by the processes of bonding in marriages. This rhythm is lacking today, because the glow that ought to radiate from a wedding day is no longer within the reach of existing societies. Consequently, society conveys a sense of mechanical organization. [203]

Where once society itself could be represented and transformed in a wedding—as Rosenstock-Huessy points out, the weddings of Habsburgs once bound empires together—the wedding is now privatized and society is rationalized, purged of the irrational living processes of custom and tradition, through which healthy communion is forged between the sexes and the generations, and rendered the creature of technique.

 

Royal Spectacle and the Nation as Family

It is in light of all of this that I was struck by what the celebration of the royal wedding represented last weekend. It is a renewed reminder that the United Kingdom continues to be represented by a particular family, in the spectacle of whom we are frequently being recalled to the transitions—birth, marriage, death—by which a living people transmits its existence across time. This vision of nationhood held out to us by the Monarchy is a very different one from that of modern liberalism, for which the living processes of generative beings are of little consequence and society is conceptualized around the unit of the autonomous, androgynous, and interchangeable individual within the rationalized processes of the economic system and technocratic government.

None of this should entail an idealization of the royal family or of what it has and sometimes continues to represent. George Orwell well-expressed the familial character of the English people when he wrote:

England is not the jewelled isle of Shakespeare’s much-quoted message, nor is it the inferno depicted by Dr Goebbels. More than either it resembles a family, a rather stuffy Victorian family, with not many black sheep in it but with all its cupboards bursting with skeletons. It has rich relations who have to be kow-towed to and poor relations who are horribly sat upon, and there is a deep conspiracy of silence about the source of the family income. It is a family in which the young are generally thwarted and most of the power is in the hands of irresponsible uncles and bedridden aunts. Still, it is a family. It has its private language and its common memories, and at the approach of an enemy it closes its ranks. A family with the wrong members in control—that, perhaps is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase.

Although we should not idealize either whatever residual familial character the nation still has or the Royal Family that represents it, it is important to appreciate the fittingness of a living society being represented by a family. As society recognizes itself in the representation of the Royal Family, it sees more than a mere set of professional legislators or politicians, but mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, marriages, births, deaths, and the transmission of vocation from parent to child. Monarchy can be one of the most deeply ‘representative’ forms of government for this reason. As our head of state, for instance, Her Majesty the Queen is more than a mere functionary or official, being someone whose motherhood is also a dimension of her royalty.

Not only can society as a whole see itself represented in the Royal Family, but each and every family can do the same. Beneath all of the ceremonious pomp, the life of the Royal Family is, like each of our own families, a transmission of a shared life across time and a forging of peace within it through the defining events of birth, the bringing together of the sexes in marriage, and generational succession. As a spectacle at the heart of our national life, the Royal Family recalls us to the true nature of a living society and to the public significance of marriage as a demonstration of the power of love against death.

 

Weakened Symbols

However, in watching the spectacle of the Royal Wedding, I could not help but think of the ways in which the symbol of Monarchy is failing in our day. Our nation is less like a family than it ever has been, and our families have long since ceased to be so determinative of our existence. Although Orwell could speak about the English nation as self-evidently a family with its own distinct ways, that self-evident peoplehood has passed with the advent of mass immigration and a new cosmopolitanism. That we should recognize ourselves in the particularity and natural exclusiveness of a family seems inappropriate and insensitive in a multicultural society.

Furthermore, the family has become an extremely weak and largely privatized institution in society: the sexes have been flattened out, those things of public consequence that once occurred in the household have largely been outsourced, and there is little meaningful transmission of life between the generations. Michel Houellebecq has observed:

Children existed [in the past] to inherit a man’s trade, his moral code, and his property. This was taken for granted among the aristocracy, but merchants, craftsmen, and peasants also bought into the idea, so it became the norm at every level of society. That’s all gone now: I work for someone else, I rent my apartment from someone else, there’s nothing for my son to inherit. I have no craft to teach him; I haven’t a clue what he might do when he’s older. By the time he grows up, the rules I lived by will have no value—he will live in another universe. If a man accepts the fact that everything must change, then he accepts that life is reduced to nothing more than the sum of his own experience; the past and future generations mean nothing to him. That’s how we live now. For a man to bring a child into the world now is meaningless.

In certain respects, not least in the transmission of a vocation across generations, the Royal Family is a living fossil of an age where family meant a lot more than it does today. In other respects, however, it shares the notable features of marriage in our day more generally, not least in the divorces that various of its members have had. The more that the Royal Family resembles the broken families of society at large, the less fit it is to represent an effective social transmission of life.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding was a wedding between two children of divorce, Meghan also being a divorcée herself. Where vows are so often not kept, the power of weddings is weakened, serving chiefly to celebrate a romantic love that is currently shared by a couple, rather than functioning as the effective founding of a new world that passes life across generations. Society may be charmed by the romance, but it is less able to join in the celebration of such weddings as an icon of its own birth, much as every baptism recalls the Church to Pentecost.

Likewise, as marriage becomes privatized in its meaning, weddings become more shaped by the self-expression of couples. Marriage once bore social and religious meanings and realities that were much greater than those of a couple, but which a couple took upon themselves as those joyfully committing to its burden. However, as the transmission of social life recedes from our awareness, the expression of the individuality and personality of a couple starts to assume a much greater profile (as the performance of something like Stand By Me at last weekend’s royal wedding might partially illustrate).

In its fusion of African American and traditional British culture, the royal wedding expressed the cultures of the bride and groom quite strikingly and often quite beautifully: it wasn’t surprising to me that many were moved by it. However, even though it more nearly resembles the multicultural unions of contemporary persons in a cosmopolitan society and as such may be more ‘relatable’, it is much less clearly a part of a symbol of a particular peoplehood shared by the British subjects of the Crown. Rather, it seems to be an indication that such a peoplehood no longer clearly exists, calling into question the place of the Monarchy more generally.

The more that the royals behave like wealthy cosmopolitans and celebrities, associate with an international class of entertainers, celebrities, and the mega-rich, and invest their time in the support of progressive causes over those devoted to some specific dimension of our national common good, the less clear it will be that they represent something distinctively British. Royals have always represented our agency in relation to and our belonging within a world of nations beyond our borders, but belonging to an internationalist class is a rather different thing from belonging to an extended family of European royalty.

 

Dried Up Channels

The traditional symbolic power of royalty arose from its condensed symbolization of the transmission of the nation’s life. In the line of the royal house, the nation can recognize the development of its own peoplehood over time. Our history is named and measured in such a manner: we talk of the ‘Victorians’, of the ‘Tudor Era’, or of the ‘Regency Period’. In the monarch and a royal dynasty, we recognize a unity and particularity to our own peoplehood, transmitted through the living processes of society.

The close associations of the monarchy with both the Church and the military have been central features of its representative character and its capacity to represent the transmission of society’s life and being over time. However, Her Majesty the Queen belongs to what can with some justification be termed the last active generation of Anglicans. Even though a majority of the population may still define themselves as Christian, less than 2% attends a Church of England service weekly, fewer than the number of Britons attending a mosque weekly. The notion of the monarch as the foremost Christian worshipper in the nation, the Defender of the (Christian) Faith and the Supreme Governor of the Church, seems increasingly problematic in a secular and multi-faith society. The Church of England has demonstrably failed to transmit a living faith across the generations.

The symbolic power of the military as a channel of national identity is also waning. World War II is slipping beyond memory, as HM the Queen’s generation pass away. A living voice for past sacrifices is fading among us and we no longer feel the weight of such obligations. The military now increasingly recruits using the language of self-realization over that of duty, service, and sacrifice. Only a quarter of the population would be willing to fight for our country and there is little sense of the military’s symbolic significance for our peoplehood across time. The weight of sacrifice that binds a people across a century or more is no longer felt among us. Europe’s major leaders have neither fought for their countries nor become the parents of children. Despite the absence of war, there has been no bountiful harvest of peace. In our national life we feel neither beholden to a generation that preceded us, nor charged to sacrifice for one to follow.

Marriage is also failing as an institution for the transmission of social life through time. The rapid abandonment of marriage and the rise of divorce over Her Majesty’s reign represent the failure of a decadent society to accomplish the self-sacrificial passage from one generation to the next. The invention of ‘same-sex marriage’ is a logical step in the general development of marriage from a natural institution ordered towards the transmission of life and the renewal of society in the forging of a fruitful peace between its two halves, to a private arrangement between two romantically attached individuals of uncertain duration.

Where marriage, the military, the church, and the history, customs, and traditions of a well-defined peoplehood all lose their social potency, the continuing representative role of a monarchy in which these agencies once assumed a condensed symbol is not readily apparent.

 

A New Faith?

Rosenstock-Huessy remarks upon the way that, as the old springs of society’s life fail, we will seek for new ways to renew ourselves: ‘We live amid delusionary social conceptions today, because we are seeking a collective solution to replace the social impotence of private weddings. But here the sense of time is not practiced, and thus it remains barren.’ As society loses its organic and living character and becomes an engineered creature of technique, something must fill the void. Perhaps something like the media spectacle, which replaces the spectacle representing a concrete peoplehood independent of it with a spectacle substituting for it.

Rosenstock-Huessy writes of the rigidity of modern technique-driven society:

[It] cannot be healed by any old remedy such as improved organization—only the freedom inherent in the not-yet-organized element can help. Only this is capable of breaking into everyday life with something more than organization—namely, organic pro-creativity. Any chance in society that can be qualitatively misjudged as a “phase” is therefore nothing but quackery. It alienates society from the forces streaming from human passions, which lie at its origins. And then the only “marriage” left for the utopians to celebrate is revolution. This delusion is not unleashed in the storm of a lovers’ union, but in total revolution. A social birth based on a world revolution is held up today as a panacea—but only because the distribution of incidents in life no longer has a bearing on the capacity for love of any wedding couple. Society goes away empty-handed from any registry wedding between Jack and Jill. This emptiness in the age of the proletariat is then artificially refilled. [203-204]

Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding was an intriguing example of the fusion of the old faith, hope, and love that animated and drove society with the faith of a new age. The wedding sermon presented a sort of natural theology of love, one which was most concretized in the experience of being in love, but had relatively little to say about the decades-long discipline of marriage, as a realm of faithful companionship, chastity, procreation, and hospitality, where love develops and is tested. Where we prove unable to keep our vows, to ‘cool down’ the first fiery passion of romance to the settled routines of faithful marriages, the ‘fire’ of love ceases to be a true agent of transformation and becomes destructive.

Curry is right to recognize the transforming power of love. However, his more liberal Christian vision of love is insufficiently irruptive, presenting love as a sort of ongoing (r)evolution internal to the world system that largely terminates upon present cultural and political realities, upon ‘making of this old world a new world’ through love as such. This over-immanentized vision of love can and has often functioned as a validation of our natural affections and less as a summons to the sort of love that marriage has at its heart: not the mere natural affections of romance and attraction, but the daily discipline of laying down your own life for others in hope of resurrection. In a similar manner, Christian faith calls one to lay down one’s life (and the loves that go with that) in order to find it.

The faith of liberal Christianity tends to be one of love without death, love that does not place costly obligations upon us. It is precisely this faith that prevails more generally in our society, where ‘love’ is loudly celebrated and any demands or restrictions placed upon love are loudly condemned. However, the ‘love’ of our society consistently proves impotent in the face of personal and social death. The true love by which life flows is one that summons us to our deaths, requiring the laying down of our current lives and loves for the sake of a greater reality beyond them. Love is stronger than death because it can pass through death and come out on the other side. This isn’t an immanentized vision or a liberal natural theology of love. Where society lacks such a vision of love, conceiving of social progress through loving (r)evolution, rather than death and resurrection, we should not be surprised to see it fail to transmit its life through time.

In contrast to this vision of love, the introduction of the wedding ceremony highlighted the truth that the love that weddings exist to celebrate is not primarily the natural love of the romantically attached couple, but the self-sacrificial coming together of a man and a woman for the bearing and raising of children, chaste union, and faithful lifelong companionship. This is a love that places weighty obligations upon people and is undertaken against the solemn horizon of mortality and death. In a society that has lost the love by which its sustains and strengthens its fabric and existence through time and by which it can recognize itself in its representative institutions, we are in urgent need of its recovery.


[1] The vital import of our participation in society can be discovered on those occasions when we must willingly sacrifice our lives for it. Society isn’t just a system to be managed or coded, or a machine to be oiled and maintained, but a venture of life and death, of love and duty. John Ruskin highlights this truth when he speaks of the duty of people in different profession to die for the good of their nation under certain conditions and the way in which soldiers, physicians, pastors, lawyers, and even merchants must be animated by a vocation that exceeds their desire for income.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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9 Responses to Royal Weddings and a Love Stronger Than Death

  1. Timothy Graham says:

    Thanks for this, especially your pointing out the different ideas of “representation”. It’s very useful as I often struggle to articulate why monarchy can be such a humane and civilising form of government to contemporaries who are obsessed by the idea of meritocracy and see hereditary roles in governing as deeply unjust.

    And regarding the recent royal wedding, it is instructive to note how much more closely this wedding approximated to the T-Mobile wedding spoof video put out at the time of the marriage of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge, compared to their wedding.

    • Thanks! Yes, it really can be difficult to communicate such a vision of government to people in an age as individualistic as our own.

      • Susan Owings says:

        Alistair, I read and cried. I don’t recall ever hearing marriage explained as having such earthly importance, extending eternally.
        I cried because my first marriage failed. My then husband confessed to multiple affairs with men. Neither he nor I could predict the eternal consequences or harm that the dissolution of our marriage would yield. Our children became homeless, traveling back and forth between parents. They had no example of parental love in lasting marriage. The grandparents and relatives took sides. My side of the family were not emotionally permitted relationship by their father. The effect led to drug addiction for one child and an inability to commit to marriage.
        It estranged me from my children who blamed me for the divorce. It estranged them from relatives whom the they blamed for not accepting their father’s homosexuality. I have no access to my only grandchild.
        The importance of Marriage should be taught with reverence from as early as possible in childhood and exampled by those who revere God’s wisdom in the gift He provides.
        Although I do not blame family or church, I did not recieve teaching such as you described, not even in a theological college.
        I recieved the rule that God hated divorce and one should hang in their in order to avoid hell except in the case of adultery which gave one the “get out of jail free card.” My mother hung in there even though my father had affairs.
        I married 8 years after the failed marriage and we adopted a son.
        My sorrow goes even deeper as our adopted son, contemplates marriage to a non believer and seemingly has joined the ranks of the milleniels who say no to church.
        I share this as an example of how the fragmentation of a marriage continues
        forward into the future. The grief affects me, of course, and if not for Jesus, I’m sure my mental health would have been lost years ago. I’m very grateful for the marriage of 28 years which my husband and I continue to craft with love through all the ups and downs. Looking through the lens you provided, I feel encouraged.
        I hope to share your profound understanding as often as I have opportunity.
        May God grant you a broad audience who broadcast your profundity.

      • Thank you for this comment, Susan, for sharing your painful experience, and for your encouraging words.

        I apologize for the tardy response: I’ve been away for the past week or so.

    • William Murphy says:

      I wondered when someone would invoke that brilliant T-Mobile spoof of Prince William and Kate’s wedding. It is available on YouTube. As there is many a true word spoken in jest, this two minute video highlighted the incongruity of a very solemn state occasion involving the marriage of the future monarch being publicised and presented worldwide in the manner of a Hollywood marriage. A royal wedding presumes permanence and centuries long continuity. A celebrity marriage…well, any bets on its longevity? Never mind the spiritual underpinnings and the representation of a national community as Alastair so carefully describes.

  2. Stephen Crawford+ says:

    Alastair et al., what do you make of the interest Americans take in the royal family? I’m a bit confused by it.

    Also, any thoughts on how Prince William and Kate’s wedding reflected these dynamics?

    • In the age of mass media, the royal family function as a sort of international celebrity. They represent a great spectacle, but less of a spectacle particular to our country.

      Prince William and Kate’s wedding contrasts with Prince Harry and Meghan’s in a number of ways. See the sermon from their wedding, for instance.

  3. William Murphy says:

    What a wonderful reflection, Alastair. There is much rich material for a long course at any parish whose members want to defend marriage and explain its importance to audiences of engaged couples or schoolchildren.

    Your reference to our present Queen as an Anglican monarch is particularly poignant. Early in her reign, there was the uproar over her sister not marrying a divorced man. Near the end of her reign, her grandson is a child of divorce and he marries a divorcee with full ceremony.

  4. David Wilson says:

    The difference between space and time is present in a quotation I heard recently:

    “The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. SIx days a week we live under the tyrrany of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.” (Abraham Herschel, The Sabbath)

    The Sabbath is also a time for the (extended) family, for it to cease and be.

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