Mourning the loss of our Queen and all that she embodied

Queen Elizabeth listening to speeches by others at the Home Office last month.Pic: Royal Rota Pool

As I have been asked to talk about the life and the death of the Queen in media outlets across the world, I have found myself wanting to talk about her character.

It used to be the fashion to address a monarch as His or Her 'Most Christian Majesty'. In the case of Elizabeth II, that was the most appropriate description. People have discussed her longevity, her family, her good judgement; but behind the length of her reign, and the reason why she found herself so dearly loved, was her Christian character.

Alongside a life constructed and sculpted by faith is the congruence that the demise of Christian faith in the public sphere may take place in parallel to her own personal demise.

In conventional terms, the Queen's passing will be measured in superlatives. The length of her reign, the affection in which she was held, and the influence not only on this United Kingdom but throughout the world are the most obvious areas that will command near universal gratitude.

The facts of her reign are well known and have been celebrated annually as they ticked over in a steady accumulation. But the significance of her reign is as substantial as the measurement of longevity and popularity.

Future historians may well use the date of her death in 2022 as the measure of the end of an era. Not just an era of the cycle of monarchy, used as we are to talk of the Edwardian and Victorian period. The second Elizabethan period will close in conjunction with the fall of a culture and perhaps even a civilization.

When she began her reign, the country, as with much of the rest of Europe and the West was self-evidently Christian. During a period of national crisis, her father called for a national day or prayer in response to the imminent destruction of the British Expeditionary force. Her coronation was exclusively and wholly Christian.

Baptisms and marriages in church were the social norm. By the end of her reign the attendance or laity of the Established Church had collapsed, and baptisms and marriages in the Church of England had become the rare exception.

The whole narrative that sustained a philosophy of life and the country's culture, that there were objective moral values and that Christ was indeed the way the Truth and the Life, had been replaced by a culture of relativism, multiculturalism and the widest possible choice of moral and existential values. A society that defined itself with a mixture of classical stoicism and Christian duty had given way to hedonism, consumerism and narcissism.

At the beginning of her reign, the monarchy had won the hearts of the nation as it led the country by example through the vicissitudes of a war in which the fate of the nation hung in the balance. By the end of her reign, the public reputations of one of her sons, Andrew, and one of her grandsons, Harry, had cast a shadow over the institution.

The fallout from the disastrous marriage between Charles and Diana, the reverberations of which echoed painfully in the lives of their children, not only caused the Queen considerable distress, but also jeapordised the foundation of the monarchy that her dutiful and mature self-giving had sustained.

She presided over the most dramatic shift of cultural values from a society that was largely Christian to one that had become almost uniformly secular. But it may be that few have understood the significance of her personal virtue and Christian character, because you don't get to be a beautiful and attractive elderly person by winning at the lottery of genetic inheritance.

There is a kind of moral and existential gravity that works as people get old. It can be harder to be more patient, more loving and more hopeful. But the Christian faith contains an energetic moral potency that acts as an antidote to the wounds of personal history.

A commitment to leading a life dedicated to Christian moral virtue formed the personal attributes of selflessness, kindness and a devotion to duty imbued with faith, hope and humour. One of the reasons that she was so universally loved was because she had practised a life of looking outside herself to give attention to her neighbour. Rich and privileged as she was in material terms, she looked beyond herself and made her life a conduit of giving.

In psychological terms, she exemplified the archetypal grandmother accessible to the whole nation. But this persona was fed and nurtured by an authenticity of personal virtue.

While the role that she played as Monarch was inevitably formal and constitutionally stereotypical, and the secret to her success lay in subjugating her personal preferences to the formal role that she was required to play, nonetheless there were moments when Elizabeth Windsor and Elizabeth the Queen were able to be presented in a symbiotic whole to profound effect.

The best example of this was to be found in her Christmas address to the nation. In a formal role as Supreme Governor of the Church at the moment of solemn religious celebration, it was a duty to offer a public reflection. But at the same time Elizabeth Windsor, who was a devoted and deeply committed Christian, infused the formal proceedings with an authenticity of faith that was deeply effective.

As the society she ruled over constitutionally grew more heterodox and hedonistic, the dignity and integrity that she embodied both personally and constitutionally resonated with a contrasting moral and existential value which was nurtured by her relationship with God - her sense of vocation as his servant, placed within the royal family to serve both him and her nation - and her love of Christ, whose Spirit renewed her daily.

The mourning that will accompany her passing will be a grief not only for a remarkable woman, a treasured mother, a dignified grandmother and a much-loved Queen, it will also include a sorrow for the passing of a Christianised culture whose deepest and most noble virtues she represented and embodied. In every sense it is true to say of her, we shall not see her like again.