First, he needed to become a Christian.
When the newest member of Great Britain’s royal family was christened on Wednesday, he didn’t just become the country’s newest Anglican, he also secured his place in line with all British monarchs as the future head of Church of England.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, administering the sacrament to the royal baby, capitalizing on the interest in the “hugely important moment” of George’s baptism in a well-timed YouTube video that explains the religious and political significance at play.
For Anglicans in Britain, church is sometimes synonymous with state. This means that the reigning monarch, today Queen Elizabeth, holds official roles as “Defender of the Faith” and “Supreme Governor of the Church of England.” As the future king, George will be responsible for a number of religious duties that are largely symbolic but also rich with history and theology. These duties date back to the 16th century with King Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church. The English Reformation lives.
Prince George is just barely three months old, but he is now one step closer to performing the duties of the supreme governor, detailed by the British Monarchy’s Web site. Among those responsibilities:
- In his or her coronation oath, the sovereign promises to maintain the church.
- Archbishops and bishops are appointed by the king/queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, who considers the names selected by a church commission.
- The General Synod has the power to legislate by canon in its own domestic affairs such as worship and doctrine, but the king/queen’s assent is required for the promulgation of such canons.
- The General Synod of the church has the power to legislate its own domestic affairs such as worship and doctrine, but the king/queen’s assent is required for the promulgation of such canons.
- Parish priests take an oath of allegiance to the king/queen.
- The sovereign must be in communion with the Church of England, that is, a full, confirmed member.
For Christians who believe in infant baptism (which include Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox, among many others), the sacrament brings the child “into incorporation into the Christian family,” said the Rev. Roger A. Ferlo, an Episcopal priest who is also president of Bexley-Seabury seminaries in Illinois and Ohio. The Episcopal Church, like the Church of England, is part of the Anglican Communion, a global network of Anglican churches that unites under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Baptism, along with Communion, is one of the primary two sacraments for Anglicans and is a ritual full of symbolic meaning. During the ceremony, blessed water is poured on the child’s head, which is then anointed with oil, and a baptismal candle is lit. Godparents and parents make denunciations and affirmations –renouncing Satan, the corruption of evil and sin and professing their faith in Christ and the church. For the Church of England, “this first step is a response to God’s love” that brings a child into a broader community of faith.
George’s baptism and future role in the church make him both a typical British boy, as well as a historic figure in the Church of England.
For his part, Ferlo sees both “quaintness and complexity” in Will and Kate’s baptism of their son.
“Everybody gets the same baptism. It’s the same christening for someone who was born somewhere up in the north country as someone born into the royal family. I like to think of it as a leveling, that everyone is a child of God, and this child will be a child of God the same as anybody else,” he said.
Quaint or not, others see the glamorous royal family’s choice to baptize their child as proof of the enduring value of religion, and hope that George’s big day will kick off a renewed interest in the sacrament.
The Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. is among the royal-watchers who sees spiritual promise in George’s christening.
“Every time there’s a royal wedding we get a spike in weddings in the Episcopal Church. . . I’m hoping that a lot of parents will see this example from the royal family and will want to explore the life of faith and will want to explore raising their children within the faith community,” he said.