Can the Powerful Be Holy?

In Anglo-Saxon times such a question would probably never have occurred to anyone. The long roll-call of saintly kings and queens, bishops, abbots and abbesses (who were themselves usually of royal or noble origin), would have been evidence enough. The royal cults of Anglo-Saxon England are especially interesting, as they include one or two saints whose claim to holiness is — what shall we say — a little on the questionable side by modern standards. Even today’s saint, Edward the Confessor, has had his sanctity questioned by latter-day historians, though more on the grounds of political ineptitude than because of any deliberately ungodly behaviour on his part. It is as though the possession of power marked a man or woman out as blessed by God; and provided the administration of that power was in conformity with Christian ideals and accompanied by manifestations of divine approval (miracles), the holder of it could be thought of as holy. Is that true today?

I daresay anyone looking at the political landscape in Britain today would hesitate to dub any of our chief politicians holy; there have certainly not been any obvious miracles to attest to divine favour recently — or am I being unduly cynical? It makes one ask, is there now a divorce between holiness and power? Does personal goodness in a leader matter? Should our conduct in the public sphere be affected by the ideals we hold in the private sphere? These become important questions when we are talking about legislation on life-death issues such as abortion, euthanasia, or war. They are also important when we are considering the education of our children or the welfare system that supports the sick or unemployed. They matter, too, when we are managing a company or administering a service. In short, anyone who is a leader or holds any kind of power has to make choices that affect others on the basis of what he or she thinks or believes.

For many people — not just politicians — the answer is to be found in compromise. One does what one can, according to one’s lights; and because Britain today is a multi-ethnic, polycultural society, what one can do must be tempered by the knowledge that someone’s susceptibilities are likely to be affected. The only problem I have with that is the fact that we are all called to be holy, something which admits of no compromise. I do not know how to square that with the realpolitik of leadership, but I am sure prayer is an essential element. To some, Edward the Confessor may seem a bit of a loser, but I think myself he makes a very good patron for those in positions of power wanting to do the right thing, but not entirely sure how to set about it. St Edward, pray for us!


4 thoughts on “Can the Powerful Be Holy?”

  1. Edward the Confessor was the Patron Saint until 1350 when
    Edward III adopted Saint George.
    The responsibility and freedom we find in our faith are two sides of the same coin, which is why I believe it is of value to
    remember that the nihilism practiced by the Nazi for example, does not contend that there is nothing, but it states that everything is meaningless, and once everything is meaningless everything becomes possible except freedom.

  2. I think that we expect or leaders, whether political or civil or in Church to have integrity, to only make promises that are for the benefit of the greater good and in accordance with standards of decency and honesty, and to be aware of the implications of such decisions for all of our people. Sometimes it might be ethically correct to implement a decision that will disadvantage someone, but I find it actually quite hard to see such a situation.

    I find it hard to find holiness in the day to day machinations of political parties or their leaders, expediency and the next vote being their priority. In fact, there is so much deceit involved with some, that I seem to see the dark side in today’s politics and much of the business community.

    The United Kingdom is a democracy therefore, our expectation is that promises made by politicians during an election campaign, will be upheld, the issue is that nowadays, government’s seem to be elected by a minority of the electorate, the vote is so divided between the numerous parties on the scene. We’re just coming out of a coalition, which has been a consensus between Tory and Liberal, unlikely bed mates at the best of times, and the liberals have abandoned their much trumpeted principles to enable legislation to be put through, that is causing considerable harm to the poor, the vulnerable, the disabled and the low paid, while the better off, seem to be virtually immune, or even better off than before.

    I suspect that my cynicism is fueled by seeing so many suffering under the current government, and no doubt there are honest poltiicians with integrity. My own MP is one such, who is diligent and has proven her worth when I have contacted her with concerns that I might have. I might not agree with her politics, but as a person, she has proven her worth to me, so might even get my vote next year, if I can be persuaded that a vote for the Green candidate would be wasted. So much for my own political loyalty 🙁

    • As regards the Greens, it should be pointed out that their publicly-stated policy, to support making abortion referrals easier, creates a real moral difficulty for some. See Chris Moore’s comment on Saturday’s post.

  3. A challenging article.
    Stanley Baldwin was quite strongly Christian.
    Churchill claimed to be God fearing.
    Mrs Thatcher used the Prayer of St Francis at her election.
    You may disagree with their politics but they were honest enough to lay their cards on the table.
    Our Queen has never made a Christmas broadcast which leaves out help for the less fortunate and the Person of Jesus.
    I believe she is a very Christian person in all aspects of her life.
    None of these would be proclaimed Saints but as you say our past role models are rather questionable.

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