In the space of a few months a number of remarkable landmarks pass in the life of Queen Elizabeth II. On 9 September 2015, Elizabeth became the monarch who has ruled the Commonwealth for the longest period, surpassing her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. And 21 April 2016 marks her 90th birthday.
A pound coin in the UK bears an image of the Queen’s head, surrounded by the words: ELIZABETH II D.G.REG.F.D.’ It stands for: ‘Elizabeth II Dei Gratia Regina Fidei Defensor.’ These words are in Latin and they mean: ‘Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, Queen, Defender of the Faith.’
The faith of which the queen is a defender is Christianity.
What does it mean for the Queen to be Defender of the Faith? It has a formal meaning, because it indicates that the Queen is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. But it also has a personal meaning, because her reign has been characterised by acknowledgement of her dependence on Jesus Christ. This has been central to both her public pronouncements and her private devotions.
In her role as Supreme Governor, the Queen is spiritual leader of the 25 million people who are baptised in the Church of England. (About one million of them go to church each week.) This is mainly a ceremonial role, because in practice the church is led by the Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops. There are many other church denominations in the UK which do not have the Queen as their leader, but they usually have a profound respect for her faith. These include, for instance, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland and the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
The title Defender of the Faith was originally granted to Henry VIII in 1521. It was given by Pope Leo X in response to the King’s support for aspects of the Roman Catholic Church. However, Henry expected that the Pope would reciprocate with approval for his intention to divorce. He did not. In the turmoil which followed, the Church of England was founded, with the King as leader instead of the Pope. Monarchs since 1536 have had the title Supreme Governor (originally Supreme Head). There have been breaks during the reign of Mary I in the 16th century and following the English Civil War during the 17th century.
Queen Elizabeth II succeeded to the title upon her coronation on 2 June 1953. However, her personal faith in God was clear before that. On the occasion of her 21st birthday in 1947 she made a radio broadcast in which she said this:
‘I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.
‘But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do. I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.’
In 2015, as part of the television broadcast she makes to the nation and the commonwealth, the queen said this: ‘For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role-model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.’
Further quotations from Queen Elizabeth II about her faith in Jesus Christ can be found below.
The book written in tribute to Elizabeth II and describing her faith is called ‘The Servant Queen and the King she Serves.’ Details of how to obtain it are here.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength …
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love …
We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
Where to find it:
About these words:
The book of Psalms is a hymnbook of God’s people a thousand years before Jesus. The king at the time was David, who united and ruled twelve tribes from his capital city Jerusalem.
And they said…
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, from her 2012 address to the nation and Commonwealth on Christmas Day:
God sent his only Son ‘to serve, not to be served’. He restored love and service to the centre of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ.
From the Christmas Day speech, 2011:
God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive. Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.
From the Christmas Day speech, 2004:
For me, as a Christian, one of the most important of these teachings is contained in the parable of the Good Samaritan, when Jesus answers the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ It is a timeless story of a victim of a mugging who was ignored by his own countrymen but helped by a foreigner, and a despised foreigner at that. The implication drawn by Jesus is clear. Everyone is our neighbour, no matter what race, creed or colour. The need to look after a fellow human being is far more important than any cultural or religious differences.
From the Christmas Day speech, 2002:
I know just how much I rely on my own faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning, I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God. Like others of you who draw inspiration from your own faith, I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian gospel.
From the Christmas Day speech, 2000:
To many of us our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.