In 1521 the Pope granted the title of “Defender of the Faith” to King Henry VIII in response to his book defending the seven sacraments and particularly the sacrament of marriage as well as the supremacy of the Pope. The king changed his mind and the Pope revoked the title. However the English Parliament decided to grant the same title to the king. English, and later, British monarchs have retained it ever since.
Some years ago Prince Charles suggested that the title might be understood as “defender of faith” in general rather than as defender of any particular expression of faith. While in a democratic society it is important to allow freedom of worship and freedom to live according to the belief system one espouses, as long as it does not damage other people, it is not good to lump all faiths together into one amorphous blob. All faiths do not say the same thing and we should not pretend that they do.
In the Gospels Jesus makes some amazing claims about himself. He says that he is the way, the truth and the life; he tells us that he is the vine and we are the branches. If we remain in him, we will bear abundant fruit but cut off from him we can do nothing. No other religious leader, founder or guru has ever made such claims about himself. Christians believe that Jesus is the Word of God incarnate. Before time began God spoke one Word and in this Word is contained all the fullness of God. We call this Word God’s only Son. The love between the Father, who is the source of all being, and the Son, is the Holy Spirit.
This Word of God became part of our human story in Jesus of Nazareth who revealed God to be compassionate love. However what he revealed and the way he did so did not endear him to everyone and he was rejected. He was crucified and died. He was buried but God’s love is stronger than human hatred and even stronger than death and Jesus rose from the dead. He appeared to his friends and disciples and sent them on a mission to teach the world what he had taught them and he promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to give them courage and to keep them in the truth.
Every living thing, human beings included, depends for existence on the Word of God. Jesus, who is the Word of God Incarnate, can say truthfully that we are fruitful only if we remain attached to him. All faiths can lead people to God but we only come to God through the Word. Let us respect each other, whatever our views are, knowing that we are all beloved children of the One God.