I noticed a strand of rather negative criticism emerging in the days leading up to the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Various people remarked that it was going to be a travesty. This young couple who have apparently been living together, now taking promises to live according to God's holy law, and being accorded all the honours which Westinster Abbey and the Anglican liturgical tradition can confer on them: quel scandale! And then there was the little matter of the cost of the day: several squillions (which the nation doesn't have) disappearing down the drain in what was an odd exception to the ambient austerity of Cameron's Britain.
The argument which Archbishop John Setamu of York put up yesterday in defence of the couple was one of the oddest I have ever heard. Setamu, an evangelical Protestant, took the lenient line that now the couple were married, then it was all alright. The argument isn't quite what we expect, even from Anglican leaders, but what he meant was that the couple's cohabitation was now history. As my students would say, 'So, get over it'.
But then Sentamu went on to say that many people nowadays like to 'test the milk before they buy the cow'. Now that I did find strange! His first argument was basically 'let bygones be bygones'; his second argument was more like 'boys will be boys', or in this case, 'princes will be princes'.
I'm not sure who in his metaphor is the cow and who is testing the milk. The exploitative insinuations of the image are unfortunate given the history of Prince William's mother. I suppose what is most alarming about it is the idea that the Establishment can do what it will and all will be well, as long as the Established Church can wave a graceful hand of benediction in its direction. Personally, I find such confidence to be rather ill placed.
But all that said, I'm a great fan of the kind of event that happened yesterday, not because of the supposed coherence of the Established Church blessing any old muck the Establishment brings before it, but because our royal tradition in this country is one of the best protections against our final demise as a nation. The royal family preserve the space in which the nation's irrationalism can unfold. This is no bad thing. In fact, in politics it is almost certainly necessary to preserve this kind of irrational space. God forbid we begin to take our political processes so seriously that we become a republic.
I'm not glorying in incoherence here. I'm simply making a case for the politics of the imaginative, or perhaps what we should call supra-rational rather than irrational politics. Royal events help keep our sense of proportion about our nation; they remind us that our nation is as much a given which we receive, as it is a project in which we are involved. Royalty reminds us that our sense of agency is not everything; it reminds us - in the midst of all our hubris - that we alone cannot shape our own destinies.
All that said, who knows how this royal marriage will turn out. At the beginning of the ceremony yesterday, when the Archbishop of Canterbury was admonishing the young couple, I thought the Duchess of Cambridge looked quite bored. It brought to mind the fact that the current generation coming through have had little experience of formality, and are only still capable of appreciating its disruption because of the boredom it most often induces in them. Still, as Shakespeare says somewhere, bring us all to a proper account and who would escape whipping and hanging? Or something like that. We must pray for the happy couple for their own sake.
But actually we should pray for them for ours as well. We cannot simply attribute the interest the couple excite to our celebrity culture. Our nation is beset by the vices of stardom, but underneath it all, the capacity to command imitation can be a force for immense good. I have no doubt that the number of marriages will increase this year because of this royal event. And who knows, maybe the value of marriage will be boosted by such a public celebration of family stability. Even if the Queen's children are a shower, she herself remains a remarkable personality and institution.
So, God bless and save the happy couple, ye, even from themselves.
And what taste to have chosen Walton's Crown Imperial, as my wife and I did on the day of our wedding last November!