Do you have a favourite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?
There is a quote I read a few years ago that at different times in my life since then has come to mean different things. It is a sentence spoken by Elizabeth I, Queen of England from 1558 to 1603 to the French Ambassador. She said “there is only one Jesus Christ and one faith, and all the rest is a dispute over trifles”.
The reason this quote has stuck with me is because at the time it would have been a terribly inflammatory thing to have said. This was because Elizabeth was a Protestant monarch, following in the footsteps of her infamous father Henry VIII, and she said it to an ambassador from a staunchly Catholic country who had an uneasy relationship with England at the best of times, and at a time when the Reformation and the Counter Reformation were cleaving their bloody route throughout Europe. She was indeed a brave woman to have spoken these words.
I have thought about her words numerous times since I first read them and as I say, they have had different meanings for me at different times. My first reaction was “gosh, she’s right you know! Why all the fuss and bother about the detail of religion when actually, there is one Jesus Christ and that should be the end of it”.
But then I thought more deeply about it.
When Elizabeth spoke these words, people had been being put to death alternately for changing their allegiance or sticking to their guns about their faith for many years. What she is actually saying here is that all of that was wrong; that disputing the “trifles” are what have cost people their lives. It strikes me as remarkable that a monarch in medieval Europe should be so forgiving whilst at the same time making it sound like an accusation. Marvellous!
Later on, when my own Christian journey was moving on a pace, I began to think about what she meant by “trifles”. The rites and ceremonies during church services? The belief in transubstantiation? The words of the Lord’s Prayer? The belief that children who died without being baptised would be subjected to purgatory for eternity? The intercession of the Saints? The intercession of holy relics? What did she mean??
As a born and raised Protestant I can see that the “trifles” Elizabeth referred to were the trappings of Christianity, just as I have described above, and I understand her to mean that all of it, whether it was by Protestants or Catholics, was meaningless without the core aspect that binds us all together. I would like to think that she meant that people should not get bogged down with the how of faith, but the why.
No doubt as I get older and I journey further in my own life with Christ I will return to these words again and again, and no doubt they will take on a different meaning for me but for now I am content to think that this great woman who lived over 400 years ago had the strength of faith to stand up and say what needed to be said about Christianity. Her words serve as a reminder that we should not be distracted by things that focus on the how we “do” Christianity, but on the why we do it.