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Adrian Hilton is a conservative academic, theologian and
educationalist. He writes a 
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Mail blog
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is still agitating for Ann Widdecombe’s peerage. Follow Adrian 
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The chimes of Big Ben did not strike 10am. For three whole hours they
were silenced in reverence, as London paused and the flags of England bowed. Draped
in the red, white and blue of the country she loved, the coffin carrying the
body of the late Margaret Thatcher made its way out of the Crypt of St Mary
Undercroft, past the statue of Richard Coeur
de Lion, the kingly symbol of England’s enduring Christian faith; and
then past Cromwell, sword in one hand and Bible in the other, forever reminding
us that the people are sovereign, Parliament is supreme, and God makes the law.
And then she passed by Churchill, the last prime minister to defend these
islands against invasion and the indignity of surrender to a foreign power.

Emmeline Pankhurst looked on, smiling at the fulfilment of her revolution.
Nelson and the proud lions of Trafalgar joined in the homage – with spontaneous
applause from the thousands who lined the streets to honour the longest-serving
prime minister of the 20th century. She was, by popular consent, the greatest
of our post-war leaders: after Churchill, the most remarkable and heroic of
this second Elizabethan age. An intimate service in a Grantham chapel would
have left the world asking: “What ceremony else?” So, black horses, a 1.5 ton
gun carriage, cathedral bells, the insignia of the Armed Forces and the Queen
herself all joined together in tribute to The Lady. Anything less would have
shamed the nation.

The funeral service itself was an act of prayerful worship to God; not a thanksgiving
with half-a-dozen eulogies glorifying man. The music, hymns, poetry and scriptures
reflected her essential character and the core of her Christian conviction. The
foundation of her Conservatism was English and Methodist. Certainly, she
migrated in her later years toward Anglicanism, but John and Charles Wesley
themselves never ceased being so. There is in the Church of England a form of
worship, a depth and breadth of theology and a seriousness of moral reflection
which coheres with the essential culture of England. Margaret Thatcher came to
find this very much to her liking.


The Order of Service was framed by two poems. It was prefaced with
extracts of Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’ from his Four Quartets, and the epilogue was Wordsworth’s ode ‘Intimations
of Immortality’ from his Recollections of
Early Childhood
. Here we glimpse the nuances of Margaret Thatcher’s
spirituality: Eliot tells us that beginnings and endings are wrapped together
in concentric circles of meaning. The dead in eternity meet the living bound by
time: the spiritual and political combine. Our ancestors and past traditions
still exist, and to be human is to be subject to history. It is not simply the
past: it is “now and England”. Wordsworth tells us of a faded glory: while
grief may intrude upon the natural joy of spring, human life is merely “a sleep
and a forgetting” – there is a purer pre-existence before we are born on earth.

The music began with the psalms, adagios, toccatas and allegros of John Ireland, Herbert Howells, Edward
Elgar, Frank Bridge, Charles Villiers Stanford, Hubert Parry and Ralph Vaughan
Williams. It was all quintessentially English and thoroughly Anglican. As the
coffin processed through the Nave, salvation was proclaimed. And that salvation
is resolutely by faith, according to the majesty and splendour of the
Authorised Version: “I am the resurrection and the life…”; “I know that my
Redeemer liveth…”; “We brought nothing into this world…”.

The hymns
were not only a reflection of Margaret Thatcher’s personal walk with God; they seemed
to contain the leitmotifs of a decade of conference speeches. John Bunyan’s ‘To
be a Pilgrim’ is about tenacity, constancy and endurance through adversity. You
could hear echoes of the Brighton Bomb in “’gainst all disaster”; her defeat of
Soviet Communism, Trade Union power and General Galtieri in “though he with
giants fight”; and the ultimate betrayal by her friends in “no foes shall stay
his might”. She ultimately proved herself better than all of them.

Her first
chosen Scripture reflected something of her political soteriology: Paul’s Epistle
to the Ephesians presents a Manichean view of the eternal battle between good
and evil, which she once explained to a journalist was why she entered
politics. She puts on the Armour of God – her loins are girt with truth; her
breastplate is righteousness; her shield is faith – to contend against the
wiles of the devil (Socialism); the wickedness in high places (her Cabinet);
and in the principalities and powers (Argentina, European Union and the
National Union of Mineworkers).

She didn’t
choose David Cameron to read from St John’s Gospel: the role would have fallen
to whoever was prime minister at the time of her passing. And it felt a little
incongruous to hear such a bold, uncompromising assertion of the uniqueness of
salvation by Christ alone from someone whose faith “fades in and out like Magic
FM in the Chilterns”, as he once told us. “I am the way, the truth and the life,”
the Prime Minister intoned. Except that, unlike her, he doesn’t quite believe
all those definite articles. In the Thatcher theodicy, salvation is to be found
in the moral absolutes of Judaeo-Christian precepts: for the Cameroons, it lies
in multi-faith, ecumenical, Buddhist-Muslim-Sikh-Hindu syncretised moral
relativism. She was saved by faith in Christ: he by sincerity and well-meaning.
But you have to be a good actor to convince people that you mean what you don’t
quite believe.

‘How lovely
is thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!’ is Brahms’ a setting of Psalm 84 from
his German Requiem. We return to the
roots of the Protestant Reformation: Luther was Brahms’ inspiration, and so Sola Scriptura supplants ritual and
liturgy. This was not music for the dead, but comfort for those who mourn. Margaret
Thatcher is in the Lord’s dwelling place: there is no need to weep or pray for
her soul: she is at peace and sees face-to-face.

The Address
by the Bishop of London was a perfectly judged and quite moving account of the
interplay between her faith and politics. He took us from Methodism to her
understanding of interdependent civic virtue. And he set to rest once and for
all the warped misinformation surrounding her understanding of society. The
Bishop clearly grasped and understood her philosophy, which was not the rabid
individualism of the Socialist caricature: “We cannot achieve a compassionate
society simply by passing new laws and appointing more staff to administer them,”
he explained succinctly, with a nod to sound money and civil service cuts. This
was a bishop who knew and admired her – the sort of Anglican cleric the media
tend to ignore when they seek to denigrate the Established Church or confect a
church-state row. And he reminded us that death is the great leveller: all that
lives must die.

It is fitting
that a funeral service so grounded on the Authorised Version of the Bible
should also use the Book of Common Prayer (1662). None of those wishy-washy,
milky translations will do when the red meat of Shakespeare’s English is freely
available. “Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is
full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it
were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.” And with that we segue into
the sublime ‘In Paradisum’ from Fauré’s
Requiem. I doubt there was any
purposeful nod to the French or the Germans in the choice of these anthems:
they are simply exquisite settings, with Fauré’s perhaps being the closest we may get to a musical portrait
of paradise.

The third
hymn, ‘I vow to thee, my country’, reverberates through the beating heart of
every proud and patriotic Englishman and woman. To the tune of ‘Jupiter’ from
Holst’s The Planets, it vies with
Parry’s ‘Jerusalem’ to be England’s national anthem. It has all the patriotic
fervour of a ‘Last Night of the Proms’, and the words draw on the political
themes and spiritual tensions of Augustine’s City of God. The hymn clearly meant a lot to her. She quoted from
it in her 1988 speech to the General
Assembly of the Church of Scotland:

“I always think that the whole
debate about the Church and the State has never yielded anything comparable in
insight to that beautiful hymn ‘I Vow to Thee my Country’. It begins with a
triumphant assertion of what might be described as secular patriotism, a noble thing
indeed in a country like ours: ‘I vow to thee my country all earthly things
above; entire, whole and perfect the service of my love.’ It goes on to speak
of ‘another country I heard of long ago’ whose King can't be seen and whose
armies can't be counted, but ‘soul by soul and silently her shining bounds
increase’. Not group by group, or party by party, or even church by church – but
soul by soul – and each one counts.”

Her theme is
consistent: we are back to those individual souls who make up hard-working
families who freely associate to form the communities which constitute a true
society.

The Bishop
of London then commended Margaret Thatcher to God the Father who created her,
and to the Son who redeemed her, by the Holy Spirit, who called her. “Go forth
upon thy journey from this world O Christian soul”, and ascend to the New
Jerusalem. And then the Archbishop of Canterbury prayed that we might be
supported through this “troublous life”, and blessed this day and always:

“Lord, now
lettest thou thy servant depart in peace: according to thy word.
For mine
eyes have seen: thy salvation,
Which thou
hast prepared: before the face of all people;
To be a
light to lighten the Gentiles: and to be the glory of thy people Israel.”

Cranmer’s
words were lost in Elgar’s glorious ‘Nimrod’. There is nothing more Anglican
than the Book of Common Prayer, and perhaps no piece of music more English than
‘Nimrod’ from the Enigma Variations. All
that was perhaps missing was a line or two of Shakespeare. But Dan Hannan
provided those at the Pavilion End tribute by The Freedom Association
afterwards:

“When that this body did contain
a spirit, 
A kingdom for it was too small a bound;
But now two paces of the vilest earth
Is room enough.”

Margaret
Thatcher’s final political conference was Conservative, Christian and deeply
spiritual. It expressed grandeur beyond mere policy and jingoism. It was the
embodiment of her merits and a reflection of those virtues of hers which continue
to inspire others toward loyalty, service and devotion. The Lady was a commanding
personality and a force of nature. Just as she has left an everlasting
impression upon the national psyche, this funeral service will justifiably echo
down the centuries to tell future generations of her greatness.

Thank you, Lady
Thatcher, for reminding us of where we came from, who we are, and what we can
be.

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