Friday, December 30, 2016

A Century Ago: A Coronation in Budapest

Exactly 100 years ago today, Blessed Kaiser Karl (Emperor Charles I of Austria and King Charles IV of Hungary) was solemnly crowned King of Hungary in Budapest. It turned out to be the last time the Holy Crown of Saint Stephen would be placed on a Hungarian monarch's head. (At least the Holy Crown itself survived the disastrous 20th century, even if its kingdom didn't. It is now on display for all to see in Budapest, where I visited it in October 2001.)

In The Gathering Storm, Winston Churchill wrote about the fall of the Hapsburg monarchy: "For centuries this surviving embodiment of the Holy Roman Empire had afforded a common life, with advantages in trade and security, to a large number of peoples none of whom in our own times had the strength or vitality to stand by themselves in the face of pressure from a revivified Germany or Russia. There is not one of these peoples or provinces that constituted the Empire of the Hapsburgs to whom gaining their independence has not brought the tortures which ancient poets and theologians had reserved for the damned."

Poor Kaiser Karl found himself - less than two years after his coronation - cheated out of both his crowns. After two unsuccessful restoration attempts in 1921, he died in impoverished exile in Madeira the following year. But the tragic history of the 20th century has been more than sufficient to rehabilitate both his personal reputation as a statesman and peacemaker and the reputation of his House and its onetime empire. 

In the aftermath of an even more terrible Second World War (which, as Churchill suggested, might never had happened had the First World War been ended better and European institutions like the Hapsburg monarchy not been deliberately destabilized by that war's winners). the Archdiocese of Vienna introduced Kaiser Karl's Canonization Cause in 1949. He was beatified by his namesake Pope Saint John Paul II (whose name was also Charles, Karol) on October 3, 2004. That Pope lauded him as a Christian statesman who daily confronted the challenge of "seeking, recognizing, and following God's will in all things." Since then, a second miracle attributed to his intercession has been officially recognized. So we may hope to see his eventual canonization.

Meanwhile, may this melancholy anniversary serve as a salutary warning to the 21st century not to continue the disastrously rationalist, secularizing direction of the 20th century!

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