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Throne and Altar

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God”

—1 Corinthians 10:31

My father, God rest his soul, was very fond of Thai food, with its quickly sautéd noodles and peppery élan.  Not far from his condominium in the Rossmore section of Los Angeles, there was a practically endless selection of Thai places.  One, I remember, was frequented by monks whose vermilion robes seemed like an authoritative advertisement for the peppers on our plates.  In every one of these establishments (and we tried quite a few until Dad settled on his favorite), there was a little Buddhist shrine with some offerings before it along with a framed portrait of the king of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, the world’s longest-reigning head of state, and the only one with a Swiss baccalauréat in Latin and Greek.  Dad would inevitably exclaim, “Ah, the union of throne and altar!”  (Sometimes, he would also ask, “Where’s the picture of Anna?”—but this nursery humor does not speak to our point here.)

Never had I thought of this expression, the kind Anglican vicars like to pronounce, as anything more than figurative until this year, when I stood before the legendary throne of Charlemagne in the imperial basilica of Aachen. ...

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