Pilate therefore said to Him: Art thou a King then? Jesus answered: Thou sayest that I am a King. For this I was born, and for this came I into the world, that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth, heareth My voice.
– John 23:37
The Catholic Church speaks of a three-fold office of Christ – that of priest, prophet, and king. Very few of us, it seems fair to say, would struggle with an acceptance of the first two facets of Christ’s mission. But what of His Kingship? We hear it preached (if we hear it at all) as a spiritual kingship – a kingship, as it were, over our hearts.
In his 1925 Encyclical, Quas Primas, Pope Pius XI established the feast of Christ the King – celebrated yesterday in the 1962 liturgical calendar, and next month in the new. The pope wrote in affirmation of this spiritual kingship:
It has long been a common custom to give to Christ the metaphorical title of “King,” because of the high degree of perfection whereby he excels all creatures. So he is said to reign “in the hearts of men,” both by reason of the keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all mankind. He reigns, too, in the wills of men, for in him the human will was perfectly and entirely obedient to the Holy Will of God, and further by his grace and inspiration he so subjects our free-will as to incite us to the most noble endeavors. He is King of hearts, too, by reason of his “charity which exceedeth all knowledge.” And his mercy and kindness which draw all men to him, for never has it been known, nor will it ever be, that man be loved so much and so universally as Jesus Christ.
It would be easy enough to stop there. And for many Catholics, this is the only dimension of Christ’s Kingship about which we ever hear. But Pope Pius XI did not end the preceding paragraph there. He continued:
But if we ponder this matter more deeply, we cannot but see that the title and the power of King belongs to Christ as man in the strict and proper sense too. For it is only as man that he may be said to have received from the Father “power and glory and a kingdom,” since the Word of God, as consubstantial with the Father, has all things in common with him, and therefore has necessarily supreme and absolute dominion over all things created.
“Supreme and absolute dominion over all things created.” It wouldn’t be a daring wager to say that nearly every Christian alive today would agree that Christ’s dominion over nature, over creatures, and the universe itself is absolute. But this statement finds not a few objectors when applied to the civic sphere. For if Christ is indeed a king — The King of Kings — then surely, every nation on earth must owe Him homage.
And in fact, this is precisely what Pope Pius XI asserts. I will emphasize certain passages of particular importance:
Thus the empire of our Redeemer embraces all men. To use the words of Our immortal predecessor, Pope Leo XIII: “His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons who, though of right belonging to the Church, have been led astray by error, or have been cut off from her by schism, but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ.” Nor is there any difference in this matter between the individual and the family or the State; for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. In him is the salvation of the individual, in him is the salvation of society. “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved.” He is the author of happiness and true prosperity for every man and for every nation. “For a nation is happy when its citizens are happy. What else is a nation but a number of men living in concord?” If, therefore, the rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ. What We said at the beginning of Our Pontificate concerning the decline of public authority, and the lack of respect for the same, is equally true at the present day. “With God and Jesus Christ,” we said, “excluded from political life, with authority derived not from God but from man, the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated. The result is that human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation.”
When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony. Our Lord’s regal office invests the human authority of princes and rulers with a religious significance; it ennobles the citizen’s duty of obedience. It is for this reason that St. Paul, while bidding wives revere Christ in their husbands, and slaves respect Christ in their masters, warns them to give obedience to them not as men, but as the vicegerents of Christ; for it is not meet that men redeemed by Christ should serve their fellow-men. “You are bought with a price; be not made the bond-slaves of men.” If princes and magistrates duly elected are filled with the persuasion that they rule, not by their own right, but by the mandate and in the place of the Divine King, they will exercise their authority piously and wisely, and they will make laws and administer them, having in view the common good and also the human dignity of their subjects. The result will be a stable peace and tranquility, for there will be no longer any cause of discontent. Men will see in their king or in their rulers men like themselves, perhaps unworthy or open to criticism, but they will not on that account refuse obedience if they see reflected in them the authority of Christ God and Man. Peace and harmony, too, will result; for with the spread and the universal extent of the kingdom of Christ men will become more and more conscious of the link that binds them together, and thus many conflicts will be either prevented entirely or at least their bitterness will be diminished.
If the kingdom of Christ, then, receives, as it should, all nations under its way, there seems no reason why we should despair of seeing that peace which the King of Peace came to bring on earth — he who came to reconcile all things, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, who, though Lord of all, gave himself to us as a model of humility, and with his principal law united the precept of charity; who said also: “My yoke is sweet and my burden light.” Oh, what happiness would be Ours if all men, individuals, families, and nations, would but let themselves be governed by Christ! “Then at length,” to use the words addressed by our predecessor, Pope Leo XIII, twenty-five years ago to the bishops of the Universal Church, “then at length will many evils be cured; then will the law regain its former authority; peace with all its blessings be restored. Men will sheathe their swords and lay down their arms when all freely acknowledge and obey the authority of Christ, and every tongue confesses that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.”
In a world wherein we speak so often of “religious liberty” and the “separation of Church and State,” it is difficult for us to conceptualize such a social reign of Christ. The language of the Church herself has been nuanced to such an extent that we strain to find even the faintest echoes of Quas Primas in Dignitatis Humanae, Vatican II’s declaration on religious freedom.
The religious acts whereby men, in private and in public and out of a sense of personal conviction, direct their lives to God transcend by their very nature the order of terrestrial and temporal affairs. Government therefore ought indeed to take account of the religious life of the citizenry and show it favor, since the function of government is to make provision for the common welfare. However, it would clearly transgress the limits set to its power, were it to presume to command or inhibit acts that are religious.
What does it mean to “command” an “act that is religious”? Would this include the declaration of a national holiday on the feast of Corpus Christi or Christ the King? What about imagery of the Blessed Mother or the Sacred Heart within the halls of government or on a nation’s flag? Would public references to doctrinal belief in legal documents or a national constitution violate this norm?
It is very tempting, in a world that has grown so small, and which experiences so much cultural cross-pollination, to embrace as a matter of law an egalitarian religious indifferentism. How do we account for the differing faiths of so many people in melting pots like America? Our nation was founded in large part on the principle that the government “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”. And yet, is this not the very sort of thing that Pope Pius XI warned against when he admonished rulers not to neglect “the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ”?
It is eminently sensible to agree that in matters of religion, coercion is never desirable. Still, the establishment of the True Faith as a state religion is something other than coercion – it is confession. It lays down the bedrock principles upon which an nation is founded, the moral precepts to which it adheres, and the personal Godhead who gave it both. The plain (though forgotten) fact is that the Catholic Church has always believed — and Quas Primas affirmed — that making laws according to Christ’s precepts and ruling by Christ’s mandate is the only truly appropriate governance of society. Indeed, Pope Pius XI observed the result of failing to do so even in his own time:
The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied. Then gradually the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. It was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers. Some men went even further, and wished to set up in the place of God’s religion a natural religion consisting in some instinctive affection of the heart. There were even some nations who thought they could dispense with God, and that their religion should consist in impiety and the neglect of God. The rebellion of individuals and states against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences.
Is this not the situation we find ourselves in today? Vicious, savagely immoral governments are all that is to be found now in the post-Christian West. Catholics are reduced to pleas for the very sort of religious liberty the Church once condemned as an error, and are forced to embrace the essentially anarchic principles of libertarianism, all out of desperation to preserve their ability to simply continue to exist “ignominiously on the same level” with other, false religions. Meanwhile, pagan and occult practices are on the rise — not underground, but in the open — because no logical excuse exists by which the secular state can deny them the same freedom as any other religion already given equal footing in the public square. Pluralism for one is, we are learning the hard way, pluralism for all.
In the absence of governments rightly ordered and subordinate to the Kingship of Christ, we see that the words of Pope Pius XI have become devastatingly true: “human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation.”
So what do we do?
While there is no clear political path to a restoration of a truly Catholic civil sphere, we may have confidence that such a situation can and will return if God so wills it – and many of His saints have prophesied just such a resurgence out of the ashes of societal collapse. For our part, a path to the Social Kingship of Christ begins, as with so many aspects of Catholic restoration, in our homes and families. It begins with acknowledging to ourselves and others that Christ is not merely the King of Hearts, but of all men, and of all nations. It begins with a resurgence of the devotion known as the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart, in which we make Christ literally the King of our homes. It begins with the daily recitation of the Renewal of the Consecration of the Family to the Enthroned Sacred Heart, in which we profess:
Most sweet Jesus, humbly kneeling at Thy feet, we renew the consecration of our family to Thy Divine Heart. Be Thou our King forever. In Thee we have full and entire confidence. May Thy spirit penetrate our thoughts, our desires, our words and our works. Bless our undertakings, share in our joys, in our trials and in our labours. Grant us to know Thee more, to serve Thee without faltering.
By the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of Peace, set up Thy kingdom in our country. Enter closely into the midst of our families and make them Thine own through the solemn enthronement of Thy Sacred Heart so that no one cry may respond from home to home. May the triumphant Heart of Jesus be everywhere loved, blessed and glorified forever! Honour and glory to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary. Sacred Heart of Jesus protect our families.
Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!
Originally published on Oct 27, 2014.