Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Feast of Christ the King Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost - 28 October AD 2012

“My kingdom is not of this world.... Art thou a king then? ...: Thou sayest that I am a king. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth.”[1]

Christ the King

Mass Text - English
Mass Text - Latin
Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

    It is important to understand what our Lord is saying here.  Altogether too many people hear the first part of that sentence—“My  kingdom is not of this world”—and they completely avoid considering the ways in which the reign of Christ is intended to take place in this world.  Saint Augustine comments on this problem in his work on Saint John’s Gospel:

    Christ did not become King of Israel to exact tribute, or to arm His followers with swords and wage visible war against their enemies, but He was king of Israel to rule souls, to care for their eternal interests, to lead those who believe in Him, hope in Him, and love in Him into the Kingdom of Heaven....

    Indeed [He is King] of the Gentiles also.... “The Lord hath said to [Him]: Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.... I will give thee the Gentiles for thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession....”[2]

    If we follow Saint Augustine’s reasoning we see, firstly, that Christ is King in this world in that the world is the place in which we prepare for eternity—the place in which we prepare by forming our hearts and our minds by following the example of our eternal King.  We see, secondly, that Christ’s Kingship extends to all the people of the world; not just to the Jewish nation, or even just to all of Christendom.

    And, yes, there once was something that could properly be called “Christendom.”  The saintly Pope Leo XIII wrote:

    21. There was once a time when States were governed by the philosophy of the Gospel. Then it was that the power and divine virtue of Christian wisdom had diffused itself throughout the laws, institutions, and morals of the people, permeating all ranks and relations of civil society. Then, too, the religion instituted by Jesus Christ, established firmly in befitting dignity, flourished everywhere, by the favour of princes and the legitimate protection of magistrates; and Church and State were happily united in concord and friendly interchange of good offices. The State, constituted in this wise, bore fruits important beyond all expectation....[3]

    In the early middle ages political theorists understood the authority of kings to come directly from God.  It seemed reasonable to most that power flowed from God to the kings in a sort of “sacramental” manner, perhaps through the office of the Pope or one of his bishops in the ritual of coronation.  Even the vestments worn by kings at their coronation looked a lot like those of the Catholic clergy: a flowing white alb, a dalmatic like a deacon, a stole crossed over the breast like a priest, gloves like a bishop, and finally a cope.   The new king was anointed with the oil of the catechumens on his head, breast and shoulders.  His tokens of office—sword, ring, scepter, and crown—were placed on the altar and blessed before being given to him.  Many political theorists held that the King served at the pleasure of the Pope, and could be removed or suspended by him.  In any event, medieval Christendom was ruled under Divine Positive Law—what God had revealed through Moses and the Prophets, and through His Son Jesus Christ—how God Himself wished to be worshipped, and how He wanted men and women to behave—this formed the basis of civil law.

    Given this “sacramental” theory of kingly power, the medieval mind had difficulty with the idea of a legitimate pagan King and nation.  How could a Moslem, or a Buddhist, or an Confucian receive power from God?  How could he receive it without the Church and its Pope and bishops?  Could a pagan nation legitimately govern itself? It took the mind of Saint Thomas Aquinas to suggest that “Law is an ordinance of reason for the common good” and that the “making of law belongs either to the whole people or to a public personage who has care of the whole people.... someone who is the viceregent of the whole people.”[4]

    Saint Thomas understood that God’s eternal law governed all things, directing them to their proper ends, and that human beings, by studying the order in things, could come to a knowledge of God’s law, called in this case the “natural law.”  Rational people just know that society cannot function if people are allowed to kill, steal, beat, cheat, and lie to one another. “It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature's participation of the eternal law.”[5]

    Thus, even a pagan people could have a legitimate government and a legitimate ruler, provided that the laws of the nation closely approximated the natural law, and the ruler under whom they chose to be governed closely followed that law.  This is particularly true among peoples who have not yet received the good news of the Gospel.

    In a society where most people accept Jesus Christ, the law and the rulers ought to be bound more closely to the revealed principles of Christian law than to those known only through natural reason.  Through divine revelation the Christian has a more accurate understanding of what it means to not kill, steal, beat, cheat, and lie to one another.  And, as Christians, have a better idea of how they should honor God as a people.  Christ’s truth is implicit in the natural law, but as He told us in today’s Gospel “I am a king. For this was I 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.”  In both cases we have the rule of Christ—but it is far superior that He rule explicitly in a society that recognizes His Kingship.

    What of the mixed society?—A society, like our own, in which some recognize Christ and some do not?  Ideally, the Church should be making every effort to win the pagans to Christ.  They may be in good faith in their errors, but they are in error nonetheless, and the Church and Her members must not be silent, even at the risk of persecution.  At the very minimum, to be legitimate, the government of a mixed society must form itself around the natural law—protecting the right to life and property, the freedom to raise one’s children, and recognizing the sanctity of marriage.  Additionally, it must guarantee the conscience rights of those with a correctly formed conscience, and the freedom to worship God as He has chosen to be worshipped.

    But if the laws of any society diverge significantly from the natural law, or if the rulers, in practice, diverge significantly from the civil law that is grounded in natural law, that society ceases to be legitimate.  If the newly elected ruler can put up his hand and promise to uphold the laws of the land, but then proceeds to give a speech on how he intends to violate the laws of the land—that ruler has perjured himself, and must not be allowed to hold office through perjury.  It need not be immediate, for his rule is equally illegitimate if his disdain for civil law grounded in natural law becomes apparent only after a period of time.

    Legitimate law—whether revealed by God or known through natural human reason—orders things to the common good.  But today, as we celebrate the feast of Christ the King—particularly in the beautiful preface of this Mass—we learn the reality of Christ being King over the whole world, without being worldly and “of the world”—we learn that the rule of Christ the King establishes a uniquely beneficial kingdom, superior to any work of human design:

    God hast anointed [His] only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as eternal high priest and universal King; that offering Himself on the altar of the Cross as an immaculate victim and peace offering, He might complete the mysteries of human redemption; and all creation being made subject to His dominion, He might deliver us into the hands of [His] infinite Majesty, a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.[*]

    Long live Christ the King!


[1]   Gospel:  John xviii: 33-37

[2]   Saint Augustine (Third Nocturn of Christ the King) Treatise 51 on John, 12-13; Treatise 117 on John 19-21
Augustine quotes Psalm ii: 7, 8

[4]   Summa Theologica I-II Q.90 a.1
        Summa Theologica I-II Q.90 a.2
        Summa Theologica I-II Q.90 a.3

[5]   Summa Theologica I-II Q.91 a.2

[*]   Preface of Christ the King

Dei via est íntegra
Our Lady of the Rosary, 144 North Federal Highway (US#1), Deerfield Beach, Florida 33441  954+428-2428
Authentic  Catholic Mass, Doctrine, and Moral Teaching -- Don't do without them -- 
Don't accept one without the others!