Christ the King

Yesterday was the liturgical Feast of Christ the King. This is an important doctrine of our Faith, but maybe not so well understood by many. First, we’ve already studied elsewhere about God’s “authority,” which is nothing like the typical abuse of human authority to which we’re so accustomed and which has become the modern definition of this word, authority. Second, let’s hear how the Teaching Magisterium describes Christ’s kingship, from Pope Pius XI in 1925:

This kingdom is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things... On many occasions, when the Jews and even the Apostles wrongly supposed that the Messiah would restore the liberties and the kingdom of Israel, he repelled and denied such a suggestion. When the populace thronged around him in admiration and would have acclaimed him King, he shrank from the honor and sought safety in flight. Before the Roman magistrate he declared that his kingdom was not of this world. The gospels present this kingdom as one which men prepare to enter by penance, and cannot actually enter except by faith and by baptism, which, though an external rite, signifies and produces an interior regeneration. This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness. It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross. (Pius XI, Quas Primas, 1925, no. 15)

The kingdom of Christ is not of this world; it is spiritual and concerned with spiritual things. We enter this kingdom through its gates of faith and the interior regeneration. Its subjects have a spirit of gentleness. They thirst after justice and they deny themselves. Let’s look at Scripture regarding this kingdom.

13 In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; 15 and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Tim 6:13-16)

Here St. Paul refers to “the good confession” of the Sovereign King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus, before Pontius Pilate. Let’s look at that testimony, that “good confession.”

33 Pilate entered the praetorium again and called Jesus, and said to him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?" 35 Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?" 36 Jesus answered, "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world." 37 Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." 38 Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" (Jn 18:33-38)

Possibly my favorite verse in Scripture: Pilate, looking directly at Jesus, at Truth Himself, asks, “What is truth?” Anyway, here Jesus declares that His kingship is not of this world. That is, He is a king, and He has a kingship. And it is not of “this world.” As Pius XI says above, it is spiritual. This is the kingdom of heaven.

John’s gospel later describes a second testimony of Jesus before Pilate:

9 [Pilate] entered the praetorium again and said to Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to him, "You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" 11 Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin." (Jn 19:9-11)

Pilate here represents typical human political power. Jesus reveals to him that Pilate’s power “had been given” to him “from above,” i.e., from the Divine Authority, that spiritual kingdom where Jesus is king. Here is a most important concept for us: Earthly kingdoms are subordinate to the kingship of Christ. A good political authority is one which recognizes its source of authority is from above, not from below.

That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. (U.S. Declaration of Independence, 1776)

A bit of cognitive dissonance here: The American axiom stated here, that governments derive their power from the consent of the citizenry (which is fairly the philosophical basis of our political system) is simply not true. In reality, governments derive their power from Christ the King, who delegates certain elements of His authority to them. On the other hand, it is reasonable to apply this as a strategic approach, a pragmatic method to our democracy, to ensure a tyrant cannot claim power; we do so by an elaborate vetting process of millions of people casting votes. "We the people" may decide our rulers, but those rulers do not receive their powers of governance from the people, but from God. All governments, then, are vassal states with fealty to heaven. As far as I know, there are no governments today that accept this fealty. This is why most people believe the word authority refers to a power of will, rather than a power of truth: because no political authority today subordinates itself to Christ.

The above papal text is from “Quas Primas,” an encyclical which established the liturgical feast of Christ the King. Pope Pius XI explained in it that all earthly governments are subordinate to the Kingship of Christ, whether they acknowledge it or not. This is perfectly in line with the words of Jesus, as we have just seen. Jesus is not only king of my heart, or king of the Church; He is the king of all nations as well. And, as His kingship is not of this world, it will not look like something of this world. It is very educational to consider that when Christ taught Pilate these truths of His kingdom, He was on His way to a state-decreed execution. Jesus did not lord it over Pilate or Caesar as their emperor; yet He used them to carry out the most important event in history.

What is, then, the conclusion of all of this? It is that when we think of politics, we should think in terms of Christ’s kingship; as the world pushes its secular image of rulership, which is power of will over the ruled, we should remember that such is not the will of God, which is the truth of Christ, faith that leads to love. Right government is gentle, detached, just, and subordinate to Christ the King. In whatever capacity we influence government, this must be our guidance.