Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Christ the King: An Outdated Idea?

In his Encyclical Letter Quas Primas, Pope Pius XI wrote:


"In the first Encyclical Letter which We addressed at the beginning of Our Pontificate to the Bishops of the universal Church, We referred to the chief causes of the difficulties under which mankind was laboring. And We remember saying that these manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and we said further, that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations. Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ; and that We promised to do as far as lay in Our power. In the Kingdom of Christ, that is, it seemed to Us that peace could not be more effectually restored nor fixed upon a firmer basis than through the restoration of the Empire of Our Lord. We were led in the meantime to indulge the hope of a brighter future at the sight of a more widespread and keener interest evinced in Christ and his Church, the one Source of Salvation, a sign that men who had formerly spurned the rule of our Redeemer and had exiled themselves from his kingdom were preparing, and even hastening, to return to the duty of obedience." (No. 1).

What of this papal teaching on the Kingship of Christ? Why is it that we hear almost nothing on this subject these days? Largely because of our modern democratic mentality. Beginning with the "Enlightenment" (although it was hardly that) and the Industrial Revolution, there was the realization that the rights and interests of a people are best furthered by self-government. This was a positive development. And as nations began to adopt more democratic models of government, the whole notion of royalty either disappeared altogether or was reduced to little more than a museum-piece whose purpose was merely to perpetuate the memory of a romanticized past.

The transition from monarchy to democracy is rightly labelled progress. This because, as any student of history knows full well, the kingship of men more often than not was an exercise in injustice, brutality and unmitigated tyranny. The reign of these merely human kings (and emperors) brings to mind the words of Lord Acton: "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." I write these words as I listen to the Iraqi Prime Minister address the United States Congress and testify to the same.

But should this fact have any implications for our approach to the whole notion of Christ as King of the universe? Obviously we cannot totally divorce our religious concepts from those of the secular sphere. If the notion of kingship is now considered obsolete with regard to our political life, then there are two alternatives which present themselves to us: either we abandon the entire concept and terminology of kingship in the religious sphere, or we must define the Kingship of Christ more precisely so that we might better distinguish this Divine Kingship from that of merely human kings and thereby present it to the world in a more appealing way.

But can we abandon the title of king which Sacred Scripture applies to Christ? Unlike presidents, prime ministers or those we simply refer to as leaders, a king reigns; he rules. And what does it mean to reign or rule? It means to direct or order members of a given society toward their proper end. In a democratic government, it is the people who have the power to rule and the president or prime minister is merely their delegated representative. Whereas in a monarchy, the king alone has the power to rule. And this not by delegation but because this power to rule is derived from his pre-eminence or excellence.

In a democratic form of government, there are three functions which are divided and which are the proper domains of three separate brances of government: the legislative, executive and judicial. But a king possesses the fullness of these powers and it is of his royal essence that he is subject to no one else in the realm with regard to these powers.

Christ has full legislative power. We see this in the New Testament as He accomplished His task of setting up the New Covenant. He has full executive power which He exercises over His Mystical Body the Church and through His Apostles. He has full judicial power, a power which will be made all the more manifest when He returns to earth:

"I saw heaven standing open; and behold, a white horse, and he who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and with justice he judges and wages war. And his eyes are as a flame of fire, and on his head many diadems; he has a name written which no man knows except himself. And he is clothed in a garment sprinkled with blood, and his name is called the Word of God. And the armies of heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. And from his mouth goes forth a sharp sword with which to smite the nations. And he will rule them with a rod of iron, and he treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God Almighty. And he has on his garment and on his thigh a name written, 'King of kings and Lord of lords" (Revelation 19: 11-16).

Jesus is indeed our King. And yes, He rules with a rod of iron. But not as the brutal despot rules. He rules with justice and He is Faithful and True. He is the King of the Universe who defends His people against the rule of Satan, a rule which He overthrows as He destroys the kingdom of Satan on a blood-soaked Cross.

Our King is meekness itself. He defeats the powers of darkness with an iron rod which is called love. Recall that when He stood before Pilate, the Roman governor questioned him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" (Mt 27:11). And He replied, "You say so." This statement from Jesus our King is absolute. And men of every age and place must acknowledge this truth.

Because of the modern democratic mentality, there are many within the Church who believe that they can dissent from (reject) the authoritative teaching of Jesus our King as made known through the Magisterium of His Church. Recall what Pope John Paul II had to say about this:

"While exchanges and conflicts of opinion may constitute normal expressions of public life in a representative democracy, moral teaching certainly cannot depend simply upon respect for a process: indeed, it is in no way established by following the rules and deliberative procedures typical of a democracy. Dissent, in the form of carefully orchestrated protests and polemics carried on in the media, is opposed to ecclesial communion and to a correct understanding of the hierarchical constitution of the People of God. Opposition to the teaching of the Church's Pastors cannot be seen as a legitimate expression either of Christian freedom or of the diversity of the Spirit's gifts." (Veritatis Splendor, No. 113).

The Church is hierarchical with Christ our King as the head of His Mystical Body. And our heavenly Father has sent forth His firstborn Son to establish a kingdom for a glorious purpose: "For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death, for 'he subjected everything under his feet.' But when it says that everything has been subjected, it is clear that it excludes the one who subjected everything to him. When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him [the Father], so that God may be all in all." (1 Corinthians 15: 22-28).

Now that's a Kingship which should appeal to anyone!

Until next time,
God love you
Paul Anthony Melanson

2 comments:

Wendy said...

Christ is King. I too always thought it strange that His Kingship was passed over in silence.

The emphasis today is on calling Jesus our brother. And this too is valid. But He is also our King. On the Day of Judgment, Jesus will Judge us as King.

Elizabeth said...

Wow! That article was insightful. I think you're right too. There is a tendency to gloss over Christ's kingship. I can remember reading books on Christ the King when I was young. But it's true, you never hear a word about it anymore.

God bless you Mr. Melanson

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