Sunday, November 24, 2019

Christus Rex: A Sunday Rumination

     The feast of Christ the King has arrived once more, and with it the end of another liturgical year. (It was “Year C” in the three-year liturgical cycle, for those who care.) The next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, which begins the new liturgical year.

     Some years ago I wrote a reflection on the kingship of Jesus Christ that I’ve reposted on several subsequent occasions. Feel free to read it afresh. It’s one of my better ones, and (in my oh-so-humble opinion) characterizes the office of King of Kings better than anything else I’ve encountered. But it occurred to me this morning that there’s more to be said about the matter.

     It “should” be “obvious” that the qualifications for the position are extremely demanding:

  • The holder must be the definer of all justice;
  • He must also be the sole dispenser of all spiritual insight and appropriate worship;
  • He must be willing to sacrifice himself for the whole world.

     Now, I haven’t met anyone who possesses even one of the qualifications above. I expect any of my Gentle Readers would say the same. Moreover, if we survey the various folks who’ve ruled nations – including a few who’ve aspired to the rule of the whole world – we quickly conclude that the overwhelming majority of them – very nearly all of them -- are almost exactly the opposite sort of people from the rightful titleholder: i.e., Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of Mankind. I’m not talking about their non-divinity here, but rather their aspirations to power, pelf, perquisites, and master over all other men.

     If Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, is our model for perfection wearing the flesh, then they who seek temporal power and status are seldom persons who should ever be allowed near it. Our experiences with celebritarianism ought to be sufficient demonstration of that. (Cf. “Politics is Hollywood for ugly people.”)

     Which brings us to the Question of the Day: When the demands of those who wield temporal power clash with those of Christ the King of Kings, what should we do?

     Let’s begin with a dismissal: specifically of the words of the Apostle Paul, also known as Saul of Tarsus, previously a persecuter of Christians:

     Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. [Epistle to the Romans, 13:1-6]

     I do hope Paul, wherever in the afterlife he may be situated, took note of the fascist and communist states that afflicted millions who came after him. And what about Islam in the saddle? That “faith” that claims a mandate to impose conversion by the sword, and to execute apostates, heretics, blasphemers, adulterers, fornicators, homosexuals, and a slew of other contestants? Speaking of which, wasn’t Paul himself executed for preaching the Christian faith, by a government that found it threatening?

     Paul’s characterization of governments as “ordained of God” is the purest horseshit – and I don’t care who dislikes to read that. But Paul himself was given to arbitrary assertions of authority, so perhaps the government-is-good syndrome is part of a larger disease.

     Governments are not “ordained by God.”Justice is ordained by God – and he who seeks to set aside God’s justice in favor of his own formulation is likely to take up residence in some very down-market real estate after his demise.

     The Christian faith, like all wholesome creeds, is a matter of individual choice and commitment. Christians of our time know better than to think that our faith can or should ever be imposed upon the unwilling. At one time there were supposed Christians who attempted it, but they were acting in opposition to Christ’s teachings, not in accordance with them.

     But those who wield temporal power take the opposite tack: If you won’t willingly do as they command, they’ll coerce you: punish you or threaten you with punishment. That’s not a Christian’s individual choice and commitment, nor does he have a duty to honor it.

     So the Christian who confronts a State that demands, under threat of punishment, that he do something Christ, the King of Kings and definer of all justice, has forbidden is in a pickle. There are cases of this sort today in the Land of the Formerly Free. The most egregious one is the attempt, by several states, to compel Catholic physicians to perform abortions. What is such a doctor to do?

     For my part, I’d rather brave the wrath of the State than the displeasure of the King of Kings.

     After Christ no longer wore mortal flesh, ordinary, fallible men – men as susceptible to error, vanity, and self-exaltation as any of us – were entrusted with the preservation and promulgation of His teachings. There was a hazard in that, for men are given to embellishing, expanding, and distorting what they’ve been taught. Nevertheless, some fraction of what Christian clerics teach really is in accord with His word. It’s the duty of the lay Christian to thresh the grain from the chaff.

     Now and then even the very best Christians will yearn for the “assistance” of temporal power: the State. This idea is worse than merely wrong, as I hope my Gentle Readers will grasp without having to be beaten across the snout about it. Even so, Christians of great faith and intellect have fallen into that error:

     “Do not think,” said Ransom, “that for me either it is child’s play to meet those who will come down for your empowering.”
     “Sir,” faltered Merlin, “you have been in Heaven. I am but a man. I am not the son of one of the Airish Men. That was a lying story. How can I? . . . You are not as I. You have looked upon their faces before.”
     “Not on all of them,” said Ransom. “Greater spirits than Malacandra and Perelandra will descend this time. We are in God’s hands. It may unmake us both. There is no promise that either you or I will save our lives or our reason. I do not know how we can dare to look upon their faces; but I know we cannot dare to look upon God’s if we refuse this enterprise.”
     Suddenly the magician smote his hand upon his knee. “Mehercule!” he cried. “Are we not going too fast? If you are the Pendragon, I am the High Council of Logres and I will counsel you. If the Powers must tear me in pieces to break our enemies, God’s will be done. But is it yet come to that? This Saxon king of yours who sits at Windsor, now. Is there no help in him?”
     “He has no power in this matter.”
     “Then is he not weak enough to be overthrown?”
     “I have no wish to overthrow him. He is the king. He was crowned and anointed by the Archbishop. In the order of Logres I may be Pendragon, but in the order of Britain I am the King’s man.”
     “Is it then his great men—the counts and legates and bishops—who do the evil and he does not know of it?”
     “It is—though they are not exactly the sort of great men you have in mind.”
     “And are we not big enough to meet them in plain battle?”
     “We are four men, some women, and a bear.”
     “I saw the time when Logres was only myself and one man and two boys, and one of those was a churl. Yet we conquered.”
     “It could not be done now. They have an engine called the Press whereby the people are deceived. We should die without even being heard of.”
     “But what of the true clerks? Is there no help in them? It cannot be that all your priests and bishops are corrupted.”
     “The Faith itself is torn in pieces since your day and speaks with a divided voice. Even if it were made whole, the Christians are but a tenth part of the people. There is no help there.”
     “Then let us seek help from over sea. Is there no Christian prince in Neustria or Ireland or Benwick who would come in and cleanse Britain if he were called?”
     “There is no Christian prince left. These other countries are even as Britain, or else sunk deeper still in the disease.”
     “Then we must go higher. We must go to him whose office it is to put down tyrants and give life to dying kingdoms. We must call on the Emperor.”
     “There is no Emperor.”
     “No Emperor . . .” began Merlin, and then his voice died away. He sat still for some minutes wrestling with a world which he had never envisaged. Presently he said, “A thought comes into my mind and I do not know whether it is good or evil. But because I am the High Council of Logres I will not hide it from you. This is a cold age in which I have awaked. If all this West part of the world is apostate, might it not be lawful, in our great need, to look farther . . . beyond Christendom? Should we not find some even among the heathen who are not wholly corrupt? There were tales in my day of some such: men who knew not the articles of our most holy Faith, but who worshipped God as they could and acknowledged the Law of Nature. Sir, I believe it would be lawful to seek help even there. Beyond Byzantium. It was rumored also that there was knowledge in those lands—an Eastern circle and wisdom that came West from Numinor. I know not where—Babylon, Arabia or Cathay. You said your ships had sailed all round the earth, above and beneath.”
     Ransom shook his head. “You do not understand,” he said. “The poison was brewed in these West lands but it has spat itself everywhere by now. However far you went you would find the machines, the crowded cities, the empty thrones, the false writings, the barren beds: men maddened with false promises and soured with true miseries, worshipping the iron works of their own hands, cut off from Earth their mother and from the Father in Heaven. You might go East so far that East became West and you returned to Britain across the great Ocean, but even so you would not have come out anywhere into the light. The shadow of one dark wing is over all Tellus.”

     [C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength]

     There is no help in temporal power for the Christian, except to the extent that it pursues and punishes murder, aggressive violence, theft, fraud, libel and slander, and false dealing...when it deigns to do so. Moreover, the Christian must be willing to defy the State should it command that he transgress against the teachings of Christ...even if the price demanded should be his life. For as Clive Staples Lewis, the Twentieth Century’s greatest Christian apologist and polemicist, wrote above, we cannot dare to look upon God’s face if we refuse that burden.

     It is our duty to Him who has defined all justice: the King of Kings.

     May God bless and keep you all.

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