Jesus Christ, king of our politics?
"Oh, what happiness would be ours if all men, individuals, families, and nations, would but let themselves be governed by Christ!"
These words were written by Pope Pius XI on Dec. 11, 1925, in his encyclical "Quas Primas," which instituted the solemn liturgical feast we recently celebrated: Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Though nearly a century old, the truth of these words and the whole of "Quas Primas" resonates across time and space, providing sound guidance for our own cultural and political situation. Following some introductory context, three points, in particular, demand attention.
First, "Quas Primas" was primarily intended to decree the celebration of the feast of the Kingship of Christ. The papal encyclical was issued in the historical context of political unrest and turmoil. Drawing from his first papal encyclical, Pius XI recalled the "manifold evils in the world" that "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." By establishing the feast of the Kingship of Christ, Pius XI hoped to meet the needs of the people of God and stir within them deeper faith and courage to recognize that Jesus Christ has dominion over all things, including civil and political authority.
Second, "Quas Primas" teaches that Jesus’ kingship is ultimately rooted in his relationship to God the Father. Being consubstantial with the Father, which is to say that the Father and the Son share the one, same substance or essence, Christ "has power over all creatures." Pius XI identifies and summarizes the teachings of the Old and New Testament to give further proof and testimony to the kingship of Christ.
Third, Christ’s kingdom is ultimately spiritual. Yet, because he has dominion over all things, Christ’s kingship extends into earthly matters, such as political and civil affairs. In fact, Christ is the indispensable foundation for political life. As Christ exercises his dominion through his relationship to the Father, every man and woman who holds public authority exercises their power through the kingship of Christ. For this reason, such authorities are owed respect and obedience.
Pius XI further reminds "rulers and princes" of the nations that they are "bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ" and "call to their minds the thoughts of the last judgment" at which time they will be held accountable for their actions in building a just society.
As Pius XI further teaches: "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." Quoting Pope Leo XIII, Pius XI recognizes that by being governed by Christ "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 Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father." In various places throughout the encyclical, Pius XI bluntly states that without Christ as the foundation for political life, there can be no hope for lasting peace in the world.
The civil and political circumstances facing Pope Pius XI vary little from our own circumstances, though one might fairly say our problems have been exacerbated. Pius XI was familiar with the realities of war and strife among nations and its threats to human life. Pius XI was familiar with the influences of totalitarianism, fascism and atheism and their threats to the religious liberty of Christ’s church. Pius XI knew all too well the attacks and negative attitudes toward Christian marriage and family. Nevertheless, Pius XI called the world to repentance and conversion – to turn toward the King of the Universe.
May the words of Pius XI lead us to repentance and conversion, and "ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ (our) King." If we seek political peace and justice, let us seek Christ the King!
Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.