The End of History?
Christ is King! How easily we forget . . .
What a fool I was when the Berlin Wall fell forty years ago.
I naively thought that the apotheosis of the state into totalitarian forms of government was fully and finally exposed. Everyone knew it was an inhuman, deadly fraud. In my innocence, I was sure that all such attempts to put the minutiae of every individual’s life into the all-powerful hands of bureaucrat-gods had sputtered and died from their own absurdity, never to return. After all, the totalitarian states of the twentieth century had almost all gone through the entire cycle of rise, decline, and fall. Now they were residing in what one of their authors so eloquently termed “the dustbin of history.” Of the few remaining, Cuba and North Korea were so transparently disasters that nobody (it seemed) could see them as models. Even China appeared to be following Russia and the communist states of Eastern Europe on the path of democratic reform.
Yes I and many others had deceived ourselves. Who would have guessed that despite the millions murdered and starved in the 20th century, and the manifest failure of every single attempt to invest god-like power into human governance, the totalitarian impulse would still hold such appeal, even growing appeal, in the third decade of the 21st century? Who would have predicted that even here in the United States, Cradle of Liberty, powerful financial interests and leading media entities would join with ambitious political forces to form a totalitarian syndicate that would make Mussolini proud?
The Totalitarian Impulse
Speaking of Mussolini, the Italian fascist dictator was certainly on the mind of Pope Pius XI in 1925. That’s when the Roman Pontiff introduced The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Pope Pius added the feast in order to counter growing totalitarian movements in Europe and elsewhere. He sought to remind Catholics that their Lord and Savior is Jesus Christ. He is not the Volk, and certainly not whatever Duce happens to grab the reins of power at a given time. The Solemnity of Christ the King says to the self-anointed powers of this world what Jesus says to Pontius Pilate. To wit: “You would have no power over me unless it had been given to you from above” (John 19:11)
Sadly, despite the eclipse of most of the prominent fascistic and communist governments by the end of the past century, the totalitarian impulse and the idolatry of the state continues, albeit in a rather less homicidal form (for the time being). For that reason this feast day is as relevant now as it was a century ago.
He Must Reign
The celebration of Christ the King is also relevant on another level. It applies to each and every man and woman who has inhabited this Earth (with two exceptions) since Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden. In Quas Primas, the encyclical with which he established the Solemnity of Christ the King, Pope Pius XI says:
. . . If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls . . .
“You would have no power over me unless it had been given to you from above” (John 19:11)
Jesus Before Pilate, Second Interview (Jésus devant Pilate. Deuxième entretien), James Tissot,1886-1894
Christ is King
Pope Pius reminds us that there is Someone who really does have a claim on us. Someone who rules every aspect of our lives and even ourselves. It’s not the state. Yes, Christ does not only reign over the world, he reigns in our hearts . . . if we let him. All of us, even those who have consciously sworn off looking for messiahs in politics or government, fall into idolatry from time to time. How often have I pinned my dearest hopes on some passing thing? A new job, the next tax refund, or even some ridiculous new gadget to add to my collection of equally ridiculous gadgets? If I’m not careful (and, honestly, sometimes I’m not), I can find these seemingly innocuous little idols setting themselves up on the Throne reserved for Jesus alone.
On this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we do well to remember that only Christ is the Lord of men, only Christ can be the Master of our hearts: Inquietum est cor meum, Domine, donec in te requiescat, “my heart is restless, Lord, until it rests in you”.
Featured image, top of page: Christ Surrounded by Musician Angels, Hans Memling, 1480s