Monday, November 23, 2015

The Feast of Christ the King

The Feast of Christ the King is not a relic of Europe's monarchical past. It was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. To be sure, there were still a few kings and queens, but the First World War had swept most of them off the playing board.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia abdicated and lived to witness the beginning of WWII from exile in Holland. Charles I of Austria reigned from 1916 to 1919 after succeeding the tragic Franz Josef I, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. Charles I was beatified in 2004, having "renounced participation in state affairs," rather than abdicate. Tsar Nicholas II was cruelly executed with his entire family at Yekaterinburg  by Bolsheviks in 1917.

It would seem we don't know what it means to have a king. The idea seems quaint, outmoded, if not dangerous. After all, didn't America have to defeat the lunatic tyrant George III to win liberty? We have a republic, although we don't seem very pleased with it.

There is an element of kingship that belongs above the tyrants and imbeciles that have sometimes occupied thrones. Something that our presidents, for all their power, do not reach. G.K. Chesterton found an ethical realm in fairytales, and one, moreover, that reveals our own world as a startling and wonderful place. The 2003 movie based on J.R.R. Tolkien's book, Return of the King, tied Titanic and Ben Hur for most Oscars at 11. A wandering warrior returns to claim his rightful throne. Why does that still resonate in our republican hearts?

The answer is simple: the story is true.

The last of the line of David, nearly extinguished, rises from obscurity to assume His rightful throne.

The Feast of Christ the King asserted Christ's rule over a Europe that had seen a terrible war, and over the hearts of each person. So in that sense, He is the Prince of Peace. In The Lord of the Rings, the hands of Aragorn are the hands of a healer. Yes, we intuit, kings are like that. They put things right.

[Addendum: There is also the 1981 John Boorman version of the Arthurian legend, Excalibur. Most people seem to like it better than the Bear does, but it does show a appreciation for the truth of the legend. In the trailer, at the 1:00 mark, you can see King Arthur riding forth to battle, and as as he does, trees burst into blossom. In some mysterious way, even the health of the land is linked to the king. As our representative, he stands before God for weal or woe.

Interestingly, while the period of the judges were an utter disaster, God was reluctant to put a king over His people. It was only after their incessant clamor that God gave into their demand. Their first king, Saul, was unstable and homicidal; their second king, David, was a murderer and adulterer; and their third king, Solomon, began with a bloody palace coup and by his old age had collected a thousand wives and concubines -- and their gods. And that was the end of the great united kingdom. From then on, Israel split off in the north, leaving Judah separate in the south.]

However, on our part, we owe something to our king: loyalty. Of course good subjects are loyal to their king. We know from fairytales that the relationship between the subject and king is more than a legal one. It is a covenant, where there are duties between persons on both sides.

Fairytales only tell us what we already know. They reflect the grand heavenly drama in homely settings: a cottage, a forest, and sometimes a castle. (A proper king lives in a secure castle, not a decadent palace.) So we don't really need to be told about the meaning of Christ the King. We learned it during our childhood.

Christ's kingship extends across the entire universe, encompassing everything and everybody. And somehow, deep in our hearts we wouldn't have it any other way.


  1. Thanks for the history lesson, Bear! Very interesting. Happy Thanksgiving! Hope you're allowed a live turkey to catch and eat.

    Seattle kim

  2. In the encyclical that established this feast Pope Pius XI wanted this feast to impact the laity. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

    "Christ 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, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God."

  3. What a lovely, uplifting post! It has raised my spirits immensely.


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