By VERY REV. ALEXIS M. LEPICIER, O.S.M. Consultor of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation, etc.
|Detail from The Apparition of the Sacred Heart, stained glass panel, studio of Harry Clarke, 1927-8. V&A Museum no. C48:1 to 4-1982|
IN order to better understand the nature of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, it is useful to compare it with the kingdoms of earthly monarchs. This comparison will help us to understand the true characteristic of His kingdom and so make us prize and love it more. It will lead us to consecrate ourselves entirely to this tender King of our hearts as His faithful and devoted subjects.
Many and deep are the differences which distinguish the kingdom of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the kingdoms of the world. How ever, all these differences can be brought under four headings—the origin, the extension, the duration and the form under which the royal power of Jesus Christ is exercised. Of these four heads of difference, the last one, taken from the form or manner with which Jesus Christ displays His regal power, is for us the most important, as it gives us the distinctive mark of His kingly dignity. We will then treat of it in a special chapter and dwell here briefly on the first three marks of His kingdom, that is, its divine origin, its universality and its eternal duration.
In the first place, the kingdom of our blessed Saviour is distinguished from the kingdoms of earthly princes by its origin, which is exclusively divine. Jesus was constituted King of the universe, not by the will of man or by circumstances of birth or fortune, but by the ex press will of His Father.
All authority, it is true, emanates in its final analysis from God; but in the case of temporal kingdoms, there are various secondary causes which determine the conferring of power on one individual rather than on another. So, royal dignity is sometimes acquired by right of birth; sometimes it is conferred by the will of the people; and sometimes it is obtained by some conspicuous work done for the welfare of the people or some great feat of military prowess.
But in the case of Our Lord Jesus Christ, none of these causes were brought into play.
It was the Word of God Himself, hypostatically united to His most holy Humanity, which was the source of His supremacy over the whole universe. From this divine fountain-head He derived all those qualities which a king needs to govern and rule his subjects, to aid them with his power and to help them with fatherly generosity in their manifold needs. So, in fact, Jesus says of Himself by the mouth of the prophet: "But I am appointed King by him over Sion his holy mountain" (Ps. II, 6.)
If we consider the extension of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, we see that His authority is not limited to one people, one territory, or one nation, but it embraces in its universality all the peoples of the world: "And He shall rule from sea to sea: and from the river unto the ends of the earth." (Ps. LXXI, 8.) Nor is it possible for any one to withdraw himself from the rule of Jesus Christ. For, from the very moment that a rational being comes into the world, it belongs by right divine to the dominion of Jesus Christ.
Civilized peoples and barbarians, great and small, rich and poor, are His subjects and owe Him honor, glory and obedience, because He has redeemed all with His precious blood. The most powerful monarchs, the most magnificent conquerors belong to His kingdom and are His servants, not less than the rest of humanity ; nor is there any one that can withdraw from His sway. The holy Kings Louis of France, Stephen of Hungary, Ferdinand of Spain, Edward the Confessor of England, Henry of Germany and Canute of Sweden, realized indeed this truth, when they deemed it a duty to lay their crowns and scepters at the feet of Jesus Christ, glorying to be called His servants more than in receiving the homage and reverence of their subjects.
If we now compare the duration of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, we again find ground for a substantial difference between His regal dignity and that of the kings of the earth. An earthly king, however long he may live, loses at his death all authority over those who were once his subjects. Death levels each earthly sovereign to the least of his servants, discrowns him, and breaks in his hand the scepter that made his subjects tremble. Not so with our King, Jesus Christ. As He rose to an immortal and glorious life and is no longer subject to the mutableness of earthly things, so He continues to exercise His royal power for ever, so that "in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in Heaven, on earth and under the earth." (Philippians II, 10.)
There is yet more to say on the subject. It is impossible for an earthly king to begin to reign before he exists. But our King, Jesus Christ, and He alone, has this prerogative that His kingdom embraces all time, past, present and future. Even before He was born, He in some fashion already ruled over the world: "God is our King before ages" (Ps. LXXIII, 12.) He ruled, indeed, as God omnipotent on whom Heaven and earth depend. But as Man also His reign came into being with the very beginning of the world. For the Father, from that moment, disposed all things in view of that absolute power which His Son made Man was one day to possess. The angels from the beginning acknowledged and adored Him as the one great King who would sit one day at the right hand of the Father. The prophets sung of Him as though He were present before their eyes. The kings of Israel, in the full exercise of their power, were the types, though imperfect ones, destined to prefigure what Pilate would later express, when showing Jesus to the Jews with these words: "Ecce Rex vester"
The reign of Jesus Christ, as it had no beginning, so will it never have an end. Time flows and the course of human generations will come to an end, but the reign of Jesus Christ will last forever. (Luke I, 38.) His blessed kingdom, so ardently invoked and desired by the patriarchs, prophets and just men of the Old Testament, will continue for all eternity, because for all eternity the most holy Humanity of Jesus will shine, bright as the sun in the glory of paradise. Its sight will be an everlasting reward to the just whom He Himself will have saved and who will owe to Him their eternal happiness. In the vision of this same Humanity all the angels and saints in paradise shall be blessed. "For that Emperor who reigns above . . . in all parts He rules and there holds sway; there is his city and his high seat: O happy whom he chooses for it" (Inferno I l. 124 trans. Dr. J.A. Carlyle.)
Now, then, the kingdom of Jesus Christ embraces all time, and even stretches beyond time. It began with the creation of the world and will last forever: "Thy kingdom is a kingdom of all ages: and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations" (Ps. CXLIV, 13.) Here, then, are the first three heads of difference between the kingdom of Jesus Christ and that of an earthly king. The former does not come from man, but directly from God; it is not restricted to a span of territory, but extends to all the people of the world; it is not limited to an epoch, but embraces all time, even continuing to all eternity. Earthly kingdoms, on the contrary, are of weak origin, limited in their extent and of short duration.
But we must now turn to the principal difference which distinguishes the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ from that of earthly kings, namely, the manner in which Our Lord exercises His authority over men. We shall see how this very difference gives rise to the glorious title of King of our hearts which we claim for our divine Saviour.