By VERY REV. ALEXIS M. LEPICIER, O.S.M. Consultor of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation, etc.
WE have seen how Jesus Christ Our Lord should reign over individuals as well as over households. However, this is not all: He must reign also over society at large, for the Father has promised to give him "the nations for His inheritance.'' (Ps. II, 8.) These, in fact, are the words which the prophet David, when raised on the wings of contemplation even unto the counsels of the Holy Trinity, heard proffered by the eternal Father to the Divine Word made man.
Jesus Christ was therefore constituted and proclaimed King of the Universe by the Father. But if He is a King, regal honors are due to Him; and hence Holy Church desires all Christian nations to offer Him those signs of public honor and worship which befit the King of kings and Lord of lords.
In these last unfortunate years the devil, the sworn adversary of the reign of Jesus over souls, has sought more than ever to banish this Divine King from society. By means of his evil followers, he strives to bring back the world to paganism or at least to naturalism, inspiring men with the spirit of revolt: "We will not have this man to reign over us." (Luke XIX, 14.) But we Christians, who love the reign of this Divine Sovereign and desire to extend it still further, will answer His adversaries with one voice: "We will have God for our Father, we will have God for our King."
It may be asked what sort of honor should be given to Jesus Christ by society. We answer briefly: we should first honor Him in his holy cross; and secondly in public prayer and adoration.
The cross is the glorious banner of our King, Jesus Christ. 1 It should be raised everywhere, because everywhere there are souls subject to Him. As we desire that society should return under the scepter of Our Redeemer, so also do we wish to see this adorable sign everywhere surrounded by love, respect and veneration.
We wish to see it on the crowns of Kings and Princes, because even royal heads must bow to Jesus; on the facades of Houses of Parliament and Town Halls, so that the most vital interests of the nation may be seen by all to be placed under the protection of that holy symbol under which alone flourish justice and peace. We wish, too, that the cross should be erected in cemeteries, so that it may stretch its loving arms over the bowers of our dear ones. We wish to see it tower on the glittering summits of mountains, as a sign that Jesus rules over the whole world.
This sacred emblem is a profession of our faith and a protest against that lack of super natural belief which threatens to corrupt the whole of society. With the spread of Christianity, this symbol of peace, love and sacrifice was erected everywhere: our forefathers who grasped its marvelous power and sublime significance wished every public monument to be adorned with it. But now an infernal tempest has arisen which well nigh is driving it out of modern society. Oh, let this holy symbol be put up again, not only on the altars of our churches, as a pledge of the bloodless Sacrifice which is unceasingly offered, but also on the arches of palaces, to recall the great of this world to virtue, and on the humble cottages of the poor, to teach them patience and resignation. 2
To Jesus, King of society, the homage of public praise and worship should also be offered. For it is not enough that individual Christians should raise their minds to the adorable Sovereign of our hearts in their homes or in church only. It is needful more over that the whole of society, led by its representatives, should bow before Him, and recognize Him as supremely their King and Sovereign. A prayer should be raised to our divine Lord before every social act that He may deign to protect and bless the whole nation and whatsoever is done to promote its welfare.
It is not enough that men should be Christians in their private life only. Members of Parliament, heads of Municipalities, the ruler of the nation, must be Christians too, and openly so. For cities, counties and nations are all subject to the jurisdiction of Jesus Christ who has received power to its fullest extent from His divine Father. This power He possesses in all its manifestations, the power to rule and govern; the power to legislate and the power to judge. (Matth. XXVIII, 18.)
In the first place those appointed to rule over cities or nations should put themselves under the guidance of Jesus Christ in all that concerns their office of governing others. They should order their actions so as to fulfill their obligations according to the maxims of the Gospel. If this is done, Jesus will reign effectively in Christian society. The Gospel, with that light of heavenly wisdom which irradiates its every page, should guide the leaders of this world. From that inspired book they will learn that the end to which society is destined is none other than eternal happiness, in pursuance of that great maxim: "Seek ye there fore first the kingdom of God and His justice and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matth. VI, 33.)
Accordingly, the heads of society will behave themselves in all that concerns their offices as good and convinced Christians, seeking not only natural happiness, but above all that which is supernatural. Thus shall they make their people happy even in this life, for it is a law of God that grace does not destroy, but perfects, nature. There are eloquent proofs of this in those countries which are informed by Christian faith and enjoy not only the life of the soul but that of material prosperity as well. And who would not call that people blessed whose ruler, brought up in the school of Jesus Christ, governs his subjects in the spirit of meekness, charity and justice?
Those in power not only must derive inspiration from the rules laid down by Jesus Christ, but they must also see that the laws enacted for the good of society are derived from the commandments of God and the Church; of which there should to-day be a more open and detailed expression.
Nothing should be more sacred and august in a society than the laws by which it is governed. These laws bringing into harmony the mutual rights and duties of all members of the state, help to maintain that balance and right order which guards the liberty and assures the well-being of individuals and the nation. Now legislators must establish justice through Jesus, (Prov. VIII, 15.) and so it is natural that the power of enacting laws should fall under the divine authority of this amiable King and be based on the maxims of the Gospel.
Human laws if based on this immovable foundation, will become a pledge of happiness, a shield against foes, a ladder which leads safely to Heaven. A proof of this are those nations which flourished and prospered in the Middle Ages, under the guidance of an entirely Christian legislation drawn up in accordance with the maxims of the Gospel. On the other hand, what is more fickle, what is more inadequate, than a legislation which has no other basis than the will or caprice of men? For; just as man's will is undependable and his aspirations are changeable, so laws of such a nature are made and unmade with equal facility. While they pretend, though even here they cannot succeed, to provide everything for this life, they end by being execrated by men who see themselves bitterly deluded in their aspirations.
To Jesus also, as King of human society, belongs the power to judge; that power, namely, which He displays in rewarding the good and punishing the evil. This power, properly speaking, belongs to God as supreme Lord and first Principle of all beings: but this same power the Father has delegated to Jesus Christ making Him, according to His Humanity, Judge of the living and the dead. (Acts X, 42. 2)
Now for judging rightly, three things are required:—first, wisdom, which is the soul and form of judgment, for the judge should be as it were a living justice; secondly, zeal for what is right, so that he judge not for hate or envy, but for very love of justice; thirdly, the power of rewarding the good and punishing the wicked. Now Jesus Christ, as Man, first, is full of grace and truth; besides, in Him all is holiness and righteousness and justice; finally, to Him was given all power in heaven and on earth. (Matth. XXVIII, 18.)
Nor of the judicial power of Jesus Christ can it be said (what is sometimes said of human justice) that it is terrifying to the poor and scorned by the rich. For the power of our divine Judge and Sovereign stretches equally over the whole universe, over men of every age and nation, and even over the angels. Over all men Jesus is appointed Judge be cause all are directed to eternal bliss and it is in His power to admit or reject them: over the angels, because they also receive through Him either an increase of glory or an accidental penalty.
From this we realize how misguided are they who fear more the false and vain criticism of this perverse world than the terrible judgements of our supreme Judge. At the lightning of His angry countenance, when the fatal sentence will be passed, they will realize, but too late, how baneful was their cowardice in refusing to follow the wise maxims of the Gospel, in not fearing and loving this just Judge, in not having recourse to Him to obtain mercy and pardon before the terrible day of the great account came to pass.
Jesus Christ is therefore the Supreme King, Sovereign Lord of all societies; and as those who stand at the helm of nations have received power from Him to govern the people, to is sue laws and to render justice; so there is no true authority or ruling power, legislative or judicial, which is not upheld and inspired by that of Jesus Christ.
It is useful to recall this truth in these our times when modern free-thought has made every effort to blot out this teaching, divesting princes of that halo which is a reflection of divine majesty; 4 and seeing in the origin, transmission and exercise of civil authority nothing but a simple expression of the will of the people. But not for all this has the King of kings, the Lord of lords, Jesus Christ, laid down the power which He received from the Father over the nations of the earth: and the words of St. Paul remain forever: "In the name of Jesus every knee should bow of those that are in heaven, on earth and under the earth." (Phil. II, 10.)
A striking instance of how the saints conceived the right of Jesus Christ to reign over society and over all nations is had in the beautiful episode that took place at the court of the king of France in the year 1429 shortly before the Maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc, saved that country from alien dominion and led Charles to Rheims, there to be solemnly crowned.
"Gentle Dauphin," she asked him one day, in presence of the lords of the realm and of the nations, "will you promise to grant me what I shall ask you?" The king at first hesitated, but at last answered: "Certainly, Joan, ask me what you will."—"Gentle Dauphin," she then said, "I ask you to give me your kingdom."
The king, stupefied at such a request, for a time remained silent. At last, however, bound by his promise and conquered by the super natural charm of Joan, he took his resolve: "Joan," he said, "I give you my kingdom."
But the Maid was not satisfied with these words, though uttered in the presence of many witnesses. She requested that a solemn act should be drawn up and signed by four royal notaries. This done, she looked at the king with a pitiful smile, saying: "There is the poorest of all the knights of France. I pity him."
Being now herself sovereign and mistress of France, she did not stop here. Turning to the secretaries, "Write," she said, "'Joan gives the kingdom to Jesus Christ.'' And soon after: "Write again: 'Jesus gives the kingdom back to Charles.' " 5
Herein surely lies a great lesson. It implies that the kings of this world are but tributaries of Christ and it is their duty to give over to Him the scepter which they received either from their ancestors or by the election of the people. They should consider themselves as but the lieutenants of the King of kings, Jesus Christ. "They have called the people happy, that hath (the goods of this world): but happy is (only) that people whose God is the Lord." (Ps. CXLIII, 15.)
1 It is called thus in the liturgy of the Church. Hymn at Vespers on Passion Sunday.
2 Herein falls an opportunity of mentioning the Confraternity of the Most Holy Cross, founded in the Middle Ages under the influence of that apostle of Jesus crucified, St. Philip Benizi. This Confraternity has produced signal fruits of sanctification in the course of ages. It is desirable that it should spread throughout the world to hasten the social reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Sequence in the Mass of the Dead.
4 In view of the grave errors which have arisen on the origin, nature and exercise of civil authority, it is well to be reminded of the celebrated Encyclical of Leo XIII: Diuturnum illud of June 29, 1881, in which this illustrious Pontiff establishes, against what some modern authors hold, the great principle that the right of governing, even in rulers popularly elected, is bestowed directly by God to whom belongs supreme and universal dominion: "Quo sane delectu (candidatorum) designantur principes, non conferuntur iura principatus."
5 This particular detail of the life of Joan of Arc is historically founded on the deposition of the Duke of Alencon in the "Proces" III, 19. See L. Delisle. Nouveau temoignage relatif a la Mission de Jeanne d'Arc.