Nov 30, 2022
“Sir, you are quite simply insane. We know exactly what holds our universe together; it is electromagnetism, gravity, and the strong force…not Christ.”
Since 1970, the Roman Catholic Church has celebrated the Feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday of the liturgical year. It is a fitting close to a year that began with Old Testament prophesies of a coming Messiah, a Messiah who Christians believe is Jesus.
The scripture readings (Cycle C) that the Church has chosen for this feast day introduce us to three distinct but related aspects of Christ’s kingship:
First, a reading from 2 Samuel recalls the inauguration of the historical King David, chosen by God, anointed by Samuel, and ratified by the leaders of Israel’s twelve tribes:
“All the tribes of Israel came to David in Hebron…and at Hebron King David made a covenant with them in the presence of the Lord; and they anointed David king over Israel.”
Jesus, of course, is of the House of David and, therefore, has a valid hereditary claim to David’s throne. As David’s successor, Jesus represents the historical kingship of God.
Yet, Jesus never suggests that he should have universal political authority. He did not come to depose Rome and inherit its empire so that ‘Rome’ could be reborn in Jerusalem. On the contrary, political power was the third and final temptation offered by Satan and rejected by Jesus during Jesus’ 40 days in the desert (Mt 4: 9).
Instead, scripture and the Church teach that all political rulers, whether emperors, kings, presidents, or legislatures, derive their authority from God but maintain that authority only in so far as, and to the extent that, their policies are consistent with God’s laws.
According to this model, God rules! But he rules through the agency of his priests, prophets, and kings.
Christ the King is not Christ the Bureaucrat. God does not dictate the details of public policy but rather establishes guidelines and principles that all laws, if they are to be valid, must respect. There are many legitimate roads to Ecbatan, but no human law is binding if it conflicts with a law of God.
So, Christ’s royal authority does extend to the historical realm, but it is exercised through secular rulers chosen according to the culture and tradition of each political entity (e.g., nation).
The second reading is a reading we’ve encountered before in ATM (Christology). From Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and invisible…all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together… For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross, whether those on earth or those in heaven.”
This is not Jesus, the historical successor to King David; this is Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, King of Creation, Ruler of the Universe. And what are the royal powers that Colossians claims on Christ’s behalf?
1. Since all things in Heaven and on Earth were created in him, through him and for him, his sovereignty is absolute. The Kingdom of God is not a democratic republic, nor is it even a constitutional monarchy…but it is a utopia.
2. All things hold together in him. Like any charismatic leader, he is the glue that binds society together as a single community with a common task and a common destiny. Because the Son of God is also fully human, we humans have ‘legal standing’ to enter into a binding contract (covenant) with YHWH.
3. He is the medium and the process through which all things in Heaven and on Earth are reconciled…for him. Through Christ, conflicts are resolved into contrasts and contrasts into harmonies.
Today, most members of the cognoscenti believe that Universe came into being on its own. causa sui. Modernists that we are, we take it for granted that this is at least possible. But what if it isn’t? What if an independent, self-created universe is intrinsically unstable and, therefore, not possible after all?
It is beyond the scope of this essay to resolve that question, but the question per se underscores the importance of Colossians for contemporary cosmology. Safe to say, Colossians presents a very different model of cosmogenesis than we are used to hearing. Imagine a visiting professor from Colossae addressing a classroom of eager graduate students in Cambridge (either Cambridge, MA or Cambridge, UK):
“In order for a non-trivial universe to emerge, evolve and endure, a number of factors must come into play simultaneously. First, there must be a creative force that gives rise to novel entities (events); second, those entities must occur within some sort of defined ontological locus; third, all the events that make up Universe must be oriented toward a common end (teleos); and fourth, the creative force must not only bring novel entities into being, but it must also work ceaselessly to resolve conflicts among those entities.
“Creation is as much about the ends of things as it is about their beginnings; it operates throughout the entire life of every entity. Ultimately, it is a process by which a multiplicity of simple things becomes a complex unity. It is that process that binds entity to entity in a way that constitutes Universe.
“Otherwise, anything that might emerge randomly and spontaneously from the void would either be isolated and inert or cancelled out by conflicting ‘counter-events’. The net informational content of any such universe would always be approximately zero.”
Now, one of our ‘sophomore’ cosmologists might be expected to interrupt vehemently at this juncture. Lacking the reverential deference characteristic of a by-gone era, our would-be Hawking might say, “Sir, you are quite simply insane. We know exactly what holds our universe together; it is electromagnetism, gravity, and the strong force…not Christ.”
“Not so fast,” our Anatolian professor retorts. “Can you fully explain the nature of any of these forces? Can you explain how it is that each has the exact quantitative value it does? Do you understand that if any one of these apparently arbitrary values varied even slightly, Universe as we know it would be impossible? Is it not much more likely that these forces are simply the physical manifestations of something deeper in the structure of the cosmos? Something like Christ, for example?”
“Isn’t this just Creationism repackaged?”
“It’s more profound than that. I am equating Cosmology with Christology! And note: this is not the same as equating Christology with Cosmology. The math is not commutative.”
The final reading, taken from the Gospel of Luke, tells the story of Jesus’ crucifixion:
“The people stood by and watched; the rulers meanwhile sneered at him and said, ‘He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God.’”
Even the soldiers jeered at him…they called out, ‘If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.’ Above him there was an inscription that read, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
Enigmatically, Pontius Pilate had ordered that placard nailed onto the cross above Jesus’ head. The Jewish leaders complained to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews’, write that he said he was the King of the Jews.” But Pilate answered with his own statement of proto faith, “What I have written, I have written.”
“Now one of the criminals hanging there (Jesus was crucified between two ‘thieves’) reviled Jesus, saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.’ The other, however…said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He (Jesus) replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’”
This is the first time that anyone (other than Jesus himself) has clearly acknowledged the other-worldly nature of Christ’s Kingdom. Before Pilate, Jesus says, “My Kingdom does not belong to this world…my kingdom is not here.” Before that, he has tried many times to educate his disciples on the eschatological nature of his reign – without any apparent success. But the so-called ‘good thief’ gets it…and just in the nick of time.
The reading from Luke’s Gospel introduces us to yet a third aspect of Jesus’ Kingship. While his laws are normative on Earth, they are often ignored in practice; but in the Kingdom of Heaven, Christ is the supreme ruler. That is what we mean when we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Looking for Heaven (aka Paradise)? It’s located at the intersection of History and Eternity! It consists of historical entities but historical entities that have somehow been ‘glorified’ (i.e., reconciled and eternalized).
So, on the Feast of Christ the King, we justly celebrate Christ as Sovereign of this world, Ruler of the Universe, and Heavenly King. But how are these aspects of Christ’s kingship related?
The reconciliation of all things through Christ and for Christ can only occur based on the consistent application of specific values: beauty, truth, and justice, for example.
How do we know which ‘values’ are necessary for reconciliation to occur? And which ‘anti-values’ are incompatible with reconciliation?
Could reconciliation be successful if it was based on the absence of beauty, truth, justice, i.e., if it was based on ugliness, falsehood, injustice?
Obviously not! On the contrary, such anti-values are the sources and symptoms of conflict in the first place. Ugliness is inherently unstable, as the urge to beautify is universal, even at the level of pre-conscious entities (e.g., molecules).
Falsehood eliminates any objective basis for consensus. As for injustice, who has not chanted, “No justice, no peace!” at least once?
Making such a list of values and their opposites quickly identifies the sources and styles of conflict in our world and points out the avenues that are available to us for the resolution of that conflict. These values, once identified, must guide all valid law making in the historical realm. Laws that explicitly and intentionally undermine beauty, truth, and justice, for example, are invalid on their face.
Sidebar: we are not concerned here with legitimate differences of opinion. For example, well-meaning people may disagree about which laws would be most effective in promoting justice. It is the purview of secular governments to choose among such potential laws; any one of those choices would at least be valid, even if suboptimal. What would be invalid is any law that aims to undermine justice per se.
There is a single thread that unites Christ’s historical, cosmological, and heavenly kingship. It is the set of values that form the basis for universal reconciliation, that are normative on earth and that are realized perfectly in Heaven. No better way to celebrate the end of the liturgical year!
David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.