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(LifeSiteNews) — “The world has heard enough of the ‘rights of man.’ Let it hear of the rights of God.”[1]

That is what Leo XIII said that in 1900, and it is key for understanding what the Church means by the phrase, “Christ is King.”

This declaration is not just a spiritual platitude about the next world, nor is it about establishing a theocracy or bludgeoning others with our religion.

It is something much more expansive.

The feast of Christ the King

In 1925, the world still remembered the First World War. Formerly Catholic countries were continuing their decline into secularism. The Mexican revolutionary government was consolidating its control and persecuting the Church. The Weimar Republic was allowing all sorts of immorality and decadence. 

And only a few years before, the Masonic government in Portugal had been persecuting the three children of Fatima.

Looking around him, Pope Pius XI saw that the world was in the grip of “[a]nti-clericalism, its errors and impious activities.”[2]

He taught that the panoply of evils facing us today was due to men having “thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives,” both in private affairs and in politics.

In response, he instituted the feast of Christ the King “to minister to the need of the present day, and at the same time provide an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society.”[3]

This feast, based on the doctrine of his 1925 encyclical Quas Primas, was established to commemorate Our Lord’s Kingship, not just over the hearts of his Faithful, but rather over every man, family, state, nation, and society.

In what does the Kingship of Christ consist?

There is a tendency today to treat Christ’s kingship as if it was something eschatological, which will occur at the end of the world. This is very contrary to the original spirit of the feast, whose liturgical texts reflected a different and very specific doctrine.

Christ said that he was King, but that his kingdom was not of this world.

Many seem to think that as God is so far above us, that we do not need to be concerned with honoring and protecting his rights.

But by his words before Pilate, Our Lord was not abdicating his rights over the world, nor endorsing the separation of Church and state. He meant he had not come to depose Rome or the civil power, or to establish a theocracy – because he was planning something much more significant. 

St. Augustine explains his words:

After showing that His kingdom was not of this world, He adds, But now My kingdom is not from here.

He does not say, Not here, for His kingdom is here to the end of the world, having within it the tares mixed with the wheat until the harvest. But yet it is not from here, since it is a stranger in the world.[4]

“It would be a grave error,” says Pius XI, also discussing Our Lord’s words, “to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs.”[5]

Civil authority is from God and must recognize this

As St. Paul said of civil rulers, “There is no power but from God.” (Rom. 13.1) 

Natural reason alone says that the state has a duty to recognise and worship God; and this must be in accordance with the true religion – which is that of Jesus Christ.

Christ said, “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth” (Mt. 28.18). He is our King both by his divine nature, and by having bought us by the price of his precious blood. By these two “titles,” he has the right to be recognized as King. 

He is King over each individual; and therefore he is also of each gathering of individuals. What applies to each part will also apply to the whole. He is, therefore, King also over our families, organizations, and most especially our nations. 

Nations, which are gatherings of families and individuals, have a duty to recognise his sovereignty, and he has a right to their homage.[6] The state is sovereign in its proper sphere, but it is obliged by its own nature not only to operate within the bounds of Christ’s Kingship, but also to recognise this Kingship accordingly. 

Pius XI teaches that “not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ,” which is manifested most perfectly, of course, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

As King over the nation, Christ’s “kingly dignity demands that the State should take account of the commandments of God and of Christian principles, both in making laws, and in administering justice, and also in […] education.”[7] 

The Church should be established as the state religion; and that the laws of the land should be (at least) “negatively” Christian. By this, we mean that laws should be (at least) conformable to right reason and the natural law, and not go against any aspect of divine law.

This doesn’t mean that Christianity should be imposed by the sword, or that state legislatures should check each potential law with Rome. As we have already said, the state is sovereign in its own sphere. 

But it does mean that we are obliged to work for the Christianization of society, and for the “restoration of all things in Christ.” (Eph. 1.10)

These are not medieval teachings fitted only for a Catholic confessional state – nor are they an exercise in twentieth century nostalgia today. They are the answer to our modern problems.

Kingship rejected and forgotten

Pius IX taught that this doctrine and feast would both draw attention to and even remedy the evils of rebellion against Christ:

While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim his kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm his rights.[8]

Since the 1960s, however, the meaning of the feast and the understanding of the doctrine have been changed. 

As a result of the failure to implement Pius XI’s teaching, his warnings have been proved true. His description represents precisely what we have seen since the 1960s:

The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied.

Then gradually the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. It was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers.[9]

They have uncrowned him

Setting the terms by which Christ can be King would make him a mere figurehead. It would place the true sovereignty elsewhere, be that in ourselves, or (as increasingly the case today) the secular state itself.

A merely internal or future eschatological kingship puts Christ and his religion on the same level as false gods and false religions in the public sphere. This is indifferentism.

In the encyclical, Pius XI teaches that, at the Last Judgment, “Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults.”[10] 

We can see that these insults are already being avenged in our own time. When the teaching of Christ’s Kingship over society is abandoned, it should not be surprising that the state encroaches into the power vacuum. 

If those purporting to be our shepherds do not defend the Kingship of Christ – as well as the immunity and liberty of the Church which is entailed in this Kingship – then we cannot be surprised to find that the state subjects the Church to its power, interferes with the exercise of her mission, or even suppresses her altogether.

We cannot call Christ our King if we try to interfere with the extent of his rights over us. This is to turn him into a constitutional monarch, or to say with the wicked men in the parable:

‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’ (Luke 19.14)

On the contrary, let us say with love and courage: 

‘We will have this man to reign over us.’

Christ is King!

Christus vincit!

Christus regnat!

Christus imperat!


1 Leo XIII, Encyclica Tametsi, 1900, 13. Available at https://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo13/l13tamet.htm
2 Pius XI, Encylical Quas Primas, 1925, n. 24. Available at https://www.papalencyclicals.net/pius11/p11prima.htm. Henceforth QP.
3 Ibid.
4 St Augustine, in St Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea for St John, 18.33.
5 Ibid. n. 17
6 “Further, there would be danger lest the primary and essential cell of society, the family, with its well-being and its growth, should come to be considered from the narrow standpoint of national power, and lest it be forgotten that man and the family are by nature anterior to the State, and that the Creator has given to both of them powers and rights and has assigned them a mission and a charge that correspond to undeniable natural requirements.” Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Summi pontificatus 1939, 61. Available at https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_20101939_summi-pontificatus.html. See also Leo XIII, Encyclical Immortale Dei, 1885, 25. Available at  https://www.papalencyclicals.net/leo13/l13sta.htm
7, 10 QP n. 32
8 QP n. 25
9 QP n. 24