THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Reign of Christ the King?

In the previous posting on this subject, we saw that while God made the world, he didn’t create human society.  Human beings did that, so it’s no use blaming Him for what’s going wrong.  If there’s something wrong, it’s up to us to fix it.  The only question is how . . . especially when we discover that individually we are pretty helpless to effect changes in the social order.  What happens then?


What usually happens is that people give up on individual efforts and give in to the temptation of collectivism and state action.  Surrendering to the State at least has the apparent advantage of being able to use coercion to force people to be virtuous . . . assuming you believe human nature can be changed and those in charge buy in to your particular vision of the Kingdom of God on Earth.

This is one of the problems with the individualist outlook.  It may be that Dorothy Day’s “long loneliness” was caused in part by her individualism (that she characterized as anarchism manifest in her belief that — ultimately — all you need is love (Day, The Long Loneliness, op. cit., 285), which many people seem to have misunderstood, a fact of which Day seemed fully aware.  With her emphasis on private property and her utter refusal to allow collectivism any validity, especially in the form of action by “Holy Mother the State,” (Buhring, “Day and Niebuhr,” op. cit., 400.) Day made it clear that charity does not replace justice but fulfills and completes it.

Dorothy Day


Day’s suspicion of government action seems to have made her reject the essential role the State must play in restructuring the social order, and thus inhibited a full understanding of social justice on her part.  This may be why today’s Catholic Worker movement seems in some cases to have embraced with wholehearted fervor the intrusive State action that Day and Peter Maurin with more than a little justification firmly rejected.

Had Day perhaps had a chance to gain a perspective on Quadragesimo Anno different from that of the disciples of Msgr. Ryan in the Catholic Radical Alliance of Pittsburgh, with whom she associated for a time, matters might have turned out differently.  Day eventually broke with the CRA ostensibly over the issue of armed resistance to Hitler, although the suspicion intrudes that the near-worship Ryan and his followers had for the State, redefinition of private property, and utter reliance on the wage system might have had more to do with it. (Biographers have speculated why Fulton Sheen seemed to avoid Day; her association with the group that attacked him might explain it.)

Pope Pius XI


What, however, led to Quadragesimo Anno?  If we take the standard interpretation of the encyclical as a mere reiteration of Rerum Novarum — as did Ryan and countless others — there was no real need for it.  Pius XI himself admitted in §§ 12-39 that the situation had greatly improved since 1891.

There were, of course, still some serious problems.  Conditions had changed as technology and institutions advanced, necessitating a more refined application of Leo XIII’s vision.  Further, there were damaging misinterpretations of Rerum Novarum circulating, causing dissension:

Yet since in the course of these same years, certain doubts have arisen concerning either the correct meaning of some parts of Leo’s Encyclical or conclusions to be deduced therefrom, which doubts in turn have even among Catholics given rise to controversies that are not always peaceful; and since, furthermore, new needs and changed conditions of our age have made necessary a more precise application of Leo’s teaching or even certain additions thereto, We most gladly seize this fitting occasion, in accord with Our Apostolic Office through which We are debtors to all, (Cf. Rom. 1:14. [Note in text.]) to answer, so far as in Us lies, these doubts and these demands of the present day. (Quadragesimo Anno, § 40; cf. §§ 14, 44.)

Nevertheless, despite Pius XI’s reiteration and expansion of Leo XIII’s work, many people continued to accept without question the claim that Rerum Novarum instituted the just wage doctrine, the right of labor to organize, and coercive government control of the economy as infallible teaching.  Justifying this — as Ryan declared — acceptance of a state-controlled economy was gaining ground every day. (Mueller, The Church and the Social Question, op. cit., 105.) Just because the pope has no power to declare applications of doctrine as either doctrines themselves or infallible did not seem to bother too many people . . . except the pope.

Pope Leo XIII


On the other hand, if we assume that Pius XI did something as remarkable with Quadragesimo Anno as Leo XIII did with Rerum Novarum, the pope’s approach begins making sense.  This becomes evident from the first moment of his election and his selection of “The Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ” as his motto, the significance of which is lost on many people.

For over a century the socialists and moral relativists had worked obsessively to establish “the Kingdom of God on Earth” to replace traditional concepts of Family, State, and Church, particularly Catholicism.  To counter this, and echoing Alexis de Tocqueville’s call for “a new science of politics . . . for a new world,” (De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Author’s Introduction to Volume I.) Pius XI said that “[t]he pastoral theology of another day will now no longer suffice.” (Pius XI, Discourse to the Ecclesiastical Assistants of the U.C.F.I., July 19, 1928. Quoted in Luigi Civardi, Manual of Catholic Action, New York: Sheed and Ward, 1936, 178.) In light of this, his call for “the Reign of Christ the King” — which is not of this world (John 18:36.) — strikes like a thunderbolt itself, and not merely an echo of Leo XIII’s “voice of thunder.” (Quadragesimo Anno, § 9.)

Or at least it should — once we understand what Pius XI meant by the Reign of Christ the King . . . and it is not socialism or anything like it.  Neither is it a temporal sovereignty, nor is the purpose of life material betterment as an end in and of itself, as the socialists insisted.  It does not mean that a nation as a nation must explicitly or implicitly acknowledge the divinity of Christ.  That would be impossible in any event, for “nation” is an abstraction, a human construct, not something made by God.

So, what is it that Pius XI made the centerpiece of his first encyclical in 1922, Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, “On the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ”?  Why did he feel the need in 1925 to institute a new “Feast of Christ the King” so that everyone would grasp the importance of the concept?  What is the Reign of Christ the King?

Shocking, or at least angering a great many people, the Reign of Christ the King is not the theocracy so dear to the hearts of many.  Neither is it merely a religious conversion so that Jesus reigns individually in the heart of every person.

Instead — and this was Leo XIII’s goal — the Reign of Christ the King is the restructuring of the entire social order to establish and maintain an institutional environment providing the optimal opportunity and means by which every single human being can become more fully human, that is, to grow in virtue.  As Pius XI explained, the goal of his social doctrine was “the restoration of [the social order] according to the principles of sound philosophy and to its perfection according to the sublime precepts of the law of the Gospel, Our Predecessor, Leo XIII, devoted all his thought and care.” (Ibid., § 76.)

And what that means is what we will look at in the next posting on this subject.