The Kingship of Christ and the Kingship of Man
A Revelation Appropriate To Our Times
THE shadow of approaching subjection to the mighty Babylon and of exile lay over Israel when in the Temple the prophet. Isaias, beheld a vision of God seated on a Throne in such magnificence that " His train filled the Temple." It was a vision of holy majesty that made the seer cry out and confess his sin. But swiftly following upon the humiliation came exaltation, for it was then he received his commission to proclaim to an unheeding !generation the word of Jehovah.
There is a close ,parallel between this vision and that which St. John recorded of the Son of Man standing among the candlesticks which represented the Church. Then, also, there was an overwhelming sense of glory, for the seer fell prostrate as one dead, and he, too, was raised up to make known " the things which are and must be done."
Both these visions are relevant to the Feast of Christ the King, which we are about to observe. But there is a notable difference. The Lord whom St. John beheld was One Who had endured the humiliation of the Cross and still bore on His person the marks of suffering. The vision, in fact, revealed the regality of the Cross.
A VISION FOR TO-DAY TOevery age is given a revelation appropriate to its special needs. In the hey-dey of Christendom, when the Church had become rich and powerful and was in danger of succumbing to worldly pride, there was given it, through St. Francis of Assisi, a vision of the Poor Christ. The age was one which saw the glory of ' the Crusaders shattered, but Francis, beholding another kind of glory, sent forth his army of humble preachers who, in company with the sons of St. Dominic, carried the banner of the Cross to victory.
The situation to-day is different. Christendom has been broken up. Thousands of our fellow-Christians in Russia, in Spain, in Poland and wherever the swastika flies, have perished on account of their faith. and other thousands endure the tortures of concentration camps. In order not to offend an atheistic State who. happens to be a powerful Ally and to antagonise its friends in this country, the name of God is barred from public pronouncements. In consequence, the shadow of a tragedy greater even than that now being enacted creeps upon us. Men who are by no means defeatists and whose whole heart is in the present struggle, may he tempted to ask : What if Russia is knocked out of the ring and America lags too far behind to offer effective aid? To whom or to what can we then look for aid? It is to this question that the Feast of Christ the King supplies the answer. If the sword of the flesh fails, there is still that other sword which has been placed in our hands. " Fear not," says our Captain, " I have overcome the world." We are God's reserves, His picked troops on whom will fall the tnal onslaught. By faith we participate in His glory and are the heirs of His victory.
THE REGAL CROSS 0UR Throne is not yet attained, but His Throne sheds a light on our present tribulations which bathes them in splendour. One of the differences between Judaism and Christianity lies in this, that while the Jew believed that he would triumph in spite of his sufferings, the Christian believes that he will triumph because of his sufferings. In our ability to endure the Cross is written our divine pedigree. It is evidence of our royal birth. None could suffer with such regal dignity, unquenchable faith and unfaltering charity as are seen in the saints unless in their veins ran the blood of a royal race.
But this calls for an interpretation of the role assigned us in the present world other than that placed on it by paganism.To suffer indignities cheerfully, to forgive our enemies. to deny our natural impulses—all this, they tell us, is the brand of inferiority and a sign of servility. To " stand no nonsense," to push your way to the front even over the bodies of your fellows, to be ruthless—these are the characteristics of a superior race. But they make this mistake because they misunderstand the spirit of the Cross, deeming it a passive and cowardly thing. The Crucifixion was nothing less than the royal gesture of an imperial Lover. The initiative lay with the Crucified, and He never surrendered it. Suffering as a criminal, it was, nevertheless, He who, in the very throes of death, forgave His enemies. That was the magnanimity of a royal heart exercised when every outward sign pointed to humiliation. The secret of maintaining dignity in the face of tyranny He has imparted td His followers in the saying about going three miles when bidden only to go one. By going the additional two, the oppressed exercises his own choice and thus becomes master of the situation. In giving more than is demanded, we seize the initiative. Obedience becomes a voluntary act. The slave achieves his freedom when he makes his own the will imposed on him. Passivity under these circumstances is transformed into active and freely rendered service. Who has a better claim to the leadership of the world than He who not only despises the worst that it can do but actually employs the Cross on which it nails Him as an instrument of its redemption? Beside the towering pride of the Christian, the heroics of the pagan become but a foolish pose.
THE " ECLIPSE " OF THE CHURCH THERE is a very special reason for remembering this to-day. We 1have seen the rebirth of a nation. Out of what our enemies declared was a decadent condition and which many of us believed indicated national decay, there has arisen a new England, virile and heroic. The spectacle is a thrilling one, and .I sec no exaggeration in Miss Dorothy Thompson's words when that very able American observer says: " No one who has not been in England and been there with all his brains, senses, power of observation before and after this war, knows how incredible is the renaissance of Britain and the British soul." That is an impression fairly deduced from the heroism of the young warriors who won the Battle of Britain, and it is an impression which subsequent events have not belied. But there is a point of view from which this rebirth of our ancient race appears disquieting. Let me explain!
We have spoken of our generation as pagan until the term has become stale and ineffective, all the more so because our use of the term implied a misunderstanding of it. As we used the word, it signified moral corruption, spiritual degeneration. But paganism at its best was not like this, and the paganism with which we have to do is not like this but shows itself capable of sustained effort and heroic conduct. And this " good paganism " is a more serious rival than ever could be the decadent paganism against which we preached. It is something for which we were not prepared and to meet which we are ill equipped.
In fact, the good pagan and his cult are such splendid things that ihere is a danger lest they throw the Church into the shade. In the light they shed, our rites are apt to look faded. our methods inadequate, our passivity tame and unadventurous, and our respectability too reminiscent of that bourgeois complacency from which as a nation we are slowly escaping. The truth is that the rebirth of the nation on the natural plane has forestalled that of the Church on the supernatural plane, and the consequence is that the latter is suffering a certain eclipse. The conquering mood has not yet overtaken us. We still cultivate the Minority Mind with its querulousness, its censoriousness and its suspiciousness. • Such devotion as we show has a quixotic look. We are loyal to the Faith as one may be loyal to a lost cause or to a friend in disgrace. There is as yet but little sign that we have realised our royal rank and destiny as we should have done had we identified ourselves boldly with Christ the King.
THE HUMAN ROLE HIS Kingship descends to His subjects, who thereby are called to mastery of the world. Man has been placed between the pure intellectual spirits and the animal world. And this position in the divine hierarchy defites his functions here. Through him the sovereignty of God is asserted over the lower creation and spirit acquires control of the flesh. This conquest does not mean destruction but, on the contrary, the exaltation of the flesh and the glory of the present world. It is we who are the true heirs of those values which are associated with the pagan cult of the body. To retreat from the field, resigning it to the enemy, is pusillanimous. The kingship of man has not yet been realised because those who sought to exercise it rejected the Cross. The rejection cost them their sovereignty. That is true of the ancient paganism, of the movement initiated at the renaissance, and of the modern neo-pagan. These failures would be discouraging did we not know the reason. But, seeing that the secret has been revealed to us, they should not lead us to believe that the story of mankind is to end on a note of failure as regards the conquest of the sphere in which it was placed. Against a despairing asceticism, paganism is right. As Christ came to fulfil the Law and Prophets of Israel, so did He come to realise the hopes held. out by the cult of the body. In His own ministi-y and. above all, by His Resurrection, did He show His own complete mastery of the flesh with all its concerns and interests, and that mastery He passes on to us for the creation of a New World and a New Social 'Order.