Christ as King, today:
a doctrine at a low point

Par l'abbé Claude Barthe

Français, italiano

Our intention here is not to examine the political project which could have for a goal, even distant, an ideal of Christendom, but only to look at how today’s Catholicism, buried in a situation of ultra-secularism, considers or rather ignores the doctrine of Christ the King. To understand the historic rift it faces, we can compare the symbol found in the narthex of Saint Peter’s Basilica presenting, on either side, the equestrian statues of the two “bishops of the outside”, Constantin and Charlemagne[1], example of what the Church expected of Christian rulers: that they may be protectors of the Church and introducers of their people to the eternal kingdom; compare them with the symbolic refusal of French President Chirac, in Rome, on 29 October 2004, to insert in the European constitution the mention, though so modest it is almost shameful, of Europe’s “Christian roots.”

The impossible secularism

Rémi Brague in his book Sur la religion[2], which admittedly brings elements totally opportune in the debate over the invading presence of Islam, tells in substance and in a relatively radical manner, of the denial now common of the doctrine of the Kingship of Christ which, so he says, was never a reality. According to the author, “the Church and the State have never been separated, because simply they were never united.” He thus supposes that the State would be neutral in nature. And, as a result, he explains the use of the term “separation” from the title of the law of 1905 which abrogated the dispositions of the Concordat of 1801[3].

And yet, the religious and civil powers are inseparable and distinct, like the natural is from the supernatural, from the fact that both have a global influence on the same individuals who are not, as in a schizophrenic manner, on one side spiritual and on the other temporal, more precisely political, since they are political beings as Aristotle teaches[4]. Inseparable and distinct powers, and up to a certain point autonomous [5]– unlike the indistinct fusion advocated by Islam.

Moreover, thus rendering unto Cesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, in both cases, man obeys to a power that comes from God (Rom 13, 1), in the natural order for the government of the political community, and in the supernatural order for the government of the Church. But Caesar (the governing authorities), like the father in a family, could not be neutral and has religious duties as father of the political community[6] and, as such, he must foster all the favorable conditions so that those of which he is in charge may find freely the path to eternal salvation. Leo XIII, in Immortale Dei of November 1, 1885, explains that man, destined by God to the eternal beatitude that the Church gives him the means to obtain, is also in great need of the earthly political community to reach perfection. It is indeed proper to civil society (as long as it seeks to pursue its proper goal, that is to regulate human realities according to the law of God), to bring the members of the political community to lead “a quiet and peaceful life on earth” (1 Tim 2, 2) in providing them the good of peace, the respect of the just, the frame of an honest life. When, on the contrary, institutions don’t refer to the law of Christ, it is the salvation of most that is in peril. And, it is even worst, when these institutions have given themselves a secular essence, or at least one foreign in nature to the law of Christ.

This secularism of State appears today to be so irreversible[7] that the people better disposed are now even defending the liberty of Catholicism in the name of secularism, explaining they are referring to a “good” secularism, such as Patrick Buisson for example inspiring French President Sarkozy the concept of “positive secularism” in his allocution at the Lateran Palace on December 20, 2007. He was actually quoting Benedict XVI who in a message of October 17, 2005 to Marcello Pera, President of the Italian Senate, advocated for “a healthily secular State” having to organize “a positive secularism which guaranties all citizen the right to live his religious faith with an authentic liberty.”[8]

Modernity as an inverted Christendom

In reality, modernity applied to relations between society and religion:
1. Wants a neutral State in regards to religious matter, secular, that is to say “technically atheist.” This secular neutrality, inherited from the French revolution, is so contrary to nature that States born of Anglo-Saxon revolutions have for a long time looked for accommodations (State Church, reference to God in the constitution) which in the end appeared illusory from the moment that the civil law is submitted to the relativism of the social contract.
2. Reduces the Church, within the frame of this secularism, to being a spiritual or philosophical association among others of the sort[9], at best the first of these associations when the religion of Catholics is still the one of the majority, as observed in the Concordat signed between Bonaparte and the Holy-See[10].

The States from before political modernity, even when they were not Catholic, ensured the civil conditions of religious life. The replacing structure, that is to say the modern secular Sates, brought into the complex entanglement of economic and supranational authorities which are as atheist as they, are also lead to organizing the civil life of the Church, because it is in the order of things. They do it in a tyrannical manner, with more or less violence. As to the Church, her opinion is only valued – and yet with some reserve – only for what concerns Catholics, like a set of rules for an association which applies only internally, ad intra. The kingdom of Christ is only authorized to spread in the secret of the mind and heart of believers and they only, as if all men did not have a vocation to become disciples of Christ[11].

But there’s more. In reality, this new configuration turns over a situation which defined Christendom. The modern State, the one born of the Revolution, sets itself in a higher position in relation to religions and thus in relation to the religion of Christ. It is what the French minister of the Interior, Gerald Darmanin, affirms bluntly and idiotically, when he comments on France Inter, the main state radio station: “We can no longer agree with people who refuse to write on a paper that they are compatible with the laws of the Republic and that the law of the Republic is superior to the law of God.” These words targeted Islam but eventually fell on Catholicism. The modern State takes the place of the Church, not only by organizing alone the public social rites, but especially by excluding the Church from domaines where Her word given in the name of Christ must legitimately be heard by society.

A forgoing Catholicism

What we call the “sanitary crisis” has shown us how deep was the rallying of Catholicism to modern liberties. In the entire world, with some degrees and variations, but also with some nice exceptions, the national episcopates have submitted themselves to state directives concerning acts of worship, without defending the principle of its intrinsic liberty (even if it meant, in the name of common good, accompanying it with rules of sanitary prudence). In France, in Italy, and in other countries bishops have even anticipated the governmental measures of restriction or interdiction of public worship, going as far as forbidding of their own initiative the celebrations of baptisms and marriages!

It did not come, then, to the mind of any of the Successor of the Apostles that he actually had a proper power, of his own, totally independent from the power of Caesar, and a fortiori of the “cold monster” born of the Revolution, in regards to the spiritual domain, and that it was for each of the bishops, and no one else, to decide the rules for public worship, keeping of course into account the other necessities – sanitary ones that is – for the good of the community. Supposing that the epidemic of Covid became as serious as the black plague of the XIVth century, the bishops might have to decide, on the advice of public authorities, of the temporary interruption of public worship. But, they alone would be in the position to do it.

The elements of openness of the Vatican II council are at the “magisterial” source of this forgoing attitude, even if it existed in practice way before and in many ways. When the declaration Dignitatis humanæ on religious liberties, in its second paragraph declared that “all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits,” it put away the ideal of the “baptized” nation which, by the way, included tolerance in regards to the spread of other religions and doctrines to avoid greater evil[12]. During the last council, the “hypothesis”[13] became “thesis”, which meant a considerable step back in regards to the confession of the faith, the more general principal of the rights of the Church being abandoned. As a result, Mgr de Moulins-Beaufort, President of the French Conference of Bishops, wrote in a public letter to French President Macron: “We have never asked for a privilege or an exemption from the ordinary rules. We have simply asked for the ordinary rules which applies to all of society to be applied to religions.” He continued: “The State must make sure to value the intermediary corps yet reminding them of their responsibilities.”[14] The Spouse of Christ takes rank between the “intermediary corps” of society within the nation.

Maintaining the “claims” of the Church

We had previously mentioned, on May 19, 2020 (https://www.resnovae.fr/la-liberte-intrinseque-du-culte-divin/), the pertinent remarks of political commentator Olivier Roy, from an article published in the Nouvel Observateur on May 8, 2020: “Even if the Church has been very conscious of the reduction of her role in society, she thought she was immune from the rising religiophobia. She now feels its full power: the police goes after “clandestine” masses, of course denounced by neighbors, as if it was about “common Muslims”! She thought her loyalty towards republican secularism would preserve her this primacy that even the republican protocol had granted her till now […] How is the Church reacting? Well, as a matter of fact standing as a distinctive community, the one of consumers of sacred goods: “we want the mass, confession, the host.” She thus calls for the religious liberty inscribed in the law and in the constitution: a freedom not only of belief and of speech, but also of practicing within a collective frame. But by aligning herself with Human Rights and Rights of minorities, she validates not only her marginalization, but also her “self-secularization”.”

To the contrary, the theoretical affirmation of the rights of the Church is today of the highest  importance. Like a “pretender” to a crown forced to step aside – if indeed there are today princes who truly pretend -, the Church must communicate that She does not renounce her birth rights, that She is ready to take all the opportunities to have them respected. By doing what is concretely possible to exercise them in taking advantage of the freedom conceded by a political apparatus who ignores them, She must never disown the integrality of the principles – the affirmation of Her freedom as Spouse of Christ – by reminding them, especially by exhorting Catholics to keep away from the temptation inherent to the “technical” usage of modern liberties which is to adhere more or less to these liberties[15].

Fr Claude Barthe

[1] In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius of Cæsaræ writes that Constantin told the bishops gathered at the council in Nicea that they are established “bishops for the internal affairs of the Church,” and he, too, for the external affairs of the Church,” external care, Her protection and the one of the faith.
[2] About religion, French editor Flammarion, 2018.
[3] Something Pius X rejected in the encyclical Vehementer nos, of 11 February 1906: “That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. Based, as it is, on the principle that the State must not recognize any religious cult, it is in the first place guilty of a great injustice to God; for the Creator of man is also the Founder of human societies, and preserves their existence as He preserves our own.”
[4] It is this distinction in the union  that Pius XII translated in an audacious manner not to say imprudent, even if he was not invoking religious liberty, by the words of “healthy secularism”: “as if a legitimate and healthy secularism of the State was not one of the principles of Catholic doctrine; as if it was not a tradition of the Church to endeavor constantly to maintain distinct, but also always united, according to the fair principles, the two powers” (Discourse of 23 March 1958).
[5] Cf. The “just autonomy of earthly affairs” as found in n.36 of Gaudium et spes.
[6] “Not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ. They will call to their minds the thought of the last judgment, wherein Christ, who has been cast out of public life” (Pius XI, Quas primas).
[7] The confessionality of the State is no longer desired [consequence of Dignitatis humanæ], only tolerated” (Emmanuel Tawil, Laïcité et liberté de l’Église”, Artège, 2013, p.98).
[8] “Positive secularism”, “Appeased secularism”, or also “Secularism of freedom”: cf. Mgr Valentin, Auxiliary Bishop of Versailles, Famille chrétienne, 27 January 2021, and Mgr de Moulins-Beaufort, President of the Bishops’ Conference to François de Rugy: “It took some time for Catholics to understand that the regimen [the law of Separation] guaranteed indeed their freedom.”
[9] “The ‘secularism of the State’ is in reality the ‘secularism of the Church,” that is to say the objective that She renounces Her mission and  be content with presenting her “product” (plainly an option among other options) while respecting the rules of the “market” (Miguel Avuso Torres, “The political and judicial consequences of a new orientation,” in Église et politique. Changer de paradigme, edited by Bernard Dumont, Miguel Avuso, Danilo Castellano, edt. Artège, 2013, pp.110-111.
[10] The Separation of 1905 was in fact only a new step in the disjunction with the Church, started at the time of the Revolution and considerably accelerated by the Third Republic.
[11] “The empire of Christ Jesus is, in plain truth, the universality of human kind” (Leo XIII, Annum sacrum of May 25, 1899).
[12] Saint Thomas, Summa theologiæ, IIa IIæ, q.10, a.11. Pius XII, address Ci riesce of December 6, 1953, to Catholic jurists: “First: that which does not correspond to truth or to the norm of morality objectively has no right to exist, to be spread or to be activated. Secondly: failure to impede this with civil laws or coercive measures can nevertheless be justified in the interests of a higher and more general good.”
[13] See note 15.
[14] Le matin sème ton grain (In the morning sow your seed), Bayard, Cerf, Mame, 2020, pp.41, 46.
[15] For one must be very prudent in the usage of the distinction between the ideal to maintain in theoryt and what is actually possible to achieve, distinction between “thesis” and “hypothesis” made by La Civiltà Cattolica, the review of the Roman Jesuits, on October 2, 1863, in giving an account of the address  given by Charles de Montalembert at the Congress of Malines: the modern liberties or “principles  of 1789” are inadmissible for a Catholic (thesis), but there are situations in which Catholics must do with it for the service of religion (hypothesis). Except that the anonymous article of La Civiltà Cattolica, in its desire to spare Montalembert, was going as far as saying that, in this case, “Catholics can enjoy them [modern liberties!] and defend them.”