Christ the King

by Charles De Koninck[1]

In Christ, royalty is carried to a perfection which can only be found in His royalty. Nevertheless He keeps all the formal characteristics of a king such as they are described by Aristotle and Saint Thomas.

It is necessary, writes Saint Thomas in his commentary on the Politics of Aristotle, that the king who rules for a lifetime, and possesses unlimited power over all things, should differ in nature from his subjects by the immensity of his goodness while remaining at the same time one of their kind—he must at least belong to the human species, and it were preferable that he also belong to the same race as his subjects. Now Christ governs for ever. “He shall reign eternally” (Luke 1:32). He possesses unlimited power over all things. “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature; for in Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominations, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by Him and in Him. And He is before all and by Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the Church. who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He may hold the primacy. Because in Him it has well pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell” (Colossians 1:15-19). Christ is our Head because of the grace He communicates to us and which He has merited for us by His Passion; but His reign extends also over the angels whose Head He is in virtue of His authority. And how could His reign be “not of this world” and extend itself in a universal and efficient manner over heavenly things if He were not even king of all earthly kingdoms? “He has placed everything beneath His feet.” Because of His divinity His nature is different from that of His subjects, but He is also of their race. “The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). He is of their kind: “Son of man” (John 1:51), “Son of Adam” (Luke 3:38). He belongs to the same nation: “the Liberator shall come from Sion.” (Isaiah 59:20 and Romans 11:26) He is not even a stranger to the Royal House of Israel: “God shall give him the throne of David his father” (Luke 1:32).

“Absolutely speaking, it is always better to have a king who reigns by election than one who reigns by right of succession… for reign must be a voluntary government.… When subjects no longer want the king to rule over them he is no longer a king but a tyrant. A tyrant is the ruler of those who do not want him to rule over them.”[2] Now Christ is a king chosen by His people for, says Saint Thomas, “the annunciation asked the Virgin’s consent in the name of all mankind,” and this consent was perfectly free. It was fitting to announce to Our Lady that she was to conceive Christ in order that she might offer to God the gift of her voluntary service. And this she did promptly, saying “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” Now the Virgin accepted not only her motherhood but also the royalty of her Son: “The Lord shall give Him the throne of David His father and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever.”

Not… Servants But Friends

The good king governs free subjects, citizens, and he treats them as friends. “Tyrants may hope to have friends but in reality they never find any. This is because they seek only their own advantage instead of the common good and have little or no communication with their subjects. Now friendship is founded on something held in common. Friendships are made through family ties, or by the same way of life, or by social contacts. But there is little or no friendship between a subject and a tyrant, for the subjects do not feel themselves to be loved… on the contrary, when good rulers strive with all their might to promote the common good, subjects know that society owes them a host of advantages… Kings make many friends by showing themselves to be friends of the people.… It is therefore very hard to shake the throne of a prince who is secure in the general affection of his subjects.”[3] Now does not Christ say to us: “I will not now call you servants but friends” (John 15:15). “Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s family” (Ephesians 2:19). “The king ought to know that he must be to his kingdom what the soul is to the body and what God is to the world… regarding as members of his body those who are subjects of his realm.” Now Christ treats His subjects as the members of His own body: “We are members of his body” (Ephesians 5:30).

But there is perhaps nothing which marks better the overwhelming perfection of Christ’s royalty than the way He regards the good of His kingdom. “The tyrant,” says Aristotle, “seeks his own advantage but the king, the good of his subjects.” Contrary to the tyrant who seeks the common good for his own profit, the king is good in the measure that he considers his own good to be the pursuit of the common good of his kingdom. Nevertheless there is only one king who can attain extreme perfection in this matter and that is Christ. Every other king must possess in a just order certain goods of his own—and which are his own to the exclusion of others. But in the case of Christ the King there is an identity between His good and the common good of His kingdom. This good is nothing else than objective beatitude: the vision of God as He is in Himself. Now Divinity is the good of Christ as God, not of Christ as man. God can be the personal good only of God. Out of all proportion to the limited capacity of created beings, the personal good of God is uncommunicable as a personal good to such beings. God can only communicate Himself as a common good. Thus the soul of Christ Himself does not possess in the beatific vision an all-comprehensive knowledge of the Divine Essence. Its formal beatitude is limited. All the same, the personal good of Christ in His Divinity and the common good of His soul are the same good belonging to the same Person. This is why, in His case, we must say that the king’s personal good and the good of his kingdom are identical. Moreover, the Word was made flesh. He is a Savior; He governs not for Himself but for us and for our salvation—only for the good of those subject to Him. For Himself, he does not even keep a stone whereon he can rest his head. This is why the reign of Christ the King is the most perfect reign of all.

[1] This is a translation of “La perfection de la royauté du Christ,” Laval théologique et philosophique 6.2 (1950), pp. 349-351. The translation was originally ppublished in the December 1951 issue of Integrity (Edited by Carol Robinson and Ed Willock; New York City). It is presented on The Josias with the kind permission of Arouca Press.

[2] St. Thomas, In III Polit., lect. 14; In V, lect.10.

[3] De Regimine principum, I, cap.10.