The Reign of Christ. Book One. Chapter Two: What The Kingdom Of Christ And The Kingdoms Of The World Have In Common And What They Do Not
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18 min read
The first point of similarity between the kingdoms of the world and the Kingdom of Christ is that one person exercises the supreme power of government. There is a difference, however, inasmuch as the kings of the world, since they cannot be everywhere present with their subjects, nor recognize and provide for their realms single-handedly, must establish in various places, according to the size of their kingdoms, representatives, vice-regents, and other authorities, and also have in their power men outstanding in prudence and wisdom, whose counsel they may use in their royal administration.
But our heavenly King, Jesus Christ, is, according to his promise, with us everywhere and every day, “to the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:20). He himself sees, attends to, and accomplishes whatever pertains to the salvation of his own.
Therefore, he has no need of representatives to take his place. He does use ministers, and certain specific kinds of offices for his work of salvation, but their every work and labor is vain unless he himself gives the growth to their planting and watering (I Cor. 3:6-8); he makes them ”ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit” (II Cor. 3:6). For they cannot even think that they of themselves contribute anything to the administration of this Kingdom whenever earthly kings have need of the kind of minister who will help realize the royal decrees by using his own industry and judgment, and perform the king’s orders in a more effective way than originally intended.
Secondly, the governance of the kingdoms of the world and of Christ have this in common, that the kings of this world also ought to establish and promote the means of making their citizens devout and righteous who rightly acknowledge and worship their God and who are truly helpful toward their neighbors in all their actions. For this purpose, the kings of this world ought also to be ready to undergo any dangers, exile, and even death itself. For from God on high they have received all power over his people and the sheep of his fold, “for the building” of their faith and salvation, “not for destruction” (II Cor. 10:8 and 13:10) . Thus it is necessary for them, as they use their power, to work with “their whole heart, their whole soul, and all their strength” (Luke 10:27), and to leave nothing undone toward their goal.
Further, although earthly kings extend all their concern in this direction and omit nothing pertinent to this matter, nevertheless they themselves are not able to purge the hearts of men of their innate impiety and unrighteousness nor to endow them with true piety and righteousness. They are able to cut down from the field of the Lord, from the people entrusted to them, the useless trees, briars, and thorns, by the suppression of impious wrongdoing of lost men; they are able to prune and nourish the field, that is, the curable element of the people, with good laws, and to some extent to prepare them for the reception of the Word of God. (In this they ought to work with utmost zeal, for they are ministers of God, made so for this very purpose.) But it cannot be expected that this field will bear the fruit of piety and righteousness until Christ our King has breathed his own increase upon the seed of the gospel scattered there (I Cor. 3:7). For it is he himself alone who regenerates his subjects, and leads those dead in their sins to a life of righteousness (John 3:5 and 5:24-25). That he might receive this power from the Father, he underwent a most bitter death for his subjects, even when they were still his enemies, both personally and collectively.
Thirdly, it is common to the kingdoms of this world and to the Kingdom of Christ that they should tolerate the wicked while they lie hidden among the good; but when they have done their impious misdeeds openly, and will not change their ways when corrected, it is proper to remove them from the commonwealth, as Plato indicates in his Politics. For the Lord has commanded his people quite strictly that they are to drive criminal and incorrigible men from their midst, and to burn them with fire, and thus to wipe out their offensiveness as completely as possible (Deut. 13:5 ff.; 17:2-5; 19:11-21; 21:18-21; 22:13-28; and 24:7).
There is this difference, however, between the administration of the kingdoms of the world and the Kingdom of Christ, that the kings of the world, for the amendment of vice and the removal of unworthy citizens from the commonwealth, use, by God’s command, beatings, whippings, prison, exile, and various forms of execution. “For they do not bear the sword in vain” (Rom. 13:4). But in the Kingdom ot Heaven and of Christ, those who have wandered from the way of salvation, if they are curable, are led back to it with the chains of repentance, under the impulse of only the word and the Spirit. It is sufficient for the people of Christ “to treat as heathens and publicans” those who are obstinate and who persist in their evil ways (Matt. 16:19 and 18:15-18; I Cor. 5:1-5; II Cor. 2:5-11 and 12:20-21; II Thess. 3:6).
However, in order to strike his own with the dread of sinning, Christ our King generally seizes those in his churches who sin more seriously, by sending them now and then sickness and various disasters, and those who persist in wickedness he very often takes suddenly from our midst by horrible kinds of death, casting them away into Gehenna. In the exercise of this severity, he sometimes uses the ministry of evil spirits, as he did in chastising and proving his servant Job (Job 1:12), and in punishing the Egyptians (Ex. 12:23). Occasionally he uses the ministry of his own saints, as when by Peter’s rebuke he killed Ananias and Sapphira, and through Paul struck a resisting magician with blindness (Acts 5:1-6; and 13:8-11). He delivered Alexander and Hymenaeus over to Satan for punishment for blaspheming his gospel (I Tim. 1:20). And there were not a few of the saints in the early Church who had this gift and this faculty from the Holy Spirit which Saint Paul, writing to the Corinthians (I Cor. 12:10), called “power.” Even today the prayers of saintly men against wicked enemies of the Kingdom of Christ are not ineffective; just as the curse of Elisha the prophet was not ineffectual against the boys who were mocking him, for she-bears promptly tore them apart (II Kings 2:23-24).
Fourthly, there is a similarity between the kingdoms of the world and of Christ, in that, as do the kings of the world, so also Christ our heavenly King wants his subjects to be received into and sealed for his Kingdom, to be gathered into his congregations, to come together in his name, and to be ruled by his ministries by means of certain covenants and sacraments of an external nature. Our King, however, cleanses his subjects from sins through his sacraments according to the hidden counsel of his eternal election, and he gives a new and eternal life, beyond the power of earthly kings (Rom. 6:4; I Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 5:27; Titus 3:5-7). For that same purpose, Christ our heavenly King wants his own to be divided into certain tribes, so to speak, and he wants them to have their holy assemblies so that there they may hear his Word, pray to him, express thanks for benefits received, both in words and in consecrated offerings for Christ’s poor, and finally, in the sacrament of his holy communion, so that they may ratify the covenant of eternal salvation both with God and between themselves, in order thus to be more fully united with their head and to grow up in all things into him (John 6:54-58; Eph. 4:15-16).
Thus, toward this end, he ordains and appoints for his own, ministers and pastors (Eph. 4:11-12) to lay his laws externally before them, to administer the sacraments, and to care for each and every one that through their ministry faith may be preserved among his elect, together with an eagerness for the heavenly life, and that it may grow day by day and be perfected.
Fifthly, our heavenly King also attends to the details of providing and making abundantly available the necessities of life to his subjects, so that not a single one among his people shall be in need of these. For he knows what things they need (Acts 6:1-4; Matt. 6:30-32) . First of all, and this is also the duty of the kings of the world, he sets each of his citizens, directly from childhood, to encountering and learning the skills and functions for which he himself has fashioned and fitted each individual. And he has so distributed them that only in his Kingdom this end of civil government is achieved.
For those over whom he truly reigns seek nothing for themselves, but only what is useful for others (I Cor. 13:5) : they see to it that each one among them can do this job with complete serenity and diligence, keeping his place in the body of Christ; he does not cause disturbance by meddling, nor is he negligent through indolence or laziness. This is true to such an extent that they refuse to associate with those who fail to do their duty and prefer a life of indolence (I Thess. 2:9-12; II Thess. 3:7-12; I Cor. 12:24-26; Eph. 4:28).
In all this action they can, as God’s children, readily accomplish by the Spirit of God what they have begun. For this Spirit distributes his gifts to each individual, so that everyone contributes something to the common advantage (I Cor. 12:7). Accordingly, because brotherly love really flourishes among them, those who are endowed with an abundance of temporal goods share liberally with those who suffer from a need of these things.
Finally, since no one should come empty-handed into the sight of the Lord in solemn assemblies (Ex. 23:15; Deut. 16:16-17), but should with a grateful heart offer something to the Lord for every last one of his blessings, and these things according to the ordinance of the Holy Spirit are to be dispensed by faithful overseers and deacons of the Church among those in need (Acts 6:1-6), it logically follows that no one among the true citizens of Christ is found in need, but to everyone is given as much as he needs in order to live well and happily (Acts 2:44 and 4:35).
The kings of the world also have the duty to obtain all these things in the commonwealth. They use external power and domain toward these goals in such a way that not a single one of their subjects is in need, but rather that enough will be available to each in order to live well and happily. But they cannot give to those who abound in the blessings of this life a willingness to share readily, or to those in need hearts that will accept an unavoidable dependence on the kindness of others, whereas our King, the dis- penser of true love and patience, by his word and Spirit renders the minds of his subjects as willing and strong as possible for this salutary sharing of their wealth and patience in poverty.
To establish more securely and to render more fruitful this sharing of things among his own, he likewise brings about by his word and Spirit that each one of his subjects both enters religiously and develops with constancy that mode of life to which he is called. Marriage in his Kingdom, when his rule truly prevails, entails no rash union nor one according to the desire of the flesh, but is entered into with consideration for the advice and authority of parents or other guardians, whether they be appointed by the family or by the State. And these are especially solicitous to accept for their sons wives who are in agreement concerning religion and who will sincerely subject themselves to their husbands, and cherish and serve them, as the Church cherishes and serves Christ (Eph. 5:24); they should really be faithful in helping their husbands to achieve a pious and blessed life. Accordingly, they make an effort to marry their daughters to this kind of spouse, who will really love them and help them to be holy and devout, and who will show themselves to be truly salutary sources of direction, security, and stability for them such as does Christ the Lord for his body, the Church (Eph. 5:29).
For those who are joined in this kind of marriage in the Lord, our King, likewise, when he has blessed them with children, breathes forth his Spirit that they may start them off with utmost care, and form them in all piety, holiness, and righteousness, as those who recognize that they are teachers more than parents of their children, after they have consecrated them to the Lord in Baptism; for they know that those whom they have generated in the flesh unto death, Christ has regenerated in Baptism unto eternal life. They attend to it, therefore, that through their own efforts as well as those of schoolmasters (who also inculcate pious doctrine as a matter of primary importance in the Kingdom of Christ) and catechists of the Church, they be taught to acknowledge and hate the power of sin inherent in them and to seek from God the Father, through Christ, the one King and High Priest, forgiveness of sins and a spirit of righteousness, and this through a living faith and repentance, to which is always conjoined a zeal for mortifying the flesh and going forward in newness of life. This is that “discipline and instruction” of God which the Holy Spirit commends so earnestly to parents in the letter to the Ephesians (ch. 6:4) . By this discipline is fulfilled that which the Lord com- manded concerning those who are baptized: “And teach them to observe whatever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). Unless the minds of children are formed to this norm and are made accustomed to the obedience of Christ as soon as they have the capacity for understanding, there grow from a root of evil origin briars and thorns of the kind of evils which drive away the seed of the word of God from their hearts so as to prevent it from being received, or choke and extinguish it once it has been received, so that later they can only be helped toward amendment by laws in the way that medicine helps a body wasted by disease, when that body would reject or even render the medicine harmful to itself.
Furthermore, just as our King orders and arranges each of his subjects most opportunely as members of his own body, so he also enables each gratefully to embrace and hold fast to his own place most energetically and faithfully, in whatever role he has been assigned, whether by the world’s judgment it is humble, hidden, and full of hardships, or sublime, illustrious, and full of ease.
In this manner our King blesses and favors his citizens in their individual roles and in the functions and tasks allotted to them, so that they embrace each other, each and every one, as members in a body, with supreme love, and have a most attentive mutual concern for each other, as people who really have “one heart and one mind, and all things in common with each other” (Acts 4:32). This, however, in a kind of community which does not disturb any order of mankind established by God, and changes no condition of life designed by him, yet brings it about that each has his own honor and emolument and whatever else may contribute toward a devout and happy life.
Also the kings of the world ought, as I have said before, to establish and work out all these things for their subjects; but their full realization belongs properly to the rule of Christ which has the power to bring this about.
Sixthly, the kingdoms of the world and of Christ have this in common, that they are perpetually at war both with evil men and evil spirits.
It is proper to the kingdoms of the world to use even carnal weapons against evil men. But the Kingdom of Christ fights only with spiritual weapons against its enemies, carnal as well as spiritual. These are the weapons described in the tenth chapter of the second letter to the Corinthians (vs. 3-6) and in the sixth chapter of Ephesians (vs. 14-17).
Seventhly, there is this similarity between the kingdoms of the world and the Kingdom of Christ, that just as the kingdoms of the world are subordinated to the Kingdom of Christ, so also is the Kingdom of Christ in its own way subordinated to the kingdoms of this world. For although Christ our King, now administering his Kingdom at the right hand of the Father, is subjected to no one and all things must be subjected to him in heaven and on earth, nevertheless, just as he himself, when he was in this world “was obedient even unto death” (Phil. 2:8), a most unjust death, under powers to which he himself had committed the sword, so he wills that his own also should obey from the heart not only the true kings and just princes of this world, but also very iniquitous lords and terrible tyrants to whom public power has been given (I Peter 2:13-17), not only to pay legitimate taxes, but to observe their edicts with a patient spirit, acquiesce to their unjust judgments, and studiously meet all personal obligations to the State. This is what the Holy Spirit commanded in the thirteenth chapter of the letter to the Romans (1 ff.) : “Let every soul be subject to the powers that are above them/’ For when he says “every soul/’ he teaches by this expression, as Saint Chrysostom rightly gathers, “that this precept has been given not only to lay persons,” as they are called, “but also to priests and monks, even if,” indeed, “anyone is an apostle, evangelist, prophet, or whatever he is; nor,” as the same Chrysostom piously says, “does this subjection overturn Piety.”
Further, as the Kingdom of Christ subjects itself to the kingdom and powers of the world, so in turn every true kingdom of the world (I say kingdom, not tyranny) subjects itself to the Kingdom of Christ, and the kings themselves are among the first to do this, for they are eager to develop piety not for themselves alone, but they also seek to lead their subjects to it.
In holy Baptism, all are incorporated into the Kingdom of Christ and pledge themselves to its obedience; they come together frequently in sacred assemblies in order there to hear more fully the doctrine of Christ and adapt themselves more surely to his discipline. And if they fall into sin, they do not spurn the bonds of penance, as is exemplified by the conduct of that most religious emperor Theodosius in the Milanese church (Theodoret in his Church History, Book V, Ch. 18). For he not only bore it with equanimity but also made it for himself a matter of salutary penitence when Saint Ambrose, meeting him outside the vestibule of the church, held him back as he wished to enter as usual and berated him severely because he dared to obtain admittance to the holy assembly, when he had not yet done penance for the cruel slaughter he had barbarously engineered against the Thessalonians on account of the stoning and the outrageous treatment of his judges. For after the people had been called together to witness a spectacle, he had sent the military in against them, and they had killed seven thousand men. He not only willingly accepted that dressing down, but he patiently submitted to the penance imposed by Saint Ambrose, and abstained from sacred functions for eight months. He was finally absolved when he showed his repentance to be real in its fruits and humbly begged for pardon with tears.
So also Valentinian I, although he was more experienced with soldiers than religion, when the Milanese church was without a shepherd, summoned the bishops to elect a bishop for that church, and said piously enough: “You who have been nourished on divine letters cannot be ignorant of how fitting it is for the man to whom the pontifical dignity is to be committed to instruct his subjects not only with doctrine but also by his life and manners, and to be an example of utter blamelessness, so that his service is a witness to his doctrine. Establish, therefore, at this time, a man on the bishop’s throne, to whom we who rule the empire can also bow our heads sincerely, and whose corrections (for we are human and must offend) we can willingly accept as a healing medicine.” This is what he said (Theodoret, Book IV, Ch. 6).
For true kings, who are none other than Christians, know that they hear Christ when they hear his true ministers, and that they reject Christ when they despise them (Luke 10:16). For the Lord sends his ministers as the Father has sent him (John 20:21). Hence, though pious kings of the world sometimes establish and restore priests of the Lord on their own authority, especially when the priesthood is vitiated and the Church depraved (as we read that David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, and many other pious emperors and kings did in the light of the New Testament) ; nevertheless, when the ministers of the churches have been legitimately established and they rightly fulfill their office, all true kings and princes humbly hear the voice of Christ from the ministers and respect in them the majesty of the Son of God, as they administer not their own but only the words and mysteries of Christ, the words and mysteries of eternal life.
For this reason, such princes yield fully not only to the public ministers of Christ and the pastors of the churches, but also to the churches in their entirety, and nourish and adorn them with ardent zeal, to fulfill Isa. 49:23: “Kings will be your foster fathers, and their wives, princely women, your foster mothers; with their faces on the ground they shall bow down to you, and they shall lick the dust of your feet, and you shall know that I am the Lord, and that they shall not be ashamed who wait for me.” Likewise, that word of the psalm: “And all kings will fall down before him, and all nations shall serve him” (Ps. 72:11).
All true kings have exhibited very many illustrious examples of this holy zeal for the Kingdom of Christ: as David, Hezekiah, and Josiah among the people of the Old Testament, and in the New, Constantine, Jovian, Theodosius, and many others, as ecclesiastical and other histories abundantly testify.
Further, since few men permit the Son of God fully to rule over them, they deserve to receive from him very few true kings, namely, those who know and procure what pertains to their salvation and happiness. Hence it happens for the most part that the citizens of the Kingdom of Christ have generally no support or service from the kingdoms of the world but are harassed and disturbed by worldly tyrants and whatever wicked men these foster.
But however much the world hates and opposes the Kingdom of Christ through its tyrants, nevertheless, “God sends out the scepter of his strength and dominates in the midst of his enemies” (Ps. 110:2), and our King himself gathers, protects, and feeds his flock in the midst of wolves (Isa. 40:11), as was wonderfully shown in the early Church when he so suddenly increased and multiplied his church at Jerusalem among the fiercest enemies, and adorned it with heavenly gifts, so that it was awesome even to his enemies, and no one dared join himself to it unless our King himself had given him the gift of true faith in himself (Acts 2:47 and 4:4). For he must reign among his elect until the end of the world (cf. Matt. 28:20).
He reigns, however, among these according to his Father’s and his own counsel, secret indeed but always just: now among many in fullness in order to open up the infinite treasures of his goodness in vessels of mercy; now among few and more faintly so in order to demonstrate his just severity against the impiety and ingratitude of men who suppress with their lies the truth insofar as somehow they know it.
But if our King, Christ, receives any people into his grace and favor, as of old he made the people of Israel a priestly kingdom, he sets over them princes and kings who, after the example of Moses and Joshua and similar leaders and guardians of the people of God, are primarily concerned about instituting and promulgating religion and allow no one in the commonwealth to violate openly the covenant of the Lord, a covenant of faith and salvation, either by neglect of sacred ceremonies or fixed holidays, or by admitted wrongdoings and crimes, and still less by contradiction or distortion of the Word of God.
It is the duty of all good princes to take every precaution to prevent any one of their subjects from doing injury to another, to prevent children from repudiating the guidance of their parents, slaves from escaping their masters or despising their commands, or anyone from neglecting his duty to any other man. How much more, then, is it necessary to see to it that all governors of commonwealths, when they realize that all their power is from God alone and that he has appointed them shepherds of his people, govern and guard those subject to them according to his judgment, and take care lest any one of those entrusted to them by God, their Maker, Father, and Lord, should weaken in faith or abuse his laws or in any matter take away his honor from him. Hence it is with a truly merciful judgment that God sanctioned in his law the stoning by all the people of anyone who had spoken blasphemy against him (Lev. 24:16), of those who had violated the Sabbath (Ex. 31:14, and 35:2), of those who had embraced a false religion or attempted to introduce one to others, and had deliberately transgressed his laws (Deut. 13:1-10 and 17:2-5; Num. 15:30-36).
When pious kings are thus guarding against wrongs against God, the impiety of many is not indeed eliminated, but it is suppressed, lest it be an outrage before God or a stumbling block for the weak. God, the wise and good governor of mankind, has judged it good to have things this way, that the impious may be compelled to contain their impiety within themselves and to feign piety, which matter would be harmful only to themselves, rather than permitting them to pour out the virulence of their impiety upon others, and to draw away in this manner many who are weak among his people from a true fear and worship of him.
According to his infinite goodness and mercy, he also offers salvation to all and he obviates the excuse of ignorance for anyone. As once he commanded all the sons to be circumcised, whether freeborn or slave (Gen. 17:12) in order that they should observe all his religious laws, so he wills now that all should be baptized (Matt. 28:19) and then be taught under the discipline of the Church whatever he has commanded. This has this advantage, that no one among his people is deprived of saving doctrine and instruction in piety.
When, therefore, we acknowledge that “whatever things have been written” in Holy Scripture “have been written for our learning” (Rom. 15:4; I Cor. 10:11) and that whatever the ancient saints have done by the will of God is proposed to us as an example, so it certainly is the duty of those who want to be true kings of the people of God that in the administration of their kingdoms they prefer no human authority or corrupt custom to God’s precepts and the examples approved by God as they are set before us by the ancient leaders and guardians of the people of God.
They shall take care, therefore, first of all, that the religion of Christ be administered by suitable priests of utmost sincerity and ardent zeal; next that according to the Lord’s precept, whoever are consecrated to Christ in Baptism be taught assiduously to observe whatever our King has commanded. Nor shall anyone of their subjects contrive openly to subtract himself from the doctrine and discipline of Christ or have the impious audacity to be opposed to him. If, meanwhile, the reprobate make hypocrites out of themselves, rejecting in their hearts the piety which they publicly profess, they will harm only themselves, not others, but they must not be permitted to introduce their impiety to them by word or by Deed.
The Lord promised the people such kings through the prophets, on condition that they fully accept the Kingdom of his Son. But in order to show the secret and celestial power of his Son’s Kingdom, from the first revelation of his Kingdom to the Gentiles until Saint Constantine, he gave no king to his people; but he tried and proved them with cruel tyrants, even though he granted some respite of peace to them even under impious tyrants.
All the holy martyrs and Fathers have always recognized this, that it is a supreme blessing of divine mercy for true kings and princes to be in charge of human affairs, that is, those who put the Kingdom of Christ first for themselves and take pains to spread it among their subjects day by day more fully. Therefore, the people of Christ, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the special people of God” (I Peter 2:9-10), ought to rely only on Christ its King and they should not be disturbed if the petty governments of the world are permitted to be in the hands even of savage tyrants. But they should pray continually to the Lord that he set true kings and princes over the commonwealths, who will administer all things according to his own heart (Jer. 3:15), so that “they may be permitted to lead a quiet and tranquil life in all piety and uprightness” (I Tim. 2:2). And those whom God uses to govern the nations ought, as I have said, to strive and labor for this above all, that they use their power according to the laws of God and according to the examples of pious princes commended by God.
If these examples are religiously considered and the texts alluded to in the Scriptures diligently pondered, it will easily be seen what the Kingdom of Christ has in common with the kingdoms of the world, and what is proper to the Kingdom of Christ, and how they are conjoined and how they should serve each other in mutual subordination. For a better understanding of the power and nature of the Kingdom of Christ, it seems appropriate to suggest some texts of Holy Scripture which explain them more clearly and with greater vividness by painting a picture of it. For today the knowledge of the Kingdom of Christ is too much effaced and oppressed. And this is sufficiently proved by the actions of those who want to be regarded as those who know the Kingdom of Christ thoroughly and work for its realization.