Rorate Caeli

Quas Primas, 80 years on: Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat

What was the most influential encyclical of all time? The most hated by the world was probably Quanta Cura ( or Pascendi Dominici Gregis); the most rejected by nominal Catholics was certainly Humanae Vitae. But which ones were so influential that they changed the face of the Catholic world? As mentioned earlier this week, Rerum Novarum was unbelievably influential -- but so was another text very often forgotten in these post-"triumphalist" years, Quas Primas, the encyclical of Pope Pius XI on the kingship of Christ.If you carefully read our series on "God is Love, in past papal documents", you will notice that there is not much in the recently-released Deus caritas est© that has a Church-restoring potential. Some interesting, deep, words, but the most sublime portions had already been explored by previous pontiffs (and this is all very good, the last thing the Church needs now is more innovation).

But it is impossible to deny that certain papal documents, though not innovative in their doctrine, are brilliant in the way they invite Catholics to change their lives and the life of their societies. Both Rerum Novarum and Quas Primas succeeded because they answered the needs of the Catholic faithful.

Quas Primas was signed and published exactly 80 years ago, on December 11, 1925. In France, a violently anti-Catholic Republic had been forced to (in a limited sense) capitulate to the minimal demands of the Church (see Maximam Gravissimamque, January 18, 1924); the wager of Pope Saint Pius X against the Republic had paid off and a poor Church had now almost complete freedom. In Italy, the temporal problems of the Church were near their end and the complete liberty of the Apostolic See would soon be guaranteed by the Lateran Treaties.

But if there ever was a Pontiff with a prophetic voice, that was Pius XI (see our piece on Casti Connubii). He could see the dark clouds of the future, he could see that secularism was about to wage the most terrible wars against the Church. In Russia, the Atheistic regime threatened the very soul of civilization. In faraway Mexico, the desperation of persecuted Catholics was on the eve of worse trials. Throughout Europe, a virulent anti-Catholicism was ready to prepare terrible battles, including the greatest and most brutal mass persecution of Catholics recorded in modern times, in Spain (1931-1939). And inside the Church, the enemy within was about to show its head, unfortunately intact despite all the efforts of Saint Pius X.

So many seemingly indestructible thrones had fallen! The mighty Sultan of the Sublime Porte, the Hohenzollerns of the Reich, the invincible Habsburgs, the Tsar of all the Russias... Amidst this scenery of a clear end of civilization, was there any throne which would stand up? Was any institution, as venerable at it might be, which could withstand the mighty winds of change and decay?

With Quas Primas, Pius raised his voice: Yes, there is. There is a throne which shall never fall, there is a King who shall reign forever, there is an Empire which brings peace, not war; justice, not confusion; eternal beatitude, not ephemeral ecstasy. This King is Christ:

(1) [He reigns] "in the hearts of men," both by reason of the keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all mankind
(2) He reigns [...] in the wills of men, for in him the human will was perfectly and entirely obedient to the Holy Will of God, and further by his grace and inspiration he so subjects our free-will as to incite us to the most noble endeavors.

(3) He is King of hearts, too, by reason of his "charity which exceedeth all knowledge."

Which is why Pope Pius established the feast of His Kingship. An innovation? Hardly: there is no innovation in Tradition, there is no innovation when permanent liturgical Tradition is the basis of doctrine:

It was surely right, then, in view of the common teaching of the sacred books, that the Catholic Church, which is the kingdom of Christ on earth, destined to be spread among all men and all nations, should with every token of veneration salute her Author and Founder in her annual liturgy as King and Lord, and as King of Kings. And, in fact, she used these titles, giving expression with wonderful variety of language to one and the same concept, both in ancient psalmody and in the Sacramentaries. She uses them daily now in the prayers publicly offered to God, and in offering the Immaculate Victim. The perfect harmony of the Eastern liturgies with our own in this continual praise of Christ the King shows once more the truth of the axiom: Legem credendi lex statuit supplicandi. The rule of faith is indicated by the law of our worship.

His Lordship over us and over all Creation is threefold. He is a "law-giver, to whom obedience is due"; His kingdom is spiritual, " not of this world" and men can enter it only "by penance, and cannot actually enter except by faith and by baptism, which, though an external rite, signifies and produces an interior regeneration"; His kingdom is sacerdotal, for "Christ as our Redeemer purchased the Church at the price of his own blood; as priest he offered himself, and continues to offer himself as a victim for our sins".

It is a "grave error, on the other hand, to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power" and He "embraces all men". There is no "difference in this matter between the individual and the family or the State; for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. In him is the salvation of the individual, in him is the salvation of society".

It is absolutely true, thus, that "once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony".

The call of Pope Pius for the glorification of the Lord as Christ the King was heeded throughout the Catholic world. How many martyrs of the bloody 20th century died with the words "Vivat Christus Rex" in their lips in their respective languages? How many Christians gained eternal happiness by listening to Pope Pius? Oh, blessed encyclical who called so many men to the everlasting Kingdom above!

Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat! Amen.

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