Rorate Caeli

On the Social Kingship of Christ and Dignitatis Humanae

We note that Fr. John Hunwicke's old blog (formerly known as Liturgical Notes and now named "Mutual Enrichment") has come back to life with a series of posts beginning last week. He was apparently "silenced" for a short while by, among other things, an injury he sustained at the steps of St. Peter's Basilica in November last year. His latest post (as of today) mentions Rorate's translation of the letter of Pope Francis on Trent (and the hermeneutic of reform in continuity). Many thanks!

At any rate we would like to share here his thoughts (posted yesterday) on the change of the Collect for the Feast of Christ the King. Fr. Hunwicke's article refers to a little-known but very important quote by Fr. Aidan Nichols OP regarding the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom, which we reproduce in full at the end of this blog post.  

Our emphases. 


The Social Reign of Christ the King

I wonder how many people realise that the original Collect for the Feast of Christ the King put in place under Pius XI in 1925 was radically changed and given a new meaning in the post-Conciliar 'reforms'? And I suspect that even fewer are aware that, by an amusing paradox, the Church of England retains, for the Third Sunday Before Advent, that pre-Conciliar Papal collect, unmodified. Vatican II mandated that liturgical changes should only be made when essential; can it have been all that essential to change this Collect if the original version remains uncontroversially acceptable in the Church of England? It makes you wonder.

The Pian Collect expressed clearly the Sovereignty of Christ over all the nations. The modern rewriting eschatologises the celebration and introduces instead the notion of the redemption of the whole of creation.

In one sense, we can hardly complain about that. S Paul clearly teaches such a glorious understanding of the End in Romans 8. But we can complain about the concomitant loss of the old concept of Christ's lordship over all sorts and conditions of men. You don't have to be an integriste Frenchman to do this. It would be possible to argue that, for a period, the only doctrine more or less peculiar to the Church of England was that of the union of Crown and Altar, the old Tory 'Squire Western' toast of 'Church and State', an understanding in which a Monarchy by Divine Right enforces the Christian State, its rules, its worship, its moral code. *This old Stuart, Jacobite, Ancien Regime notion, dear to the country squirearchy and the parochial clergy, despised by the Whiggish Court Party, the Upper Clergy, and the 'Hannover Rats', is not a million miles from the polity to which Mgr Lefebvre and French adherents of Tradition and Integrisme bore and bear witness. The older I get, the less sublimely confident I become that all these people were, are, so totally misguided.

Fr Aidan Nichols, in 2011, expressed the view that the Declaration on Religious Freedom of Vatican II "occasions a genuine difficulty for orthodox Catholics", and believed that the Council Fathers cannot be "wholly exculpate[d]" for a "dereliction of duty". He concluded that "publicly recognising divine revelation is an entailment of the Kingship of Christ on which, despite its difficulties in a post-Enlightenment society, we must not renege". There is here a troubling question which our annual celebration of Christ's Kingship - whether we do it at the end of October or the end of November - places starkly before us all; every year more starkly as every year the powers that be in this country repudiate ever more decisively our Saviour's Lordship. Viva Cristo Rey.

*Of course, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes under the Great Monarch witnesses to a similar culture in Gallican France. Furthermore, by another paradox that vision was, back here in England, undercut by the very genuine commitment of the Catholics James II and James III to religious toleration. Some recent work ... I browsed through a book in Blackwells the other day ... has emphasised the 'Gallicanism' of James II ... er ... the web gets a bit tangled ...


The quote from Fr. Nichols that Fr. Hunwicke refers to, comes from the former's letter to Moyra Dooly concluding his and Dooly's correspondence on Vatican II and the state of contemporary Catholicism. This correspondence was published by Catholic Herald in 2010. An expanded version of their epistolary "debate" was later published by Gracewing. (Source of quote.)

... But unlike (I would say), the Eucharistic doctrine of the Constitution on the Liturgy, the Declaration on Religious Freedom occasions a genuine difficulty for orthodox Catholics. As you point out, it is not immediately apparent how to reconcile its acknowledgement of the traditional teaching about the Christendom state with its development of the teaching about the freedom of the act of faith. If we are unpersuaded of a difficulty here, we have only to look at its aftermath. Except among two groups, the period since the Second Vatican Council has witnessed a withdrawal from “theo-politics” on the part of the hierarchy. Traditionalists and Liberation theologians, neither group popular with Rome, are the two constituencies that have most vocally supported a continuing appeal to civil society to recognise evangelical and Catholic truth not just in the private lives of individual citizens but also in its public institutions, which include its own legal form, the state. Does the Declaration bear some responsibility for this dereliction of duty? I do not think we can wholly exculpate the Fathers of the Council who were aware of the difficulty involved yet chose (through, I take it, a desire not to prolong further a contentious debate) to restrict to a passing mention their acknowledgement of what I prefer to call, more in the idiom of Chesterton and Christopher Dawson than Lefevbrists or Liberationists, the thesis of “Christendom”.

It is true that the state establishment of the Church has produced, historically speaking, many inconveniences. When, during the Third French Republic, anti-clerical politicians rejected the Liberal thesis of a “free Church in a free state” in favour of continuing establishment, they did so because, in the words of one of their number, the maxim could only mean “an anarchic Church in an impotent state”. A state church may well enable infidel statesmen to control the Church, as when 10 freethinkers on the Conseil d’Etat sat around a green carpet choosing bishops. Believing and even devout Catholic politicians and princes have, in the past, demanded their pound of flesh, as the examples of Gallicanism in France and Josephinism in Austria indicate. The secularisation of Catholic states has not been without its advantages for the Petrine office-holder.

Nevertheless, I strongly agree with you that publicly recognising divine revelation is an entailment of the Kingship of Christ on which, despite its difficulties in a post-Enlightenment society, we must not renege. Where the ethos of society is such that an elected legislature may be trusted to regard the Judaeo-Christian tradition as normative, the Church should be accorded her rightful place as “mother and mistress”. (The Edwardian priest-novelist Robert Hugh Benson’s The Dawn of All will give you the idea.) Where that is not possible there should at least be, in the former Christendom, a recognition of the historic role of the faith in forming the human patrimony and thus what a bishop of the Church of England, arguing against disestablishment, has recently termed a “symbolic privileged position”.