We Have No King But Caesar

In the traditional calendar, and by the will of Pope Pius XI who instituted it, the feast of Christ the King is celebrated on the last Sunday of October. And for good reason. This feast, coming at the end of the month of the Holy Rosary and the Holy Angels, prepares the Church for the feast of All Saints on November 1 and the Holy Souls in Purgatory on November 2. Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical establishing the solemnity (Quas Primas), wished to put Jesus back on His Throne reigning over all men and angels, over the good and, to their dread, over the bad. His Kingship is universal, that is to say, everywhere and in every place, in time and space: “All power is given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18).

This universal reign over all men is manifest in part of the consecration prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in 1899 in his encyclical Annum Sacrum

Be Thou King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbor of truth and unity of faith, so that there may be but one flock and one Shepherd.

Be Thou King of all those who are still involved in the darkness of idolatry or of Islamism, and refuse not to draw them into the light and kingdom of God. Turn Thine eyes of mercy towards the children of the race, once Thy chosen people: of old they called down upon themselves the Blood of the Savior; may it now descend upon them a laver of redemption and of life.

Very fittingly, too, the feast falls on what the Lutherans call Reformation Sunday, (October 31 is believed to be the day, in 1517, when Luther is alleged to have nailed his ninety-five theses protest on the church door of Wittenberg) and is a condign counterpoint to all heretics that have, in effect, dethroned Christ as King and Mary as Queen of their hearts. In denying the kingly authority of His Catholic Church, they deny the reign of Christ on earth.

Pius XI, in Quas Primas, declares:

The faithful, moreover, by meditating upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal. If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds…He must reign in our wills…He must reign in our hearts…He must reign in our bodies and in our members…

The new calendar, on the other hand, places this feast on the last Sunday before Advent, and its readings emphasize the eschatological reign of Christ in heaven. Very well. However, in bypassing the social Kingship of Christ over nations here and now, the transfer, as a segue into Advent, would seem thereby to make Our Lord’s words to Pilate in reference to His kingdom being “not of this world” exclusive of the temporal realm. The omnipotence of Our Savior King, the God-Man, is over all creation, here as well as in heaven. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The temporal reign of Christ is not to be achieved by force of arms, but by “suffering violence” to ourselves so as to bear the kingdom away by storm, “within,” in the heart, as trumpeted by Saint John the Baptist (Matt. 11:12). The interior reign will facilitate the exterior reign, for the latter means nothing without the former.

In confronting the Jews who sought the death of Jesus, Pilate taunted them: “Shall I crucify your king”? It seemed that he had no problem in ceding the Man, whom he had so unjustly scourged and allowed to be crowned with thorns, kingship over the Jews. He even insisted that the title “King of the Jews” be posted at the top of the Cross in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, much to the chagrin of the chief priests.

It would seem also from the Gospel account that Pilate had no real use for Herod Antipas, other than to wash his own hands of this Jewish affair and pass it off to Caesar’s lackey, who had been raised in Rome and appointed tetrarch over Galilee. This Herod, son of Herod the Great, had a gentile mother and was only half Jewish. Therefore, he was not recognized as a legitimate king for the Jews who required that the mother be Jewish for legitimacy. His father, as well, was himself only half Jewish, being the son of Antipater, an Idumean, and a Hebrew mother. It is interesting to note that when the Magi came to Jerusalem asking where the King of the Jews was born, Herod “and all Jerusalem” were “troubled.” Note that Herod did not counter the Magi, “But I am the King of the Jews!”

This brings me back to the scene before Pilate.

When Pilate asked the Jewish leaders, “Shall I crucify your king?” they protested, “We have no king but Caesar.” No, not Herod, not “that fox” (as Jesus called Herod Antipas), but Caesar!

Astonishing admission! They acknowledge that the prophecy was fulfilled, that the scepter had passed from Juda, and the “expectation of the nations” was come (Genesis 49:10).

“Away with him” our true King, “crucify Him!” As if to say, “We would rather have our conqueror Caesar rule us than the Messiah King.” Even still Pilate wanted to do justice, this time if not at other times, perhaps due to his wife’s dream, perhaps due to the royal bearing and bloodied, but noble, face of the holy Man before him. “Behold the Man!” You, Jews “you take him and crucify him,” he said, “I find no cause in him.” (John 19:6). (But, they could not inflict capital punishment under the Roman domination). We have a law;” they cried out in response with rage, “and according to the law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.” These words filled the mind of the superstitious governor with fear. “From whence art thou?” he asked Christ. But his fear of offending the gods gave way to his fear of the rage of the Jews who were on the point of riot. Not a good thing for Caesar to hear about. Still Pilate delayed. Then came the final ultimatum of the chief priests: “If thou release this man, thou art not Caesar’s friend. For whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.” “Caesar’s friend” was actually an honorific title; not to be Caesar’s friend was a death sentence for any Roman ruler.

And, so indeed, did they get their wish. Tiberius Caesar, whom they hated (but preferred to their Messiah) ruled over them. “[T]he Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation” the Sanhedrin had reasoned earlier if they should allow Jesus to continue to teach and perform miracles (John 11:48).

The Romans came; they saw; they conquered. Not because of the miracles of the Savior of all men did they conquer the Jews, but, rather, because He was rejected by His own did His own lose their “place” and their “nation.” As Saint John testified, “He came unto his own and his own received him not” (1:11).

How blind! What dreadful perversity! They admitted Jesus’ miracles; they had their spies witness His resurrection of Lazarus, and in spite of His having power over death they decided to condemn Him to death.

Contrast this with the faith of the Good Thief, Dismas. He witnessed no miracles. He saw no royal bearing, only agony, ignominy and mockery. Nevertheless, the word of forgiveness for His enemies that he heard from this “King of the Jews” crucified next to him was Gospel enough for him: “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom”! Ah Dismas, you came from so much sin, you saw, and you were conquered!

Always resisting the Gospel, the Jews who were hard-hearted continued years later to appeal to Caesar in their opposition to Saint Paul. In Thessalonica, dragging Jason, a disciple of Paul, and others before the rulers of that city, they accused them of “setting the city in an uproar . . . these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” (Acts 17:7).

And forty years hence, the Romans would destroy their city and temple, while the starving people cried out to the mountains, “Fall upon us!” and to the hills “Cover us!”

Yes, we have a law. And, according to our Law, He must reign. Thusly did the angel announce to Mary, awaiting her consent to be His mother:

“He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever.” (Luke 1:32).

Viva Cristo Rey! Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat!