A Kingdom on the Other Side of Slaughter, 2: Power, Authority, and Democracy

What would America look like if Christians actually lived according to the unilateral love of Jesus?

Well, to start, we bloggers wouldn't pontificate with such smarminess (that air of "wink, wink, how stupid/vicious is everyone who thinks differently!"), judging everyone else, quite certain we've understood every angle. That is, the pharisees of the right, left, and in-between wouldn't be so toxic for democratic co-existence. We would be committed to being shepherds of thought and of love, humble before the sacrament of our neighbor, humble before experience and suffering and expertise other to our own.

Of course, it's always the other guy or gal who's intolerant. Moi? Bien sûr que non!

Be that as it may. When Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in his 1925 encyclical "Quas primas," during the sixteenth centenary of the Council of Nicaea, and in the oozing wound of the Great War's aftermath, he wanted to point a way forward for the democracies of the West. It had nothing to do with an anonymous Christianity. It had to do with the difference that Jesus makes.

"When 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. Our Lord's regal office invests the human authority of princes and rulers with a religious significance; it ennobles the citizen's duty of obedience. It is for this reason that St. Paul, while bidding wives revere Christ in their husbands, and slaves respect Christ in their masters, warns them to give obedience to them not as men, but as the vicegerents of Christ; for it is not meet that men redeemed by Christ should serve their fellow-men. 'You are bought with a price; be not made the bond-slaves of men.'"

What is Pope Pius saying here? That the totalitarian tendency of secularized power (power exercised without the limiting context of religion in general, and of Christianity in particular) destroys the very possibility of AUTHORITY. It is so hard for us to recognize the reality and goodness and inherent necessity of authority (of responsible imperium that serves due order) in communities of whatever scale (as a common good is the final cause of any community (making an aggregate more than an aggregate), and authority must exist to coordinate the personal powers of constituent members towards the securing of that common good).

But there is a reason we don't recognize authority anymore: it has too often been wielded by people who abuse their authority. If, say, a president has advanced personal policy preferences by violating the constitutional order he has sworn to uphold (and upon which his authority proximately rests), then he has deformed authority into tyranny. Authority is power exercised in accord with the rationality of reality; tyranny is power exercised with no higher measure than the person who wields the power.

That is, authentic authority never enslaves: it is command in the service of the integral human development of every member of a community. But power unmeasured by natural law, or rather, by the Lawgiver Who has disposed the natures of all things sweetly to advance the development of each human person, enslaves those subject to that power.

And this calls forth resistance and rebellion.

The only way to stabilize a body politic descending into a spiral of factional power plays is to recognize a higher measure--specifically, the measure of the limitless love of Jesus Christ, Who came to serve, not to be served.

This truly would change how power is exercised. It would save authority: "If princes and magistrates duly elected are filled with the persuasion that they rule, not by their own right, but by the mandate and in the place of the Divine King, they will exercise their authority piously and wisely, and they will make laws and administer them, having in view the common good and also the human dignity of their subjects. The result will be a stable peace and tranquillity, for there will be no longer any cause of discontent. Men will see in their king or in their rulers men like themselves, perhaps unworthy or open to criticism, but they will not on that account refuse obedience if they see reflected in them the authority of Christ God and Man. Peace and harmony, too, will result; for with the spread and the universal extent of the kingdom of Christ men will become more and more conscious of the link that binds them together, and thus many conflicts will be either prevented entirely or at least their bitterness will be diminished."

Piety before reality, before the intelligibilities that constitute the world, before the Divine King Who wins His authority through a limitless suffering for the sake of love: this resurrects authority.

Believe me, I hold no secret brief for theocracy. One would have to be, shall we say, inexperienced to think bishops would make good rulers of the saeculum. It is more than enough if we had bishops actually living out the Christian remit of mercy and reconciliation.

I'm not holding my breath to see courageous, fervent, and consistent pastoral charity sweep through the hierarchy (all the honorable exceptions aside). The point of Vatican II, though, is that the responsibility of laypersons to live out charity and mercy in the world is there regardless of how well or ill the clerical state is lived out. What would this world be like if more of us went about the ministry of reconciliation with zeal?

How many marriages would be saved? How many friendships? How many workplaces transformed?

If we took Pope Francis more seriously when it comes to mercy, and he is only following Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict in this, the pharisaism of right, left, and in-between would start, finally, to wither. We would look upon our neighbor with the eyes of Jesus anguishing on the Cross.

A completely new politics arises from the posture of tortured love: "men will become more and more conscious of the link that binds them together, and thus many conflicts will be either prevented entirely or at least their bitterness will be diminished."

Piety before the sacrament of the neighbor: thus the veil of death, that obscures all things and chokes all things, is rent.

But to learn this politics is a costly enterprise. It means following the King of all hearts as He gains His authority through an act of absolute self-dispossession for the sake of each poor sinner.

Paul Claudel begins his play "The Satin Slipper" with a dying Spanish Jesuit priest who has been fixed to the main-mast by English pirates. You want democracy? This is the kind of heart we must have:

"Lord, I thank You for having fastened me so! And, sometimes, I have chanced to find Your commandments painful. And my will, at sight of Your rule, perplexed, restive. But, today, it is not possible to be closer bound to You than I am, and, verify each limb as I will, there is not one that can withdraw from You ever so little.

"True, also, I am fastened to the cross, but my cross is no longer fast to anything. 'Tis floating on the sea, the free sea, away to that point where the limit of the known sky melts and is equally distant from this old world, which I have left, and from the other world the new."

Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.--IF we will to love above all things, IF we will to follow the God Who dies for love.