Quas Primas: extracts from the encyclical on the feast of Christ the King
By Pope Pius XI | 26 October 2022
On 11 December 1925, Pope Pius XI wrote an apostolic letter to all the bishops of the world, proclaiming the last Sunday in October the feast of Christ the King, thus crowning the liturgical year with an eternal pledge of the reign of Jesus Christ in hearts and in society. We are pleased to produce this abridgement, containing extracts relevant to the spiritual and social life of the laity.
§7. It has long been a common custom to give to Christ the metaphorical title of “King”, because of the high degree of perfection whereby He excels all creatures. So He is said to reign “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. He reigns, too, 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 endeavours. He is King of hearts, too, by reason of His “charity which exceedeth all knowledge” (Eph 3:19), and His mercy and kindness, which draw all men to him, for never has it been known, nor will it ever be, that man be loved so much and so universally as Jesus Christ. But if we ponder this matter more deeply, we cannot but see that the title and the power of King belongs to Christ as man in the strict and proper sense too. For it is only as man that He may be said to have received from the Father “power and glory and a kingdom,” (Dan 7:14) since the Word of God, as consubstantial with the Father, has all things in common with him, and therefore has necessarily supreme and absolute dominion over all things created.
§8. Do we not read throughout the Scriptures that Christ is the King? He it is that shall come out of Jacob to rule, (Num 24:19) who has been set by the Father as King over Sion, His holy mount, and shall have the gentiles for His inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for His possession. (Psalm 2)
§9. The testimony of the Prophets is even more abundant. That of Isaias is well known:
“For a child is born to us and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace. His empire shall be multiplied, and there shall be no end of peace. He shall sit upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom; to establish it and strengthen it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and for ever.”(Is 9:6–7)
§10. This same doctrine of the Kingship of Christ which we have found in the Old Testament is even more clearly taught and confirmed in the New. The Archangel, announcing to the Virgin that she should bear a Son, says that “the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father, and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” (Lk 1:32–33)
§11. Moreover, Christ Himself speaks of His own kingly authority: in His last discourse, speaking of the rewards and punishments that will be the eternal lot of the just and the damned; in His reply to the Roman magistrate, who asked Him publicly whether He were a king or not; after His resurrection, when giving to His Apostles the mission of teaching and baptising all nations, He took the opportunity to call himself King, confirming the title publicly (Jn 18:37), and solemnly proclaimed that all power was given Him in heaven and on earth (Mt 28:18). These words can only be taken to indicate the greatness of His power, the infinite extent of His kingdom.
§14. He claimed judicial power as received from His Father, when the Jews accused Him of breaking the Sabbath by the miraculous cure of a sick man. “For neither doth the Father judge any man; but hath given all judgment to the Son.” (Jn 5:22) In this power is included the right of rewarding and punishing all men living, for this right is inseparable from that of judging. Executive power, too, belongs to Christ, for all must obey His commands; none may escape them, nor the sanctions He has imposed.
§15. This kingdom is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things. That this is so the above quotations from Scripture amply prove, and Christ by His own action confirms it. Before the Roman magistrate He declared that His kingdom was not of this world. The gospels present this kingdom as one which men prepare to enter by penance, and cannot actually enter except by faith and by baptism, which, though an external rite, signifies and produces an interior regeneration. This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness. It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice; and, more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross.
§16. 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. Is it not evident then that His kingly dignity partakes in a manner of both these offices?
§17. It would be 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. Nevertheless, during His life on earth He refrained from the exercise of such authority; and, although He himself disdained to possess or to care for earthly goods, He did not, nor does He today, interfere with those who possess them.
Non eripit mortalia qui regna dat caelestia.
“He does not seize earthly power who grants heavenly kingdoms.”(Hymn for the Epiphany)
§18. Thus the empire of our Redeemer embraces all men. To use the words of our immortal predecessor, Pope Leo XIII:
“His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptised persons who, though of right belonging to the Church, have been led astray by error, or have been cut off from her by schism, but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ.”(Annum Sacrum, 1899)
Nor is there any 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. “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) He is the author of happiness and true prosperity for every man and for every nation.
“For a nation is happy when its citizens are happy. What else is a nation but a number of men living in concord?”(S. Aug. Ep. ad Macedonium, 3)
If, therefore, the rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ.
§19. When men recognise, 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.” (1 Cor 7: 23)
§24. Oh, what happiness would be ours if all men, individuals, families, and nations, would but let themselves be governed by Christ! To use the words addressed by our predecessor Pope Leo XIII, 25 years ago, to the bishops of the Universal Church:
“Then at length will many evils be cured; then will the law regain its former authority; peace with all its blessings be restored. Men will sheathe their swords and lay down their arms when all freely acknowledge and obey the authority of Christ, and every tongue confesses that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.”(Annum Sacrum, 1899)
§26. If we ordain that the whole Catholic world shall revere Christ as King, we shall minister to the need of the present day, and at the same time provide an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society. We refer to the plague of anti-clericalism, its errors and impious activities. This evil spirit, as you are well aware, venerable brethren, has not come into being in one day; it has long lurked beneath the surface. The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied. Then gradually the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. It was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers. Some men went even further, and wished to set up in the place of God’s religion a natural religion consisting in some instinctive affection of the heart. There were even some nations who thought they could dispense with God, and that their religion should consist in impiety and the neglect of God … But if the faithful were generally to understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from him, and would valiantly defend His rights.
§28. The kingship and empire of Christ have been recognised in the pious custom, practiced by many families, of dedicating themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; not only families have performed this act of dedication, but nations, too, and kingdoms. In fact, the whole of the human race was at the instance of Pope Leo XIII, in the Holy Year 1900, consecrated to the Divine Heart … By sermons preached at meetings and in churches, by public adoration of the Blessed Sacrament exposed and by solemn processions, men unite in paying homage to Christ, whom God has given them for their King. It is by a divine inspiration that the people of Christ bring forth Jesus from His silent hiding-place in the church, and carry Him in triumph through the streets of the city, so that He —whom men refused to receive when He came unto His own — may now receive in full His kingly rights.
§29. Therefore, by our apostolic authority, we institute the feast of the Kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ to be observed yearly throughout the whole world on the last Sunday of the month of October — the Sunday, that is, which immediately precedes the Feast of All Saints. We further ordain that the dedication of mankind to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which our predecessor of saintly memory, Pope Pius X, commanded to be renewed yearly, be made annually on that day.
We have commanded its observance on a Sunday in order that not only the clergy may perform their duty by saying Mass and reciting the Office, but that the laity too — free from their daily tasks — may, in a spirit of holy joy, give ample testimony of their obedience and subjection to Christ. The last Sunday of October seemed the most convenient of all for this purpose, because it is at the end of the liturgical year, and thus the feast of the Kingship of Christ sets the crowning glory upon the mysteries of the life of Christ already commemorated during the year, and, before celebrating the triumph of all the Saints, we proclaim and extol the glory of Him who triumphs in all the Saints and in all the Elect. Make it your duty and your task, venerable brethren, to see that sermons are preached to the people in every parish to teach them the meaning and the importance of this feast, that they may so order their lives as to be worthy of faithful and obedient subjects of the Divine King.
§31. When we pay honour to the princely dignity of Christ, men will doubtless be reminded that the Church, founded by Christ as a perfect society, has a natural and inalienable right to perfect freedom and immunity from the power of the state; and that in fulfilling the task committed to her by God of teaching, ruling, and guiding to eternal bliss those who belong to the kingdom of Christ, she cannot be subject to any external power.
§32. Nations will be reminded by the annual celebration of this feast that not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honour and obedience to Christ.
§33. 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, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to Him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God (Rom 6:13).
You can read the encyclical Quas Primas by Pope Pius XI here.