There are only a few monarchies left in the world but the concept is not inimical to human nature. In the Christian tradition, the monarchical idea goes back to the days when, by God’s command and public acclamation, Samuel anointed Saul as king of Israel (c. 1021-1000 B.C.). Later, on finding him inept, he appointed David, who after Saul’s death, became king of the whole of Israel whose tribes he united.

The world over, monarchies were the most common form of government until the last century. In his encyclical Quas Primas (1925), however, it is not the form of government that Pope Pius XI brings into focus; it is the concurrent worldview that he finds problematic. Writing in the aftermath of World War I, when some key monarchies had been replaced by republics, the Pontiff pointed to a king “of whose kingdom there shall be no end.” (n. 5) Decrying the growing secularisation of society, he made it clear that, “as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Saviour, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.”

The issue of the said Encyclical marked the sixteenth centenary of the Council of Nicaea, where the divinity of the Word Incarnate – the foundation of Christ’s empire over humankind – was properly defined. Very significantly, the commemorative Encyclical proclaimed “Pax Christi in regno Christi” (“The peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ”).

Biblical endorsement

Quas Primas notes that “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.” But the Pope is also quick to clarify 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,’ 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.” (n. 7)

The are several Biblical references to Christ as King, one of them being by Psalm 72, which foretells that his kingdom will have no limits, and will be enriched with justice and peace: “in his days shall justice spring up, and abundance of peace… And he shall rule from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” (n. 8). The Prophets, too, give abundant testimony.[1] The doctrine of the Kingship of Christ found in the Old Testament is “even more clearly taught and confirmed in the New”. For instance, St Luke speaks of the Archangel announcing to the Blessed Virgin that she should bear a Son; 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.”[2] (n. 10)

Finally, Christ Himself speaks of his kingly authority.[3] So, it goes without saying 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.” (n. 12)

King, Kingship, Kingdom

To the unconvinced of the need to call Our Lord ‘King’, St. Cyril of Alexandria explains how “Christ has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped, but his by essence and by nature.”[4] The Pope says Christ’s kingship is “founded upon the ineffable hypostatic union. From this it follows not only that Christ is to be adored by angels and men, but that to him as man angels and men are subject, and must recognize his empire; by reason of the hypostatic union Christ has power over all creatures. But a thought that must give us even greater joy and consolation is this that Christ is our King by acquired, as well as by natural right, for he is our Redeemer. Would that they who forget what they have cost their Saviour might recall the words: ‘You were not redeemed with corruptible things, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled.’[5] We are no longer our own property, for Christ has purchased us ‘with a great price’;[6] our very bodies are the ‘members of Christ’[7].” (n. 13)

But what is the nature and meaning of Christ’s Kingship and His Kingdom?

Christ’s Kingship comprises a threefold power: legislative, executive and judicial. Christ, our Redeemer, is also a law-giver, to whom obedience is due;[8] those who keep his laws show their love for Him and shall remain in his love.[9] “Executive power, too, belongs to Christ, for all must obey his commands; none may escape them, nor the sanctions he has imposed.” He claimed judicial power as received from his Father[10], in which is included the right of rewarding and punishing all men living, for this right is inseparable from that of judging. (n. 14)

Yet, Christ’s kingdom is not earthly; it is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things. “On many occasions, when the Jews and even the Apostles wrongly supposed that the Messiah would restore the liberties and the kingdom of Israel, he repelled and denied such a suggestion.” (n. 17) That is not to say that Christ has no place in in private affairs or in politics. Says the Pope: “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.” (n. 17)

All nations and all peoples are subject to Jesus Christ, the Universal King. In his earlier encyclical, Urbi Arcano (1921), Pope Pius XI decried the world’s folly in the following words: “With God and Jesus Christ excluded from political life, with authority derived not from God but from man, the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated. The result is that human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation.”

Lamenting that as long as the rule of our Saviour was repudiated, there would be no lasting peace in society. “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.” (n. 18)


Pointing out that, historically, feasts have been instituted one after another “according as the needs or the advantage of the people of Christ seemed to demand”, Pope Pius XI implored our Divine King’s blessings. “That these blessings may be abundant and lasting in Christian society, it is necessary that the kingship of our Saviour should be as widely as possible recognized and understood, and to the end nothing would serve better than the institution of a special feast in honour of the Kingship of Christ. For people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year – in fact, forever. The Church’s teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man’s nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities so that the sacred rites, in all their beauty and variety, may stimulate him to drink more deeply of the fountain of God’s teaching, that he may make it a part of himself, and use it with profit for his spiritual life.” (n. 21)

However, we need not wait for the Feast to venerate and adore Christ the King. We ought to seek Him through the year, under the Sacramental species; by public adoration of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, and by solemn processions (cf. n. 26). The Feast of the Kingship of Christ sets the crowning glory upon the mysteries of His life commemorated during the year.

[1] Isaiah (9: 6-7); Jeremiah (13: 5); Daniel (2: 44; 7: 13-14), and Zachary (9: 9)

[2] 1: 32-33

[3] Cf. Mt 25: 31-40; Jn 18: 37; Mt 28: 18; Apoc. 1: 5, 19: 16; Heb. 1: 2; 1Cor 15: 25

[4] Cf. n. 13

[5] 1 Pet. 1: 18-19

[6] 1 Cor. 6: 20

[7] 1 Cor. 6: 15

[8] Cf. Council of Trent, session VI, can. 21

[9] Cf. Jn 14: 15; 15: 10

[10] When the Jews accused him of breaking the Sabbath by the miraculous cure of a sick man. (Cf. Jn 5: 22)