Of Kings and servitude

A reflection on Christ as King

Once upon a time Kings ruled with supremacy; governing at will and with might. Today the monarchy is reduced and largely ceremonial. HM Queen performs duties, but they are servile to the State. And I wonder if this change in the role of the monarchy influences how we approach today’s feast of Christ the King? Have Westerners lost sight of what a “King” really is and how we ought to behave before one? Especially one that is all loving and good and our heavenly Father.

To embrace Christ the King requires us to shed that image of a benign State figure whose authority we largely ignore. We must resurrect instead the ancient archetype- the King with regal power and splendour. The King at whose name every knee should bow. We must re-capture the awe owing a magnificent King and learn again to offer humility, obedience and servitude to him- qualities sorely lacking in our egotistical society today.

You see the problem? The title ‘King’ does not easily register with a modern, democratic mindset. At worst we picture something passé and negative, at best something pleasant but redundant.  And neither image is fit for Christ our King.

A reflection on our response to the King.

Once we have grasped the importance of Christ’s total sovereignty we should next ponder how we, who are his subjects, should respond to him. Do we approach God with genuine humility offering lives of obedient service? Or are we, in fact, puffed up and ever seeking to push God from his throne, manipulating the faith for our own agenda? Projecting our own beliefs onto the faith divinely revealed?

It strikes me that much of the mess in the modern church stems from the latter hubristic approach. The attempt by fallen man to project his own face and agenda on Christ’s eternal throne. Yes, driven by hunger for secular political correctness many now claim authority to re-interpret scripture and tradition as they see fit. As if we who can only manage the decline of the West are somehow more enlightened than those who built it. The arrogance is breathtaking yet it persists and is widespread. Always we hear that voice that seeks to twist the bible to make it say what those who set themselves as arbiters of God’s truth feel it ought to say. The effect has been catastrophic. Catholicism now creaks under the resulting confusion, contradiction and strain of this wicked attempt to bend divine teaching to man’s fallen will.

Oh that instead of pushing agendas modern Christians would simply follow the faith as received. Oh that we sought to be not masters of the faith but obedient servants of the King. Preaching the one true faith of the ages and not the tedious false doctrines of self, rights and permissiveness so rampant in wider society and radical Christianity.

This Advent it behoves us all to ask: do we submit to his authority or do we ask God to bow to our command? Do we obey what he has revealed or endorse only that which we consider expedient for our agenda? Do we follow the divine laws, yes even the ones we struggle with, or cherry pick only the ones that suit us? As if there can be separation of doctrine and praxis. Are we really disciples, in other words, or are we demi-gods? Do we come before our King with humility or breath-taking arrogance?

A reflection on the need for humility

Humility. Ultimately that is the key to becoming an authentic disciple of Christ. For without it a knee never bends. Never forget that when St. Antony had a vision of Satan he observed the devil had no knees..for the devil, like so many modern men, refused to bow to anyone in servitude. And indeed the Satanic creed is simply this; do what thou wilt. In other words be your own god. Bow to no-one. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the same modernist theologians who tend to push the envelope to water down doctrine tend to be the same who delight in the removal of altar rails and who frown on traditional devotion? Is it that they dislike bending the knee before God? Is this why worship on their watch has so often shifted from a truly reverent focus on God to a celebration of man and concern for worldly things?

If we want a better church – better priests, better bishops; if we want a truly Christian future- we must learn afresh what it means to be subjects. Must learn the requisite humility to hand lives to God and be subject to his will not our own. The secular philosophy of ‘self’  has to take a running jump if the Gospel is to flourish. ‘Me me me’ and the victim culture has no place in a Gospel of sacrificial love. Christ, our King, never sued authorities for slander nor identified as victim and demanded pity. He simply offered an example of authentic humble love to those who killed him.

Christmass is nearly here. The usual plastic rubbish will fill our children’s stockings and dreams. But the greatest gift we can offer is this: the example of our lives vastly improved in 2019 because we found the humility to deepen commitment to Christ. By showing our love and obedience for Christ the King we model for the children of this parish a true and living faith. A faith which might, even yet, save our shallow and morally bankrupt nation. But first we must approach Advent ready to fall on our knees before our King and do that which he commanded us to do. Love God and neighbour more than self.

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5 thoughts on “Of Kings and servitude

  1. I must admit, Father Ed, to having been rather puzzled by your “Of kings and servitude” post. I will devote this comment to trying to unpick your attitude to earthly sovereignty and deference/servitude, and I will write a second comment exploring what I will call the ‘king metaphor’ when referring to the divine.

    You start by acknowledging, quite correctly, that we no longer live in an absolute monarchy. As you say, the queen’s role is “reduced and largely ceremonial” and this is also true of almost all other European monarchies. Indeed there are very few ‘real’ or absolute monarchies still left in the world, and it is generally acknowledged that most of these absolute monarchies are very far from being good examples of governance (for example Saudi Arabia and the Vatican City).

    So the world has moved on from monarchy, yet in your third sentence you ask “Have Westerners lost sight of… how we ought to behave before [a real king]?” And you go on to talk of “the king at whose name every knee should bow” and how we must “offer humility, obedience and servitude to him – qualities sorely lacking in our egotistical society today.” It is almost as if you are assuming some causal link between the decline in servitude and an (alleged) increase in egotism. Do you really think that an injection of servitude into modern society would reduce egotism? Do you really want us all to start bending our knees and to start “bowing in servitude”?

    As far as I am aware – but please correct me if I am wrong – the word servitude only occurs twice in the Catechism (at #2148 and at #2172) and in both cases it is used in a negative sense: servitude is something to be avoided. #2148 is quite specific: “It is also blasphemous to make use of God’s name to … to reduce peoples to servitude”. I have to say this sounds disturbingly similar to what a reader might infer that you are implying in your post.

    Dare I suggest that a pre-occupation with servitude betrays a yearning for hierarchical deference and obedience – precisely the mindset that allowed abusive behaviour within the Church (and elsewhere) to continue unchallenged for so long?

    1. Read again. I do not call for bending the knee to people or to the State- the focus is VERY clearly on Jesus. In keeping with Phillipians 2:10. I also point out how an aversion to servitude today belies an arrogance and pride in the heart of modern man. I stand by that.

  2. Well it is reassuring to know, Father Ed that you are not asking us to go back to knee bending, bowing and scraping before earthly kings, that you are not asking us to remember “how we ought to behave before one”:-)

    But let’s move on to the “Christ the King” metaphor. Of course metaphors abound when talking and writing about religion, and that is completely understandable and appropriate. For example #239 of the Catechism makes it clear that ‘God the Father’ is a metaphor: “We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman.” ‘The Good Shepherd’ is another clear metaphor, since Jesus never did look after actual sheep. It’s the same with the king metaphor. And certainly you would not want to compare Jesus to monarchs like Henry VIII, Leopold II of Belgium or Pope Alexander VI. There is at least a hint in your “Of kings and servitude” post of an implied correlation between decreasing deference to earthly monarchs and increasing egotism – but people don’t come much more egotistic than the aforementioned Henry, Leopold and Alexander.

    I wonder, though, if the real mistake in your post was the choice of the word ‘servitude’. You see, every authoritative source from the Oxford English Dictionary to the Catholic Catechism (see my previous comment) regards the word ‘servitude’ as being negative, a state to be avoided. Indeed even (the absolute monarch of the Vatican City) Pope Francis decries servitude. When speaking a couple of years ago to the International Union of Superiors General the Pope said “Your work, my work and that of all of us, is that of service. Very often I find women consecrated who perform a labour of servitude and not of service… When you Superiors are asked something that is more servitude than service, have the courage to say “no”… when a consecrated woman is asked to perform work of servitude, it demeans the life and dignity of that woman. But no servitude!”

    Either you are alone in your enthusiasm for servitude, Father Ed – or you simply chose the wrong word.

    1. The word servitude means being totally subject to another- in the case of God – this is the aim of faith surely? You continue to struggle with what I have written because your eyes are clearly on this fallen world and the behaviour of fallen kings not fixed on the kingdom to come and the King who is love. Try and recognise that this was not advice on how to live as a citizen of planet earth but as a child of God and you might then see what was being said.

  3. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein claimed (in ‘Philosophical Investigations’) that “in most cases, the meaning of a word is its use”. It follows that arguments about the meaning of words can be rather futile. So if you, Father Ed, wish to carry on regarding ‘servitude’ as a word with a positive meaning, as a state to be lauded, then feel free to do so. As Pope Francis might say “Who am I to judge?” Just be aware, Father Ed, that the way you use the word ‘servitude’ sets you apart from virtually all other writers – including the Catechism, the Pope (who makes an important distinction between service and servitude) and every dictionary I have looked at.

    As for your suggestion that my “eyes are clearly on this fallen world and the behaviour of fallen kings not fixed on the kingdom to come and the King who is love” I have to say I was merely following your lead. It was you who chose to focus on “this fallen world” right from the second word of the title of the original post “Of Kings and Servitude”. Your use of the plural “kings” demonstrates this (since you clearly do not believe there is more than one King of Heaven!) and reading the first paragraph of your post also reveals (with the exception of the final sentence) a certain fascination with earthly monarchs.

    As I have probably made clear, I am no fan of absolute monarchy and its corollary, hierarchical deference (and this is why I personally do not find metaphors based on monarchy helpful). Also, I am no fan of what I call ‘online ping-pong’, by which I mean an online exchange involving just two people tediously tossing opposing views to and fro, In my experience this can often degenerate into a series of shorter and ever more acrimonious messages. So I will leave the discussion here. Let us both go (our separate ways) in peace, to love and serve… “but no servitude!” (to quote Pope Francis:-)

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