Only Where He Rules in Human Hearts

From “Christ the King,” Pastoral Sermons, 455-456 (1936)

He is a king, but his kingdom is not “of this world.” Does he mean “My kingdom does not belong to this world; it will only be realized in a future life?” No, you can’t get that from the Greek. The sense of the Greek words is, “My kingdom does not arise out of this world. The means, that is to say, by which it is to be established are not the means which you associate with revolutionary movements; if they were, I should not be standing here, my friends would have rescued me. My kingdom does not arise out of this world, and yet even in this world, even where I stand before you a helpless prisoner, I do claim, here and now, to be a king.”

A king, then, in what sense, and by what right? Because, he says, “I have come into the world for one express purpose, to bear witness to the truth. And truth, once it is rightly apprehended, has a compelling power over men’s hearts; they must needs assert and defend what they know to be the truth, or they would lose their birthright as men. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice; everyone who makes truth his starting point, has a true background to his life, and true spring of motive for his actions, necessarily becomes a subject of my kingdom. You have no reason to fear, so far as I am concerned, an armed rising against the Roman Government. But my servants are going to conquer the Roman Empire; they must, inevitably, because it is founded upon a religion, and that religion is a lie. Those who are of the truth will extend, because they must extend, their influence; and as the truth establishes itself in men’s hearts your lie will crumble, and your pagan empire will crumble with it. The Roman discipline has conquered the world by force of arms; the Christian discipline is to conquer the world by force of arms; the Christian discipline is to conquer the world by the compelling power of its own reasonableness, and the infectious influence by which its divine origin guarantees.”

Christendom has before now taken up arms in its own defense; or even in a pathetic attempt to recover the Holy Places. Christian princes, before now, have tried to spread the faith at the point of the sword, always, or nearly always, with disastrous results for religion. But the substantial victories of the Church have lain, always, in the sphere of the human conscience. Christ has reigned, not in the councils of nations, but in men’s hearts If every country in the world professed the Catholic religion, set up religious emblems in its marketplaces, and voted special honors, special privileges, special revenues to the clergy — that would not be the reign of Christ on earth. It would not be the reign of Christ on earth if the homage which men paid to religion was merely external merely political; if they treated the emblems of Christianity merely as an ancestral tradition they were proud of, and a convenient rallying-point for civic sentiment, no more. Christ will reign in the world only where, only in so far as, he rules in human hearts.

Ronald Knox (1888-1957) was an English Roman Catholic priest, theologian, and fiction writer, one of the most influential figures in mid-twentieth century English Catholicism. Originally an Anglican priest, he was the Roman Catholic chaplain at Oxford for many years, and became a well-known apologist, preacher, and writer of detective fiction. His meditation “Christ the King” was originally printed in The Tablet on October 24, 1936.

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