ONE of the most obvious
characteristics of our times is the loss among men generally of an understanding and appreciation of authority in human affairs.
In fact, our world is torn between the pretensions of unjust, arbitrary and often tyrannical authority and the widespread revolt against the very idea of authority itself.
The key to the solution of this grave problem is to be found, not merely for Catholics and sincere Christians. but for all men in the conception of Christ the King— the title under which we worship Our Lord on this Sunday.
IT is alas, true that the vast majority of men know nothing of this feast. It is true that if they did hear of it they could make little or nothing of it, imagining probably that it was some reactionary medic va 1 notion with no relevance whatever to contemporary problems. Yet it remains a fact that it is in the idea of Christ the King or Ruler or Authority or Law, and in this idea alone, that such people can find the solution to the contemporary problem of authority, of its proper use and of its violent abuse.
For it is only in the realisation that authority must ultimately be invested in a Power above man that a man or a society can find the notion of authority tolerable to himself and fruitful for the conduct of his life and the life of the society of which he is a member.
Nothing is more easily justified than rebellion against purely human authority.
Such authority may be imposed by force or guile or a combination of both. For authority which is merely force or guile man need have no reverence. On the contrary, his reason and his feelings bid him rebel against it. One of the greatest evils of our times lies in the hold which authority based on force has on vast sections of mankind.
Authority may he based on the so-called choice of the people. But the fact that a majority possess the means to create an authority over themselves and over the dissenting minority, while it has considerable utilitarian convenience, does not of itself impose a duty of obedience, while it naturally enough tempts the dissatisfied to seek power for themselves by fair or unfair means.
Lastly, authority may be based on tradition and past customs. This is a better way since the practical experience of the past may constitute a good utilitarian guide to the present. But such authority tends to take too little notice of change and therefore easily prompts to a rebellion which could make matters worse, even though it could also make them better.
The plain truth is that man cannot trust man alone to be his authority; and when, in fact, authority is based on man society will be in a highly disturbed and dangerous state, vainly battling against the domination of sheer force as the one finally effective sanction for authority. This is where we stand today.
NATURALLY, we have greatly simplified the picture—and happily for us we still benefit from our great spiritual heritage. In other words, in non-Communist countries men still do recognise that authority must have a better basis than force, utility or majority choices. They still believe in effect, if not always in words, that there is such a thing as justice, law, morals whose sanction goes beyond mere man. What is the basis of that sanction? It can only be Almighty God, the creator and fashioAer of the world whose running He has entrusted to intelligent creatures, made in His own image with the power freely to choose between the implementing of His will and design for the world or trying to use that world for the gratification of their appetites, apart from and contrary to the Divine purpose.
We, as Catholics, enlightened by the Divine revelation, see this world of ours as part of God's Kingdom and we are called upon to worship and obey Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, as its King.
All men are created in God's image and consequently even when they do not know it, they find themselves acting justly as well as unjustly. For example, even a State apparently built on force alone will embody some part of the Divine authority. Where the order is intrinsically just obedience is due to it, even though the rulers have no notion of justice, and deny any Divine part in it.
Still more will it be the case that in States based on utilitarian conceptions much that is ordered by custom and the will of the ruling body will be just and therefore commanding obedience from the subject for God's sake.
BUT we have to recognise in our times that the increasing denials on the part of rulers and of ruled that God enters into the picture must lead to unjust, arbitrary, unwise authority constantly encroaching on just, lawful and wise authority. Man's self-will, in these conditions, must ever drive further away God's authority upon which alone can any human authority be justly based.
Hence the present situation in which the sway of unjust rule based on force dominates vast parts of the world, while in the others the individual feels ever more strongly the temptation to call in question all authority outside his own will and passion. Moreover, the social disorder which follows from this latter state of affairs necessarily plays into the hands of those who frankly base authority on the brute force which safeguards it.
TODAY every serious political thinker is asking himself how it has come about that the blessings of a progressive and, in many ways, more equitable age (have been accompanied by rift and frustration across the face of the globe.
Yet the basis of the answer is clear. Man has emancipated himself from spiritual and moral obligations deriving from authority eternally vested in much higher than roan. So emancipated, he must either succumb to the rule of arbitrary force or else become the victim of incessant competition for the best place in the world—a competition which depresses and frustrates thousands for the one who succeeds.
In this way, we can surely see that today the feast of Christ the King is not only a Catholic festival with relevance solely to private spiritual lives, but a challenge on the part of Christ the King Himself—Christ the supreme Authority—to a world in deadly danger because that world has, in effect, denied the eternal basis of authority itself.
Once that denial is complete. what answer has the world to the triumph of brute force within a world composed of human beings who recognise no authority but their own individual wills?