World Materialism and the Feast of Christ the King

 

christ-the-king

Christ the King

 

Today is the Feast of Christ the King in the traditional liturgy.

The Feast of Christ the King! How it seems to belong to an entirely different era, almost an entirely different universe, to our world of today! Although, in fact, this Feast is less than a century old, having been instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.

Yet Catholics still regarded the world very, very differently in 1925. And it is tempting to say that, by and large, they were more awake to the world in 1925, than they are today.

This is to say: They were alert to dangers of modernity that scarcely seem to cross Catholic minds today – except, of course, those belonging to a few, last, battered Catholic traditionalists.

For, as we shall explain, the origins of the Feast of Christ the King are all to do with this: awakeness to danger.

Steiner: ‘Rome, Alone, is Awake’

My ability to say this – that Catholics of the past were perhaps more awake to global danger – owes its origins to a very curious corner of my New Age past. This is to say, it was seeded in my soul, fifteen years ago, when I was not a Catholic – and still an enthusiastic New Ager.

At that time, in 1998, I was reading Rudolf Steiner – who is often considered an early prototype of things New Age. Now, that is far from true – but we have no scope to address this complex matter.

However, whatever Steiner was, he remains a sympathetic figure for many New Agers. And this is hardly unconnected to the fact that Steiner was so deeply critical of the Catholic Church.

It goes without saying that we at this website can only regret everything Rudolf Steiner did to blind people to the Church.

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Pope Pius XI

Nonetheless, I want to briefly return to Steiner and my New Age past, because even though Steiner was deeply opposed to Catholicism, he nonetheless saw that Catholicism was awake, whilst the world was asleep.

For in 1920, five years before Pope Pius XI promulgated the Feast of Christ the King, the Vatican’s alertness to danger received an extremely curious approbation from Steiner.

It came in lectures Steiner gave about the rise of scientific materialism. I have offered these 1920 lecture extracts from Rudolf Steiner before at this website and I shall do so again. Here is Steiner:

I should be interested to know how many people felt as if stung by a viper when they read a certain sentence [which at the time, Steiner spoke had recently appeared in the German language press].

I should really like to know how many people, when reading this felt stung by a viper! The sentence runs:

‘Religion, which represents a fantastic reflex in the minds of human beings, concerning their relations one to another and to nature, is doomed to natural decay through the victorious growth of the scientific, clear and naturalistic grasp of reality which is bound to develop parallel with the establishment of a planned society.’

This sentence is to be found in an article on the measures taken by Lenin and Trotsky against the Russian Catholic Church …

One knows for a certainty that the number of Lenin’s opponents, who feel as if stung by a viper on reading such a sentence is very small.

I want to emphasise this as not being without significance, because it brings out to what an extent modern humanity passes lightly over things, usually asleep – how it passes over the weightiest facts, facts which are decisive for the life of humankind on this earth …

But the Roman Catholic Church is awake, she alone in fact is awake, and is working systematically against the approaching storm [Italics mine] …

What is it that is to bring about the decay of the old religions one and all? It is all that has arisen during the last three to four centuries as modern science, enlightened science in the educational institutions of civilised humanity.

Bourgeois teaching and bourgeois methods of administration have been adopted by the proletariat. What the teachers of the universities and high schools have put into the souls of humanity, comes out through Lenin and Trotsky. They bring out nothing but what is already taught in the institutions of civilised humanity.

My dear friends, today … the primary necessity is no longer to allow our children and youth to be taught what has been taught right up to the twentieth century in our universities and in our secondary and elementary schools …

That is why one has to say that whoever reads a declaration such as the one I have just quoted, even if it only appears in a few lines of an article, should feel as if stung by a viper; for it is as if the whole situation of present day civilisation were illumined by a flash of lightning.

Dear Reader, as a New Ager in 1998, it was extremely odd to find myself seeing Steiner say that Rome – alone! – was awake.

For as a New Ager, I believed that we were all headed to a great, glorious expansion of consciousness that would magically arrive with the incoming Age of Aquarius.

As a New Ager, I was incapable of heeding the Church. But like many New Agers, I could heed Steiner.

And so it was jolting to read Steiner saying that no Age of Aquarius would shortly usher in higher consciousness – but rather the world was in danger of plunging ever further into materialism – scientific, philosophical, commercial.

And it was even stranger to read that only the Catholic Church was really awake to that tragic state of affairs. Here is Steiner again:

It must be recognised that the Catholic Church has shown great foresight …

The Catholic Church long ago foresaw the [modern] social condition … the Catholic Church took her own measures to make her influences felt in these social conditions …

In face of the rising tide of naturalism [Rome] throws down the gauntlet before all this rising materialism … It demonstrates the only wakeful consciousness within our sleeping civilisation …

Modern civilization is asleep … Rome is awake … Rome was wide awake and made in advance her necessary preparations …

That Rome is awake is revealed by the mighty drama [of the seven decades previous to 1920] unrolled in the [1854] definition of the dogma of the Immaculate conception; in the [1864] Syllabus condemning eighty modern truths; in the declaration of the Infallibility of the Pope; in the naming of Thomas Aquinas as the official philosopher of the Catholic priesthood; and finally in the anti-modernist Oath [Italics mine].

Back in 1998, I hardly understood what these last things meant. I hardly knew that the Catholic Church had waged this mighty battle over decades against world materialism – or what Steiner called ‘the rising tide of naturalism’.

Naturalism – regular readers of this weblog may recall this was at the heart of Pope Leo XIII’s thinking in 1884 when he wrote his encyclical against Freemasonry (see here).  Pope Leo XIII was concerned that naturalism was destroying Christendom – and, oddly, Steiner is indeed saying that Pope Leo XIII was awake, awake whilst others slept …

Here, once more, is Pope Leo XIII on naturalism:

The fundamental doctrine of the naturalists, which they sufficiently make known by their very name, is that human nature and human reason ought in all things to be mistress and guide.

In other words, naturalism denies anything which might transcend things which can be known by ordinary human faculties – such as Christian Revelation.

Faith is marginalised by naturalism and the result is modern materialism. And in the same encyclical, Pope Leo XIII goes on to say about Freemasons:

Their ultimate purpose forces itself into view – namely, the utter overthrow of that whole religious and political order of the world which the Christian teaching has produced, and the substitution of a new state of things in accordance with their ideas, of which the foundations and laws shall be drawn from mere naturalism.

Pope Pius XI and Quas Primas

Statues of Christ 6 (in Poland)

Statue of Christ the King in Poland, built 2006, largest statue of Christ in the world. Photo courtesy of Wistula (Own work) GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

Now, forty-one years later in 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King. And he wrote an encyclical Quas Primas, in which he explained that the purpose for the new Feast. In essence, its purpose was to remind Catholics – year in, year out – of the ultimate authority of Jesus Christ: authority over our hearts, our minds and our wills.

In explaining the need for the new Feast, Pope Pius XI no longer explicitly refers to Freemasons and naturalists – but he clearly has the same forces in mind, as his predecessor Leo XIII did. And so he writes in Quas Primas:

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 [Italics mine].

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.

The rebellion of individuals and states against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences. We lamented these in the Encyclical Ubi Arcano.

We lament them today: the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin.

On the way to ruin … What am I to say?

Today on this Feast of Christ the King, I am faced with this strange, strange irony.

Fifteen years ago, I was reading Rudolf Steiner, as a New Ager, seeing how he thought the world was on the way to ruin – but only Rome was awake to the fact.

And it is a strange fact that these once odd ideas from Steiner did help to free my soul from the New Age vision of Aquarius. Moreover, they helped me understand how Valentin Tomberg, a former follower of Steiner’s, had converted to Catholicism.

Hilaire Belloc and the New Paganism

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Hilaire Belloc, around the 1920s

But let us return to figures in the 1920s – men as diverse as Rudolf Steiner, Pope Pius XI and even the great Hilaire Belloc – who could see the world falling ever more deeply into the grip of bourgeois materialism as Steiner might say or as Pope Pius XI says: ‘Impiety and the neglect of God’ leading to ‘insatiable greed [and] a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage.’

And let us  listen now to these words from Hilaire Belloc, likely written in the 1920s:

We call Paganism an absence of the Christian revelation. That is why we distinguish between Paganism and the different heresies; that is why we give the name of Christian to [Protestants], who only possess a part of Catholic truth …

For a Christian man or society is one that has some part of Catholicism left in him. But when every shred of Catholicism is lost we call that state of things “Unchristian.”

Now, it must be evident to everybody by this time that, with the attack on Faith and the Church at the Reformation, the successful rebellion of so many and their secession from United Christendom, there began a process which could only end in the complete loss of all Catholic doctrine and morals by the deserters.

That consummation we are today reaching.

It took a long time to come about, but come about it has. We have but to look around us to see that there are, spreading over what used to be the Christian world, larger and larger areas over which the Christian spirit has wholly failed; is absent.

I mean by ‘larger areas’ both larger moral and larger physical areas, but especially larger moral areas.

There are now whole groups of books, whole bodies of men, which are definitely Pagan, and these are beginning to join up into larger groups. It is like the freezing over of a pond, which begins in patches of ice; the patches unite to form wide sheets, till at last the whole is one solid surface.

There are considerable masses of literature in the modern world, of philosophy and history (and especially of fiction), which are Pagan and they are coalescing — to form a corpus of anti-Christian influence.

It is not so much that they deny the Incarnation and the Resurrection, not even that they ignore doctrine.

It is rather that they contradict and oppose the old inherited Christian system of morals to which people used to adhere long after they had given up definite doctrine.

This New Paganism is already a world of its own. It bulks large, and it is certainly going to spread and occupy more and more of modern life.

It is exceedingly important that we should judge rightly and in good time of what its effects will probably be, for we are going to come under the influence of those effects to some extent, and our children will come very strongly under their influence [Italics mine].

Those effects are already impressing themselves profoundly upon the Press, conversation, laws, building, and intimate habits of our time.

It is a strange, strange thing: How few Catholics write or think like Pope Pius XI or Hilaire Belloc these days!

And yet how these various descriptions of a materialistic society – naturalistic, impious, immoderate, pagan etc. – would seem far more apt today than they did back in the 1920s!

History is vindicating what Pope Leo XIII saw, what Pope Pius XI saw, what Hilaire Belloc saw – and, yes, what Rudolf Steiner saw.

It is striking how Steiner makes an impassioned plea for our children:

The primary necessity is no longer to allow our children and youth to be taught what has been taught right up to the twentieth century in our universities and in our secondary and elementary schools.

And around the same time, Belloc views – with grim foreboding – the prospect of our children growing up in a non-Christian – that is pagan – materialistic world.

All these things troubled Catholics like Pope Pius XI and Hilaire Belloc very gravely back in the 1920s.

How little they seem to trouble us today!

For myself, I cannot help but wonder what Rudolf Steiner would say were he alive now. Would he say that the Catholic Church was awake when she promulgated the Feast of Christ the King in 1925.

But she is awake no longer?

I wonder, dear Reader.

For myself, it is all the more reason to ponder what lies behind today’s Feast – and to extend my prayers: May Our Lord Jesus Christ reign in our hearts and minds and wills …

 

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