Saint Ethelbert, February 23rd 2016, Ramsgate
Today we are celebrating Saint Ethelbert, the first Christian King of the English people, on the one thousand and four hundredth anniversary of his death. This gives us the occasion to be more aware of the inestimable gift of the Catholic faith. At the same time, we can see the extraordinary salutary effects on a whole nation and country during a long and even millennial period when those in civil authority do accept Christ and let Him rule as the only one true king in all domains of the human society.
Christ is the true king over all human race and human society. Only He has the legitimate power over humankind, for He has conquered it by His precious Blood. God Father says to His Only Begotten and Incarnated Son: “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. I will make the nations your heritage” (Ps 2: 7-8) and another Psalm the Holy Spirit speaks about Christ: “May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! ” (Ps 72: 11). Christ the Lamb of God is the only King of kings as the Apocalypses says (cf. Apoc 17: 14; 19: 16). The kingship of Christ refers not only to the heavenly or eternal life, but has to be realized already in the time on earth. If it would not be so, He would not be really the King of kings nor the nations and people on earth would be His heritage, and Christ would be only half a king and the truth of His Incarnation would not embrace all realities of the humanity. To limit the kingship of Christ to the invisible and eternal world, would contradict the numerous and clear affirmations of the Holy Scripture, the constant understanding of the Church throughout two millennia and a mutilation of the full truth of the Incarnation. For the Incarnated God Himself solemnly proclaimed that all power was given him in heaven and on earth (cf. Math 28: 18). Therefore, since the time of the Apostles, every Christian soul who real believes in the Incarnation of the Son of God and in His universal kingship and loves Him ardently, has to proclaim as it did the whole Church always: “Christ must be king, until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Kor 15: 25).
Pope Pius XI said: Christ is called “King, because of the high degree of perfection whereby he excels all creatures. So he is said to reign “in the hearts of men,” both by reason of the keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all mankind. He reigns, too, in the wills of men, for in him the human will was perfectly and entirely obedient to the Holy Will of God, and further by his grace and inspiration he so subjects our free-will as to incite us to the most noble endeavors. He is King of hearts, too, by reason of his “charity which exceeds all knowledge.” And his mercy and kindness which draw all men to him, for never has it been known, nor will it ever be, that man be loved so much and so universally as Jesus Christ. But, if we ponder this matter more deeply, we cannot but see 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,” (Dan. vii, 13-14) 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” (Encyclical Quas primas, 7).
Christ’s kingship is founded upon the ineffable hypostatic union. From this it follows not only that Christ as God must be adored by angels and men, but that to Him as man angels and men and consequently also the entire civil society and their rulers are subject, and must recognize his empire. In Christ the King’s Encyclical of Pius XI we can hear the perennial and unchangeable teaching of the Supreme Magisterium: “It would be a grave error 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. He who gives the heavenly kingdom does not take away the moral kingdoms: Non eripit mortalia qui regna dat caelestia. (Hymn of Epiphany). To use the words of Pope Leo XIII: “His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons … but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ.” (Enc. Annum Sacrum, May 25, 1899). Nor is there any difference in this matter between the individual and the family or the State; for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. In him is the salvation of the individual, in him is the salvation of society. “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved” (Acts iv, 12). He is the author of happiness and true prosperity for every man and for every nation. … 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” (Quas primas, 17;18).
The twentieth century was marked by a systematic exclusion and alienation of Christ the King from the human society by Atheist dictatorships. The first political attempt of such an exclusion of Christ the King was, however, made already by the French Revolution. An entire region of France, the people of Vendee, protested and proclaimed the Royal Heart of Christ as being their King and applied a legitimate self-defense. This had costed the life of hundreds of thousands of people and they were the first Martyrs of Christ the King in modern times. Another remarkable example were the thousands of Catholics who were killed by the Freemason dictatorship in Mexico in the twenties of the last centurybecause of their fidelity to Christ the King. Their distinctive acclamation was “Long live Christ the King!” (Viva Cristo Rey!). It was at the same time a confession of faith, a kind of password and the last prayer on their lips in the moment of their martyrdom.
One of the most moving and luminous examples of such a martyr of Christ the King in that time, was a fourteen year old boy, called Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio. On the way to execution, soldiers struck him savagely with sharp machetes. With every blow, the young boy cried out, “Viva Cristo Rey!” When he got to the cemetery, he was bleeding heavily. His torturers had also cut off the soles of his feet and forced him to walk on salt. The boy screamed with pain but would not give in. As the road was nothing but rocks and dirt, the stones where he had walked were soaked in his blood. The soldiers said: “If you shout, ‘Death to Christ the King’, we will spare your life.” He only answered: “Long live Christ the King!”. The commander ordered the soldiers to bayonet Jose. They pierced his body. But, with every stab he only shouted louder and louder: “Viva Cristo Rey!” The commander was so enraged that he pulled out his pistol and killed Blessed Jose on the spot; it was February 10, 1928. Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio was declared a martyr and was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, and will be canonized in this year 2016.
In its history, England is blessed by a considerable great number of saint kings, who enthroned Christ as a king not only in their heart, but also in the public life of the entire society, over which they ruled. The very beginning of the Christian, Catholic and even saint kings of England represents Saint Ethelbert. May this Saint and the many modern martyrs of Christ the King implore us the grace, that Christ may by always enthroned as a king in our heart, in our mind and in our will; and that we may strongly desire and contribute within our possibilities that Christ be the King of every soul and the King of every human society on this earth, Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio, all modern martyrs of Christ the King and Saint Ethelbert, the saint king of England, pray for us. Long live Christ the King! Amen.