The United States has had an uneasy relationship with the Catholic Church. Some of the Founding Fathers believed that it was a mistake to extend religious liberty and other civil rights to Catholics, who had, in their view, pledged their allegiance to an alien power. And the Catholic Church, for its part, has not always had the most enlightened attitude toward Anglo-American liberalism and its separation of the priestly and stately powers. But the spirit behind the institution of Christ the King was and is entirely consonant with the American idea. To the encroaching and arrogant spirit of communism and fascism the Vicar of Christ said: “No. You are not the beginning and the end. You are not the dispositive power in this universe. You are not the final judge. There is something above you and beyond you and infinitely greater than you. You, with all your bombs and bayonets and prisons, may command all the known world to kneel at your feet, but we have seen pharaohs before, and emperors and god-kings, too, and we have in the end stood over their graves, and thought on the grave that is empty.”
We Americans have a related creed, one that holds these truths to be self-evident, that all men are endowed by — there’s no avoiding the question — their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Our founding notion is that even a king may go only so far and no further — because even the greatest powers on this Earth are, in the end, answerable to an infinitely higher power. On this, there is and can be no negotiation and no compromise. It is not mere coincidence that what the Nazis and the Communists had in common was their paganism, reconstituted for 20th-century consumption. The Christian understanding of the universe, in which God and man meet in the person of Jesus, is fundamentally incompatible with the totalitarian view of the universe, the philosophy of man as meat, the understanding of the human being as a herd animal to be husbanded, traded, milked, and, if the powers that be so decide, slaughtered. The message of Christ the King is that while we may owe the legitimate secular powers some obedience, they cannot claim us as property to be disposed of in accordance with their own whims, because there is Another who has a prior and superseding claim on us.