“Our individual mystical effort awaits an essential completion in its union with the mystical effort of all other men. The divine milieu which will ultimately be one in the Pleroma, must begin to become one during the earthly phase of our existence . . .To what force is it given to merge and exalt our partial rays into the principal radiance of Christ? To charity, the beginning and the end of all spiritual relationships . . . It is impossible to love Christ without loving others . . . And it is impossible to love others (in a spirit of broad human communion) without moving nearer to Christ.” — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
This week is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time and we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe. The readings can be found here.
The Feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in his first encyclical letter Quas Primas, in response to growing nationalism and secularism of Europe. The title of the feast was “D. N. Jesu Christi Regis” (Our Lord Jesus Christ the King), and the date was “the last Sunday of the month of October – the Sunday, that is, which immediately precedes the Feast of All Saints.
In his 1969 motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis, Pope Paul VI gave the celebration a new title: “D. N. Iesu Christi universorum Regis” (Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe). He also gave it a new date: the last Sunday in the liturgical year. Through this choice of date “the eschatological importance of this Sunday is made clearer”. He assigned to it the highest rank, that of “Solemnity”.
The change in name to “Christ the King of the Universe”, the change in date to the last Sunday of the year and the elevation of rank from Feast to Solemnity all reflect the influence that Teilhard de Chardin’s ideas have had within the Church of the nature of Christ. Christ is not only the Greek Logos set forth in the first chapter of the Gospel of St. John or the incarnation of the form of Jesus of Nazareth. Christ also continues to be the prime mover within the Universe, attracting everything towards him as part of the evolutionary process towards greater unity of the Omega Point that began with the Big Bang. Pope Paul VI’s elevating the celebration of Christ the King of the Universe recognizes these cosmic attributes of the second person of the Trinity.
As David Grumett says:
“Teilhard presents this cosmic dimension [of Christ] as providing a challenges of modern critical thought that does not compromise theology in the way that modernist tendencies did. He wishes to articulate Christ’s universal power over creation in more than the extrinsic and juridical terms to which he found that power to be so often reduced. Teilhard is inspired in his task by the 1925 encyclical Quas Primas, proclaiming the Feast of Christ the King. This encyclical connects Christ’s spiritual reign in hearts and wills with the enthroning of the Sacred Heart by families in their homes and with efforts to combat republican anticlericalism. Promulgated in the sixteenth millennial year of the Council of Nicaea, the encyclical’s naming of Christ the King is justified as a consequence of the everlasting kingdom of Christ referred to in the Nicene Creed produced in the Church’s confrontation with Arianism. . . . On realizing that the world comprises a single whole:
“we begin to see more distinctly rising over our interior world the great sun of Christ the King, of Christ amictus mundo, of the Universal Christ. Little by little, stage by stage, everything is finally linked to the supreme center in quo omnia constant.”
Quas Primas recognizes Christ as being the ‘crowing glory’ of the world, and the encyclical’s teaching, Teilhard states, makes a ‘gesture which marks a decisive stage in the development of dogma . . . towards a more universalist and more realistic appreciation of the Incarnation. Teilhard himself employs the image of Christ the King to show how Christ sustains all material things by unifying and governing them. This christology is a natural consequence, he believes, of any serious appraisal of the power of Christ’s resurrection in its full extent:
‘We are too often inclined to regard the Resurrection as an isolated event in time, with an apologetical significance, as some small individual triumph over the tomb won in turn by Christ. It is something quite other and much greater than that. It is a tremendous cosmic event. It marks Christ’s effective assumption of his function as the universal center.’
This cosmic christology appears synonymous with the doctrine of the kingship of Christ contained in Quas Primas, but is in fact a significant development of it. Teilhard rereads the encyclical on the final day of his 1939 retreat, and demurs that it depicts Christ as possessing an inferior primacy to that granted him in [Chapter 1 of] the Letter to the Colossians, in which Christ is the ‘image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation’, creator and sustainer of all things, whether heavenly and earthly, and the source of their consistency. . . . Christ’s primacy is too often reduced, Teilhard complains, to purely moral or legal terms, which fail by themselves to communicate its organic character:
‘Between Christ the King and the Universal Christ, there is perhaps no more than a slight difference in emphasis, but it is nevertheless all-important. It is the whole difference between an external power, which can only be juridical and static, and an internal domination which, inchoate in matter and culminating in grace, operates upon us by and through all the organic linkages of the progressing world.’
James Lyones argues that the term ‘universal Christ’ . . . is virtually synonymous with the ‘cosmic Christ’ but conveys a stronger sense of the personality of the second member of the Godhead. The concept of universality thus contains a clearer affirmation of the particularity of Christ and the possibility of humanity entering into a relation with Christ.”
Source: David Grumett, “Teilhard de Chardin: Theology, Humanity and Cosmos”, Leuven and Dudley, Mass.: Peeters, (2005), pp. 126-28.