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Long Live the King!

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Monarchy, according to a wide range of sources new and old, is one of the most natural and beneficial forms of government, but you wouldn’t know it by reading history books in the United States. There, it is presented as the most contemptible form imaginable. We have a bit of a difference of opinion, then. Whose judgment is more sound, the friends of the king or his enemies?

Let us take a look at three of the major religions/civilizations from world history to try to find an answer.

First, the Classical, pre-Christian civilization:

Much of the Classical tradition insists on monarchy as the proper means for the moralization and humanization of the people: e.g., Musonius Rufus:

In the next place it is essential for the king to exercise self-control over himself and demand self-control of his subjects, to the end that with sober rule and seemly submission there shall be no wantonness on the part of either. For the ruin of the ruler and the citizen alike is wantonness. But how would anyone achieve self-control if he did not make an effort to curb his desires, or how could one who is undisciplined make others temperate? One can mention no study except philosophy that develops self-control. Certainly it teaches one to be above pleasure and greed, to admire thrift and to avoid extravagance; it trains one to have a sense of shame, and to control one's tongue, and it produces discipline, order, and courtesy, and in general what is fitting in action and in bearing. In an ordinary man when these qualities are present they give him dignity and self-command, but if they be present in a king they make him preeminently godlike and worthy of reverence. ~Musonius Rufus, That Kings Also Should Study Philosophy, Fragment 8

Source:  David Armstrong, https://www.eighthdayinstitute.org/heaven_favors_the_crown_an_apology_for_monarchy

Next, the Jewish view:

Monarchy in the Jewish tradition also begins with the conviction of divine kingship mediated by a human representative. God is the ultimate king over the people of Israel and, also, the cosmos.

. . .

Hence the opening to most of the wealth of Jewish prayer: Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh HaOlam, "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe..." The kingship of Israel's God, both over the heavenly powers whom the other nations worship as gods as well as over the earth and all of its kingdoms, and especially of Israel, is the central theme of the Psalms (e.g., LXX Ps. 43:4, 92:1, 94:3, 95:10, 96:1, 98:1, 144:1, 13, 145:10, 149:2). However, the Old Testament generally maintains that God's divine kingship is to be rightfully mediated through the human Israelite monarch. Despite the anti-monarchic material found in 1 Samuel 8, the majority of the Deuteronomistic History seems to assume both the inevitability, legitimacy, and necessity of the Israelite monarchy (see, for example, Dt. 17:14-20). This is the explicit apologetic point of the Book of Judges: namely, the repeated idolatry and covenant infidelity displayed by Israel in the period of the Judges was possible only because "in those days there was no King in Israel; [therefore] every one did what was right in his own eyes." (Jg. 17:6, 21:25).

The Davidic dynasty, especially, is chosen by God to rule Israel forever (2 Sam. 7:1-17) and is promised inheritance of the nations and the ends of the earth, and imperial dominance over other kings and lands (LXX Ps. 2:7-9; 71:8-11; 88:27). The Isaianic visions maintains that Israel's messianic future will be symbolized and centralized around the rule of a Davidic descendant whose rule will be eternal and through whom peace is created among the nations and to whom all of the Gentile kings and nations both pay homage and look to in hope (e.g. Is. 9:6-7, 11:1-10). Hence the thrice daily prayer of the Siddur:

May the offshoot of Thy servant David soon flower, and may his pride be raised high by Thy salvation, for we wait for Thy salvation all day. Blessed art Thou, LORD, who makes the glory of salvation flourish. ~Fifteenth Benediction

Source:  Ibid.

And, lastly, the Orthodox Christian view:

The Christian tradition, itself an extension of the Jewish tradition, everywhere seeks to explain Christ in his relationship to the Davidic royal house, as the proper heir to the throne of Israel. The sheer amount of material evidencing this fact in the New Testament and Apostolic Fathers is exhausting in its size and depth, but some important passages are worth noting. Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy that seeks to establish Jesus' Davidic legitimacy and populates his Gospel with references to Jesus's royalty (e.g. 2:1-12) and Davidic inheritance (e.g., Mt. 9:27, 12:1-8, 23, 15:22). The Annunciation in Luke, iconically represented on the royal doors of every Orthodox iconostasis, consists in an angelic promise that Jesus will reign forever as Davidic king:

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the houes of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." ~Luke 1:32-33

 . . . For St. Paul, Jesus' Davidic royal status is an integral part of the Gospel (e.g., Rom. 1:1-4, 15:12; 2 Tim. 2:8), as it is to the Apocalypse (Rev. 3:7, 5:5, 22:16) and the Apostolic Fathers, where Christ's descent from David is often especially connected to the Eucharistic celebration, as a foretaste of the coming, all-encompassing Davidic kingdom (Ignatius Trallians 9:1-2; cf. Ephesians 18:2, 20:2; Romans 7:3; Smyrnaeans 1:1; Didache 9-10). St. Paul, especially, draws on the rhetoric and language of ancient kingship discourse to exalt Christ, and the logic of kingship proliferates his letters everywhere (seriously, I can't recommend Jipp's book [Joshua Jipp, Christ Is King: Paul’s Royal Ideology—W.G.] highly enough for this sort of thing).

While ultimately Christians should maintain the apocalyptic sense that they are exiles and strangers among the kingdoms of this present age, since they are a peculiar people unto God and co-heirs with Israel in the divine election and inheritance (1 Pt. 2:1-12), Christians are also confident that the "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15). That is, Christ, as Son of David, has indeed inherited reign and rule over all the nations and the ends of the earth and sits now at the right hand of God until his enemies are utterly subdued (LXX Ps. 109:1). But within God's kingdom, exercised and ruled through his Davidic Messiah, the Christian tradition has usually asserted the possibility of Christian vassal-kings — that is, sub-monarchs who may rule in a godly manner on behalf of the exalted Christ, kings who owe their allegiance and homage to the King of kings, the Son of David and of God.

The institution of Christian monarchy has been by no means perfect, but it has served an important function for most of the Classical Christian traditions since roughly the 4th century. While Byzantium may be the natural candidate for the consideration of a Christian monarchy in the patristic era, it is not the only one; Georgia was ruled by Christian kings for centuries, as were Ethiopia and Russia. In each case, the monarchy was conceived in different terms and produced a variety of monarchs upon whom history affords the luxury of modern judgment and estimation. Of interest are the ways in which, in each instance of Christian monarchy, the power and legitimacy of the earthly monarch is always subordinated to the divine monarchy exercised through Christ. A powerful example of this in Byzantium was the refusal to address the emperor as empsychos nomos, living law, since this title was afforded solely to Christ, having fulfilled the Law of God in himself and become the true living Law. There are clear boundaries: a monarchy may submit itself to Christ and seek to act in accord with Christ's lordship, but there is no confusion between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Justinian, Davit IV, or Vladimir of Kiev.

 . . .

Whether Trump and Sanders supporters are longing for the kind of government that monarchy offers — a system where the gridlock of democratic and republican structures is bypassed by the dictatorial power of a single ruler — American Christians need to come to terms with the legitimacy their tradition assumes for such a system and, indeed, the ways in which monarchy is integral to the faith that they proclaim and the hope for which they long as Christians. This should influence not just the way that we approach the upcoming election (which increasingly presents us with fewer and fewer good options for a new POTUS), but also American politics in general: as apocalypticists by nature, we are essentially enemies of any and every State, being as we are allegiant to a King who has promised to shatter the power and stability of every presently existing rule and replace it with his own; from another perspective, we recognize the possibility for an interim rule characterized by Christian standards, but recognize also that such a thing has traditionally been carried out by monarchy. Moreover, a return to monarchy would be the most straightforwardly Classical and biblical solution to the dissolution of the moral consciousness of Western culture.

In short, heaven favors the crown. St. John of Kronstadt was right: "In Heaven, there is a Kingdom; in Hell, there is Democracy."

Source:  Ibid.

Positive sentiments about kings like the foregoing are common in human history. But the Official American View is radically different. An example of it is given by Thomas Jefferson:

"I was much an enemy of monarchies before I came to Europe. I am ten thousand times more so since I have seen what they are. There is scarcely an evil known in these countries which may not be traced to their king as its source, nor a good which is not derived from the small fibres of republicanism existing among them." —Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 1788.

Source:  https://famguardian.org/Subjects/Politics/ThomasJefferson/jeff0400.htm

Is this justified? No. It is an outgrowth of Protestant theology: At the moment of conversion, as their teaching goes, a man receives instant deification, the full indwelling of the Holy Ghost, which makes him an equal to the Holy Fathers and all others in discerning what is true and false in Christian doctrine. No bishop, council, etc. will be his master in the spiritual life. He is perfectly capable of directing himself.

This kind of thinking did not stay within the bounds of religion. It spread to the political realm as well. If a man is enlightened enough by the Holy Ghost to be ‘sovereign’ regarding his spiritual life, how much more so is he enabled to rule himself in political matters, since these are less important and less complex than things religious? The result: Kings and all political hierarchies must be overthrown and torn down, and all middling-and lower-class individuals are (in theory) made the rulers.

But hierarchy is the norm in all spheres of life — religion, politics, family, army, etc. The U.S. rejection of hierarchy is the cause of its great difference with the rest of mankind.  This is not an ‘exceptional’ virtue to praise, but a clear case of pride to bemoan and repent of. Orthodox Christian teaching is clear (we leave aside here the teaching of the Roman Catholics, though it is similar to the Orthodox position, since the Pope is also in rebellion, having raised himself to the level of absolute ruler over all things spiritual and political in the world, which is an upending of the conciliar nature of the episcopacy and a usurping of the God-ordained authority of the king):  In order to advance on the path of the virtues and obtain humility, we are to cut off our own will, mistrust ourselves, and put ourselves under the guidance of spiritually experienced, righteous elders. The parallel to this in politics is the obedience of the people to their Christian kings, who receive their authority from God, and to the nobles, governors, and other officials underneath the kings; these in turn are ready to sacrifice their lives for the people they rule, as Christ the King did for all mankind.

The U.S. system of government is not the pinnacle of political development, only the outworking of a particular theology in a particular time and place, a theology furthermore that is incorrect in some of its beliefs.  It is a political creed that is neither universally applicable nor universally desired.

When their egos deflate a little bit, folks in the States will begin to understand this.

Author: Walt Garlington