There’s something rarely heard about the commercialization of Christmas. On the one hand, I can forgive the neo-pagan Marxists for the suppression of Christ—they know not what they do. On the other hand, Catholics, who should know better, have in recent decades anesthetized the Incarnation so as to empty it of all physical reality. The physicality of the Incarnation—that our Lord was truly born during the reign of Caesar Augustus around the year zero—is what brings into relief all of the event’s political and social ramifications.
As time has gone by I have realized this more and more. Marxists and heretics hate Mary because they hate the Incarnation. As Newman observes, they would rather accept Jesus Christ as a “poetical expression, or a devotional exaggeration, or a mystical economy, or a mythical representation”—anything but Jesus Christ, Son of Mary, Son of God. This is because the political and social power in this world can be exercised either according to the authority of God (Rom. 13:1-7) or by means of Satan (Apoc. 13:12).
The Socio-Political Context of the Incarnation
The event in Bethlehem was a violent act against the forces of evil: the reason the Son of God was made manifest was to destroy the work of the Devil (I Jn. 3:8). But this was not merely in our hearts, but at the very center of society from the soul of man to the crown of the king. His birth is an attack on Satan’s claim on all principality, and power, and virtue, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this world, but also in that which is to come (Eph. 1:21). Thus not only do the Devils tremble (Ja. 2:19), but also the kings: king Herod hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him (Lk. 2:3).
The Fathers understood the politics of the Incarnation. Commenting on this verse about Herod from Luke, St. Gregory says “When the King of heaven was born, the earthly king was troubled because, indeed, terrestrial exaltation is confounded when celestial greatness is disclosed” (Homily 10 on the Gospel). “For,” says St. Fulgentius, “this King came, not to fight against and conquer earthly kings, but, by dying, marvellously to subdue them. Not, therefore, was He born to be thy successor, O Herod; but that the world might faithfully believe in Him” (Sermon 1 on Epiphany). “Christ seizes not thy royalty,” says St. Leo, “nor would the Lord of the universe be contented with thy petty sceptre. He, whom thou wishest not to be king in Judæa, reigns everywhere, and thyself wouldst reign more prosperously if thou wouldst be subject to His sway” (Lapide).
But before Herod, Caesar was the first one to propagate his “Gospel” across the Roman Empire as “Son of God,” “Lord,” and “Savior,” decades before our Lord was born. This why God’s army announces the King: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will (Lk. 2:13-14). This is why St. Mark’s Gospel attacks Caesar’s existing propaganda, already decades old: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mk. 1:1).
The Socio-Political Consequences
Christ is King and He possesses all authority [exousia] in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18). He claims dominion over kings, governments, presidents, laws, customs, economies, families and souls. There is nothing in the universe not claimed by His sovereignty. And this is why the temporal authority of the Church has always been the flashpoint of heretical controversy. The Kingdom of Christ is the Holy Spirit Who Incarnates the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ (cf. Quas Primas, 12). This is why Pope Gelasius rebuked the schismatic Roman Emperor with the his famous words during the Acacian Schism. This is why the Greek heresies all attacked the Incarnation, as Soloviev adroitly summarizes:
The fundamental truth and distinctive idea of Christianity is the perfect union of the divine and the human individually achieved in Christ, and finding its social realization in Christian humanity, in which the divine is represented by the Church, centered in the supreme pontiff, and the human by the State. This intimate relation between Church and State implies the primacy of the former, since the divine is previous in time and superior in being to the human. Heresy attacked the perfect unity of the divine and the human in Jesus Christ precisely in order to undermine the living bond between Church and State, and to confer upon the latter an absolute independence. Hence it is clear why the emperors of the Second Rome, intent on maintaining within Christendom the absolutism of the pagan State, were so partial to all the heresies, which were but manifold variations on a single theme:
Jesus Christ is not the true Son of God, consubstantial with the Father; God has not become incarnate; nature and mankind remain cut off from divinity, and are not united to it; and consequently the human State may rightly keep its independence and supremacy intact. Constantius and Valens had indeed good reason to support Arianism (Russia and the Universal Church, 14-15).
The Incarnation is the beginning and end of redemption from the heart of man to society and politics. It begins with the Logos was made flesh and made his tabernacle [eskenosin] among us and we saw his glory (Greek text, Jn. 1:14). This “tabernacle” referred to the prophecy of Amos about the resurrection of the Davidic Kingdom which the Council of Jerusalem dogmatized (Acts 15:1-16:4). The tabernacle was understood as the sovereign rule of God present among men, symbolized by the construction and miraculously manifested by the glory of God. The Incarnation as God’s tabernacle kingdom was typified by Moses’s construction (Ex. 26-40), the temple made by Solomon (III Kngs 7:13-9:3), and the prophesies pf Ezechiel (Ez. 40-48) and Aggeus (Ag. 2:7-10), among many others.
The Son of God became incarnate to destroy the work of the devil and set up the tabernacle kingdom where God would reign with and in man. This is why the consummation of the world ends with the tabernacle begun at Bethlehem: Behold the tabernacle [skene] of God with men, and he will dwell with them (Apoc. 21:3). Having destroyed the pride of kings with great wrath (Apoc. 6-20), God finalizes His rule with His finished tabernacle. This is why the Good Friday Liturgy prays “for the holy Church of God; that our Lord and God may deign to give it peace, subjecting to it principalities and powers.” The presidents, prime ministers, and kings of this world must be subject to the Church. Otherwise they will not serve Christ the King but the will of man and of Satan. In Euro-America today we feel the force of this latter will more and more.
The Experiment of “Not Christmas”
This phrase about subjecting authorities to the Church was censored from the New Liturgy because the Church was attempting to pursue a new approach to Modernity. As Maritain in 1966 celebrated the end of the age of Christendom, “every vestige of the Holy Empire is today liquidated[.]” (Peasant of the Garonne, 4) Or as Paul VI said, the Pope “neither wants to nor ought to exercise henceforth any power other than that of his spiritual keys” (Discourse to the Roman Nobility, Jan. 14, 1964).
The idea of Maritain and Paul VI had already been advocated by James Gibbons in the 1870s shortly after the Papal States were seized by Liberals: when the Church and State are too closely aligned, the State ends up controlling the Church (Faith of our Fathers, ch. 17). This is a valid concern and like Maritain we cannot disagree when he says concerning Christendom that its “grave defects” are “incontestable” (Ibid., 4). That the brutality of barbarism was never fully eradicated from our Christian fathers no one can dispute. And from Constantine and Charlemagne to Michael III, Philip the Fair, Henry VIII and Napoleon, kings have always sought to control the Church.
But we are at the point to consider the barbarity of a world without Christ’s explicit authority proclaimed by the kings of this world. We are at the point to consider whether Pius XI was correct when he said during the First Sexual Revolution (following the “Suicide of Europe”): “these manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics” (Quas Primas).
Following the Second American Civil War (1861-1865) the citizens of the United States have sought nineteen times to amend the Constitution to acknowledge His Majesty. This is because they believed that the Liberal revolution of removing from society the public homage due to the King was a grave error bound to erode the fundamental fabric of politics, society and the family. At best, the experiment of the Conciliar Church and its Liberal rapprochement is an effort to convert “Modern Man” by the tender “medicine of mercy.” At worst, it is an experiment in “Not Christmas,” pretending that Christ did not become Incarnate on earth as King, and that the Church is not His Mystical Body to whom all governments must be subject in faith and morals, and the reign of Christ is merely spiritual, not fleshly, earthly and incarnate. We are at the point where Catholics must truly “read the signs of the times” and choose which of these efforts is the will of God, for the will of Satan is already manifest.
Timothy S. Flanders is the author of Introduction to the Holy Bible for Traditional Catholics. In 2019 he founded The Meaning of Catholic, a lay apostolate. He holds a degree in classical languages from Grand Valley State University and has done graduate work with the Catholic University of Ukraine. He lives in the Midwest with his wife and four children.