“The Category Is: Royalty!”

by The Rev. Craig Lemming, Associate Rector


“My kingdom is not from this world.” – John 18:36

In his book, Slavery and Freedom (1944), Russian Religious Philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev makes the distinction between social aristocracy and spiritual aristocracy. Social aristocracy is enslaved in exclusivist constructs of racial or monarchical privilege based on hereditary caste systems of oppression. Of spiritual aristocracy, Berdyaev writes:

“True spiritual aristocracy is connected with a sense of service, not with the consciousness of one’s own privileged position. Real aristocracy is nothing less than the attainment of spiritual freedom, of independence from the surrounding world and from human quantity, in whatever form that may take. It is nothing less than hearkening to the inward voice, the voice of God, and the voice of conscience.”

In the documentary film, The Gospel According to André, style icon André Leon Talley says, “You can be aristocratic without having been born into an aristocratic family.” Indeed, not only did André survive the unspeakable horrors of growing up black, gay, and poor in the Jim Crow South, he broke through racial, gendered, and classist barriers and became one of the world’s greatest arbiters of taste as the editor-at-large of Vogue magazine. As Whoopi Goldberg remarks, “he was so many things he wasn’t supposed to be, and they couldn’t get around it.” I believe Berdyaev’s “spiritual aristocracy” is what André’s faithful grandmother instilled in him and we catch glimpses of this noble spirit in the trailer to the documentary film:

Across time and space, I wonder if Nikolai Berdyaev might have glimpsed in André’s tragic and beautiful story the spiritually aristocratic person he described in 1944: “that man is to be called unusual, and remarkable, who is unable to reconcile himself to the commonplace routine and limitations of existence, the man within whom there is a break-through into infinity, who does not consent to the final objectivization of human existence.”

This Eastertide, as we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Jesus Christ’s “break-through into infinity,” we ponder Nikolai Berdyaev’s profound words to us as followers of Jesus our Servant-King:

“Christianity has overthrown the principles of Greco-Roman culture, and in so doing has affirmed the dignity of every person, of their kinship to God. It has affirmed the image of God in every person, and Christianity alone is able to unite democracy, the equality of humankind in the sight of God, with the aristocratic principle of personality, the spiritual equality of persons, which is not dependent upon society and the masses. Christian aristocracy has nothing in common with caste aristocracy. Pure Christianity is profoundly antithetic to the spirit of caste which is the spirit of a double slavery, the slavery of the aristocratic caste itself and the slavery of those over whom the caste desires to dominate. The aristocracy of Cato is exclusive and finite. Christian spiritual aristocracy is thrown open and infinite.”

Our Kingdom is not of this world. Ours is not this demonic Kingdom of Caesar. Our Kingdom is the Kingdom of God who is extravagant and unconditional love enacted in Christ. As members incorporate in the Risen Body of Christ, we dedicate our lives to prayer, love, and service, and our existence continues to be “thrown open and infinite” by Him, and with Him, and in Him – our eternal Priest, Prophet, and King: Jesus.


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