PARADOXES OF CATHOLICISM
BY ROBERT HUGH BENSON
These sermons (which the following pages contain in a much abbreviated
form) were delivered, partly in England in various places and at various
times, partly in New York in the Lent of 1912, and finally, as a
complete course, in the church of S. Silvestro-in-Capite, in Rome, in
the Lent of 1913. Some of the ideas presented in this book have already
been set out in a former volume entitled "Christ in the Church" and a
few in the meditations upon the Seven Words, in another volume, but in
altogether other connexions. The author thought it better, therefore, to
risk repetition rather than incoherency in the present set of
considerations. It is hoped that the repetitions are comparatively few.
Italics have been used for all quotations, whether verbal or
substantial, from Holy Scripture and other literature.
ROBERT HUGH BENSON
HARE STREET HOUSE, BUNTINGFORD
(i) JESUS CHRIST, GOD AND MAN
(ii) THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, DIVINE AND HUMAN
I PEACE AND WAR
II WEALTH AND POVERTY
III SANCTITY AND SIN
IV JOY AND SORROW
V LOVE OF GOD AND LOVE OF MAN
VI FAITH AND REASON
VII AUTHORITY AND LIBERTY
VIII CORPORATENESS AND INDIVIDUALISM
IX MEEKNESS AND VIOLENCE
X THE SEVEN WORDS
XI LIFE AND DEATH
PARADOXES OF CATHOLICISM
(i) JESUS CHRIST, GOD AND MAN
I and My Father are one.—JOHN X. 30.
My Father is greater than I.—JOHN XIV. 20.
The mysteries of the Church, a materialistic scientist once announced to
an astonished world, are child's play compared with the mysteries of
nature. He was completely wrong, of course, yet there was every
excuse for his mistake. For, as he himself tells us in effect, he found
everywhere in that created nature which he knew so well, anomaly piled
on anomaly and paradox on paradox, and he knew no more of theology than
its simpler and more explicit statements.
[Footnote 1: Professor Huxley.]
We can be certain therefore—we who understand that the mysteries of
nature are, after all, within the limited circle of created life, while
the mysteries of grace run up into the supreme Mystery of the eternal
and uncreated Life of God—we can be certain that, if nature is
mysterious and paradoxical, grace will be incalculably more mysterious.
For every paradox in the world of matter, in whose environment our
bodies are confined, we shall find a hundred in that atmosphere of
spirit in which our spirits breathe and move—those spirits of ours
which, themselves, paradoxically enough, are forced to energize under
We need look no further, then, to find these mysteries than to that tiny
mirror of the Supernatural which we call our self, to that little thread
of experience which we name the "spiritual life." How is it, for
example, that while in one mood our religion is the lamp of our shadowy
existence, in another it is the single dark spot upon a world of
pleasure—in one mood the single thing that makes life worth living at
all, and in another the one obstacle to our contentment? What are those
sorrowful and joyful mysteries of human life, mutually contradictory yet
together resultant (as in the Rosary itself) in others that are
glorious? Turn to that master passion that underlies these
mysteries—the passion that is called love—and see if there be anything
more inexplicable than such an explanation. What is this passion, then,
that turns joy to sorrow and sorrow to joy—this motive that drives a
man to lose his life that he may save it, that turns bitter to sweet and
makes the cross but a light yoke after all, that causes him to find his
centre outside his own circle, and to please himself best by depriving
himself of pleasure? What is that power that so often fills us with
delights before we have begun to labour, and rewards our labour with
the darkness of dereliction?
I. If our interior life, then, is full of paradox and apparent
contradiction—and there is no soul that has made any progress that does
not find it so—we should naturally expect that the Divine Life of Jesus
Christ on earth, which is the central Objective Light of the World
reflected in ourselves, should be full of yet more amazing anomalies.
Let us examine the records of that Life and see if it be not so. And let
us for that purpose begin by imagining such an examination to be made by
an inquirer who has never received the Christian tradition.
(i) He begins to read, of course, with the assumption that this Life is
as others and this Man as other men; and as he reads he finds a hundred
corroborations of the theory. Here is one, born of a woman, hungry and
thirsty by the wayside, increasing in wisdom; one who works in a
carpenter's shop; rejoices and sorrows; one who has friends and enemies;
who is forsaken by the one and insulted by the other—who passes, in
fact, through all those experiences of human life to which mankind is
subject—one who dies like other men and is laid in a grave.
Even the very marvels of that Life he seeks to explain by the marvellous
humanity of its hero. He can imagine, as one such inquirer has said, how
the magic of His presence was so great—the magic of His simple yet
perfect humanity—that the blind opened their eyes to see the beauty of
His face and the deaf their ears to hear Him.
Yet, as he reads further, he begins to meet his problems. If this Man
were man only, however perfect and sublime, how is it that His sanctity
appears to run by other lines than those of other saints? Other perfect
men as they approached perfection were most conscious of imperfection;
other saints as they were nearer God lamented their distance from Him;
other teachers of the spiritual life pointed always away from themselves
and their shortcomings to that Eternal Law to which they too aspired.
Yet with this Man all seems reversed. He, as He stood before the world,
called on men to imitate Him; not, as other leaders have done, to avoid
His sins: this Man, so far from pointing forward and up, pointed to
Himself as the Way to the Father; so far from adoring a Truth to which
He strove, named Himself its very incarnation; so far from describing a
Life to which He too one day hoped to rise, bade His hearers look on
Himself Who was their Life; so far from deploring to His friends the
sins under which He laboured, challenged His enemies to find within Him
any sin at all. There is an extraordinary Self-consciousness in Him that
has in it nothing of "self" as usually understood.
Then it may be, at last, that our inquirer approaches the Gospel with a
new assumption. He has been wrong, he thinks, in his interpretation that
such a Life as this was human at all. "Never man spake like this
man." He echoes from the Gospel, "What manner of man is this that even
the winds and the sea obey Him? How, after all," he asks himself,
"could a man be born without a human father, how rise again from the
dead upon the third day?" Or, "How even could such marvels be related at
all of one who was no more than other men?"
So once more he begins. Here, he tells himself, is the old fairy story
come true; here is a God come down to dwell among men; here is the
solution of all his problems. And once more he finds himself bewildered.
For how can God be weary by the wayside, labour in a shop, and die upon
a cross? How can the Eternal Word be silent for thirty years? How can
the Infinite lie in a manger? How can the Source of Life be subject to
He turns in despair, flinging himself from theory to theory—turns to
the words of Christ Himself, and the perplexity deepens with every
utterance. If Christ be man, how can He say, My Father and I are one?
If Christ be God, how can He proclaim that His Father is greater than
He? If Christ be Man, how can He say, Before Abraham was, I am? If
Christ be God, how can He name Himself the Son of Man.
(ii) Turn to the spiritual teaching of Jesus Christ, and once more
problem follows problem, and paradox, paradox.
Here is He Who came to soothe men's sorrows and to give rest to the
weary, He Who offers a sweet yoke and a light burden, telling them that
no man can be His disciple who will not take up the heaviest of all
burdens and follow Him uphill. Here is one, the Physician of souls and
bodies, Who went about doing good, Who set the example of activity in
God's service, pronouncing the silent passivity of Mary as the better
part that shall not be taken away from her. Here at one moment He turns
with the light of battle in His eyes, bidding His friends who have not
swords to sell their cloaks and buy them; and at another bids those
swords to be sheathed, since His Kingdom is not of this world. Here is
the Peacemaker, at one time pronouncing His benediction on those who
make peace, and at another crying that He came to bring not peace but a
sword. Here is He Who names as blessed those that mourn bidding His
disciples to rejoice and be exceeding glad. Was there ever such a
Paradox, such perplexity, and such problems? In His Person and His
teaching alike there seems no rest and no solution—What think ye of
Christ? Whose Son is He?
II. (i) The Catholic teaching alone, of course, offers a key to these
questions; yet it is a key that is itself, like all keys, as complicated
as the wards which it alone can unlock. Heretic after heretic has sought
for simplification, and heretic after heretic has therefore come to
confusion. Christ is God, cried the Docetic; therefore cut out from the
Gospels all that speaks of the reality of His Manhood! God cannot bleed
and suffer and die; God cannot weary; God cannot feel the sorrows of
man. Christ is Man, cries the modern critic; therefore tear out from the
Gospels His Virgin Birth and His Resurrection! For none but a Catholic
can receive the Gospels as they were written; none but a man who
believes that Christ is both God and Man, who is content to believe that
and to bow before the Paradox of paradoxes that we call the Incarnation,
to accept the blinding mystery that Infinite and Finite Natures were
united in one Person, that the Eternal expresses Himself in Time, and
that the Uncreated Creator united to Himself Creation—none but a
Catholic, in a word, can meet, without exception, the mysterious
phenomena of Christ's Life.
(ii) Turn now again to the mysteries of our own limited life and, as in
a far-off phantom parallel, we begin to understand.
For we too, in our measure, have a double nature. As God and Man make
one Christ, so soul and body make one man: and, as the two natures of
Christ—as His Perfect Godhead united to His Perfect Manhood—lie at the
heart of the problems which His Life presents, so too our affinities
with the clay from which our bodies came, and with the Father of Spirits
Who inbreathed into us living souls, explain the contradictions of our
If we were but irrational beasts, we could be as happy as the beasts;
if we were but discarnate spirits that look on God, the joy of the
angels would be ours. Yet if we assume either of these two truths as if
it were the only truth, we come certainly to confusion. If we live as
the beasts, we cannot sink to their contentment, for our immortal part
will not let us be; if we neglect or dispute the rightful claims of the
body, that very outraged body drags our immortal spirit down. The
acceptance of the two natures of Christ alone solves the problems of the
Gospel; the acceptance of the two parts of our own nature alone enables
us to live as God intends. Our spiritual and physical moods, then, rise
and fall as the one side or the other gains the upper hand: now our
religion is a burden to the flesh, now it is the exercise in which our
soul delights; now it is the one thing that makes life worth living, now
the one thing that checks our enjoyment of life. These moods alternate,
inevitably and irresistibly, according as we allow the balance of our
parts to be disturbed and set swaying. And so, ultimately, there is
reserved for us the joy neither of beasts nor of angels, but the joy of
humanity. We are higher than the one, we are lower than the other, that
we may be crowned by Him Who in that same Humanity sits on the Throne of
So much, then, for our introduction. We have seen how the Paradox of the
Incarnation alone is adequate to the phenomena recorded in the
Gospel—how that supreme paradox is the key to all the rest. We will
proceed to see how it is also the key to other paradoxes of religion, to
the difficulties which the history of Catholicism presents. For the
Catholic Church is the extension of Christ's Life on earth; the Catholic
Church, therefore, that strange mingling of mystery and common-sense,
that union of earth and heaven, of clay and fire, can alone be
understood by him who accepts her as both Divine and Human, since she is
nothing else but the mystical presentment, in human terms, of Him Who,
though the Infinite God and the Eternal Creator, was found in the form
of a servant, of Him Who, dwelling always in the Bosom of the Father,
for our sakes came down from heaven.
(ii) THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, DIVINE AND HUMAN
Blessed art thou Simon Bar-jona; because flesh and blood hath not
revealed it to thee, but My Father Who is in heaven…. Go behind me,
satan, for thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things
that are of men.—MATT. XVI. 17, 23.
We have seen how the only reconciliation of the paradoxes of the Gospel
lies in the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation. It is only to him who
believes that Jesus Christ is perfect God and perfect Man that the
Gospel record is coherent and intelligible. The heretics—men who for
the most part either rejected or added to the inspired record—were
those who, on the one side, accepted Christ's Divinity and rejected the
proofs of His Humanity, or accepted His Humanity and rejected the proofs
of His Divinity. In the early ages, for the most part, these accepted
His Divinity and, rejecting His Humanity, invented childish miracles
which they thought appropriate to a God dwelling on earth in a phantom
manhood; at the present day, rejecting His Divinity, they reject also
those miracles for which His Divinity alone is an adequate explanation.
Now the Catholic Church is an extension of the Incarnation. She too
(though, as we shall see, the parallel is not perfect) has her Divine
and Human Nature, which alone can account for the paradoxes of her
history; and these paradoxes are either predicted by Christ—asserted,
that is, as part of His spiritual teaching—or actually manifested in
His own life. (We may take them as symbolised, so to speak, in those
words of our Lord to St. Peter in which He first commends him as a man
inspired by God and then, almost simultaneously, rebukes him as one who
can rise no further than an earthly ideal at the best.)
I. (i) Just as we have already imagined a well-disposed inquirer
approaching for the first time the problems of the Gospel, so let us now
again imagine such a man, in whom the dawn of faith has begun,
encountering the record of Catholicism.
At first all seems to him Divine. He sees, for example, how singularly
unique she is, how unlike to all other human societies. Other societies
depend for their very existence upon a congenial human environment; she
flourishes in the most uncongenial. Other societies have their day and
pass down to dissolution and corruption; she alone knows no corruption.
Other dynasties rise and fall; the dynasty of Peter the Fisherman
remains unmoved. Other causes wax and wane with the worldly influence
which they can command; she is usually most effective when her earthly
interest is at the lowest ebb.
Or again, he falls in love with her Divine beauty and perceives even in
her meanest acts a grace which he cannot understand. He notices with
wonder how she takes human mortal things—a perishing pagan language, a
debased architecture, an infant science or philosophy—and infuses into
them her own immortality. She takes the superstitions of a country-side
and, retaining their "accidents," transubstantiates them into truth; the
customs or rites of a pagan society, and makes them the symbols of a
living worship. And into all she infuses a spirit that is all her own—a
spirit of delicate grace and beauty of which she alone has the secret.
It is her Divinity, then, that he sees, and rightly. But, wrongly, he
draws certain one-sided conclusions. If she is so perfect, he argues (at
least subconsciously), she can be nothing else than perfect; if she is
so Divine she can be in no sense human. Her pontiffs must all be saints,
her priests shining lights, her people stars in her firmament. If she is
Divine, her policy must be unerring, her acts all gracious, her lightest
movements inspired. There must be no brutality anywhere, no
self-seeking, no ambition, no instability. How should there be, since
she is Divine?
Such are his first instincts. And then, little by little, his
For, as he studies her record more deeply, he begins to encounter
evidences of her Humanity. He reads history, and he discovers here and
there a pontiff who but little in his moral character resembles Him
Whose Vicar he is. He meets an apostate priest; he hears of some
savagery committed in Christ's name; he talks with a convert who has
returned complacently to the City of Confusion; there is gleefully
related to him the history of a family who has kept the faith all
through the period of persecution and lost it in the era of toleration.
And he is shaken and dismayed. "How can these be in a Society that is
Divine? I had trusted that it had been_ She who should have redeemed
Israel; and now—!"
(ii) Another man approaches the record of Catholicism from the opposite
direction. To him she is a human society and nothing more; and he finds,
indeed, a thousand corroborations of his theory. He views her amazing
success in the first ages of Christianity—the rapid propagation of her
tenets and the growth of her influence—and sees behind these things
nothing more than the fortunate circumstance of the existence of the
Roman Empire. Or he notices the sudden and rapid rise of the power of
the Roman pontiff and explains this by the happy chance that moved the
centre of empire to the east and left in Rome an old prestige and an
empty throne. He sees how the Church has profited by the divisions in
Europe; how she has inherited the old Latin genius for law and order;
and he finds in these things an explanation of her unity and of her
claim to rule princes and kings. She is to him just human, and no more.
There is not, at first sight, a phenomenon of her life for which he
cannot find a human explanation. She is interesting, as a result of
innumerable complicated forces; she is venerable, as the oldest coherent
society in Europe; she has the advantage of Italian diplomacy; she has
been shrewd, unweary, and persevering. But she is no more.
And then, as he goes deeper, he begins to encounter phenomena which do
not fall so easily under his compact little theories. If she is merely
human, why do not the laws of all other human societies appear to affect
her too? Why is it that she alone shows no incline towards dissolution
and decay? Why has not she too split up into the component parts of
which she is welded? How is it that she has preserved a unity of which
all earthly unities are but shadows? Or he meets with the phenomena of
her sanctity and begins to perceive that the difference between the
character she produces in her saints and the character of the noblest of
those who do not submit to her is one of kind and not merely of degree.
If she is merely mediaeval, how is it that she commands such allegiance
as that which is paid to her in modern America? If she is merely
European, how is it that she alone can deal with the Oriental on his own
terms? If she is merely the result of temporal circumstances, how is it
that her spiritual influence shows no sign of waning when the forces
that helped to build her are dispersed?
His theory too, then, becomes less confident. If she is Human, why is
she so evidently Divine? If she is Divine, whence comes her obvious
Humanity? So years ago men asked, If Christ be God, how could He be
weary by the wayside and die upon the Cross? So men ask now, If Christ
be Man, how could He cast out devils and rise from the dead?
II. We come back, then, to the Catholic answer. Treat the Catholic
Church as Divine only and you will stumble over her scandals, her
failures, and her shortcomings. Treat her as Human only and you will be
silenced by her miracles, her sanctity, and her eternal resurrections.
(i) Of course the Catholic Church is Human. She consists of fallible
men, and her Humanity is not even safeguarded as was that of Christ
against the incursions of sin. Always, therefore, there have been
scandals, and always will be. Popes may betray their trust, in all human
matters; priests their flocks; laymen their faith. No man is secure.
And, again, since she is human it is perfectly true that she has
profited by human circumstances for the increase of her power.
Undoubtedly it was the existence of the Roman Empire, with its roads,
its rapid means of transit, and its organization, that made possible the
swift propagation of the Gospel in the first centuries. Undoubtedly it
was the empty throne of Caesar and the prestige of Rome that developed
the world's acceptance of the authority of Peter's Chair. Undoubtedly
it was the divisions of Europe that cemented the Church's unity and led
men to look to a Supreme Authority that might compose their differences.
There is scarcely an opening in human affairs into which she has not
plunged; hardly an opportunity she has missed. Human affairs, human sins
and weaknesses as well as human virtues, have all contributed to her
power. So grows a tree, even in uncongenial soil. The rocks that impede
the roots later become their support; the rich soil, waiting for an
occupant, has been drawn up into the life of the leaves; the very winds
that imperilled the young sapling have developed too its power of
resistance. Yet these things do not make the tree.
(ii) For her Humanity, though it is the body in which her Divinity
dwells, does not create that Divinity. Certainly human circumstances
have developed her, yet what but Divine Providence ordered and developed
those human circumstances? What but that same power, which indwells in
the Church, dwelt without her too and caused her to take root at that
time and in that place which most favored her growth? Certainly she is
Human. It may well be that her rulers have contradicted one another in
human matters—in science, in policy, and in discipline; but how is it,
then, that they have not contradicted one another in matters that are
Divine? Granted that one Pope has reversed the policy of his
predecessor, then what has saved him from reversing his theology also?
Certainly there have been appalling scandals, outrageous sinners,
blaspheming apostates—but what of her saints?
And, above all, she gives proof of her Divinity by that very sign to
which Christ Himself pointed as a proof of His own. Granted that she
dies daily—that her cause fails in this century and in that country;
that her science is discredited in this generation and her active
morality in that and her ideals in a third—how comes it that she also
rises daily from the dead; that her old symbols rise again from their
ruins; that her virtues are acclaimed by the children of the men who
renounced her; that her bells and her music sound again where once her
churches and houses were laid waste?
Here, then, is the Catholic answer and it is this alone that makes sense
of history, as it is Catholic doctrine which alone makes sense of the
Gospel record. The answer is identical in both cases alike, and it is
this—that the only explanation of the phenomena of the Gospels and of
Church history is that the Life which produces them is both Human and
PEACE AND WAR
Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the
children of God.—MATT. V. 9.
Do not think that I am come to send peace on earth; I
came not to send peace but the sword.—MATT. X. 34.
We have considered how the key to the Paradoxes of the Gospel and the
key to the Paradoxes of Catholicism is one and the same—that the Life
that produces them is at once Divine and Human. Let us go on to consider
how this resolves those of Catholicism, especially those charged against
us by our adversaries.
For we live in a day when Catholicism is no longer considered by
intelligent men to be too evidently absurd to be argued with. Definite
reasons are given by those who stand outside our borders for the
attitude they maintain; definite accusations are made which must either
be allowed or refuted.
Now those who stand without the walls of the City of Peace know nothing,
it is true, of the life that its citizens lead within, nothing of the
harmony and consolation that Catholicism alone can give. Yet of certain
points, it may be, in the large outlines of that city against the sky,
of the place it occupies in the world, of its wide effect upon human
life in general, it may very well be that these detached observers may
know more than the devout who dwell at peace within. Let us, then,
consider their reflections not necessarily as wholly false; it may be
that they have caught glimpses which we have missed and relations which
either we take too much for granted or have failed altogether to see. It
may be that these accusations will turn out to be our credentials in
I. Every world-religion, we are told, worthy of the name has as its
principal object and its chief claim to consideration its establishing
or its fostering of peace among men. Supremely this was so in the first
days of Christianity. It was this that its great prophet predicted of
its work when its Divine Founder should come on earth. Nature shall
recover its lost harmony and the dissensions of men shall cease when He,
the Prince of Peace, shall approach. The very beasts shall lie down
together in amity, the lion and the lamb and the leopard and the
kid. Further, it was the Message of Peace that the angels proclaimed
over His cradle in Bethlehem; it was the Gift of Peace which He Himself
promised to His disciples; it was the Peace of God which passeth
knowledge to which the great Apostle commended his converts. This then,
we are told, is of the very essence of Christianity; this is the supreme
benediction on the peacemakers that they shall be called the children
Yet, when we turn to Catholicism, we are bidden to see in it not a
gatherer but a scatterer, not the daughter of peace but the mother of
disunion. Is there a single tormented country in Europe to-day, it is
rhetorically demanded, that does not owe at least part of its misery to
the claims of Catholicism? What is it but Catholicism that lies at the
heart of the divided allegiance of France, of the miseries of Portugal,
and of the dissensions of Italy? Look back through history and you will
find the same tale everywhere. What was it that disturbed the politics
of England so often from the twelfth to the fifteenth century, and tore
her in two in the sixteenth, but the determined resistance of an
adolescent nation to the tyranny of Rome? What lay behind the religious
wars of Europe, behind the fires of Smithfield, the rack of Elizabeth,
and the blood of St. Bartholomew's Day but this intolerant and
intolerable religion which would come to no terms even with the most
reasonable of its adversaries? It is impossible, of course, altogether
to apportion blame, to say that in each several instance it was the
Catholic that was the aggressor; but at least it is true to say that it
was Catholic principles that were the occasion and Catholic claims the
unhappy cause of all this incalculable flood of human misery.
How singularly unlike, then, we are told, is this religion of
dissension to the religion of Jesus Christ, of all these dogmatic and
disciplinary claims and assertions to the meekness of the Poor Man of
Nazareth! If true Christianity is anywhere in the world to-day it is not
among such as these that it lies hid; rather it must be sought among the
gentle humanitarians of our own and every country—men who strive for
peace at all cost, men whose principal virtues are those of toleration
and charity, men who, if any, have earned the beatitude of being called
the children of God.
II. We turn to the Life of Jesus Christ from the Life of Catholicism,
and at first indeed it does seem as if the contrast were justified. We
cannot deny our critic's charges; every one of his historical assertions
is true: it is indeed true that Catholicism has been the occasion of
more bloodshedding than has any of the ambitions or jealousies of man.
And it is, further, true that Jesus Christ pronounced this benediction;
that He bade His followers seek after peace, and that He commended them,
in the very climax of His exaltation, to the Peace which He alone could
Yet, when we look closer, the case is not so simple. For, first, what
was, as a matter of fact, the direct immediate effect of the Life and
Personality of Jesus Christ upon the society in which He lived but this
very dissension, this very bloodshedding and misery that are charged
against His Church? It was precisely on this account that He was given
into the hands of Pilate. He stirreth up the people. He makes Himself a
King. He is a contentious demagogue, a disloyal citizen, a danger to
the Roman Peace.
And indeed there seem to have been excuses for these charges. It was not
the language of a modern "humanitarian," of the modern tolerant
"Christian," that fell from the Divine Lips of Jesus Christ. Go and
tell that fox, He cries of the ruler of His people. O you whited
sepulchres full of dead men's bones! You vipers! You hypocrites! This
is the language He uses to the representatives of Israel's religion. Is
this the kind of talk that we hear from modern leaders of religious
thought? Would such language as this be tolerated for a moment from the
humanitarian Christian pulpits of to-day? Is it possible to imagine more
inflammatory speech, more "unchristian sentiments," as they would be
called to-day, than those words uttered by none other but the Divine
Founder of Christianity? What of that amazing scene when He threw the
furniture about the temple courts?
And as for the effect of such words and methods, our Lord Himself is
quite explicit. "Make no mistake," He cries to the modern humanitarian
who claims alone to represent Him. "Make no mistake. I am not come to
bring peace at any price; there are worse things than war and
bloodshed. I am come to bring not peace but a sword. I am come to
divide families, not to unite them; to rend kingdoms, not to knit
them up; I am come to set mother against daughter and daughter against
mother; I am come not to establish universal toleration, but universal
What, then, is the reconciliation of the Paradox? In what sense can it
be possible that the effect of the Personality of the Prince of Peace,
and therefore the effect of His Church, in spite of their claims to be
the friends of peace, should be not peace, but the sword?
III. Now (1) the Catholic Church is a Human Society. She is constituted,
that is to say, of human beings; she depends, humanly speaking, upon
human circumstances; she can be assaulted, weakened, and disarmed by
human enemies. She dwells in the midst of human society, and it is with
human society that she has to deal.
Now if she were not human—if she were merely a Divine Society, a
far-off city in the heavens, a future distant ideal to which human
society is approximating, there would be no conflict at all. She would
never meet in a face-to-face shock the passions and antagonisms of men;
she could suppress, now and again, her Counsels of Perfection, her calls
to a higher life, if it were not that these are vital and present
principles which she is bound to propagate among men.
And again, if she were merely human, there would be no conflict. If she
were merely ascended from below, merely the result of the finest
religious thought of the world, the high-water mark of spiritual
attainment, again she could compromise, could suppress, could be silent.
But she is both human and divine, and therefore her warfare is certain
and inevitable. For she dwells in the midst of the kingdoms of this
world, and these are constituted, at any rate at the present day, on
wholly human bases. Statesmen and kings, at the present day, do not
found their policies upon supernatural considerations; their object is
to govern their subjects, to promote the peace and union of their
subjects, to make war, if need be, on behalf of the peace of their
subjects, wholly on natural grounds. Commerce, finance, agriculture,
education in the things of this world, science, art, exploration—human
activities generally—these, in their purely natural aspect, are the
objects of nearly all modern statesmanship. Our rulers are professedly,
in their public capacity, neither for religion nor against it; religion
is a private matter for the individual, and governments stand aside—or
at any rate profess to do so.
And it is in this kind of world, in this fashion of human society, that
the Catholic Church, in virtue of her humanity, is bound to dwell. She
too is a kingdom, though not of this world, yet in it.
(2) For she is also Divine. Her message contains, that is to say, a
number of supernatural principles revealed to her by God; she is
supernaturally constituted; she rests on a supernatural basis; she is
not organized as if this world were all. On the contrary she puts the
kingdom of God definitely first and the kingdoms of the world definitely
second; the Peace of God first and the harmony of men second.
Therefore she is bound, when her supernatural principles clash with
human natural principles, to be the occasion of disunion. Her marriage
laws, as a single example, are at conflict with the marriage laws of the
majority of modern States. It is of no use to tell her to modify these
principles; it would be to tell her to cease to be supernatural, to
cease to be herself. How can she modify what she believes to be her
Again, since she is organized on a supernatural basis, there are
supernatural elements in her own constitution which she can no more
modify than her dogmas. Recently, in France, she was offered the
kingdom of this world if she would do so; it was proposed to her that
she actually retain her own wealth, her churches and her houses, and
yield up her principle of spiritual appeal to the Vicar of Christ. If
she had been but human, how evident would have been her duty! How
inevitable that she should modify her constitution in accordance with
human ideas and preserve her property intact! And how entirely
impossible such a bargain must be for a Society that is divine as well
Take courage then! We desire peace above all things—that is to say, the
Peace of God, not that peace which the world, since it can give it,
can also take away; not that peace which depends on the harmony of
nature with nature, but of nature with grace.
Yet, so long as the world is divided in allegiance; so long as the
world, or a country, or a family, or even an individual soul bases
itself upon natural principles divorced from divine, so long to that
world, that country, that family, and that human heart will the
supernatural religion of Catholicism bring not peace, but a sword. And
it will do so to the end, up to the final world-shattering catastrophe
of Armageddon itself.
"I come," cries the Rider on the White Horse, "to bring Peace indeed,
but a peace of which the world cannot even dream; a peace built upon the
eternal foundations of God Himself, not upon the shifting sands of human
agreement. And until that Vision dawns there must be war; until God's
Peace descends indeed and is accepted, till then My Garments must be
splashed in blood and from My Mouth comes forth not peace, but a
WEALTH AND POVERTY
Make to yourselves friends of the Mammon of iniquity.
You cannot serve God and Mammon.-LUKE XVI. 9, 13.
We have seen how the Church of the Prince of Peace must continually be
the centre of war. Let us go on to consider how, as a Human Society
dwelling in this world, she must continually have her eyes fixed upon
the next, and how, as a Divine Society, she must be open to the charge
I. (i) The charge is a very common one: "Look at the extraordinary
wealth and splendour that this Church of the Poor Man of Nazareth
constantly gathers around her and ask yourself how she can dare to claim
to represent Him! Go through Holy Rome and see how the richest and most
elaborate buildings bear over their gateways the heraldic emblems of
Christ's Vicar! Go through any country which has not risen in disgust
and cast off the sham that calls herself 'Christ's Church' and you will
find that no worldly official is so splendid as these heavenly delegates
of Jesus Christ, no palaces more glorious than those in which they dwell
who pretend to preach Him who had not where to lay His head!
"Above all, turn from that simple poverty-stricken figure that the
Gospels present to us, to the man who claims to be His Vicegerent on
earth. See him go, crowned three times over, on a throne borne on men's
shoulders, with the silver trumpets shrilling before him and the ostrich
fans coming on behind, and you will understand why the world cannot take
the Church seriously. Look at the court that is about him, all purple
and scarlet, and set by that the little band of weather-beaten
"No; if this Church were truly of Christ, she would imitate Him better.
It was His supreme mission to point to things that are above; to lift
men's thoughts above dross and gold and jewels and worldly influence and
high places and power; to point to a Heavenly Jerusalem, not made with
hands; to comfort the sorrowful with a vision of future peace, not to
dabble with temporal matters; to speak of grace and heaven and things to
come, and to let the dead bury their dead! The best we can do for her,
then, is to disembarrass her of her riches; to turn her temporal
possessions to frankly temporal ends; to release her from the slavery of
her own ambition into the liberty of the poor and the children of
(ii) In a word, then, the Church is too worldly to be the Church of
Christ! You cannot serve God and Mammon. Yet in another mood our
critic will tell us that we are too otherworldly to be the Church of
Christ. "The chief charge I have against Catholicism," says such a man,
"is that the Church is too unpractical. If she were truly the Church of
Jesus Christ, she would surely imitate Him better in that which, after
all, was the mark of His highest Divinity—namely in His Humanity
towards men. Christ did not come into the world to preach metaphysics
and talk forever of a heaven that is to come; He came rather to attend
to men's simplest needs, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to
reform society on better lines. It was not by His dogma that He won
men's hearts; it was by His simple, natural sympathy with their common
needs. He came, in a word, to make the best of this world, to use the
elements that lay ready to His hand, to sanctify all the plain things of
earth with which He came in contact.
"These otherworldly Catholics, then, are too much apart from common life
and common needs. Their dogmas and their aspirations and their
metaphysics are useless to a world which wants bread. Let them act more
and dream less! Let them show, for example, by the prosperity of
Catholic countries that Catholicism is practical and not a vision. Let
them preach less and philanthropize more. Let them show that they have
the key to this world's progress, and perhaps we will listen more
patiently to their claim to hold the key to the world that is to come!"
But, surely, this is a little hard upon Catholics! When we make
ourselves at home in this world, we are informed that Jesus Christ had
not where to lay His Head. When we preach the world that is to come,
we are reminded that Jesus Christ after all came down from that world
into this to make it better. When we build a comfortable church, we are
told that we are too luxurious. When we build an uncomfortable one we
are asked how we expect to do any good unless we are practical.
II. Now, of course, both these charges were also objected against our
Blessed Lord. For He too had His double activities. It is true that
there were times when He gave men earthly bread; it is also true that He
offered them heavenly bread. There were times when He cared for men's
bodies; there were other times when He bade them sacrifice all that
makes bodily life worth living; times when He sat at meat in the house
of a rich man, and times when He starved, voluntarily, in the desert.
And the world found Him wrong whichever He did. He was too worldly when
He healed men on the Sabbath; for is not the Law of God of more value
than a man's bodily ease? Why can He not wait till to-morrow? He was too
worldly when He allowed His disciples to rub corn in their hands; for
does not the Law of God forbid a man to make bread on the Sabbath? He
was too worldly, too unpractical, too sense-loving when He permitted the
precious ointment to be spilled on His feet; for might not this
ointment have been sold for much and given to the poor? Is not
spirituality enough, and the incense of adoration?
And He was too otherworldly when He preached the Sermon on the Mount.
What is the use of saying, Blessed are the Meek, when the whole world
knows that "Blessed are the Self-Assertive"? He was too otherworldly
when He spoke of Heavenly Bread. What is the use of speaking of Heavenly
Bread when it is earthly food that men need first of all? He was too
otherworldly when He remained in the country on the feast day. If He be
the Christ, let Him be practical and say so!
It was, in fact, on these very two charges that He was arraigned for
death. He was too worldly for Pilate, in that He was Son of Man and
therefore a rival to Caesar; and too otherworldly for Caiphas, since He
made Himself Son of God and therefore a rival to Jehovah.
III. The solution, then, of this Catholic Paradox is very simple. (i)
First, the Church is a Heavenly Society come down from above—heavenly
in her origin and her birth. She is the kingdom of God, first and
foremost, and exists for His glory solely and entirely. She seeks, then,
first the extension of His kingdom; and compared with this, nothing is
of any value in her eyes. Never, then, must she sacrifice God to Mammon;
never hesitate for one instant if the choice lies between them. For she
considers that eternity is greater than time and the soul of man of more
value than his body. The sacraments therefore, in her eyes, come before
an adequate tram-service; and that a man's soul should be in grace is,
to her, of more importance than that his body should be in health—if
the choice is between them. She prefers, therefore, the priest to the
doctor, if there is not time for both, and Holy Communion to a good
Therefore, of course, she appears too otherworldly to the stockbroker
and the provincial mayor, since she actually places the things of God
before the things of man and "seeks first His Kingdom."
(ii) "And all these things shall be added" to her. For she is Human
also, in that she dwells in this world where God has placed her, and
uses therefore the things with which He has surrounded her. To say that
she is supernatural is not to deny her humanity any more than to assert
that man has an immortal soul is to exclude the truth that he also has a
body. It is this Body of hers, then—this humanity of hers which
enshrines her Divinity—that claims and uses earthly things; it is this
Body that dwells in houses made with hands and that claims too, in
honour to herself and her Bridegroom, that, so long as her spirituality
is not tarnished, these houses shall be as splendid as art can make
them. For she is not a Puritan nor a Manichee; she does not say that any
single thing which God has made can conceivably be of itself evil,
however grievously it may have been abused; on the contrary, she has His
own authority for saying that all is very good.
She uses, then, every earthly beauty that the world will yield to her,
to honour her own Majesty. It may be right to set diamonds round the
neck of a woman, but it is certainly right to set them round the Chalice
of the Blood of God. If an earthly king wears vestments of cloth of
gold, must not a heavenly King yet more wear them? If music is used by
the world to destroy men's souls, may not she use it to save their
souls? If a marble palace is fit for the President of the French
Republic, by what right do men withhold it from the King of kings?
But the world does withhold its wealth sometimes? Very well then, she
can serve God without it, in spite of her rights. If men whine and
cringe, or bully and shout, for the jewels with which their forefathers
honoured God, she will fling them back again down her altar stairs and
worship God in a barn or a catacomb without them. For, though she does
not serve God and Mammon, she yet makes to herself friends of the
Mammon of iniquity. Though she does not and never can serve God and
Mammon, she will and can, when the world permits it, make Mammon serve
her. For the Church is the Majesty of God dwelling on earth. She is
there, in herself, utterly independent of her reception. If it is her
own to whom she comes, and her own do not receive her, they are none
the less hers by every right. For, though she will use every earthly
thing to her honour, though she considers no ointment wasted, however
precious, that is spilled by love over her feet, yet her essential glory
does not lie in these things. She is all glorious within, whether or
not her vesture is of gold, for she is a King's Daughter. She is,
essentially, as glorious in the Catacombs as in the Roman basilicas; as
lovely in the barefooted friar as in the robed and sceptred Vicar of
Christ; as majestic in Christ naked on the Cross as in Christ ascended
and enthroned in heaven.
Yet, since she is His Majesty on earth, she has a right to all that
earth can give. All the beasts of the field are hers, and the cattle on
a thousand hills, all the stars of heaven and the jewels of earth; all
the things in the world are hers by Divine right.
All things are hers, for she is Christ's. Yet, nevertheless, she will
suffer the loss of all things sooner than lose Him.
SANCTITY AND SIN
Holy, Holy, Holy!—IS. VI. 3.
Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners_. I TIM. I. 15.
A very different pair of charges—and far more vital—than those more or
less economic accusations of worldliness and otherworldliness which we
have just considered, concern the standards of goodness preached by the
Church and her own alleged incapacity to live up to them. These may be
briefly summed up by saying that one-half the world considers the Church
too holy for human life, and the other half, not holy enough. We may
name these critics, respectively, the Pagan and the Puritan.
I. It is the Pagan who charges her with excessive Holiness.
"You Catholics," he tells us, "are far too hard on sin and not nearly
indulgent enough towards poor human nature. Let me take as an instance
the sins of the flesh. Now here is a set of desires implanted by God or
Nature (as you choose to name the Power behind life) for wise and
indeed essential purposes. These desires are probably the very fiercest
known to man and certainly the most alluring; and human nature is, as we
know, an extraordinarily inconsistent and vacillating thing. Now I am
aware that the abuse of these passions leads to disaster and that Nature
has her inexorable laws and penalties; but you Catholics add a new
horror to life by an absurd and irrational insistence on the offence
that this abuse causes before God. For not only do you fiercely denounce
the "acts of sin," as you name them, but you presume to go deeper still
to the very desire itself, as it would seem. You are unpractical and
cruel enough to say that the very thought of sin deliberately
entertained can cut off the soul that indulges in it from the favour of
"Or, to go further, consider the impossible ideals which you hold up
with regard to matrimony. These ideals have a certain beauty of their
own to persons who can embrace them; they may perhaps be, to use a
Catholic phrase, Counsels of Perfection; but it is merely ludicrous to
insist upon them as rules of conduct for all mankind. Human Nature is
human nature. You cannot bind the many by the dreams of the few.
"Or, to take a wider view altogether, consider the general standards you
hold up to us in the lives of your saints. These saints appear to the
ordinary common-place man as simply not admirable at all. It does not
seem to us admirable that St. Aloysius should scarcely lift his eyes
from the ground, or that St. Teresa should shut herself up in a cell, or
that St. Francis should scourge himself with briers for fear of
committing sin. That kind of attitude is too fantastically fastidious
altogether. You Catholics seem to aim at a standard that is simply not
desirable; both your ends and your methods are equally inhuman and
equally unsuitable for the world we have to live in. True religion is
surely something far more sensible than this; true religion should not
strain and strive after the impossible, should not seek to improve human
nature by a process of mutilation. You have excellent aims in some
respects and excellent methods in others, but in supreme demands you go
beyond the mark altogether. We Pagans neither agree with your morality
nor admire those whom you claim as your successes. If you were less holy
and more natural, less idealistic and more practical, you would be of a
greater service to the world which you desire to help. Religion should
be a sturdy, virile growth; not the delicate hot-house blossom which you
The second charge comes from the Puritan. "Catholicism is not holy
enough to be the Church of Jesus Christ; for see how terribly easy she
is to those who outrage and crucify Him afresh! Perhaps it may not be
true after all, as we used to think, that the Catholic priest actually
gives leave to his penitents to commit sin; but the extraordinary ease
with which absolution is given comes very nearly to the same thing. So
far from this Church having elevated the human race, she has actually
lowered its standards by her attitude towards those of her children who
disobey God's Laws.
"And consider what some of these children of hers have been! Are there
any criminals in history so monumental as Catholic criminals? Have any
men ever fallen so low as, let us say, the Borgia family of the Middle
Ages, as Gilles de Rais and a score of others, as men and women who were
perhaps in their faith 'good Catholics' enough, yet in their lives a
mere disgrace to humanity? Look at the Latin countries with their
passionate records of crime, at the sexual immorality of France or
Spain; the turbulence and thriftlessness of Ireland, the ignorant
brutality of Catholic England. Are there any other denominations of
Christendom that exhibit such deplorable specimens as the runaway nuns,
the apostate priests, the vicious Popes of Catholicism? How is it that
tales are told of the iniquities of Catholicism such as are told of no
other of the sects of Christendom? Allow for all the exaggeration you
like, all the prejudice of historians, all the spitefulness of enemies,
yet there surely remains sufficient Catholic criminality to show that at
the best the Church is no better than any other religious body, and at
the worst, infinitely worse. The Catholic Church, then, is not holy
enough to be the Church of Jesus Christ."
II. When we turn to the Gospels we find that these two charges are, as a
matter of fact, precisely among those which were brought against our
First, undoubtedly, He was hated for His Holiness. Who can doubt that
the terrific standard of morality which He preached—the Catholic
preaching of which also is one of the charges of the Pagan—was a
principal cause of His rejection. For it was He, after all, who first
proclaimed that the laws of God bind not only action but thought; it was
He who first pronounced that man to be a murderer and an adulterer who
in his heart willed these sins; it was He who summed up the standard of
Christianity as a standard of perfection, Be you perfect, as your
Father in Heaven is perfect; who bade men aspire to be as good as God!
It was His Holiness, then, that first drew on Him the hostility of the
world—that radiant white-hot sanctity in which His Sacred Humanity went
clothed. Which of you convinceth me of sin?… Let him that is without
sin amongst you cast the first stone at her! These were words that
pierced the smooth formalism of the Scribe and the Pharisee and awoke an
undying hatred. It was this, surely, that led up irresistibly to the
final rejection of Him at the bar of Pilate and the choice of Barabbas
in His place. "Not this man! not this piece of stainless Perfection!
Not this Sanctity that reveals all hearts, but Barabbas, that
comfortable sinner so like ourselves! This robber in whose company we
feel at ease! This murderer whose life, at any rate, is in no
reproachful contrast to our own!" Jesus Christ was found too holy for
But He was found, too, not holy enough. And it is this explicit charge
that is brought against Him again and again. It was dreadful to those
keepers of the Law that this Preacher of Righteousness should sit with
publicans and sinners; that this Prophet should allow such a woman as
Magdalen to touch Him. If this man were indeed a Prophet, He could not
bear the contact of sinners; if He were indeed zealous for God's
Kingdom, He could not suffer the presence of so many who were its
enemies. Yet He sits there at Zacchaeus' table, silent and smiling,
instead of crying on the roof to fall in; He calls Matthew from the
tax-office instead of blasting him and it together; He handles the leper
whom God's own Law pronounces unclean.
III. These, then, are the charges brought against the disciples of
Christ, as against the Master, and it is undeniable that there is truth
in them both.
It is true that the Catholic Church preaches a morality that is utterly
beyond the reach of human nature left to itself; that her standards are
standards of perfection, and that she prefers even the lowest rung of
the supernatural ladder to the highest rung of the natural.
And it is also true, without doubt, that the fallen or the unfaithful
Catholic is an infinitely more degraded member of humanity than the
fallen Pagan or Protestant; that the monumental criminals of history are
Catholic criminals, and that the monsters of the world—Henry VIII for
example, sacrilegious, murderer, and adulterer; Martin Luther, whose
printed table-talk is unfit for any respectable house; Queen Elizabeth,
perjurer, tyrant, and unchaste—were persons who had had all that the
Catholic Church could give them: the standards of her teaching, the
guidance of her discipline, and the grace of her sacraments. What, then,
is the reconciliation of this Paradox?
(1) First the Catholic Church is Divine. She dwells, that is to say, in
heavenly places; she looks always upon the Face of God; she holds
enshrined in her heart the Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ and the
stainless perfection of that Immaculate Mother from whom that Humanity
was drawn. How is it conceivable, then, that she should be content with
any standard short of perfection? If she were a Society evolved from
below—a merely human Society that is to say—she could never advance
beyond those standards to which in the past her noblest children have
climbed. But since there dwells in her the Supernatural—since Mary was
endowed from on high with a gift to which no human being could ascend,
since the Sun of Justice Himself came down from the heavens to lead a
human life under human terms—how can she ever again be content with
anything short of that height from which these came?
(2) But she is also human, dwelling herself in the midst of humanity,
placed here in the world for the express object of gathering into
herself and of sanctifying by her graces that very world which has
fallen from God. These outcasts and these sinners are the very material
on which she has to work; these waste products of human life, these
marred types and specimens of humanity have no hope at all except in
For, first, she desires if she can—and she has often been
able—actually to raise these, first to sanctity and then to her own
altars; it is for her and her only to raise the poor from the dunghill
and to set them with the princes. She sets before the Magdalen and the
thief, then, nothing less but her own standard of perfection.
Yet though in one sense she is satisfied with nothing lower than this,
in another sense she is satisfied with almost infinitely nothing. If she
can but bring the sinner within the very edge of grace; if she can but
draw from the dying murderer one cry of contrition; if she can but turn
his eyes with one look of love to the crucifix, her labours are a
thousand times repaid; for, if she has not brought him to the head of
sanctity, she has at least brought him to its foot and set him there
beneath that ladder of the supernatural which reaches from hell to
For she alone has this power. She alone is so utterly confident in the
presence of the sinner because she alone has the secret of his cure.
There in her confessional is the Blood of Christ that can make his soul
clean again, and in her Tabernacle the Body of Christ that will be his
food of eternal life. She alone dares be his friend because she alone
can be his Saviour. If, then, her saints are one sign of her identity,
no less are her sinners another.
For not only is she the Majesty of God dwelling on earth, she is also
His Love; and therefore its limitations, and they only, are hers. That
Sun of mercy that shines and that Rain of charity that streams, on just
and unjust alike, are the very Sun and Rain that give her life. If I
go up to Heaven she is there, enthroned in Christ, on the Right Hand
of God; if I go down to Hell she is there also, drawing back souls
from the brink from which she alone can rescue them. For she is that
very ladder which Jacob saw so long ago, that staircase planted here in
the blood and the slime of earth, rising there into the stainless Light
of the Lamb. Holiness and unholiness are both alike hers and she is
ashamed of neither—the holiness of her own Divinity which is Christ's
and the unholiness of those outcast members of her Humanity to whom she
By her power, then, which again is Christ's, the Magdalen becomes the
Penitent; the thief the first of the redeemed; and Peter, the yielding
sand of humanity, the Rock on which Herself is built.
JOY AND SORROW
Rejoice and be exceeding glad…. Blessed are they that mourn.—
MATT. V. 12, 5.
The Catholic Church, as has been seen, is always too "extreme" for the
world. She is content with nothing but a Divine Peace, and in its cause
is the occasion of bloodier wars than any waged from merely human
motives. She is not content with mere goodness, but urges always
Sanctity upon her children; yet simultaneously tolerates sinners whom
even the world casts out. Let us consider now how, in fulfilling these
two apparently mutually contradictory precepts of our Lord, to rejoice
and to mourn, once more she appears to the world extravagant in both
directions at once.
I. It is a common charge against her that she rejoices too exceedingly;
is arrogant, confident, and optimistic where she ought to be quiet,
subdued, and tender.
"This world," exclaims her critic, "is on the whole a very sad and
uncertain place. There is no silver lining that has not a cloud before
it; there is no hope that may not, after all, be disappointed. Any
religion, then, that claims to be adequate to human nature must always
have something of sadness and even hesitancy about it. Religion must
walk softly all her days if she is to walk hand in hand with experience.
Death is certain; is life as certain? The function of religion, then, is
certainly to help to lighten this darkness, yet not by too great a blaze
of light. She may hope and aspire and guess and hint; in fact, that is
her duty. But she must not proclaim and denounce and command. She must
be suggestive rather than exhaustive; tender rather than virile; hopeful
rather than positive; experimental rather than dogmatic.
"Now Catholicism is too noisy and confident altogether. See a Catholic
liturgical function on some high day! Was there ever anything more
arrogant? What has this blaze of colour, this shouting of voices, this
blowing of trumpets to do with the soft half-lights of the world and the
mystery of the darkness from which we came and to which we return? What
has this clearcut dogma to do with the gentle guesses of philosophy,
this optimism with the uncertainty of life and the future—above all,
what sympathy has this preposterous exultation with the misery of the
"And how unlike, too, all this is to the spirit of the Man of Sorrows!
We read that Jesus wept, but never that He laughed. His was a sad
life, from the dark stable of Bethlehem to the darker hill of Calvary.
He was what He was because He knew what sorrow meant; it was in His
sorrows that He has touched the heart of humanity. 'Blessed,' he says,
'are those that mourn.' Blessed are they that expect nothing, for they
shall not be disappointed."
In another mood, however, our critic will find fault with our sadness.
"Why is not the religion of you Catholics more in accord with the happy
world in which we live? Surely the supreme function of religion is to
hearten and encourage and lay stress on the bright side of life! It
should be brief, bright, and brotherly. For, after all, this is a lovely
world and full of gaiety. It is true that it has its shadows, yet there
can be no shadows without a sun; there is death, but see how life
continually springs again from the grave. Since all things, therefore,
work together for good; since God has taken pains to make the world so
sweet, it is but a poor compliment to the Creator to treat it as a vale
of misery. Let us, then, make the best of things and forget the worst.
Let us leave the things that are behind and press forward to the things
that are before. Let us insist that the world is white with a few black
spots upon it, be optimistic, happy, and confident.
"You Catholics, however, are but a poor-spirited, miserable race. While
other denominations are, little by little, eliminating melancholy, you
are insisting upon it. While the rest of us are agreeing that Hell is
but a bogy, and sin a mistake, and suffering no more than remedial, you
Catholics are still insisting upon their reality—that Hell is eternal,
that sin is the deliberate opposition of the human will to the Divine,
and that suffering therefore is judicial. Sin, Penance, Sacrifice,
Purgatory, and Hell—these are the old nightmares of dogma; and their
fruits are tears, pain, and terror. What is wrong with Catholicism,
then, is its gloom and its sorrow; for this is surely not the
Christianity of Christ as we are now learning to understand it. Christ,
rightly understood, is the Man of joy, not of Grief. He is more
characteristic of Himself, so to speak, as the smiling shepherd of
Galilee, surrounded by His sheep; as the lover of children and flowers
and birds; as the Preacher of Life and Resurrection—He is more
characteristic of Himself as crowned, ascended, and glorified, than as
the blood-stained martyr of the Cross whom you set above your altars.
Rejoice, then, and be exceeding glad, and you will please Him best."
Once more, then, we appear to be in the wrong, to whatever side we turn.
The happy red-faced monk with his barrel of beer is a caricature of our
joy. Can this, it is asked, be a follower of the Man of Sorrows? And the
long-faced ascetic with his eyes turned up to heaven is the world's
conception of our sorrow. Catholic joy and Catholic sorrow are alike too
ardent and extreme for a world that delights in moderation in both
sorrow and joy—a little melancholy, but not too much; a little
cheerfulness, but not excessive.
II. First, then, it is interesting to remember that these charges are
not now being made against us for the first time. In the days even of
the Roman Empire they were thought to be signs of Christian inhumanity.
"These Christians," it was said, "must surely be bewitched. See how
they laugh at the rack and the whip and go to the arena as to a bridal
bed! See how Lawrence jests upon his gridiron." And yet again, "They
must be bewitched, because of their morbidity and their love of
darkness, the enemies of joy and human mirth and common pleasure. In
either case they are not true men at all." Their extravagance of joy
when others would be weeping, and their extravagance of sorrow when all
the world is glad—these are the very signs to which their enemies
appealed as proofs that a power other than that of this world was
inspiring them, as proofs that they could not be the simple friends of
the human race that they dared to pretend.
It is even more interesting to remember that our Divine Lord Himself
calls attention to these charges. "The Son of Man comes eating and
drinking. The Son of Man sits at the wedding feast at Cana and at meat
in the rich man's house and you say, Behold a glutton and a
winebibber! The Son of Man comes rejoicing and you bid Him to be sad.
And John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking. John the
Baptist comes from the desert, an ascetic with his camel-hair about him
and words of penance and wrath in his mouth, and you say, He hath a
devil…. We have piped unto you and you have not danced. We have
played at weddings like children in a market-place, and you have told us
to be quiet and think about our sins. We have mourned unto you, we
have asked you to play at funerals instead, and you have told us that it
was morbid to think about death. We have mourned and you would not
III. The fact is, of course, that both joy and sorrow must be an element
in all religion, since joy and sorrow together make up experience. The
world is neither white with black spots nor black with white spots; it
is black and white. It is quite as true that autumn follows summer as
that spring follows winter. It is no less true that life arises out of
death than that death follows life.
Religion then cannot, if it is to be adequate to experience, be a
passionless thing. On the contrary it must be passionate, since human
nature is passionate too; and it must be a great deal more passionate.
It must not moderate grief, but deepen it; not banish joy, but exalt it.
It must weep—and bitterer tears than any that the world can shed—with
them that weep; and rejoice too—with a joy which no man can take
away—with them that rejoice. It must sink deeper and rise higher, it
must feel more acutely, it must agonize and triumph more abundantly, if
it truly comes from God and is to minister to men, since His thoughts
are higher than ours and His Love more burning.
For so did Christ live on earth. At one hour He rejoiced greatly in
spirit so that those that watched Him were astonished; at another He
sweated blood for anguish. In one hour He is exalted high on the blazing
Mount of Transfiguration; in another He is plunged deeper than any human
heart can fathom in the low-lying garden of Gethsemane. Behold and see
if there be any sorrow like to My Sorrow.
III. For, again, the Church, like her Lord, is both Divine and Human.
She is Divine and therefore she rejoices—so filled with the New Wine of
the Kingdom of her Father that men stare at her in contempt.
It is true enough that the world is unhappy; that hearts are broken;
that families, countries, and centuries are laid waste by sin. Yet since
the Church is Divine, she knows, not merely guesses or hopes or desires,
but knows, that although all things come to an end, God's commandment
is exceeding broad. Years ago, she knows—and therefore not all the
criticism in the world can shake her—that her Lord came down from
heaven, was born, died, rose, and ascended, and that He reigns in
unconquerable power. She knows that He will return again and take the
kingdom and reign; she knows, because she is Divine, that in every
tabernacle of hers on earth the Lord of joy lies hidden; that Mary
intercedes; that the saints are with God; that the Blood of Jesus
Christ cleanseth from all sin. Look round her earthly buildings, then,
and there are the symbols and images of these things. There is the merry
light before her altar; there are the saints stiff with gold and gems;
there is Mary, "Cause of our Joy," radiant, with her radiant Child in
her arms. If she were but human, she would dare but to shadow these
things forth—shadows of her own desires; she would whisper her creed;
murmur her prayers; darken her windows. But she is Divine and has
herself come down from heaven; so she does not guess, or think, or
But she is human too and dwells in the midst of a human race that does
not know and therefore will not wholly take her at her word, and the
very height of her exaltation must also be, then, the measure of her
despair. The fact that she knows so certainly intensifies a thousandfold
her human sorrow, as she, who has come that they may have life, sees
how they will not come to her and find it, as she sees how long the
triumph which is certain is yet delayed through their faithlessness. "If
thou hadst known," she cries in the heart-broken words of Jesus
Himself over Jerusalem, "if thou hadst but known the things that belong
to thy peace! Behold and see, then, if there be any sorrow like to
mine, if there be any grief so profound and so piercing as mine, who
hold the Keys of Heaven and watch men turn away from the Door."
So, then, in church after church stand symbolic groups of statuary,
representing joy and tragedy, compared with which Venus and Adonis are
but childish and half-civilized images—Mary as triumphant Queen, with
the gold-crowned Child in her arms, and Mary the tormented Mother, with
her dead Son across her knees. For she who is both Divine and Human
alone understands what it is that Humanity has done to Divinity.
Is it any wonder, then, that the world thinks her extravagant in both
directions at once; that the world turns away on Good Friday from the
unutterable depths of her sorrow, and on Easter Day from the unscalable
heights of her joy, calling the one morbid and the other hysterical? For
what does the world know of such passions as these? What, after all, can
the sensualist know of joy, or the ruined financier of sorrow? And what
can the moderate, self-controlled, self-respecting man of the world know
Lastly, then, in the Paradox of Love, the Church holds both these
passions, at full blast, both at once. As human love turns joy into pain
and suffers in the midst of ecstasy, so Divine Love turns pain into joy
and exults and reigns upon the Cross. For the Church is more than the
Majesty of God reigning on earth, more than the passionless love of the
Eternal; she is the Very Sacred Heart of Christ Himself, the Eternal
united with Man, and both suffering and rejoicing through that union. It
is His bliss which she at once experiences and extends, in virtue of her
identity with Him; and in the midst of a fallen world it is the
supremest bliss of that Sacred Heart to suffer pain.
LOVE OF GOD AND LOVE OF MAN
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart … and thy
neighbour as thyself.—LUKE x. 27.
We have already considered two charges brought against Catholicism from
opposite quarters; namely, that we are too worldly and too otherworldly,
too much busied with temporal concerns to be truly spiritual, and too
metaphysical and remote and dogmatic to be truly practical. Let us go on
to consider these same two charges produced, so to speak, a little
further into a more definitely spiritual plane; charges that now accuse
us of too great activities in our ministry to men and too many
attentions paid to God.
I. (i) It is a very common complaint against Catholics, laymen as well
as clergy, that they are overzealous in their attempts to proselytize.
True and spiritual religion, we are told, is as intimate and personal an
affair as the love between husband and wife; it is essentially private
and individual. "The religion of all sensible men," it has been said,
"is precisely that which they always keep to themselves." Tolerance,
therefore, is a mark of spirituality, for if I am truly religious I
shall have as much respect for the religion of my neighbour as for my
own. I shall no more seek to interfere in his relations with God than I
shall allow him to interfere with mine.
Now Catholics are notoriously intolerant. It is not merely that there
are intolerant Catholics, for intolerance is of course to be found in
all narrow-minded persons, but it is Catholic principles themselves that
are intolerant; and every Catholic who lives up to them is bound to be
so also. And we can see this illustrated every day.
First, there is the matter of Catholic missions to the heathen. There
are no missionaries, we are told, so untiring and so devoted as those of
the Church. Their zeal, of course, is a proof of their sincerity; but it
is also a proof of their intolerance: for why, after all, cannot they
leave the heathen alone, since religion is, in its essence, a private
and individual matter? Beautiful pictures, accordingly, are suggested to
us of the domestic peace and happiness reigning amongst the tribes of
Central Africa until the arrival of the Preaching Friar with his
destructive dogmas. We are bidden to observe the high doctrines and the
ascetic life of the Brahmin, the significant symbolism of the Hindu, and
the philosophical attitudes of the Confucian. All these various
relationships to God are, we are informed, entirely the private affairs
of those who live by them; and if Catholics were truly spiritual they
would understand that this was so and not seek to supplant by a system
which is now, at any rate, become an essentially European way of looking
at things, these ancient creeds and philosophies that are far better
suited to the Oriental temperament.
But the matter is worse, even, than this. It may conceivably be argued,
says the modern man of the world, that after all those Oriental
religions have not developed such virtues and graces as has
Christianity. It may perhaps be argued that in time the religion of the
West, if missionaries will persevere, will raise the Hindu higher than
his own obscenities have succeeded in doing, and that the civilization
produced by Christianity is actually of a higher type, in spite of its
evil by-products, than that of the head-hunters of Borneo and the bloody
savages of Africa. But at any rate there is no excuse whatever for the
intolerant Catholic proselytizer in English homes. For, roughly
speaking, it is only the Catholic whom you cannot trust in your own home
circle; sooner or later you will find him, if he at all lives up to his
principles, insinuating the praises of his own faith and the weaknesses
of your own; your sons and daughters he considers to be fair game; he
thinks nothing of your domestic peace in comparison with the propagation
of his own tenets. He is characterized, first and last, by that dogmatic
and intolerant spirit that is the exact contrary of all that the modern
world deems to be the spirit of true Christianity. True Christianity,
then, as has been said, is essentially a private, personal, and
individual matter between each soul and her God.
(ii) The second charge brought against Catholics is that they make
religion far too personal, too private, and too intimate for it to be
considered the religion of Jesus Christ. And this is illustrated by the
supreme value which the Church places upon what is known as the
For if there is one element in Catholicism that the man-in-the-street
especially selects for reprobation it is the life of the Enclosed
Religious. It is supposed to be selfish, morbid, introspective, unreal;
it is set in violent dramatic contrast with the ministerial Life of
Jesus Christ. A quantity of familiar eloquence is solemnly poured out
upon it as if nothing of the kind had ever been said before: it is said
that "a man cannot get away from the world by shutting himself up in a
monastery"; that "a man should not think about his own soul so much, but
rather of what good he can do in the world in which God has placed him";
that "four whitewashed walls" are not the proper environment for a
And yet, after all, what is the Contemplative Life except precisely that
which the world just now recommended? And could religion possibly be
made a more intimate, private, and personal matter between the soul and
God than the Carthusian or Carmelite makes it?
The fact is, of course, that Catholics are wrong whatever they do—too
extreme in everything which they undertake. They are too active and not
retired enough in their proselytism; too retired and not active enough
in their Contemplation.
II. Now the Life of our Divine Lord exhibits, of course, both the Active
and the Contemplative elements that have always distinguished the Life
of His Church.
For three years He set Himself to the work of preaching His Revelation
and establishing the Church that was to be its organ through all the
centuries. He went about, therefore, freely and swiftly, now in town,
now in country. He laid down His Divine principles and presented His
Divine credentials, at marriage feasts, in market-places, in country
roads, in crowded streets, and in private houses. He wrought the works
of mercy, spiritual and corporal, that were to be the types of all works
of mercy ever afterwards. He gave spiritual and ascetic teaching on the
Mount of Beatitudes, dogmatic instructions in Capharnaum and the
wilderness to the east of Galilee, and mystical discourses in the Upper
Chamber of Jerusalem and the temple courts. His activities and His
proselytisms were unbounded. He broke up domestic circles and the
routine of offices. He called the young man from his estates and Matthew
from custom-house and James and John from their father's fishing
business. He made a final demonstration of His unlimited claim on
humanity in His Procession on Palm Sunday, and on Ascension Day
ratified and commissioned the proselytizing activities of His Church for
ever in His tremendous charge to the Apostolic band. Going, therefore,
teach ye all nations … teaching them to observe all things whatsoever
I have commanded you; and behold I am with you all the days, even to the
consummation of the world.
Yet this, it must be remembered, was not only not the whole of His Life
on earth, it was not even a very considerable part of it, if reckoned by
years. For three years He was active, but for thirty He was retired in
the house of Nazareth; and even those three years are again and again
broken by retirement. He is now in the wilderness for forty days, now on
the mountain all night in prayer, now bidding His disciples come apart
and rest themselves. The very climax of His ministry too was wrought in
silence and solitude. He removed Himself about a stone's throw in the
garden of Gethsemane from those who loved Him best; He broke His silence
on the Cross to bid farewell even to His holy Mother herself. Above all,
he explicitly and emphatically commended the Life of Contemplative
Prayer as the highest that can be lived on earth, telling Martha that
activity, even in the most necessary duties, was not after all the best
use to which time and love could be put, but rather that Mary had
chosen the best part … the one thing that is necessary, and that it
shall not be taken away from her even by a sister's loving zeal.
Finally, fault was found with Jesus Christ, as with His Church, on
precisely these two points. When He was living the life of retirement in
the country He was rebuked that He did not go up to the feast and state
His claims plainly—justify, that is, by activity, His pretensions to
the Messiahship; and when He did so, He was entreated to bid his
acclaimants to hold their peace—to justify, that is, by humility and
retirement, His pretensions to spirituality.
III. The reconciliation, therefore, of these two elements in the
Catholic system is very easy to find.
(i) First, it is the Church's Divinity that accounts for her passion for
God. To her as to none else on earth is the very face of God revealed as
the Absolute and Final Beauty that lies beyond the limits of all
Creation. She in her Divinity enjoys it may be said, even in her sojourn
on earth, that very Beatific Vision that enraptured always the Sacred
Humanity of Jesus Christ. With all the company of heaven then, with Mary
Immaculate, with the Seraphim and with the glorified saints of God, she
endures, seeing Him Who is invisible. Even while the eyes of her
humanity are held, while her human members walk by faith and not by
sight, she, in her Divinity, which is the guaranteed Presence of Jesus
Christ in her midst, already dwells in heavenly places and is already
come to Mount Zion and the City of the living God and to God Himself,
Who is the Light in which all fair things are seen to be fair.
Is it any wonder then that, now and again, some chosen child of hers
catches a mirrored glimpse of what she herself beholds with unveiled
face; that some Catholic soul, now and again, chosen and called by God
to this amazing privilege, should suddenly perceive, as never before,
that God is the one and only Absolute Beauty, and that, compared with
the contemplation of this Beauty—which contemplation is, after all, the
final life of Eternity to which every redeemed soul shall come—all the
activities of earthly life are nothing; and that, in her passion for
this adorable God, she should run into a secret room and shut the door
and pray to her Father Who is in secret, and so remain praying, a
hidden channel of life to the whole of that Body of which she is a
member, an intercessor for the whole of that Society of which she is one
unit? There in silence, then, she sits at Jesus' feet and listens to the
Voice which is as the sound of many waters; in the whiteness of her
cell watches Him Whose Face is as a Flame of Fire, and in austerity
and fasting tastes and finds that the Lord is gracious.
Of course this is but madness and folly to those who know God only in
His Creation, who imagine Him merely as the Soul of the World and the
Vitality of Created Life. To such as these earth is His highest Heaven
and the beauty of the world the noblest vision that can be conceived.
Yet to that soul that is Catholic, who understands that the Eternal
Throne is indeed above the stars and that the Transcendence of God is as
fully a truth as His Immanence—that God in Himself, apart from all
that He has made, is all-fair and all-sufficient in His own Beauty—to
such a soul as this, if called to such a life, there is no need that the
Church should declare explicitly that the Contemplative Life is the
highest. She knows it already.
(ii) The First Great Commandment of the Law, then, is inevitably
followed by the Second, and the Catholic interpretation of the Second is
thought by the world, which understands neither, to be as extravagant as
her interpretation of the First.
For this Divine Church that knows God is also a Human Society that
dwells among men, and since she in herself unites Divinity and Humanity,
she cannot rest until she has united them everywhere else.
For, as she turns her eyes from God to men, she sees there immortal
souls, made in the image of God and made for Him and Him alone, seeking
to satisfy themselves with Creation instead of with the Creator. She
hears how the world preaches the sanctity of the temperament, and the
holiness of the individual point of view, as if there were no
Transcendent God at all and no objective external Revelation ever made
by Him. She sees how men, instead of seeking to conform themselves to
God's Revelation of Himself, attempt rather to conform such fragments of
that Revelation as have reached them to their own points of view; she
listens to talk about "aspects of truth" and "schools of thought" and
the "values of experience" as if God had never spoken either in the
thunders of Sinai or the still voice of Galilee.
Is it any wonder, then, that her Proselytism appears to such a world as
extravagant as her Contemplation, her passion for men as unreasonable as
her passion for God, when that world sees her bring herself from her
cloisters and her secret places to proclaim as with a trumpet those
demands of God which He has made known, those Laws which He has
promulgated, and those rewards which He has promised? For how can she do
otherwise who has looked on the all-glorious Face of God and then on the
vacant and complacent faces of men—she who knows God's infinite
capacity for satisfying men and men's all but infinite incapacity for
seeking God—when she sees some poor soul shutting herself up indeed
within the deadly and chilly walls of her own "temperament" and
"individual point of view," when earth and heaven and the Lord of them
both is waiting for her outside?
The Church, then, is too much interested in men and too much absorbed in
God. Of course she is too much interested and too much absorbed, for she
alone knows the value and capacity of both; she who is herself both
Divine and Human. For Religion, to her, is not an elegant accomplishment
or a graceful philosophy or a pleasing scheme of conjectures. It is the
fiery bond between God and man, neither of whom can be satisfied
without the other, the One in virtue of His Love and the other in virtue
of his createdness. She alone, then, understands and reconciles the
tremendous Paradox of the Law that is Old as well as New. Thou shalt
love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart … and thy neighbour as
FAITH AND REASON
Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall
not enter into it.—MARK X. 15.
Some things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and the unstable
wrest, as also the other Scriptures, to their own perdition.—
II PET. III. 16.
There are two great gifts, or faculties, by which men attain to truth:
faith and reason. From these two sides, therefore, come two more
assaults upon the Catholic position, a position which itself faces in
both these directions. On the one side we are told that we believe too
simply, on the other that we do not believe simply enough; on the one
side that we reason too little, on the other that we do not reason
enough. Let us set out these attacks in order.
I. (i) "You Catholics," says one critic, "are far too credulous in
matters of religion. You believe, not as reasonable men believe, because
you have verified or experienced the truths you profess, but simply
because these dogmas are presented to you by the Church. If reason and
common-sense are gifts of God and intended for use, surely it is very
strange to silence them in your search for the supreme truth. Faith, of
course, has its place, but it must not be blind faith. Reason must test,
verify, and interpret, or faith is mere credulity.
"Consider, for example, the words of Christ, This is My Body. Now the
words as they stand may certainly be supposed to mean what you say they
mean; yet, interpreted by Reason, they cannot possibly mean anything of
the kind. Did not Christ Himself sit in bodily form at the table as He
spoke them? How then could He hold Himself in His hand? Did He not speak
in metaphors and images continually? Did He not call Himself a Door and
a Vine? Using Reason, then, to interpret these words, it is evident
that He meant no more than that He was instituting a memorial feast, in
which the bread should symbolize His Body and the wine His Blood. So too
with many other distinctively Catholic doctrines—with the Petrine
claims, with the authority 'to bind and loose,' and the rest. Catholic
belief on these points exhibits not faith properly so-called—that is,
Faith tested by Reason—but mere credulity. God gave us all Reason! Then
in His Name let us use it!"
(ii) From the other side comes precisely the opposite charge.
"You Catholics," cries the other critic, "are far too argumentative and
deductive and logical in your Faith. True Religion is a very simple
thing; it is the attitude of a child who trusts and does not question.
But with you Catholics Religion has degenerated into Theology. Jesus
Christ did not write a Summa; He made a few plain statements which
comprise, as they stand, the whole Christian Religion; they are full of
mystery, no doubt, but it is He who left them mysterious. Why, then,
should your theologians seek to penetrate into regions which He did not
reveal and to elaborate what He left unelaborated?
"Take, for example, Christ's words, This is My Body. Now of course
these words are mysterious, and if Christ had meant that they should be
otherwise, He would Himself have given the necessary comment upon them.
Yet He did not; He left them in an awful and deep simplicity into which
no human logic ought even to seek to penetrate. Yet see the vast and
complicated theology that the traditions have either piled upon them or
attempted to extract out of them; the philosophical theories by which it
has been sought to elucidate them; the intricate and wide-reaching
devotions that have been founded upon them! What have words like
'Transubstantiation' and 'Concomitance,' devotions like 'Benediction,'
gatherings like Eucharistic Congresses to do with the august simplicity
of Christ's own institution? You Catholics argue too much—deduce,
syllogize, and explain—until the simple splendour of Christ's
mysterious act is altogether overlaid and hidden. Be more simple! It is
better to 'love God than to discourse learnedly about the Blessed
Trinity.' It has not pleased God to save His people through dialectics.
Believe more, argue less!"
Once more, then, the double charge is brought. We believe, it seems,
where we ought to reason. We reason where we ought to believe. We
believe too blindly and not blindly enough. We reason too closely and
not closely enough.
Here, then, is a vast subject—the relations of Faith and Reason and the
place of each in man's attitude towards Truth. It is, of course,
possible only to glance at these things in outline.
II. First, let us consider, as a kind of illustration, the relations of
these things in ordinary human science. Neither Faith nor Reason will,
of course, be precisely the same as in supernatural matters; yet there
will be a sufficient parallel for our purpose.
A scientist, let us say, proposes to make observations upon the
structure of a fly's leg. He catches his fly, dissects, prepares, places
it in his microscope, observes, and records. Now here, it would seem, is
Pure Science at its purest and Reason in its most reasonable aspect. Yet
the acts of faith in this very simple process are, if we consider
closely, simply numberless. The scientist must make acts of faith,
certainly reasonable acts, yet none the less of faith, for all that:
first, that his fly is not a freak of nature; next, that his lens is
symmetrically ground; then that his observation is adequate; then that
his memory has not played him false between his observing and his
recording that which he has seen. These acts are so reasonable that we
forget that they are acts of faith. They are justified by reason before
they are made, and they are usually, though not invariably, verified by
Reason afterwards. Yet they are, in their essence, Faith and not Reason.
So, too, when a child learns a foreign language. Reason justifies him in
making one act of faith that his teacher is competent, another that his
grammar is correct, a third that he hears and sees and understands
correctly the information given him, a fourth that such a language
actually exists. And when he visits France afterwards he can, within
limits, again verify by his reason the acts of faith which he has
previously made. Yet none the less they were acts of faith, though they
were reasonable. In a word, then, no acquirement of or progress in any
branch of human knowledge is possible without the exercise of faith. I
cannot walk downstairs in the dark without at least as many acts of
faith as there are steps in the staircase. Society could not hold
together another day if mutual faith were wholly wanting among its
units. Certainly we use reason first to justify our faith, and we reason
later to verify it. Yet none the less the middle step is faith. Columbus
reasoned first that there must be a land beyond the Atlantic, and he
used that same reason later to verify his discovery. Yet without a
sublime act of faith between these processes, without that almost
reckless moment in which he first weighed anchor from Europe, reason
would never have gone beyond speculative theorizing. Faith made real for
him what Reason suggested. Faith actually accomplished that of which
Reason could only dream.
III. Turn now to the coming of Jesus Christ on earth. He came, as we
know now, a Divine Teacher from heaven to make a Revelation from God; He
came, that is, to demand from men a sublime Act of Faith in Himself. For
He Himself was Incarnate Wisdom, and He demanded, therefore, as none
else can demand it, a supreme acceptance of His claim. No progress in
Divine knowledge, as He Himself tells us, is possible, then, without
this initial act. Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a
little child shall not enter into it. Every soul that is to receive
this teaching in its entirety must first accept the Teacher and sit at
Yet He did not make this claim merely on His own unsupported word. He
presented His credentials, so to say; He fulfilled prophecy; He wrought
miracles; He satisfied the moral sense. Believe Me, He says, for the
very works' sake. Before, then, demanding the fundamental act of Faith
on which the reception of Revelation must depend, He took pains to make
this Act of Faith reasonable. "You see what I do," He said in effect,
"you have observed My life, My words, My actions. Now is it not in
accordance with Reason that you should grant My claims? Can you explain
away, reasonably, on any other grounds than those which I state, the
phenomena of My life?"
Certainly, then, He appealed to Reason; He appealed to Private Judgment,
since that, up to that moment, was all that His hearers possessed. But,
in demanding an Act of Faith, He appealed to Private Judgment to set
itself aside; He appealed to Reason as to whether it were not Reasonable
to stand aside for the moment and let Faith take its place. And we know
how His disciples responded. Whom do you say that I am?… Thou art the
Christ, the Son of the Living God.
At that instant, then, a new stage was begun. They had used their Reason
and their Private Judgment, and, aided by His grace, had concluded that
the next reasonable step was that of Faith. Up to that point they had
observed, dissected, criticized, and analyzed His words; they had
examined, that is, His credentials. And now it was Reason itself that
urged them towards Faith, Reason that abdicated what had hitherto been,
its right and its duty, that Faith might assume her proper place.
Henceforth, then, their attitude must be a different one. Up to now they
had used their Reason to examine His claim; now it was Faith, aided and
urged by Reason, which accepted it.
Yet even now Reason's work is not done, though its scope in future is
changed. Reason no longer examines whether He be God; Faith has
accepted it: yet Reason has to be as active as ever; for Reason now must
begin with all its might the task of understanding His Revelation. Faith
has given them, so to speak, casket after casket of jewels; every word
that Jesus Christ henceforth speaks to them is a very mine of treasure,
absolutely true since He is known to be a Divine Teacher Who has given
it. And Reason now begins her new work, not of justifying Faith, but, so
to say, of interpreting it; not of examining His claims, since these
have been once for all accepted, but of examining, understanding, and
assimilating all that He reveals.
III. Turn now to Catholicism.
It is the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church only, that acts as
did Jesus Christ and offers an adequate object to Reason and Faith
alike. For, first, it is evident that if Christ intended His Revelation
to last through all time, He must have designed a means by which it
should last, an Authority that should declare and preserve it as He
Himself delivered it. And next, it is evident that since the Catholic
Church alone even claims that prerogative, clearly and coherently, her
right to represent that Authority is in proportion to the clearness and
coherence of her claim. Or, again, she advances in support of that claim
precisely those same credentials as did He: she points to her miracles,
her achievements, the fulfilment of prophecy, the unity of her teaching,
the appeal to men's moral sense—all of them appeals to Reason, and
appeals which lead up, as did His, to the supreme claim, which He also
made, to demand an Act of Faith in herself as a Divine Teacher.
For she alone demands it. Other denominations of Christendom point to a
Book, or to the writings of Fathers, or to the example of their members,
and she too does these things. But it is she alone who appeals to these
things not as final in themselves, not as constituting in themselves a
final court of appeal, but as indicating as that court of appeal her own
Living Voice. Believe me, for the works' sake, she too says. "Use your
reason to the full to examine my credentials; study prophecy, history,
the Fathers—study my claims in any realm in which your intellect is
competent—and then see if it is not after all supremely reasonable for
Reason to abdicate that particular throne on which she has sat so long
and to seat Faith there instead? Certainly follow your Reason and use
your private judgment, for at present you have no other guide; and then,
please God, aided by Faith, Reason will itself bow before Faith, and
take her own place henceforth, not on the throne, but on the steps that
lead to it."
Is Reason, then, to be silent henceforth? Why, the whole of theology
gives the answer. Did Newman cease to think when he became a Catholic?
Did Thomas Aquinas resign his intellect when he devoted himself to
study? Not for one instant is Reason silent. On the contrary, she is
active as never before. Certainly she is no longer occupied in
examining as to whether the Church is divine, but instead she is busied,
with incredible labours, in examining what follows from that fact, in
sorting the new treasures that are opened to her with the dawn of
Revelation upon her eyes, in arranging, deducting, and understanding the
details and structure of the astonishing Vision of Truth. And more, she
is as inviolate as ever. For never can there be presented to her one
article of Faith that gives the lie to her own nature, since Revelation
and Reason cannot contradict one the other. She has learned, indeed,
that the mysteries of God often transcend her powers, that she cannot
fathom the infinite with the finite; yet never for one moment is she
bidden to evacuate her own position or believe that which she perceives
to be untrue. She has learned her limitations, and with that has come to
understand her inviolable rights.
See, then, how the features of Christ look out through the lineaments of
His Church. She alone dares to claim an act of Divine Faith in herself,
since it is He Who speaks in her Voice. She alone, since she is Divine,
bids the wisest men become as little children at her feet and endows
little children with the wisdom of the ancients. Yet, on the other hand,
in her magnificent Humanity, she has produced through the exercise of
illuminated human Reason such a wealth of theology as the world has
never seen. Is it any wonder that the world thinks both her Faith and
Reason alike too extreme? For her Faith rises from her Divinity and her
Reason from her Humanity; and such an outpouring of Divinity and such an
emphatic Humanity, such a superb confidence in God's revelation and such
untiring labours upon the contents of that Revelation, are altogether
beyond the imagination of a world that in reality, fears both Faith and
At her feet, and hers only, then, do the wisest and the simple kneel
together—St. Thomas and the child, St. Augustine and the "charcoal
burner"; as diverse, in their humanity, as men can be; as united in the
light of Divinity as only those can be who have found it.
So, then, she goes forward to victory. "First use your reason," she
cries to the world, "to see whether I be not Divine! Then, impelled by
Reason and aided by Grace, rise to Faith. Then once more call up your
Reason, to verify and understand those mysteries which you accept as
true. And so, little by little, vistas of truth will open about you and
doctrines glow with an undreamed-of light. So Faith will be interpreted
by Reason and Reason hold up the hands of Faith, until you come indeed
to the unveiled vision of the Truth whose feet already you grasp in love
and adoration; until you see, face to face in Heaven, Him Who is at once
the Giver of Reason and the Author of Faith."
AUTHORITY AND LIBERTY
The truth shall make you free.—JOHN VIII. 32.
Bringing into captivity every understanding to the obedience of
Christ.—II COR. X. 5.
We have already considered in outline the relations between Faith and
Reason; how each, in its own province, is supreme and how each, in its
turn, supports and ratifies the other. We pass on to a development of
that theme, springing almost immediately out of it, namely, the
relations between Authority and Liberty. And we will begin that
consideration, as before, as it is illustrated by the accusations of the
world against the Church. Briefly they are stated as follows.
I. Freedom, we are told, is the note of Christianity as laid down in the
Gospels, in both discipline and doctrine. Jesus Christ came into the
world largely for this very purpose, to substitute the New Law for the
Old and thereby to free men from the complicated theology and the
minutia of religious routine which characterized men's attempts to
reduce that Old Law to practice. The Old Law may or may not have been
perfectly adapted, when first it was given, to the needs of God's
people in the early stages of Jewish civilization; but at any rate it is
certain, from a hundred texts in the Gospel, that Jesus Christ in His
day found it an intolerable slavery laid upon the religious life of the
people. Theology had degenerated into an incredible hair-splitting
system of dogma, and discipline had degenerated into a multitude of
Jesus Christ, then, in the place of all this, preached a Creed that was
essentially simple, and simultaneously substituted for the elaborate
ceremonialism of the Pharisees the spirit of liberty. The dogma that He
preached was little more than that God is the Father of all and that all
men therefore are brothers; "discipline" in the ordinary sense of the
word is practically absent from the Gospel, and as for ceremonial there
is none, except such as is necessary for the performance of the two
extremely simple rites that He instituted, Baptism and the Lord's
Now this supposed spirit of liberty, we are informed, is to-day to be
found only in Protestantism. In that system, if it can strictly be
called one, and in that system only, may a man exercise that freedom
which was secured to him by Jesus Christ. First, in doctrine, he may
choose, weigh, and examine for himself, within the wide limits which
alone Christ laid down, those doctrines or hopes which commend
themselves to his intellect; and next, in matters of discipline, again,
he may choose for himself those ways of life and action that he may
find helpful to his spiritual development. He may worship, for example,
in any church that he prefers, attend those services and those only
which commend themselves to his taste; he may eat or not eat this or
that food, as he likes, and order his day, generally, as it pleases him.
And all this, we are informed, is of the very spirit of New Testament
Christianity. The Truth has made him free, as Christ Himself promised.
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is essentially a Church of
slavery. First, in discipline, an enormous weight of observances and
duties is laid upon her children, comparable only to the Pharisaic
system. The Catholic must worship in this church and not in that, in
this manner and not in the other. He must observe places and days and
times, and that not only in religious matters but in secular. He must
eat this food on this day and that on the other; he must frequent the
sacraments at specified periods; he must perform certain actions and
refrain from others, and that in matters in themselves indifferent.
In dogma, too, no less is the burden that he must bear. Not only are the
simple words of Christ developed into a vast theological system by the
Church's officials, but the whole of this system is laid, as of faith,
down to its minutest details, on the shoulders of the unhappy believer.
He may not choose between this or that theory of the mode of Christ's
Presence in the Eucharist; he must accept precisely that, and no other,
which his Church has elaborated.
In fact, in doctrine and in discipline alike, the Church has gone back
to precisely that old reign of tyranny which Christ abolished. The
Catholic, unlike the Protestant who has retained the spirit of liberty,
finds himself in the same case as that under which Israel itself once
groaned. He is a slave and not a child; he binds his own limbs, as the
old phrase says, by his act of faith and puts the other end of the chain
into the hands of the priest. Such, in outline, is the charge against
* * * * *
Now much of it is so false that it needs no refutation. It is, for
example, entirely false that New Testament theology is simple. It is far
more true to say that, compared with the systematized theology of the
Church, it is bewilderingly complex and puzzling, and how complex and
puzzling it is, is indicated by the hundreds of creeds which Protestants
have made out of it, each creed claiming, respectively, to be its one
and only proper interpretation. Men have only come to think it "simple"
in modern days by desperately eliminating from it every element on which
all Protestants are not agreed. The residuum is indeed "simple." Only it
is not the New Testament theology! Dogmas such as that of the Blessed
Trinity, of the Procession of the Holy Ghost, of the nature of grace and
of sin—these, whether as held by orthodox or unorthodox, are at any
rate not simple, and it is merely untrue to say that Christ made no
statements on these points, however they may be understood. Further, it
is merely untrue to say that Protestant theology is "simple"; it is
every whit as elaborate as Catholic theology and considerably more
complex in those points in which Protestant divines are not agreed. The
controversies on Justification in which such men as Calvin and Luther,
with their disciples, continually engaged are fully as complicated as
any disputations on Grace between Jesuits and Dominicans.
Yet the general contention is plain enough—that on the whole the
Catholic is bound to believe a certain set of dogmas, while the
Protestant is free to accept or reject them. Therefore, it is argued,
the Protestant is "free" and the Catholic is not. And this brings us
straight to the consideration of the relations between Authority and
II. What, then, is Religious Liberty? It is necessary to begin by
forming some idea as to what it is that is meant by the word in other
than religious matters.
Very briefly it may be said that an individual enjoys social liberty
when he is able to obey and to use the laws and powers of his true
nature, and that a community enjoys it when all its members are able to
do so without interfering unduly one with the other. The more complete
is this ability, the more perfect is Liberty.
A remarkable paradox at once presents itself—that Liberty can only be
secured by Laws. Where there are no laws, or too few, to secure it,
slavery immediately appears, no less surely than when there are too
many; for the stronger individuals are, by the absence of law, enabled
to tyrannize over the weaker. Even the vast and complex legislation of
our own days is designed to increase and not to fetter liberty, and its
greater complexity is necessitated by the greater complexity and the
more numerous interrelationships of modern society. Laws, of course, may
be unwise or excessively minute or deliberately enslaving; yet this does
not affect the point that for all that Laws are necessary to the
preservation of Liberty. Merchants, women and children, and citizens
generally, can only enjoy rightful liberty if they are protected by
laws. Only that man is free, then, who is most carefully guarded.
In the same manner Scientific Liberty does not consist in the absence of
knowledge, or of scientific dogmas, but in their presence. We are
surrounded by innumerable facts of nature, and that man is free who is
fully aware of those which affect his own life. It is true, for example,
that two and two make four, and that heavy bodies tend to fall towards
the centre of the earth; and it can only be a very superficial thinker
who considers that to be ignorant of these facts is to be free from the
enslaving dogmas of them. If I am ignorant of them I am, of course, in a
sense at liberty to believe that two and two make five, and to jump off
the roof of my house; yet this is not Liberty at all in the sense in
which reasonable people use the word, since my knowledge of the laws
enables me to be effective and, in fact, to survive in the midst of a
world where they happen to be true. That man, then, is more truly "free"
whose intellect is informed of and submits to these laws, than is the
man whose intellect is unaware of them. Marconi's intellect submits to
the laws of lightning and he is thereby enabled to avail himself of
them. Ajax is unaware of them and is accordingly destroyed by their
The Truth, then, makes us free. The State which controls men's
actions and educates their intellects, which, in a word, enforces the
knowledge of truth and compels obedience to it, is actually freeing its
citizens by that process. It is only by a misuse of words or a failure
to grasp ideas that I can maintain that an ignorant savage is more free
than an educated man. It is true that I am, in a sense, "free" to think
that two and two make five, if I have not learned arithmetic; on the
other hand, when I learn that they make four I rise into that higher and
more real liberty which a knowledge of arithmetic bestows. I am more
effective, not less so; I am more free to exercise my powers and use the
forces of the world in which I live, and not less free, when I have
submitted my intellect to facts.
III. (i) Now the soul too has an environment. Men may differ as to its
nature and its conditions, but all who believe in the soul at all
believe also that it has an environment, and that this environment is as
much in the realm of Law as is the natural world itself. Prayer, for
example, elevates the soul, base thinking degrades it.
Now the laws of this environment were true even before Christ came.
David knew, at any rate, something of penitence and of the guilt of sin,
and Nathan knew something, at least, of the forgiveness of sins and of
their temporal punishment. Christ came, then, with this object amongst
others: that He might reveal the laws of Grace and convey to men's minds
some at least of the facts of the spiritual life amongst which they
lived. He came, moreover, partly to modify the workings of these laws,
to release some more fully, and to restrain others; in a word, to be the
Revealer of Truth and the Administrator of Grace.
He came then, to increase men's liberty by increasing their knowledge,
as, in another sphere, the scientist comes to us with the same purpose.
Here, for example, is the law that murder is a sin before God and brings
its consequences with it, a law stated briefly in the commandment Thou
shall not kill. But our Divine Lord revealed more of the workings of
this law than men had hitherto recognized. I say unto you, declared
Christ, that whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer. He revealed,
that is to say, the fact that this law runs even in the realm of
thought, that the hating spirit incurs the guilt and punishment of
murder, and not merely the murderous action. Were men less free when
they learned that fact? Not unless I am less free than I was before,
when I learn for the first time that lightning kills. Christ came, then,
to reveal the Truth that makes us free, and He does so by informing
our intellects and enabling us to _bring into captivity every
understanding to His obedience.
(ii) Turn now to the Catholic Church. Here is a Society whose function
it is to preserve and apply the teaching of Christ; to analyze it and to
state it in forms or systems which every generation can receive. For
this purpose, then, she draws up not merely a Creed—which is the
systematic statement of the Christian Revelation—but disciplinary rules
and regulations that will make this Creed and the life that is
conformable to it more easy of realization, and all this she does with
the express object of enabling the individual soul to respond to her
spiritual environment and to rise to the full exercise of her powers and
rights. As the scientist and the statesmen take, respectively, the great
laws of nature and society and reduce them to rules and codes, yet
without adding or taking away from these facts, that are true whether
they are popularly recognized or not—and all with the purpose not of
diminishing but of increasing the general liberty—so the Church,
divinely safeguarded too in the process, takes the Revelation of Christ
and by her dogma and her discipline popularizes it, so to speak, and
makes it at once comprehensible and effective.
What, then, is this foolish cry about the slavery of dogma? How can
Truth make men anything except more free? Unless a man is prepared to
say that the scientist enslaves his intellect by telling him facts, he
dare not say that the Church fetters his intellect by defining dogma.
Christ did not condemn the Pharisaic system because it was a system, but
because it was Pharisaic; because, that is, it was not true; because it
obscured instead of revealing the true relations between God and man;
because it made the Word of God of none effect through its traditions.
But the Catholic system has the appearance of enslaving men? Why yes;
for the only way of aiming at and using effectively the truth that
makes us free is by bringing into captivity every understanding to the
obedience of Christ.
CORPORATENESS AND INDIVIDUALISM
He that shall lose his life for My sake shall find it. For what doth it
profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own
soul?—MATT. XVI. 25, 26.
No recorded word of our Lord better illustrates than does this the
startling and paradoxical manner of His teaching. For He Who knew what
was in man, Who spoke always down to man's deepest interests, dwelt and
spoke therefore in that realm of truth where man's own paradoxical
nature is most manifest; where his interests appear to flourish only by
being ruthlessly pruned; where he rises to the highest development of
self only by self-mortification. This is, in fact, the very lesson
Christ teaches in these words. To find the life is the highest object
of every man and the end for which he was created; yet this can be
attained only by the losing of it for Christ's sake. Individuality can
be preserved only by the sacrifice of Individualism. Let us break up
this thought and consider it more in detail.
I. (i) Catholics, it is said, are the most fundamentally selfish people
in the whole world, since all that they do and say and think is
directed and calculated, so far as they are "good Catholics," to the
salvation of their own souls. It is this that continually crops up in
their conversation, and this that presumably is their chief
pre-occupation. Yet surely this, above all methods, is the very worst
for achieving such an end. One does not pull up flowers to see how they
are growing. The very secret of health is to be unconscious of it.
Catholics, on the other hand, scarcely ever do anything else; they are
for ever examining themselves, for ever going to confession, for ever
developing and cultivating the narrowest virtues. The whole science of
Casuistry, for example, is directed to nothing else but this—the exact
definition of those limits within which the salvation of the soul is
secure and beyond which it is imperilled; and Casuistry, as we all know,
has a stifling and deadening influence upon all who study it.
Again, see how the true development and expansion of the soul must
necessarily be hindered by such an ideal. "I must not read this book,
however brilliant, since it might be dangerous to my faith. I must not
mix in this company, however charming, since evil communications corrupt
good manners." What kind of life is that which must always be checked
and stunted in this fashion? What kind of salvation can there be that
can only be purchased by the sacrifice of so much that is noble and
inspiring? True life consists in experience, not in introspection; in
going out from self into the world, not in retiring from the world
inwards. Let us therefore live our life without fear, lose ourselves in
humanity, forget self in experience, and leave the rest to God!
(ii) So much for the one side, while from the other comes almost
precisely the opposite criticism. Catholics, it is said, are not nearly
individualistic enough; on the contrary they are for ever sinking
themselves and their personalities in the corporate life of the Church.
Not only are their outward actions checked and their words guarded, but
even their very consciences and thoughts are informed and made by the
collective conscience and mind of others. It is the highest ambition of
every good Catholic sentire cum ecclesia; not merely to act and speak
but even to think in obedience to others. Now a man's true life, we are
told, consists in an assertion of his own individuality. God has made no
two men the same; the mould was made and broken in each several case.
If, therefore, we are to be what He meant us to be, we must make the
most of our own personalities; we must think our own thoughts, not other
people's, direct our own lives, speak our own minds—so far, of course,
as we can do so without interfering with our neighbour's equal liberty.
Once more, therefore, we are bidden to live our life to the full; not in
this case, however, because we all share in a common humanity, but
because we do not!
We Catholics are wrong, therefore, for both reasons and in both
directions. We are wrong when we put self first and we are wrong when we
do not. We are wrong when we launch out into the current of life, and
wrong when we withdraw ourselves from its waters. We are wrong when we
insist upon our personal responsibility, and wrong when we look to the
Church to undertake it.
II. (i) Here then, indeed, is a Paradox; but it is one which our Lord
Himself expressly emphasizes. For, first, there is nothing on which He
so repeatedly insists as the supreme and singular value of every soul's
salvation. If this is not attained, all is lost. What shall it profit a
man if he shall gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own
soul? All else, then, must be sacrificed if this is in peril. No human
possession, however great, can be weighed against this. No human tie,
however sacred, can hold against its claim. Not only must houses and
lands, but father and mother and wives and children must take second
place, so soon as eternal life is at stake. And yet, somehow or another,
this salvation can only be attained by loss; self can only live if it be
mortified, can only be saved by its own denial. Individuality, as has
been said, can only be preserved by the loss of Individualism.
(ii) But this is not peculiar to the spiritual sphere; it is a paradox
that is true, in some sense, of life on every plane—civic,
intellectual, artistic, human. The man that desires to bring his
intellectual and personal powers to their highest pitch must
continually be sinking them, so to speak, in the current of his fellows,
continually exhausting, using, and wearing them out. He must risk, and
indeed inevitably lose, in a very real sense, his personal point of
view, if he is to have a point of view that is worth possessing; he must
be content to see his theories and his thoughts modified, merged,
changed, and destroyed, if his thought is to be of value. For, so far as
he withdraws himself from his fellows into a physical or mental
isolation, so far he approaches egotistic madness. He cannot grow unless
he decreases; he cannot remain himself unless he ceases to be himself.
So, too, is it in civic and artistic life. The citizen who truly lives
to the State of which he is a member—the man to whom his country raises
a monument, for example—is one, always, who has lost himself for his
nation, whether he has died in battle or sacrificed himself in politics
or philanthropy. And the citizen who has merely hugged his citizenship
to himself, who has enjoyed all the privileges he can get and paid
nothing for them,—least of all himself—who has, so to say, gained the
whole world, has simultaneously lost himself indeed and is forgotten
within a year of his death. So with the artist. The man who has made his
art serve him, who has employed it, let us say, purely for the sake of
the money he could get out of it, who has kept it within severe limits,
who has been merely prudent and orderly and restrained, this man has, in
a sense, saved his own life; yet simultaneously he has lost it. But
the man to whom art is a passion, to whom nothing else is comparatively
of any value, who has plunged himself in his art, has dedicated to it
his days and his nights, has sacrificed to it every power of his being
and every energy of his mind and body, this man has indeed lost
himself. Yet he lives in his art as the other has not, he has saved
himself in a sense of which the other knows nothing; and exactly in
proportion as he has succeeded in his self-abnegation, so far has he
attained, as we say, immortality. There is not, then, one sphere of life
in which the paradox is not true. The great historical lovers in
romance, the pioneers of science, the immortals in every plane, are
precisely those that have fulfilled on lower levels the spiritual
aphorism of Jesus Christ.
(iii) Turn, then, once more to the Catholic Church and see how in the
Life which she offers, as in none other, there is presented to us a
means of fulfilling our end.
For it is she alone who even demands in the spiritual sphere a complete
and entire abnegation of self. From every other Christian body comes the
cry, Save your soul, assert your individuality, follow your conscience,
form your opinions; while she, and she alone, demands from her children
the sacrifice of their intellect, the submitting of their judgment, the
informing of their conscience by hers, and the obedience of their will
to her lightest command. For she, and she alone, is conscious of
possessing that Divinity, in complete submission to which lies the
salvation of Humanity. For she, as the coherent and organic mystical
Body of Christ, calls upon those who look to her to become, not merely
her children, but her very members; not to obey her as soldiers obey a
leader or citizens a Government, but as the hands and eyes and feet obey
a brain. Once, therefore, I understand this, I understand too how it is
that by being lost in her I save myself; that I lose only that which
hinders my activity, not that which fosters it. For when is my hand most
itself? When separated from the body, by paralysis or amputation? Or
when, in vital union with the brain, with every fibre alert and every
nerve alive, it obeys in every gesture and receives in every sensation a
life infinitely vaster and higher than any which it might, temporarily,
enjoy in independence? It is true that its capacity for pain is the
greater when it is so united, and that it would cease to suffer if once
its separation were accomplished; yet, simultaneously, it would lose all
that for which God made it and, saving itself, would be lost indeed.
I live, then, the perfect Catholic may say, as none other can say,
when I have ceased to be myself. And yet not I, since I have lost my
Individualism. No longer do I claim any activity at all on my own
behalf; no longer do I demand to form my opinions, to follow my own
conscience apart from that informing of it that comes from God, or to
live my own life. Yet in losing my Individualism I have won my
Individuality, for I have found my true place at last. I have lost the
whole world? Yes, so far as that world is separate from or antagonistic
to God's will; but I have gained my own soul and attained immortality.
For it is not I that live, but Christ that liveth in me.
MEEKNESS AND VIOLENCE
Blessed are the meek.—MATT. V. 4.
The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it
away.—MATT. XI. 12.
We have already considered the Church's relations towards such things as
wealth and human influence and power, how she will sometimes use and
sometimes disdain them. Let us now penetrate a little deeper and
understand the spirit that underlies and explains this varying attitude
I. (i) It has been charged against Christianity in general, and
therefore implicitly and supremely against the Church that was for so
long its sole embodiment and is still, alone, its adequate
representative, that it has fostered virtues which retard progress.
Progress, in the view of the German philosopher who explicitly made this
charge, is merely natural both in its action and its end; and Nature, as
we are well aware, knows nothing of forgiveness or compassion or
tenderness: on the contrary she moves from lower to higher forms by
forces that are their precise opposite. The wounded stag is not
protected by his fellows, but gored to death; the old wolf is torn to
pieces, the sick lion wanders away to die of starvation, and all these
instincts, we are informed, have for their object the gradual
improvement of the breed by the elimination of the weak and ineffective.
So should it be, he tells us, with man, and the extreme Eugenists echo
his teaching. Christianity, on the other hand, deliberately protects the
weak and teaches that the sacrifice of the strong is supreme heroism.
Christianity has raised hospitals and refuges for the infirm, seeking to
preserve those very types which Nature, if she had her way, would
eliminate. Christianity, then, is the enemy of the human race and not
its friend, since Christianity has retarded, as no other religion has
ever succeeded in retarding, the appearance of that superman whom Nature
seeks to evolve…. It is scarcely to be wondered at that the teacher of
such a doctrine himself died insane.
A parallel doctrine is taught largely to-day by persons who call
themselves practical and businesslike. Meekness and gentleness and
compassion, they tell their sons, are very elegant and graceful virtues
for those who can afford them, for women and children who are more or
less sheltered from the struggle of life, and for feeble and ineffective
people who are capable of nothing else. But for men who have to make
their own way in the world and intend to win success there, a more stern
code is necessary; from these there is demanded such a rule of action as
Nature herself dictates. Be self-confident and self-assertive then, not
meek. Remember that the weakness of your neighbour is your own
opportunity. Take care of number one and let the rest take care of
themselves. A man does not go into the stock-exchange or into commerce
in order to exhibit Christian virtues there, but business qualities. In
a word, Christianity, so far as it affects material or commercial or
political progress, is a weakness rather than a strength, an enemy
rather than a friend.
(ii) But if, on the one side, the gentleness and non-resistance
inculcated by Christianity form the material of one charge against the
Church, on the other side, no less, she is blamed for her violence and
intransigeance. Catholics are not yielding enough, we are told, to be
true followers of the meek Prophet of Galilee, not gentle enough to
inherit the blessing which He pronounced. On the contrary there are no
people so tenacious, so obstinate, and even so violent as these
professed disciples of Jesus Christ. See the way, for example, in which
they cling to and insist upon their rights; the obstacles they raise,
for example, to reasonable national schemes of education or to a
sensible system in the divorce courts. And above all, consider their
appalling and brutal violence as exhibited in such institutions as that
of the Index and Excommunication, the fierceness with which they insist
upon absolute and detailed obedience to authority, the ruthlessness with
which they cast out from their company those who will not pronounce
their shibboleths. It is true that in these days they can only enforce
their claims by spiritual threatenings and penalties, but history shows
us that they would do more if they could. The story of the racks and the
fires of the Inquisition shows plainly enough that the Church once used,
and therefore, presumably, would use again if she could, carnal weapons
in her spiritual warfare. Can anything be more unlike the gentle Spirit
of Him Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; of Him Who bade
men to learn of Him, for He was meek and lowly of heart, and so find
rest to their souls?
Here, then, is the Paradox, and here are two characteristics of the
Catholic Church: that she is at once too meek and too self-assertive,
too gentle and too violent. It is a paradox exactly echoed by our Divine
Lord Himself, Who in the Upper Chamber bade His disciples who had no
sword to sell their cloaks and buy them, and Who yet, in the garden
of Gethsemane, commanded the one disciple who had taken Him at His word
to put up the sword into its sheath, telling him that they who took
the sword should perish by it. It is echoed yet again in His action,
first in taking the scourge into His own Hand, in the temple courts, and
then in baring His shoulders to that same scourge in the hands of
others. How, then, is this Paradox to be reconciled?
II. The Church, let us remind ourselves again, is both Human and Divine.
(i) She consists of human persons, and those persons are attached both
to one another and to the world outside by a perfectly balanced system
of human rights known as the Law of Justice. This Law of Justice, though
coming indeed from God, is, in a sense, natural and human; it exists to
some extent in all societies, as well as being closely defined and
worked out in the Old Law given on Sinai. It is a Law which men could
have worked out, at any rate in its main principles, by the light of
reason only, unaided by Revelation, and it is a Law, further, so
fundamental that no Revelation could conceivably ever outrage or set it
At the coming of Christ into the world, however, Supernatural Charity
came with Him. The Law of Justice still remained; men still had their
rights on which they might insist, still had their rights which no
Christian may refuse to recognize. But such was the torrent of Divine
generosity which Christ exhibited, so overwhelming was the Vision which
He revealed of the supernatural charity of God towards men, that a set
of ideals sprang into life such as the world had never dreamed of; more,
Charity came with such power that her commands actually overruled in
many instances the feeble claims of Justice, so that she bade men
henceforward to forgive, for example, not merely according to Justice,
but according to her own Divine nature, to forgive unto seventy times
seven, to give good measure, heaped up and running over, and not the
bare minimum which men had merely earned.
It was from this advent of Charity, then, that all these essentially
Christian virtues of generosity and meekness and self-sacrifice sprang
which Nietsche condemned as hostile to material progress.
For, from henceforth, if a man take thy coat, let him take thy cloak
also; if he will compel thee to go with him one mile, go two; if he
strike thee on one cheek, turn to him the other also. The Law of
Natural justice is transcended and the Law of Charity and Sacrifice
reigns instead. Resist not evil; do not insist always, that is to say,
on your natural rights; give men more than their due, and be yourself
content with less. Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and
find rest to your souls. Forgive one another your trespasses with the
same generous charity with which God has forgiven and will forgive you
yours. Judge not and you shall not be judged. Do not, in personal
matters, insist upon bare justice for yourself, but act on that scale
and by those principles by which God Himself has dealt with you.
Meekness, then, is undoubtedly a Christian virtue. Sometimes it is
obligatory, sometimes it is but a Counsel of Perfection; it stands, in
any case, high among those ideals which it has been the glory of
Christianity to create.
(ii) But there are other elements in life besides the human and the
natural, beyond those personal rights and claims which a Christian may,
if he is aiming at perfection, set aside out of charity. The Church is
Divine as well as Human.
For the Church has entrusted to her, besides the rights of men, which
may be sacrificed by their possessors, the rights and claims of God,
which none but He can set aside. He has given into her keeping, for
example, a Revelation of truths and principles which, springing out of
His own Nature or of His Will, are as immutable and eternal as Himself.
And it is precisely in defence of these truths and principles that the
Church exhibits that which the world calls intransigeance and Jesus
Here, for example, is the right of a baptized Catholic child to be
educated in his religion, or rather, the right of God Himself to teach
that child in the manner He has ordained. Here is the revealed truth
that marriage is indissoluble; here that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Now these are not human rights or opinions at all—rights and opinions
which men, urged by charity or humility, can set aside or waive in the
face of opposition. They rest on an entirely different basis; they are,
so to speak, the inalienable possessions of God; and it would neither be
charity nor humility, but sheer treachery, for the Church to exhibit
meekness or pliancy in matters such as these, given to her as they are,
not to dispose of, but to guard intact. On the contrary here, exactly,
comes the command, He that hath not, let him sell his cloak and buy a
sword,, for here comes the line between the Divine and the Human; let
all personal possessions go, all merely natural rights and claims be
yielded, and let a sword take their place. For here is a matter that
must be resisted, even unto blood.
The Catholic Church then is, and always will be, violent and
intransigeant when the rights of God are in question. She will be
absolutely ruthless, for example, towards heresy, for heresy affects not
personal matters on which Charity may yield, but a Divine right on which
there must be no yielding. Yet, simultaneously, she will be infinitely
kind towards the heretic, since a thousand human motives and
circumstances may come in and modify his responsibility. At a word of
repentance she will readmit his person into her treasury of souls, but
not his heresy into her treasury of wisdom; she will strike his name
eagerly and freely from her black list of the rebellious, but not his
book from the pages of her Index. She exhibits meekness towards him and
violence towards his error; since he is human, but her Truth is
It is, then, from a modern confusion of thought with regard to the
realms of the Divine and the Human that the amazing inability arises, on
the world's part, to understand the respective principles on which the
Catholic Church acts in these two and utterly separate departments. The
world considers it reasonable for a country to defend its material
possessions by the sword, but intolerant and unreasonable for the Church
to condemn, resisting even unto blood, principles which she considers
erroneous or false. The Church, on the other hand, urges her children
again and again to yield rather than to fight when merely material
possessions are at stake, since Charity permits and sometimes even
commands men to be content with less than their own rights, and yet
again, when a Divine truth or right is at stake, here she will resist
unfaltering and undismayed, since she cannot be "charitable" with what
is not her own; here she will sell her cloak and buy that sword
which, when the dispute was on merely temporal matters, she thrust back
again into its sheath.
To-day as Christ rides into Jerusalem we see, as in a mirror, this
Paradox made plain. Thy King cometh to thee, meek. Was there ever so
mean a Procession as this? Was there ever such meekness and charity? He
Who, as His personal right, is attended in heaven by a multitude on
white horses, now, in virtue of His Humanity, is content with a few
fishermen and a crowd of children. He to Whom, in His personal right,
the harpers and the angels make eternal music is content, since He has
been made Man for our sakes, with the discordant shoutings of this
crowd. He Who rode on the Seraphim and came flying on the wings of the
wind sits on the colt of an ass. He comes, meek indeed, from the golden
streets of the Heavenly Jerusalem to the foul roads of the Earthly,
laying aside His personal rights since He is that very Fire of Charity
by which Christians relinquish theirs.
[Footnote 1: This sermon was preached on Palm-Sunday.]
But, for all that, it is riding that thy King cometh to thee…. He
will not relinquish His inalienable claim and He will have nothing
essential left out. He has His royal escort, even though a ragged one;
He will have His spearmen, even though their spears be only of palm; He
will have His heralds to proclaim Him, however much the devout Pharisees
may be offended by their proclamation; He will ride into His own Royal
City, even though that City casts Him out, and He will have His
Coronation, even though it be with thorns. So, too, the Catholic Church
advances through the ages.
In merely human rights and personal matters again and again she will
yield up all that she has, making, it may be, but one protest for
Justice' sake and then no more. And she will urge her children to do the
same. If the world will let her have no jewels, then she will put glass
beads in her monstrance, and for marble she will use plaster, and tinsel
But she will have her Procession and insist upon her Royalty. It may
seem as poor and as mean and as tawdry as the entrance of Christ Himself
through the royal gate; for she will yield up all that the world demands
of her, so long as her Divine Right itself remains intact. She will
issue her orders, though few be found to obey them; she will cast out
from her the rebellious who question her authority, and cleanse her
Temple Courts even though with a scourge at which men mock. She will
give up all that is merely human, if the world will have it so, and will
resist not evil if it merely concerns herself. But there is one thing
which she will not renounce, one thing she will claim, even with
violence and "intransigeance," and that is the Royalty with which God
Himself has crowned her.
THE SEVEN WORDS
THE "THREE HOURS"
The value, to the worshippers, of the Devotion of the Three Hours' Agony
is in proportion to the degree in which they understand that they are
watching not so much the tragedy of nineteen hundred years ago as the
tragedy of their own lives and times. Merely to dwell on the Death of
Christ on Calvary would scarcely avail them more than to study the
details of the assassination of Caesar at the foot of Pompey's statue.
Such considerations might indeed be interesting, exciting, and even a
little instructive or inspiring; but they could not be better than this,
and they might be no better than morbid and harmful.
The Death of Christ, however, is unique because it is, so to say,
universal. It is more than the crowning horror of all murderous
histories; it is more even than the type of all the outrages that men
have ever committed against God. For it is just the very enactment, upon
the historical stage of the world, of those repeated interior tragedies
that take place in every soul that rejects or insults Him; since the God
whom we crucify within is the same God that was once crucified without.
There is not an exterior detail in the Gospel which may not be
interiorly repeated in the spiritual life of a sinner; the process
recorded by the Evangelists must be more or less identical with the
process of all apostasy from God.
For, first, there is the Betrayal of Conscience, as a beginning of the
tragedy; its betrayal by those elements of our nature that are intended
as its friends and protectors—by Emotion or Forethought, for example.
Then Conscience is led away, bound, to be judged; for there can be no
mortal sin without deliberation, and no man ever yet fell into it
without conducting first a sort of hasty mock-trial or two in which a
sham Prudence or a false idea of Liberty solemnly decide that Conscience
is in the wrong. Yet even then Conscience persists, and so He is made to
appear absurd and ridiculous, and set beside the Barabbas of a coarse
and sturdy lower nature that makes no high pretensions and boasts of it.
And so the drama proceeds and Conscience is crucified: Conscience begins
to be silent, breaking the deepening gloom now and again with protests
that grow weaker every time, and at last Conscience dies indeed. And
thenceforward there can be no hope, save in the miracle of Resurrection.
This Cross of Calvary, then, is not a mere type or picture; it is a
fact identical with that so dreadfully familiar to us in spiritual life.
For Christ is not one Person, and Conscience something else, but it is
actually Christ who speaks in Conscience and Christ, therefore, Who is
crucified in mortal sin.
Let us, then, be plain with ourselves. We are watching not only Christ's
Death but our own, since we are watching the Death of Christ Who is our
THE FIRST WORD
Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.
In previous considerations we have studied the Life of Christ in His
Mystical Body from an angle at which the strange and innumerable
paradoxes which abound in all forms of life at a certain depth become
visible. And we have seen how these paradoxes lie in those strata, so to
say, where the Divinity and the Humanity meet. Christ is God and God
cannot die; therefore Christ became man in order to be able to do so.
The Church is Divine and therefore all-holy, but she dwells in a Body of
sinful Humanity and reckons her sinners to be her children and members
no less than her saints.
We will continue to regard the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the Words
which He spoke from the Cross from the same angle, and to find,
therefore, the same characteristic paradoxes and mysteries in all that
we see. In the First Word we meet the Paradox of Divine Forgiveness.
I. Ordinary human forgiveness is no more than a natural virtue,
resulting from a natural sense of justice, and if a man is normal, his
forgiveness will be a natural and inevitable part of the process of
reconciliation so soon as a certain kind of restitution has been made.
For example, a friend of mine sins against me—he injures, perhaps, my
good name; and my natural answer is the emotion of resentment towards
him and, perhaps, of actual revenge. But what I chiefly resent is my
friend's stupidity and his ignorance of my real character. "I am angry,"
I say, with perfect sincerity, "not so much at the thing he has said of
me, as at this proof of his incapacity to understand me. I thought he
was my friend, that he was in sympathy with my character or, at least,
that he understood it sufficiently to do me justice. But now, from what
he has just said of me, I see that he does not. If the thing he said
were true of me, the most of my anger would be gone. But I see that he
does not know me, after all."
And then, presently, my friend does understand that he has wronged me;
that the gossip he repeated or the construction he put upon my actions
was not fair or true. And immediately that I become aware of this, from
him or from another, my resentment goes, if I have any natural virtue at
all; it goes because my wounded pride is healed. I forgive him easily
and naturally because he knows now what he has done.
II. How entirely different from this easy, self-loving, human
forgiveness is the Divine Forgiveness of Christ! Now it is true that in
the conscience of Pilate, the unjust representative of justice, and in
that thing that called itself conscience in Herod, and in the hearts of
the priests who denounced their God, and of the soldiers who executed
their overlord, and of Judas who betrayed his friend, in all these there
was surely a certain uneasiness—such an uneasiness is actually recorded
of the first and the last of the list—a certain faint shadow of
perception and knowledge of what it was that they had done and were
doing. And, for the natural man, it would have been comparatively easy
to forgive such injuries on that account. "I forgive them," such a man
might have said from his cross, "because there is just a glimmer of
knowledge left; there is just one spark in their hearts that still does
me justice, and for the sake of that I can try, at least, to put away my
resentment and ask God to forgive them."
But Jesus Christ cries, "Forgive them because they do not know what
they do! Forgive them because they need it so terribly, since they do
not even know that they need it! Forgive in them that which is
III. Two obvious points present themselves in conclusion.
(1) First, it is Divine Forgiveness that we need, since no sinner of
us all knows the full malice of sin. One man is a slave, let us say, to
a sin of the flesh, and seeks to reassure himself by the reflection that
he injures no one but himself; ignorant as he is of the outrage to God
the Holy Ghost Whose temple he is ruining. Or a woman repeats again
every piece of slanderous gossip that comes her way and comforts herself
in moments of compunction by reflecting that she "means no harm";
ignorant as she is of the discouragement of souls of which she is the
cause and of the seeds of distrust and enmity sown among friends. In
fact it is incredible that any sinner ever knows what it is that he
does by sin. We need, therefore, the Divine Forgiveness and not the
human, the pardon that descends when we are unaware that we must have it
or die; the love of the Father Who, while we are yet a great way off,
runs to meet us, and Who teaches us for the first time, by the warmth
of His welcome, the icy distances to which we had wandered. If we
knew, anyone could forgive us. It is because we do not that only God,
Who knows all things, can forgive us effectively.
(2) And it is this Divine Forgiveness that we ourselves have to extend
to those that sin against us, since only those who so forgive can be
forgiven. We must not wait until wounded pride is made whole by the
conscious shame of our enemy; until the debt is paid by acknowledgment
and we are complacent once more in the knowledge that justice has been
done to us at last. On the contrary, the only forgiveness that is
supernatural, and which, therefore, alone is meritorious, is that which
reach out to men's ignorance and not their knowledge of their need.
THE SECOND WORD
Amen I say to thee, to-day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.
Our Divine Lord, in this Second Word, immediately applies and
illustrates the First and drives its lesson home. He shows us how the
rain of mercy that poured out of heaven in answer to the prayer He made
just now enlightens the man who, above all others present on Calvary,
was the most abjectly ignorant of all; the man who, himself at the very
heart of the tragedy, understood it less, probably, than the smallest
child on the outskirts of the crowd.
His life had been one long defiance of the laws of both God and man. He
had been a member of one of those troops of human vermin that crawl
round Jerusalem, raiding solitary houses, attacking solitary travellers,
guilty of sins at once the bloodiest and the meanest, comparable only to
the French apaches of our own day. Well, he had been gripped at last
by the Roman machine, caught in some sordid adventure, and here,
resentful and furious and contemptuous, full of bravado and terror, he
snarled like a polecat at every human face he saw, snarled and spat at
the Divine Face Itself that looked at him from a cross that was like his
own; and, since he had not even a spark of the honour that is reputed to
exist "among thieves," taunted his "fellow criminal" for the folly of
"If thou be the Christ, save Thyself and us."
Again, then, the Paradox is plain enough. Surely an educated priest, or
a timid disciple, or a good-hearted dutiful soldier who hated the work
he was at, surely one of these will be the first object of Christ's
pardon; and so one of these would have been, if one of ourselves had
hung there. But when God forgives, He forgives the most ignorant
first—that is, the most remote from forgiveness—and makes, not Peter
or Caiphas or the Centurion, but Dismas the thief, the firstfruits of
I. The first effect of the Divine Mercy is Enlightenment. Before they
call, I will answer. Before the thief feels the first pang of sorrow
Grace is at work on him, and for the first time in his dreary life he
begins to understand. And an extraordinary illumination shines in his
soul. For no expert penitent after years of spirituality, no sorrowful
saint, could have prayed more perfectly than this outcast. His
intellect, perhaps, took in little or nothing of the great forces that
were active about him and within him; he knew, perhaps, explicitly
little or nothing of Who this was that hung beside him; yet his soul's
intuition pierces to the very heart of the mystery and expresses itself
in a prayer that combines at once a perfect love, an exquisite humility,
an entire confidence, a resolute hope, a clear-sighted faith, and an
unutterable patience; his soul blossoms all in a moment: Lord, remember
me when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom. He saw the glory behind the shame,
the Eternal Throne behind the Cross, and the future behind the present;
and he asked only to be remembered when the glory should transfigure
the shame and the Cross be transformed into the Throne; for he
understood what that remembrance would mean: "Remember, Lord, that I
suffered at Thy side."
II. So perfect, then, are the dispositions formed in him by grace that
at one bound the last is first. Not even Mary and John shall have the
instant reward that shall be his; for them there are other gifts, and
the first are those of separation and exile. For the moment, then, this
man steps into the foremost place and they who have hung side by side on
Calvary shall walk side by side to meet those waiting souls beyond the
veil who will run so eagerly to welcome them. To-day thou shalt be with
Me in Paradise.
III. Now this Paradox, the last shall be first, is an old doctrine of
Christ, so startling and bewildering that He has been forced to repeat
it again and again. He taught it in at least four parables: in the
parables of the Lost Piece of Silver, the Lost Sheep, the Prodigal
Son, and the Vineyard. The Nine Pieces lie neglected on the table,
the Ninety-nine sheep are exiled in the Fold, the Elder Son is, he
thinks, overlooked and slighted, and the Labourers complain of
favouritism. Yet still, even after all this teaching, the complaint goes
up from Christians that God is too loving to be quite just. A convert,
perhaps, comes into the Church in middle age and in a few months
develops the graces of Saint Teresa and becomes one of her daughters. A
careless black-guard is condemned to death for murder and three weeks
later dies upon the scaffold the death of a saint, at the very head of
the line. And the complaints seem natural enough. Thou hast made them
equal unto us who have borne the burden and heat of the day.
Yet look again, you Elder Sons. Have your religious, careful, timid
lives ever exhibited anything resembling that depth of self-abjection to
which the Younger Son has attained? Certainly you have been virtuous and
conscientious; after all, it would be a shame if you had not been so,
considering the wealth of grace you have always enjoyed. But have you
ever even striven seriously after the one single moral quality which
Christ holds up in His own character as the point of imitation: Learn
of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart? It is surely significant that
He does not say, expressly, Learn of Me to be pure, or courageous, or
fervent; but Learn to be humble, for in this, above all, you shall
find rest to your souls. Instead, have you not had a kind of gentle
pride in your religion or your virtue or your fastidiousness? In a
word, you have not been as excellent an Elder Son as your brother has
been a Younger. You have not corresponded with your graces as he has
corresponded with his. You have never yet been capable of sufficient
lowliness to come home (which is so much harder than to remain there),
or of sufficient humility to begin for the first time to work with all
your heart only an hour before sunset.
Begin, then, at the beginning, not half-way up the line. Go down to the
church door and beat your breast and say not, God reward me who have
done so much for Him, but God be merciful to me who have done so
little. Get off your seat amongst the Pharisees and go down on your
knees and weep behind Christ's couch, if perhaps He may at last say to
you, Friend, come up higher.
THE THIRD WORD
Woman, behold thy son. Behold thy mother.
Our Divine Lord now turns, from the soul who at one bound has sprung
into the front rank, to those two souls who have never left it, and
supremely to that Mother on whose soul sin has never yet breathed, on
whose breast Incarnate God had rested as inviolate and secure as on the
Bosom of the Eternal Father, that Mother who was His Heaven on earth.
Standing beside her is the one human being who is least unworthy to be
there, now that Joseph has passed to his reward and John the Baptist has
gone to join the Prophets—the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain
on the breast of Jesus as Jesus had lain on the breast of Mary.
Our Lord has just shown how He deals with His dear sinners; now He shows
how He will be glorified with His Saints. The Paradox of this Word is
that Death, the divider of those who are separated from God, is the bond
of union between those that are united to Him.
I. Death is the one inexorable enemy of human society as constituted
apart from God. A king dies and his kingdom is at once in danger of
disruption. A child dies and his mother prays that she may bear another,
lest his father and she should drift apart. Death is the supreme sower
of discord and disunion, then, in the natural order, since he is the one
supreme enemy of natural life. He is the noonday terror of the Rich Fool
of the parable and the nightmare of the Poor Fool, since those who place
their hope in this life see that death is the end of their hope. For
these there is no appeal beyond the grave.
II. Now precisely the opposite of all this is true in the supernatural
order, since the gate of death, viewed from the supernatural side, is an
entrance and not an ending, a beginning and not a close. This may be
seen to be so even in a united human family in this world, the members
of whom are living the supernatural life; for where such a family is
living in the love of God, Death, when he comes, draws not only the
survivors closer together, but even those whom he seems to have
separated. He does not bring consternation and terror and disunion, but
he awakens hope and tenderness, he smooths away old differences, he
explains old misunderstandings.
Our Blessed Lord has already, over the grave of Lazarus, hinted that
this shall be so, so soon as He has consecrated death by His own dying.
He that believeth in Me shall never die. He, that is to say, who has
died with Christ, whose centre henceforward is in the supernatural,
simply no longer finds death to be what nature finds it. It no longer
makes for division but for union; it no longer imperils or ends life and
interest and possession, but releases them from risk and mortality.
Here, then, He deliberately and explicitly acts upon this truth. He once
raised Lazarus and the daughter of Jairus and the Widow's Son from the
dead, for death's sting could, at that time, be drawn in no other way;
but now that He Himself is tasting death for every man, He performs an
even more emphatically supernatural act and conquers death by submitting
to it instead of by commanding it. Life had already united, so far as
mortal life can unite, those two souls who loved Him and one another so
well. These two, since they knew Him so perfectly, knew each the other
too as perfectly as knowledge and sympathy can unite souls in this
life. But now the whole is to be raised a stage higher. They had already
been united on the living breast of Jesus; now, over His dead body, they
were to be made yet more one.
It is marvellous that, after so long, our imaginations should still be
so tormented and oppressed by the thought of death; that we should still
be so without understanding that we think it morbid to be in love with
death, for it is far more morbid to be in fear of it. It is not that our
reason or our faith are at fault; it is only that that most active and
untamable faculty of ours, which we call imagination, has not yet
assimilated the truth, accepted by both our faith and our reason, that
for those who are in the friendship of God death is simply not that at
all which it is to others. It does not, as has been said, end our lives
or our interests: on the contrary it liberates and fulfils them.
And all this it does because Jesus Christ has Himself plunged into the
heart of Death and put out his fires. Henceforth we are one family in
Him if we do His will—his brother and sister and mother; and Mary is
our Mother, not by nature, which is accidental, but by supernature,
which is essential. Mary is my Mother and John is my brother, since, if
I have died with Christ, it is no longer I that live, but Christ that
liveth in me. In a word, it is the Communion of Saints which He
inaugurates by this utterance and seals by His dying.
THE FOURTH WORD
My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?
Our Blessed Lord in the revelation He makes from the Cross passes
gradually inwards to Himself Who is its centre. He begins in the
outermost circle of all, with the ignorant sinners. He next deals with
the one sinner who ceased to be ignorant, and next with those who were
always nearest to Himself, and now at last He reveals the deepest secret
of all. This is the central Word of the Seven in every sense. There is
no need to draw attention to the Paradox it expresses.
I. First, then, let us remind ourselves of the revealed dogma that Jesus
Christ was the Eternal Son of the Father; that He dwelt always in the
Bosom of that Father; that when He left heaven He did not leave the
Father's side; that at Bethlehem and Nazareth and Galilee and Jerusalem
and Gethsemane and Calvary He was always the Word that was with God
and the Word that was God. Next, that the eyes even of His Sacred
Humanity looked always and continuously upon the Face of God, since His
union with God was entire and complete: as He looked up into His
Mother's face from the manger, He saw behind it the Face of His Father;
as He cried in Gethsemane, If it be possible, even in His Sacred
Humanity He knew that it could not be; as He groaned out on Calvary that
God had forsaken Him, He yet looked without one instant's intermission
into the glory of heaven and saw His Father there.
Yet simultaneously with these truths it is also true that His cry of
dereliction was incalculably more of a reality than when first uttered
by David or, since, by any desolate sinner in the thickest spiritual
darkness. All the miseries of holy and sinful souls, heaped together,
could not approach even afar off the intolerable misery of Christ. For
of His own will He refused to be consoled at all by that Presence which
He could never lack, and of His own will He chose to be pierced and
saturated and tormented by the sorrow He could never deserve. He held
firm against the touch of consolation every power of His Divine and
Human Being and, simultaneously, flung them open to the assaults of
every pain. And if the psychology of this state is altogether beyond our
power to understand, we may remind ourselves that it is the psychology
of the Word made Flesh that is confronting us…. Do we expect to
II. There is a human phrase, however, itself a paradox, yet
corresponding to something which we know to be true, which throws some
faint glimmer of light upon this impenetrable darkness and seems to
extend Christ's experience upon the Cross so as to touch our own human
life. It is a phrase that describes a condition well known to spiritual
persons: "To leave God for God." (1) The simplest and lowest form of
this state is that condition in which we acquiesce with our will in the
withdrawal of ordinary spiritual consolation. Certainly it is an
inexplicable state, since both the ordinary aids to our will—our
understanding and our emotion—are, by the very nature of the case,
useless to it. Our heart revolts from that dereliction and our
understanding fails to comprehend the reasons for it. Yet we acquiesce,
or at least perceive that we ought to do so; and that by doing so—by
ceasing, that is, to grasp God's Presence any longer—we find it as
never before. We leave God in order to find Him.
(2) The second state is that in which we find ourselves when not only do
all consolations leave us, but the very grip of intelligent faith goes
too; when the very reasons for faithfulness appear to vanish. It is an
incalculably more bitter trial, and soul after soul fails under it and
must be comforted again by God in less august ways or perish altogether.
And yet this is not the extremest pitch even of human desolation.
(3) For there is a third of which the saints tell us in broken words and
III. Our final point, for application to ourselves, is that dereliction
in some form or another is as much a stage in spiritual progress as
autumn and winter are seasons of the year. The beginners have to suffer
one degree, the illuminated another, and those that have approached a
real Union with God a third. But all must suffer it, and each in his
own degree, or progress is impossible.
Let us take courage therefore and face it, in the light of this Word.
For, as we can sanctify bodily pain by the memory of the nails, so too
can we sanctify spiritual pain by the memory of this darkness. If He Who
never left the Father's side can suffer this in an unique and supreme
sense, how much more should we be content to suffer it in lower degrees,
who have so continually, since we came to the age of reason, been
leaving not His side only, but His very house.
THE FIFTH WORD
Our Lord continues to reveal His own condition, since He, after all, is
the key to all Humanity. If we understand anything of Him,
simultaneously we shall understand ourselves far better.
He has shown us that He can truly be deprived of spiritual consolation;
and the value of this deprivation; now He shows us the value of bodily
deprivation also. And the Paradox for our consideration is that the
Source of all can lose all; that the Creator needs His creation; that He
Who offers us the water springing up into Life Eternal can lack the
water of human life—the simplest element of all. In His Divine
Dereliction He yet continues to be Human.
I. It is very usual, under this Word, to meditate on Christ's thirst for
souls; and this is, of course, a legitimate thought, since it is true
that His whole Being, and not merely one part of it, longed and panted
on the Cross for every object of His desire. Certainly He desired souls!
When does He not?
But it is easy to lose the proportion of truth, if we spiritualize
everything, and pass over, as if unworthy of consideration, His bodily
pain. For this Thirst of the Crucified is the final sum of all the pains
of crucifixion: the physical agony, the fever produced by it, the
torrential sweat, the burning of the sun—all these culminated in the
torment of which this Cry is His expression.
Bodily pain, then, since Jesus not only deigned to suffer it, but to
speak of it, is as much a part of the Divine process as the most
spiritual of derelictions: it is an intense and a vital reality in life.
It is the fashion, at present, to pose as if we were superior to such
things; as if either it were too coarse for our high natures or even
actually in itself evil. The truth is that we are terrified of its
reality and its sting, and seek, therefore, to evade it by every means
in our power. We affect to smile at the old penances of the saints and
ascetics as if we ourselves had risen into a higher state of development
and needed no longer such elementary aids to piety!
Let this Word, then, bring us back to our senses and to the due
proportions of truth. We are body as well as soul; we are incomplete
without the body. The soul is insufficient to itself, the body has as
real a part to play in Redemption as the soul which is its inmate and
should be its mistress. We look for the redemption of our body and the
Resurrection of the Flesh, we merit or demerit before God in our soul
for the deeds done in our body.
So was it too with our Lord of His infinite compassion. The Word was
made Flesh, dwelt in the Flesh, has assumed that Flesh into heaven.
Further, He suffered in the Flesh and deigned to tell us so; and that He
found that suffering all but intolerable.
II. In a well-known book a Catholic poet describes with a great deal
of power the development of men's nervous systems in these later days,
and warns his readers against a scrupulous terror lest they, who no
longer scourge themselves with briers, should be neglecting a means of
sanctification. He points out, with perfect justice, that men, in these
days, suffer instead in more subtle manners than did those of the Middle
Ages, yet none the less physical; and puts us on our guard lest we
should afflict ourselves too much. Yet we must take care, also, that we
do not fall into the opposite extreme and come to regard bodily pain,
(as has been said) as if it were altogether too elementary for our
refined natures and as if it must have no place in the alchemy of the
spirit. This would be both dangerous and false. What God hath joined
together, let no man put asunder! For, if we once treat body and soul
as ill-matched companions and seek to deal with them apart, instantly
the door is flung open to the old Gnostic horrors of sensualism on the
one side or inhuman mutilation or neglect on the other.
[Footnote 1: Health and Holiness by Francis Thompson.]
The Church, on the other hand, is very clear and insistent that body and
soul make one man as fully as God and Man make one Christ; and she
illustrates and directs these strange co-relations and mutual effects of
these two partners by her steady insistence on such things as Fasting
and Abstinence. And the saints are equally clear and insistent. There
never yet has been a single soul whom the Church has raised to her
altars in whose life bodily austerity in some form has not played a
considerable part. It is true that some have warned us against excess;
but what warnings and what excess! "Be moderate," advises St. Ignatius,
that most reasonable and moderate of all the saints. "Take care that you
do not break any bones with your iron scourge. God does not wish that!"
Pain, then, has a real place in our progress. Who that has suffered can
ever doubt it again?
Let us consider, therefore, under this Word of Christ, whether our
attitude to bodily pain is what God would have it to be. There are two
mistakes that we may be committing. Either we may fear it too
little—meet it, that is to say, with Pagan stoicism instead of with
Christianity—or we may fear it too much. Despise not the chastening,
on one side, or faint on the other. It is surely the second warning
that is most needed now. For pain had a real place in Christ's programme
of life. He fasted for forty days at the beginning of His Ministry, and
He willed every shocking detail of the Praetorium and Calvary at the
end. He told us that His Spirit willed it and, yet more kindly, that
His Flesh was weak. He revealed, then, that He really suffered and
that He willed it so…. I thirst.
THE SIXTH WORD
It is consummated.
He has finished His Father's business, He has dealt with sinners and
saints, and has finally disclosed to us the secrets of the Soul and the
Body of His that are the hope of both sinners and saints alike. And
there is no more for Him to do.
An entirely new Beginning, then, is at hand, now that the Last Sabbath
is come—the Last Sabbath, so much greater than the First as Redemption
is greater than Creation. For Creation is a mere introduction to the
Book of Life; it is the arrangement of materials that are to be thrown
instantly into confusion again by man, who should be its crown and
master. The Old Testament is one medley of mistakes and fragments and
broken promises and violated treaties, to reach its climax in the
capital Mistake of Calvary, when men indeed knew not what they did.
And even God Himself in the New Testament, as man in the Old, has gone
down in the catastrophe and hangs here mutilated and broken. Real life,
then, is now to begin.
Yet, strangely enough, He calls it an End rather than a Beginning.
I. The one and only thing in human life that God desires to end is Sin.
There is not a pure joy or a sweet human relationship or a selfless
ambition or a divine hope which He does not desire to continue and to be
crowned and transfigured beyond all ambition and all hope. On the
contrary, He desires only to end that one single thing which ruins
relationships and spoils joy and poisons aspirations. For up to the
present there is not one page of history which has not this blot upon
God has had to tolerate, for lack of better, such miserable specimens of
humanity! Jacob have I loved! … David a man after my heart; the
one a poor, mean, calculating man, who had, however, that single glimmer
of the supernatural which Esau, for all his genial sturdiness, was
without; the other an adulterous murderer, who yet had grace enough for
real contrition. Hitherto He has been content with so little. He has
accepted vinegar for want of wine.
Next, God has had to tolerate, and indeed to sanction—such an unworthy
worship of Himself—all the blood of the temple and the spilled entrails
and the nameless horrors. And yet this was all to which men could rise;
for without it, they never could have learned the more nameless horror
Last, for His worshippers He has had to content Himself with but one
People instead of all peoples and nations and languages. And what a
People,—whom even Moses could not bear for their treachery and
instability! And all this wretched record ends in the Crime of Calvary,
at which the very earth revolts and the sun grows dark with shame. Is it
any wonder that Christ cried, Thank God that is all done with at last!
II. Instead of this miserable past, then, what is to come? What is that
New Wine He would drink with us in His Father's Kingdom? First; real
and complete saints of God are to take the place of the fragmentary
saints of the Old Dispensation, saints with heads of gold and feet of
clay. Souls are to be born again in Baptism, not merely sealed by
circumcision, and to be purified before they can contract any actual
guilt of their own. And, of these, many shall keep their baptismal
innocence and shall go, wearing that white robe, before God Who gave it
them. Others again shall lose it, but regain it once more, and, through
the power of the Precious Blood, shall rise to heights of which Jacob
and David never even dreamed. To awake in His likeness was the
highest ambition of the man after God's Heart; but to be not merely
like Christ, but one with Him, is the hope of the Christian. I live,
the new saints shall say with truth, yet now not I, but Christ liveth
Next, instead of the old worship of blood and pain there shall be an
Unbloody Sacrifice and a Pure Offering in which shall be all the power
and propitiation of Calvary without its pain, all the glory without the
degradation. And last, in place of the old enclosed Race of Israel shall
be a Church of all nations and tongues, one vast Society, with all walls
thrown down and all divisions done away, one Jerusalem from above, that
shall be the Mother of us all.
III. That, then, is what Christ intended as He cried, It is
consummated. Behold the old things are passed away! Behold, I make
all things new!
And now let us see how far that is fulfilled. Where is there, in me, the
New Wine of the Gospel?
I have all that God can give me from His Throne on Calvary. I have the
truth that He proclaimed and the grace that He released. Yet is there in
me, up to the present, even one glimmer of what is meant by Sanctity? Am
I even within an appreciable distance of the saints who knew not Christ?
Have I ever wrestled like Jacob or wept like David? Has my religion,
that is to say, ever inspired me beyond the low elevation of joy into
the august altitudes of pain? Is it possible that with me the old is
not put away, the old man is not yet dead, and the new man not yet
put on? Is that New Sacrifice the light of my daily life? Have I done
anything except hinder the growth of Christ's Church, anything except
drag down her standards, so far as I am able, to my own low level? Is
there a single soul now in the world who owes, under God, her conversion
to my efforts?
Why, as I watch my life and review it in His Presence it would seem as
if I had done nothing but disappoint Him all my days! He cried, like the
deacon of His own Sacrifice, Go! it is done! Ite; missa est! The
Sacrifice is finished here; go out in its strength to live the life
which it makes possible!
Let me at least begin to-day, have done with my old compromises and
shifts and evasions. Ite; missa est!
THE SEVENTH WORD
Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.
He has cried with a loud voice, and the rocks have rent to its echo, and
the earth is shaken, and the Veil of the Old Testament is torn from top
to bottom as the Old Covenant passes into the New and the enclosed
sanctity of the Most Holy Place breaks out into the world. And now, as
the level sun shines out again beneath the pall of clouds, He whispers,
as at Mary's knee in Nazareth, the old childish prayer and yields up
His spirit into His Father's hands.
The last Paradox, then, is uttered. He Who saves others cannot save
Himself! The Shepherd of souls relinquishes His own. For, as we cannot
save our lives unless we lose them for His sake, so He too cannot save
them unless He loses His for our sake.
I. This, then, is merely the summary of all that has gone before; it is
the word Finis written at the end of this new Book of Life which He
has written in His Blood. It is the silence of the white space at the
close of the last page. Yet it is, too, the final act that gives value
to all that have preceded it. If Christ had not died, our faith would be
Oh! these New Theologies that see in Christ's Death merely the end of
His Life! Why, it is the very point and climax of His Life that He
should lay it down! Like Samson himself, that strange prototype of the
Strong Man armed, he slew more of the enemies of our souls by His Death
than by all His gracious Life. For this cause He came into the world.
For Sacrifice, which is the very heart of man's instinctive worship of
God, was set there, imperishably, in order to witness to and be ratified
by His One Offering which alone could truly take away sins; and to deny
it or to obscure it is to deny or to obscure the whole history of the
human race, from the Death of Abel to the Death of Christ, to deny or
obscure the significance of every lamb that bled in the Temple and of
every wine-offering poured out before the Holy Place, to deny or to
obscure (if we will but penetrate to the roots of things) the free will
of Man and the Love of God. If Christ had not died, our faith would be
II. Once again, then, let us turn to the event in our own lives that
closes them; that death which, united to Christ's, is our entrance into
liberty and, disunited, the supreme horror of existence.
(1) For without Christ death is a violent interruption to life,
introducing us to a new existence of which we know nothing, or to no
existence at all. Without Christ, however great our hopes, it is abrupt,
appalling, stunning, and shattering. It is this at the best, and, at the
worst, it is peaceful only as the death of a beast is peaceful.
(2) Yet, with Christ, it is harmonious and continuous with all that has
gone before, since it is the final movement of a life that is already
dead with Christ, the last stage of a process of mortality, and the
stage that ends its pain. It is just one more passing phase, by which is
changed the key of that music that every holy life makes always before
There is, then, the choice. We may, if we will, die fighting to the end
a force that must conquer us however we may fight, resisting the
irresistible. Or we may die, in lethargic resignation, as dogs die,
without hopes or regrets, since the past, without Christ, is as
meaningless as the future. Or we may die, like Christ, and with Him,
yielding up a spirit that came from the Father back again into His
Fatherly hands, content that He Who brought us into the world should
receive us when we go out again, confident that, as the thread of His
purpose is plain in earthly life, it shall shine yet more plainly in the
One last look, then, at Jesus shows us the lines smoothed from His face
and the agony washed from His eyes. May our souls and the souls of all
the faithful departed, through His Mercy, rest in Him!
LIFE AND DEATH
As dying, and behold we live.—II COR. VI. 9.
We have considered, so far, a number of paradoxical phenomena exhibited
in the life of Catholicism and have attempted to find their
reconciliation in the fact that the Catholic Church is at once Human and
Divine. In her striving, for example, after a Divine and supernatural
Peace, of which she alone possesses the secret, she resists even unto
blood all human attempts to supplant this by another. As a human
society, again, she avails herself freely of human opportunities and
aids, of earthly and created beauty, for the setting forth of her
message; yet she can survive, as can no human society, when she is
deprived of her human rights and her acquired wealth. As human she
numbers the great multitude of the world's sinners among her children,
yet as Divine she has produced the saints. As Divine she bases all her
gospel on a Revelation which can be apprehended only by Faith, yet as
human she employs the keenest and most profound intellects for its
analysis and its propagation. In these and in many other similar points
it has been attempted to show why she offers now one aspect and now
another to human criticism, and how it is that the very charges made
against her become, when viewed in the light of her double claim, actual
credentials and arguments on behalf of that claim. Finally, in the
meditations upon the Seven Words of Christ, we considered very briefly
how, in the hours of the deepest humiliation of His Humanity, He
revealed again and again the characteristics of His Divinity.
It now remains to consider that point in which she most manifests that
double nature of hers and, simultaneously therefore, presents, as in a
kind of climax, her identity, under human terms, with Him Who, Himself
the Lord of Life, conquered death by submitting to it and, by His
Resurrection from the dead, showed Himself the Son of God with power.
I. Death, the world tells us, is the final end of all things, and is the
one universal law of which evasion is impossible; and this is true, not
of the individual only, but of society, of nations, of civilization, and
even, it would seem, ultimately of physical life itself. Every vital
energy therefore that we possess can be directed not to the abolition,
but only to the postponement of this final full close to which the most
ecstatic created harmony must come at last.
Our physicians cannot heal us, they can merely ward off death for a
little. Our statesmen cannot establish an eternal federation, they can
but help to hold a crumbling society together for a little longer. Our
civilization cannot really evolve an immortal superman, it can but
render ordinary humanity a little less mortal, temporarily and in
outward appearance. Death, then, in the world's opinion, is the duellist
who is bound to win. We may parry, evade, leap aside for a little; we
may even advance upon him and seem to threaten his very existence; our
energies, in fact, must be concentrated upon this conflict if we are to
survive at all. But it is only in seeming, at the best. The moment must
come when, driven back to the last barrier, our last defence falters …
and Death has only to wipe his sword.
Now the attitude of the Catholic Church towards Death is not only the
most violent reversal of the world's policy, but the most paradoxical,
too, of all her methods. For, while the world attempts to keep Death at
arm's length, the Church strives to embrace him. Where the world draws
his sword to meet Death's assault, the Church spreads her heart only to
receive it. She is in love with Death, she pursues him, honours him,
extols Him. She places over her altars not a Risen Christ, but a dying
If thou wilt be perfect, she cries to the individual soul, give up
all that thou hast and follow me. "Give up all that makes life worth
living, strip thyself of every advantage that sustains thy life, of all
that makes thee effective." It is this that is her supreme appeal, not
indeed uttered, with all its corollaries, to all her children, but to
those only that desire perfection. Yet to all, in a sense, the appeal is
there. Die daily, die to self, mortify, yield, give in. If any man
will save his life, he must lose it.
So too, in her dealings with society, is her policy judged suicidal by a
world that is in love with its own kind of life. It is suicidal, cries
that world, to relinquish in France all on which the temporal life of
the Church depends; for how can that society survive which renounces the
very means of existence? It is suicidal to demand the virgin life of the
noblest of her children, suicidal to desert the monarchical cause of one
country, and to set herself in opposition to the Republican ideals of
another. For even she, after all, is human and must conform to human
conditions. Even she, however august her claims, must make terms with
the world if she desires to live in it.
And this comment has been made upon her actions in every age. She
condemned Arius, when a little compromise might surely have been found;
and lost half her children. She condemned Luther and lost Germany;
Elizabeth, and lost England. At every crisis she has made the wrong
choice, she has yielded when she should have resisted, resisted when she
should have yielded. The wonder is that she survives at all.
Yes, that is the wonder. As dying, behold she lives!
II. The answer of course is easy. It is that she simply does not desire
the kind of life which the world reckons alone to be life. To her that
is not life at all. She desires of course to survive as a human society,
and she is assured that she always shall so survive. Yet it is not on
the ordinary terms of ordinary society that she desires survival. It is
not a natural life of which she is ambitious, a life that draws its
strength from human conditions and human environment, a life, therefore,
that waxes and wanes with those human conditions and ultimately meets
their fate, but a supernatural life that draws its strength from God.
And she recognizes, as one of the most fundamental paradoxes of all,
that such a life can be gained and held only through what the world
She does not, then, want merely the life of a prosperous human state,
whether monarchy or republic. There are times indeed in her history when
such an accompaniment to her real existence is useful to her
effectiveness; and she has, of course, the right, as have other
societies, to earthly dominions that may have been won and presented to
her by her children. Or through her ministers, as in Paraguay, she may
administer for a while the ordinary civil affairs of men who choose to
be loyal to her government. Yet if, for one instant, such a
responsibility were really to threaten her spiritual effectiveness—if,
that is, the choice were really presented to her between spiritual and
temporal dominion—she would let all the kingdoms of the world go in an
instant, to retain her kingdom from God; she would gladly suffer the
loss of all things to retain Christ.
And how is it possible to deny for one instant that her success has been
startling and overwhelming—this fructification of Life by Death.
Are there any human beings, for example, who have been more effective
and influential than her saints—men and women, that is to say, who have
died daily, in order to live indeed? They have not, it is true,
prospered, let us say, as business men, directors of companies, or
government officials, but such a success is simply not her ideal for
them, not their own ideal for themselves. That is precisely the kind of
life to which they have, as a rule, determinedly and perseveringly died.
Yet their effectiveness in this world has been none the less. Are any
kings remembered as is the beggar Labré who gnawed cabbage stalks in the
gutters of Rome? Are the names of any statesmen of, let us say, even a
hundred years ago, reverenced and repeated as is the name of the woman
of Spain called Teresa of Jesus who, four hundred years ago, ruled a few
nuns within the enclosure of a convent? Are any musicians or artists
loved to-day with such rapture as is God's little troubadour, called
Francis, who made music for himself and the angels by rubbing one stick
Or, again, is any empire that the world has ever seen so great, so
loyally united in itself, so universal and yet so rigorous as is that
spiritual empire whose capital is Rome? Is there any nation with so
fierce a patriotism as she who is Supernational? Earthly kings speak
from their thrones and what happens? And an old man in Rome who wears
three crowns on his head speaks from his prison in the Vatican and all
the earth rings with it.
Has her policy, then, been so suicidal after all? From the world's point
of view it has never been anything else. Her history is but one long
example of the sacrifice of human activities and earthly opportunities;
she has expelled from her pulpits the most brilliant of her children,
she has silenced or alienated the most eloquent of her defenders. She
has cut off from herself all that she should have kept, and hugged to
her arms all that she should have relinquished! She has never done
anything but die! She never does anything but live!
III. Turn, then, to the life of her Lord for the solution of this
riddle. Last week He was going to His Death. He was losing, little by
little, all that bound Him to Life. The multitudes that had followed Him
hitherto were leaving Him by units and groups, they who might have
formed His armies to seat Him on the throne of His father David.
Disloyalty had made its way even among His chosen body-guard, and
already Judas is bargaining for the price of His Master's blood. Even
the most loyal of all are dismayed, and presently will forsake Him and
flee when the swords flash out in the garden of Gethsemane. A few weeks
ago in Galilee thousands were leaving Him for the last time; and when,
once again, a company seemed to rally, He wept! And so at last the
sacrifice was complete and, one by one, He laid down of His own will
every tie that kept Him in life. And then on Good Friday itself He
suffered that beauty of His Face to be marred so that no man would
ever desire Him any more, silenced the melody of the Voice that had
broken so many hearts and made them whole again; He stretched out His
Shepherd's Hands with which alone He could gather His sheep to His
Breast, and the Feet that alone could bear Him into the wilderness to
seek after that which was lost. Was there ever a Suicide such as this,
such a despair of high hopes, such a ruin of all ambition, a dying so
complete and irremediable as the Dying of Jesus Christ?
[Footnote 1: This Sermon was preached on Easter Day.]
And now on Easter Day look at Him again and see how He lives as never
before. See how the Life that has been His for thirty years—the Life of
God made Man—itself pales almost to a phantom before the glory of that
same Life transfigured by Death. Three days ago He fainted beneath the
scourge and nails; now He shows the very scars of His Passion to be the
emblems of immortal strength. Three days ago He spoke in human words to
those only that were near Him, and limited Himself under human terms of
space and time; He speaks now in every heart. Three days ago He gave His
Body to the few who knelt at His Table; to-day in ten thousand
tabernacles that same Body may be worshipped by all who come.
In a word, He has exchanged a Natural Life for a Supernatural in every
plane at once. He has laid down the Natural Life of His Body to take it
back again supernaturalized for ever. He has died that His Life may be
released; He has finished in order to begin.
It is easy, then, to see why it is that the Church dies daily, why it
is that she is content to be stripped of all that makes her life
effective, why she too permits her hands to be bound and her feet
fettered and her beauty marred and her voice silenced so far as men can
do those things. She is human? Yes; she dwells in a body that is
prepared for her, but prepared chiefly that she may suffer in it. Her
far-reaching hands are not hers merely that she may bind up with them
the broken-hearted, nor her swift feet hers merely that she may run on
them to succour the perishing, nor her head and heart hers merely that
she may ponder and love. But all this sensitive human organism is hers
that at last she may agonize in it, bleed from it from a thousand
wounds, be lifted up in it to draw all men to her cross.
She does not desire, then, in this world, the throne of her Father
David, nor the kind of triumph which is the only kind that the world
understands to be so. She desires one life and one triumph only—the
Risen Life of her Saviour. And this, at last, is the transfiguration of
her Humanity by the power of her Divinity and the vindication of them