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 EASTER, 1913
INTRODUCTORY (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 material limitations.
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 death?
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 own experience.
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 God.
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 disillusionment begins.
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 Divine.
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 disguise.
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 of God.
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 bestow.
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 Truth."
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 Divine Message?
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 as human!
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 two-edged sword."
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 of worldliness.
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 fishermen!
"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 God!"
(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 breakfast.
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 God.
"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 make it."
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 Divine Lord.
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 the world.
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 her.
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 heaven.
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 ministers.
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 world?
"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 lament."
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 hope—she knows.
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 of either?
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 Contemplative Life.
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 philanthropic Christian.
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 thyself .
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.