Project Canterbury





Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford,
Examining Chaplain to the Bishop of Newcastle


32 George St., Hanover Sq., W. 1, and
The Abbey House, Westminster, S. W. 1



Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2013

It is always as well, for the sake of clearness, to state at the beginning of a brief essay to whom its contentions are meant to appeal, and what will be taken for granted in it. This essay is addressed to a man whom I met some sixteen years ago in the train between Newcastle and York. I have never seen him since, have no idea of his name, and do not know whether he is alive or dead; but I take him as typical of the 'man in the street,' who is generally interested, or at any rate prepared to be interested, in religious questions, but does not feel sufficiently convinced of the truth of any one doctrinal system to be able to attach himself to any sect or denomination.

I remember well how this, my unknown friend, informed me that he believed firmly in a good and omnipotent God, in the power of prayer, and in the obligatory character of what would generally be accepted as Christian morality; but that, whilst venerating the historic Christ as one of the greatest and best of mankind, he had never seen any convincing reason for attributing to him a transcendental or super-human being, [3/4] or any sort of identity with the supreme Godhead; and that, consequently, the doctrine of the Trinity (which is almost inevitably necessitated by the inclusion of Christ within the sphere of Absolute Deity, coupled with the preservation of the distinction between him and the Father to whom he prayed) appeared to him as so much metaphysical nonsense.

The following considerations are addressed to this man and to any others like him into whose hands this tract may come. They are meant to suggest that, given the premises which he accepted, namely, the existence of God, the historicity of Jesus Christ, and the permanent validity of Christian morals, no other explanation of the personality of Christ is really satisfactory, either to head or heart, than that which is the core of historic Christianity, and is summed up in the majestic phrases, 'God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten not made, Being of one substance with the Father, By whom all things were made.'


LET me begin by trying to reconstruct the world into which Jesus Christ came. My unknown friend who got into the train at Newcastle may well, I imagine, have been familiar with the Roman Wall, that ancient triple line of fortification which runs [4/5] from the Solway Firth to Wailsend on the Tyne; which, with its battlements, mound, and ditch, was the 'Hindenburg Line' of those days, protecting the fertile and civilized province of Roman Britain from the incursion of the barbarous Picts and Scots who lived to the north of it. We can still trace the outlines of the fortresses which studded its length at intervals; we can wander through the commanding officers' quarters, investigate the cellars which contained the apparatus for heating their baths, and note the deep ruts worn in the stone thresholds of the gates by the iron-clad wheels of the heavy Roman war-chariots, the 'tanks' of that day.

It is true that the Roman Wall was built a century after the death of Jesus Christ; but I speak of it now because it is a thing of which every Englishman has heard, and brings home to us, as nothing else perhaps can, the might and majesty of that great Roman power which dominated the known world at the beginning of our era. It was a vast Empire including the countries which we now know as England, France, Spain, the Rhineland, Switzerland, Italy, Austria proper, Yugo-Slavia, Greece, Asia Minor, Armenia, Syria, Egypt, Tripoli, Algeria, Tunis, and Morocco, enclosing the Mediterranean in its bosom as an exclusively Roman lake. In theory, all these countries were governed by the Republican City-State of Rome, but in actual fact by the Emperor Augustus, [5/6] whose power, though carefully camouflaged under Republican forms, was that of a military monarch, resting upon a standing army of a hundred and fifty thousand men.

If we leave out of account the remote and fossilized empire of China, the Roman State was the only world-power which then existed upon this planet; it was, at that date, the supreme political achievement of mankind, an achievement so great that it seemed, even to those who had brought it into being, to be supernatural in character; it possessed an elaborate material civilization, including restaurants, banks, joint-stock companies, fire brigades, a postal service, and what we now call 'Turkish baths,' a civilization on which no serious advance was made until the discovery of gun-powder and printing, fourteen centuries later; it possessed the accumulated thought and literature of Greece, upon which little improvement has been made even down to the present day, and the treasures of its art, upon which no improvement has ever been made.

It was within the shelter of this great and splendid fabric that Jesus Christ was born, lived, and died. If we can imagine a Roman man of letters, let us say Seneca, being sufficiently interested in him to put down on paper a brief account of his life, it would run somewhat as follows: 'On the eastern frontier of the Empire there is a small, third-class [6/7] province called Judaea. This is the original home of an unpleasant and barbarous nation known as the Jews, who have colonies in most of our great cities, and are generally detested for their turbulence, usuriousness, and unsociability. In this backwater of civilization there recently appeared a young artisan of obscure parentage, who caused a certain amount of excitement amongst his barbarous compatriots by claiming to be a kind of Mandi, or "Messiah" as they call it, and by denouncing the superstitions and vices of the priests and the pious members of his nation.

'At first it looked as though his movement might have some little success, and might be a nuisance to our local administration and garrisons. Fortunately, however, the conspicuous lack of tact with which this agitator pursued his mission, and his curious unwillingness to identify himself with anything like an armed revolt, had the effect of alienating the sympathies of the extreme nationalist party, who, in order to get rid of him, denounced him for high treason to our local governor, Pontius Pilatus. Pilatus, though his abilities would never have qualified him for more than a third-rate governorship on the frontier of the Empire, dealt with the matter quite competently; he had the agitator executed, with the result that his adherents dispersed, and the whole movement, which at one time [7/8] looked as if it might be rather troublesome, happily came to an end.

'The doings of this person, whose whole public career (if it can be dignified by that name) only lasted for two years, and who never succeeded in emerging from the obscurity of one of the least-known of our provinces, are only of interest to the historian, and have, it need hardly be said, produced not the slightest effect upon the fabric of Roman culture, religion, and thought. It is much to be wished that all provincial governors would display the same tact and good sense as Pontius Pilatus in utilizing the religious passions of these barbarous tribes in order to get rid of inconvenient agitators, and the same promptness in suppressing fanatical movements at their outset, before they attain to proportions which may involve the Imperial Government in the trouble and expense of a punitive expedition.'


SUPPOSE now, for the sake of argument, that I am able to mount a time machine like that imagined by Mr. H. G. Wells, to travel back into the first century A.D., taking with me all my accumulated knowledge of the centuries which have elapsed since that date, and to pay a call upon Seneca [8/9] in his pleasant country house at Nomentum. Having explained that, for various reasons, I happen to possess an absolutely accurate and certain knowledge of the course of history subsequent to his day, I proceed as follows: 'You remember that obscure Syrian artisan about whom you wrote a brief paragraph the other day; and probably you remember dismissing the subject with the remark that his life and death were of no permanent importance whatsoever. That dictum was, no doubt, justifiable, on the basis of the knowledge which you then possessed. But, on the basis of my knowledge, I am able to tell you some facts which will probably surprise you a good deal.

'Shortly after his death, his followers reassembled, saying that they had seen him, risen from the dead, that they had conversed with him, and even shared meals with him (Acts x. 41). On the basis of this alleged resurrection of their Master, and of the Messianic claims which he made, they are proclaiming him as a divine being. They are preaching a new Oriental religion, not unlike those with which you are already familiar, the Phrygian, Syrian, or Egyptian Mysteries, only with the figure of Jesus of Nazareth set in its centre as the divine Redeemer, the Saviour-God, instead of Attis or Osiris. They are now hard at work propagating this new cult in Asia Minor and Greece, with the most passionate enthusiasm and the most [9/10] unflinching resolution; and their advance missionaries have even got as far as Rome itself.'

At this point we may imagine Seneca as interjecting: 'So far, what you have told me does not surprise, though it grieves me: I know the folly of human nature too well to be surprised at the popularity of any fantastic cult coming from the East, even the cult of an executed criminal; and I only wish that the Senate had made a firm stand against these foreign superstitions at the very beginning of their invasion of the West, in the days of the Second Punic War.'

'However,' I go on, 'I am afraid that what I am now going to say will be a real shock to you. This Judaean cult, instead of dying out after a time, will continue to gather strength and solidity until it finally attracts the attention of the Imperial Government. The Caesars and their advisers will make periodical efforts during the next three centuries to stamp it out altogether, by presenting its adherents with the choice between abjuration and death.'

'Quite right too,' interjects Seneca.

'In spite, however, of the most determined efforts of several Emperors, backed up by all the resources of the Roman State and the practical unanimity of public opinion, to suppress this new religion, it will, in a most unaccountable manner, gain ever more and [10/11] more adherents. For every one person who is thrown to the beasts, ten will join the new society; and, finally, just about 250 years from now, the Roman government will confess itself beaten, the religion of Jesus will be given full liberty to exist, and an Emperor will ascend the throne who will profess himself a believer in the deity of the Nazarene. From that moment onward the triumph of the new religion will be secured: the traditional gods of Rome will gradually be forgotten, and the new cult will become the State religion of the Empire.

'Then the Empire will be broken to pieces by the savage races from beyond the Alps, who will set up new barbarous kingdoms upon its ruins; Rome will be laid waste, and her shrunken population will not fill a third of the space within her ancient walls. But the religion of Christ will survive, and subdue the rude barbarians under its yoke, until Christianity and civilization have become synonymous: and, nineteen centuries hence, when the very name of Caesar has passed away, and the achievements of Rome are known only to scholars and learned men—when the mechanical arts have developed to such an unheard-of extent that men can hear each other's voices speaking through the ether in places hundreds of miles apart, and are able to travel in three hours through the air from Londinium to Colonia Agrippinensis in great [11/12] winged ships—the religion of Jesus will have conquered not merely Europe, but even greater continents now unknown, lying beyond the western seas. The ill-omened gibbet on which he died will have become the golden symbol of self-sacrifice and love, blazing on the diadems of kings, the domes of temples, and the breasts of heroes; and the first day in every seven, the day following the Jewish Sabbath, will be observed, in memory of his resurrection, throughout the civilized world. Nineteen centuries hence, the real and nominal adherents of his worship will together make up one-third—and that the most highly-cultivated one-third—of the human race.'

What would be Seneca's reply? It would be, undoubtedly, somewhat as follows: 'What you are saying is nothing but delirious raving. It is flatly contrary to the reason, nature, and necessity of things. If a thing so crazy as the cult of an executed carpenter can really conquer the power of Rome, then anything may be true, and anything may happen. If I could believe that this Galilean superstition will win such an overwhelming triumph in the teeth of reason, common sense, tradition, decency, and patriotism, I should have to believe that the carpenter really was divine, and I cannot frame any more preposterous supposition than that. You are obviously demented.'


[13] I HAVE indulged in this flight of imagination in order to bring home to my readers the fact that the existence, the wide diffusion, and the prodigious vitality of Christianity at the present day, are, in themselves, the most astonishing facts in history. The average man has probably never reflected very deeply upon the origins of Christianity, and is inclined, in a vague, general way, to take its existence for granted, as a perfectly normal and natural fact: but if he will consider the argument of the foregoing paragraphs carefully and fairly, he will, I think, admit that the plain undeniable facts of history prove at least this, beyond the shadow of a doubt—that Jesus Christ was by far the greatest, most powerful, and most astonishing personality that has ever appeared on the surface of this planet: that he was, at the very least, what modern writers call a ' Superman.'

We all admire the energy and the greatness of a man who, with no powerful friends and no advantages, raises himself, by sheer force of personality, from humble circumstances to the foremost position in the State:

Who breaks his birth's invidious bar,
And grasps the skirts of happy chance,
And breasts the blows of circumstance,
And grapples with his evil star;
Who makes by force his merit known,
And lives to clutch the golden keys,
To mould a mighty State's decrees,
And shape the whisper of the throne.

[14] But, bearing this in mind, what must we say of a man, also possessing no advantages of birth, family, friends, or education, who, in two years of what was on the whole unpopular activity, spent in one of the backwaters of civilization and ending in a criminal's death, succeeded in stamping the impress of his personality so deeply upon human history that during nineteen succeeding centuries millions of the human race, including its best and wisest, have worshipped him with rapturous adoration as almighty God in person? If my friend in the train will think calmly and quietly over these facts, he will, I think, be prepared to admit at least this—that Jesus Christ stands in a category entirely by himself, as the Superman, the central figure of history, the supreme instance of the power of personality.


To this we must add the following considerations. As was observed at the beginning, my friend in the train was able to give me, as premises, the obligatory character of Christian morals, and the belief in the immortality of the soul. But both these [14/15] things are admittedly the gifts of Jesus himself to the world. Even the most refined and enlightened public opinion in the ancient world saw no grave harm in infanticide, in the crucifixion of slaves by their masters for trifling reasons, and in modes of conduct which all right-minded men would now describe as dark and hideous vices; and before Christ, the hope of immortality, which for the majority of spiritually-minded men is the one thing which makes life worth living, existed in the world only in the dimmest and vaguest form. The early Christian writer is entirely in the right, as a matter of mere indisputable historic fact, when he says that it was Christ who 'brought life and immortality to light through the gospel' (2 Tim. i. 10).

However—if my friend in the train is sincere, as I do not doubt him to be, when he tells me that he accepts the validity of the Christian ethic—it will be sufficient on this point for me to quote the well-known words of John Stuart Mill, which have a peculiar impressiveness as coming from an avowed agnostic:

'About the life and sayings of Jesus there is a stamp of personal originality combined with profundity of insight, which, if we abandon the idle expectation of finding scientific precision where something very different was aimed at, must place the Prophet of Nazareth, [15/16] even in the estimation of those who have no belief in his inspiration, in the very first rank of the men of sublime genius of whom our species can boast. When this pre-eminent genius is combined with the qualities of probably the greatest moral reformer, and martyr to that mission, who ever existed upon earth, religion cannot be said to have made a bad choice in pitching upon this man as the ideal representative and guide of humanity; nor, even now, would it be easy, even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the rule of virtue from the abstract into the concrete, than to endeavour so to live that Christ would approve our life' (Three Essays on Religion, 1874, p. 254).

If we put these two conclusions together, which simply follow from the facts of history, when coupled with the premises which my friend in the train has already given me—the conclusions, namely, that Jesus was the greatest and most spiritually powerful man who has ever appeared on earth, and that he was the greatest moral and spiritual benefactor of the human race—it follows that he may, and should, be described as being, at the very least, the supreme Messenger of God to humanity, the supreme representative of the Most High in the sphere of human history.


I SHOULD like, at this stage, to point out that what I have said so far has been based solely upon historical facts which no one can deny, and upon the assumptions which my friend in the train has been willing to give me; I have made no appeal to the authority of the creeds, or of the Church, because I am arguing with a man who tells me that he does not accept this authority. But I venture to hope that, so far, I have brought my friend with me.

I imagine that, at this point, his thoughts would run somewhat as follows: 'Well, I am willing to admit that what you have just said appears to be cogent, and I am prepared to revise and heighten my estimate of the person of Jesus Christ correspondingly. In the light of the considerations which you have brought forward, and which I am bound to say that I had not previously realized, I think I am now ready to regard him, not merely as 'a very great and good man,' but also as 'the supreme Man of all time'; and, if there is a solution of the perplexities and troubles of weary, war-scarred humanity, I daresay that he possesses the secret of it.

'But there is still a considerable gulf between this and the Christology of the Catholic Church. Even a Superman, if he is no more than that, is only a creature, and must, therefore, be separated by an infinite abysm from [17/18] the most high Creator himself. I am not yet convinced that the facts to which you have pointed require a real incarnation of God himself, or that they are beyond the reach of perfect manhood, inspired by divine influences: and I am too honest to claim the privileges of the Church's life on the basis of a mere vague affirmation of "divinity" as distinct from "deity"; nor, I imagine, is that what you want me to do. You have shown me that Christ is an enigma, the central enigma of history; and that his life and death are very far from being the simple and straightforward facts which I had unreflectingly thought them to be; but you have not yet convinced me that the ascription of deity to him is the true solution.'


NOW, if my friend in the train will again reflect for a moment, he will, I think, admit that the solution of the enigma, if there is one, must presumably be that propounded by Christ himself. If he is the supreme Messenger of God, that part of his message which relates to himself must be taken as true. It is very difficult indeed, if not impossible, to conceive of the supreme Messenger of God as being in the right on all other points, but in the wrong on the question of his own nature: a divine Messenger who [18/19] had failed to comply with the Greek adage 'know thyself,' would be almost a contradiction in terms. The line of thought which we have pursued so far must, then, predispose us to believe in any explanation which we can find in the authentic sayings of Christ with regard to his own nature and his relations to the God who sent him. We will, therefore (following our method of building upon nothing which is not reasonably certain and admitted by all persons of education and intelligence), turn to the fundamental documents which contain the primary accounts of Jesus' life and teaching—that is, to the gospels.

The assured results of modern research in regard to these ancient biographies of Jesus Christ will be found summarized in another pamphlet in this series, and my own statement on the question of their literary authority must, therefore, be of the briefest. In what follows I do not propose to make any use of the Gospel according to St. John (although I personally believe it to be a reliable historical document), because its authority in this sense is not universally admitted. In accordance with the general principle of building the structure of our argument only upon what is absolutely unchallenged by reasonable and educated persons, we will confine ourselves to the Synoptic Gospels, that is, the first three.

With regard to these, scholars are fairly [19/20] well agreed that behind them lie two even more ancient documents: (1) an edition compiled by John Mark of St. Peter's reminiscences of the life and sayings of Christ, which is, for all practical purposes, identical with our present Gospel of St. Mark; and (2) a document known by the symbol 'Q' (the first letter of the German word Quelle, 'source'), containing a collection of our Lord's sayings as transmitted to the compiler by actual hearers. Generally speaking, the consensus of critical opinion holds that from 'Q' are drawn those sayings of Christ which are recorded in common by St. Matthew and St. Luke, but not by St. Mark. These primitive records (which may safely be dated as at any rate not later than about A.D. 70 and A.D. 60 respectively) thus contain what is for all practical purposes first-hand testimony, and provide far better evidence for the life of Christ than that which we possess of the lives and sayings of many of the great characters of antiquity. To them, therefore, let us go.

AS we interrogate these documents the following conclusions emerge with unmistakable clearness. Jesus asserted an authority far transcending that claimed by any of the prophets of the Old Testament. He claimed the right to cancel, by a mere ipse dixit, [20/21] a permission believed to have been given by Moses with Jehovah's direct authority (St. Mark x. 4). He claimed to exercise the divine prerogative of forgiving sins (St. Mark ii. 5). He led his disciples to expect a Messianic kingdom, in which he would be king, and in which he would make them princes (St. Matt. xix. 28; St. Luke xxii. 29). He asserted that he would be the Judge of quick and dead at the last great day of God (St. Mark viii. 38; St. Matt. vii. 23; St. Luke xiii. 27). He claimed to be the Son of God in a sense which, whilst undefined, was absolutely unique and distinctive (St. Mark xii. 6; xiii. 32). He sometimes describes God as 'your Father,' sometimes as 'my Father,' but he never brackets himself with his disciples in describing God as 'our Father.' [The single apparent exception to this, in the Lord's Prayer as given by St. Matthew, is not strictly accurate; the earliest and best text, as given by St. Luke, begins with the single word 'Father': and in any case the prayer was intended to be used by the disciples, not by Christ himself.] The highest point to which this unique claim rises in the mouth of Jesus is contained in the wonderful saying found in St. Matt. xi. 25-27; St. Luke x. 21, 22, a saying undoubtedly derived from 'Q' and indisputably an utterance of Jesus, spoken in a moment of supreme ecstasy: '. . . All things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any [21/22] know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.'

Here Jesus definitely brackets himself together with God as an almost co-ordinate power; and by asserting that his own nature is such that only the infinite God can comprehend it, he implicitly ascribes infinity to himself. After this, it is not surprising to find that he claims a limitless personal devotion, which is to stop at nothing (St. Matt. x. 37; St. Luke xiv. 26); that he asserts that in some mysterious sense his death will be a ransom for many (St. Mark x. 45), and his blood will consecrate the new covenant between God and man (St. Mark xiv. 24); and that to the High Priest's crucial question 'Art thou the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?' he replies with the tremendous affirmation, 'I am; and ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven' (St. Mark xiv. 61, 62).


NOW, all these facts, taken together, cannot be fairly interpreted as less than a claim to be a super-human person, the Son of God in a lofty, unique, and mysterious sense, possessing a filial relation to the Most High not shared by any form of created being; a claim which, if accepted by his followers, as it was, would necessarily lead them to worship him. [22/23] And, when we remember that we have gathered this claim, not from the works of St. Paul or St. John or any subsequent interpreter of the life of Christ, nor yet from the parts of St. Matthew's and St. Luke's gospels which are peculiar to those writers, but from his own most indisputably authentic sayings and doings, as contained in the bed-rock documents, Mark and 'Q,' which represent the testimony of first-hand witnesses, we shall see that we have come to a point at which it is impossible to evade the question—Was this claim true, or was it not?

If our previous conclusions have been true, namely, that Christ was the supreme Messenger of God to humanity, this claim also must be true. There is an old saying, Aut deus aut non bonus: 'Either he was God or he was not a good man.' In other words, if Christ's claims were not true, then they must be regarded as the last word in intolerable arrogance. Perhaps, nowadays, we should phrase it, Aut deus aut vesanus: 'Either he was God, or he was beside himself.' (And the latter estimate, we may remember, was formed about him by his opponents during his lifetime.) I do not see how it is possible to evade the horns of this dilemma. If he was not the Son of God in this exalted, transcendent sense, he must have been suffering from that distressing form of mental disease, of which instances are found in every asylum today, [23/24] in which the patient imagines himself to be the Almighty; and books have been written within the last twenty years in which this view is advocated. [* See A. Schweitzer, Die psychiairische Beurieilung Jesu, for an account and a severe criticism of these books.]

But, if we accept this latter hypothesis, we must retrace the whole of the path by which we have come, and revise our whole preliminary estimate of him. Indeed, my friend in the train would have to re-consider even the assumptions which he granted me. If the Power behind the universe is capable of playing such a sardonic joke upon mankind as to raise one distraught to the loftiest pinnacle in history, then we are at once deprived of all grounds for supposing it to be good, loving, merciful or even rational. It is not too much to say that if the supreme figure of history was mad, then the universe itself is mad, and life is not worth living—a conclusion which would end all further argument, as it would obviously be of no use to argue about anything.


HOWEVER, I think I may safely assume that anyone who has troubled to read so far will agree with me that life is worth living; and we can, therefore, develop our argument in an optimistic spirit. If the universe is rational—if human history shows [24/25] the guidance of conscious intelligence, and is not a mere crazy pattern ceaselessly turned out by a loom operated by a madman—then Jesus is God's supreme Messenger to humanity; and if he is God's supreme Messenger, the presumption is that his message about himself must be true; and if he claims, as we know from the documents that he did claim, a limitless authority over men's bodies and souls, and a mysterious and unique filial relation to God the Father, it would seem that those claims must be accepted.

And, given the acceptance of the claim, the subsequent development of Christian theology may not unreasonably be said to have been inevitable. It was inevitable that the immediate followers of Jesus should not merely describe him, on the basis of their own experience, as 'a man approved of God' (Acts ii. 22); 'the holy Servant of the Lord' (Acts iv. 27); 'anointed with the Spirit' (Acts x. 38); but also, on the basis of his own claims, should have proclaimed him as 'Lord of all' (Acts x. 36). St. Paul is only underlining this latter phrase when he describes Christ as 'God over all' (Rom. ix. 5); and the universal, almost startlingly placid acquiescence with which his explanation of the heavenly being of Christ in terms of 'pre-existence' and 'equality with God' was accepted by Christendom at large—contrasting as it does with the furious protests evoked from the [25/26] Jewish Christians by his attitude towards circumcision and the Law—irresistibly suggests that his doctrine of Christ was no new invention or importation from heathenism, but merely the intellectual formulation of that which was the recognized, original, instinctive belief of the Christian Church from the first.

Equally natural was it that St. John should have made explicit what is implicit in St. Paul's teaching, by borrowing (whether from Greek philosophy or Jewish Rabbinism matters not) the idea of the Logos, the cosmic Word or Thought of God, to express the divine being of Jesus, and his eternal inherence in, and eternal distinction from, the Father; and that these guiding thoughts should have been developed by the Councils and Fathers of the Catholic Church, in such a way that the great conception of his divine Sonship, revealed by our Lord to his original disciples by implication and parable, in undefined outlines, stands before us to-day, finally thought out, defined, and made precise, in the careful language of the second paragraph of the Nicene Creed and the last half of the Athanasian Creed.

It is not in the least surprising that there was a steady development in the doctrine of the Person of Christ between the first century and the fourth, from which latter our Nicene Creed dates—a development both of terminology, and, to a certain extent, of idea. [26/27] The impact of our Lord's personality upon the world was too tremendous and too blinding to be apprehended at once: it required time for its adequate study and description; and the process of arriving at the best formulation of the truth, by eliminating false and one-sided attempts to express it, was worked out through storms of controversy and amidst much that was not altogether edifying in the words and deeds of champions on either side.

But, if we abstract from the accidental traces of 'all-too-human' infirmity which the first few centuries of Christian history bear, and consider the development solely in itself, we shall find it very difficult indeed, and in fact impossible without recourse to an arbitrary tour de force, to impugn the continuity and inevitability of the process whereby the fully-developed Catholic doctrine of Christ was evolved out of the teaching of St. Paul and St. John; that teaching was but the philosophical formulation of the belief in the universal Lordship of Jesus held by the primitive Christian community; and that again flowed naturally from the vast and mysterious claims recorded by our most ancient and reliable sources as having been made (doubtless for the most part in private, and by hint and implication, but at the same time really made) by the historic Jesus himself.

We can see, too, by the mere light of human reasoning, and quite apart from the faith [27/28] which all Catholics have in the supernatural guidance of the Church, that the various heresies which the early Councils condemned, were, in fact, intrinsically condemnable, as failing to do justice either to the fullness of Christ's supernatural claim, or to the reality of his human nature. We are not likely now to have much sympathy with theories which maintain that Christ's body was a mere phantasm, or that the human Jesus and the divine Son were two separate persons, linked together in a kind of moral partnership. If the Christology which proclaims Christ to be divine is admissible at all—and we have seen the only alternative—then there is no serious rival to the Catholic Christology.

The language of the creeds has indeed been criticized on the ground that it is too metaphysical and abstract for the ordinary man; but this is not borne out by the practical experience of Christian teachers. The statement that Jesus Christ is one Person, possessing two natures, divine and human, can be taken in by any reasonably intelligent child. The phrase 'being of one substance,' or 'consubstantial,' in the Nicene Creed, does, perhaps, require some technical training in order to the apprehension of its full historical significance; but the most uninstructed Christian can grasp its essential meaning, namely, that Jesus is the same God and Lord as the Jehovah of the Old Testament.

[29] It would thus seem that, given the acceptance of the claim contained in St. Matt. xi. 27, there is no half-way house at which we can stop, short of the full belief of the Catholic Church. Aut deus, aut vesanus. We must take one road or the other. Why not follow the road of optimism, of faith, and of hope? Choose boldly that view which follows from the rationality of God in the universe, and throw yourself unreservedly into the full, pulsing life, the ever-glowing victorious faith, of historical and Catholic Christianity.


PERHAPS our friend in the train may reply: 'Well, you have led me on very skilfully from belief in Christ as a great and good man, to belief in him as the unique Messenger of God, and from that to his claim to be the Son of God, in an exalted but undefined sense, and from that again to the full Christology of the Church and the creeds; but I must confess that I still hesitate. I cannot, perhaps, justify it logically, but I have a feeling that this is all just a little bit too good to be true—such a supremely consoling and glorious an event as God becoming man is too wonderful a thing to happen in this drab, weary, workaday world.'

I do not pretend to be able, nor, I believe, is any man able, by mere reasoning, to kindle [29/30] the light of faith, the noon-day certitude of conviction, in any other human soul: that must be done by God, either by direct illumination or by bringing the seeker after truth into contact with those who already have the flame burning within their souls. Reason cannot itself kindle the flame; it cannot do more than clear the ground and accumulate materials for the fire: as a modern divine has penetratingly said: 'Religion is not a thing that people can be argued into; it must be caught, like the measles, from those who have already got it.'

But I can at least conclude with one counter-question to the point last raised, namely this—Is anything too good to be true of God? If God is infinite, that is to say, if he is God at all, he must be infinite in his goodness; and the condescension of the Incarnation is not too much for that.

In fact, the Christian creed is the only one which does adequate justice to this infinite quality of God's love. In all other religions God is said to have sent messengers, but in historic Christianity God has come himself in person; and the consequences which flow from this idea are all characterized by the same congruity with the infinitude of God. The Incarnation provides an inexhaustible satisfaction for the hero-worshipping instinct. It presents us with the figure of one who is really man, yet may be given that unlimited [30/31] adoration which we instinctively long to give to some one of our own race, but which no one who is merely man and nothing more could ever have deserved. In the Incarnation, too, is rooted the whole sacramental system, whereby the Redeemer penetrates the inmost recesses of our being with his divine life, and progressively transforms us into himself, slowly eliminating the flaws, the weaknesses, and the diseases of our souls. Through the Incarnation we know that God now has something which even his omniscience had not before, namely, a genuine human experience and memories.

All the comfort, all the attractiveness, and all the beauty of the Catholic system, with its sacraments and its worship, its gracious figures of Christ's Mother and his saints, and the mysterious atmosphere of its temples, which, with delicate, almost impalpable touches, soothes and subdues the stubborn will; all radiates and streams from the burning Heart of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, 'the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.' If you have it not, pray that this final consummation may be added to you, this touch of the divine fire of faith, that so, in life and in death, you may be able to make your own the words of one of the greatest and best of Englishmen (W. E. Gladstone): 'All I write, and all I think, and all I hope, is based upon the divinity of our Lord, the one central hope of our poor, wayward race.'

Project Canterbury