Part I. The Catholic Conception of Christianity
The word Catholic means "universal." In this sense it has been used since the second century A. D. to mean the whole body of Christian people as against particular individuals or groups who have sought to modify the teaching received by the whole body, either by the introduction of new doctrines or by the omission of certain doctrines already held by the whole. It implies the belief that there has been from the first preaching of Christianity one recognisable standard of belief, which is identical throughout the world, and that any deviation from it is an abandonment of the universal faith of the Christian community. This standard of belief may be developed by the bringing into explicit recognition of teachings which were already implied in the original deposit of faith, but not by the addition of anything new; it may be modified by the omission of opinions widely held, but proved in course of time to be erroneous, but not by the abandonment of anything that has been formally and finally accepted as part of the Christian faith. It is important to bear in mind that the word "catholic "does not denote universality in the sense of comprehensiveness, in other words that the Catholic Church does not include the whole body of those who in any sense call themselves Christians, and that the Catholic faith does not mean that irreducible minimum of common beliefs, if any such can be found, which is common to all Christian people. It is of course tenable that the Catholic Church ought to be made wide enough to include all such people as are in general sympathy with the ideals of Christianity, and its doctrines reduced to a general statement of such ideals. But such a "Catholicism," however desirable it might be, would in fact be something entirely different from Catholicism in the sense in which it has in fact been understood in Christian theology. The reasons for which those who hold the Catholic faith in its historic sense are unable to accept the view that the essentials of Christianity ought to be reduced to that minimum which could find universal acceptance among men of good will, or among all those who in some sense call themselves Christians will be made clear in the course of this book.
The Catholic faith begins with the belief that God, Who had for thousands of years prepared the world by partial revelations of Himself, vouchsafed in many times and places, but pre-eminently to the Jewish nation, made a final and complete revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This revelation differed not merely in degree, but in kind from all that had gone before it. For Jesus of Nazareth was not merely a human being, endowed to a greater extent than any other of the sons of men with insight into the nature of God; His birth was not as the birth of other men; He was by a miracle born of a pure Virgin, Mary. None the less He was also perfect man, capable of being tempted and of suffering as we are. After a human life of perfect sinlessness, lived in the obscure Roman province of Judaea from about the year 5 B. C. to about the year 29 A. D., He was crucified. His death was due to the jealousy of the authorities of the Jewish nation, the accredited trustees of the follest revelation of God hitherto granted to the world; their jealousy was excited by His claim to revise, on His own personal authority, the beliefs and practices of the Jewish religion, abolishing its external forms, where these had become a hindrance rather than a help to the human soul in its attempt to approach to God; refusing to accept the tendency, then becoming dominant in the nation, to hold that the exact observance of such external forms was a necessary means of attaining to personal holiness; and denying that the mere observance of such forms was in itself any part of personal holiness at all. In substituting for the old and incomplete conceptions of Judaism a new conception of the nature of God and His relations to man, He claimed to be acting in virtue of His own personal right, due to His unique relation to the one true God of Israel, Whom He claimed as His Father. The result of His teaching was the union of all the religious authorities of the Jewish nation, who were also, in virtue of the peculiar history of the people, its secular authorities as well, in a conspiracy to destroy Him; their united demand forced the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, whose consent was necessary for the infliction of the death-penalty, to agree to His crucifixion. His ignominious death was not, however, as it seemed at the moment, the death blow to His teaching. He was crucified on a Friday; and on the Sunday morning He appeared to His broken and despondent followers, for He had risen from the dead. He had foretold to them both His death and His resurrection; but it would seem that up to the last they had refused to credit even the possibility of His death, and were taken by surprise when it came; they were equally astounded at His resurrection. Their refusal to contemplate the possibility of His death was due to His claim to be the Messiah or Saviour of the nation, whose coming had been foretold by the prophets. The Messiah was expected to establish a kingdom in which He would reign as the king of the Chosen People and establish their supremacy over the whole world. Up to the last the followers of Jesus had expected the establishment of such a kingdom, and failed to grasp the death and resurrection which He foretold. His appearances to His disciples after the latter event extended over a period of forty days, at the end of which He definitely left them. His activities on earth were over. His followers, however, especially the twelve disciples who had been, particularly closely associated with Him during the comparatively short period of public life which preceded His crucifixion, were no longer the little band of dispirited men who had stood by Him up to the moment of His arrest. They had now gained complete confidence in their Master. For ten days after His departure they waited at Jerusalem; at the end of that time on the Jewish festival of Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the Passover, they came forward, filled with a new enthusiasm, ascribed to the direct outpouring of the divine Spirit which had inspired the prophets, and announced their claim that Jesus had risen, and that He had entrusted His followers with authority to proclaim that through belief in Him mankind could obtain forgiveness for their sins, and enter into a new order of life. That new life consisted in the power of attaining to holiness in this world and entering into eternal glory after death. The last-named point was indeed at the moment regarded as being of comparatively minor importance; for it was supposed that Jesus would shortly return in glory to judge the whole of mankind both living and dead and give to all their due reward of everlasting happiness or everlasting misery. In any case however the vital element in their message was that the death of Jesus constituted an act of atonement for the sins of the world. In virtue of it all could obtain pardon for the sins of the past, (for Jesus had taught that by His death He was to bear the punishment that those sins deserved), and also the power to escape from the dominion of sin during the remainder of the time that might intervene between the acceptance of the new teaching and His second Coming, or the death of the believer. In order to enter into this new life it was necessary for the convert to be cleansed from his sins in the sacramental ordinance of baptism; this ceremonial washing was the means by which the sins of the past were done away. The other distinctive ordinance of the new community or sect of Judaism, into which the followers of Jesus formed themselves, was the Eucharist, a ceremonial meal instituted by Jesus on the night before His crucifixion, in which the faithful, under the outward forms of bread and wine entered into a mysterious communion with the Master; for in eating the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist they were made partakers of His Body and Blood.
For a few years the new community continued to be a sect of Judaism; but before long, under the influence of Saul of Tarsus, originally a Jew of the most scrupulous orthodoxy, and a persecutor of the Christians, it broke away from, or was cut off by, the followers of the old religion. Saul was converted by a vision of the risen Jesus, and became the most ardent Apostle of the new revelation. It was his insistence on the necessity of preaching it not only to the Jewish nation, but also to the Gentiles, and his clear perception of the logical necessity of abandoning, so far as the latter were concerned, the observance of the old system of the Law, that led to the breach between the new movement and the traditional system of Judaism. In spite however of the fact that in respect of education and general personal ability he was by far the greatest figure in the new movement, the leadership of it remained with the obscure fisherman of Galilee, Peter, who had been one of the original disciples of Jesus, and had by Him been given a general, though not clearly defined, position of leadership among His followers.
From its outset the new movement was violently unpopular. In the eyes of orthodox Jews, not only in Palestine, but throughout the whole Roman Empire and beyond its borders, the Christian Jew was an apostate from the national faith. It must be remembered that then as now there was a Jewish colony in every important town of the Graeco-Roman world. It must also be remembered that Judaism was then a vigorous and progressive religion, making converts wherever it went. It rightly saw in Christianity, with its offer of the same advantages that Judaism had to give and its abolition of the necessity of complying with the somewhat grotesque and repulsive requirements of the Mosaic Law, a rival which must be destroyed, if Judaism was to continue to exist as a serious religious force outside the limits of the Jewish nation.
At the same time Christianity was bitterly persecuted by the heathen. To them it seemed only a new form of the old Jewish "superstition." Judaism had indeed in spite of great unpopularity obtained a general toleration in the Roman Empire; for in spite of its considerable successes its proselytising had been on too small a scale to attract the general attention of the heathen world. It was not so with Christianity. The new teaching abolished the observance of the Law, which had hampered the propagation of Judaism: but it retained and emphasized the refusal of Judaism to admit of any compromise with religions of the Gentile world; the Christian must renounce all connection with the religious life of his neighbours. It was this absolute exclusiveness which separated Christianity from the numerous Oriental cults which were its contemporaries and rivals. The same feature provoked in the incredulous and easy-going world of the first century A.D. the most embittered hostility; the profession of Christianity by itself was a capital offence. None the less the new religion grew and prospered, until within three hundred years from the death of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross outside Jerusalem it had become the recognised religion of the Roman Empire. In the struggle between the world and the Galilean the Galilean had conquered.
THE PERSONALITY OF CHRIST
The teaching of Jesus of Nazareth had not primarily concerned itself with the laying-down of any system of dogmatic belief. He had summoned men to repent and enter a new kingdom of God which He had come to establish on earth. This kingdom was not indeed to be fully realised in the present order of the world, but only after His second coming in glory to judge all mankind. Until that time however it was possible for men to enter into it in that preliminary or provisional form in which it was to be set up at once. The first condition of entering into it was repentance; and this must be followed by a life of complete surrender of all worldly interests, and, if necessary, of all worldly possessions. The motive for such a surrender was personal faith in His own claim to be the Messiah, and His power to reward His faithful servants. This faith involved a constant struggle to attain to personal holiness, the conception of holiness being that which He laid down by His teaching and by His personal example. To those who followed Him He promised forgiveness of sins, a forgiveness which He claimed to give in virtue of His own personal authority. In His sweeping revisions of the conception of holiness current among the Jews of His own time He claimed a similar authority, based only on His peculiar personal relation to God, a relation described as Sonship, but without any theological definition of the meaning of the term. To those who disputed His authority He replied by pointing to the miracles which He worked. This teaching was partly given to the general public which flocked to hear Him, partly to a small inner circle of chosen companions. To this circle He promised after His Resurrection a special gift of the Spirit of God, which would enable them to carry on His work of calling men to repentance and holiness. To those who repented they could grant forgiveness of sins in His name. It has been seen above that this power to obtain forgiveness was based on the fact that His death was a ransom for the sins of the world.
It must always be borne in mind that these claims were made by Jesus of Nazareth before a nation which claimed to possess the only true revelation of God to man in the form of the Jewish Scriptures, and that Jesus Himself fully admitted that claim. The divine origin of the Law and the prophets He fully admitted; His authority however was such that He had the right to interpret and to fulfil them by introducing a new dispensation by which the old was superseded. The theology of the Catholic Church as to His personality rests not on any particular verbal utterance of Jesus, but on the impossibility of explaining in any other way the facts of His life and the history of the Church. That theology holds that He is both God and man. His humanity was indeed doubted by certain very early sects of heretics, who, believing in His Godhead, could not understand how it was possible for God to die upon the Cross. It is not a matter which the present generation is likely to dispute. Clearly His death could not be an atonement for the sins of mankind, unless He Himself shared the nature of those who had sinned; nor could His example of perfection be of any value, unless He were open to the same temptations which beset the children of men.
In any case it is rather His Godhead which the modern world accepts less readily. The difficulty of believing that the Creator of all things intervened in person in the history of one particular planet to reverse the order of human history is obviously stupendous. Yet Catholic theology states that it actually occurred, and that no smaller assumption will account for the facts. The belief was not reached in a moment. In general the writers of the New Testament, which record the teaching of Jesus and His immediate followers, represent Him as a being of a supernatural order, higher than even the created Spirits, or angels, whom Jewish tradition believed to be the ministers of God, The belief in the existence of such an order of spirits was confirmed by Jesus Himself, and has passed into the traditional theology of the Church; but it was never supposed that Jesus was a created being of this class. In general the writers of the New Testament are content to describe Him in language borrowed from the conceptions of that mixture of Jewish and Greek thought which was current at the time both in Palestine and among the Jews of the Dispersion, i.e., the Jews resident in the cities of the civilised world outside the territory of Judaea. In the terminology of this world of thought He is described either as the Incarnation of the divine Word, the Reason or thought of God, by which He made the world, (for this Reason was regarded as an emanation from God possessed almost of an independent personal existence), or as the divine pattern or prototype of humanity conceived by God at the creation, (for the original divine pattern of man must have been perfect, and actual men being sinful could only be regarded as an inferior class of beings, resulting from the union of a copy of the divine origina with the material creation). The inadequacy of these conceptions is manifest, but they were employed, the former by the author of the Fourth Gospel, the latter by St. Paul, as a means of expressing the belief that Jesus was a being of a distinct order, existing independently of the world, and the divine agent employed for its creation and redemption rather than a created being. Such a belief harmonised with the Jewish conception that the Messiah was not merely a human being called by God to save the nation, (for this had been the oldest Jewish conception), but a pre-existent representative of humanity, who was to be revealed by God at His appointed time.
These conceptions might develop in one of two ways. Either they might lead to the belief that Jesus had been the revelation on earth of a subordinate being in a divine hierarchy, divine in His nature, yet inferior to the supreme Godhead, or they might lead to a belief in His personal identity with God.
It was the latter course that after long and embittered controversies was followed by Catholic theology. Into the history of those controversies we cannot enter. It is sufficient to point out that it was the only possible explanation of the belief that Jesus was of a higher order than any created being, whether human or angelic. In the ages when Christianity was first preached there was a general willingness to accept religions which offered salvation from the difficulties and miseries of the material world by the personal union of the individual believer with a redeemer of an intermediate order between God and man; and numerous attempts were made to explain the personality of Jesus in this way. None the less they were rejected by the instinct of Christianity. They could be made to harmonize with a great deal of the language used about Him by His first followers, for those followers had often borrowed terms to express His nature from the circle of religious ideas which were occupied in proclaiming the salvation of man through the agency of such intermediate redeemers. Yet it was rightly felt by the Church that such conceptions of the personality of Jesus would be fatal to the Christian faith. For they would immediately have reduced Him to the position of being one among many redeemers. It was characteristic of the age to suppose that all the various cults which offered salvation in this way were in their varying degrees approximations to the truth, and none of them exclusively the truth; it was from the outset the central doctrine of Christianity, as it had been of Judaism, that it alone was true and all other religions false. But this claim could only hold good if Jesus were Himself the full and final revelation of God to man; and this belief could only be maintained if in fact He was personally identical with God. Any lower claim would have reduced Him to the position of being one among many more or less divine redeemers. By contenting itself with such a claim and tolerating its rivals the Church could have escaped from persecution; but it would have disappeared, as its competitors disappeared, by a process of gradual amalgamation with one another which robbed them of their character as religious cults and reduced them all to a rather nebulous mysticism. It was the claim that Jesus was God, which guaranteed to the Church the permanence of its system of salvation, its external forms of worship, (for these in their essence were derived from Jesus Himself), and of its standard of moral perfection. It is of importance to bear in mind that this insistence on the divinity of Jesus in the fullest possible sense was entirely contrary to the natural tendencies of the time and the immediate interests of the Church, although it seems to us necessary and inevitable. For it is plain that modern thought could never tolerate the conception that Jesus was, so to speak, a semi-divine being. It is possible to accept Him as God, or to regard Him simply as a man of peculiarly lofty spiritual insight, but not as a supernatural being intermediate between God and man. Hence it is natural for us to suppose that the Church took the simple and obvious course: in point of fact its course was entirely contrary to the general tendencies of the age.
THE HOLY GHOST AND THE HOLY TRINITY
Jewish thought had, before the life of Jesus, been familiar with the conception of a divine spirit pervading the universe. This spirit was the power by which God maintained the world in being. It was also the power by which He had inspired the Saints of the old covenant to declare the ways of God to men and to remain faithful in the midst of an idolatrous and evil world; it was further the divine Wisdom which enabled the individual Jew to understand the ways of God aright and to obey His will in the affairs of life. In its origin this conception was another form of the conception of the Word of God as a power intermediate between God and man. The exact scope of the teaching of Jesus on the subject of the Spirit is uncertain, since it is mainly contained in the last of the four Gospels, a work which cannot simply be assumed to be a record of His actual words. It is however clear that He accepted this Jewish belief, and taught His disciples to believe in the existence of a divine Spirit manifesting itself in the writers of the Jewish Scriptures, in His own life and the lives of others. In particular He promised His disciples that after His departure from them He would send them a special gift of this Spirit to direct them in the ordering of the affairs of His kingdom and in answering the attacks of their persecutors. By a process analogous to that described in the last chapter the Christian Church came to see the personal action of a divine being in the supernatural power which enabled a handful of ill-educated and obscure men to preach the Gospel throughout the world to the accompaniment of miraculous cures of sickness and diabolical possession, and to hand on to their successors the power to continue their work until the end of time. The existence of such a personal divine Spirit was implied in the teaching of Jesus and verified by the experience of Christians. His nature could only be explained by the doctrine that He was a personal being, and that He too was in some sense divine; and since the Church had rejected the temptation to recognise any intermediate divinities, He too was regarded as God, and as forming a separate personality within the one Godhead.
Thus the Catholic Church came to the belief that the one God is triune in His nature. Within the unity are the three distinct personalities--the Father, proclaimed by Jesus as the supreme source of all being, the Son, manifested in time in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and the Holy Ghost manifesting Himself in the preservation of the world and pre-eminently in the life of the Church. This is the doctrine described as that of the Holy Trinity, which is the basis of the Catholic religion. "Now the Catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity."
Clearly it would be impossible here to enter into anything approaching a full investigation of the meaning of this dogma, or a defence of its credibility. It is however essential to insist on the following points.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not a belief in three Gods. The three Persons are One God. Although the doctrine involves a mystery which passes beyond human comprehension, along certain lines we may make some progress in the direction of understanding it. Thus, for example, the fact which differentiates the contents of the conscious life of individual human beings is their imperfection. The sum of my knowledge differs from the sum of the knowledge of any one else, precisely because both my knowledge and his are imperfect. In matters in respect of which both of us know the full truth, (in fact of course there is no matter on which the full truth is known to any single human being), the contents of our knowledge are identical. Since, however, all truth is eternally present to God, the contents of the knowledge of the three persons of the Holy Trinity is eternally the same. Similarly the contents of my life as a being possessed of free will differ from those of the life of any other human being, partly because my will is morally imperfect, partly because my power to realise my will is imperfect, partly because my knowledge of the right choice of my will is imperfect. Since none of these imperfections can be regarded as applying to God, it follows that the will of the three Persons is eternally the same.
The unity of God must not be interpreted as meaning that the three persons are not so much three persons as three distinct forms in which the operations of God manifest themselves. This explanation is perhaps the most attractive and reasonable of the ancient heresies; it is called "Sabellianism" after its author, Sabellius. They are three persons. Once again it is only possible to suggest a line along which we approach a truth which passes understanding. The teaching of Jesus insisted that the essential element in the divine nature is love. Love demands an object to be loved, and perfect love can only be found where the object of love is worthy of a perfect love. It is inconceivable that the full love of God could manifest itself towards any being of a lower order than Himself, for such love would be bestowed on an object of an infinitely inferior character. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity suggests how it is possible for the love of God to find an object that can satisfy itself in pointing to the mutual love of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. It may be noted that all religions which insist simply on the unity of God necessarily conceive of Him as a being dwelling alone in infinite majesty and unapproachable holiness--a being Whom it is only possible to fear--for it would be an unthinkable presumption for His creatures to offer Him their love. The heresy of Sabellius, as it is the most reasonable of the ancient heresies from the modern point of view, is also the most dangerous, since it either excludes the element of love from the divine nature, by isolating God from any worthy object of His love, or degrades it by implying that the love of God can find a satisfactory object in man.
Although the dogma of the Holy Trinity ultimately surpasses human reason, it is not contrary to it. The human reason is the highest of all created things, and it is impossible to suppose that man can be compelled to believe something which is entirely contrary to his own nature. At the same time there is nothing unreasonable in the view that the nature of God should in the last resort surpass the grasp even of the human reason. In the preceding sections the attempt has been made to show that the actual development of Catholic theology as to the personality of Our Lord and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was the only development compatible with a belief in the unity of God, the exclusive truth of the revelation of Jesus of Nazareth, and the acceptance of the essential element in His teaching, that God is love: and that this interpretation followed necessarily from the historical facts of the earthly life of Jesus. Hitherto however we have assumed that the account of that revelation is historically true in the form in which it is recorded in the New Testament. Given that assumption, which was the assumption of the early Christian community, it is impossible to see what other form Christian theology could have taken; but it is a matter of common knowledge that there are many who deny the historical character of that narrative, or of certain parts of it which are commonly regarded as essential. It is therefore necessary to revert at this point to a consideration of the question whether the traditional belief in its veracity is justified. Clearly in considering this matter, as in considering those with which we have already dealt, it will be impossible to do more than summarize the main outlines of a few of the principal arguments, on the strength of which the Catholic Church justifies its stupendous claim that jthe life of Jesus of Nazareth is in fact a direct intervention on the part of the Creator of the universe in the history of mankind, and that its doctrines follow necessarily from the fact of that intervention.
The supreme evidence in favour of the truth of the claims of Catholic Christianity is and must always be the actual life of Jesus. For the moment we may ignore the miraculous events which are alleged to have marked His birth, His actual ministry and His resurrection, and consider simply His figure as it impresses itself on us in the record of His life and teaching in the first three Gospels, including only such "miracles" as those healings of sickness which are well-authenticated in the narratives of these Gospels, and in themselves easily paralleled by modern instances of faith-healing, healing by suggestion, and similar rather ill-understood, but not infrequent, incidents of the healing of disease by abnormal methods.
It is no part of the purpose of this book to give here any account, however brief, of that life and teaching. The Gospels are easily available, and any attempt to restate their story is bound to fail completely to reproduce the impression which they convey of a personality whose infinite superiority to the greatest heroes of history claims a veneration different in kind from anything which it is possible for man to offer to the best of his fellow-creatures. The narrative conveys an impression of absolute perfection which makes the reader feel it to be perfectly natural that one who preaches a Gospel of humility should none the less claim to correct by His immediate personal authority the deficiencies of a religious system whose divine authority He Himself recognises, and that one who preaches a Gospel of love, which forbids any man to judge his neighbour, should none the less be quite unsparing in His condemnation of those who reject Himself. The personality of Jesus is such that the reader has no sense of inconsistency in His action in these and similar instances; he feels that he is in the presence of a personality which transcends them. His claim to immediate personal contact with God, and His lack of any personal consciousness of sin do not impress us as arrogant in the smallest degree; yet they are the exact opposites of the sense of inability to approach God except through Jesus, and the deep consciousness of personal wickedness which are characteristic of those of His followers who have approached most closely to Him in holiness. Nor is this the limit of His claims. He asks His followers to give up all the worldly advantages they possess, not for God's sake, but for His own; He claims to forgive sins in this life, and to dispose of the rewards of eternal happiness or eternal condemnation in the life to come; yet His disciples must humble themselves and become as little children, if they would enter into the kingdom of heaven. Yet all this seems as we read the Gospels, even if we ignore the miraculous element, to be perfectly natural and consistent.
The personality of Jesus, as being at once a pattern for human imitation and at the same time a revelation of a more than human ideal, is, however, something which it is only possible for us to realise by the study of the Gospels; and to these the reader must refer. It is His personality, as it is there revealed to us, that is the centre of Catholic Christianity, and it is claimed that a study of those records, in the spirit of a genuine search for the truth will show that no explanation but that of the theology of the Catholic Church will give an ultimately adequate interpretation of the facts with which those records confront us. It may be added that such a study, while it may not by itself vindicate a belief in the miraculous elements of the narrative, will convey an impression of an actual historical figure which is beyond the inventive powers of the human imagination; in any case, however, it is unnecessary to consider seriously theories which deny the historical character of the figure of Jesus in the first three Gospels, or the authenticity of the bulk of the teaching attributed to Him in them.
NOTE.--In the foregoing section as elsewhere I have ignored the Gospel of St. John for the reason that it is at present impossible to assume its historical accuracy, which many authorities deny. Before using it for the purpose of the foregoing section it would have been necessary to examine in detail the whole question of its authorship arid meaning, a task which would obviously be impossible here. On the subject of this book it may however be said with safety that no account can be accepted which does not recognise that the author bad at his disposal certain elements of first-hand evidence of the utmost value, and that on the other hand a good deal of it represents the teaching of Our Lord as interpreted by the experience of the first generation of Christians. (This of course does not mean that it is in any way incorrect in its interpretation; but we cannot assume that it conveys simply the direct personal impression made on His contemporaries by Jesus of Nazareth).
The second main piece of evidence in favour of the Catholic interpretation of the person of Jesus and the Catholic account of the nature of God may be found in the field of Christian experience. By the word "experience "is meant not any abnormal religious experience, such as the sense of immediate unity of God attained to by certain great contemplative Saints, and still less any thrill of religious emotion of the kind sometimes excited in the minds of worshippers either by imposing ceremonial functions or by dramatic sermons and emotional hymns, or again by a sudden access of enthusiasm in times of private prayer. This type of emotional excitement is valueless as evidence in favour of any particular explanation of the Christian religion, if only for the reason that it is quite easily paralleled by the phenomena of non-Christian religions, often by those of religions of the most degraded kind. Similarly the higher sense of personal communion with God attained to in contemplation would appear to find its parallels in non-Christian religions of the nobler kinds. By Christian experience is meant the fact that people of all nationalities and all classes in all the centuries which have passed since the crucifixion of Jesus have found in Him a personal revelation of God, which has satisfied the desire of man to find an adequate explanation of his being, a means of transcending the temptations, anxieties and sufferings of his material existence, and an adequate motive for living a life of the kind which presents itself to us with an authoritative claim to be regarded as good, while a life of any other kind is evil. For the distinction between good and evil in the sphere of conduct presents itself to us as possessing an immediate claim to our obedience, yet it is very difficult for philosophy to provide any rational justification of this claim, and entirely beyond the power of philosophy to suggest motives which will enable mankind in general to undertake the struggle involved in the continued attempt to follow the line of right conduct. At the best philosophy has only succeeded in the case of a few highly educated people; Christianity has succeeded in the case of the most ignorant and degraded nations and classes. Further the ethical ideal of Christianity as manifested in the person of Jesus transcends the highest conception of that ideal to which pre-Christian philosophy was ever able to attain. He embodies all that was true in it, yet He corrects and revises it so as to bring it to its logical conclusion. At the same time He does this not by the elaboration of a system but by the impression of His own personal character, and by the few and almost careless sentences in which He lays down the principles of His teaching. His ideal indeed is one which it is not within the power of man to realise; those who seem to have come nearest to it have seen most clearly how far they fall short of His standard. Yet it remains the one faith which has proved itself universally capable of forming the dominant motive of human life. The power of Christianity to influence mankind in this way rests simply and solely in the belief that in the person of Jesus mankind has been granted a revelation of God, as the redeemer Who saves it from the dominion of sin, as the example of divine perfection which it must follow, and as the source of a divine power which alone enables it to attempt, however feebly, the task of following that example. It is easy to urge that there have been many bad Christians, and that the mere profession of Christianity is compatible with a standard of conduct entirely inconsistent with the example of Jesus; none the less the general fact of the power of Christianity to affect the lives of men in every conceivable variety of conditions remains an indisputable fact which receives fresh verification every day. The whole secret of this power lies in the belief that while Jesus is man, He is also God. Merely to accept Him as a supreme pattern of human excellence is equivalent to abandoning the whole of this power of Christianity over human life. For the attempt to imitate Him in practice is bound to prove a failure; His example is beyond imitation. The motive force of Christianity is not merely His human example, but the belief that He can and does Himself supply man with the strength to attempt the impossible task of imitating His perfection, and that in His sufferings and death He has Himself made up for the inevitable shortcomings of the best of His followers. Thus the evidence of Christian experience testifies not merely to the human perfection of Jesus but to His claims to be accepted as God; and the ultimate ground for the rejection of any lesser belief is the conviction that in practice it will fail to enable those who hold it to achieve the specifically Christian or Christ-like character. The fact that the Catholic explanation of the personality of Jesus has justified itself in its practical power to influence human life does not indeed demonstrate its truth; but it is a very powerful argument in its favour.
It may perhaps seem strange that hitherto no mention has been made of the "miraculous" incidents which are alleged to have accompanied the birth, the ministry and the resurrection of Jesus. The reason for omitting them up to this point is that by themselves they do not furnish the kind of evidence which is most likely to convince the average English reader at the present time. In many generations, and in many parts of the world at the present moment, they furnish the most convincing proof of the claims of the Catholic account of His person, and it is perfectly possible that in the future they will again come to be regarded in this light in England. None the less by themselves they are not likely to be found convincing. Normally in reading the histories of antiquity we dismiss without hesitation a number of well-attested stories of the miraculous. A few years ago many such stories were rejected which more recent research into the power of religious faith over certain kinds of sickness has shown to be perfectly probable. None the less we should unhesitatingly reject the story of the Gospels, if we found it in any ordinary history of antiquity. Further, the mere fact that certain of the miracles of Jesus can be paralleled in modern instances of "faith-healing" will not assist the defence of the Catholic faith. For those instances of healing have often been produced as the effect of a false religion or of faith in a particular human being, whereas it is an essential part of the Catholic claim that the miracles of Jesus prove His claim to be something more than man. The mere fact that it is possible to find trustworthy parallels to some of the miracles of Jesus may discredit any rejection of them by the pure materialist on the ground that all such things are impossible; but it will not assist the claims of Christianity. From this point of view the crucial miracles are those of the Virgin Birth of Jesus and the bodily Resurrection on the third day after His crucifixion. The rest of His miracles may be said to stand or fall with these. Of the former event there are two accounts, which differ almost completely from one another, although they are not necessarily contradictory. Of the latter again there are several accounts which are not easy to harmonize. It is impossible here to examine these in detail. With regard to the former however it may be said that of the two extant accounts one, that of St. Matthew's Gospel, presents certain features which, if it stood by itself, might lead us to look on it with some suspicion; it shows certain tendencies to adjust itself to the conceptions of the age as to the sort of incidents which should properly accompany a divine Incarnation. On the other hand it must be noted that these conceptions are mainly to be found in non-Jewish religions, and it is rather peculiar to find them in this Gospel, which hi its general outlook adheres closely to orthodox Jewish traditions. (This argument however must be advanced with some reserve: Judaism had been considerably influenced at the time of the birth of Jesus by non-Jewish religious ideas). The other account is that of St. Luke. In this we are met by a very remarkable phenomenon. The writer of the Gospel was an intimate friend and companion of St. Paul, and has certainly in some parts of his work allowed the narrative to be coloured by specifically Pauline ideas. Now, if we once suppose that the primitive Christians, in a Well-meaning but misguided spirit of piety, were in the practice of introducing miraculous features into their narratives of the life of Jesus, it would be easy to suppose that St. Paul, whose theology certainly tended to concentrate attention on the superhuman aspect of the person of Jesus, might have introduced a Virgin-birth to justify his teaching. But it almost passes comprehension that, if he made such an attempt, he should not in his extant writings make any allusion to such a doctrine. And it is entirely impossible to explain the fact that the narrative of the Virgin-birth as recorded in St. Luke's Gospel should in its general tone and tendency not merely show no trace of St. Paul's influence, but actually show very marked traces of the influence of that element in the primitive Church which was most strongly opposed to St. Paul's whole point of view. Yet this is in fact the case. The narrative of the birth of Our Lord as given by St. Luke insists on a general atmosphere of primitive Pharisaical piety, realising itself in a strict observance of the Jewish Law. St. Paul might have invented a Virgin-birth, and he would necessarily have to admit that the early infancy of Jesus was passed in circles which observed the Law; he certainly would not have insisted, as does the narrative of St. Luke, on the atmosphere of legal piety and Pharisaical holiness which would be bound to tell in favour of the claim of the Jewish Christians that all Christians must continue to observe the Jewish Law. Historical criticism, taken by itself, must tend to confirm the truth of this narrative.
With regard to the Resurrection the question is simpler. The narratives of the Gospels may not be easy to reconcile; but they are not our sole evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. This is implied on every page of the Pauline Epistles, and it is implied yet more clearly in the mere fact of the survival of the Christian movement. At the moment of the crucifixion the followers of Jesus were utterly broken and dispirited; within a few weeks they were preaching with the utmost boldness that He had risen from the dead, in spite of the fact that by doing so they were inviting persecution from the authorities of the Jewish nation. If Jesus had in fact appeared to them risen from the dead, their behaviour is intelligible; otherwise it is not. If however we accept the resurrection as a historical fact, and to refuse to do so creates a historical problem almost as difficult as the acceptance of the Resurrection itself is, we cannot reasonably reject the most clearly attested feature of the whole story of the resurrection of Jesus, that the first intimation of the fact to His followers was the finding that His tomb was empty on the Sunday morning after His crucifixion.
Hence it may fairly be claimed that the evidence merely as evidence on these two points is extremely strong. By itself this fact would not convince us. But the evidence does not stand alone. It is not legitimate to isolate the various strands of evidence as if they were entirely independent of each other. We have seen already that the figure of Jesus in the Gospels and the whole field of Christian experience support the belief that in Him we find a person of a more than human order. The historical narrative of His birth and resurrection, and of certain incidents of His public life confirm this belief. The effect of these three lines of evidence is cumulative, and it may be claimed that the first two tend to support the conviction that the appearance in the world of such a being would naturally differ from the ordinary course of a human life. From this point of view we may, if we choose, regard the so-called miracles of the Gospels not as miracles, in the popular sense of the word, which implies a reversal of the uniform order of nature, but as the natural and normal phenomena which the appearance of such a being in this world must necessarily produce; this is merely a question of words. On the other hand the strength of the historical evidence in favour of events of this kind reacts favourably on the two former arguments and gives them a fresh confirmation of its own.
There are two subsidiary arguments which may be briefly considered here.
The first is the argument from prophecy. The writings of the Jewish prophets foretold in various forms the coming of a saviour of the nation. As interpreted by the later period of Judaism at the time of the Incarnation some of these were strikingly appropriate to the life of Jesus. Hence it has been argued that the fact that the early prophets foretold His coming so accurately is a proof that they were inspired by God, and that they received a divine fulfilment. While, however, the argument was valid under the method of interpretation of the Old Testament, which regarded it as a verbally inspired document, it has been deprived of much of its force by modern investigations into the meaning, authorship and composition of the books of the Old Testament. It should be noted that Our Lord Himself does not use the writings of the prophets in this literal way. Either He uses individual texts to prove some point not absolutely but as against Jewish opponents; or, as in the case of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He deliberately acts in such a manner as to claim to fulfil in His actions a prophecy recognised by the Jews as applicable to the Messiah; or He employs one particular passage from the old prophecies and proves that it is in fact applicable to Himself as the Messiah. This passage is that which deals with the rejection of the true servant of God by those to whom He is sent. This prophecy (Isaiah liii) was not regarded by the Jews as applying to the Messiah, and as used by Our Lord it is rather to be regarded as Messianic from the fact that He gives it such an application and proves His method of applying it to be just. He does not base His claim on the literal fulfilment of prophetic texts, as the old writers did.
In general, however, it is to be noticed that the development of Jewish thought in the three centuries preceding the Incarnation tended to change the conception of the Messiah from that of a conquering earthly monarch into that of a superhuman being sent by God to reward the righteous and to punish the wicked, and that the reward expected was changing from earthly happiness of a rather material kind into an eternal reward of spiritual blessedness. In this respect Jewish thought shows a remarkable preparation for His coming. The same may be said of much of the development of Gentile ideas. The desire for a religion which would enable man to attain to a close personal relation with God in this life and the assurance of personal immortality hereafter was very widespread; and this desire furnished a natural opening for the first preachers of Christianity to make their message heard. Similarly the political development of the Macedonian Empires and their replacement by the consolidated Roman Empire during this period resulted in the breaking down of national barriers and national languages, and substituted for them a cosmopolitan civilisation with more or less uniform methods of thought, which was admirably adapted for the diffusion of Christianity. It is in this, more than in particular fulfilments of individual texts of the prophets, that we find a divine preparation for the Incarnation; although certain of those texts do find a striking fulfilment in Jesus, it is hardly likely that they will now be regarded as convincing by those who are not already Christians. The general preparation of the world for His coming is however an important piece of evidence, though it can never take more than a subsidiary place as a general argument on behalf of Christianity.
It has already been noted that the natural line for Christianity to take in appealing to the Gentile world would have been to regard Jesus as a being of a supernatural order sent by God to redeem mankind from the evil into which it had fallen, but not as possessing so absolute an authority as to make it impossible for the Christian to recognise that other cults which preached similar systems of redemption were also in their measure true revelations of God. Such a conception would have been natural to the age, and would also have enabled the Church to avoid persecution by allowing its members to render outward allegiance to the civic and imperial cults of the Graeco-Roman world. Christianity deliberately refused the line of least resistance, and chose the hardest. We can now see that it was to this choice that it owed its survival; but the instinctive refusal of the Church to take the easy and natural course in the face of persecution is a strong subsidiary proof of its supernatural claims.
In the same way it may be maintained that the whole history of the triumph of the Church over the opposition of all the strongest forces of the heathen world is a confirmation of its divine origin; until the hour of her triumph the Church was the religion of the most insignificant classes of Society, with every natural advantage on the side of her enemies.
For these reasons in particular it may be claimed that the Catholic conception of the person of Jesus and the nature of God is not merely the only possible development of Christianity which is compatible with the original Christian tradition, but also the revealed truth of God to man, i.e., that Catholic Christianity is not merely the legitimate explanation of the faith of the first Christians, but also that it is objectively true. It cannot be claimed that these or any other arguments will demonstrate its truth in the strictly logical sense of the word. Demonstration in this sense means a proof so absolute that it is impossible for any sane human being to reject it, and such demonstration is unattainable outside the sphere of pure mathematics. The Christian religion has always held that belief is impossible without the divine gift of faith; but this divine gift will never be withheld from those who approach the study of the Christian religion with an honest desire to seek for the truth in it. It cannot be claimed that these or any other arguments will convince the hostile critic; it can only be claimed that, in spite of the inadequacy with which they are put forward here, they will be sufficient to prove that the Catholic conception of Christianity does not involve the surrender of human reason to a series of incredible dogmas. For a full statement of the Catholic doctrine and the grounds on which it claims to be the truth revealed by God in the person of His Son the reader must consult the works of theologians. But he will not find any proof of the truth of the Christian religion unless he is prepared to approach the person of Jesus revealed in the Gospels and in the sacramental system of the Church, seeking to find the truth, just as he will not make any progress in any branch of learning or in any practical art, unless he approaches it with a genuine desire to investigate what it has to offer, and a general if vague belief that it has in it something of value. The ultimate argument for Christianity must always be that of the disciple who brought his friend to Jesus with the argument "Come and see." But the same argument is in all cases the only one which will convert those who refuse to admit that any particular department of human effort can lead to any valuable results. To those who are honestly ready to "come and see" the divine gift of faith will not be lacking.
NOTE.--The arguments given above mainly deal with the objections put forward by those who either reject all belief in Christianity as a divine revelation, or regard it as being divine only in the sense that Jesus had a peculiarly close sense of personal union with God and a peculiar insight into the divine nature, although Himself belonging simply to the natural order of humanity. The latter view, usually described as Liberalism, rests in fact on a general refusal to believe in the possibility of a direct divine intervention in the affairs of human life, which is a survival of mid-Victorian materialism, and is a very unscientific attempt to use modern methods of scriptural criticism to eliminate the miraculous elements of the Gospel narratives.
It is necessary here to notice another attempt to avoid the admitted difficulty involved in the Catholic conception of a particular divine intervention in the order of the world, while preserving as much as possible of the Christian tradition. This is the system generally known as "Modernism." It takes many forms, and the name is only a general description of several more or less similar attempts to solve the difficulty. Liberalism differs from Modernism in that Liberalism starts from a Protestant point of view which regards the Bible as the sole source of Christian doctrine. The disintegration of the Bible by certain schools of scriptural criticism has led Liberals to see in Jesus only a remarkably gifted man, worthy of admiration as a supreme religious teacher. Its obvious weakness lies in the fact that it provides no reason for supposing that His ethical teaching is in any sense final, and that it fails to provide any conception of a divine atonement for sin or a divine power enabling the believer to lead a new life. Modernism differs in that it regards the Christian doctrine of God as revealed in Jesus, and the sacramental system of the Church as being the truest, and indeed the only satisfactory account of God and His relations to man. and the only possible means by which man can satisfactorily approach God. At the same time it regards the narratives of the Gospels as being to a very large extent true only in a "mythological" sense, i.e., they are not historically true, since many of the events recorded did not actually happen; but they are true in the sense that they express in the form of a story the true nature of God, His love for man and the way in which man should approach Him. The historical figure of Jesus underlying the Gospels is from this point of view less important than the figure of Jesus as a mythical revelation of God in human form recorded in them. The strength of this conception lies in the fact that it does endeavour to preserve Christianity as a religious system, enabling the individual to have access to God. Its obvious weakness lies in the fact that the devotion of Christians to the person of Jesus, which is the one ultimate source of all Christianity, depends for its existence on the fact that Christians believe Him to be very God revealing Himself as man, and suffering all the sorrows of man for their sakes, and thereby delivering them from the power of sin. The destruction of the basis of historical fact inevitably brings down with it the superstructure of the Catholic system, leaving at. best only an academic system of belief as to the nature of God. Such a religion could not in fact convert the world unless indeed its historical untruth were sedulously concealed from the uneducated public. It is a little difficult to accept as the highest possible revelation of God a religion which depends for its value on the fact that the uneducated believer is asked to accept as historical that which the educated knows to be only mythology, especially when, as in the present instance it is precisely the mythological element which is the attractive force. Christian devotion has from the outset concentrated itself on the belief in the Virgin Birth of Jesus, His atoning death and His triumphant Resurrection; and these are the details which any form of Modernism must relegate to the sphere of mythology, if it is to succeed in reconciling Christianity to its modern critics. It is safe to put out of court any attempt to avoid the undoubted difficulties of the Christian faith which does not justify their power of arousing the devotion and reforming the life of the Christian.
The Church from the beginning found herself in possession of certain writings accepted by the Jews as a divinely inspired account of the dealings of God with man, the books of the Old Testament, which present many problems which must be ignored here. Meanwhile the Church was compelled to make use of writing for her own purposes. The first Christian books that have come down to us are the letters which St. Paul wrote to certain of his converts in Galatia, and at Thessalonica and Corinth, and a letter of introduction sent in advance to the Christians at Rome, who had been converted by others, in order to pave the way for a visit which he hoped to make to the capital of the civilised world. All these letters were written prior to the year 55 A. D. and within twenty-five years of the crucifixion. About the same period were compiled two documents of still greater importance, the Gospel of St. Mark and a nameless collection of sayings of Jesus, which has not survived in an independent form, but has been embodied with very little alteration in the Gospels which bear the names of St. Matthew and St. Luke. Between the years 55 and 70 were written the letters of St. Paul to the Ephesians, the Colossians and the Philippians, and the letters to individual friends known as the Pastoral Epistles. The authenticity of all these letters except the Philippians is more or less disputed; in the case of the two first-named books the grounds for doubting that they are the work of St. Paul are entirely negligible; in the case of the Pastoral Epistles they are more considerable, but by no means conclusive.
In this period also fall the Epistle of St. James, a document which displays the ascetic piety of the early Hebrew Christians, (the doubts thrown by certain critics on this work show a complete incapacity to grasp the outlook of this portion of the primitive Christian community), and the first Epistle of St. Peter. To the following decade belong probably the Epistle to the Hebrews, the compilation of the two Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke (the greater portions of which are made up of the two earlier collections of records of the life of Jesus, with important additions from other sources), and the Acts of the Apostles. The writings attributed to St. John belong apparently to some period about the year 90 A. D.; but both their date and authorship are most uncertain. It may be regarded as fairly certain that the author of the Apocalypse is different from the author of the Gospel and Epistles, and it is highly probable that the Apocalypse itself is based on a collection of Christian "prophecies "from several sources. The second Epistle attributed to St. Peter is not his work; its value lies in the fact that it shows the stage of Christian development in which the hope of the early return of Jesus in glory was abandoned, and the reasoning by which the difficulty caused by the non-fulfilment of the earlier expectations of an imminent second coming were met.
Now these books were written by various Christians to meet various needs. The composition of the Gospels was due to the desire to put on record the life and teaching of Jesus, at a time when it began to be impossible, owing to the development of the Church, to rely simply on the oral teaching of those who had seen Him in the flesh. The Pauline Epistles were composed to settle doubts and controversies among the Gentile converts, and the Acts to record the early development of the Church and to justify as against certain Jewish critics the part played by St. Paul in that development. There was no general intention of composing a new body of sacred books to be added to those inherited by the Church from Judaism. Nor was the need for such a collection of sacred books felt until the growth of doctrinal disputes as to the exact nature of the personality and teaching of Jesus made it necessary to ascertain exactly what the first generations of Christians, who had been witnesses of His ministry and friends of His disciples, had really taught. The task was rendered more urgent by the prevalence of works falsely attributed to the earliest disciples, in which various new and erroneous doctrines were advanced. For these reasons various groups of Christian communities selected certain of the early Christian writings known to them, and composed authoritative bodies of literature, which locally gained a position as Holy Scripture, and were venerated as equal to the old Jewish writings. As regards the bulk of the New Testament these local collections were identical in character, though there was in the first instance a considerable variation of belief as to whether certain of the less important documents should be included, and whether other ancient Christian documents of undisputed orthodoxy should not also be recognised. This variation was natural, since some of these writings were only intended by their authors for local circulation, and were not known in certain Christian circles at all; while there was a natural tendency in any particular region to exaggerate the value of a document which had for years been associated with its growth in the Christian religion. By degrees, however, the growth of the Church led to more frequent communications between the Christians of various regions, with the result that a general agreement arose as to the books which should be included among the genuine testimonies of the earliest generations of Christianity, and those which should be rejected. By 400 A. D. the books which at present form our New Testament had in all parts of Christendom gained recognition as the Christian sacred books, which, together with those inherited by the Church from Judaism, contained the full written record of the revelation of God to man. Other records of the early generations of Christianity were relegated to a secondary place, as merely human documents; in certain cases where they had been put forward in the interest of forms of teaching which the Church had rejected they were deliberately destroyed.
On the other hand the books which were included in the Scriptures were regarded as being of more than any purely human character. In the first instance they were chosen on the ground that they were written by those who had personally witnessed the life of Jesus or that of His disciples. In point of fact this belief was in certain cases wrong; thus it appears thatjthe Epistle to the Hebrews was included on the ground that it was the work of St. Paul, whereas in fact it is not, and does not claim to be. Similarly the second Epistle attributed to St. Peter and professing to be by him is of later origin than his death. The fact that it professes to be by him does not justify us in regarding it as a forgery, since it was common at the time to put forward writings under the names of eminent teachers of the past. This practice was particularly prevalent among the Jews, and it does not seem that there was in many cases any real intention to deceive. Again, the books supposed to be written by St. John the son of Zebedee may not be by him; the oldest traditions witness to some doubt on this point. In any case however the question of authorship was not the only point considered in the selection of the canonical writings. Many books were current under the names of the great Apostles which were rejected on the ground that they contained teaching incompatible with that of the great bulk of the canonical books, of whose character there had never been any doubt, while others of great antiquity were rejected as being of too little value to be included in the Scriptures. The writings which were accepted were, however, not simply regarded as the work of individual Christians, however eminent. They could not merely on these grounds have claimed an authority equal to that of the Old Testament. For the Church from the outset accepted the Jewish belief that the books of the Old Testament were written under the influence of divine inspiration, and it was claimed that the new books also, written during the period after the Resurrection of Jesus, were influenced by that initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit which had been vouchsafed to the Church in the earliest stages of its growth. Although the power of God the Holy Ghost was still active in the Church in the later years when the books of the New Testament were selected, yet it was believed that their authors had received some special measure of divine inspiration to assist them in compiling the records of the life of Jesus and the teaching of the earliest generations of Christianity. This belief was current from a period long before the final selection of the exact list of canonical books; from a time soon after the beginning of the second century A. D. it was recognised that their text was sacred. For this reason they were carefully preserved in their original form, and not, as was the general custom of the age, subjected to revision and expansion to suit the needs of particular times and places.
Thus the books of the New Testament were and are regarded by the Church as possessing a double character. They are human, since they are the work of ordinary men, influenced by ordinary human considerations. Yet they are also the work of God, since the impulse to write came ultimately from the Holy Spirit, even though it presented itself to the consciousness of the author through the medium of human motives. For instance it would seem that St. Luke in writing his account of the life of Jesus and the growth of the early Christian community was conscious simply of a desire to place on permanent record all that he could gather from the writings and personal reminiscences of those who had been eyewitnesses of the events he narrates; (he had himself been an eyewitness of some of them). He had also the intention of justifying St. Paul as against certain opponents. But. it is believed that behind these conscious motives there was the action of the Holy Ghost; and that in the compilation of the books themselves he was aided by His guidance. It is not necessary to suppose that he was at any time consciously aware of it; it is certainly not necessary to believe that he wrote in some kind of a trance in which he merely wrote what was dictated to him by a supernatural power, so that every word of his books, (and of the other books of the Bible) is immediately divine in its origin and not to be criticised without blasphemy. It is not even necessary to believe that he was miraculously preserved from the natural liability to make mistakes in the order of his narrative, or to colour his account of individual incidents in order to emphasize some particular point of view; for it is not necessary to believe that the guidance vouchsafed to him was such as to override entirely the inevitable imperfection of all human writing. On the other hand the inspiration of the Scriptures is not to be regarded as simply the kind of "inspiration," which may be recognised in the works of great artists of any kind. For the Church claims that the inspiration given to the canonical writers was such that their works, if rightly interpreted, lay down the main outlines of the whole system of belief which the Church subsequently developed, and that any interpretation of them which leads to a different system of belief can ultimately be shown to be incompatible with the teaching of the Scriptures as a whole. Hence the claim of divine guidance must be recognised as implying that, although the writers of the New Testament were not explicitly conscious of the system of Christian doctrine which was developed by the Church in later ages, yet they were preserved from writing anything which formally contradicts any element in that system of doctrine.
Now it is manifest that this is a very sweeping claim. On the other hand it is not contrary to reason. The origin of the motives which lead an author to compose a book and guide him in his selection of matters to include and omit, and in his choice of words in which to express his thought, must ultimately remain a mystery, as much as the origin of any of our thoughts. Even if it be possible in certain eases to trace our conscious ideas into the region of our "unconscious minds," there is in the last resort a point beyond which it is impossible to penetrate. The Christian claim is that in the last resort the decisive factor that swayed the writers of Scripture was the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. This claim is of course one which it is impossible to demonstrate. The defence of it depends on the arguments already advanced in this book. If it be admitted that the figure of Jesus, as presented in the Gospels is such that it can only ultimately be explained by the Catholic system of doctrine, and if it be further admitted that the effect of His life and teaching can only be explained by the belief that it is in fact a direct manifestation of God Himself on the scene of human history, there is nothing improbable in the claim that a special measure of divine assistance should be vouchsafed to the generation which witnessed that manifestation, in order to enable them to record it for the benefit of subsequent generations. It may be added that the claim that the authors did in fact receive such assistance, and that the Church was directed by divine guidance in her choice of the canonical books, is enormously strengthened by a comparison of them with the other writings of the same stage of Christian development which have come down to us. These writings often enjoyed in certain areas the position of canonical books. Yet they almost invariably fall very far short of the books which ultimately obtained admission to the New Testament both in their general merits and also in their willingness to include grotesque and impossible beliefs, which could not have been received as part of the Christian faith without bringing it into discredit. Yet these ideas were often not regarded as grotesque by the generation in which the Scriptures were written or the generations in which they were selected. Often it is fairly clear that the writers of canonical books did in fact share such beliefs they use language which seems to imply their acceptance of them, although they do not insert them into their formal teaching. This point may be urged as a subsidiary claim in support of the belief that the writers enjoyed a special divine inspiration; the general support of that claim however must always rest on the general defence of the Christian revelation.