APOTHEOSIS may be described as the process by which man pays extreme honour to man by investing him with a divine degree. It may be after death as by the Chinese to Confucius; or it may be in life, as by the Romans to Caesar Augustus. But in either case the principle is manifest, by which, for special honour, one man is lifted up above his fellows, so that they may excuse themselves for paying him honours divine. Grotesque as, in some of its aspects, apotheosis may appear to us, there is a real pathos in the spectacle it presents of the anxiety of men to know something to which they might look with veneration as linked with their life and yet as far above it. No greater error can be made than to indulge in ridicule of a custom, which in distant ages served some good purpose in the providence of God. Instead we should rather try to penetrate into the causes which produced or sustained a custom so curious. In the time of Caesar Augustus the apotheosis of the Emperor served without a doubt a vast political purpose, giving to the person of the Emperor an added influence for unity upon the widely diverse peoples over whom he ruled.
But this peculiar and eclectic use of apotheosis is of the essence of paganism, which, as it were, projected its heroes into a sublime isolation from ordinary human life, so that an Augustus of Rome or a hero of Greece is still further removed from the common lot of men. These things were shadows of better things to come. It is at the very time of the apotheosis of Caesar Augustus that the true apotheosis for which the waiting and weary world had been in travail at last takes place, and "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us," breaking the bondage of corruption that we should be delivered into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
It is through that Eternal Word, enfleshed of the Virgin Mary, and made Man, that the true apotheosis is effected for human kind, and the highest honour capable of being paid to man is given him by God in Christ, in Whom our poor nature is redeemed and through Whom we have access by one Spirit unto the Father; Who, though He be God and Man, is one Christ, not by the conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God. Henceforth, the Apostle to the nations declares, apotheosis, or the entry of man into the divine sphere, is no longer to be the prerogative of potentate or philosopher, a Confucius, or a Caesar: it is to be the new birthright of every man in Christ Jesus, Who as the second Adam is the head of every man, and in Whom all men are to share in the attributes of God. The Christian apotheosis is that of a brotherhood inter-penetrated and exalted by the divine life. It is not the mere exaltation of a personage, which is the world's apotheosis. It is the exaltation of all men by union with the Man, Jesus Christ. Neither is it any posthumous honour, but the exaltation of the living, who, by baptism of the Holy Ghost, are one body in Christ.
Thus the Day of Pentecost issues in the realisation of a divine-human democracy, by the work of the Holy Spirit, whose baptism of fire began the new creation in the apotheosis of the Church, by those "representatives" who were assembled with one accord in one place. Gathered around those representatives were "devout men out of every nation under heaven," who formed the beginning of the new divine democracy which was the undoubted "character" of the first circle of the Church.
And the immediate result in the secular sphere was a "Commonwealth," an immediate realisation of the fact that a brotherhood must issue in a common interest and an ordered life. "And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods and parted to all men as every man had need. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things common. Neither were there any among them that lacked."
It is scarcely possible to make too much of the significance of these events. The first "social democratic federation "in the world was the early Church, that first circle of three thousand men and women out of every nation under heaven that received the gift of the Holy Spirit by baptism, and became incorporate into the divine humanity of Christ. The brotherhood was achieved by the motions of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of men. He it was who then "put down the mighty from their seat and exalted the humble and the meek." Men became brothers indeed, the rich and the poor together, living in one fellowship, bearing one witness, having one interest and one joy in living. "Let the brother of low degree rejoice (says S. James) in that he is exalted, and the rich in that he is made low." For a space the kingdom of God is come, and His will is done in earth as it is in Heaven. For a space there is actually realised that kingdom of joy, of peace, of love, and glory, which S. John afterwards saw completed in his vision upon Patmos.
But we have further testimony in early ecclesiastical history of the continued process by which the Word of God made flesh brought about the regeneration of society. Even after the failure of the Apostolic attempt at a sudden realisation of the Kingdom of God, the process of redemption went on. Men who believed in the incarnation of the Christ, men who knew that in that mystery alone the Fatherhood of God was made known, were by a moral necessity constrained to believe also in the brotherhood of man. The poor, the weak, the despised, the slave--all were glorified in Him, the Lord of Glory. The abolition of slavery, and the redemption of lords and ladies of the Empire from their abominable luxury and lust, were accomplished by the belief in the immeasurable sanctity of human life, which issued from the Incarnation. Baptism proclaimed every man, woman, and child, every human being, as of sacred and priceless value. The actual working out of this belief was of necessity specially evident in the exaltation of those of low degree, from being outcasts to being priests and princes in the kingdom of God. The poor, the despised, the unfortunate, the outcast, the slave, the unemployed, the cripple, the leper, the diseased, the miserable and sorrow-stricken, these pre-eminently found their apotheosis in the living honour paid unto them by the Apostolic Church.
It is this belief alone by which to-day the regeneration of society and the exaltation of the poor can be achieved. What small advances society has made out of the paganism of the factory system are due entirely to what belief men have still had in modern times in the apotheosis or exaltation of humanity in the nature and person of Christ, and in the actual brotherhood of men which the Incarnation reveals. The shocking condition of society and the cruel neglect of the poor, and the demoralisation of labour, are due to the fact that men do not believe in the faith once delivered to saints. No society, permeated through and through, not with professions of belief, but with belief itself in the Incarnation and, therefore, in the immeasurable sanctity of human life, would tolerate the conditions under which the miserable poor or the luxurious rich pass their lives. It is true, indeed, that groups of men are organized in England to-day whose work for the uplifting of the people's life is strenuous and noble, but who profess no belief in the Christian verities. But it is clear that the very motives which inspire them, and the very ideals attracting them, and to which they appeal, are the product of that conjunction in Christ of the wisdom and power of God with the nature of man. I have this week examined some of the symbols of their various efforts for the social salvation of the poor and for the redemption, i.e, the exaltation of labour into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. In every instance 1 affirm that they owe their inspiration and their ideal to the Faith. It is not only that their positive organizations are actually promoting the kingdom of God--the great fellowships, the trade unions which have been mighty instruments of justice; or poor law and education reforms; or co-operative societies; all which have been powerful factors in the uplifting of the poor. It is more than that. It is deeper.
Whence this ideal of Brotherhood as an effective and permanent bond between men, which is to survive all temptation and to withstand all strain? Whence this ideal of progress--of an everlasting upward, exalting motion--which, with whatever backward movements, is for ever and ever upward? Whence their belief in the positive sanctity of every man--of a man as a man? I say, where are the roots of these beliefs if they are not in Him Whose name they venerate, to Whose authority they so often, even unconsciously, appeal? Where would be these magnificent "Articles of Faith," were it not for Him, Whose name is above every other name? Whence their assurance of a final victory for the poor, and the cause of labour, notwithstanding the enormous forces set in opposition, and the vast power of Mammon, if it is not in the triumph of the Cross over sin, and of the Resurrection over death? The ever-living hope which, with all the horror of the world around us, yet permeates society as we know it, and sustains the truest men and women in their struggle against themselves and against the evils which afflict the poor, is the heritage of our world through Christ, and through Him alone. It is the heart of the Christian faith whose pulsations sustain many a group of workers who yet may declaim "We are not believers," and many a soul who yet may glibly tell us "I am not a Christian."
In a word, it is certain that the exaltation of those of low degree--the cause of labour throughout the world--will be effected only by the power of love. The apotheosis of labour is the social redemption of those of low degree who can be exalted only by the Lord of Love working in the minds and hearts of men and in society. That cause He now commits afresh to this generation, together with a sure and certain hope which for labour, as for all men, we possess only in Him Who Himself exalted our humanity in His Own most glorious Life, and afterwards with great triumph unto His Kingdom in heaven.