ONCE upon a time--and this is not a fairy story--there was a young man who had graduated with credit, if not honors, from a theological seminary and who was outraged at what he felt to be the unfair treatment of the examining board of his Church, before whom he appeared as a candidate for ordination. He was refused because he declared that he did not believe in the divinity of God!
There are some things that perhaps we might regard as postulates and taken for granted, among Christian people, and if so, surely this that we do believe in the divinity of God. But I wonder if we do not often take things for granted and fail to see, or refuse to follow, their implications.
Taking this fact for granted, what does it imply, and where does it lead us? I will not attempt to prove its truth, although I might give good and weighty, and perhaps satisfactory reasons for faith in God that might seem convincing to you and to myself, though not so convincing to an outsider; I will just take it for granted that we at any rate believe, or think we believe, in the divinity of God.
But what does that mean, and what are the inevitable consequences of such a belief if it is real? And to what position does it lead us? What are the other derived and congruous beliefs to which that faith surely leads? What is the real meaning and content of the fundamental dogma of all religion--"I believe in God"?
First, I maintain it means Transcendent Personality. God, in order to be God, must be distinct from what we call Nature; above it, controlling it, creating it.
We speak vaguely of the "immutability of Nature," in spite of the fact that we are confronted with so constant a condition of change in it and an almost endless variation in the ebb and flow of the tide of its mighty manifestations.
But even if Nature were immutable, which is far from being the case, it were just as congruous with sound sense to regard it as being immutably controlled, as being in the grip of a purposeful Power beyond, beneath, behind, before and above it, as to think of it, as we often do, as being immutable in itself.
The so-called! "Laws of Nature" which, with true American legislative idolatry, we exalt, and to which we impute a power that can never reside in any Law, are only the observed and ordered processes of a supreme Power. The Laws of Nature have been aptly called "the habits of God."
We find in Nature the miracle of Life, and no Law ever gave, or can give, life. Law is the manifestation of life. Life is not the product of Law.
If the framers of the Eighteenth Amendment had realized that fact they might have hesitated to attempt to create morality by legislation. If the people are not temperate no law will make them so.
The principle was stated a long time ago by the first theologian of Christianity, "if there had been a Law giver which could have given Life, verily righteousness would have been by the Law."
So it is that the Catholic Christian sees in Nature, in its order and in its progress and even in its implacability and ruthlessness, an Order, a Purpose, a Plan and an End in View, that means God.
He sees in the Creative Process what Bishop Talbot, late of Winchester, calls a "Category of moving love"; what modern leaders of philosophic thought call "Creative Evolution," or "Emergent Evolution." Not a mathematical formula, or a chemical combination, not a Fiat, but a Force, and at that a Force or Power containing within itself all that emerges in the result.
In that result we find Life and Love and Will and Purpose--in a word, we find Personality. Therefore, nothing less than Life and Love and Purpose and Personality can, or could, produce the manifestations of such vital factors so familiar to us all.
What matters it then, as we look at Nature, if we see
"Man, her last work, that seemed so fair
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll'd the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer.
Who trusted God was Love indeed
And love Creation's final law--
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravin, shrieked against his creed."
We best judge the world of nature by its results, and its perfected fruit, just as we judge a garden, or a field, not by the tares but the wheat, not by the weeds but the flowers. So if then in this world we find love and all her attendant train of gentle spirits, we see truly that there is something in nature that is not of Nature--something above Nature--truly supernatural, and yet finding a congenial home there, and through nature an expression, a voice, which reverberates from the sounding sea to the everlasting hills, and finds an echo in human hearts which thrill and tremble to the impulse like the strings of a violin to a congruous chord.
And so we can and do go on with the great Victorian to a creed triumphant over the cruelties of Nature divorced from God, to proclaim our faith--
"Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we that have not seen Thy Face,
By faith and faith alone, embrace
Believing where we cannot prove."
"And this is the victory that overcometh the world--of Nature--even our faith."
Second, I put "Man's ability to come into contact with God." I believe that the main question today is not so much faith in God as faith in man.
The two things are as closely bound together as body and soul, or mind and matter.
If our human personality, of which we are so aware, can be thought of as the product of purely natural forces; if life and consciousness could have originated from a source in which both life and consciousness were not even germinally present, if the "personal" could have been gradually developed by imperceptible stages and minute gradation out of that to which personality was entirely alien, then, of course, man is only "a higher simian." Consciousness, of which the brutes partake, means nothing to him, and nothing to them. His intelligence, affections and will, are no more than the tricks of a trained retriever, the tail-waggings and nuzzlings of an amiable spaniel, or the determined grip of a strong-jawed bulldog.
But I believe that Reason, Emotion and Tenacity, are things to reckon with, in themselves, and when in the. garden of Nature I find such fruits, I stand still and feel that I am in the Garden of God. So the fundamental question, at least of our day, seems to me to be, not the nature . of God, but the nature of Man, if he is only a "higher simian," the product of natural forces, and subtle chemical reactions, then we have no ground for faith to stand on.
The greatest physicist of ancient times, Archimedes, once exclaimed, in fine burst of scientific enthusiasm, when he was describing the almost limitless possibilities of mechanical leverage, "Give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand, and I will move the world."
He must have been an interesting man! He was such a burning enthusiast! His "pou sto" or standing place is as arresting as his "eureka."
What a great disciple of Jesus Christ he would have been could he have discovered Him, as he discovered the law of specific gravity by watching the displacement of water in his bath! And he would have found his "standing place," his "pou sto"--and in the grace of Christ he would have had his lever, and it would have moved the world!
Christ is the answer, the answer at once to the theory of the "higher simian," and to the other problems that vex us. "Behold the Man!"
Looking at Him with mingled feelings of cringing and devotion, we see the glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ and we see the character and meaning of manhood, not merely as an ideal, but as an actuality. He--the Son of God--the Son of Man--in one way is as much a child of the dust as we are, and so we, in one sense, are as truly sons of God as He is.
We can take it or leave it! There is a clear cut choice between two theories--hypotheses--"guesses"--if you will.
One guess is that all the love and longing, all the nobility and heroism, all the purity and peace, all the passion and purpose, all the sacrifice and sorrow, that are, or ever have been, in this old round world, are just illusions, "delusions of grandeur." Vaporings of a mind, itself the mushroom product of a fetid swamp in which what we call life, flickers like an ignus fatuus flame, the product of decay and death; its only meaning, that man, the crown of the universe, who has measured the sun and discovered chromosomes, who has harnessed the lightning, whose ear can hear a voice half-round the world, who can see the invisible, and that through a sheet of lead; man the marvel, the miracle, the miracle worker, differs mainly in one respect from the beasts that perish, and herein is the tragic difference, he has painfully developed a mind which has finally convinced him that there is nothing higher than he is, and that all he values is of no real worth, and has no real existence. I should say that on this guess man has achieved a mind, has labored to develop a soul, and finds that he has lost them both.
To believe in life, on this guess, is pure insanity. He differs from the brutes, mainly, not because he is more intelligent, but because he is crazy. He cannot believe either in Heaven or in Hell, and is doomed to the extinction of his being when his breath leaves his body and he is engulfed in the dismal swamp from which he sprang. In a word, he cannot be saved because he has been created for everlasting damnation!
But we have another guess, and by that guess we see the scattered parts of the puzzle fit into a completed picture. We are not just children of the dust. Surely we have the "mark of the beast" very clearly upon us--mammals, vertebrates, passionate, avid, ravenous. But there is on our foreheads another and an unearthly mark--the sign of the hand of God, who breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.
"Dust of the ground!" We cannot make our origin more humble than the record of God's Word makes it; but not only "Dust of the ground," but the "Breath of God," and' what a difference that makes!
It makes God and Man "affinities of the Spirit." It makes love and purity, heroism and sacrifice, purpose and accomplishment, real things--not mere abstractions or even ideals, but goals and journey's end.
A chemical affinity exists where two elements rush together, as Oxygen and Hydrogen do and make of both one new thing--Water. And so we see in man, not mainly, but dimly, and in the background, because it is the background, the "mark of the beast"; but we see in his face and in what looks out through that face, in character and purpose, the Image of God.
Third. God Must manifest Himself to Man. On this great guess is built the Catholic Faith, which I hold to be as much a faith in man, his destiny and capability, as it is a faith in God.
If this "spiritual affinity" exists between the creature man, and the Creative Spirit of God (and I cannot account for man's existence, as he is, in any other way), then, how can that spiritual affinity fail to function? That it has not failed to function, but is doing so continually, is the Catholic Faith. And we have data and phenomena to go upon.
Postulating the Divinity of God--if God is God--He lives, He moves, He loves, and it is unthinkable that He would not express Himself.
"The heavens declare the glory of God
And the firmament showeth His handiwork."
"What is man that Thou art mindful of him
And the son of man that Thou visitest him?"
"Thus sayeth the high and lofty One that inhabiteth Eternity, whose Name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit."
We have this feeling, or instinct God-ward, and instincts are surely to be trusted in man as in the lower animals. A physical instinct that preserves the species is parallel to a spiritual instinct that saves the soul.
To sever the relationship between Creator and creature, between God and man, is the final infidelity of putting asunder those whom God hath joined together.
So to keep true to our hypothesis on which our soul's salvation hangs, God must touch, and intimately touch, human life. It is not enough, nor is it sound reason, that man should try to touch God, "to seek the Lord if haply we may feel after Him and find Him." God must, Himself, touch us.
This "spiritual affinity" is seen in a Divine reaching down as well as in a human reaching up. We can touch God because He has touched us.
And the resultant is something new, God Himself in Human Life, incarnate, taking flesh; rather a gross idea one would say if it were not for the fact that through human flesh and through flesh alone the spirit manifests itself.
I don't apologize for the material flesh. God made it and God uses it; and it is no harder to believe that He did make us and does use us than it is hard to understand how I can stand here and talk to you--you invisible creatures--invisible and almost intangible, to others as to yourselves, yet thinking and by that magic, compelling speech, which is just a noise, articulate, but material; and yet by means of speech, as in other material ways, my mind, invisible, my soul, intangible, expresses itself, and finds contact with other minds and other souls--remote, mysterious and wonderful. As I speak, and as you listen, for the moment, we meet, we touch, we, ourselves, are in contact. And only in such ways can our spirits touch.
The Incarnation, the coming of the Life of God into immediate, intimate, and permanent contact, and more than contact, into union with human life, is a miracle--if by a miracle we mean the impact of will and purpose upon trie world of nature.
So is birth, or rather conception, a miracle; when life, human life, as we know it, takes hold of flesh and becomes incarnate.
One is a greater miracle, perhaps, than the other, but it is no more miraculous, or supernatural. Simply because birth is common does not make it less a miracle. Of course, the Incarnation could only happen once. Once was enough. We are only born once. We are many, but God is One.
And, of course, so far as we can possibly see, such an entrance into human life as the Coming of God could only be effected, or effective, by way of Incarnation.
If God came in thunderings and lightnings, He would still be outside, and it would be devastating.
God was not in the wind or in the earthquake, or the fire--of nature--but in the still small voice of our infancy and our human nature.
It would be difficult to the point of impossibility to picture a real personal contact between God and man in other terms than those of the Catholic Faith. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became Flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
Saint John really is a better man in this field than Bertrand Russell; and he is giving his life's uttermost when he declares, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the Word of Life; for the Life was manifested, and we have seen It, and bear witness, and show unto you that Eternal Life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; that which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our Fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ."
Who wrote to the Hebrews? Saint Barnabas? Perhaps (God knows), but who ever it was, he was an apostolic witness, who anticipates the Nicene Creed and declares the Faith in incomparable words: "God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the Fathers by the Prophets hath in these latter days spoken unto us by His Son, Whom He hath appointed Heir of all things, by Whom also he made the worlds; Who being the Brightness of His Glory and the Express Image of His Person, and upholding all things by the word of His power; when He had, by Himself, purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high."
I need no more, though there is an exhaustless reserve not only in the Word of God, but in the world of God.
Eager men, in all ages, have been busied to find "Eldorados" and Fountains of Youth, the Philosopher's Stone, to make gold of baser things. Others have yearned to solve the problem of perpetual motion, which they never have solved though its actuality has stared them in the face with every sunrise, as the old world turns on its invisible hinges, propelled by an intangible force!
The Catholic has found his Eldorado and his fountain of youth. To him the Rock of Ages, whence he was hewn, is the touch-stone that enriches and ennobles all of life, and perpetually, endlessly, tremendously, the love of God rolls on, and by it the world and the universe revolve.
The "Deo-centric" theory of the universe satisfies me. It is, after all (absurd as it may sound)--
"Love, Love, Love,
That makes the world go round,"
but it is the love of God.
On the whole, I am willing to take my philosophy (some of it) from the philosophers (some of them), and I am content to take my science from the scientists; but I arn not able to take my religion from them. I don't believe they have any I could catch. I prefer to take my religion from the Saints, and to say, with them,
"God of God; Light of Light; Very God of Very God; Begotten not made; Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was Incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary. And was made Man."
Here I might "rest my case," but someone is sure to say, or to think, that the conception is too stupendous.
We must realize more than we do that the Christian Faith is more than stupendous, more than startling; it is really fearsome, if not frightful.
But nature is all of that as well, stupendous, startling, fearful, frightful; and to leave God out does not make it less so, but more so, for then it is hopeless, void and empty of all meaning, plan or purpose.
The difficulty arising from the immensity of the universe and the littleness of man is perhaps a very real one. But again we come back to our basic proposition, "the Divinity of God." Only such fl one as God could be so microscopically magnificent as to hold in hand not only the "eons," but the "ions."
It is contrary to a just view of human nature to believe that we are gods. That is insanity--non-sanity--nonsense--to believe that there is nothing higher, greater, grander, bigger, than ourselves in the Universe, as we see it and apprehend it. A humanism which makes man the explanation of the universe offers a very inadequate reason for his own existence or for that of the world.
But to believe that "the fulness of the Godhead bodily" should be manifested in human nature, although it is a conception well-nigh overwhelming, nevertheless is one congruous to the Christian conception of God, exalting as it does the possibilities of our human life, it does not so over-exalt humanity as the theory that man is the only ultimate, or that any man could achieve Divinity.
So believing in the Divinity of God, it is not just the Divinity of Christ, but His Deity that we accept.
Clinging as we must to the thought of God, so infinitely great that nothing is too small to come within His ken, knowing that in His infinite grasp quantity is less considerable than quality; and granting, as I think we must, that the wonder of human life, however relatively small and weak it may be in comparison with the universe, is yet a thing so big with promise, so vital with stupendous force, as to justify more than a solar system to be the theatre of its brief part upon the stage of things; then I believe that the Incarnation of the Very Life of God Himself in human clay is not only congruous with what we know of nature, but that it is called for, in order to give an adequate reason for the existence of nature and of man, and to suggest a sufficient purpose and a destiny for everything.
It does seem as though God, if the Christian guess is true, had been taking an enormous amount of trouble in order to produce a few saintly souls. I am sure that nobody but God would care enough to do it, as I am sure that no power less than God's could ever do it at all.
But if our guess were wrong, we should not decrease the trouble and pains that have gone into the making of man's life upon the earth. We have only taken away any reason there might be for His existence. The universe is physically just as big without God, only it is horribly empty. It becomes void and terrible. His Presence fills it with the purpose and meaning of love as the immaculate conception of the Son of Mary revealed the Son of God "full of grace and truth."
It is only the Incarnation that can fill the universe, and our little lives as congruous parts of it. It satisfies, it explains, it stimulates, it uplifts and it humbles us. Without faith we are failures. Without hope and without God, in the world, in this dreadful world. Who wants it, so bereft of love and purpose?
As we love life and cling to it, as we love the world we live in, and rejoice in it, as we love one another and yearn for love ourselves; we hold fast to the Faith of Catholic Christianity in the Incarnate Christ, the root and the fruit of all love and of all loveliness.