Project Canterbury

Man and the Supernatural

By Shirley Carter Hughson, O.H.C.

London: The Catholic Literature Association, 1931.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012

NOTE: The following Lectures were delivered in the English Church in Bruges in September, 1931, under the auspices of the Anglo-Catholic Pilgrimage Association.







You have been told that in this course we are to consider the subject of belief in the supernatural. When asked to deal with the subject, I hesitated for what I conceived to be good reasons. In the first place, if a discussion of the philosophy of belief was wanted, not being a philosopher, I was incapable of giving it. But, further, were I a philosopher, the treatment that would have been necessary did not seem to supply any grave need in our times. It would have been the reduplication of what has been done repeatedly and well.

There is no lack at the present day of a philosophical treatment of Christian belief. The world is full of Christian philosophers, who, like all other factors in life, may be classed as good, bad, or indifferent. Not even Athens in the days of St. Paul excelled in the number of those who "spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing." Or, to give St. Luke the credit for his humorous quip, "the newest of the new things," for such was the witticism the Evangelist perpetrated.

[2] There are two reasons why we are not especially interested for our present purposes in the mere philosophy of religion. In the first place, much modern philosophy assumes that truth has not yet appeared in the earth, and that men are called to make a philosophical search for it. In view of this it is well for us Catholics to remind ourselves that we are not interested in such a search after truth. We are not seeking truth. We have it. It was once for all delivered to the saints, and has been witnessed to by an infallible Church through nearly twenty centuries.

Another reason is that we strongly suspect that many modern religious philosophers are not interested so much in the gaining of truth as in the thrill of the search for the search's sake. We have no difficulty in sympathizing with the attitude, for perhaps in everything except God himself the joy of seeking is always greater than that of possessing. The bird in the bush is always worth any number of birds in the hand, the proverb to the contrary notwithstanding. The bird in the bush always excites an interest which the bird in the hand can never command. Satiety quickly follows upon the joy of possession, while the thought of the bird in the bush stimulates our every sporting instinct. To many of our popular religious philosophers nothing could be more unphilosophical than the actual discovery of truth; indeed, they would regard it as quite unsportsmanlike, for, should it be attained, any number of philosophers would, like Othello, find their occupation gone.


[3] It is too often forgotten that the Christian faith, according to the terms laid down by our Lord himself, was not to be established by argument. "It did not please God," said a wise teacher, "to save the human race by dialectics." It was to be a work of witnessing to what he did and taught. "Ye shall be witnesses unto me," he said to his disciples in the last discourse he gave them, just before he ascended into heaven; and when a successor was to be elected to take the place of the traitor, the chief qualification was not to be the ability to argue concerning Christ. St. Peter set forth the apostolic qualification when he said, "Of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection" (Acts i. 21, 22). And the Holy Ghost having come, St. Luke tells us that "with great power gave the apostles witness of the Lord Jesus" (Acts iv. 33).

In St. Luke's chronicle of the apostolic preaching we have one incident which shows what is likely to follow when the preachers of Christ forget their office as witnesses, and give themselves too much to philosophical and literary argument. The Evangelist narrates how St. Paul went to the great centre of philosophy at Athens, and there on Mars Hill disputed with the somewhat degenerate philosophers of his time. He met them on their own ground, for [3/4] the great missionary who had studied in the universities of Greater Greece, and who had sat at the feet of Gameliel in Jerusalem, was no mean Scholar, even in the highest Athenian sense of the term. He met them, as I say, on their own ground; he talked to them from the point of view of their sofia, their wisdom; he quoted them their poets. It was a brilliant occasion, a splendid opportunity to preach to the intelligentsia. There may have been Christians present who were highly pleased when they saw that at any rate there was one of the apostles who could not be thought of as "unlearned and ignorant." But what was the consequence? The mission to Athens was a failure. No church was founded there; but few converts were made.

From Athens the apostle went direct to Corinth. We know what his success was there. He had learned his lesson. He did not propose to be caught again in the philosopher's trap. Years afterwards, writing to these same Corinthians, he said: "I, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech, or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God, for I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified. . . . And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should stand not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (i Cor. ii. 1-5). Philosophy and the profane poets were well enough as an intellectual recreation, but no more of them for St. Paul when he was preaching the Gospel.

In speaking thus, however, we are not to think [4/5] that a true philosophy of religion is not necessary. The science of philosophical apologetics became necessary the moment any tenet of the Christian faith was doubted or attacked. The faith must be defended and maintained, and God has raised up, and is still raising up, great intellects which are devoting their powers to the establishment of the faith against all gainsayers. This is the high and holy office of Christian philosophy, and its exercise began with the apostles themselves—not, indeed, on Mars Hill, but in those incomparable treatises of St. John's and St. Paul's which are preserved in the New Testament, which embody a Christian philosophy against the impregnable front of which all the assaults of doubt and denial have been shattered through two thousand years of warfare for the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.

What we have in mind is the unhappy fact that there are many who, refusing to accept the witness of the divine revelation, are seeking, without the help of the Holy Spirit, to find the truth which the human heart ever craves, and without which it can find no rest. These are they who are ever seeking and never finding. They know not that God has made them for himself, and that their hearts can find no rest until they rest in him.


It must, however, be kept in mind that there is a search after truth which every Christian is bound to prosecute. It is not the philosophical search after the basic facts and principles of truth. The promise, [5/6] "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," has been fulfilled. Every time we recite the Nicene Creed we are setting forth, either in positive statement or by inescapable implication, all the truth which it is necessary to know in order to erect the fabric of the kingdom of God in this world. It is this foundation upon which we are to build the structure of our life. We do not seek basic truth. We do seek, however, earnestly and persistently, by the help of the Holy Spirit, the knowledge and mastery of every method by which the power and effectiveness of this truth can be realized and developed in the life of man. We ourselves may not find difficulty in believing, but we must not forget those weaker brethren who, less happy than we in their opportunity of knowledge of God, need to have explicated to them those things which perhaps we are able to accept and enjoy with a simplicity which does not belong to all. But even in the simplest heart this work of development is necessary. Our Lord himself compared the kingdom of God to seed sown in the ground, and while the whole of the harvest resides in germ in the seed, yet no harvest can be garnered without those processes which are necessary to secure its development and perfection.

This, then, is the plan we wish to follow. We are not seeking the truth. We already possess it. We take the supernatural for granted, believing in it with all our hearts. But the truth must be applied, and its application demands a philosophy which outsoars all that the unaided intellect of man can


[7] In considering belief in the supernatural we must ask ourselves, first of all, the question, "How does belief affect life and character?" We believe many things, and they all fall into one or the other of two categories. First, there are those beliefs which, while, perhaps, exercising no small influence in my daily life, yet really matter little. I have certain political, social, and economic beliefs; certain convictions regarding history or art. Many of these I am continually modifying and correcting, and yet, so far as their influence goes, my life flows on in undisturbed current. They make little fundamental difference, perhaps none at all.

On the other hand, there are beliefs which affect my life most radically. I believe a certain man to be my true and faithful friend. I have trusted him to the utmost with the most sacred things of my life. How profound a difference would it make should I be confronted with undeniable evidence that he had been most false to me!

Into which of these categories does my belief in God fall; my belief in the Incarnation, my trust in the atoning love of Christ? Is my belief a mere set of opinions, or even of mere intellectual convictions, held, however strongly, but in academic fashion; a belief which, like political or literary conclusions, may be modified or changed from time to time in various particulars without affecting in serious manner or degree the direction of my life? Or, on the other hand, is my religious belief a vital belief?

[8] This expression, vital belief, is trite but highly meaningful. We must not allow its triteness to eclipse its deep significance. The word "vital," like many other words in our language, has become so common in our daily vernacular speech that we have lost our consciousness of its real meaning. We say, for example, that a certain matter is quite vital. All we mean is that it is important, that it is not lightly to be considered. But the word "vital" means that which pertains essentially to life, something without which life would cease to exist. I say it is vital to me that my heart should function properly—that is to say, if it ceased to function my bodily life would immediately become extinct. Therefore the proper functioning of my heart is vital—vitality, life, cannot exist without it. In this real and deep sense is our religious belief a vital belief? The test is whether our life—and by this I mean the ordinary routine of our daily thinking, speaking and acting—is in actuality governed, controlled and directed by our religious belief. Would it make any fundamental difference to me if it should, beyond all doubt, be proved that the Christian religion was no longer tenable?

As a plain fact in human history, life is governed by belief. This has often been denied by superficial thinkers. The old deistic poet said, "His creed cannot be wrong whose life is right," but he was putting the cart before the horse. The course of life depends upon a man's faith. For a brief time in the life of a man or of a nation this may not seem to be true, but it requires no deep observation of history to realize that in the long run men do live by what [8/9] they believe. If I believe you are true I will trust you; if I believe you are false I will avoid you. If I believe that there is a Father, infinite, eternal, omnipotent, all-wise and all-loving, whose tender personal solicitude for me is active through my every sleeping and waking moment from birth till death, my life of necessity will be different to what it would be if I believed that I was the sport of a blind fate, or that I was the captain of my own soul.

For our present purposes, therefore, in taking the spiritual for granted, in accepting it and demanding no proofs, we also agree that creed and code march together; a good faith makes a good life, a bad faith makes a bad life.


Having agreed so far, we must go back and ask ourselves, What is, then, this supernatural life which we thus so easily take for granted? Put in briefest form, in the Christian sense of the term the supernatural life is the life of union with God, God dwelling in us and we in him. In saying this, you will be aware that I am undertaking no definition of the supernatural or spiritual life, and for a very good reason. If our expression is in any degree correct it will involve the life and activity of God, the Being of Deity itself, and nothing which has to do with the essential life of God can be defined.

It has often and truly been said that if we could define God he would not be God. The simple etymological meaning of the word define shows this to be true. To define a thing is to set limits to it, to hedge it about with metes and bounds. To speak [9/10] of defining the Infinite is, therefore, clearly a contradiction in terms. Only the Infinite can fully grasp the Infinite; only God can understand God. Indeed, that which is infinite is so impossible of definition that the word itself is, through an intellectual necessity, merely a negative term. We say that God is in-finite, and we are only saying that he is not finite.

Following upon this impossibility of defining God, we recognize that it is therefore impossible to give any complete statement of this life in God, this supernatural life. But—and this is most important—this does not mean that we cannot know God in quite sufficient measure for all practical purposes of our life here and for eternity. The fact that we cannot define God does not logically drive us into agnosticism. The old scientific questions, An sit? (Whether God exists?), Quid sit? (What he is?), and Qualis sit? (What is he like, what are his qualities?), are questions to which God himself has given answers which are full, and which are sufficient, as we have said, for all the practical purposes of life. The fact that he is an Infinite Being does not mean that he cannot show me much concerning himself, and much of what his relation to me is, and how this revealed relationship should govern my life. All that the old school of agnosticism of fifty years ago succeeded in doing was to give an excellent statement of, and reason for, the Christian doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God, that God is a mystery—"No man hath seen God at any time" (St. John i. 18). If you are seeking a religion which you can understand, it were wiser not to choose the [10/11] religion of Christ. St. Paul makes it quite clear that we are appointed stewards, not of the understanding, but of the mysteries of God (I Cor. iv. I).


As we can know much about this infinite and incomprehensible God, likewise can we know much about the supernatural life, the life in God. What, then, of this supernatural? First, let us understand that we are not to think of the supernatural life as something which is over against and inconsistent with the natural. They are to be brought into oneness with each other. The natural which cannot be assimilated to the supernatural is not in reality natural at all.

In saying this you will perceive that we are not using the word in its ordinary popular sense, but more strictly in its etymological sense. When we define a thing as natural we mean that it preserves the inborn substance and qualities which are native to it; that is, those qualities which are essential to it, with which the Creator endowed it in the act of creating it. God made all things for himself, and any part of his moral creation which is so far departed from its original purpose as to become incapable of being at one with him is no longer natural but unnatural; it has become, we might say, denatured.

What we commonly speak of as the natural, because of its very creation by God has an affinity to the supernatural; indeed, it has an affinity to the Infinite, since it came from the hand of the [11/12] Infinite. It is destined of God, in its very creation, to become supernaturalized—that is, to be brought into essential relationship with the life of God himself. This supernaturalization is not to be thought of as changing the essence of the natural. It is but carrying it on to its legitimate—its only legitimate—destiny, which if it does not attain it will prove an eternal failure.

When created Humanity was taken up into the Godhead at the Incarnation it did not become either dehumanized or superhumanized. It was perfect Humanity, possessing all that belonged to the perfection of unfallen man, though with much more added to it. So is it with individual men today. When through the working of the power of the Incarnate Life of the God-Man we are supernaturalized, made one with the life of God, we do not become either less or more than human. Our humanity simply assumes, for the first time, the normal. The truly human qualities of our being are sublimated and elevated, and in this supernaturalization they are made human, not according to the popular notion of what is human, but according to the perfect ideal that God had for his creature when he said in the counsels of the Eternal Trinity, "Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness."

The poet whom we would naturally think of as the most human of all poets so far as his sympathy and tenderness towards man's frailties are concerned, said:

"Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Though they may gang a kennin' wrang,
To step aside is human."

[13] While the counsel regarding charity towards our neighbour is excellent, the ground upon which the poet bases his advice is quite wrong. It is not human to err; it is subhuman. The abnormality, or rather subnormality, of sin had to enter in before man could err.

Human nature was never brought to so complete and perfect a condition as in its union with the Second Person of the Ever Blessed Trinity in the Incarnation. As men become more and more like the God-Man, so does their nature become, by equal steps, more and more conformed to what the divine intention had in view originally at the creation. We even shrink from saying that this life in God is a "superhuman" life, as some excellent theologians have done. It is not above the human, but it is the only real and normal human life, even as our Lord Christ was the only normal man who has ever walked the earth since the fall. This supernaturalization produces, not something different from true humanity, but is the restoration of human nature to the condition God intended for it, which condition is impossible as long as sin reigns. Anything short of a humanity conformed to that of the Incarnate Son of God is rather to be regarded as subhuman, denatured, as we may say.


But this fallen, denatured creature is not to be thought of as wholly bad. He is far gone from righteousness, but not clean gone. He is still capable of something besides sin. Nor does his [13/14] fallen condition involve him in the guilt of sin. This original sin in which every man is born, and which is the opposite of that original righteousness in which our first parents were created, involves no taint or corruption of a positive character. The condition is a negative one, a deprivation of a divine gift which God intended all men to have, but which man forfeited by his deliberate rejection of God in sinning.

There was, too, in unfallen man a subtle quality which pervades the being of those who are at one with God, a supernatural principle which made possible many things which can be realized and enjoyed only by those who possess the life of God. St. Paul had this in mind when he set forth the doctrine that "the natural man perceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Cor. ii. 14). Fallen man, in respect to spiritual things, is like a man blind from his birth to whom one sought to explain certain delicate gradations of colour. He must be given his sight before these things can mean anything to him. Likewise the things of God can be understood only by those who live on the God-plane, and the fall of man from grace and righteousness through the sin of our first parents was a fall from this God-plane.

This gift of supernatural life which our first parents received carried with it the further gift of what is called "integrity." I must here ask you again to take this word in its primitive meaning, Which has been largely lost in our popular use of it. [14/15] We say of a certain man that he is a man of integrity, and we mean nothing more than that he is honest and high-minded. But in this term we go back to a meaning which conveys the idea of a lofty unity within oneself, a wholly unimpaired moral condition, the perfect subjection of all appetites and desires to the reason, the reason itself being wholly controlled and guided by the Holy Spirit.

The operation of this quality of integrity prevented any rebellion of one part of man's nature against another. There reigned, as a consequence, in the unfallen Adam, there reigns in the Lord Christ who is the second Adam, and there must reign in ever-progressing power in all who share the supernatural life, until Christ be wholly formed within them, that peace and harmony which St. Augustine so delightfully defines as "the tranquillity of order," the tranquillity which accompanies perfect order—every part and element of this complex thing we call humanity in its right place, functioning as it ought, in complete harmony with all else; no clash or jar, all moving forward along the track of God's will, perfectly balanced, like the wheels which Dante describes as revolving with such silent swiftness that they seem to slumber on their axles.

This gift of integrity was accompanied by, and dependent upon, the gift of sanctifying grace. Grace forfeited was integrity forfeited; and once the human race forfeited the gift of integrity in Adam, it could never in this earthly life be restored. Grace could be, and indeed was, given again, and in its restoration the supernatural life is given again; but it did not bring again that peace which came from the [15/16] perfectly harmonious functioning of all the parts which make up this complex human nature. The supernatural life in man was henceforth not to be peace and tranquillity, but was to be involved in a continuous battle.

Mark you, I say the supernatural life is the life of warfare, not the natural. After all, there is no serious moral struggle in the natural life; it is but a slothful folding of the arms and a drifting with the downward current. There is no battling, and it is death in the end. But the supernatural life is an unceasing struggle for the maintenance of itself and of its rule, a conflict against foes ever ready to assail it from without, and against those within ready and swift to betray. It is a struggle which cannot fail to end in victory if conducted in the power of the Spirit, but which leads to inevitable and irretrievable defeat if man dares to seek to win through the exercise of his own unaided powers.

There is much in fallen man's favour. As we have seen, he is not totally depraved. The fall did not take from him anything which belonged to him essentially as man. Though wounded in all his parts and attributes, he lost nothing of those parts, and his attributes are complete. The medicine can still be applied which will bring healing and restoration.

Above all, man did not lose his standing as a moral being. He was still clearly conscious of the difference between right and wrong, and was still capable of making the right and proper choice. And he was entirely free to choose. The Adversary could not force his choice, and God would not. Herein lay man's glory, but herein also lay his peril. [16/17] "My soul is alway in my hand," said the psalmist. He was free to hold it fast for God, or to cast it away as a thing despised. Our first parents were not forced to maintain themselves in the life of God, and their children are likewise free to choose what they will. Adam was free to fall; and we are free to continue in the fallen state, or, having received the life of God, to return to the fallen condition when we will. God could have bound man hand and foot and compelled him to serve whether he wished to or not. But in that case the children of the kingdom would have been a herd of slaves instead of constituting a family of free and enlightened spirits.


Man made his choice, and he chose to reject God and the supernatural life. What, then, was God's attitude towards the creature he had so richly endowed, and who had so basely cast away his gifts? Not for a moment was there any shadow of change in the divine intention. By his sin man had brought the curse upon himself and upon his seed. But God's purpose was unaffected.

Indeed, the consequence of the fall was the result of no arbitrary act on the part of God whatever. Man forfeited the supernatural life; it was not God who took it from him. Man, by his own deliberate act, withdrew himself from the supernatural sphere. Indeed, we might say that there was no act on the part of God at all. By his sin man set in motion an inexorable law of his own being, which made it impossible for him to remain at one with God. The [17/18] curse which fell upon the race was brought down, not by the act of God, but by the act of man. God reverences his own image in man, and part of that image lies in the freedom of will with which man is endowed. As he reverences it today in us, so he reverenced it in our first father. Man did the deed, he spoke the word, which precipitated the curse. God would not withdraw his gift of freedom. Man made his choice, and the choice stood. If we say that God acted at all, we must say that his action was only the divine ratification of the choice which man had himself freely made. Such was the essence of the judgment passed upon the first Adam, and such will be the essence of the judgment which will be passed upon us, whatever our choice may be, whether for good or evil.

From the nature of things it could not be otherwise. The very instincts of man make it impossible for him to abide in the God-life when he has rejected God. Think of what it would mean. To be compelled to live forever with a great dominating Personality who subjected all things unto himself; who insisted upon our every thought being brought into captivity to him; a Personality whom we did not love, with whom there was no bond of sympathy, whose ideals we had cast from us, whom we had deliberately wounded and offended; to dwell, I say, with such a one, so far from constituting the supernatural, heavenly life, would be much nearer to that state which men are accustomed to think of as hell.

Whatever man's attitude was, or might be, God's purpose was unchanged. Not for a moment did he [18/19] swerve from his original intention. He had made his creature for himself, and for himself that creature was to be if by any means the operation of the divine wisdom and omnipotence could bring his banished home again. In the moment of the fall the heart of God made its purpose clear. Man was to be restored, the seed of the woman was to bruise the serpent's head, the power of sin was to be broken, the dread effects of sin were to be done away, and the supernatural life, which is the life of God, was once more to be his. How this supernatural life was to be restored to man, and what man's part in co-operation with God was to be, will be the subject of the following lectures.


Let us close our consideration of the supernatural today on the note which is ever dominant in God's relation to his creature, the note of love. Consider that we do not say that God possesses love, but that "God is love." Love is no relative attribute of God, like his mercy, for example, operating in relation to those outside himself, but the virtue of love belongs to his essential nature. Therefore, wherever the life of God operates, Love operates. Creation was the work of God's love; the endowment of the creature with the glorious gifts of grace, and of harmony with himself and all the rest of creation, was consequent upon the work of love; the moment of the fall was the moment of the loving promise of redemption. At the gate of paradise man by his own act achieved his own expulsion, and barred the way to his return. The flaming sword which turned every [19/20] way to keep the way of the tree of life was of man's own forging on the anvil of his own self-will; but God could not endure that the primeval curse which man himself thus invoked should fall without in that same moment giving the promise of the saving Passion. The seed of the woman should indeed bruise the serpent's head, but only through the bruising of his heel.

And so love brought God down from heaven to take our nature in the Virgin's womb; for love the God-Man went up upon the cross to endure his Passion for the redemption of his creature; Love ascended into heaven in our human nature, and from heaven he sent the Holy Spirit to do his work among the sons of men; and it is Incarnate Love who ever liveth to make intercession for us. In every Sacrament we receive, in every good work he enables us to do, Love operates to lead us into the higher life, mediating to us in one way or another, as his perfect wisdom, under one circumstance or another, might dictate, this supernatural life which is the Life of God.



[21] THE Evangelists tell us of more than one occasion when Christ sought to draw from others an expression of their opinion, or conviction, concerning his identity. "What think ye of Christ?" he asked his adversaries. "Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" he enquired of his disciples; and, finally, he demanded of them, "Whom say ye that I am?" It was the question to which he knew that everyone must find an answer sooner or later, and upon the answer given was to depend the life of every man in this world and in the world to come.

It is now, even more than when he walked the earth, the supreme question upon which all Christian belief, all Christian living—indeed, the very existence of Christianity, and the destiny of the race, depend—Who is this Son of Mary? Was he very God of very God, or was he, as many contend, only the perfect man, the highest type of humanity which has appeared on the earth?

There has in our generation been a grave tendency towards limiting the divinity of Christ. Regarded merely as man, it is possible that never in history has Christ been given such universal honour as that which is patronizingly accorded to him today. But those who, denying his Godhead, so highly [21/22] reverence his Manhood fail to realize the strangely impossible position, both historically and logically, which they assume. Everywhere we hear it said that Jesus of Nazareth was the best man who ever lived, the most perfect example of humanity the world has seen.

We have only to glance at this proposition for a few moments to realize how entirely without foundation, either in reason or historical evidence, it is. Grant that he is God, and it follows without question that he must have been the perfect man. Question or deny his divinity, and not only does there remain scarcely a scintilla of evidence that he was the perfect man, or even a particularly good man, but both the history and the logic of the situation will show the contrary.

To begin with, for me to say that any one man was the best who ever lived, I must have been able to bring in review before the tribunal of my judgment all the men who have ever lived, and to weigh their claims. Furthermore, I must arrogate to myself the wisdom to discriminate between various claimants and the ability to put my hand upon one man out of all the millions who have lived, and with practically infallible judgment to say, This is the perfect one beyond all comparison.

But even if I possessed the power to examine the evidence and to render such a judgment, how am I to know that some other man, higher and more perfect than this one, may not arise tomorrow? If the career of the human race is not yet concluded, and if, as these worshippers of a merely human Christ are fond of asserting, humanity is, by means [22/23] of its own specific gravity, ever on the upward moral trend, it would seem without reason to choose one who lived nearly two thousand years ago, and to aver that none could ever rise superior to him. Why, in this arbitrary manner, cut off the rest of the human race from aspiring to this noble eminence?

Or, again, by what warrant are we able to say that there may not have been at some time in the past, somewhere on the earth, another man who was more exalted in perfection of moral character, but who had not the good fortune to secure the benefits of the intensive propaganda which within a few generations made Christ known to the world; who lived the noblest life that has ever dignified the race, but whose fame never passed the frontiers of his obscure village?


We have not the time, nor is it necessary to our understanding of the subject, to go at any great length into the question of Christ's own extraordinary claims. If he was verily God, then might he well set up his claim to be the sinless, the perfect one; he might properly challenge his adversaries to lay their finger on any wrong he had ever done—"Which of you convicteth me of sin?"; The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me"; and, speaking of the Father, he proclaims his own perfection, saying, "I do always those things that please him" (St. John viii. 29).

We know the inherent human tendency to dismiss, and that not without contempt, the claims of [23/24] those who boast of their own righteousness. The man whom we instinctively regard as unworthy of trust is he who is ever forward to tell us of his own virtues. St. Paul voiced this instinct when he said, "Not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth" (2 Cor. x. 18). But Jesus of Nazareth was continually commending himself; through his ministry he made this claim to perfection repeatedly, and on one occasion when he had made it most boldly the Evangelist tells us that "as he spake these words, many believed on him" (St. John viii. 30). Men were not able to explain or even describe it, but there was some subtle thing about him which commanded belief, which compelled discipleship.

On the other hand, if he was God, his claims could excite no surprise. He might well lay claim to possess like power with the Father to raise the dead (St. John v. 21); he might also not only "make himself equal with God" (St. John v. 18), but also "make himself God," as with entire truthfulness and justice the Jews charged him with doing. They did not for one moment misunderstand the claim he was making. Their interpretation of it was entirely in keeping with the spirit of the claim itself.

Read the great eucharistic discourse in the sixth chapter of St. John, and judge whether it would have been possible for one who was mere man, however exalted and perfect, to have made such amazing claims and promises: "I am the bread of life; he that cometh to me shall never hunger." No wonder the Jews murmured at him when he said, "I am the bread which cometh down from heaven"; [24/25] and again, "Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

Or take his tremendous descriptions of how he would come to judge the world at the end of time, dividing the good from the evil, meting out eternal rewards and punishments, rendering infallible verdicts which could never be revised.

Or the claims he made in the discourse at the Last Supper, in the night in which he was betrayed, declaring himself one with the Father, and setting forth his personal power to forgive sins. If he was God, well and good; if he was not God, no more terrible blasphemies ever fell from human lips.

One could by casually turning over the pages of the Gospels multiply indefinitely the instances where, if we refuse to accept him as very God, he showed himself to be either a madman or a curiously wicked and powerful deceiver of trusting souls. The Jews charged him with being both, and those who question the Deity of Christ, or diminish anything of its completeness, are hard put to it to show that his accusers were wrong.

But the weakest point in the position of those who cavil at the doctrine of Christ's Deity is that they themselves have no witnesses for their own beliefs concerning Christ other than those very Gospels whose evidence they dismiss when it does not agree with their views. It is not competent before any reasonable tribunal for an advocate to place a witness on the stand and then ask the judges to declare an important part of his testimony to be false, while [25/26] insisting that other parts be accepted without question.

It would not be fair to invoke the principle of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, where no intention to deceive was evident; but surely a set of witnesses who were so ignorant or deceived as to go wholly wrong on such fundamental matters as the teaching of Christ on his own origin and nature could not be for a moment trusted to instruct us concerning the eternal destiny of man and the relations of the creature to the Creator. If the attitude of the liberal school of religion in our day is correct regarding the value of the Gospels, then the Gospels should be dismissed as unworthy of credence on any point.


Modern impugners of Christ's Godhead allow that, in some manner which they wisely make no effort to explain, he is the Saviour of mankind. They do not deny to him a powerful mediatorial office—of an indefinite sort. Through him, a mere creature, they look for redemption of some kind; he is to be the medium of the translation of man from the natural to the supernatural sphere.

But their philosophy is strangely confused. The old agnostic of a past age was wiser and saner in his contention. Of its own ability the finite cannot lay hold of the infinite. The natural cannot compass the supernatural. Man cannot, of himself, rise up to God. Struggle as he might, if he confine his hope to any mere creature, however perfect and [26/27] exalted, that which is done is comparable only to the folly of the man who seeks to lift himself from the earth by his own boot-straps. It is necessary that God himself take the initiative; this Saviour and mediator must be none less than God himself; and this initiative God did take. The hope of the human race lies solely in the tremendous and glorious fact that God did inaugurate the process by which man was to enter upon the supernatural life, the life eternal.

From the beginning the divine purpose was to unite the creature with the Creator. The sin of man and his consequent fall interrupted this purpose, it disarranged the divine plan; but, as we have seen, the catastrophe did not stay the divine intention. The purpose held true; man was indeed to be united to his Maker; the creature was to find place in the bosom of the Creator. Therefore, since man the finite could not of himself achieve unity with God the Infinite, the Eternal Son, Second Person of the Holy Trinity, "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."

This concise statement of the Nicene Creed may be expanded in some such way as the following: God, the Eternal Son, without change or loss of any of his eternal or divine attributes or operations, and without division of his Person or Ego, took human nature with all its proper elements, faculties, and necessary limitations, but without sinfulness, by being born of a pure virgin, and without earthly father, by a special miraculous operation of the Holy [27/28] Ghost. [ See Francis J. Hall, Theological Outlines, ii., p. 59.] The Fathers of the Church put it with their usual conciseness when they said, "Remaining all that he was, he took that which he had not been."

The God-Nature and the Man-Nature in Christ, both when he was on earth and now in his heavenly, glorified life, each exists and operates according to its respective and proper attributes and functions, without any essential change or interference. This is entirely as it should be—that the Manhood function quite normally in the Godhead. Anything else would be abnormal, for God, the perfect designer and artificer, made man for himself, and therefore created him without any characteristic which could, when rightly adjusted, in any way operate inconsistently with the life of union with the Godhead. All that is needed is that man's character be restored to its original state as it came from the hand of the Creator. "The perfect Godhead and the perfect Manhood meet and act in communion with each other in one divine Person." There is but one Ego in Christ. The Ego of his human nature is the same as the Ego of his divine nature. [ Ibid., p. 89.] Perfect humanity, whether in Christ or in us who are destined of God also to possess it, must fit into the Godhead, because it was for this only that it was designed. This is no more surprising than that a key should fit into the lock for which it was specially made.


[29] Christ was born of a virgin, without the ordinary processes of human generation, in order to initiate a new race. Human nature in him returned to the point from which it was originally launched; it was restored to the moral place and condition in which the Creator had in the beginning set it. But this second Adam was more than the first Adam by infinite degree, for he was perfect God besides being perfect Man. He, in his two natures, became the source of a new supernatural generative process by which others could be made partakers of him, just as by a natural generative process they were partakers of the nature of the first Adam.

In the act of Incarnation God and man were joined together, never again to be separated. But when we say that God the Son "came down from heaven," we do not mean that the Godhead was taken into the Humanity, but the contrary—that Humanity was taken up into the Godhead, never again to be dethroned from that lofty dignity.

This union between Godhead and Humanity, in some manner quite outside the sphere of our understanding, was to make, first for the honour and glory of God, and also for the restoration of man ultimately to that condition of perfect peace and harmony which had been sacrificed through sin. On the night of our Lord's birth, the occasion of the first manifestation of the Incarnate God before the eyes of men, the twofold proclamation of the angels was, "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace [29/30] to men of good will." The Incarnation which had taken place nine months before in the Virgin's womb, and which on this night was manifested, was to be, first, for the honour of God, and, second, for the restoration of man to that condition of perfect peace and harmony with God, with himself and all creation, which had been forfeited by sin.

Whatever the mystical depth of the event which took place at the moment of the Incarnation, it was no vague, intangible thing. It was a plain, concrete event in human history, as really and objectively so as the signing of Magna Carta, or the coronation of Queen Victoria, only it was the greatest and most transcending event that ever happened or ever could happen. It took place on a given date and in a given place—namely, at Nazareth in the Roman province of Galilee on the day when the Angel Gabriel came to the Virgin Mary and announced to her that she was to bear a Child who should be the Son of the Most High, a Child who, while a human child, was also to be he who was "Very God of Very God of one substance with the Father." All heaven, as it were, waited on tiptoe for the consenting word of the Virgin, for it was not fitting that Incarnate God should be born of an unbelieving, unwilling mother. "Unwilling motherhood in such a case as this appears so utterly foreign to the moral fitness of things that we are driven to perceive in the Blessed Virgin's consent a real and needed factor in the Incarnation." When she spoke the word of consent, then and there "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us," being born in due season, "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of [30/31] man, but of God." As Dr. Hall tersely says, "The moment of that conception was the moment of the Incarnation, and in that instant the eternal Word began his temporal and human life, experience and functioning." [ Hall, The Incarnation, pp. 75, 76.]


Let us understand that this exaltation of human nature, this lifting up of man into the supernatural plane, depended on nothing else save this act of Incarnation. It did not depend upon the subsequent life and work of Christ. It did not depend upon the Atonement wrought upon the Cross. At the moment that God became Man, created Humanity was exalted to unity with the Godhead, never again, as we have said, to be separated from the Godhead.

Personal, individual men and women might fail to reap the benefits of this exaltation of the nature which was theirs, but human nature itself was safe forever in the bosom of the Godhead. The subsequent life and work of Incarnate God, his teaching, his Passion, his Death, Resurrection and Ascension, were absolutely necessary in the ordaining of God, in order that individual souls might be redeemed, united to the God-Man, and through that union take their place with this God-Man in the Godhead. But even had not one soul from among the sons of Adam become the actual beneficiary of the subsequent redeeming work of Christ, created human nature itself would have been safe, for in its union, and at the moment of its union, with the Second Person of the [31/32] Godhead it was caught up once for all into the supernatural sphere, into the God-sphere, to abide there forever. The creature was supernaturalized, elevated to the God plane, and in this elevation it became possible for man for the first time, at any rate since the fall, to exercise the office which was intended for him from the beginning—namely, that of living a life and making an act of perfect praise and honour to his Creator.

Perhaps we should not at all use the expression act of praise, for the Sacred Humanity at the Incarnation entered into a state of praise to the Most High. Just as the heavenly intercession of the Incarnate God does not consist in separate acts of prayer, however continuous, but in a state which is in itself a life of intercession, so the praise and honour accorded to the Godhead by the God-Man is an unbroken state. His existence on earth was, and it is now in heaven, a life of praise, not a series of acts of praise. St. Paul seems to express this as the ideal for those who would be one with Christ when, writing to the Philippians, he speaks of our having received the heavenly inheritance in order "that we should be to the praise of his glory" (Phil. i. 12). This praise of God is not spoken of as something which the Christian should do, but rather as what he should be. This life of praise we live because we enter into the Incarnate Life of God the Son. We, through our union with him, share what he possesses and exercises.


[33] We must not, however, forget that since our Lord's Humanity was perfect, it was not precocious. Precocity is abnormal. His attitude towards his Father when he was a child was the attitude, not of a fully developed adult, but that of a child exercising his faculties as a perfect child would exercise them. Likewise as a boy he was the perfect boy, and as a man the perfect man. As we have considered before, the attributes of his Humanity functioned normally in the Godhead, with that perfect normality which belonged to unfallen man. As a little child, had he prayed as a man would pray, there would have been something more than human in the operation of his Humanity, and, as we have tried to make clear, this was not the case. The man-nature in Christ, as we have already seen, functioned according to its proper attributes, without being in any way interfered with by the Divinity. The Godhead of Christ did not overwhelm the Humanity. They existed together in one Person without any essential change or interference.


For many centuries it has been disputed amongst theologians whether the Incarnation would have taken place if man had not sinned. One school of thought, supposed to be the followers of the great scholar Duns Scotus, has emphasized the original and eternal purpose of God to bring man into union with himself; while the other, called the Thomist [33/34] School after St. Thomas Aquinas, emphasizes the need of redemption from sin through the offering to God of a God-Victim. The one held that God would have become incarnate in any event in order to furnish a medium of union between the creature and the Creator, while the other concluded that, had not man sinned, the Incarnation would not have been necessary.

It is a question whether either of the great theologians whose names have been assumed by these two schools would quite recognize many of their supposed followers. The reconciliation of the two views is not difficult, and perhaps in our time the greater part of orthodox religious thinkers hold the position that in any case the Incarnation would have occurred, but that its actual force and operation in human history has been modified and extended by the fact of human sin. The Incarnation, because of sin, has to produce certain effects in man which would not have been necessary had there been no sin.

Practically applied to man in his present condition, the aim and operation of the Incarnation is, first of all, to secure man's salvation and redemption from this state of sin. But this salvation, supremely necessary for us as it is, is not the ultimate aim in itself. It is the great contributing factor to a far sublimer end, which is that through this salvation God might be glorified in the union of his creature with himself. As we have seen, the first heavenly declaration concerning the purpose of the Incarnation after the Nativity of our Lord was that this event was to be for the "glory of God in the [34/35] highest," and man can give the greatest glory to his Creator by yielding himself to the unifying processes which the Holy Spirit has set in action.

But God does not owe this union with himself to his creature. It is quite conceivable that man might be wholly delivered from sin, and yet not be made one with his divine Deliverer. This union is a free gift of God's love over and above forgiveness and redemption. But none the less is salvation from sin and its tyranny a condition which must be created before the work of union with God can be effected, before we can be translated to the supernatural plane.

Man, with the guilt of his sin upon him, is of himself helpless. So far from any possibility of being raised to the supernatural sphere, he must, on the contrary, be ever dragged downward into the subnatural sphere, a sphere which it was never contemplated he would enter—a sphere which must, therefore, be regarded as subnormal, subhuman.

Neither sin nor anything of the character of sin belongs to man's true nature. If it did, then our Lord at the Incarnation, in order to take complete and perfect Humanity, would have had to take a sinful nature up into the Godhead, which cannot be conceived. Sin, which seems now to be so inherent in human nature that many regard it as being necessary to real humanity, is opposed in toto to the original ethos and purpose of that nature. Only in a supreme catastrophe was it superimposed upon humanity, making shipwreck of that which the infallible judgment of the Creator had pronounced in the moment of its creation to be "very good."


[36] This translation to the supernatural plane and consequent union with God (since the life of God is the only ultimate supernatural life) is the original divine purpose for man, and to this end the power of the Incarnation works. St. Augustine states with theological and rhetorical exactness the end of creation in the familiar saying in the opening chapter of his Confessions, "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart can find no rest until it rest in thee." This ultimate soothing of the "divine discontent" is to be found in the union with the Incarnate Son, who took our nature in order that in the God-Man "Creator and creature might meet in one indivisible and personal centre." [ Hall, The Incarnation, p. 89.]

If we really become one with him in his Sacred Humanity, we of necessity become one with all with which he is at one, so far as our capacity permits. Thus by union with the Son of Mary we achieve union with God, because the Son of Mary is one with God. We enter the God-plane, we are accorded that union with God which sin alone can violate. As the Sacred Humanity of Christ is united with the Godhead, never to be separated, so it is the will and decree of God that our union with him should never be broken. He will never break it. Its perpetuity depends upon us, upon our faithfulness to that which has been committed to our trust.



[37] WE have thought that the supernatural consists in union with God. In the beginning God created our first parents, conferring upon them sanctifying grace, which gift raised them to a state of oneness with himself. Through this oneness with God we enter into the life of God, which, as we have seen, is the only supernatural life for man, the life into which we are to be transformed if we are to find recovery from the consequences of the fall. We may amuse ourselves with all manner of speculation, but when we come down to the practical issue, the life of God is the only supernatural thing which matters to us, if, indeed, we have not the right to say that there is no other supernatural life at all. This is, therefore, the gift of the divine with which our first parents were endowed, which they lost by their sin, and it is this gift that we must secure if the primeval relationship which the creature had with the Creator is to be restored.

This thought must be projected with boldness, although with those safeguards which the Church has ever taught us to employ; but none the less we need to be bold. Certain heresies have so exaggerated the gifts of human nature that we have grown over-timorous of according to humanity the [37/38] exaltation which is really due to it. The error of Pelagius in the early days of the Church, which asserted that man could enter upon and make progress in the life of grace without the help of God; and in our own time that strangely inept religion known as Positivism in which abstract humanity is worshipped; as well as the "suffering God" of the falsely so-called Christian liberals, and the manifold forms of pseudo-humanism, have all combined to make orthodox teachers shrink, in many instances, from giving supernaturalized humanity its proper due, lest they should seem to incline to or encourage these errors.

Let us beware of this too timorous attitude lest we fall into another snare, and err on the other side. To believe too little is as much of an error as to believe overmuch. To deny to human nature that with which God has dignified and honoured it is, if anything, a more grievous error than to attribute to it that with which he did not endow it. Now, since humanity has been taken up into the Godhead, what the cautious but fervent old Bishop Hall of Norwich once said of the Blessed Virgin Mary might equally be postulated of humanity in general, "He cannot honour thee too much who deifies thee not."

Another reason for our hesitancy to give humanity its due is that we have had our attention so continually directed to the Purgative Way that we are in danger of forgetting that the Way of Cleansing is of no sort of avail unless it leads to the Way of Illumination and to the Way of Union with God. We are constantly in danger of thinking of the Christian life as devoted merely to the avoidance of sin. [38/39] One fears that the average Christian, and not the merely nominal Christian either, thinks his duty done if he does not commit sin; if, as the saying is, he does nobody any harm. Surely one would not be regarded as a model citizen who managed only to keep from acting the traitor to his country, and the ideals of service in the kingdom of God, ruled over by a loving Father, are not lower than those which are insisted upon in an earthly kingdom. The Christian life is not merely a negative process; it is a positive process, a life of strong, definite, joyous advance.

Again, the imperative and immediate needs of the human soul have been such that we have been almost wholly taken up with considering grace in its function of restoring to spiritual health a sick humanity. We have forgotten that this restoring office of grace is only preliminary and preparatory, made necessary by the sin of man; and that its true and normal function is to raise humanity, already in a measure sanctified, to a condition of spiritual liberty and honour so transcendent that the fall, and painful upward struggle of man, might wellnigh be forgotten in the contemplation of the heavenly splendour with which this humanity is ultimately to be invested. The ancient Fathers, especially those who caught the glow of the more mystical conception of Christianity, were less timid as they proclaimed the "deification" of the Christian soul; and their expressions did not in strength go beyond that of St. Peter, who assures us that through entrance into the supernatural life we become "partakers of the divine nature."


[40] These expressions prepare us for the consideration of the glorious fact that so great is the love of God for his creature that he is not content to bestow upon him any gift, however great and precious, which is separate from his own Personality. Nothing will satisfy his love but that he give his very Self to us. As the apostle writes to the Corinthians that God desires "not yours but you," in like manner God would seem in the yearning love of his heart for his creature to cry, "Not mine but me"—I my very Self, "I am thine exceeding great reward."

No supernatural gift is there save that which comes with the coming of God; no increase of that practical, spiritual power which we call grace, except as the result of God's entering in and taking an ever-increasing possession of our life.

Before entering upon this subject, let us guard ourselves by recalling that in all these things we are dealing with divine Mysteries, and a mystery in the sphere of religion is to be defined as a truth which we cannot fully understand, but which we accept because God has revealed it, and because we act as his disciples. A disciple is not one who weighs and judges the teaching of his master. He accepts the teaching without weighing it because he has first accepted the master.
It is no wonder that those who cannot bring themselves to accept the Master, and make their act of faith in him, find the Christian religion a chaos. When they say that it is contrary to reason, they [40/41] forget that all reasoning, in whatever sphere, is confusion to one who refuses either to be a disciple or to accept the premises upon which the reasoning is based. The revelation of God and the conclusions drawn from it in a certain sense transcend reason, but they are not contrary to reason. I make my act of faith, and it gives me the basis upon which I build. Without the act of faith, all must indeed be confusion.

Keeping this in mind, and conscious that in this field of enquiry we must ever tread with reverence, we pass on to the consideration of the office of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Adorable Trinity, for it is his work to elevate man into the sphere of the supernatural, lifting him up into the God-plane.

We recall the words of our Lord to his disciples just before he ascended into heaven. He declared to them their great mission. They were to be witnesses to him in Jerusalem, in Judaea, and in Samaria, and to the utmost parts of the earth. They were to disciple all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. They were to make the bread and wine in the Eucharist to be his Body and Blood, and they were to absolve sinners from their guilt. But he laid one powerful limitation upon them: all these things they were to do, but not yet. "They should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence" (Acts i. 5).

[42] The Great Commission had been given them to do even greater works than he had done, but until the Holy Ghost came not a word of instruction could be given; not a Sacrament celebrated; no effort whatever made to lead souls into this supernatural life of God, for that life could not be mediated to men save in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It was the Spirit who was to impart the power to show men the way of life, but the Spirit, though he was very God of very God, was not to act alone. What the Spirit did, that did also the Father and the Son, for while there are the Three Persons in the One God, in this Trinity "none is afore or after other." The Three Persons, though distinct from each other, exist and act in each other, for in the Godhead there is but one Infinity, one Omniscience, one Wisdom, one Holiness, one Omnipotence, one power, one love, one will. St. Augustine, in one of those perfect statements of which he was so consummate a master, says of the Three Persons, "Each is in each, and all in each; and each in all and all in all; and all are one." [ St. Augustine, De Trinitate, vi. 12.] The work of supernaturalizing human nature is the work of God the Holy Trinity, functioning in and through the Adorable Third Person who is given unto us. Let us go on, then, to see how the Spirit works.


Refine and systematize our Christian theology as we may, after all, does not the vital point lie just here, that whatever gifts or graces may come to us, [42/43] they come only because God the Holy Ghost, the Giver of this supernatural life and of all good gifts, himself comes to us? And with him of necessity comes God the Holy Trinity. The coming of the Holy Ghost is the coming of Christ himself, and the coming of the Father. This entering in of God means the gift to the soul of all things which belong to the supernatural sphere which were designed for man from the beginning.

What can we mean, indeed, by the expression "heirs of God," if not that God himself is our inheritance, he himself the legacy which his love has bestowed upon us? The pledge is made the stronger by the apostle when he fortifies the statement by declaring that as "heirs of God" we are also "joint-heirs with Christ."

The meaning of this is made clearer if we keep in mind that the title "Christ"—that is, the "anointed one"—belongs to our Lord in his Sacred Humanity, not in his Divinity apart from his Humanity. When the apostle speaks of Christ being the heir of God, he means that in his Human Nature he enjoys the inheritance of the same supernatural life that we seek. He receives this inheritance in a manner and measure altogether different to that in which we receive it. His Humanity receives it through a hypostatic union with the Godhead. We receive it, as we shall consider later, through a sacramental union with his Humanity. But the inheritance itself is the same in its nature.

This we must understand, for it would be a grave error to say that the Second Person of the Trinity, as such, is the heir of God. The Second Person is [43/44] God himself, and no one can be heir of himself. The Eternal Son, who is of one substance with the Father, possesses all that belongs to the God-life, not by inheritance, but by his own eternal and inherent essential right as God. It is in his Humanity that he becomes the heir of God, and through our union with him in that Humanity we become joint-heirs with him. That is to say, whatsoever our Blessed Lord in his Sacred Humanity receives from the Godhead, that same thing he, through the operation of the Spirit, transmits to us in whatever measure we are capable of receiving it.

Our capacity to receive is limited in this life by the fact of our unhappy inheritance from the race of Adam with which we are one, as well as by every act of sin we commit. Even if we have so received the supernatural life that we are able to avoid all mortal sin, and any deliberate sin though only venial, there are yet old incapacities inherited from past years of sin; and the failures which enter into every life, even of the saints, through moral infirmity, also create conditions within, which retard the Holy Spirit in his work of infusing into us more and more the supernatural life and power.

Further than this, even did we avoid all sin, whether of infirmity or of wilfulness, we limit our supernatural capacity by every failure to respond to the moving of the Spirit, even if that failure be in a matter of counsel which does not involve us in sin. We forfeit higher gifts of the supernatural life when we refuse the gentlest wooing of the Spirit, though he lay no obligation upon us under any pain of sin.

But whatever the incapacity, or from whatever [44/45] cause the incapacity may arise, as long as we keep within the pale of grace, just so long is the inheritance ours. Nothing can take it from us save our own deliberate and wilful rejection of the known will of God in a serious matter; in short, once we become one with Christ, the inheritance is ours so long as we commit no mortal sin.


In this understanding that Christ shares with us the powers of his Sacred Humanity we shall find the most fundamental element in the practice of our holy religion. It is simply that the human powers which Incarnate God possesses, the employment of which enabled him as Man in the days of his earthly pilgrimage to be pleasing to his Father, are transmitted to us, in order that we, using them under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may be likewise pleasing to the Father.

Here is to be considered the principle which appears at every turn in our religion—namely, that while we can do nothing without God ("without him we are not able to please him"), yet God has ordained that he will do nothing in these matters without us. Whatever God himself may do, he requires that we "work out our salvation," and so overwhelming a task is it likely to be, unless we go about it in the right way, that we are warned to do this work "with fear and trembling"; and St. Peter urges that, while the calling of God is a very certain thing, it is our part to "make that calling and election sure."

[46] The fact that God through the Incarnation entered into the human race and took this human nature up into the Godhead does not effect the salvation and consequent supernaturalization of the individual soul. Something beyond the act of Incarnation is necessary. In order that individual men may be made one with the humanity of Jesus Christ, the race must first be redeemed, and this being done, one by one men must lay hold of that redemption.

There is no obscurity in the apostolic teaching on this point. St. Paul urges St. Timothy in two passages "to lay hold on eternal life" (i Tim. vi. 12 and 19), and the Epistle to the Hebrews not only speaks of the necessity of "laying hold upon the hope set before us" (Heb. vi. 18), but warns of the impossibility of escape "if we neglect so great salvation" (Heb. ii. 3). God would not gather us as mere helpless derelicts by the roadside of life, but in his loving desire to bring us to great honour he would make us very really co-workers with himself, giving us a definite share in the processes of our own salvation. As St. Augustine says, "He willed to create us without our co-operation, but he does not will to save us without our co-operation." He who thinks to lie supine and inert, saying, "I will be quite passive, allowing him to do his will with me," will never find the supernatural life; or, if he has found it, he will quickly lose it.

The practical question, therefore, of the most tremendous import, is, What are we to do in order to secure the transmission to ourselves of the human powers of Incarnate God? If they are to be given to us, there must be a way by which they come, for [46/47] another principle of God's dealing with his creatures is that ordinarily he acts upon them, not directly, but through external and visible mediums and signs. Indeed, so wellnigh invariable is this principle that where he makes exception the disposition of the Church has ever been to regard it as miraculous, or, at any rate, to class it amongst the uncovenanted actions of God.


The answer to the question brings us to the realization of the transcending love and goodness of God in ordaining the Sacraments of his Church as the ordinary ways and means by the employment of which we are enabled to share these human powers of the God-Man. The ancient Fathers speak of the Sacraments as "the extension of the Incarnation," for in and through them the powers of the Incarnate life of God are extended down through all time to the individual souls who would receive and develop the supernatural life.

In order to keep the point at issue clear, we are to remember that the Sacraments are not primarily Sacraments of the Divinity of Christ. They are Sacraments of his Sacred Humanity, they are outward and visible signs of the coming of the powers of the human nature of Christ into us. The terminology of the Holy Eucharist makes this plain. We are not taught to speak of the Eucharist as the Sacrament of the Divinity of Christ, but as the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, that is, of his Sacred Manhood. Finite, fallen man, it would seem, [47/48] is morally incapable of being made partaker of the divine nature directly and immediately. Some mediating agency is necessary, and Christ supplies this want. In the Sacraments he acts as mediator between God and man. As we have seen, the union between the Godhead of Christ and his created Humanity is such that it can never be broken. Since God the Son has taken our human nature, wherever the Humanity of Christ is, there also his Godhead must be. His Human Nature is our nature, and we can, by the removal of the moral obstacle of sin, become one with the Man Christ Jesus. And such is the union of the Man Christ Jesus with God the Eternal Son, that whosoever is united to him in his Manhood must of necessity at the same moment, and by the same action, be united to him in his Godhead. Thus through the Sacraments we participate in the Humanity of Christ; and through his Humanity we are made partakers of his Divine Nature.

"The sacramental communication of the Manhood to others becomes the potential factor and basis of the development in them of the full-grown man that is to be—according to 'the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.'" God becomes accessible to man on the human plane, and as the Humanity to which we are united in the Sacraments has been taken up into the Godhead, so we by means of this union find our place in God.

But we must ever guard the truth that as the Incarnation was "not an imparting of Godhead to the Manhood, but the appropriation of the Manhood by a divine Self," so our sacramental union with the [48/49] God-Man is not a gift of Godhead to us in the sense that he comes down to dwell in us, but that we in the sacramental action are lifted up into a real, objective unity with him, and in this manner become partakers of the divine nature. [ F. J. Hall, The Incarnation, pp. 78-80.]

We must here interpolate a few words concerning what is meant by the "sign" in the Sacraments. The Sacraments are said to be the "outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace," which grace is nothing less than the life of God, the supernatural life, which is given to us. But the word "sign" in this context does not mean a mere label, or a signal made in order to advertise the fact that certain things are going on. In the Sacraments the use of the sign actually produces the thing which it signifies. For example, we are told in the XXXVIIth Article of Religion that baptism, "as by an instrument," produces the new birth in the person who receives the Sacrament of Baptism. So with all the Sacraments. They are the instruments which have to be employed in order actually, objectively, to produce the transmission to us of the powers of Christ's Humanity through the employment of one Sacrament or another as the need at the time dictates.


Let us examine this principle, looking into it as far as a great Mystery of the faith can be fathomed. We may begin with the question, What did our Lord mean when he said, "I am the vine, ye are the branches"? [49/50] How do we become a branch of this "true Vine" concerning which he said, "Severed from me, ye can do nothing"? It is in the great initial Sacrament of Baptism that we are grafted into Christ, and by this grafting we are made partakers of the life of Christ.

A few moments consideration of the figure employed by St. Paul in elucidating this truth will show us the true principle. Go into the fields in the early days of spring and watch the farmer at the work of grafting. We see him take a branch which is quite foreign to the vine, insert it in the place he selects, and bind it up. In a few weeks the engrafted branch shows signs of life. It begins to put forth bud and leaf. A little later flower and fruit will appear, and when the time of the vintage comes the rich clusters will hang fragrant and luscious, ready to give the wine which maketh glad the heart of man.

The sap which flowed into this engrafted branch, enabling it to bear fruit, is not something which is merely like unto the sap which is the life of the vine, but it is the identical life-giving principle of the vine itself. In like manner the life which is transmitted to us when by baptism we are grafted into Christ, the true Vine, is not to be thought of as something similar to the life of the Incarnate Second Person of the Ever-Blessed Trinity, but it is that very life of the Son of God itself. The life which constitutes the Sacred Manhood of Christ is not a separate thing from that which is transmitted to us, the engrafted branches; it is one and the same thing. No question whatever of similarity is involved; the life is not similar, it is identical.

[51] After Holy Baptism, the greatest of all the Sacraments is the Holy Eucharist, and in this the same principle obtains. When we receive our Communions we receive Christ. Now, Christ cannot be divided. If we receive him at all it must be in the fulness of his Being, totus Christus, whole Christ, his humanity, his Divinity, all that he is and all that he has, as far as we are capable of receiving him. In Communion there is transmitted to us the mind of Christ, his human power to think and plan all things that are pleasing to the Father. In this same Communion we receive the Heart of Christ, his human powers of loving God and man. In like manner we receive the will of Christ, the controlling human faculty which he used in order to do all things in accordance with the divine will.

The same principle operates in all the seven Sacraments. One of the most striking instances of it is found in Confirmation. Nowhere in the New Testament is there any reference to the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and in the Old Testament they are mentioned only in prophecy as belonging to the coming Messiah. Nowhere is it implied that they are to be conferred ordinarily upon the faithful. They belong to the predicted endowments of our Lord's Manhood. But the Church has always taught that in Confirmation all the faithful receive these same gifts, and why? Because in every Sacrament they receive Christ, and receiving him they receive those things with which he is endowed, as far as their capacity admits. "He received these gifts not merely for his own human perfecting and work, but also in order that his Manhood might become the [51/52] medium and source of grace for the future members of his Body." [ Hall, The Sacraments, P. 52.]

In the Sacrament of Penance the same thing is to be noted. In virtue of the actual operation of the absolution received, not only are our souls cleansed from sin, not only are they restored to a condition of grace, but through Christ's act of entering into the penitent and forgiven soul there is objectively infused into it the same power which our Lord employed in his temptations, and which enabled him, through the use of his human will, fortified by his Divinity, to conquer the tempter.

In the last analysis God alone can forgive sins, but in the Sacrament of Penance the God-Man indwells the priest so that his words and actions convey objective pardon to the penitent, with all the graces and gifts which are involved in absolution.

So through all the other Sacraments. In Holy Orders Christ so dwells in the ministers of the Catholic Church that their acts are the acts of Christ. In the Holy Sacrifice of the altar it is the God-Priest who offers to God the God-Victim. In Matrimony our Lord, present in the souls of the contracting parties, functions in that peculiar manner which imparts to them the special grace and power to carry out the obligations and duties pertaining to the married estate; and likewise in Holy Unction for those special needs that arise in the case of the sick and dying.

While realizing that apart from him we can do nothing, the practical witness of the lives of Christians through the ages demonstrates that in the power [52/53] of the indwelling life of the God-Man thus received in the Sacraments we can go on to ever higher, nobler and more God-like achievement in the supernatural sphere until we are able to repeat the victory-cry of the apostle, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Dwelling in us, he inspires, guides and directs all our thoughts, words and actions, so that, more and more as the days go by, we are able to think the thoughts of Christ and do the deeds of Christ. This in the supernatural life to which we have been raised must be taken to be wholly true, or else the character of alter Christus, another Christ, which has been ever attributed to the faithful Christian, would have no meaning.


May I voice a warning against what seems to be a danger in the popular religion of our time? It is a warning against thinking of the Christian life as though it were merely an imitation of Christ. He is, of course, truly an example, and we must follow his footsteps. But the Christian life is not a mere imitation of Christ in the sense of seeking, even through divine power, or however earnestly and devotedly, to be like him.

This warning may bring surprise, and doubtless there will occur to your minds that classical work of Thomas a Kempis, Imitatio Christi (The Imitation of Christ), which title was, however, never used by a Kempis himself, but was employed by after generations to designate the spiritual masterpiece to which he himself had given no formal title. The word [53/54] imitatio, from which our English word is derived, means a copy, a resemblance, and even has sometimes the unpleasant suggestion of a counterfeit. The poet Horace has a contemptuous expression, O imitatores, servum pecus! ("O ye imitators, a servile herd!"). [ I Epist. xix. 19.] Let us understand that there is nothing servile in our imitation of Christ; no copying, no mere seeking to resemble him. Indeed, it is not in any sense a copy of Christ that we are endeavouring to make. It is the original Christ himself, personally indwelling us, whom we are seeking to present to men. It is no mere conformity of our lives, either exteriorly or interiorly, to him, but our wills, by the help of the Spirit, are labouring so to give ourselves up to him in our every faculty that he may be able, not remotely, not mediately, but in his own very Person dwelling in us, to act in and through us.

We speak, and most truly, of using the divine power, but we must never forget that the more important thing is the divine power using us. We do not so much seek to penetrate the divine mysteries as that we, through the Spirit, open our hearts that the divine mysteries may penetrate us. The thought which must never be lost sight of is that all this supernaturalizing of the creature is a labour of cooperation. God works, and we work. There is no question about his work being perfectly done. The only contingency is in respect to us. The Christian life is, therefore, not a resemblance of Christ; it is very Christ himself expressing himself through us as through a medium.

We must make this clear, for it might appear to [54/55] contradict what has been previously said of the mistake of thinking, like the Quietist, that we are to lie passive, permitting God to do with us what he will. Let no one imagine that this yielding up of ourselves to him that he may use us as a medium of the expression of himself is an easy task. It demands of us the utmost and most persistent energy and activity of our whole self. It does not involve simply a surrender of ourselves once for all to our Lord, who upon such surrender will enter the citadel of our hearts, the work then, so far as we are concerned, being done. The maintenance of this state of surrender involves a continuous battle on our part, a battle so grievous and against such powerful and experienced adversaries, that defeat is inevitable unless we by perpetually renewed acts of the will place our dependence for resolution and strength for the wise conduct of this warfare, wholly upon God, working through his Spirit.

In order, then, that our lives may be in the proper sense Christ-lives, he must from within command and direct all our faculties, whether of body or of spirit. Only thus can we obey the apostolic command, "Glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." Only after this manner are we to become like him.

We must not fail to take this divine possession and indwelling in a very literal sense. Often have men desired that the wisdom of the past might be bequeathed to those who come after. It is an impotent wishing. It cannot be. The intellect of a Plato, the wisdom of a Socrates, the holiness of a St. Francis, may stimulate us to emulation, but they cannot be [55/56] handed down as a legacy to succeeding generations. There is one exception in human history. Jesus Christ is not merely an example to be admired and followed. He does actually bequeath to us his wisdom, his holiness, his human power to conquer evil, his ability to honour his Father and ours. Through the sacramental agencies and by the discipline of the Holy Spirit we are brought into such a relationship with him that we are able to say, "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."

This life is, of necessity, a progressive life, a life of ever-increasing depth and power. He who thus dwells within us is very God of very God, and God is pure and unceasing activity. As St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, Deus purus actus est. If he really indwells us, his power and holiness within us is unceasingly in operation. Whether sleeping or waking, the soul which is indwelt by God is ever being borne along the upward path. I lie down tonight and pass many hours in unconscious sleep, but he who keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. His infinite activity within me is not suspended because my consciousness lapses. I rise on the morrow stronger in the Lord and in the power of his might than I was when I went to my rest, because through those unconscious hours, in every department of my being, the energy of the God-Man was unceasingly at work. Thus do those who live in the supernatural sphere go on from strength to strength, and this advance here is the pledge that in the life of the world to come we shall go on from glory to glory.


[57] Finally, this life which is infused into us, lifting us up into the supernatural plane, is not a life which our Lord lives under earthly conditions. During his earthly life, though he was wholly divine, he was in his Human Nature girt about with infirmity. Now, that Humanity of his no longer wrestles with the infirmities of his pilgrimage here, for he who, as St. Augustine says, died upon the cross because he willed it, when he willed it, and as he willed it, also willed to break the bonds of the tomb. He is alive forevermore; death hath no more dominion over him. He has ascended into heaven, and he sits in his glorified Humanity at his Father's right hand; and the power of his Human Nature which he gives to us through his Sacraments is not the power of an earthly life, however perfected and sublimated, but it is the power of an endless life, the power of the glorified heavenly life of the Son of Man.

This is our inheritance, for when we dwell in Christ and he in us, we enter, of necessity, into that eternal life which is his, for this is his promise to those who partake of the sacramental life of his Body, the Church. What he said concerning the Sacrament of his Body and Blood holds true of all the Sacraments: "Whoso eateth my Flesh and drinketh my Blood hath eternal life." It is not a life into which we shall at some distant time in the future enter, but a life which is ours here and now: we have eternal life, not will have it at some remote time to come. We are no heirs apparent of this heavenly [57/58] birthright, but we are those who have entered into our inheritance, and the richness of our enjoyment of it will be limited only by our own capacity to receive. "He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things?" "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places: yea, I have a goodly heritage"—even the Lord God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Project Canterbury