Project Canterbury

The One Christ
An Enquiry into the Manner of the Incarnation

By Frank Weston

London and New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1914.

Preface to the Second Edition
With Some Remarks on the Modernism of Liberal Churchmen

At the bidding of my publishers I have revised and in some ways altered this book for its second edition. The original work was done amidst heavy work in Africa; and the revision has been undertaken at a time of very special anxiety and stress. Thus it has been impossible to give to my subject that amount of leisurely consideration which it deserves. My first impulse was to allow it to be reprinted as it stood; my second was to try to arrange for its withdrawal from public gaze; but finally I thought it better to make such alterations as would clear up some misconceptions of my meaning, and take account of certain points in modern Christological theory.

To this end I have omitted the last chapter, on Personality; I have inserted one on the relation of the theory advanced in the book to the tradition of the Virgin birth; I have substituted a new chapter on our Lord's Human Soul for the original chapter on His Consciousness; and in many places I have altered passages or phrases that had misled some readers and critics.

In its essential meaning the book remains the same. I trust its expression is clearer and easier to understand.

To my critics I have made no detailed answer. Where they misunderstood me I have tried to remove the cause of understanding; where they disagreed with my doctrinal position I have been content to note inwardly their disagreement. Those who have been kind to me, I would thank.

I am under obligations to my old friend, the Rev. H. Maynard Smith, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Malvern, for his kind labour in reading most of the alterations and additions contained in this second edition; and to a learned professor, with whom unhappily I am not in communion, for drawing my attention to certain matters of importance. In view of those who have contented themselves with labelling me as a belated medievalist or an advanced modernist, an Apolliriarian or a Monothelite, it remains to add that in all that I have written it is my earnest desire to be entirely loyal to the dogmatic decrees of the Catholic Church. If there be any phrase in this book that is incompatible with the official Christology of holy Church I desire, here and now, to withdraw it; for in all things I submit myself to the universal College of the Catholic Bishops, to whom our Lord Himself committed the task of witness and teaching.

May He pardon me if I have in any way misled a single reader!

The nature and scope of this book allow but little discussion in its pages of the causes that have led modern criticism to attack Catholic Christology; and I may be forgiven if I draw attention to some of them in this preface.

I. In the first place, we are not yet clear in our minds as to what we mean by the term, historical Christianity.

It means, and must mean, a definite revelation made in and by Christ at a definite moment in history; and therefore involves (a) facts that are bound up with the Christ's appearance, and (b) interpretations of those facts made by Christians down the ages.

The Christ of history is a divine Being who was born of a Virgin, crucified, and buried; who rose from the dead in soul and body, and finally left the earthly sphere on a certain day, to share in His manhood His Father's glory.

There is no real doubt that this description of the historic Christ would have been accepted and signed by every one of the Apostles and disciples who met together on the day of Pentecost, had the Blessed Mary chosen to unveil to them the secret of His Birth. And the rejection of it by the modern critic has become possible only by first rejecting all evidence outside the Gospels, and then reducing the Gospel narratives arbitrarily to those portions in which no stories of any abnormal event are contained.

Certainly the whole Church is committed to the task of witnessing to her Lord, Virgin-born, who in a complete manhood reigns for ever in heavenly glory. And any attempt to alter or diminish this "deposit" must be regarded as a tampering with the original apostolic message and witness. The facts of the Virgin birth and complete Resurrection of Christ are fundamental to historic Christianity, and vital to the Church's faith in Christ.

But beyond the facts, there are certain interpretations of events in the Christ's life that are expressed in symbolic language, and that because they admit of no literal expressions in human speech. How the divine Logos entered Mary's womb and took flesh who can say? We can only attempt a phrase, "He came down from Heaven." When therefore we would utter our apprehension of His passage to glory, we can only express it by saying, "He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father." And in view of our belief in His final self-manifestation we can do no better than we did at first: "He shall come again." Even so, our conception of the Christ's life between the crucifixion and resurrection is clothed in equally symbolic speech: "He descended into hell (or hades)."

We know roughly the underlying ideas we wish to express: we have not the power to represent them in speech less symbolic than the Church has given us. We know that "coming down" implies a previous eternity in Godhead; that "ascending" implies an elevation of manhood into glory; and that "descent into hell" involves the conquest of Satanic power and sin in the souls of those who had died before He came. As also His "coming again" stands for a day of catastrophic judgement and inauguration of His final Kingdom. But we are not troubled that our phrases are inadequate and poor: for they are the best we have to offer.

Far differently do we estimate the importance of the facts of the Christ's life on earth. Their expression in plain speech is as right and necessary as is the interpretation in symbolic figures of His relations with the superhuman world.

And to alter the literal expression of these facts is to postulate a change in Him Who is the Revelation. Grace and Truth came by One who was Virgin-born. And to deny the fact of His birth of a Virgin is to substitute a new Christ for the old. Grace and Truth came by One who, risen in body and soul, dwells in complete manhood in His Father's glory. And to deny the fact of His complete resurrection is to substitute a new Christ for the old.

It is too late for criticism to invent a new Christ. The redating of the Gospels and the expurgation of their narratives in the interest of prejudice against miracle may seem to do away with the Virgin-birth and the Resurrection, and to leave us with a Christ, so perfect that God could adopt Him as His own and make Him "divine." In fact, they leave us without the Christ of the Catholic Faith; and without Him as their message, modern critics have no further religious interest for us.

II. In spite of the contempt in which Catholics are held by Modernists and Liberal Churchmen, it may perhaps not be entirely useless to try and put on record some thoughts upon the revolt against traditional Christology.

(a) Modernism is, in part, a natural reaction against the ultra-dogmatic spirit of the theological schools.

It cannot be disputed that in the last many generations men have developed a tendency to discourage theological speculation on subjects which have never been defined. And they have come to regard the theories of popular schools of thought as ranking with the dogmas defined by the Church. No doubt very serious dangers have attended the capture of theology by great Societies and Orders; and it is natural that the Church should pay the penalty of a serious reaction against the triumph of particular schools.

In England we have up to the present suffered less than in Germany, inasmuch as at the Reformation we clung to the Episcopate and the dogmatic decrees of the undivided Church. Apart from these pillars of the faith, the progress of Protestant churches on the Continent and at home towards a new theology has been rapid and startling.

Hence there has arisen within the Church, in England and on the Continent, a school of Churchmen that exalts religion above theology, in despite of the fact that in both there must be one constant clement, and that namely, the historic Person who unveils God alike to the simple believer and to the thinker. This historic Person is, without any real doubt, the divine Word, born of a Virgin, who in body and soul reigns in His Father's glory. And any restatement of theology that will revivify our personal religion must restate the fundamental facts of His appearance, without vital change or modification.

(b) Modernists have been led into false estimates of the historic Christ by an unbalanced view both of the relation of the Gospels to the Church that published them, and of the results of critical study of the Gospels themselves.

It has been assumed that the Gospels, taken alone, will serve to reveal to us what in fact the early disciples believed about Christ two thousand years ago. Together with this assumption the critics claim to formulate, each for himself, a theory of God's working in the world, and a view of Christ's person. Which done, they have recast the Gospel narratives to suit their particular views; with the result that each writer sets forth a different conclusion, and clamours for our acceptance of the same, under pain of condemnation as unintelligent, ignorant, and obstinate persons.

This statement may sound unfair and a little bitter. Let us test it by the writings of some distinguished leaders of what is called the school of Liberal Churchmen.

Dr. Latimer Jackson, in his Hulsean Lectures [The Eschatology of Jesus: passim, esp. cc. I, II, VII, VIII, IX.] delivered at Cambridge in 1912­13, refers us to the Gospels for the records of the earthly life of Jesus. So far he is above criticism. But we find that for him the Gospels mean, in this connection, "Mark and Q." [Page 24.] Beyond these two authorities lie "secondary traditions with or without basis in historic fact." [Page 32.] And even the two primary authorities, Mark and Q, do not guarantee the genuineness of a saying by quoting it; so that in the absence of such guarantee the modern critic must be consulted. [Pages 27, 33.]

Dr. Jackson next demands that the Creeds shall be reinterpreted in the light of his estimate of the meaning of Mark and Q, seeing that Creeds are held to stand upon Scriptural truth. [Pages 367 ff.] For, he says, Creeds are "the offspring of the keenest and best equipped intellects of their period, and represent the highest knowledge to which their age have attained," and therefore it would seem that they may be restated from time to time by those who perceive themselves to be the keenest and best equipped intellects of their own generation. [Page 370.]

Upon such a basis he has developed his Christology. He regards the Lord Jesus as certainly the son of Joseph and Mary; [Pages 316, 330.] he attributes our Lord's belief in resurrection to the superstition of His age, and our belief in the same to a "crude theology"; [Page 341.] and finally determines that we may not offer adoring worship to one who, although not merely man, [Pages 319, 320, 329.] is yet distinct from God. [Pages 324, 327, 333.]

Dr. Bethune Baker, Lady Margaret's Professor in Cambridge University, in his pamphlet called the Miracle of Christianity [Miracle of Christianity, 1914.] approves the principle of Biblical study maintained by Dr. Jackson, [Pages 6 ff.] as also the right of the individual to reinterpret the Creeds in accordance with the results of his study. [Pages 8, 9.] But he does not at all support Dr. Jackson in his particular application of the principle. [Pages 10, 11, 15.] His own teaching would demand of us, I gather, an acceptance of the Catholic Christology, tempered by a readiness to approve the ministry of those who cannot confess the doctrine of the Incarnation. [Page 5.]

Mr. Gwatkin, [Bishop of Oxford's Olsen Letter; a reply.] Dixie Professor in the same University, accepts the narratives of the New Testament as history and not romance, and believes the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation. [Pages 4, 5.] But in his view the Creeds are to be accepted only because they express the Biblical doctrine and history; and, as it happens, he is historian enough to accept the Gospel witness. [Page 5.] Were he other than he is, his principles would not hinder his acceptance of Dr. Jackson's Christology, and for that Christology he would even now find room in the Church. [Page 6.]

From Oxford men a similar illustration of our thesis is equally possible, were it necessary. [e.g. Dr. Sanday, Rev. J. M. Thompson, and others.] But we have said enough to shew that Authority has yielded to Reason, and to Reason exercised upon the Gospel narratives.

The wonder of it is that the modern method which, set free from all authority, produces not the least agreement either in premiss or conclusion, should be exalted as in fact the one way to Truth.

The three professors quoted above agree only in the rejection of Authority in favour of Reason. They differ about the value of the Gospel history, and therefore about the Creeds; and they would preach to a heathen world three different types of religion. And Dr. Sanday has enunciated a fourth position, taking his stand midway between Dr. Baker and Dr. Jackson, with a theory of a supernatural birth of the Eternal Word from two human parents. [Sanday's Reply to the Bishop of Oxford, 1914.] So many types of new religion within the Church are indeed proof of the fruitfulness of this new seed of modernism. The most evident objection to the continued planting of the seed is its incompatibility with the original revelation of Christ in the Catholic Church. For either some authoritative revelation remains, or we all start fresh to seek out God in each generation.

Now the Church of Christ is none other than the Christ Himself dwelling in men and women who by baptism are one with Him, and who abide in Him within the Church's life and worship; and the history of the Church's faith is the record of the corporate experience of this family.

The Head of the Family is known to them, historically as their Founder and Saviour, experimentally as their Life and Friend. And in the family there exists an order of witnesses whose chief function it is to present to every soul the clear-cut story of the Birth, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and Heavenly Life of Jesus of Nazareth, their Lord and their God. This story they recount from age to age not as possessors of a secret doctrine, but as mouthpieces of a living, self-conscious organism, the Church. And their authority is that of witnesses, not of masters. They pretend to no power of compelling belief: rather they claim to provide just the necessary data of spiritual truth that a man needs to set side by side with other data of knowledge before he formulates his own belief. And their exercise of discipline over their fellow members in the family is not due to blindness to God's patient working in the individual soul, but to their duty of preserving the Church from altering or debasing the witness she was sent to proclaim.

It is therefore impossible to revise the original witness and at the same time to call it historic Christianity.

I am not pretending that I have exhausted the meaning or scope of Church Authority in what is said above. But I am sure that what has been said deserves consideration. Personally I ascribe to the Church a wider and more commanding authority than is here implied: but that is no reason why the modernist and Catholic should not discuss together the possibility of a statement of elementary authority that will cover the Gospel view of the Christ. And failing that, I see no common ground at all even for modernists among themselves: they are left each to follow his own reason to whatever it may lead him. And the infallibility of the higher critic is decreed in place of the infallibility of the Pope.

(c) Modernism is also in part due to a sincere desire to preserve Christology from the error of over-exaggeration. It has become plain that many Catholics are inclined to view the Incarnation as an end rather than as a means.

The distinctions between God-in-Himself and God-in-manhood, between God and Christ, between God who receives and Christ who offers the Sacrifice of Calvary, between God who is worshipped by the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Christ who is the sacrifice, have been so blurred in popular thought that a reaction has not unnaturally followed in the minds of many. Catholics are right in maintaining the personal identity of God and Christ; but they are wrong if they confuse the universal relations between the Eternal Word and creation with His assumed, particular relations with the same in and through manhood. They are in fact blind if they do not truly distinguish between God-in-Himself and God-in-manhood in such a sense as will provide for the true humanity of the Word Incarnate.

The modern critic compares the phraseology of the early Apostolic discourses, in which Christ is freely called "a man" and "Thy servant," with the language of Catholic devotion that sometimes forgets that through the Incarnate and His Sacramental Presence we are moving to the Invisible Godhead; and moved to indignation by what the comparison shews him, he sets to work to overemphasize the human in our Lord, until finally he arrives at a theory of a personally human Jesus.

Had he been accustomed to worship the Lord Jesus in sacrament and manhood, as well as in the Invisible Godhead, he would not so err. But omitting to experiment with the Faith from within, as science would bid him do, he begins his criticism from without, and without he seems likely to remain.

For in fact the Catholic Liturgies and defined doctrines leave no room for such confusions as the popular mind has sometimes reached; and did the critic listen to the Church's voice in her official worship he would not go astray.

The Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation, the Church, and the Sacraments is entirely clear in its distinction between the Eternal Logos in His internal relations within the Godhead, the End of all aspiration and search, and the Eternal Logos in manhood, God made man, whose relations with us are grounded in and measured by manhood and manhood's power; God incarnate, the Way to God the Blessed Trinity.

And it was in the hope of emphasizing this truth that once I ventured to make this book; my attempt failing perhaps not only through my own incapacity, but through my primary acceptance of Creeds and Catholic Authority, and my old-fashioned appeal to the Gospel story.

(d) Again, the modernist is in part moved to forsake the Catholic standpoint by his preconceived dread of the miraculous.

He has failed to perceive that in any incarnation of God, creative mind must be present in human form among men, no matter what measure of manhood's limited capacity may condition its exercise.

He fails to see that the act of incarnation, unless it be merely human, of a piece with previous acts caused by the creative mind long ago, must be due to a new unveiling of creative mind at that moment of the world's development in which it was needed. That is to say, it belongs to that order of creative acts which mark the new stages in evolution, and, viewed as an act, is in itself no more surprising than the appearance of human personality in ages long past.

And once creative mind has become incarnate, we have no measure by which to determine a priori the limits of manhood's power to cooperate with it, or the conditions that might require and justify its exercise. It remains therefore for the modernist to return to the orthodox faith in the creative mind incarnate, and to test its actions from within that family which hands on down the ages the message of the Truth made flesh. Otherwise he must surely end in denying to the Christ any the least essential divinity.

(e) Once more, the modernist is the victim of the pragmatic philosophy: and has established himself as the measure of the spiritual meaning and value of every dogma and dogma-bearing fact.

He does not deny that there is evidence for such facts, but he points out that the existing evidence cannot carry conviction to a man who fails to see the spiritual meaning and value of the doctrines based upon the facts.

To this new claim of the individual to be the necessary measure of the Church's creed certain answers can be made.

First, if pressed in every instance of a belief based on a fact, this claim must empty of all value the witness of the saints and faithful, and set up in its place the mind of any one man. It is private judgement run wild. As once many a man interpreted the Bible for himself and claimed to be more nearly right than all his neighbours, so each man will now deal with the Church's Creed, and make for himself a dogmatic system that he can himself believe and teach.

Over against this self-assertion of the individual stands the corporate mind and experience of the whole Church.

As members of God's family, the Church, we are, not unreasonably, expected to admit that other minds and other measures may be more nearly right than ours. The Church suggests that we accept her Creed on her authority, and having accepted it, we are sent, in prayer and meditation, to seek out its meaning and its value. She aids us with judgements upon doctrines, pronounced by her saints and teachers; she bids us be patient with our present limitations; she urges us to a more spiritual discernment of spiritual things; and from her vast experience she whispers comfort and courage to us in the face of modern doubts; but not for one moment will she approve of any the least claim to be to ourselves the ultimate measure of truth.

For the discernment of spiritual values is the work of faith, not of reason.

No doubt reason is the critic of values that faith perceives, and the interpreter by whom these values find their expression; but the primary perception of spiritual values belongs to faith alone.

Surely, then, it were good for us all before we criticize the Creeds to analyse our faith. Is faith, in its essence, an individual power given to each baptized soul for its own private uses? Surely, on the contrary, faith is the power of becoming of "one mind with Christ," and therefore with Christ's brethren, the Saints. It is the primary gift bestowed on man that he may subdue his thoughts to the eternal, true Word and Wisdom that came to lead him into all truth; it is the primary power of self-suppression, of humble-mindedness, without which no heavenly society can embrace sinful men of disordered minds; it is, in fact, the primary influence of the Divine Spirit upon our darkened minds, under which we shall pass, by His mercy, to the contemplation of the Beatific Vision.

Again, we are, it seems to me, in the grip of a false mysticism. We are declaring a separation between the God of Truth and the God of History. We are tempted, by the difficulty of reconciling the supernatural with the natural, to consider apart and unrelated the supernatural plane and the natural plane. Whereas, if Christianity means anything at all, the Incarnation marks the establishment of a point of contact between the supernatural and the natural planes, in which, and from which, we must interpret God's actions as a unified whole.

The true Christian mystic sees all in one whole. And when the individual mind hesitates to say it has yet completed the unification for itself, the corporate mind lends its support and authority; and the individual casts himself upon the society, upon the family of the Lord God, who cannot deceive or be deceived.

Once more. In religion a fact is of far more vital importance than an idea. Ideas are always liable 'to particular interpretations, and quickly change their colour, and alter their weight, as they are accepted by this man or that; nor have they any permanence in their original shape.

Whereas a fact is a concrete expression of an idea in time, and for all time; and carries its own power of correcting whatever false ideas may be based upon it.

Therefore the Church has always chosen fact as the basis of her dogmas; just as the world prefers ideas as more likely to produce that foggy atmosphere in which each system may hide its defects.

Thus we can all agree that God is immanent in creation; the Church requires that we agree about His transcendence, because of the fact of creation. We can all agree that our Lord is the Supreme Teacher; the Church demands that we agree about His Deity, because of the Virgin birth. We can all agree that a spiritual influence falls on all who open their hearts and minds to it; the Church will have us agree about the personal Spirit, the Holy Ghost, on the ground of the visible existence of the Catholic Church, and of His preparation of the world for it through the Prophets.

Therefore we must steadily refuse to part with our facts for mere ideas, however beautiful.

So that we return to the note of authority. Nor can we escape from the need of a society that, basing itself upon certain definite historical facts, can always down the ages bear its witness to those facts.

The Catholic Church is indeed the present manifestation of Christ, Virgin-born, Risen, Ascended, Glorified. Its Creeds and Decrees are her warnings against doctrinal theories inconsistent with those facts; its Liturgy and Worship are the intimate expression before God of her understanding of the facts; while the Bible is her testimony not merely to the historical truths of the facts themselves, but to their place in the whole scheme of God's providential government.

And there is no way to a rational apprehension of the facts and their ultimate meaning other than the loyal acceptance of the Church's claim, and an experimental knowledge of her life and message which can be acquired only in union with her Lord, sacramental and mystical.

(f) Thus, for the last time, we may in part trace the present prevalence of modernism to that indifference to Church order that is one of the fruits of the Reformation.

It has come to be believed that nothing really matters but a man's secret, personal relation to Jesus Christ. Whereas in fact the ultimate necessity is a relation with the Eternal Godhead, in itself impossible to us without a revelation; a revelation that in fact was made to and in a society named the Church of Christ. Surely, then, they labour foolishly who, setting themselves, whether in thought or in fact, outside and apart from the society which has the revelation, begin from the beginning, by their unaided reason, to search out God.

It is not fair to answer me that many modernists still cling to much of the theology of the Church: they do, not because it belongs to the Church, but because they themselves at the present moment perceive its value. By their own principles the modernists have nothing outside their reason in which to trust. For the Gospels are at the mercy of their reason; the Creeds stand or fall with the Gospels; and the Church is, in practice, the present-day band of critical teachers, by whose standards all values must be assessed.

At its best, the object of their faith is a Christ whom their reason must first discover!

Other criticisms of causes that lead to modernism, such as the exaltation of human power at the cost of grace, and an undue slavery to the theory of man's evolution to perfection, will be found in the body of the book.

My last plea is this. Let us all give up our claim to independence of judgement. For there is no such thing as an unbiassed student of Christology. The Lord Christ lives and reigns; and each man who gazes upon Him that he may investigate His history is driven to adopt a definite attitude towards Him, be it of full faith, of doubt, or of unbelief. And on that attitude we depend as we pass to judge the Creeds and Scriptures. To maintain the contrary is to deceive oneself. For my mental attitude to Jesus Christ is as much a personal relation of myself with Him as is my moral attitude. And where personality is concerned, independence has passed away.

"Lord, I believe: help Thou mine unbelief!"

July 31, 1914.

Preface to First Edition

This book deals with one point of Christology alone, and that the manner of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. It represents an attempt to discover the exact content of the Subject, or Ego, of the manhood of our Lord. It does not in any way deal with the doctrine of the Incarnation as a whole, nor is it in any sense a textbook.

I beg that my readers will persevere in seeking the meaning of what I have written, in spite of the many blemishes that mar my work. This is my first attempt at serious authorship, and it has been made in the middle of my work as a missionary priest, in a country where books are few and which is far away from all centres of Theological thought.

I am under obligations to the classical works of Dorner and Professor Bruce, and for the doctrine of Personality I have relied much upon the writings of Dr. Illingworth. For the rest, it is impossible to name all those who, from St. Mark onwards, have taught us the doctrine of the Incarnation. References to special volumes will be found in the notes, and I hope they may be useful to general readers.

I owe my best thanks to the Rev. H. Maynard Smith, of Great Shelsley Rectory, for help and encouragement at the beginning of my task, and for a generous promise to read the proofs of these pages on my behalf.

I have another friend to whom my book and myself owe not a little. To him, and to the memory of his influence in his short life in Zanzibar, I have dedicated my work such as it is. [The late Rev. E. W. Corbett, to whose memory the original edition was dedicated.]

For the convenience of readers I may explain that the book is divided into three parts.

Part I contains some preliminary matter and the data for a solution of the problem.

Part II is historical. I have tried very shortly to shew that attempts to solve the problem, whether direct or indirect, have followed one of three main lines.

Part III is made up of a statement of the theory that I have ventured to formulate, and a serious effort to test that theory by an examination, in the light of it, of the most important of the Christological facts with which the Gospel story has furnished us.

The notes at the end of the book are for the help of such readers as do not possess a large acquaintance with the doctrine and literature of the Incarnation.

F. W.
Kiungani, Zanzibar, St. Mark's Day, 1907.

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