THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS OR GOD IN MAN:GEORGE SANTAYANA

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS OR GOD IN MAN

A CRITICAL ESSAY BY GEORGE SANTAYANA

CONTENTS

PART FIRST

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

I Inspiration
II Character of the Several Gospels
III The Messiah
IV The Son of God
V The Son of Man
VI The Miracles
VII The Parables
VIII The Prophecies and the Precepts
IX The Prayers
X The Passion
XI The Resurrection

PART SECOND

ULTERIOR CONSIDERATIONS

I Traditional Assumptions
II Monarchical Theism
III The Concept of Creation
IV The Fatherhood of God
V Moralism
VI God’s Love of Man and Man’s Love of God
VII The Animal Psyche and the Supernatural Soul
VIII Self-Transcendence
IX Conclusion


INSPIRATION

Many a ’’Life of Jesus” has been composed in the effort to recast the narratives in the four Gospels into one consecutive and credible history. For a believer, if he were greatly inspired, such an undertaking might be legitimate; yet it would be hardly required, since the narratives, though independent, fall together of themselves, in the pious mind, into a total and impressive picture. The history of Christian faith and of Christian art sufficiently proves it. But this presupposes an innocent state of mind that accepts every detail, no matter how miraculous, with unhesitating joy, and is ready sympathetically to piece out the blanks in the story, and to imagine ever more vividly how everything must have happened. So every orthodox preacher does in his glowing sermons, and every devout soul in its meditations.

If, however, the would-be biographer of Jesus is a cool aide,
with no religious assumptions, his labours will be entirely wasted,
because he has mistaken the character of his texts. The Gospels are
not historical works but production of inspiration. They are sum-
monses and prophecies, announcing the end of this world, or at
least of the present era, and prescribing the means by which individual souls may escape destruction, and enter into a Kingdom of Heaven which is at hand.

Essentially, then, the Gospels are prophetic; they bring “glad tidings”; yet they are not written by the prophets themselves, but gathered together a generation or

two later from oral tradition or from the inspirations of tie Apostles and of anonymous believers through whom the spirit had not ceased to speak: nor is it excluded that the Evangelists themselves should have had original inspirations. In the Gospels, the
unction, the freshness, the life-like details in many places are so
many proofs of their poetic source. The writer is telling of some-
thing now standing before his eyes, of which his heart is full. He
is not collecting reports, he is not remembering events that he
himself has ever witnessed. If he overhears those discourses, it is
by telepathy; if he sees those scenes, it is in a vision; if he knows
those truths, it is by faith.

Nor are the Gospels less inspired in their plot than in their message. If in original purpose they are works of propaganda and
edification, in method of composition they are religious epics.
Action in them is preordained in heaven, and prompted by angels
and devils; and events happen that ancient prophecies may be
fulfilled. Facts and thoughts are everywhere reported without
evidence, and often without even a possible witness, as by the
omniscience of a novelist. Not that the writers are indifferent to
truth or doubt that they see it. On die contrary, they are moved by
a religious passion to proclaim and to propagate the truth, with a
zeal entirely foreign to the profane historian. But their criterion of
truth is not evidence or probability: it is congruity with the faith,
fittingness, significance, edification. Things have been ordered by
God as it is beautiful that they should be ordered; and it is on this
ground that true reports are to be distinguished from false ones.
These things are not loose facts: they are parts of a revelation.

This is not to say that an inspired writer may never report anything that is historically true. The Iliad is an epic and the Muse is expressly invoked to inspire it; yet what can inspiration do, fact
reburnish and marshal more grandly images that had real occasions
and therefore could not lack some indicative truth? And the deeper
the passion that selects and transmutes those images, the truer the
picture becomes to the heart. Achilles might have been purely imaginary and as little historical as Prometheus; yet he probably was real; for we are now led to believe, on other evidence, that there was really a Trojan war, an Agamemnon, and why not an
Achilles also? But when we read that his mother was a sea-goddess
and that Pallas Athena pulled his yellow hair, to check his rash-
ness, we perceive that we are in the realm of myth or of allegory,
and that there is no knowing how much foundation in fact there
may be in such fables. In any case, this is not what matters in the
Iliad. It is the mind of Homer, the young soul of Greece, the
courage and pathos of human life in its essence that we look for
here, and that we find. A professor that should profess to produce
a critical life of Achilles would make us laugh.

Why have we not laughed from the beginning at any rationalist
or rationalising “Life of Jesus”? Because neither the author nor
the public were really emancipated from the magic of Christian
faith. They were Protestants or free-thinking Catholics, and they
retained unwittingly, if not avowedly, a substantial residue of trust
in inspiration, either in the literal and verbal infallibility of the
Bible, or in the amiable figure of Jesus, conversing with his dis-
ciples or with Mary Magdalene or laying his hands on litde chil-
dren’s heads. Sensibility, which would have been a virtue in them
as literary aides, became the cause of an enormous blunder of
theirs as historians. For a sympathetic humanist and unprejudiced
man of letters, there is no more reason for swearing by the letter
of the Gospels than by that of Homer or the Upanishads or the
Koran. We may prefer the spirit of one or another, but the moral
beauty in them all is equally natural, equally human; and nothing
but custom or a mystical conversion can lead us to regard the
inspiration in one case only as miraculous, and a revealed mirror
of the exact truth.

I know of only one aide, and he the earliest, who has radically
escaped this snare by virtue of exceptional isolation and exceptional
genius. “The Jews,” writes Spinoza (who was one of them), “if
they make money by a transaction, say God gave it to them; if they desire anything they say God has disposed their hearts towards it;
and if they think anything they say God has told them/’ Here is
inspiration stripped of all verbal drapery and seen in puns natural-
thus . No less penetrating and radical is Spinoza concerning Christ.
He wrote, however, in the midst of the blindest theological con-
troversies and rival fanaticisms; and sometimes he ironically
adapted his language to the cant of his time. So the word ‘salvation,” in the following passage, must be taken in a double sense,
one for his readers, another for his secret mind. “It is not in the
least needful for salvation” — he privately meant needful for a
happy life — “to know Christ according to the flesh; but concern-
ing that so-called eternal Son of God (de aeterno illo Dei filio )
that is, Gods eternal wisdom, which is manifested in all things,
and chiefly in the mind of man, and most particularly in Christ
Jesus, the case is far otherwise. For without this no man can arrive
at a state of blessedness, inasmuch as nothing else can teach him
what is true or false, what is good or evil.” The historical Jesus
and the ideal Christ are here distinguished clearly, and seen in
their respective nakedness. That which Spinoza ignored, not hav-
ing the tradition or the culture required to understand it, was
precisely that idea of God-in-man, that religious image of Christ
evoked in the Gospels and living in the Christian mind, which is
my subject. Spinoza was not a poet by nature, and fate had not
caused him to be born a Christian. If consequently he escaped
illusion in one direction, he missed insight in another.

What is inspiration? We see in the Gospels that madmen were
conceived to be possessed by devils; and antiquity in general re-
garded originality or genius in mankind as something infused by a
magic spell, by the Muses, or by the spirit of some God; and this
was not merely a way of speaking, but an intimate experience;
because the natural man never feels more passive, or more at a loss
to explain his performance, than when he has a brilliant thought or
does impulsively some unexpectedly heroic or shameful action.
Nevertheless, everybody knows that certain spots and seasons, certain practices and attitudes are favourable to grace; that spring and wine provoke inspiration in poets and lovers, though it be inspiration of a generic and common kind; and that the wilder
inspiration produced by opiates and toxic gases, as well as that of
spiritualist mediums, shows a strange mixture of dreamlike incoherence with bits of supernormal perception and prophecy.

It would appear from all this that the graphic and persuasive
force of inspiration, although circumstances may be propitious for
it, as they may be propitious for the development of a seed, does
not invade us from outside, but on the contrary springs from an
innate poetic fertility and suppressed dreamfulness in the psyche.
The occasion and the ambient influences merely vivify the spirit, by
stimulating the organism to fuse scattered impressions, to revive
and transform forgotten images, to invent, as in dreams, scenes
that justify ripening emotions, and to feel affinities or equivalence
in apparently disparate things. In a word, inspiration remakes the
image of the world, or unmakes it, according to the mood of the
soul. If the psyche is diseased, inspiration becomes madness; if the
psyche is healthy and irrepressible, it becomes genius.

Moreover, in type and in its reaction to the facts, inspiration is
far more primitive and pervasive than we commonly suppose. It
runs down into the very rudiments of mind: it marks the birth
of spirit. What could be more original than the sensation of
sound, or the sensation of light? The psyche breeds these sensations
at certain crises in animal life, when some external event or
external object threatens or allures us. The sight or the sound therefore is box loaded for the spirit with anxiety or lust: because
before creating these recognisable images inspiration has already
filled the spirit with mute passion, with intense and abject con-
cern for what is happening or about to happen. Therefore the most
absorbing prospect opened up in animal life reveals a moving scene
and an oncoming event. Inspiration is pictorial and prophetic We
find it at its height in the Hebrew prophets and in the Gospels.

The most sceptical philosopher when dreaming believes in his
dream. Its transformations do not surprise him and its contradic-
tions seem to him each a new revelation of the truth. He can
begin to doubt only when some firm system of old inspirations
crops up under his feet, and he feels the ground on which he is
standing while his head is in the clouds. Such a system must first be
built into the structure of language and buttressed by applications
in the useful arts. Then in contrast to these conventions by which
mankind manages to live, new and bolder inspirations may seem
disruptive and fantastic. There ensues a battle of inspirations, the
new against the old, the native against the foreign, the more
speculative against the more practical. But in themselves all inspira-
tions are speculative: that which is practical and useful can be only
the action that may accompany them.

According to all this, when inspiration is considered psychologically, it appears to be something primitive and pervasive in the realm of mind; and the more miraculous its deliverance may seem, the more deeply human that deliverance will be. For inspira-
tion represents the original contribution of the soul to experience, contrasted with the contribution made by dumb and accidental contact with material things.

This inner source of inspiration does not prejudice the ulterior
question whether inspiration in any particular case is true or false.
It may be either or neither. It is neither true nor false when no
affirmation or action is involved in it, as for instance in inspired
music: and even when inspiration moves powerfully to action or
affirmation (as it does in the Gospels) the question of its truth or
falseness cannot be decided offhand or by a single experiment.
For the form in which the facts appear is itself a mental figment;
and there might be diversity in two symbols, supplied by two
different organs of sense or two different grammars of thought,
without either of the two being, in its own mode, a false symbol
for that reality. Common sense therefore can neither prove nor
disprove the truth of an inspiration at first sight. The question, if soluble at all, must be solved by a circumspect consideration of all the factors concerned.

It may seem to follow from this view that no inspiration can
be literally true, since all are figments of the psyche and at best
reveal external facts only symbolically. Yet, even on this hypo-
thesis, literal truth might be revealed to one mind regarding the
play of symbols in another: which is the reason why sceptical
people find it easier to be humanists than to pin their faith on
any philosophy or religion, or even on natural science. They feel
on surer ground in conversation ithan in argument and can taste
the savour of truth in a novel better than in a history. Religion and
morals, at another level, profit by the same kinship of the object
with the mind that considers it. We can recognise our own hopes
in the assurances of a prophet, and be confirmed in them, as if they
had proved true; and we can express our moral judgments with
more confidence if the conscience of mankind, or of an impressive
sage, can be quoted as an authority for them. In this case we may
even feel the absurdity of claiming that our moral judgments
should be true in any other sense than in being sincere and wide-
spread: for they have no direct object other than the sentiment they
express.

In religion, however, it is possible to entertain faith in the literal truth of certain inspirations, not by denying their psychological status and origin, but by positing a miraculous pre-established harmony between the inspired utterance and the absolute truth.

A novelist, working up his own impressions and fancies, might by
miracle write a story that had been actually enacted without his
knowledge, by persons exactly like the characters in his book, and
in places bearing the names of the places mentioned there, which
he thougjht fictitious. Now, in a religious revelation, this miracle
would have a raison d’etre and a plausible explanation. God might
bring it about that certain prophets should divine the exact truth in
some respects: he might, for instance, have brought it about that our
four Evangelists should have come, in casual ways, upon different portions of the life and teaching of Christ, in its absolute reality.
This is what many a wise and learned man believed until yesterday
There is nothing logically impossible about it. All that is requisite
to make it credible is a belief in miracles, such as the Evangelist
themselves possessed in happy abundance.

My personal sentiments on this point do not form part of the
subject here. I have no wish to disguise them, and they will no
doubt transpire without my leave, yet my object is not to pass judg
ment on the validity of Gospel truth, either historical or meta
physical. I wish only to analyse and detach, as far as possible, on
original element in the inspiration of the Gospels, namely the
dramatic presentation of the person of Christ. The habit of
assuming that inspiration in the Scriptures was miraculous has lec
critics not to credit the Evangelists with any merit in this regard
Christ had been like that, he had spoken those very words; prob
ably he had spoken others that it was a pity not to have recordec
also. It was Christ himself, not anyone’s idea of Christ, that th<
reader, and even the critic, felt he had before him; and the variou;
Evangelists, with their limitations, were rather to be blamed foj
their little inconsistencies and misleading omissions than praisec
for the extraordinary impression which their picture of Jesus lefi
upon the mind. Certainly, if the Holy Ghost was the direct anc
only responsible author of the Gospels and of all the Scriptures, wc
have nobody else to thank for them, and merely to regret the
corruptions and disorder in which these oracles have been trans-
mitted to us. The Holy Spirit dwelt in the eternal. He had stood
beside the Creator at the foundations of the world, and himsell
had inspired all the prophets, and all the good actions and words
of the saints. It had not been human art, but simple graciousness
on God’s part, to let us peep here and there into the life of Christ,
and overhear some of his sayings. I should be sorry to disturb
anyone who can accept this view, or who himself has received
special revelations from on high. I speak of prophecy, without
being myself a prophet, and address only those who find them-
selves in the same case.

In the everyday light of profane history and literary criticism it
appears that the life and the human person of Christ, far from
being a present reality of which the Evangelists, notebook in hand,
have set down a few particulars, were little known or dwelt upon
by the first generation of Christians. Saint Paul, the earliest of
Christian writers, had seen Christ only in a vision; he had not read
the Gospels for they were not yet written; and it is not Christ’s life
or precepts that interest this Apostle, but the evidence that Christ
had appeared to others also, and above all, that he dwelt in the
heart and spoke through the mouth of those who believed in him.
His reported precepts and miracles were not at all what had con-
verted Saint Paul. So long as these only were in question, he had
zealously persecuted the new sea. What suddenly converted him
was an apparition. A light from heaven had dazzled him, and
when he had fallen to the earth he had heard a voice saying, I am
Jesus, whom thou persecutest. Paul thus had visionary evidence
that Jesus had risen from the dead and was truly the Messiah. This,
and this alone, was the foundation of his faith.

But Paul had a most intense and fertile theological mind, and
when that unexpected fact was once accepted, he was vehemently
inspired with a theological system to explain and develop it. Jesus
had been crucified, a fact that might seem to prove that he was not
the Christ. But this objection came from sheer blindness to the
secret meaning of Scripture, especially of Isaiah and the
Psalm. Here the sorrows of Jesus and even his crucifixion were
plainly foretold, although the unenlightened hearer and perhaps
even the unwitting speaker might have supposed that nothing
was signified except their own trials. But the Christ had to suffer
and be sacrificed before he could triumph, as he presently would,
when he came down again in the clouds of heaven, amid the
trumpeting angels. And the reason for these necessary sufferings
of the just man was the need of propitiation for the sins of the
world. Christ, by dying crucified, had paid the price for us all, if
only we believed in him. The law, which nobody could fulfill per-
fectly, convicted us all of sin and condemned us to damnation:

but Christ had made such as believed in him free, and had established a regimen of grace, by which the elect were sanctified and baptised in his blood, with no merits of their own. All therefore could now be saved immediately and gratis: and this was the glad tidings to be carried, in haste and in charity, to the ends of the earth.

This system was known to the Evangelists and appears by im-
plication in some passages: but their inspiration was more like that
of the Old Testament; and instead of developing a sentiment
into a theory they tended to illustrate it in a story. Every text of
Scripture recognised to apply prophetically to Christ became a
guide in recounting his words and actions: for had these not
occurred expressly in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled?
And every precept inspired by the conviction that the Kingdom of
Heaven was at hand suggested a fable or parable to illustrate it.
The cures and other miracles that the disciples for one or two
generations had been performing in the name of Christ could
be retold, with perfect logical propriety, as performed by Jesus
himself: for was it not Christ, dwelling in the person of his
disciples, that had worked the wonder? Thus the traditions handed
down about him could be insensibly remodelled in being repeated
and made harmonious with the office and the intention that Christ
was now known to have had.

Another important source of inspiration, especially in the fourth
Gospel, also has its counterpart in the theology of Saint Paul.
When Christ was known only through visions or theories, it was
easy to conceive him as an influence or a spirit working within one-
self. A devout mystical life, in which the idea of Christ was the
model and guide, then began to accompany the Christian in his
apostolic labours, or even to seem more important and fruitful
than any missionary work. What would all the miraculous gifts
of the spirit be worth, if you had not charity? And what consola-
tion could you find for the cruel perversity of the world, save the
sacred union of your heart with Christ and with God? Would not this consecration of yourself, though hidden, be really more efficacious than preaching in converting mankind? The image of Christ thus would become the inner monitor, the audible voice of your conscience, always present within you; a human image, yet the
image of God. In loving Christ you would love all men, because
he loved them; and in worshipping Christ you would be worship-
ping God, because he that hath seen the Son hath seen the Father who sent him.

Not all converts, however, could draw from their own well,
like Saint Paul, a sufficient volume of conviction to slake their
spiritual thirst, or could hear the recognisable voice of Christ
speaking dearly within them. They required a more graphic; articulate, and external image of their Saviour, whose words and ex-
ample might control and stimulate their languid apprehension.
Miraculous episodes, and pregnant words uttered in recounting
them, satisfied this need. So did the parables and precepts current
in the legend of Jesus, and above all the drama of his Passion and
Resurrection. Yet inspiration was always at work: and even when in
modem times die printed text of the Bible was accepted as alone
sufficient and inspired, the fountain of natural originality was by
no means dried up in the souls of believing readers. Each treasured
and endlessly repeated the special texts that seemed to him all-
revealing; each formed his own image of the person of Christ
and his own selection and arrangement of Christian precepts. Nor
is inspiration less confident to-day in every truly religious preacher.
He transports himself into the scene he is to describe; he rekindles
in himself the thought to be communicated or the passion to be
aroused: he embroiders upon his theme, expands it dramatically,
and sees, as in a vision, what more must have been thought and
done by all the persons concerned. He understands for the moment
the secret designs of Providence. And if he can penetrate to the
mind and purposes of God, how should he not know those of
men and of angels? His faith makes his Gospel whole.

The Evangelists are preachers of this inspired kind. Even in the fourth Gospel, where a dominant conception of Christ’s nature
and mission appears, there is much else of a traditional or
legendary type, and nowhere do we find a coherent or comprehen-
sive vision, either of doctrine or history, such as might be con-
ceived to have come down from heaven complete. This was an
ideal towards which the first Christians were struggling out of their
originally confused and dispersed persuasions. Each had heard
something, or seen something that had converted him; each had
had his own copious inspirations in consequence; and it was the
task of the Church to harmonise these orades of private faith, and
in particular to form a definite idea of Christ, as he was in heaven
and as he had appeared on earth. The Gospels that we possess were
steps in that direction. They were composed in the Church, by the
Church, and for the Church. Although the inspiration for each
particular must have come originally to some individual, it was the
sense of the assembly as a body, and the wisdom of its leaders, that
determined which revelations should be approved, adopted, propa-
gated, and perhaps incorporated into the ritual of their local
churches; and it was the sense of the Church universal, issuing
from much rivalry and many a dispute, that finally selected and
sanctioned such revelations as seemed to fortify and clarify did
common faith.

It was the Church that gave authority to the Gospels, not the Gospels that determined the faith of the Church.

Once written down and approved, however, the Gospels and the
other parts of the New Testament became a common standard of
reference in controversy and a common source of doctrine and
sacred histoty for the clergy, as the Old Testament also remained.
The Gospels, with their mixture of precept, legend, and theology,
were an invaluable store of texts for sermons and of moving scenes
to rekindle religious devotion and to guide the lives of the faith-
ful. Yet the Gospels needed compledon and interpretation in many
directions, and it was the duty of the later Fathers and Co uncils
to cany on the same inspired labours. On the graphic side, the miracles and the Passion of Christ had been vividly narrated; there
was little or nothing to ask for there; but on the other hand his
relation to the Father and to the soul of the believer remained
intellectually obscure. Christology and the nature of salvation and
grace therefore formed the first questions on which the Church
had to seek for more light. More light could legitimately be hoped
for, not from new sources, but by meditation on the essence and
implications of the traditional faith. The Gospels, and in particular
the idea of Christ, could thus be kept living and self-renewing
by the very inspiration that had originally composed them. Here
faith was justified inwardly on the exact principle that the philos-
opher Bradley recommended in the nineteenth century to English
metaphysicians: If a thing must be, and if that thing may be; then that thing is.

There is a curious legend of an early date concerning the cir-
cumstances in which Saint John came to compose his Gospel. No
doubt the anecdote is apochryphal, but it shows what, at the end
of the second century, was deemed the proper and edifying way
of approaching such a task. “At the entreaty of his disciples, and
of his bishop, John the Apostle said: ‘Fast ye now with me for
three days, and whatsoever shall have been revealed to each, let
us report to one another.’ That sme night it was revealed to
Andrew the Apostle that, with the corroboration of all, John
should write the whole in his own name.” Anyone, then, propos-
ing to write a Gospel was not expected to consult witnesses or to
cross-question his own memories or presumptions, but rather to
gather together a knot of pious souls, all fasting, and to collect
their sundry inspirations; or else, in the case of a great apostle
like John, to withdraw into solitude and with earnest prayers
and meditations to await revelations from the spirit. At the same
time, inspiration was not suffered to run wild. The general senti-
ment of the Church both prompted the Evangelist in his under-
taking and reserved the right to reject or to censor the result. Yet
the eye of the Church, no less than that of the prophet; was fixed the created soul is rather life than wisdom, rather the Psyche than
the Logos: but something of the Logos may descend too, and we
find in John a number of other terms, the Light, the Way, the
Truth, that fall in well with the mediating office of Christ, as
teacher and redeemer. Yet there are still other terms, Life and
Love, that seem to fit better the intimate essence of his person, as
if he were the Spirit incarnate, rather than the Word. And the
constant use of these abstract terms in John chills a little the under-
lying warmth and tragic inspiration of the narrative. They also
destroy the lifelikeness of the speeches put into Christ’s mouth;
the human foreground is lost, and the rhetorical distances become cold and empty.

Even in the narrative and dialogue, admirable as they are in
themselves, the mystical signification sometimes intervenes pre-
maturely. Episodes are introduced and left half-told for the sake
of pointing a moral, or explaining their symbolic and sacramental
value. The image of Christ in these parts becomes correspondingly
pale and impersonal. He seems to be addressing all mankind, or
only an abstracted part of the soul, rather than his living hearers; or
else to be preoccupied with his own metaphysical dignity. Protesta-
tions and formulas are repeated liturgically, without gaining in
clearness. The writer no doubt is labouring under the difficulty of
having things to say for which there is no traditional language.
He cannot wait for a fit language to be developed, nor can he enter
into a logical definition of terms: he is reduced to loading the few
terms he has at hand with all the force of his insight, and leaving
it for time and spiritual experience to reveal his meaning.

On the whole, however, these beginnings of theology in John
are far from destroying the graphic and topographically distinct
impression produced, or the evangelical character of this Gospel.
Essentially the book remains a prophecy, an announcement, and a
challenge. We are summoned to believe, if we hope to be saved.
There is the same sense as in the other Gospels of the precarious
and unbearable state of the world, of the imminent catastrophe and
die awful issue.

Conditions are self-inspired, if our very senses are dependent on our
organs, are they not rather fountains of illusion than revelation of
the truth? This, however, is a decadent complication in thought;
it puzzles those who are reasoning in words, and incapable of
recognising the vital and animal nature of belief. Sight, though
language, and inspiration generally are true enough when they
serve as symbols, or as a system of symbols, for the real conditions
of life and for the potentialities of that life. To ask for more, is
to quarrel with one’s tools.

The Evangelists were neither decadent nor speculative, and for
them the truth of inspiration was a matter of course. If facts
seemed to contradict it, that was a momentary matter: presently
those facts would disappear, and the truth of inspiration would
flash and thunder from one end of the sky to the other. Nor is there
any logical impossibility in such a view. By miracle, let me repeat,
the psyche might have anticipated precisely what was about to
happen. By miracle the powerful conclusions of Thomas Aquinas
or die fasting visions of John the Evangelist might be true mate-
rially as well as poetically. Our ancestors found it possible to Eve
quite roughly and heartily in this world, while swearing by the
exact geography of heaven and hell. And who knows what myths
our descendants may not believe, and think themselves vastly enlightened?

Meantime, all that I aspire to evoke, in so far as sympathetic
study may avail, is the idea of Christ presupposed in the Gospels
and present, before and after the Gospels were written, to die
rhrisfian mind. This image is highly complex. It had been formed
simultaneously in many minds having different habits and tend-
encies, as appears in the Gospels themselves. Moreover this image
essentially represents a mystery, the mystery of God-in-man; so
that it possesses a double interest for the philosopher: first, as an
important figure in the history of religion and art, and then as a
symbol for the high moral and ontological mysteries which it personifies.

The text of the Gospels supplies materials for forming the idea
of Christ rather than a distinct definition of it; yet the words and
actions of Jesus recorded there, and especially his Passion, Resur-
rection, and mystical presence in the Eucharist and in the hearts
of the faithful, had a magnifying and cumulative force, and im-
posed a more and more definite idea of Christ on the devout be-
liever. Through a thousand reiterations in sermons, prayers, ritual
observances, and works of painting and sculpture, this idea became
a dominating feature in the life of Christendom. For some it still
remains the living centre of all religion. Newman, for instance,
tells us that “it was the thought of Christ which gave a life to the
promise of that eternity which without Him would be, in any
soul, nothing short of an intolerable burden.” This may seem an
exaggerated pessimism to lovers of natural life, who desire im-
mortality simply because annihilation seems to them horrible: but
there is a type of transcendental reflection (which I will revert to
in the end) that can identify the idea of God in man with that of
spirit incarnate anywhere: and that indeed is all that “any soul” can reasonably care about.

Newman writes also, just before the words quoted, that as “a
temporal sovereign makes himself felt by means of his subordi-
nates, who bring his power and will to bear upon every individual
of his subjects who personally know him not,” so “the universal
Deliverer … is found to have imprinted the Image or idea of
Himself, who fulfills the one great need of human nature, the
Healer of its wounds, the Physician of the soul; this Image it is
that both creates faith and then rewards it.”

So speaks a refined spirit, who, in circumstances very different
from those of die Evangelists, does not hesitate to join them in
hypostasising the idea of Christ into a divine power at work in the
hearts of men, and creating there the only true religion and tfie
only pure morality. We need not follow them in so impetuous
an assumption; yet we may admit that an image or idea that can be so idolised by sensitive and noble minds deserves to be studied
and to be clarified. Some inborn predicament of die spirit must be
expressed in such an inspiration. What exactly is this inspiration
as enshrined in the Gospels? And what, in fact, is the predicament
that it expresses? Such are the questions that I endeavour to answer
in the following pages.


CHARACTER OF THE SEVERAL GOSPELS

Does the order in which the Gospels are traditionally put before us correspond to an essential development in them of the idea of Christ? Not entirely. It is clear that the fourth Gospel is much the most speculative. The image of Christ there remains complex,
but is perfectly unified; whereas in the other Gospels sundry independent reports, presumptions, and theories are juxtaposed in good faith, without any attempt to interpret them in the light of one commanding intuition. Even in the third Gospel, where the Evangelist tells us that he had many predecessors, and that it had seemed good to him also to set down in order those things which are most surely believed among us, a great part of the anecdotes and precepts that follow form a mere anthology, as in Matthew and Mark . Yet here the original compiler, doubtless Saint Luke himself, is a deliberate literary writer, with a marked personal character and tradition, intensely Jewish in spirit and in liturgical habits, desirous also of conciliating the pagan official world, of sweetening the Gospel and of harmonising its message not only with Hebrew prophecy but also with humanistic sentiment. His piety and eloquence are already ecclesiastical. He composes or introduces beautiful psalms and surrounds the public life of Jesus with a celestial and idyllic Vorge Schechter .

I am not sure that this need be an earlier development of the
idea of Christ than the one found in the fourth Gospel: it is more
devout, more feminine, and might well follow upon speculative flights among the bolder converts. Saint Luke, who was Saint Paul’s
disciple and the original author of the Acts of the Apostles, must
have been thoroughly familiar with the notion of Christ as the
source of an inner influence and saving grace. Yet it is only in John
that this mystic union with Christ appears in the Gospels, whilst in
Luke it is rather the legend of his early life that is developed: which
may have been done in defence against Gnostic heresies, in which
the link with Hebrew Scriptures was broken and the humanity of
Christ denied.

In all the Gospels the admirable quality of the scenes and the
sayings are due less to the several Evangelists than to the traditions
of Hebrew and of all oriental eloquence; and also perhaps to the
fact that all these parables, maxims and episodes had been recounted
orally numberless times before, here and there, they were set down
on paper. If sometimes, in this process, their original inspiration and
terseness may have been lost, at any rate what subsisted would
possess the detachable and applicable quality of proverbs. Preachers,
prophets and evangelists would conspire to put into the mouth of
Christ whatever words their inspiration thought to be worthy of
him: the more memorable and impressive of these words would be
retained and repeated; and the idea of Christ would grow and
solidify in the minds of the faithful under the control of the very
faith that evoked it.

In Mark the image of Christ, his spontaneous mind, his action,
his mysterious ascendency dominate the scene with greater lifelike-
ness and force than in other synoptic Gospels. The narrative is con-
densed, fragmentary and dramatic There are perceptible threads
or motifs running through it, and giving it a moral unity. One is
the motive of secrecy, gradual self-revelation, final public assertion
on the part of Jesus of his Messiahship and divinity. Yet his super-
human status and powers break through from the beginning of his
public life, causing surprise and wonder, and leaving his nature
veiled and the idea of him, in his disciples’ minds, puzzling and
obscure. Only at rare moments do the clouds break, heaven opens, and a voice from above proclaims, “This is my beloved Son”; or
Jesus expressly leads his favourite disciples to the summit of
Thabor, and is there transfigured before their eyes, and seen con-
versing with Moses and Elijah. He is always secretly, he has been
from all eternity, a denizen of heaven: he may truly say: “Before
Abraham was, I am”; yet he continues to enjoin silence on his
immediate followers, until his time shall come.

This mystery, as touched upon in Mark, seems truer to life and
deeper than if it were prudently guarded by Jesus as a matter of
policy, lest there should be a premature insurrection of the people
or a misunderstanding of his mission. In Mark Jesus never becomes,
as he tends to become in John, a visiting God speaking through a
glazed mask of humanity. He remains an impetuous, virile, com-
manding human being, yielding to circumstances and himself living
dramatically. Omniscience and omnipotence are not always at his
command; he has a human memory and foresight, and human
moods; yet he knows, as if by faith, that he is more than human,
that omniscience and omnipotence are latent within him, though his
access to them is not always immediate. There are only moments,
in action or in prayer, when the transition to the deeper truth
can be made and the human will and imagination can melt and
disappear in the divine vision. The modesty in concealing divinity
is therefore not feigned; there is a genuine confession of humanity
in it which, however, does not exclude, on occasion, a bold and
overpowering assertion of divinity.

In this respect the image of Christ in Mark seems to me the most
perfect to be found in die Gospels. It has dramatic truth: for such
would certainly be the experience of a spirit fed by two natures,
able to make them alternate centres for its intellectual survey and
its moral sentiment. A man leading a double life, belonging to two
nations or to two families, does not altogether lose his sense of the
one which, at the moment, may be in abeyance. He remains the
same person throughout; yet the portion of his life that is not being
enacted becomes shadowy and at moments almost incredible to him, as if he had lived it only in a dream; and he will deprecate
the intrusion into either scene of the language and the presupposi-
tions belonging to the other. The idea of Christ is the idea of God
made man: an extreme ideal instance of such psychological double-
ness. It cannot be justly conceived without allowing alternation
and interplay between the two themes, keeping each true to itself,
yet weaving them together doubly: for in the divine vision the
human life must always lie open to complete inspection and be
perpetually present in all its parts; while in the human experience
events and thoughts can come only successively, and illuminated
at each moment by an intelligence of varying scope. In the divine
vision every human life will always be pictured but never experi-
enced; in a human experience the divine truth will never be
experienced or exhausted, but will always be felt to overarch and
sustain the flight of time.

Another motif conspicuous in the early chapters of Mark is the
relation, almost the familiarity, of Christ with the devils. They
recognise him at once, in spite of his human guise; they feel his
presence and power, as it were, electrically: he exercises this power
over them out of pity for their human victims, but exercises it
under certain conditions or laws established in the spirit-world.
He asks them their names; and once he grants their request, if they
must be cast out of the man they are possessed of, that they may
enter into the bodies of the swine feeding on the hillside. Strange,
to our modern sense, that Christ should listen to the cruel devils
rather than consider the helpless swine and their helpless owners:
but there would seem to be a higher fraternity in the spirit-world,
even between the holy and the fallen spirits, that may take
precedence, like a family bond, over the private promptings of the
heart.

This dutifulness of Christ, in spite of his divine insight and
impartiality, appears elsewhere in regard to the Jews and the Law.
Christ has come, in one sense, to supersede them; yet as a man
he is himself a Jew and subject to the Law. He therefore gives them their legal due, as against the heathen; yet with an over-
whelming sympathy with the innocent outsiders, and even with
those, like the tax-gatherers and harlots, who are not innocent.
How far this sympathy, at once divine and naturalistic, may over-
ride, not only particular legal prescriptions, but moral pride alto-
gether, is a delicate question to which I shall revert later. Here,
we are concerned only to mark the conjunction, in the idea of
Christ, of the native of earth and the native of heaven, equally at
home in the ways of both, and superior to both as a pure spirit.
This kind of devils, he explains to his disciples, can be driven out
only by prayer and fasting. There is method in magic, and a nature
in the supernatural. We must put up with an inexorable order in
the other world, as in this, yet we are allowed to feel the impa-
tience of a free mind that, in bowing to both, transcends both in its
dear insight and dear affections.

It is noticeable in Mark that at those moments of high tension
when the divine nature in Christ breaks through, as before his
judges or during his Passion, the human nature is not superseded,
as sometimes in John, but on the contrary remains spontaneous,
manly and young. Jesus here is the brave martyr, maintaining
his invisible bonds with the invisible not in long discourses, but
in sudden challenges under provocation, in brief transfigurations,
until, crying out with a loud voice, he gives up the ghost. His
humanity had been obsessed, strained, at once inspired and arrested,
by his divinity; he had carried that sacred but almost intolerable
burden all his life, locked secretly in his heart; and now the spirit
may burst forth from its prison, free at last from all limitations
and partialities.

Yet that brave body, so sanctified and so tried, could not be aban-
doned to perish in dishonour. It would be revivified presently: the
spirit would return to it, not now to lay any further burdens upon
it, but to transmute it into an incorruptible body, a pure lamp
for the light, a perfect instrument for the word, a wise heart,
loving all things justly. The union between God and man in Christ was something too precious to be transitory. It should be raised
from an incident in the economy of redemption to the very essence
and realisation of salvation itself. But this is an ulterior mystery
that must not distract us here from the task of simple inspection.

We find, then, in Mark a gradual revelation of the nature of
Christ, its gradual discovery by his disciples, even a gradual over-
coming of diffidence on his own part in avowing it. It was a secret
too deeply hidden in his heart to be uttered in that blind world.
The disciplina arcani is no mere ruse; it is a reserve imposed by
humility and charity on one who, if he is the Son of God, is also
the son of man. The glimpses we catch of this progressive revela-
tion are fragmentary but vivid. An eye-witness seems to be recall-
ing them; and we seem to assist in the birth of Christian faith in
the minds of the Apostles.

The Gospel of Matthew, though it is placed first in our canon,
and begins with a genealogy of Jesus (or rather Joseph, his legal
father) is written from the point of view of a Church already
established. It offers not the recollections of a disciple, but a
defence of his belief. Jesus, it argues, could be the Messiah, in
spite of his momentary failure to fulfil the requirements of that
office, since the very prophets that raised those expectations pie
dieted that the Messiah should first suffer and be rejected. Jesus
himself, after his Resurrection, had appeared in the guise of a
stranger to two of his disciples on the way to Emmaus, and had
expounded the prophecies to them in this sense. Matthew repeats
those interpretations, and at every turn stops to observe that such
an event had happened or such a thing had been said, “that it
might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet.”
Christ’s death, moreover, did not annul the glorious promises of
his advent; for he was coming again presently in the clouds of
heaven, to found his everlasting kingdom.

Such is the guiding thread in the first Gospel considered as a
composition having a single author; but while all the Gospels are
evidently collections of traditional themes, and fragmentary.

Matthew seems more distinctly than the others to represent the
general catechesis current in the early Church. It combines matter
of different kinds, drawn probably from different sources. Besides
the story of Christ’s preaching and Passion, which is like that in
Mark expanded, it contains a rich collection of precepts, many of
them gathered together in die Sermon on the Mount, in express
contrast to the laws of Moses; and it contains also a rich collection
of parables. Both these elements are of the highest importance in
defining the idea of Christ, since the precepts show us in what
estimation he held human hopes and ambitions while the parables
paint the w r orld of nature as he saw it, and also the economy of
grace. Some parables teach worldly wisdom, and others propose
spiritual standards: we have in them the two sides or the two
strata of Christian morals. Nevertheless the person of Christ seems
to recede a litde here behind the apologues and the maxims put in
his mouth; and it is rather in the miracles, with the words that
accompany them, that the living mystery of his being confronts us
again, so that familiarity with it may gradually dispel its strange-
ness.

Apart from these important things that he recounts from
memory or hearsay or perhaps from earlier records not in the
Greek language, the compiler in Matthew does not seem to have
much personal inspiration. The genealogy at the beginning, the
preoccupation with finding prophetic texts fulfilled paradoxically
in casual events, and the monotonous appeal to dreams and angelic
visitations to guide the action, all smack of a secondary composi-
tion. Such might well have been the ideas uppermost in this or
that group of early Christians, arguing with the Jews or struggling
in themselves with their Hebraic preconceptions; but we are not
helped to conceive more clearly that idea of Christ which is to
inspire the Church and to be the model for all the saints.

In the third Gospel the idea of Christ is doubly developed,
biographically and liturgically. The writer, though attached to
Tewish traditions, is comparatively a man of the world, and at a considerable intellectual remove from the primitive disciples. Nor
does he see Christ directly in the mystical sphere, after the manner
of his master. Saint Paul, who had seen Christ distinctly as the
Christ, never as the human Jesus. In Luke Christ is again con-
ceived graphically, picturesquely, not with the spasmodic force of
specific glimpses, but with the diffused luminosity of a conven-
tional work of art. All is tender and edifying, for Saint Luke is a
pious artist. The Parable of the Prodigal Son, for instance, is a
little masterpiece, as noble and affecting as the best episodes in
the Old Testament. For with all his softness and measure Saint
Luke can retain the sublimity of the Hebrew faith and can worthily
continue its liturgical traditions in the psalms that he puts into
the mouth of the Virgin Mary, Zacharias and Simeon. The mystery
of Christ has begun to fructify in the Christian mind; interest and
imagination have turned to the implications of being the Son of
God, armed with divine power and omniscience, yet a man, offer-
ing himself as a model and a victim for love of his fellow men.
Still it is piety rather than speculation that inspires Saint Luke.
The links with the Jewish past are preserved with tenderness and
affection. There is continuity in his two revelations, a love of
seemliness and ceremony, a moderate tone towards the world and
a tendency to conciliate enemies and diffuse an atmosphere of
prosperity and peace.

Most significant, when we consider the future development of
Christian devotion, is the appearance of the Virgin Mary as a lead-
ing and even a speaking character. In Mark no backward look had
been cast towards the ancestry, birth, or childhood of Jesus; he
had been presented as he appeared to his disciples at the beginning
of his mission, commanding, imposing, irresistible: in himself
the warrant and evidence of his authority. In Matthew , a first
retrospective implication of his being the Son of God is advanced:
he was bom of a virgin, and had no earthly father. Nevertheless,
the angels that announce this mystery announce it to Joseph, and it
is Joseph’s genealogy that is recited as being that which rendered

Jesus a son of David. We are in the region of Jewish legality and
prophecy, not in that of Christian intuition. But in Luke the angel
— and no vague voice or presence in a dream but a courtly celestial
ambassador, the archangel Gabriel — appears to Mary herself; she
demurs, having made a vow of virginity : a remarkably non-
Jewish impulse although symbolically proper when we consider
the spiritual revolution, the entirely new religion, that was to
spring from her womb. Gabriel explains how this vow will be
entirely respected in her motherhood: and she gives her formal
consent: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me accord-
ing to thy word”: a consent that raises the Virgin Mary into an
initial collaborator in the whole economy of redemption. Here we
have the mustard-seed that was to grow into the flourishing tree
of devotion to the Theotokos and the Madonna.

In spite of such prophetic glances and of die avowed intention
to be synthetic and to stun up everything in order, there are evi-
dences that the text of Luke had never been thoroughly digested,
or else had undergone interpolations without regard to its in-
tended unity. Maxims and episodes found in Mark or in Matthew
are often reproduced as if hurriedly, in imperfect and inferior
form; or several of them successively, as in a mere inventory of
notes. The very scruple of the Virgin Mary just referred to seems
to some critics to be an interpolation in an original text that kept
within the Jewish convention. And a greater anomaly, in- so demure
a writer, is the parable of the unjust steward, whom his lord com-
mended, because he had done wisely: an admirable satirical fable
to show that the children of this world are wiser in their genera-
tion than the children of light, but not leading intelligibly to
either of the two morals that are appended to it, the first ambiguous
in itself and the second belonging apparendy to the parable of the
talents. Disconcerting also is die rabbinical argument for the resur-

*The English tact leads: “How shall this he, seeing that I know riot a man?”
But all women have been virgins once; so that this answer would be silly, not
to say provocative, unless it meant that, although married or betrothed, she was
pledged to preserve her virginity.

Rection drawn from the fact that Moses called God the God of
Abraham after Abraham was dead. Perhaps this is only an argu-
ment um ad hominem and meant to entangle the Scribes in their
own net; but the Evangelist does not seem to see it in that light.
And more of the same kind follows. The Messiah could not be the
son of David because David in the Psalms calls him his Lord. Is
then Christ rejecting the suggestion that he himself is a son of
David? Or, although he knows that he is a son of David, does he
merely dismiss that fact as unimportant, seeing he is also the son of
God, and therefore very much the Lord of David? Yet if Saint
Luke, or the reviser or editor of his Gospel, had felt this, why
should he have taken the trouble to draw up a mythical genealogy
for Jesus, descending from Adam, through David, to Joseph, who
was not really his father? In fine, the composition of Luke is un-
equal, and the beauty of many parts is marred by the incongruity of
the other parts, and by a certain lack of speculative dearness. The
idea of Christ is less firmly composed here than in die other
Gospels, as if it had been drawn from secondary sources and not
vitalised by a strong personal inspiration or enthusiasm.

The first words of the fourth Gospel are the same as the first words of Genesis: In the beginning. Had the New Testament been a continuation of the Old, adding more historical or prophetic matter, and further precepts that merely revised and rationalised
the Law of Moses, such an opening would not have been suitable:
but the rest of the first verse of John suffices to undeceive us. For
Genesis says: In the beginning God created the heaven and the
earth; whereas John says: In the beginning was the Word. We are
really at the beginning of something entirely different, and the
word ’’beginning” has a different- sense. In Genesis we were carried back in imagination to the birth of the world, to the first event
in earthly history; but in John we are carried back to the Creator
that Genesis mentioned continually but never considered except as
the power manifested at each moment in whatsoever arose or hap-
pened. The impersonation of this power was vivid; we saw an impetuous monarch planning and commanding; but the interest
lay entirely in the work and in its spontaneous developments,
because once created it had a will and a way of its own. Indeed, if
we analysed the notion of creation, as it was not meant to be
analysed, we might find it to be quite secondary and incapable of
denoting the beginning of the world. For this presupposes two
things already existing; one a creator or artisan, and the other a
material with definite possibilities and resistances to be turned into
a new shape. This material and that artisan, with the possible
interplay between them, would compose a world existing before
the creation. So we find it pictured in Genesis itself, when the
Spirit of God — a strong wind — moved upon the face of the waters .
There is therefore no attempt to reach a beginning, but only a
lively imagination picturing the stages through which the human
world may have passed or may be destined to pass, within the range of our vital interests.

When we come to John, reflection has been turned upon the
meaning of the current terms, and the phrase In the beginning has
lost its temporal reference and signifies in principle, or at the
logical roots of being. The term God is retained, with all its tradi-
tional unction, for it is still a Jew that writes, although he has
passed through a Platonising school of dialectic. At the beginning,
he tells us, was the Word, the Logos. What does this mean? The
immediate source of the notion is Philo Judaeus and the Alexan-
drian Jewish school of Wisdom. Sophia and Logos had become,
in this school, aspects or emanations of the Deity. God was no
longer merely a power, a whirlwind or a demiurgos. He was a
supreme focus of life, the ultimate intensity and perfection of
being, towards which all things aspired in so far as they had life
and happiness. And the word Logos in particular signified order
or reason; so that we may begin to understand the sense of saying,
as the text of John proceeds to do, that the Logos was with God,
and that without the Logos was not anything made that was made.
For definite things arise by assuming a specific form or essence, by beginning to exemplify some distinct character: and the field of
these characters, with their essential relations, is the eternal Logos.

The Nicene creed expresses this idea by saying that “by him,”
that is by Christ identified with the Logos, “all things were made”;
a misleading phrase unless we perceive that “by” means “through”
or “in terms of’; for the Logos was not a second power, added
to God and the Father, but a condition without which the creation
could have had no consistence or character. By identifying Christ
with the Logos, the Evangelist has avoided the semblance of re-
duplicating the Godhead. A word is not an existing substance or
force, apart from the tongue and the mind that utter it: it is the
form that the mind and the vocal organs must adopt if they are to
utter anything in particular. Logos was therefore an appropriate
term for the Platonists to adopt in describing the creation; for each
idea or essence, by being embodied in matter, turned that parcel
of matter into a distinct and recognisable thing.

Philo, being a Jew and contemporary with Jesus, had no occa-
sion to identify this element of deity, God’s wisdom, with any
human being: and that in which his Logos became flesh was not a
particular man, but the whole creation and the whole history of
the world. I don’t know in what circumstances this incarnation or
phenomenalising of the Platonic ideas came to be assimilated to
the son of God, become man. The fact that in Chrisr the power
and the wisdom of God were manifested, established the analogy:
but an anomaly seems to appear when we consider how remote
from the Logos or the Nous was the inspiration of Christ. His
mission was hot to create but to redeem and to save; and his
wisdom spoke in parables and precepts, not in grammatical or con-
ceptual hierarchies of terms. He was a living person, not the
morphology of the universe. I cannot help thinking that it was
an unfortunate accident that the Son of God and the wisdom of
God should have seemed to coincide, as being both immediately
and inwardly generated within the divine life, and thought of as
its second term. That divine element which seems to descend into the created soul is rather life than wisdom, rather the Psyche than
the Logos: but something of the Logos may descend too, and we
find in John a number of other terms, the Light, the Way, the
Truth, that fall in well with the mediating office of Christ, as
teacher and redeemer. Yet there are still other terms, Life and
Love, that seem to fit better the intimate essence of his person, as
if he were the Spirit incarnate, rather than the Word. And the
constant use of these abstract terms in John chills a little the under-
lying warmth and tragic inspiration of the narrative. They also
destroy the lifelikeness of the speeches put into Christ’s mouth;
the human foreground is lost, and the rhetorical distances become
cold and empty.

Even in the narrative and dialogue, admirable as they are in
themselves, the mystical signification sometimes intervenes pre-
maturely. Episodes are introduced and left half-told for the sake
of pointing a moral, or explaining their symbolic and sacramental
value. The image of Christ in these parts becomes correspondingly
pale and impersonal. He seems to be addressing all mankind, or
only an abstracted part of the soul, rather than his living hearers; or
else to be preoccupied with his own metaphysical dignity. Protesta-
tions and formulas are repeated liturgically, without gaining in
clearness. The writer no doubt is labouring under the difficulty of
having things to say for which there is no traditional language.
He cannot wait for a fit language to be developed, nor can he enter
into a logical definition of terms: he is reduced to loading the few
terms he has at hand with all the force of his insight, and leaving
it for time and spiritual experience to reveal his meaning.

On the whole, however, these beginnings of theology in John
are far from destroying the graphic and topographically distinct
impression produced, or the evangelical character of this Gospel.
Essentially the book remains a prophecy, an announcement, and a
challenge. We are summoned to believe, if we hope to be saved.
There is the same sense as in the other Gospels of the precarious
and unbearable state of the world, of the imminent catastrophe and
die awful issue.

At once in the first chapter, after the five mystic verses, we return to earth, to local traditions, and to the story of John the Baptist. Yet scarcely is the new theme broached than the writer falls back into his ontology, and stops to tell us the whatness and
the non-whatness of the personage he is about to introduce. The
alternation between two strands or two levels of reality charac-
terises this whole Gospel: it resembles those pictures, like
Raphael’s Transfiguration , in which an agitated human scene fills
the lower half of the canvas, and a celestial vision, almost discon-
nected with it, hovers unsuspected above. The light shines far
beyond the darkness, and the darkness is not illuminated.

Where dawn breaks, where a dubious yet awakening light
troubles the heart, is in the apparitions and the words of Christ to
single persons. Mystical experiences are private: it is in incom-
municably burdened dreams that enigmatic words acquire a posi-
tive magic, and seem to solve the riddle of suffering and doubt.
When Christ speaks to Nicodemus, to the woman of Samaria, or
to the man born blind, he employs enigmatic phrases, puzzles them
by speaking of being born again, of living water which if we drink
we shall never thirst, and of believing in the Son of God. Intel-
lectually no explanation is given: but there is a spell in the way
the words are spoken, there is a deeper knowledge of the soul
addressed, more concern about it, than the poor soul itself ever
thought of having; and by experience, by inner transformation,
that soul begins to understand what it must mean to be bom once
more, and to drink living water, never to thirst again; and as to
knowing who the Son of God may be, so as to believe in him, the
soul is not surprised to hear: Thou hast seen him, and it is he that
tdketh with thee . Those enigmas, those gaunt abstractions have
become human, they have become a presence. That miraculous
power has revealed itself as solicitude, as a love capable of evok-
ing in the soul something worth loving: and the soul says: Lord,
I believe; and it worships him.

The existence of two natures or two worlds, one physical, the other spiritual, creates no difficulty in itself; but when conjoined in a single person they become rivals, and the one momentarily less
active suffers and becomes restive. There are various ways in which
such tension might be dominated and reduced to a moral harmony
humility, reserve, and secrecy on the human side may ward off any
conflict, as when Christ refuses to work a miracle or to reveal him-
self, because his time is not yet come. But in John we see another
phase of the same tension. Here it is the divine side that speaks;
but being obliged to speak a human language to men who know
no other, there is a tendency, almost a compulsion, to speak in
riddles, giving a secret spiritual meaning to words that are under-
stood by the hearers in a literal and material sense. The effect is
a distressing misunderstanding, perplexity or revolt in the poor
public, and a withdrawal, with anathemas, on the part of the
prophet. The irony of this does not escape him. After curing a
blind man and preaching fruitlessly to the Jews, he says bitterly
that he came into this world for judgment , that they who see not
might see, and they who see might he made blind .

Throughout this Gospel, that interest in ontology that dictated
the opening verses appears also in the discourses of Jesus. He con-
tinually reverts to the authority and power that he derives from his
union with the Father; this union is ineffable and has existed from
all eternity. He has come to save the world, but faith in him is the
condition of salvation. All power is in his hands, and if he endures
persecution and moves towards his death, he does so voluntarily
and with full foreknowledge, because such is the Father’s will.

These theological and Christological discourses in John enlarge
and etherialise the idea of Christ and carry it out of earthly time
and space. If the representation here seems less true to life exter-
nally, I think internally,- granting that Christ is the Son of God,
it is more profoundly true and dramatic, because it represents,
not what Christ would have been likely to say aloud on those
various occasions, but what he would have been likely secretly to
feel. They represent the upper cloud-layer, so to speak, of thoughts
passing at that time over his mental sky. Take these speeches and these claims not as protestations vainly made to uncomprehending
audiences, but as contrasting nostalgic assurances arising within
Christ himself in the midst of his disappointments, and you will
cease to think them irrelevant or egotistical. Such assurances need
not have been concealed from the disciples; they might have been
expressed in a look or a sigh, or in comments made afterwards, if
they were not supplied altogether by the inspiration of the Evange-
list. He represents himself to be the beloved disciple, who would
have been best able to overhear such mysterious words, to treasure
them even if not understood, and to weave them later into his
recollections. Great new lights, nothing less than the Paradete
and the whole theology of Saint Paul, had come to shed unex-
pected meanings both on events and on doctrine; the faith had
been clarified and transfigured. This Evangelist in particular shows
a pervasive sense for the duality and contrast between the exoteric
and the esoteric life in Christ; but he was not a dramatic artist; he
sometimes loses the thread and confuses the action; and the solilo-
quies on his stage are not separated from the dialogue.

It is perhaps in the sixth chapter of John that the play of double
meanings and ironical metaphors appears at its height. After a
familiar scene with the disciples and the fishing craft on the strand
of the Lake of Galilee, and after a version of the miracle of the
loaves and fishes, the mystical note is struck with the words:
Labour not -for the meat which perisheth. Christ resents that the
people should follow him because he miraculously gives them
food, not for himself and for spiritual guidance. This last was lost
even on his nearest disciples: they were drawn to him by his person
and by his miracles, and their faith was not in his teaching but in
the greater miracles that he would one day work. When now he
speaks of that meat which endureth for everlasting life, better
than the manna from heaven that Moses gave them, they ask what
they should do to procure that excellent meat. Christ replies:
Believe in me. I am that bread. Here is another enigma, darker
than the first; but it is useless to offer these people that truly heavenly bread, because they do not believe. Whereupon a third
mystery, the darkest of all, the mystery of predestination, at once
confronts us: This is the will of him that sent me, that everyone
that seeth the son and believeth on him may have everlasting life:
and I will raise him up at the last day. That the Jews murmured
can hardly surprise us. Freedom from hunger and thirst is offered
than after they die, perhaps of thirst or of hunger. This was not
what they asked for. They were not so superstitious as to fear to
be hungry after they were dead.

But such unregenerate murmurs do not keep the Johannine
Christ, though saddened, from continuing his sublime revelations.
The bread that will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life
of the world. Thinking ourselves more discerning than those mate-
rialistic Jews, we may have assumed that this bread of life was of
course the gospel, the message and purer morality proclaimed by
Jesus: but now we find an unexpected complication. The bread
is no doubt a spiritual grace; but this grace comes only to those
predestined to receive it by virtue of their faith; and this life-
giving faith in turn, we are now told, comes to us only because
Christ gave his human flesh and blood as a sacrifice for our sins.
Thus the mystery of predestination leads us to the mystery of die atonement.

The text at this point carries us no further: but the Church, and
perhaps the Evangelist himself, after the manner of Saint Paul,
could not think of this reversion from spiritual grace to a fleshly
sacrifice, without thinking at once of the Eucharist also: so that
the mystery of the bodily presence of Christ in the Sacrament, and
of the efficacy of the Communion as a means of grace, add them-
selves inevitably to the argument. The metaphor about the bread
that Christ should give us turns out to be less metaphorical than we
had assumed in our pertness. As there is a genuine humanity in
Christ, so there is a constandy material vehicle for spiritual graces,
a circulation of healing and symbolic miracles by which heaven and
earth ate linked in a single economy.

This conjunction of flesh and spirit, with insistence on love,
marks the Johannine tradition, and gives us such hints as we can
hope for on the ultimate nature of the divine life. That life con-
tains complementary aspects and movements, expressed in figures
of speech which, if pressed and taken too literally, become con-
fusing and contradictory. The Father is the source of everything:
the Son, the Word, can utter nothing but that which the Father
has enjoined; he is a messenger, sent on a sacrificial mission that
he must fulfil obediently, before he can return to the Father, who
is greater than he. At the same time, the Father has given all power
to the Son, loves him and loves mankind only as they love the Son,
and assimilate themselves to him. Then they also become the
Father’s children. For the Father and the Son are one; the Father
lives in the Son and the Son in the Father; and by faith and the
infusion of the Holy Spirit, the elect, whom the Father has given
to the Son, will live in him and he in them.

Intellectually we are hardly more enlightened by all this than
we were in Mark by the living presence and the power of God in
the man Christ. That the Son is derived from the Father is
implied by that title, and we begin by proclaiming the dependence
of the Son on the Father that sent him. We proceed to denounce
all those who do not recognise this mission; they know not the
Father, for none can come to the Father save through the Son.
And we end by asserting that the Father and the Son are one, that
God could create nothing except through the Word, and that the
Word was God. These oracles, which no doubt are profoundly
pregnant, are not interpreted for us, as the parables, that hardly
needed interpretation, sometimes are in the other Gospels. That
which is new in John, and indispensable to any profound religion,
is the influx of a great flood of contemplative rapture and mystic
passion. Love fills the heart, faith transfigures events into symbols,
and intuition brings everything home to the experience of the
spirit.

This incongruity between occasion and style, between drama and dialectic, in John marks a conjunction of heterogeneous traditions,
somewhat as in Josephus, who makes Moses address the Israelites
in the desert in the style of a Greek general addressing his mer-
cenaries. So this Alexandrian vocabulary, adopted to convey an
acceptable message to a Hellenistic public, becomes an opaque
medium for us, who demand concrete images and psychological
realism. Yet realism and subtle truth to life are not wanting in
John. Perhaps to-day we are no less out of sympathy with dramatic
acts than with oracular language, but that was not the case in
other days with mankind at large. John, for instance, tells us how
Christ after the Last Supper, laid aside his garments . . . and
began to wash his disciples feet. Such an impulsive, hyperbolical
action, on what he knew was the eve of his crucifixion, and the
very night on which these disciples were all to abandon him, surely
speaks volumes to anyone who possesses intelletto d amove. It is
excessive for a man; but when God is in that man, proportions
are abolished. Persons, opinions, the standards of the world, lose
their conventional values; and radical impulses and ultimate truths
reassert their supremacy. What difference could there be, for God,
between one level of finite dignity and another, one depth or
another of ignorant folly? That which he would be choosing and
embracing, from the divine point of view, would be rather the
plight of temporal animal existence in its irrational essence, the
pervasive suffering, the uncertainty, and the love, shadowed by
terror, that run through all life.

Thus the finite nature chosen, once chosen, will be enacted with
passion. The humanity of Christ has been adopted by him , not
feigned; he endures the darkness and the plight of it; he thinks in
its special images and words; yet the latent knowledge of his
divinity shines through those accidents and through that assumed
character. If sometimes, in John, this latent divinity seems to chill
and to neutralise the feelings natural to a man, at other times, on
the contrary, it renders the acceptance and expression of those
feelings more impulsive and entire. The ancients, who were less
conceited than we. felt that if God was to become incarnate in matter, he might as willingly take the form of a bull or hawk as
that of a man: and the same equidistance from deity appears in
the various predicaments and stations proper to mankind. Into
whatever character he assumes, God enters with a divine freedom;
and he astonishes us by being more radically human than we, in
our entanglements, have the courage to be.

John contains another most subtle illustration of this in the
scene at the marriage of Cana. Christ has already begun to choose
his disciples, but is still attached to his family circle, and accom-
panies his mother to a wedding, at a rich man’s house. She seems
to be on very friendly terms with the family and in their con-
fidence. In the midst of the feast the wine gives out, and she say s
to her son: They have no wine . Jesus saith unto her ( according to
the Authorised Version) , What have I to do with thee? Mine hour
is not yet come . The Evangelist tells us later that this is the first
miracle that Jesus wrought: but we need not take the language of
these traditions strictly: Mary would not have appealed to Jesus so
pregnantly, had she not been aware of many, perhaps of continuaI
miracles wrought by him in private. But this was to be his first
public and, as we should say, sensational miracle. So the first
phrase in Christ’s answer, if the Authorised Version be accepted,
seems strange in the mouth of a son speaking to his mother, and
even improper. But if we revise the translation and read: What is
that to me and to thee? the words mark a reversion in Christ, in the
midst of a crowded feast, to the sense of his incomparable origin
and dignity. The same detachment and disdain of earthly ties
appear in other passages, and they are natural in any young man
with a vocation, especially of a poetic or ascetic kind. In Luke when
the child Jesus remains in the temple without his parents’ knowl-
edge, his mother says: Son, why hast thou thus dedt with us?
Behold , thy father and have sought thee sorrowing. And he said
unto them, How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be
about my Father’s business? Here too, if applied to the immediate
scene, the replies of Christ seem harsh and unreasonable: the
cryptic reason for them appears only when we perceive that he is living in another sphere, where our social acquaintances and their
small worries have no place, and even our earthly parents have no
claim upon us. But in Luke, though the language is more moderate,
no hint is given of any underlying understanding and tenderness;
whereas in John these are most subtly and dramatically conveyed.
When Mary says. They have no wine , a whole background of
intimate sympathies is disclosed to us between mother and son, and
between them and their neighbours. And this not merely in great
or sad or religious matters. The occasion is trivial, even comic: the
host has underestimated the drinking power of his guests. But
Mary, though full of grace and living a secret life in her heart,
is an amiable lady. Her friends confide in her their little troubles.
And Jesus, too, for all his inscrutable abstraction, loves common
people, feels their slightest predicaments, will work a miracle to
remove a minor trouble or (as in the case of the barren fig tree) to
express a passing chagrin. When his mother says, They have no
unne , he understands what he is asked to do and knows that he
will do it. So does she: and his rude words do not offend her. They
are a cry from his distracted heart, from his enslaved divinity. He
feigns a denial, he even feigns a fact, when he adds: Mine hour
is not yet come . It had come; he was about to work his first public
miracle. Yet this was mere by-play: partly banter, partly the natural
love of a young man to be independent. The tragedy lay behind
this festive scene. He was consenting to a small kindness, when
the premonition of torment and of glory filled his whole sky.

Wonderful, too, are other details. Mary, understanding per-
fectly her son’s consent conveyed by a feigned refusal, instructs
the servants to do whatever he shall bid them. They fill the water-
pots with water up to the brim. And he saith to them , Draw now,
and bear unto the governor of the feast . Then one final touch, a
royal touch; the miraculous wine is of superior quality. Christ
knows how to be king on earth as well as in heaven.

It may be observed in this episode as in many others that great
as was the love that Christ often inspired, it was no simple or easy
destiny to love him. It brought great trouble. It made you, not afraid of him, but afraid of yourself. He admitted love, recognised
it, even demanded it on one occasion from Peter with a triple
reiteration, at once solemn and reproachful. With some he even
allowed acts of spontaneous affection and familiarity, as with the
beloved disciple and Mary Magdalene. Yet even these who pos-
sessed his open favour sometimes found him stern, and wondered
why he checked or rebuked movements of theirs, of which he
surely knew the innocent motive. Not that he was cold, or stinted
his love, but that his superhuman preoccupations made him appear
unyielding and rapt in incommunicable thoughts. In a word Jesus
was difficult to please, impossible to count on pleasing. When he
praised, he praised warmly, as when he forgave he forgave gener-
ously; but these were surprising graces, not to be reckoned upon
by merely doing one’s best. They were regal judgments falling
from heaven and lifting the lover’s soul there, beyond his under-
standing or his hopes.

The same delicate insight that appears at the marriage in Cana
appears in other anecdotes, such as the scenes with Mary Magda-
lene, with the Samaritan woman, and with the woman taken in
adultery. Love is not merely preached by this Evangelist; it is
understood. His claim to be the disciple that Jesus loved is well
maintained in all the narrative part of this Gospel: only in the
long mystical discourses do we seem to hear a different voice. I
have suggested that these represent the sublime truths present
to Christ’s mind amid the confusion of earthly accidents: ’but even
so they are not satisfying. Though impressive they are not dear,
and require interpretation in a system of theology that lies beyond
the scope of the Gospels.

The idea of Christ in John, even if it be earlier than that in Luke , is certainly more mature and philosophical. It confesses its ideal character. It fructifies within the worshipper, enlightens his spirit, guides him towards his own purification and towards a just love of all other souls. And in both Gospels we see the idea of Christ, pictorially and mystically, in the act of being transformed from that of a lost leader into that of an object of worship.


THE MESSIAH

The idea of Christ is much older than Christianity. It is a prophetic idea; and even in the Gospels the affirmation that Jesus was the Christ remains an article of faith which only the fulfilment of a further prophecy would justify. Jesus could not possibly have been the Christ if he had not risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and were not about to come again, amid clouds of glory, to judge the world and restore the kingdom of David.

For the word Christ was not the name of a person but of an
office or dignity: the Messiah or the Christ would be whatever man
God should choose and anoint to be his viceregent on earth. To
be anointed was a sacramental rite by which a king was made
king forever. He might conceivably be eclipsed, like-Saul; yet the
unction that had once consecrated him could not be washed away.
A mysterious aura henceforth would surround him, and even in
disguise or in desolation he would remain every inch a king. The
Messiah would also be such by divine appointment, even before
he was actually reigning, since God in his omniscient providence
would already have chosen and predestined him to be anointed
king.

It was therefore not inconceivable that the Messiah should exist
undiscovered, perhaps undiscovered even to himself; and for a
century or two before the time of Christ the Jews had been
anxiously looking for him to deliver them from Greek and Roman
THE MESSIAH

domination. Claimants might emerge from any quarter, yet there
were certain recognised conditions that the Messiah was expected to
fulfil: he must be, as prophecies were interpreted, a descendant of
David bom in Bethlehem, and he must restore the Kingdom of
Judah by miraculous if not by military means. It was not easy to
bring the idea of Christ in the Gospels to conform to these con-
ditions, either in the letter or in the spirit: yet with faith and good-
will it could be managed. The spirit of the age helped, because it
was growing more and more religious and inclined to symbolic
interpretations of material events.

There was, indeed, one conception of the Messiah, perhaps die
primitive Jewish conception, that was radically incompatible with
the Evangelists’ idea of Christ. According to that early conception
the Messiah “would be some worthy God-fearing man, a soldier or
prophet, or both at once, whose virtues and achievements would
incline God to accept him and confirm him as leader of his people.
Such a man would have deserved to become the Messiah, somewhat
as Napoleon deserved to become emperor of the French. A Jewish
Napoleon would not have been at all out of character: David
himself had been a self-made king; a fact that by no means would
have prevented him from saying and thinking that it was God who
had given him his skill with the sling and his other victories. Had
not the prophet Samuel chosen and anointed him in his youth by
divine inspiration? Religion in a man of action, intelligent but un-
speculative, may well become a symbol for that complete depend-
ence on fortune and fate of which he is well aware. Fate does not
exclude, but envelops, his own will and initiative. So Napoleon
requested or compelled the Pope to come and crown him emperor;
yet during the ceremony, at the crucial moment, he snatched the
crown from the Pope’s hands and placed it on his own head.

Now after the Exile and under Greek and Roman domination,
the relations of Israel with the world had completely changed, and
the kingdom could not be expected to come except by miracle: God
would have to play a more dynamic part in it than that of a Samuel
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
or a Pius the Seventh. And in the books of Daniel and of Enoch it
had already been revealed that the Messiah pre-existed in heaven,
and would be sent down to dear the ground for the New Jeru-
salem, which would itself descend ready built from above, as
described by Ezekiel. For the Evangelists this pre-existence of the
Messiah was imperative, since they identified him with a man who
had already lived and died, had ascended into heaven and was now
sitting there at the right hand of God. It would be only at his
second coming that his Messiahship would be manifest: during
his first life it had remained a secret, except at rare moments, in
some vision or to the eye of faith. This concealment was indeed
pregnant with a religious significance and truth far outrunning
the grosser Jewish conception of the Messiah; yet the traditional
conception could not be rejected by the Evangelists in its essence,
because it formed the foundation of their whole gospel. These
things, they tell us, are written that ye might believe that Jesus is
the Christ.

The Gospels begin by renewing the prophecy and the summons
of John the Baptist: the cataclysm approaching, the possibility of
surviving it, and the appointed means for that salvation remain
the same. Yet the prophecy now contains a retrospective element:
namely, that the Messiah had already come, and had come in the
person of Jesus who had been crucified. This bold paradox was
partly explained by reassuring the Jewish mind that this had been
only the first advent of Christ. You shall see, Jesus says to the High
Priest, the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the power of
God, and coming with the clouds of heaven.

Yet the Christian Prelude to the last Day was no mere episode,
occasioned by some untoward complication in the circumstances.
It was a revelation of the true meaning of salvation, involving a
complete revolution in morals. Salvation was not to come by the
dash of armies nor by a new Deluge nor by a better government
of mankind. It was to come by suffering itself, repentance itself,
martyrdom itself. When humility is seen to be the true path to

THE MESSIAH

glory, glory itself changes its colour. It becomes self-forgetfulness,
love, and peace. Jesus had loved the poor; and the poor, in loving
Jesus, would lose the craving to become rich. They would find that
in dismissing that craving, and all other cravings, they had entered
paradise. This was the esoteric spiritual transformation wrought by
the gospel within the official setting of the Jewish prophecies con-
cerning the Kingdom of God.

A legal orthodoxy is thus maintained by all the Evangelists,
but with a complete change of spirit. To establish the kingdom, or
rather the reign, of God all political instrumentalities are discarded,
and no tempting material benefits are promised. On earth they are
to expea little else than tribulations and trials. Even in their spir-
itual life all will not be joy and comfort: but the more heroically
they accept all manner of suffering, the less that suffering will avail
to trouble their inner peace, and the greater part of their soul will
live already in heaven. And that heavenly life, if ever they pass alto-
gether into it, will not be anything that it has entered into the
carnal heart of man to conceive. But they will have been saved.
He who enters heaven once has entered it forever. The memory
of guilt will have lost all its sting, and death and life all their
terrors. The truth of all things will be as clear and beautiful to
him as it is to God.

Jewish orthodoxy is formally respeaed also in regard to the
person of Christ. He is represented as legally descended from
David; yet Jewish sentiment is reversed, not to say outraged, by
professing at the same time that in reality he was born of a vir-
gin and, at least in that material miraculous sense, was a son of
God. So too he was duly bom in Bethlehem, but in a stable; and
as if to prove that his future kingdom, as well as his origin, was
not of this world, the heavens from which he came descended
with him in the songs of angels. The secret of his disguised
presence is not revealed to the high priests or the Scribes, but
to a few shepherds who come to worship him in the manger, or
to certain wise men of the east, who see die star of the new-born

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

deity in the heavens and hasten to honour him with the gifts due
to a king: an ominous miracle, prophesying that this Messiah
was not to reign over the Jews but over the Gentiles. Except for
these obscure premonitions, Christ will live unknown and un-
recognised. He will do nothing and plan nothing to re-establish
the kingdom of Judah; and when at last he appears in a remote
province it will be only to preach the coming Kingdom of
Heaven to fishermen and to heal the sores and drive out the
devils that torment the poor. Towards the Roman authorities
he will be disdainfully submissive as if the political independ-
ence of Israel were a matter of no importance; and if he in-
veighs against the Scribes and Pharisees, it will be only be-
cause their piety is formal and self-righteous, and not animated
by a genuine love of God and of man, such as inspired his
own life and prompted those continual acts of mercy which
broke through the disguise of his divinity. Yet what were such
scattered pardons and cures but islets in the sea of human
degradation and suffering? Society, as it was, both Jewish and
pagan, was beyond all cure: it had to be abolished, and its end
was at hand. Only the souls of individuals could be saved, if
they renounced the world, believed in Christ, and learned to
live like him in direct dependence on God and communion
with him. Whenever this occurred, God’s will was already
being done on earth as it is in heaven, and the reign of God had
already begun among men.

Even here, however, Christ was walking in the beaten path
of Hebrew orthodoxy. All the prophets had freely denounced
traditional practice in the name of a fresh and personal revela-
tion. The ritual enjoined all manner of scrupulous sacrifices,
yet Samuel had cried: To obey is better than sacrifice . Hosea
could go a step further, and say in the name of the Lord, will
have mercy and not sacrifice . Finally Isaiah could exaggerate and
exclaim: Incense is an abomination unto me , The same spir-

Compare Newman, Development of Christian Doctrine , pp. , .

THE MESSIAH

itual leaven may be seen at work in tne mind of the Evangelists,
without any formal rejection of the old dispensation or of the
new. The first disciples were all Jews. It was impossible for
them to change at once their rooted presuppositions and stand*
aids. They were not insensible to the new intuitions, they ac-
cepted these too; what profit could there be in fundamentally
renouncing anything, much less in renouncing all things? An
immediate unregenerate lust for security, pleasure, or eminence
might be suppressed for the time being. These were their days
of militancy and trial; but the love of victory and power was
not radically abolished. It would revive and be hyperbolically
satisfied at the last day. First they must triumph over them-
selves, then they would triumph over the whole world. They
would then have richly merited to sit on the right and on the
left hand of glory. The cross would have been the means of
gaining heaven, and living there forever in gorgeous bliss.

A subtler and more radical transformation may be traced
in the idea of the Messiah as it passes into the Christian idea
of Christ. John the Baptist had been a prophet of the kingdom.
The call for repentance implied that God was coming to punish;
and those who came to be baptised came fleeing from the wrath
of God. Repentance and baptism would prepare the elect to
turn away that wrath on the great day. Thus the Baptist’s
message, like all the old prophecies, though essentially a warn-
ing and a denunciation, became also a promise of salvation.
Salvation would be exceptional, but was possible for every
man, on one revolutionary condition. Being a good Jew and
strictly keeping the Law would not be enough. There must be
a change of heart, a complete new birth of the soul, which
baptism symbolised. And it is evident that if this purely moral
and psychological metanoia was alone required, it opened the
kingdom to any repentant Gentile, and of itself changed Juda-
ism in principle into Christianity.

It did so in principle, as a theory of salvation, but not yet

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

in form or in spiritual quality, as a living religion; for if we
stopped at John the Baptist we should have a Christianity
without Christ. The Baptist had been a precursor of the king-
dom rather than of the Messiah. There would, of course, be a
Messiah, but about his identity John seems to have been in the
dark. From the Jewish point of view the question necessarily
remained open until the Messiah should be actually manifested
by the restoration of the kingdom. We are told that John sent
some of his disdples to Jesus to inquire whether he was the
one that should come, or whether they should look for an-
other; and the answer they received was only an enumeration
of the wonders that Jesus was working. A discreet answer;
because it indicated that Jesus had divine powers, but did not
say that these powers would avail, or that he would attempt to
use them to restore the kingdom in the expected way.

There was also the ancient superstition of the scapegoat,
when by a sort of exorcism the curses hanging over the people’s
heads could be removed and heaped upon a single animal, that
would then be driven out of bounds to perish in the desert: and
something of the same kind subsisted in the idea of sin-offerings
and other sacrifices. Now, when the hopes that Jesus might prove
to be the Messiah were dashed by his death, but revived by his
resurrection, those elements in the Hebrew prophecies became the
seeds of a great revelation. Before the Messiah could come down
from heaven with power to establish a new kingdom he should
first have come down in humbler form to suffer and die for the
forgiveness of all human sins. Jesus had been the Christ in this
first sacrificial and propitiatory form of his manifestation; the final
glorious form of it would appear presently at his second advent.

This discovery turned the terrible paradox of a crucified Messiah
into a fervent religion of gratitude and love. The Passion of Christ
became the greatest of tragedies and the most sublime: God offer-
ing himself in sacrifice for the sins of his creatures. And not in
sacrifice only. The judicial theory of the atonement appears fully

THE MESSIAH

developed in the Epistle to the Romans, and also the theory of
grace; yet it plays no great part in the Gospels. In the Eu charis t
Christ leaves indeed a memorial of his body and blood, that
have been offered up for the salvation of many: but here we
soon pass from Saint Paul to Saint John, from rabbinical logic
to mystical sentiment; and now Christ comes to save us by
giving us himself, by assimilating himself to us enough to
assimilate us a little to him, not by paying into a mythical
counting-house so many drops of blood for so many miserable
sins. The justice of that heavenly Shylock rested on a legal
bond, but now it has yielded to a tenderer mystery. The king-
dom that Christ came to found is not of this world: it is an
invisible kingdom, an unexampled life in the spirit. He had
taken the human form so that he might be not only a teacher
or a ruler but also an example: and he had chosen to suffer
and to die before being glorified, because he knew that suffer-
ing and death were allotted to the spirit in us also, and he
wished first to endure and surmount them, lest he should seem
to impose on others a martyrdom that he had not accepted for
himself.

This radically mystical and gnostic doctrine is broached here and
there in the Gospels, but balanced by other elements drawn from
Jewish tradition. Had the new insight become predominant, Chris-
tianity might have discarded Jewish eschatology altogether, as well
as the resurrection of the flesh, and even the humanity of Christ;
although this last might have proved a suicidal step, since it would
have robbed the idea of Christ of all its moral appeal and signifi-
cance, and reduced Christian faith to a vapid ontology.

From this fate the Church was saved not only by the ineradi-
cable Jewish traditions of the Apostles but by its own organic
necessities. To be a spirit without a body is as impossible for the
Church as for the believer. Both doctrine and regimen have to be
defined, organised and made obligatory. The Church ms hardly
bom when it had to begin to collect money, to debate points of dis-

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

cipline, to settle quarrels between the leaders and to excommunicate
recalcitrant members. Saint Paul himself was a miracle of activity,
travelling, preaching, consulting, founding churches, denouncing
heretics and writing voluminous and impassioned letters. In vain
is salvation proclaimed~to be a matter of sudden and undeserved
grace, or of faith without works, and love to be better than all pre-
ternatural gifts and prophetic mouthings. Mouthings and miracles
cannot be dispensed with; and the elect inevitably gather into an
agitated, angry and prepotent sect, with aggression abroad, in-
quisition at home, and intrigue everywhere. Love is not thereby
banished: it often reappears, but only to soften judgment and
wrath, or to be invoked theoretically as their ultimate justification.
Did not Dante read over the gate of the Inferno: Fecemi …
primo amore?

Nature cannot be intrinsically contrary to spirit, otherwise spirit
could never have become incarnate in Christ or more or less in all
sensitive animals. But, genetically, nature must come first and spirit
afterwards; and when the Church became, as was inevitable and
requisite, a part of the world, spirit in it could not retain its
primacy. Even if the world beyond the pale could be disregarded,
which is never the case, an organised Church becomes a world in
itself. It posits matter and time, exercises power, sets up author-
ities, piles up commitments, and is as rich in prohibitions and com-
pulsions as any secular society. Moreover, in the Christian system,
eschatology and the ultimate physical triumph of justice with hyper-
bolical rewards and punishments remained standing: so that if the
early disciples were rebuked by Christ in the Gospels for their
competitive ambition to sit on thrones and be the first in the king-
dom, this could be only because the quality of their ambition was
not spiritual enough. Concern for their salvation, with the desire
and hope of glory, could not be blamed in them in principle.

Nevertheless the spiritual leaven that tended to transmute all
thought into self-forgetfulness and all prayer into vision, continued
to work in the lump. Salvation could never come by a change in

THE MESSIAH

circumstances. It could come only by a profound transformation of
the will and the affections, a new understanding and self-transcend-
ing love, such as may fill the soul in its supreme moments. Guided
by memories or reported sayings of Jesus, or by their own increas-
ing sense for spiritual things, the Evangelists expressed that idea in
their picture of his person. He was God in man. He had only to
lift the veil between the two chambers in his own soul, in order
to pass at will from the altar of sacrifice to the holy of holies.

Sundry influences were at work in the pagan world to facilitate
this transition from the Hebrew Messiah to the Christian Christ.
One of these influences was philosophy: not, of course, philosophy
of the modern academic kind, but the enacted personal philosophy
or enlightened life of the ancients, who in all their schools prac-
tised some discipline of the spirit, some scorn of the passions and
some method of subduing fancy to reason. Christ could never have
attracted the faith and love of that dissolving world, if he had
seemed less heroic than the Stoic sage, less detached than the
Sceptic, or less sensitive and human than the poetic Epicurean. His
Judaism could be forgiven, because spiritually he so completely
transcended it. Being a man, he had to be a man of some nation;
and the garment of oriental diction and patriarchal ethos was not
unbecoming for a pilgrim god.

Another influence was more subtle and internal to the Christian
family. This family was soon segregated both from the Jewish
body and from the pagan world, but the more numerous the Chris-
tian s became, the less likely it was that they should all be saints.
Even the saints were often eccentric and dangerous to the unity of
the Church. It became important that the whole consistent Christian
idea of sanctity should be kept publicly in view, clarified, con-
cretely illustrated, and made perfect in contrast to the laxity of the
many and the one-sidedness of the few. The idea of Christ in the
Gospels came to serve this purpose. His history, his person, his
maxims were all presented dramatically and interpreted spiritually.
Something celestial was seen descending to earth at every moment,
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
until the earthly side of things was sanctified, and only their spir-
itual side seemed to be substantial and to carry on the action.

Thus the great paradoxes in asserting that Jesus had been the
Christ — his humble advent, his obscure life, his ignominious death
— ceased to be difficulties and became revelations. His whole career
on earth had been interpolated in the divine scheme of the universe
for a merciful and saving reason. It was both a warning and a
lesson. John the Baptist had preached repentance and a change of
heart: Christ had shown us into what the heart was to be changed.
He had given in his life and maxims a perfect example of that
consecration, humility, chastity, and charity which were the very
essence of regeneration. To believe in him and to follow him was
to be saved indeed, not by an arbitrary decree of Providence, but
by an inner and intrinsic necessity. Our sacrifice would be our
liberation, because that which we had renounced was only a mass
of vices and sorrows. Jesus had been the true Christ precisely be-
cause he did not fulfil literally the promises of the prophets — a ful-
filment which would have been only a complication of vanities —
but founded a gnostic religion, revealing the secret of that spiritual
universe which those prophecies had signified in barbaric symbols.

THE SON OF GOD
The idea of Christ in the Gospels, when completely developed,
thus remains true in outline to the original prophecies of a Messiah.
Eschatologically, it comes not to destroy but to fulfil. Yet this ful-
filment is so unexpected, so manifold, so subversive, and so in-
timate that morally and dramatically the idea is totally transfigured.
The son of David has become the son of God.

What exact meaning has this phrase, “the son of God,” so per-
sistently used in the Gospels? There are passages in the Hebrew
Scriptures in which the Israelites in a body are called children of
God, apparently a tenderer variant for the people of God, or the
chosen people; and there are passages in the Gospels where, by
implication at least, all men are called children of God, since God
is addressed or spoken of as their father. This expression, as it
falls from the lips of Jesus, belongs to the idyllic and poetic side
of his teaching. God is the father of all things, not of men only,
nor of good men only, nor of Israel only. He rules over the
creation, which he did not produce casually, in a playful mood,
and then abandon and forget. He watches over his creatures in all
their vicissitudes, as a father over his children. I shall return to this
point later and to the questions that it suggests. Here there is a
particular circumstance to consider.

Christ, according to the unanimous conviction of the Evangelists,
was the son of God in a mysterious supernatural sense. To be God’s

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
son would be his essential relation to God even after he had re-
turned to found his kingdom on earth or had carried his elect
back with him to his Kingdom in Heaven. Some of them had
actually seen him transfigured into his proper celestial aspect: all
had seen him risen from the dead and moving in an ethereal
medium not the common light of day. Now, for one who was thus
materially and uniquely the son of God, the name of father given
to God had a force and a warmth altogether personal; so that in
teaching men to call God their father, and to put themselves in his
hands with the trust of children, Christ was not merely using an
oriental figure of speech, but was raising his disciples by the hand
towards his own station, to participation in an utterly superhuman
intimacy and unanimity that existed between himself and God.

If, then, all men and all living beings were invited to regard
themselves as children of God, such a non-natural adoption would
remain merely verbal and empty unless it carried with it a corre-
sponding change of heart in themselves, by which they might trans-
cend their own littleness and begin to live with God after God’s
way, in the light of his omniscience and great designs, as Christ
had always lived when he was in heaven and did not forget to live
even when he became a man and was buffeted by all accidents of
earth.

But whence came the force of that pleonastic idiom by which
people spoke of the children of Israel, rather than of Israel simply,
or of the son of man rather than of a man? It came from the evi-
dent consubstantiality or identity of nature between parents and
offspring. The son of a man, in his nature and destiny, is as much
a man as the father: his initial subjection and, inferiority to his
father is only temporary. The father himself was once a helpless
child; the child is destined some day to be a father; and in the in-
definite series of generations there is perfect parity in dignity and
authority, between the manhood of one generation and the man-
hood of another. On this analogy, it would seem to follow that a
son of God must be as much God as the father. And so it was in

THE SON OF GOD

the mythical genealogies of the gods in all nations. Zeus was as
much a god as his father Cronos, and his sons were as much gods
as he. The regal authority exercised by the father over his children
in such cases was limited or even reversible: for circumstances
varied with time in the primeval chaos which underlay all the gods
and their fortunes; and fate might relegate the more ancient deities
to obscurity and cosmic sleep, and summon younger ones to dwell
for a while in the smiling earth, and to inspire it for a season with
their particular genius. So each god might have his times and
places for special manifestation and dominion; and it would be a
shallow mind that would disparage the divinity of any spirit just
emerging into the light or that of any spirit lost to sight and
eclipsed in the twilight of antiquity.

Severely as such polytheism and naturalism had been banished
from official Jewish religion, traces of it remained not only in
popular superstitions but in the very jealousy attributed to Jehovah,
in his special choice of one people and their special choice of him
for their God; also fundamentally in the conception of his life
in time, his tumultuous and changing thoughts, and his regal pas-
sions. He was conscious of rivals, he was wrathful at treason, he
was ferocious in vengeance; yet the storm would pass from his soul
as the thunder-clouds from Sinai or Ararat, and he would be gen-
erous in his favours and triumphantly true to his promises. Al-
though the Jews had no philosophy of their own and no speculative
insight, the love of hyperbole which they shared with all orientals
drove them to the very verge of ultimate conceptions; and in this
way their idea of Jehovah, though never made philosophical, grew
absolute in its prerogatives. Their world was originally natural-
istic: God manifested his power by transforming things from their
normal character and movement, or normal quiescence; he had
made the world by blowing like a strong wind over the waters.
Yet gradually, if not by any sure antecedent prerogative, he tamed
all the powers of nature, extended his dominion over all nations,
and would maintain it for all time.

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

If God was conceived to live in this way through a series of
events, actions, and opportune thoughts, and if he had a son, it
seemed obvious that he must have begotten his son on some par-
ticular occasion. What could this occasion have been? The question
would be idle as well as presumptuous, had we no other knowledge
of this Son beyond this verbal revelation of his existence. But the
Evangelists had begun as the Gospel of Saint Mark begins, by con-
tact with the human Jesus or reports about him: that he was the
Son of God had been a later discovery, or rather act of faith on
their part; so that occasions were known to them on which this
mystery had been revealed, and these occasions could suggest the
character of that divine sonship which they disclosed. One occasion
had been the baptism of Jesus, when a voice was heard from heaven
saying: This is my beloved Son , in whom I am well pleased . Could
it have been at that moment that the Son of God was generated,
a spirit identified with the man Jesus and, as it were, infused into
him? Was he perhaps the new spirit given to each human soul upon
regeneration? This would be a promising suggestion for free and
unconverted minds, building their own religion out of their private
experience or imagination; but it was contrary to the orthodox tra-
dition among those who were looking for the Messiah. The Messiah
was to be a single person with a public destiny; he would become
the King of the Jews; and if being a son of God was a dignity
proper to the Messiah, it belonged to him exclusively and by pre-
destination. It could not be conferred upon him after he existed
but only revealed gradually to be essentially his nature.

Might not Christ then have been the Son of God because, at
his incarnation without an earthly father, he was commissioned to
be the Messiah in an enlarged and spiritual sense, to save the souls
that would believe in him, and with these elect found an ever-
lasting kingdom? On this hypothesis the use of the words “father”
and “son,” which must be metaphorical in speaking of the deity,
would be rendered intelligible. The child Jesus had an earthly
mother, but only a foster-father; God had intervened by a special

THE SON OF GOD

miracle at his conception, sending an angel to announce the event
to the Virgin Mary, and the Holy Ghost to overshadow her, and
cause her to conceive. That child was therefore the son of God in a
most real and exceptional sense. I am not sure that if the strict
idea of eternity had ever penetrated into Christian theology (as it
could not do on account of the Jewish foundations of that disci-
pline) this view of the generation of the Son by the Father might
not have become orthodox. Seen as an emanation of the deity such
generation could not be an event with a date; it would signify only
an essential derivation of one person or hypostasis from the other,
as the corollaries of a proposition flow essentially from that propo-
sition. The Son of God, if God were eternal and nor merely ex-
pected to be everlasting, would therefore have been generated from
all eternity, yet not temporarily before any event, and therefore not
before the incarnation of Jesus Christ. At that moment the Son of
God began to exist in the world of events, in union with the human
psyche of Christ, which belonged essentially to that world. The
metaphor by which the eternal relation of the first to the second
person of the Trinity is called a relation of Father to Son would be
based on this personal identity of the second person with die
human Christ. Christ had a mother, and it was natural that,
orphaned as he was of an earthly father, and an exile in the world,
he should have given the name of Father to his essential source in
the eternal sphere, to which his eyes could not help turning with a
sense of strange separation in fundamental union.

Reverting, however, to the temporalism of Scripture and of safe
rhrisrian orthodoxy, we must discard this suggestion, and insist
that the Son of God existed before his incarnation, existed, that is,
in heaven. Heaven is described in the later Hebrew scriptures as
full of angels. Might not the Son of God be the name of one, let
us say, the first and greatest of these angels? And was it not this
angel that God sent into the world in the person of Jesus?

Such a possibility was congruous with accepted ways of thinking;
and the language of the Gospels, which was inevitably vague and
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
timid on theoretical points, lent itself to such interpretation. It had
some vogue in subsequent heresies but there was an insurmountable
obstacle in its way for veritable disciples of Christ. It contradicted
the sudden impression and the permanent magic of the idea of
Christ , as the Church transmitted it and as the Evangelists, in their
moving narratives and maxims, helped to keep it alive. In two
distinct ways this living image of Christ was radically not that of an
angel. In the first place, Christ was remembered or conceived to
have been a man, a child, a youth, a young inspired healer and
preacher, living continually with his disciples, jostled by crowds,
rich in individual initiative and bursts of tenderness, and above all,
in the end, seized by his enemies, tormented and crucified. Nothing
could have been more tragically different from the apparition of an
angel, an ethereal messenger, intangible, serene, uttering a few
oracular words, and vanishing into thin air. In the second place,
though a man, Christ had exerted superhuman powers, betrayed a
hidden omniscience, corrected and refined the law of Moses with
absolute authority. If he had not explained and revealed everything,
his disciples felt that it was because they were not able to under-
stand everything, not because he lacked the knowledge; and if lie
did not transform the world at once, but consented to fail and to
suffer, it had been in obedience to the plan laid out for him by
his Father — not for lack of power. When his heart moved him,
when his conscience consented, he could break through all tram-
mels. He was therefore no angel, no mere ray lost in space of
divine light and power, but a centre of light and power, a focus of
divinity, derived certainly from the Father, but equally living, and
clothed with all the Father’s authority. He was the heir-apparent;
and though a man and diffident about his native divinity, he was
the Son of God.

This divinity felt to radiate from the image of Christ, joined
with the theoretical convenience of classing him among the angels,
suggested another solution that also had a great vogue among the
Eastern Christians. If in later Judaism angels had been imagined to

THE SON OF GOD

fill the court of heaven, and to stand before the Throne like guards
or pages, or like priests before the altar, yet in earlier Hebrew tra-
ditions angels had often been direct theophanies. It was God him-
self that spoke; but if he appeared in a visible form, he was spoken
of as an angel. The angel was merely the form he wore to the
human senses. Christ might have been such an apparition of God.
This would do full justice to all the authority, power and mysterious
ascendancy exercised by the person of Christ; but it would do away
with the human Jesus altogether, except as an optical illusion. Or if
this seemed too fantastic, a human Jesus might be admitted as an
alias for Christ, an individual whose aspect Christ might have bor-
rowed on occasion, but whose birth, daily life, passion, and death
Christ would never have undergone. Christ would have been God
simply, God walking on earth as he had walked in the garden of
Eden in the cool of the evening, and there would never have been
a human Christ.

This solution lends itself admirably to the spiritual and mystical
elaboration of Christian experience, from Saint Paul down. Christ
and the Holy Spirit are felt as forces at work within us, as the
transforming grace of God: and the historical, legendary, and
ontological questions about Jesus and about the Trinity disappear
or can be easily solved. In our day the mythologists among Biblical
critics, who deny that Jesus ever existed, burden themselves with
a needless historical paradox; but they retain a true understanding
of the religious imagination and of the vital sources of religious
faith and dogma. Facts, real physical persons or events, are of no
religious importance except as the imagination may be stimulated
by them and may clothe them with a spiritual meaning. The hu-
manity of Christ is an indispensable dogma for the Christian be-
liever; it is not a necessary postulate for the historian of Christian
belief. A material Jesus may have given occasion for that belief to
take shape among a small group of his followers, who hoped he
might be the Messiah; he may have supplied a date, a place, a few
characteristic sayings, to form a nucleus for their common prophe-

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

cies and precepts; but if these disciples held together, if their crude
notions caught fire and converted whole classes of men of various
races and religions, this could only be because they filled out and
transformed their recollections of the historical Jesus into the reli-
gious idea of Christ, a divine redeemer, an infallible teacher, a
knower and lover of each individual soul. The process of transfor-
mation and completion would have begun at once in the mind and
talk of the disciples, even when their master was alive: and it would
have continued ever since in the mind of the Church, groping and
stumbling amid heretical choices or blind alleys, until the full-
fledged doctrine and culms of Christianity had taken a tenable and
adequate shape. This development may be attributed by the scoffer
to die avid imagination of poor ignorant and starving souls; but it
will be attributed by these souls themselves to divine inspiration.

Now this inspiration had touched one of its highest points when
it had pronounced Christ to be the Son of God; but if this revela-
tion was interpreted to mean that God himself had appeared
in the guise of man, as he had appeared to the patriarchs in the
guise of an angel, the appeal of Christian faith to the human con-
science was jeopardised. There are plenty of theophanies for the
poet: the stars, the thunder, the winds, the flowers, the beauty of
men and women to the lover, when he thinks he sees a god or a
goddess walking through the world. The point is to hold, verify,
maintain one of these theophanies to be a literal fact, not a poetic
illusion; in this case to be assured that Christ is not merely a the-
ophany, a vision of God in human shape, but is God in a real man,
a man really one with God. It was requisite for the religious
adequacy of the gospel that the humanity of Christ should not
evaporate and leave only the godhead standing in its impassibility.

The direction in which this demand might find satisfaction is
indicated in the fourth Gospel. We have already seen how the
humanity and the divinity of Christ are interwoven in that book,
both with graphic power and with mystical unction. Yet the ex-
plicit doctrine of the Trinity is not broached there: it was still too

THE SON OF GOD

soon. Such language would have sounded polytheistic, and mono-
theism had to be safeguarded at all costs before the godhead of the
Son could be proclaimed without blasphemy. I think even the
laboured and hectic language of the Athanasian creed hardly avoids
confusion: we see that an ineffable mystery confronts us, that vari-
ous phrases are justified about it by various considerations, but we
do not see how these phrases hang together and escape contradic-
tion. Yet a path towards clearness was open, if only the Evangelists
and the Fathers could have trodden it: the path from time to
eternity.

God, all the doctors of the Church tell us, is eternal, and in
some doctors this idea of eternity is pure, involving timelessness
and changelessness: something altogether different in kind from
everlasting duration. Aristotle and Plotinus had conceived God to
be strictly eternal and yet eminently living, the very quintessence
and absolute intensity of life. Yet that life was changelessly sus-
tained without lapse or rhythm, without division between before
and after, between vision and judgment, between purpose and a a.
Such stability is indeed contrary to physical being or existence,
which involves sources and results, process and changing external
relations; but stability is essential to moral or intellectual terms,
which would have no meaning if they had no constancy. Logicians,
therefore, when they speak mythologically, say that all things are
generated by the One; for they see that unity is the condition sine
qua. non of ideal being. But unity is not a substance that can suffer
dtange or flow out materially. When it is said to be the principle of
all life, the meaning is that all life arises under the constant con-
dition of taking some recognisable form and maintaining some
recognisable rhythm. The One is the life and the light of the uni-
verse, because all thing s arise by virtue of their unity, as colours
grow disrinrt in the sunlight, with no blinking in the sun. In this
way we discover that nothing can east in time without borrowing
its being from eternity.

These considerations are dialectical and it is almost an accident
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
that philosophers should have spoken in their theology of the
One and the Eternal, and so seemed to confirm the Hebrew zeal
for one only God and he everlasting. Yet nothing could be more
remote than the dialectical One from the monarchical, planning,
working, speaking, avenging, covenanting and repenting God of
the Old Testament. And it was only the God of the patriarchs that
could plausibly be called Father or be supposed to have a son; only
the God who sent the Deluge might now send a Messiah. Much,
therefore, as Jewish and Christian theology might be assimilated
to Platonism, contact between the two traditions, not to speak of
fusion, is possible only on one condition: that Platonism be viewed
not on its dialectical and idealistic side, but as a system of cos-
mology, which it also was; and then its myths, taken as inspired
revelations concerning matters of fact, might be accepted, with cor-
rections, by theologians as happy guesses at the truth, or premoni-
tions of it.

Aristotle’s system, apparently less religious, is really far more
consonant with Christianity than that of Plato. Introduce occasional
divine intervention with the course of nature, introduce grace accen-
tuating in spots the universal dominance of teleology, and you may
turn Aristotle into a Christian philosopher. He does not undermine
the needful contrast and interplay between the natural and the
supernatural, as Plato does by rendering both poetical; whereas for
orthodox Christianity it is indispensable that both should exist
realistically, with empirical transitions and deviations between
them: so that Elijah, Christ, and the Virgin Mary may already
have been carried bodily into heaven, where all of us, with our
bodies, may hope to join them.

Now the little that Aristotle tells us about God is of the utmost
value to the Christian theologian, because it confirms from a purely
pagan philosophical point of view two fundamental characteristics
of Jehovah: that he is unapproachably distinct from the creation,
single, and eternal, and that he is intensely alive. This living essence
of God, this tremor and vibration in his immutability, opens the

THE SON OF GOD

way for distinctions within his being. He may think (as the Pla-
tonic One certainly could not) and there may be tensions and har-
monies in his life such as are expressed by the words “fatherhood”
and “sonship.” And here the eternity also predicated of God, far
from contradicting the notion of such an internal relation within
him, gives us a hint useful in interpreting the Gospels. Christ is
the Son of God, and possessed of divine prerogatives; yet, as a son,
he is derivative, obedient, not threatening, like so many a king’s
son, to usurp his father’s throne. Rivalry and even patricide is
possible in human families because the subordination of son to
father, in an indefinite series of generations, is temporary and irk-
some to the growing youth, who knows himself to be his father’s
equal, and able to fill his father’s place. Very likely the son is
already a father too; in any case, he feels that each human soul is
equally original, equally free, equally lordly. But in an eternal
being, if there be a relation comparable to that between father and
son, that contrast and generation must itself be perpetual. The
Father will never have been a son: the Son will never become a
father. The movement of derivation, the essential dependence, will
never issue in a person similar to the Father or separable from
him: and vice versa. , the Father will never have existed or been
able to exist without the quality of fatherhood or deprived of his
Son. There will be but one life uniting the two; and while possess-
ing the same divine nature (a child being of the same species as
his parent) they will possess it in contrasting and not interchange-
able phases. The Father is forever and constitutionally a father, and
the Son is constitutionally and forever a son.

However bound up Christian theology might be with prophecy,
and innocent of dialectic, it could not help appealing in the end to
the notion of eternity. Even pagan theology, in Plato, Aristotle, and
Plotinius had not been able to do so. For instance, in the Phaedo
of Plato the occasion was a tragic event, and the interest seemed
to hang on the possibility of defeating the blind verdict of the
judges, and proving that the soul of Socrates would live on, in
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
spite of the death of his body. Yet in the end, after some flaw had
been detected in all the naturalistic arguments for immortality,
Socrates appeals to the idea, not to the circumstances, of life to
prove its eternal freedom from death. This observation, in its own
dialectical sphere, is irrefutable: but it eludes and even mocks the
interest in the continued existence of any particular person. All it
asserts is the truism that the life of Socrates can never be identical
with his non-life, or non-existence. Under the form of eternity it
will always be an exemplification of life.

If Plato, or Socrates himself, found comfort in this tautology, he
is to be congratulated on the degree to which respect for the truth,
essentially eternal, has overcome in his mind the animal impulse
to go on living: an impulse which, after triumphing in a complete
human life, is necessarily defeated. A timely and noble death, like
that of Socrates, eternally crowns, far from destroying, his ap-
pointed existence. But hankering for continued life in other un-
canny worlds, or in the form of some other animal, is a romantic
weakness. The other worlds and other animal lives may actually
exist: but in proportion as they differ from one’s own life and
character on earth, it is an illusion to call them continuations or
antecedents to one’s earthly adventure. Even transmigration can
preserve a soul only in so far as some ideal continuity and same-
ness are traceable through the successive lives: so that the Buddhist
reduction of metempsychosis to Karma rests on a just analysis.
Time cannot endow you with immortality except as it may reenact
your eternal identity.

How subtly this need of ideal and dialectical bonds, to hold the
existential flux together, was felt by at least one of the Evangelists
appears in the choice of the Word, the Logos, to designate the
divine nature in Christ. The metaphor of the father and the son
is temppral and naturalistic. Begetting is an action, and offspring,
though they come from the substance of the parents, are poor and
helpless worms in comparison. But an impulse, a passion, a thought
uttered in a word positively gains by that manifestation: it discovers

THE SON OF GOD

itself, renders itself recognisable and memorable. Language and
logic are the means by which spirit comes into self-possession:
their physical usefulness in communication, when words become
signals, is neither primaiy nor ultimate. Language grows out of
music, which the birds have without yet turning k into a means of
indicating distinct objects; and contact with objects, when at last
it becomes safe and pleasant, serves only to fill the mind with
images and insights, that is to say, with graphic signs flowering
of themselves in the mind. It is therefore with extreme propriety
that John begins by this oracle: In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This was a
formula less offensive to Jewish ears than if he had said bluntly
that Christ was God. Generation and birth separate the offspring
from the parents; utterance perfects the parent by the offspring. As
Goethe says:

Einzig veredelt die Form den Gehalt,

Verleiht ihm, verleiht sich, die hochste Gewdt.

Form first exalts the flux into the flower,

Lends it, and lends itself, consummate power.

Thus the burden of the Will is clarified by the Word; through the
Word all things were made into what they are; and from the re-
flection of the Will in the Word proceeds the Spirit. And thus
the axiomatic unity of God, threatened by the allegory of sonship,
was safeguarded by the allegory of expressed thought.

Nevertheless, when Christ himself is speaking the constant use of
the terms “father” and “son” makes a profound appeal of another
kind. The Son had now become a creature, had assumed the tem-
poral and limited life of a man, with a human range and succession
of perceptions. Certainly he retained his divine vision and peace
in petto, yet out of teach, except by faith and prayer, for his human
faculties, which played above them, as a dream disjointedly plays
over the depths of a sleeping mind. Besides the essential subordi-
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
nation of the Son to the Father in eternity, there now was an acute
and pathetic sense of dependence and obedience in the exiled and
commissioned Word sent into the darkness of a world that could
not understand it. The sense of separation overlay the sense of
union, and though perfectly sure of being the Word of God, Christ
was more immediately and cryingly aware of being his messenger,
his momentarily banished and forsaken Son, sent on a vain mission
to a far country. The Son of God, so oppressed by his accepted
finitude, preferred to call himself the Son of Man.
THE SON OF MAN

That Christ was a man is everywhere presupposed in the Gospels
and is represented as the obvious fact, as little doubtful to the dis-
ciples as to the public. Hence the wonder when he showed super-
human knowledge or power. What manner of man is this , say the
good fishermen, that the winds and the sea obey him? Even the
belief or the suspicion that he might be the Messiah assumed that
he was a man. Angels and theophanies were never confused with
the promised Messiah. What is more, even if the Messiah had
come down from heaven in a cloud, as was sometimes expected,
and as Christ himself prophesied that he should come at his second
advent, he would have been a man and the son of man. Thus we
read in Daniel: Behold one like the son of man came with the
clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days . . . and there
was given him dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all people,
nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an ever-
lasting dominion, which shall not pass away. And in Enoch we
learn that the Chosen One of God now stands before God, and
the name of the Son of Man was spoken before the Lord before
the creation of the sun and the stars . He will be a staff to sustain
the just, a light of the nations; before him shall bow dll the
peoples; in him dwells the spirit of wisdom . . . and of strength,
and the spirit of them that have fallen asleep in righteousness .

Such expectations about the “Son of Man” were indeed an

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

obstacle in tbe minds of the pious to regarding Jesus, a Galilean of
known and humble origin, to be the Messiah: he was too human.
In his practice of ailing himself the Son of Man we may therefore
see mixed intentions, and a trace of those double meanings and
ironical metaphors by which, especially in John, he at once ex-
presses and conceals his thoughts. On the one hand, being the Son
of God and speaking of himself as the Son of Man, he maintained
that reserve, that disciplina arcani, by which he protected himself
from premature acclamations and premature conflicts. The phrase
had a savour of modesty: it was literally correct, yet full of a subtle
irony. Had he habitually called himself the Son of God, without
transfiguring his whole aspect and action, he would have seemed
arrogant and blasphemous, since he would have been understood
to make himself equal to God. That, too, would have been literally
correct, but in a qualified and mysterious sense impossible to ex-
plain to the public. And the title, the Son of Man, though more
modest, was very far from implying any abdication of heavenly
descent and superhuman status: rather it asserted these but in-
directly, by a becoming understatement. The phrase was technically
a synonym for the Messiah; yet it could hardly help suggesting
that voluntary humanity and obscurity which the Son of God had
chosen on coming into this world. It called to mind the miseries of
mortality that paradoxically, in Christ’s ase, beset a divine being.

Whatever, then, we may think of the gnostic idea of Christ,
or of any theory that tends to deny his humanity, such theories
certainly contradict that idea in its initial form, as we find it re-
flected in the Gospels. Saint Paul himself, whose Christ is Jesus
only, as it were, by accident, nevertheless means to preach nothing
but Christ crucified: and such a Christ must have had a material
human body and a genuine human soul to die that death. The
religion of the Cross was bound, at all costs, to maintain the hu-
manity of its founder.

From beginning to end, the Bible assumes that the universe is
a system of bodies more or less animated by spirit. Concerning die

THE SON OF MAN

nature of body or spirit there is nowhere any speculation or
analysis; but a healthy sense of reality keeps even the most imagina-
tive flights from divorcing spirit from matter altogether. A strik-
ing consequence of this, in spite of the Jews having lived and
learned a good deal in Egypt, was their indifference to immortality.
Of vivid spiritual life without a body or without political society
they seem to have had no desire. It was only in order not to miss
the final triumph of Israel and dwell in the New Jerusalem that
the more imaginative of them posited a resurrection from the dead.

This sentiment subsists throughout the New Testament. When
the risen Christ appears, the urgent test is to prove that he is not
a “spirit,” that is a ghost, but a material body, that can be touched
(or ought not yet to be touched) and that can eat and drink,
although it may appear and vanish in ways as yet untraceable. And
it is the resurrection of the body, not the immortality of the soul,
that figures in the Christian creed. Essential then, to the orthodox
and complete idea of Christ which we are studying is that he should
be genuinely and frankly what he prefers to call himself in the
Gospels, namely, the Son of Man. Such a condition involves many
predicaments, each of which may seem arbitrary in itself, although
it was inevitable that those predicaments, whatever they were,
should be arbitrary. For instance, a man must be bom in some
particular age and country: he must find himself limited to a
particular language, culture, and hereditary religion. Such limita-
tions, and such a bias, may seem unworthy of God; yet if once we
admit the conjunction of the two natures in one person (and it is
only so that union with God is at all possible) all we can reason-
ably ask is that each nature should admit and desire the existence
of the other. Now the humanity of Christ and his nationalism are
his standing -ground, his point of departure: they do not form
his horizon or his goal. That is all we can ask of any man, how-
ever mi ghtily , however transfiguringly, God may dwell within
him.

Moreover, die phase of Judaism in which Christ appeals is a

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

phase of dissolution and disruption. Jacob is not now working his
way to wealth and importance; Joshua is not attempting to exter-
minate the Canaanites because God had promised their lands to
Abraham; Solomon is not emulating other oriental despots. On the
contrary, John the Baptist is announcing the end of the world, call-
ing die Jews a generation of vipers, and threatening diem with
destruction unless they repent, renounce all they are bent upon,
and at least in spirit fly with him to the desert. In one sense de-
struction had already overtaken the Jewish nation: it had lost its
independence politically, and intellectually it had been transmuted
by the Greek language and philosophy. It subsisted on sufferance,
was just enough alive not to be dead: the very moment, therefore,
in which all its experience, all its spiritual fervour, could best mi-
grate out of its earthly body, and become the seed of a heavenly
life.

In the same way, Christ acknowledges the claims of his family
and disciples upon his person. Initially he is faithful to them, and
even at moments affectionate; yet with his eye and his heart fixed
on ultimate bonds he denied them any spiritual privilege. Those
who do die will of his Father who is in heaven are his mother and
brethren and disciples. With a certain impatience of local and
temporal accidents, he seems to lend himself more gladly to exotic
sympathies. He prefers low company, for the sake of a certain
bitter realisation of his humanity: it is the proud, who think them-
selves superior to the poor and to the sinful, that rouse his ire.
He endures his stupid disciples more willingly than he does the
reasoning and virtuous Pharisees. But in this there is no shadow
of sentimentality. He is harsh to his disciples also, and makes no
concessions in the moral code. On the contrary, he demands heroic
asceticism: but that is an ideal. In the welter of human sin and
folly, seen from his infinite height, he is not squeamish about the
depth of the degradation, if once a cry for deliverance arises from
that depth.

The need of deliverance and the immediate personal possibility

THE SON OF MAN

of it are the twin roots of the whole gospel. The state of the world
is so rotten that there is no hope of reforming it; it must be des-
troyed root and branch; but the individual soul may escape, by
establishing a new life within itself and entering into a spiritual
kingdom which is not of this world.

These presuppositions enable us to understand and surmount a
difficulty in conceiving the union of divinity with humanity in the
idea of Christ. The divinity must be veiled, secret, held in reserve,
manifested only intermittently in a life that, unlike the life of God,
passes from phase to phase and cannot hold its infinite riches all
at once and without privation. This may be conceded without
offence, since the spirit has become voluntarily incarnate, and in
that character must endure successiveness and varying obscuration;
nevertheless, it knows that its eternal vision endures undisturbed,
and can be recovered at any moment, as a man recovers his common
fund of knowledge and all his acquired arts whenever there is
occasion, without practising or remembering them all uninter-
ruptedly.

But how does it fare with humanity in such a union? Can all the
feelings, passions, errors, and vices of man be enacted by a divine
person? Will not the prior condition of being compatible with per-
fect holiness exclude almost all that is human from that incarna-
tion? Evidently, if w r e understand by humanity the whole comidie
humdtne , the whole experience of mankind, as actually enacted,
God can know all this, he can see it all in a picture or as a story;
but he cannot live it all, even in a voluntary dream or assumed im-
personation, because much of it, the errors for instance, contradict
his eternal knowledge. So the crimes and the false hopes contradict
his eternal will: they can enter his apprehension only as false and
as criminal, never as true and glorious, which is what the deluded
human soul feels them to be. It was therefore only a thoroughly
transformed and expurgated humanity that could be assumed by the
Word when it was made flesh.

This circumstance might seem to destroy half the force of the

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

assertion that Christ was a true man: for his humanity could be
only extraordinarily limited and corrected. And so we find ir de-
scribed in the Gospels. Everything about him is miraculous, not
merely that he works miracles, as many other prophets or healers
were reputed to do, but that his birth and his gifts are miraculous,
that he moves at will into an invisible sphere, that he inspires pre-
ternatural trust and reverence, and speaks oracular words. That
nevertheless his humanity is obvious and profoundly real — more
perfect, in fact, than that of other men — comes from the fact that
mankind at large is not, according to the view of the Gospels, the
criterion of humanity. Man, as he is, is a fallen creature, a dis-
torted and self-contradictory being. It is not Christ that is not a
complete man, but the common man that is half beast.

This sentiment, the consciousness of congenital sin, places the
interpreter of the Gospels in a difficult position. Here, as in the
Hebrew Bible and in all human views and judgments, there ate
philosophic presuppositions; but they are made instinctively and
taken for granted, without being expressed in any theory or doc-
trine. The critic has to discover and express them in his own
terms; and if he then imputes them to the firm but unreflective
sentiment that he is studying, he runs great danger of misrepre-
senting The humanity of Christ, humanity such as may be as-
sumed by a divine being without degradation or absurdity, presents
a crucial instance of such a danger. An impatient philosopher, full
of confidence in his own categories, might at once put this dilemma:
Either no finite and particular existence is compatible with deity,
being essentially unstable, dependent, deluded, and painful; or
else all degrees and kinds of existence manifest deity and are com-
patible with it. If you say that the criminality in man is wretched
and sinful, you should say the same of his intellect and morality,
since these too ate perfectly finite and specific, and are objects of
inextinguishable laughter to the gods; while if on the contrary you
set up your intellect and morality, in any phase of them, as cogent
and appropriate for God also, you ought to admit the same divine

THE SON OF MAN

sanction for the whole frame of nature and for every form of life.
Tell me then at once in which of these two radical senses I should
take the idea of Christ. Is the Word made flesh in all flesh, and is
it uttered by the whole existing and phenomenal universe? Or is
that Word rather a divine inward summons to quit existence alto-
gether, and to be reunited with the Eternal?

Such a dilemma is speculative and ultimate: it did not arise in
the Hebraic tradition, except perhaps in stray minds that had lost
their moorings and floated away in some alien current. Jehovah
was conceived to be an agent within the natural world; he was not
infinite, nor did he trouble himself with the question whether the
world he moved in was infinite or not. And he neither expected
nor allowed anything or anybody to be identified with himself. So
his son, whom he had begotten and not made intentionally, had a
specific divine nature and personality. It was for him to judge,
when deputed to adopt a human soul and fuse it with his divine
person, what type of humanity he would sanctify, and what types
he would reject. All this happened freely, contingently, unpre-
dictably, within space and time, by the agency of pre-existing cause-
less beings, exercising their particular powers under implied natu-
ral conditions that they neither notice nor fear. Here religion does
not bring us the intuition of anything ideal. It reports a possible
part of the internal economy of nature and life.

On this understanding we may proceed modestly to inquire
what, according to the Gospels, is the type of human nature
adopted by Christ. The answer will not be simple or abstractly ex-
pressible, because the Gospels are the work of various hands, repre-
senting various degrees of insight and different preconceptions.
Yet we may gather the characteristics of this hallowed humanity
together without difficulty; and we shall find them tolerably
coherent.

As a preliminary we must banish the fanatical notion that matter
is something evil or wholly negative or a mere impediment to the
spirit. A divine person who assumes a human soul and body and
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
enacts an earthly life of his free accord (his will being intrinsically
identical with that of his Father), cannot hate or despise matter.
Like his Father, who found matter an indispensable medium for
the creation, he does not come to destroy matter but to reanimate it:
not to separate the souls of men from their bodies but to endow
them, when redeemed, with those bodies renewed and rendered
perfectly obedient to their souls.

Certainly the Gospels accept the primitive view of mankind that
the spirits or shades of dead men subsist, at least for a time, as
they reappear in dreams and in memory or may be called up by
magical arts. So Christ, after his death, descends as a spirit only
among the spirits waiting for him in Sheol, before he rejoins his
body in the sepulchre and rises to a new and immortal life. But
this temporary separation of soul from body, though possible and
even general, is essentially abnormal. The soul is impotent without
its instrument, like the harp player without his harp: he might
remember or even compose his music, but he could neither hear it
nor play it. The experience we all have of the resistance of the
body to the soul, and of the vices of the body dragging the soul
down with them, is an experience of disease. The spirit is willing
but the flesh is torpid and avoids or perverts the movements that
would call forth the spirit. According to the tradition followed by
the Gospels, however, this obliquity of the flesh is due to previous
evil choices made by the spirit, in Adam if not in ourselves. Christ
comes to earth precisely to save us from the load of those evil
choices; and then to restore us to the first state of nature, which
was a state of grace and of perfect obedience of the body to the
soul. This body would no longer either impede or misguide us;
and so perfect would be this truly human life, that it would not
know old age, but would last for ever and ever.

With these conceptions in the background we shall not be sur-
prised to see Christ come eating and drinking, and his disciples not
fasting, like the Pharisees or the disciples of the Baptist; the Bride-
groom is still with them, in whom soul and body are in perfect

THE SON OF MAN

sympathy. When they have lost the Bridegroom, they will indeed
fast.

Asceticism is thus a discipline necessary to the Christian life,
but not its ultimate ideal. It is practised by Christ hims elf only in
certain directions and at certain times, not through any superstitious
fear of bodily life but only in defence of the truly natural life
against the encroachments of a corrupt world and a diseased imagi-
nation. When I speak of a truly natural life, however, I am not
thinking of what the naturalist would call natural. The average
man, in the eyes of that man himself, when the spirit awakes in
him, is a dull monster, a sort of Caliban, half beast and half devil.
He is disgusting and foolish in his own eyes. Now in Christ we
must expect the spirit to be awake, divinely awake, from the be-
ginning, and a drastic revision of what human nature truly is must
not surprise us in his person and in his doctrine.

This revision is not drastic, however, after the manner of pagan
mystics, theosophists, or idealists. The body is to be accepted and
preserved. Christ was willing to become an infant, a lisping child,
a questioning boy, a young man working at a manual trade, and
then driven by the spirit into the desert. He was tender towards
the body, cured all its diseases, brought it to life again, fed it in
multitudes by repeated miracles, and when he had taken the dead
young girl by the hand and raised her from her sleep his first word
was: Give her something to eat. He was the Word made flesh, and
accepted the flesh for himself in all its humble accidents.

Yet to the flesh, in the sexual sense of the word, he was not
tender. He would be bom a helpless child, but must be bom of a
virgin. He readily forgave carnal sins but only with the command
that they should not be repeated. In the Kingdom of Heaven there
would be no marriage or giving in marriage. The family was some-
thing to be retained socially but to be transcended religiously:
those with whom one is in spiritual communion are one’s true
family. So too he accepted the larger institutions of society and
the state; they were doubtless inevitable and not worth rebelling
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
against, and it was simpler to return their coin to those who had
minted it; but a man’s real duty was to his private neighbours, in
their homely joys and necessities. Learning, too, was rather a snare
than an inspiration; it embroiled you in the letter and killed the
spirit. It was vain also to resist violence by violence, and so to
perpetuate violence and injustice. All they that take the sword
shdl perish with the sword.

Thus the whole machinery of life, by which the world is kept
going — reproduction, labour, war, government, and the arts — is
condemned or dismissed with aversion: yet the life of the body, in
time and in the bosom of nature, is loved, purified, and preserved.
Paradise is to be restored, yet hardly in a garden: rather in a celes-
tial temple, before the Throne of God, in a sanctuary full of tender-
ness, worship, wisdom, and prayer.

We may see in this ideal an echo of the later Jewish religion,
that had become ecclesiastical and consecrated, making up in
devout intensity for the surrender of political freedom and hope.
Yet there is a deeper root, I think, for this sort of ascetic natural-
ism. Christ is not at all ecclesiastical or conventional: he is a
prophet in the wilderness, among the rudest people, followed by
disciples picked up in the highways and byways. He preaches by
preference in the open air, in fishing villages, with new and fear-
less grace. And when he preaches in the synagogues or the Temple
it is rather to defy and upbraid the ruling theocracy than to join in
their cults. For he was secretly — the Evangelists never forget it —
die Son of God, come down from heaven in order to lead back
there those who might believe in him. It was in view of immortality
that he loved and redeemed mortal life.

Now immortality for the individual man, with an animal body
and an animal psyche, is something non-natural. Life is spontane-
ously perpetual, it propagates itself, but only through a cyde
of birth and death for each generation; and the individual soul,
though brave and intent in youth on preserving itself, is un-
wittingly and irresistibly directed on propagating life to others.

THE SON OF MAN

Later that passion, when it has surrounded us with wives and chil-
dren, yields to the passion for tilling the family and die state, and
directing for future ages the course of human society. So the
Hebrew patriarchs conceived the matter, being extremely con-
cerned to have a numerous progeny, length of days, and a glorious
tribal history, but never dreaming of a personal immortality for
their bodies, much less for their disembodied souls, which would
be only miserable ghosts. Adam himself was provided by the
Creator with a wife, and would not have been a man at all had he
not possessed the organs and the will that would prompt him to
propagate his kind. Paradise would have soon been overcrowded
with his descendents: but it was lost in time to prevent that incon-
venience, and men began to kill and to drive out one another, like
all the lower animals. This, to the lusty and unregenerate patri-
archs, seemed no anomaly, rather an incentive to self-assertion;
but a different sentiment soon began to insinuate itself into the
human conscience. To be natural came to seem dangerous: it
brought down the Deluge; it continually brought down disaster
even on the “chosen people,” whom God had sworn to protect.

We see, then, how the willingness of the Son of God to become
man, while it involved assuming a body, did not involve any con-
tamination with sexual, military, or political life; and why he
assimilated the ideal of human existence to that of the lilies of
the field and the birds of the air. The natural state of man was
neither that he should be a rational animal nor that he should be
a spark of pure spirit flying back from earthly separation and ex-
istence into the focus of eternal life. The natural state was to be
an immortal body animated by an immortal soul; and the natural
habitat of such a creature would not be the earth as it now exists,
in process of evolution, amid spasms of improvident growth and
fatal catastrophes, but his proper habitat was the Kingdom of
Heaven: a material kingdom, in which we might live with our
individual bodies and memories, but perpetually safe, free from
labour and care, and employed only in the endless happy under-
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
standing of eternal things. Eternal things, however, indude all
possibilities: they therefore indude the ideas of temporal things,
as they exist in the mind of God. It might well be the special
vocation of the human creature to be chiefly concerned with
images of time, and of dramas in time: but it should have been
with the detachment of a transcendental spirit, partaking in the
peace of Christ.

The Son of Man was therefore as far as possible from being
the embodiment or even the ideal of common or actual human
nature. It was no part of the extant creation, much less the whole
of it, that Christ assumed when he became man. He did not inherit
the sin of Adam. Even his mother, according to the Church, had
been free from it. He assumed only a lost, an ideal, a non-natural
humanity, such as myth pictured in Adam, or rather such as the
saints hoped to possess in heaven. Only after the actual world
and the actual man have been finally judged and abolished at the
last day, could mankind became, in a new and changeless form,
the chosen partners and dwelling place of the deity.

THE MIRACLES
Many people would like to eliminate the miracles from the
Gospels. Nothing is easier than to disbelieve them: they may be
illusions founded on ignorance of the secret workings of nature,
or inventions bred spontaneously, like dreams, in the very act of
remembering or repeating any exciting story. But it would be only
a new illusion, and a fresh passionate invention on our part, if wc
imagined that by eliminating the miracles we could come upon the
historical truth concerning the life of Jesus or upon the genuine
moral message of the Gospels. The first condition for reaching
such understanding is to overcome the modern assumption that
miracles are impossible. This assumption is convenient and prudent
in daily life; we may go our rounds happily without stopping to
challenge it. Yet historical evidence, impartially collected, is far
from supporting it, and logically it is untenable. Logically every-
thing is possible; and if a certain sequence of events happens not to
be found in our experience, nothing proves that it may not occur be-
yond. If, abandoning the narrow ground of experience, the ration-
alist appeals to reason, and says that miracles are impossible because
they would be unintelligible, he falls into a verbal trap, baited to
snare the innocent. Existence is necessarily unintelligible. Just as
logically anything may happen, so the fact that something in par-
ticular happens is essentially irrational. It may be a part of a
sequence often repeated; but the fact that such a sequence ever

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

occurs or occurs often remains an utterly arbitrary and inexplicable
fact. Therefore when the rationalist says that something is impos-
sible he is merely confessing that such a thing has not come within
the circle of his thoughts and that he has not wit enough to
imagine it.

Miracles are so called because they excite wonder. In unphilo-
sophical minds any rare or unexpected thing excites wonder, while
in philosophical minds the familiar excites wonder also, and the
laws of nature, if we admit such laws, excite more wonder than the
detached events. Each morning the sunrise excites wonder in the
poet, and the order of the solar system excites it every night in the
astronomer. Astronomy explains the sunrise, but what shall explain
the solar system? The universe, which would explain everything, is
the greatest of wonders, and a perpetual miracle.

Things, then, are not wonderful merely for being unusual. In
the Gospels visits of angels and sudden cures of diseases or of pos-
session by devils form the regular mechanism by which the King-
dom of Heaven announces its presence. These miracles are expected
by the crowd, and when they happen, the reason for them is well
understood. That is why they are proofs of divine authority, and not
mere inexplicable facts. The essence of a miracle is that, in break-
ing through the superficial routine of events, it manifests the real
power that brings them about, and proves that this power is pro-
foundly human. It is the power of The Good or divine love of our
good. It is the power of God, which nature cannot control, but
which faith and prayer may prevail upon to succour us.

Mirades may therefore transform the object of religion from an
object of prudent attention into an object of love. So long as God
personifies only the power of nature, the wise man will fear htm >
respect him, learn his ways, and thriftily profit by them in all the
arts. But when God personifies The Good, the heart loves him
already without having named him, and the new revelation comes
only in the miracle that The Good should prove to be also the
power that ultimately governs everything.

Such is the atavistic message, the glad tidings, brought by Christ.

THE MIRACLES

The Gospels are a tissue of miracles, and so are the inner lives of
the saints. We perfectly understand why they occur, something
never to be understood regarding ordinary events. They happen for
our sake, to help and to save us: and that is the wonder. To
eliminate them from Christ’s life would be to take the soul out of
it, for they are not mere incidents there. They are parts of one great
visitation, the coming of God to earth, the Kingdom of Heaven
realised: one overwhelming miracle by which the whole world is
to be swallowed up, judged, condemned and supplanted.

The miracles in the Gospels are set forth as signs of Christ’s
power: they, not any superiority in his life or doctrine, are the
proofs that he himself offers of his divine commission. Now, merely
rare and inexplicable events would not be signs of power, but
rather of disorder in nature. Far from prompting us to be converted
and to submit our heart and mind to an absolute authority, they
would encourage wild action, irresponsible hopes and a generally
romantic and daredevil spirit. If the miracles in the Gospels are
signs of power, it is because they happen at Christ’s bidding, or in
conformity to his evident intention.

There is, indeed, a certain involuntary power or influence in his
person, as when he feels virtue going out of him, and turns his
head, to see who has touched the hem of his garment. Such magic
virtue, like the healing power of the air in certain places, or of
certain herbs and waters, belongs to the sympathetic texture of
nature, and is surprising only when we come upon it unexpectedly
or in an exceptional case. It is not properly miraculous; but in Jesus
it serves to reveal the same personal prerogative that appears in his
irresistible commands, when he comes upon some stranger, looks
at him for a moment, bids him follow, and the man follows. The
suggestion is not so powerful when it does not come unsought, in
the imperative mood, but only as a last possibility: If thou wouldst
be perfect, sell all thou hast, and follow me . The personal impact,
the physical magic; fails here, and we are not surprised that the rich
young man sorrowfully turns away.

On the other hand, we do not reckon it a miracle that, within cer-
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
tain limits, our bodies should obey our will, or that our servants
should obey it, also within limits; yet this, in the terms in” which
philosophers usually state the problem, is perfectly unintelligible.
The sympathetic texture of nature conjoins these phenomena in a
way we have not traced; and custom leads us to expea the conjunc-
tion in the sphere where it is familiar, while in any other sphere
it seems miraculous or impossible. So the tricks of the prestidigitator
continue to seem impossible, although we see them and know that
they must be tricks, until the mechanism of them is revealed to us:
and so many of the therapeutic miracles in the Gospels belong to an
occult art, which has its laws and may be taught to apprentices.
Christ sends forth his disciples, giving them power to cast out devils
and cure certain diseases; and if they ask why, in some cases, they
were not able to do so, he gives one or two explanations: either
that they lacked faith, or that, for instance, this kind of devil
cannot be cast out save by prayer and fasting. These conditions may
seem spiritual, but they all have a physical side; and we are evi-
dently in the borderland between natural magic and individual
acts of divine omnipotence. It is to this direa and specific exercise
of omnipotence that prayer appeals when it brings about a miracle.
Still, the efficacy of prayer has itself regular conditions and degrees.
Faith seems to be the chief of these. What is this faith, and why
does it merit such extraordinary favours?

We must exclude the suspicion, inevitable to a modern mind, that
faith is requisite in the public in order to produce the illusion of
miracles, and to credit them when they are reported. The ancients
had no prejudice against miracles, nor has the natural man.
Shakespeare, without the least weakness for traditional piety, admits
all reported omens, prophecies, ghosts, and magic powers as per-
fectly credible and dramatically verified. So Herodotus, and other
ancient historians, without perhaps expressing their own judgment,
repeat the recorded wonders for our edification: why shouldn’t the
gods, if they choose, govern the world in those amiable and fanci-
ful ways? There was therefore no motive for regarding faith as a

THE MIRACLES

source of illusion. It might be such in certain cases; but in other
cases faith might be the source of opportune courage, of instinc-
tively fit action, and of brilliant success. Peter flounders in the
water when his confidence gives out: that is a normal biological
effect, and would have occurred if he had been walking on a tight-
rope instead of on the sea. But no degree of faith could have made
him walk on the sea naturally: the confidence he lost was not
confidence in an acquired art, as it might have been in an acrobat,
but confidence in the omnipotence of Christ. Christ, or the will of
die Father to which Christ was conforming, had decreed a miracle,
but on condition that Peter’s faith in Christ should not waver. This
faith had no physiological connection with the act of walking on
the waves: it was related to that act, and to failure in it, only
through the special providence of God, which had made faith a
condition for granting that miraculous power. All the miracles in
the Gospels come to reward and confirm faith in Christ. They are
the proof that the Kingdom of Heaven has come, that it exists in
our midst; they manifest the principles that govern that kingdom,
and they prepare us to live under them.

Nevertheless, often, if not always, there subsists a ceremonious
element; an element of natural magic, in the way Christ works his
miracles. Sometimes he works them from a distance, without utter-
ing any audible word; yet even then he has turned towards the place
where the miracle is to occur, his mind is intent upon that scene, or
he looks up to heaven for a moment, as if to see the appointed
event, and assure himself again that it is according to God’s will.
Sometimes he takes elaborate means, makes day with spittle,
applies it medicinally on the blind eyes, and sends the man to wash
them in a particular pool. Often he touches those he would heal,
although at other times the word spoken suffices to cure the body
and to forgive the sin. Yet even this forgiveness is always sacra-
mental: the word must be spoken, or at least the express consent
to forgive must be given by the divine mind. It is all an act of
government; an operation of grace. Nature and law do not deade
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
the matter automatically, so that Christ with a wise mind may
observe them and instruct us about them afterwards; but a personal
government, committed to him in his human person, pronounces
on every event, and pronounces with a certain freedom and pre-
rogative proper to absolute monarchs, with generosity, with sever-
ity, sometimes with a certain fanciful initiative. A man among men
is judging, and the eternal laws are not jealous. As if confessing
how arbitrary they are in themselves, they bend without protest
to the rhythms and affections of a human soul.

The Evangelists recount all these miracles for the sake of proving
that Jesus was the Christ and the Son of God; yet that was far from
being the motive that prompted Christ to perform them. On the
contrary, the Gospels represent him as refusing to “give a sign” of
his Messiahship, whenever challenged to do so. It was the devil that
tempted him to throw himself from the pinnacle of the Temple, to
prove that the angels would bear him up, lest he should dash his
foot against a stone. He will give no sign but the sign of Jonah;
he will submit to be swallowed up by the worlds hatred and
neglect; it is not in the world that he wishes to triumph, but over
the world. When alone, unobserved, he may allow his omnipotence
to show itself, as it were automatically, as when in the night he
walks upon the sea; but in public, if a miracle is imposed upon
him, it is almost always by the power of his secret pity and kind-
ness, which he cannot bear to resist. Yet the effort wearies him;
perhaps also the sense of futility in doing these small mercies,
snatching one brand from the universal conflagration, restoring one
child to life, when a thousand children are dying, and none in the
end can escape death. He heals those that approach him he feeds
the multitude that follow him into the desert; he speaks to them in
parables, that they may at least understand his words, though in-
capable of understanding his secret; and as soon as possible he
escapes, far from all these solicitations and sad cries of gratitude
and confused false hopes. He minimises his miracles. Thy faith,
he says, hath made thee whole : the dead child, or Lazarus after five

THE MIRACLES

days in the grave, is not dead, but sleepeth. Often he charges those
he has healed to tell no man of it. After all, miracles and the report
of miracles were not attached to him alone; magicians and miracle-
workers were common; it was more an indignity than an honour or
a good omen to be numbered among them. But to this too he was
bound to submit for the time being. The happy day, the one
glorious miracle was that sign of Jonah which he had promised
should come soon, when he himself should rise again from the
dead, or rather, as he perhaps might have felt, when he should rise
again from the living.

As a foretaste of this consummation, there are some miracles
reported in the Gospels that are not works of mercy dictated by
compassion for human ills, but rather breaks in those douds,
glimpses of the other world and its mysteries. These revelations
are few and granted, like the Transfiguration, only to chosen dis-
ciples, and even they seem to be hardly prepared to understand
them. It is notable how humble, how physical Christ’s benefactions
are compelled to be. Even when, besides healing some disease or
relieving some pressing distress, he adds: Thy sins are forgiven
thee, this seems to be a retrospective mercy. The prospect, even if
it were possible to sin no more, remains dark and empty: there is
no initiation into higher things, to fill the void left by renouncing
the world, the flesh, and the devil; and if anyone, like the well-
meaning Nicodemus, comes with some intellectual difficulty, he is
left only the more perplexed by the mysterious words that he hears.

Yet the mysteries and the glories of a higher sphere exist, they
surround us invisibly at all hours, and we are allowed to see how
conscious Chris t hims elf is of their presence, how often he must go
alone into the wilderness to renew his communion with them, and
how gladly he would show them to us if we had only eyes to see
them. Besides the choirs of angels at the Nativity, and the dove
and the voice from heaven at the Baptism, and the Resurrection
(which no one witnessed) and the Transfiguration, which was a
foretaste of it, the ins tituti on of the Eucharist is perhaps the most
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
remarkable of the miracles of grace. It is evidently not compre-
hended by the twelve at the Last Supper, nor perhaps by the
Evangelists who report it, for it is omitted altogether in John. But
in the sixth chapter of John there is a mystical discourse about
eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood that may serve to open
our minds a little to the meaning of this mystery. It is a mystery,
a sacrament; and the evident allegory in it does not reduce it to a
ceremony about nothing. On the one hand, we are not asked to
revert in spirit to the lusts of the cannibal and the vampire: decent
bread and wine are substituted in the material act of Communion.
But even the grossest material sacrifices and feasts were never
merely material: there was always a sense that the soul of the beast
sacrificed and the spirit of the god invoked entered into the wor-
shipper in that sacrificial banquet. The stream of universal life was
allowed to flow through him more freely; he was linked anew and
more closely to all the sources of his life and to all the future of
creation. Now this quickening was miraculous: not the usual effect
of so much food and drink, but a sympathetic enthusiasm awaked
by the concourse of sacred associations and ritual acts, and by the
contagious faith of centuries and nations.

So much for the ecclesiastical decorum and devout atmosphere
of this Christian mystery. On the other hand, there is in reserve,
for those who are capable of feeling such things, a most literal
spiritual influx of consolation and energy, called grace, and a real
assimilation of the human will and intellect to the divine. We are
invited actually to partake of the life and death and resurrection of
Christ: something perfecdy possible, if we understand the terms
conceptually and not historically. The idea of Christ is that of God
in man: this idea may be exemplified in some degree in anybody,
as we find it so perfectly exemplified in Christ: and the Eucharist
is a sacrament by which through a material instrumentality always
indispensable for spiritual contacts, we may absorb something more
of that spirit and ,that form. Our predisposition, sensitiveness, and
faith are prior conditions for this influx to occur freely: but here the

THE MIRACLES

Christian has a channel provided for him through which grace
and assimilation to God may flow, if he is called to receive them.

The Evangelists could not foresee what a function the Eucharist,
as a presence apart from material communion, was destined to
assume in the Church in these latter days; but Christ must be con-
ceived to have foreseen it; and we must admire the perfect harmony
of this perpetual silent reincarnation of his divinity with the
original incarnation of it in the womb of a virgin. The tabernacle
becomes another manger, the monstrance another cross; and in the
solitude of some mountain monastery and amid the promiscuous
crowds of a city, Christ, who was once willing to live on earth, still
lives silent and unrecognised among his fellow creatures, not
scandalised at their luxury or their sins, patient of their unbelief,
responsive to the sparks of grace or of spirit that may flit spas-
modically among the cold ashes in their souls.

Amid so many miraculous manifestations of divine charity and
a few manifestations of divine splendour, there is one little mirade
that has always puzzled the commentators, because it seems a mani-
festation of divine impatience. True, divine impatience is often
expressed in threats and warnings by all the prophets, and by
Christ himself; and the commentators think they see the justice of
divine retribution for sin, because sin is, or was in the beginning, an
inexcusable misuse of free will. But why should God be impatient
and punish a fig tree for not bearing figs? And why didn’t the Evan-
gelists, or the copyists, drop this puzzling and unedifying anecdote
out of the narrative, as being probably apocryphal? Apocryphal or
not, for my part I am glad that they piously retained it, for it seems
to me a perfect miniature of the idea of Christ. It exhibits his
humanity frankly and naively: he is parched and tired walking in
the heat of the day, and the sight of a green fig tree by the dusty
road suggests refreshment. Christ has a human psyche: ideas and
impulses arise in Him spontaneously; and he goes up to the fig tree,
imagining the figs. He knows of course that it is not the season, but
the impulse acts of itself, and keeps that knowledge, for the

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

moment, in abeyance. Finding no figs, but leaves only, he suffers
the inevitable revulsion of a balked instinct: and then, with this
revulsion, the divine prerogative in him comes to the fore. He
curses that innocent fig tree, and the next day it is found withered.

Now cursing is a most human thing, a kind of malignant prayer:
and it is just what, upon a trivial vexation like this, any profane
fool might indulge in, to vent his spleen. But such a profane curse
would not be efficacious, nor expected to be so: in fact it would
rather be a confession of impotence and of having played the fool.
Traditional language, however, attributes wrath and curses to God,
and Christ himself speaks of the curse he will pronounce upon the
wicked on the Day of Judgment. But that curse will not be a
malignant prayer; it will be a sentence, an act of omnipotence.
Discounting the metaphor, in calling such an event a curse, we may
say that there is neither vexation nor spleen nor malignity about
it, but rather order re-established and the nature of things working
itself out.

If when Christ curses the fig tree his curse is efficacious, we see
that his divinity has suddenly come to the fore, and that he has
passed from the disappointed thirst of his body to the zeal of his
heart for the Kingdom of God. He also thirsted materially on the
cross; and the commentators have not been slow to detea allegory
in both cases. The fig tree is Israel, refusing to believe in him, and
all unbelieving souls. Very well: but that is not what concerns me
now in this miracle.

The fig tree was innocent. It had put forth an abundance of green
leaves, according to its nature; and it was not its fault that the
Son of God had passed and had looked for its fruits when they
were not ready. But Christ that thirsted for those fruits was also
innocent, and more than innocent. He was not walking by for his
pleasure, but in profound sadness, to enlighten and save a world
that would not be saved or enlightened. On that mission at this
moment his human yet divine body called for relief, and die world
refused him that relief. This disharmony needed to be righted. He

THE MIRACLES

might have righted it by a miracle of grace, and caused that fig tree
suddenly to hasten its growth, and load itself with ripe figs our of
season. But that was not the will of his Father, whom it was his
will to obey. He must endure this days thirst; for, as he had said,
it must needs be that offence come, but w’oe to him by whom the
offense cometh. Innocence is no safeguard against fate. If instead
of the Son of God it had been a thundercloud that had passed, and
by chance the lightning had fallen on that fig tree and blasted it,
the fig tree w^ould have been equally innocent, and equally unfortu-
nate. Nothing has a right to exist: it draws that privilege from the
place it may momentarily fill in the order of nature or, in pious
diction, for the glory of God. The glory of God now required that
that fig tree should wither, for not having known the day of its
visitation. It had no sense for the fact that God had become man
and had required its fruits at once; and it had no powder to meet
that tremendous change in its circumstances. It could do nothing
but die. It is not on voluntary naughtiness, not on conscious sins,
that divine punishment falls most heavily and irremediably. For
such sins there is possible repentance, and they are, after all, groping
after a good, however ill-chosen. The final curse falls rather on con-
stitutional blindness, on self-sufficiency, on obduracy in not recog-
nising divine opportunities. It will be easier in the day of judgment
for Sodom and Gomorrha than for those who will not dutifully
receive Christ or even his aposdes. The curse that falls on that tree
is the shadow of his unsuspected divinity. He is being every inch a
God, yet in honour of the humblest and most pathetic needs of his
human nature.

I know that such monarchical and absolute notions of divine
government are not agreeable to modem feeling, but they are the
principles proclaimed in the Gospels. We prefer to conceive divine
justice after our own sentiments rather than after the actual pro-
cedure of nature. In ignoring divine prerogatives we are like the
barren fig tree. Is it our fault that this is not a season for faith?
Are we not doing our best, putting forth an abundance of green

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

leaves? Do we pretend to more? Do we intentionally entice anybody
to come and look for ripe fruit on our branches? Do we not wish
everybody well? How then can we be cursed for not embracing
unnecessary opinions that contradict all our habits of thought and
judgment? Certainly we are not to blame, and nature will not con-
demn us for any such priggish reason. It will be, if it so happens,
because our further existence would not be for the glory of God.
We are as innocent as the fig tree. Nevertheless it is quite possible
that on the morrow we may be found withered.
THE PARABLES

The Parables are the illustrations to the Gospels: images that
sometimes arise spontaneously in expressing a thought, like any
poetic metaphor, and sometimes may be independent pictures
sketched from nature, or little dramas conceived for their own sake;
perhaps, indeed, the original source of the maxims that they now
serve to enforce. So when we read. Consider the lilies of the field,
how they toil not neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you that
even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these , we
have set before us a short fable, contrasting the untroubled life in
nature with the hectic life of the human world. The precept, Take
no thought for what ye shall eat or wherewith ye shall be clothed,
may well be only an inspiration drawn from observing the flowers:
that which a fabulist would have made the flowers reply to some
busybody who stopped to scold them for their idleness. It is pro-
foundly true that even in our own bodies and minds life is not
founded on labour, nor are any of its best manifestations founded
upon it; yet it does not follow that in human society we can dismiss
all labour and care. We can at best avoid being submerged in them,
reduced to instruments, and cut off altogether from nature and
from God. The precept sets forth a divine ideal, not ordinarily
attainable by any animal; and the picture serves to persuade us that
in this respect the animal is less perfect than the vegetable.

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

This reference to non-human life is exceptional in the Gospels:
the parables do not imitate folklore and fables in making the ani-
mals speak, in order to show us human nature in a simplified and
true perspective. Only human personages and human arts are
employed, but these preserve their simple types and generic mo-
tives. Only seldom, as in the parable of the Prodigal Son, does
the fable become a drama with living characters and emotions.
There is Biblical dignity and directness in the language and the
well-known patriarchal Palestinian background. The realism of the
poor appears in all its pathos. Intensity seems to increase with
limit ation, and strength with singleness of purpose. The more
elementary the passions invoked, the better we perceive their intrin-
sic character and destiny.

The general theme of the parables is the Kingdom of Heaven
and its economy. But what is this Kingdom of Heaven or, as more
properly rendered, this reign of God? The meaning is far from
clear. It seems to pass from the actual government of God in nature
and history, through prophecies of a better and more direct moral
order to be established in the world at large, or perhaps only in
a Church Militant subsisting painfully within that world; until at
last we reach the notion of a transfigured life among the angels in
heaven. Sometimes simultaneously, Messianic hopes seem to be
suspended, and salvation and bliss appear to be a purely mystical
state of the soul, to be attained anywhere by anybody at any time.
But we should misrepresent the mind of the Evangelists and their
idea of the mission of Christ, if we substituted this spiritual trans-
formation for the prophecy of the end of this world and the
material establishment of another. Personal conversion is indeed
essential; but it figures only as the means legally appointed for
obtaining admission into that new kingdom, or as a foretaste of the
kind of happiness that we should enjoy there. Both as a means and
as a foretaste, a change of heart had already been celebrated by the
prophets and in the Psalms, without in the least abandoning the
national hope of a glorious restoration. The gospel of Saint John

THE PARABLES
the Baptist and of Christ retains these two prospects, the political
and the spiritual, the temporal and the eternal. It merely refines the
temper of the coming world, without abolishing its material and
future reality.

Proverbs, similes, and parables are forms of popular wisdom and
wit: they rise spontaneously to the lips of anyone who is intent on
awakening the public conscience and making it feel how intolerable
the present state of things is and how inevitable is a drastic revolu-
tion. Yet it can be only from old, familiar, self-repeating experience
that those shrewd pictures can be drawn, so that in the happy use
of such figures of speech there are two requisites to be combined:
truth to nature in the image, and inevitableness in the moral that it
suggests. So in the appeal to the lilies of the field, no one can fail
to feel how trustfully they come to perfection; and how, in con-
trast to ourselves, they live without care. Here at once one desidera-
tum appears, one blessing to be hoped for in the reign of God: that
under it we should be free from care.

Yet those perfect lilies, though they are not anxious, are not
safe; if we come to admire them again tomorrow we may find them
trampled upon or withered. In the Kingdom of Heaven we need to
be not merely beautiful and placid, but secure: and this requirement
will be made graphically clear to us by other similes. We are told
not to lay up our treasure where moth and rust can corrupt, or
where thieves may break in and steal. A wise man will build his
house upon a rock. But is not then this wise man taking thought
for the morrow? And will his forethought render his house so safe
that it will protea him and his treasure forever? Surely not, accord-
ing to the analogy of nature: and in the Kingdom of Heaven this
must be changed too. It should be in the essence of our new treas-
ure and our new mansion to be incorruptible. God is a spirit, and
they that worship him should worship him in spirit and in truth.
We cannot serve two masters; we cannot cleave to our temporal life
and to our eternal life equally, but should seek the one thing need-
ful only, and let the rest be added to us, if God will. The similes

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

thus lead us step by step in our meditation, until we come to ulti-
mate issues.

The most common proverbs, such as A stitch in time saves nine >
usually carry a precept with them, because they arise in the midst
of action, when saving time and saving labour are welcome means
of attaining a given end: and only much later, in scientific leisure,
does it occur to anyone that the proverb intrinsically contains no
advice, but merely describes the ways of nature, and that Penelope,
whose object was not to finish, might have dropped a stitch on pur-
pose, so as to have nine more to sew. In the same way many of the
parables in the Gospels would suggest a different moral to a mind
not preoccupied with salvation, and not believing in a monarchical
God. That moth and rust corrupt treasures laid up in chests would
not suggest to him to lay up other entirely different treasures in
heaven; rather not to lay up treasures at all, but to use and display
them at once, while they are fresh and while his interest in them is
fresh also. All shrewd observation of the economy of nature is
therefore normally neutral, unless the observer is already morally
biased: and the genuine charm of the Gospel parables lies in the
graphic miniatures they contain of homely facts and noble manners.
Truth to nature is a great virtue in mind, because mind is too apt to
run away into dreamland, before the real conditions of life are
understood; and nature, moreover, has a great authority over life,
m that it fixes these conditions.

This neutral authority of nature is so great that sometimes its
ways are identified with the ways of God. Such an identification
was legitimate in the old dispensation, because the Israelites were
thinking of this world only and of prosperity in it. The fear of the
Lord was the beginning of wisdom, and the study of his ways,
observable in nature and history, was wisdom itself . The case is no
longer the same in the New Testament, which inverts natural
values and promises another life; yet even here we find sometimes
the authority of nature asserting itself, and accepted as describing
the ultimate will of God. For instance, that unto every one that

THE PARABLES

hath shall be given . . . but from him that hath not shall be taken
away even that which he hath , is a maxim enforced by several
parables. Men are initially unequal, and this inequality normally in-
creases, since greater gifts secure greater results, and these make
possible still greater undertakings. This is true also of intelligence
and virtue; only those who have begun well and taken the first step
rightly can hope to reach the true summit. Yet this seems hardly
consonant with moral justice; nor does it breathe that mystical spirit
of sudden grace and supermoral equality which blows so strongly in
the direct relations of Christ with individuals. The Magdalene and
the good thief are saved outright, because they cry peccavi, and in
their hearts love and believe, even if only at the eleventh hour. This
seems to contradict the principle that to him that hath shall be
given. Perhaps the fundamental fact is that nobody ever has any-
thing but what is given to him gratuitously, either by an original
natural endowment, to be developed by use, or else suddenly by
a new grace, disclosing or infusing a deeper impulse, at first not
evident. The gifts of grace, like those of nature, require active
acceptance and exercise; but such acceptance and quick response are
a part of those gifts: the flighty convert has not been fully con-
verted; the lazy artist has never been truly inspired.

A curious sidelight is thrown on this subject by the parable of
the unjust but clever steward who made himself friends of the
mammon of unrighteousness, and he is commended explicitly be-
cause the children of this world are wiser in their generation than
the children of light. This world, as we are allowed to see, is held
together by a conspiracy of vested interests, not to say of coopera-
tive vices; but it is a cruel cooperation. The servant coming home
from the fields is not told to go and sit down to meat. His master
will rather say to him: Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird
thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken, and afterward
thou shdt eat and drink. Doth he thank that servant because he did
the things that were commanded him? I trow not. Nor is the rich
man in a better case who lies dreaming of the vast bams he is about

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

to build, and says to his soul: Soul, thou hast much goods lead up
for many years: take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God
will say to him: Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of
thee.

It would seem, then, from these examples, that friendship with
the mamm on of unrighteousness is hardly true friendship, and that
the wisdom of this world is deceptive, since it gives you the means
to ends not worth attaining. All the parables, therefore, that
illustrate the ways of nature, or the moral economy of society, en-
courage us to turn away from this world: not frivolously or in
despair, but in the earnest hope of finding a better world. And in
fact most of the parables prefigure the Kingdom of Heaven, and
show us the way to reach it, if we have ears to hear and courage
to follow. Though worldly wisdom will be well enough in its place,
here worldly wisdom is not exhibited for its own sake, as in
ordinary proverbs and fables. It is set forth only as a hint or a
similitude, to suggest figuratively another order, revealed to us- now
only in religion, but in fact deeper, more primitive. In mjrades, in
conversion, in prophecy this higher order breaks in upon the lower,
and proves that it is superior in power as well as in quality. Such
manifestations and the faith they inspire compose the history of
religion in the world and in the heart: and of this history the
parables give us many illustrations.

A householder plants a vineyard, or a king leaves his throne to
go into a far country, and commits the care of his estate to his
servants. By this we may understand that this world and v^e in it
have no independent existence. We are offshoots of a different
world, monarchically and morally governed, as this world is not, if
considered in itself. We are but branches of a vine the roots and
stem of which are invisible. We are bom servants, charged with
duties not of our own choosing.

Moreover, our gifts and responsibilities are not equal. The
Master has assigned to one of us one talent and to another ten
talents. Fearing that we may become lazy or riotous, he sends an

THE PARABLES

agent occasionally to inspect us and to collect his rents. We dis-
regard, maltreat and destroy these agents, and when finally he sends
his son, we do the same to him. This is evidently a summary of the
history of the prophets and of Christ’s history. And the prophecy of
Christ’s second coming and of the Last Judgment naturally follows.

His first advent, however, has another aspect. He is sent not so
much to judge as to offer a new life, in which those who were
servants shall become friends. He comes to earth for his wedding
feast. All Israel is bidden; but they make excuses; and the doors
will be thrown open to the Gentiles and to all the outcasts in the
world. That existence after death, so dismal a prospect to the
ancients, should now be represented as an unexpected banquet
offered to a crowd of wretches, marks a great change in h uman
sentiment. Men now will turn to God, not for help in their earthly
affairs, but for escape from them and from hopeless misery: and
only those who feel this hopeless misery, and have no prosperous
affairs in hand, will answer God’s summons. The rich, the learned,
the self-satisfied cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Verily they
already have their reward.

Here w’e touch that reversal of human values for which Chris-
tianity was so much despised in the days of the renaissance and in
our day, since Nietzsche, by the new pagans. These parables will
help to show us how partial the reversal really was; how far the
ideals that it rejected were inhuman or unnecessary; and how far
the ideals that it substituted remained human and inevitable.

The Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan appeal to primary
human emotions. The Pharisee that passes on the other side is
evidently hedging away from an impulse to stop and if possible to
help. As a punctual man of affairs he is resisting the temptation
to loiter, to meddle, to be distracted by cares that do not concern
him. He is afraid of being too human. The Samaritan is really
more a man of the world. He postpones his trivial engagements,
stops to do a kindness to a stranger, gives directions to die landlord
to look after him, and a good fee, and trots away not much later

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

with a lighter heart. Here is a lesson in humanity, in savoir vivre,
and in rational happiness.

In the Prodigal Son the perfectly normal human motives of all
the characters are exhibited even more fully. The moral itself is
rather a psychological truth than an ideal of justice. There is more
joy in finding what was lost than there would have been in merely
keeping it: yet we are not expected to draw the conclusion that it
is better to sin, in order to give the angels the joy of seeing us
repent. The lesson is only one of charity towards sinners, who may
have potentially richer natures than ourselves. The good son who
plods his monotonous way at home need not be jealous, if he is
humble and can at once understand and renounce the adventures of
his passionate brother. Christianity has come into a world full of
suffering and vice. It neither abets that suffering and vice, as if they
were prior conditions for the existence of Christian virtue, nor
merely ignores and eludes them, as pagan virtue attempted to do.
Christianity recognises them as data: the question is how to con-
front them, and how to draw individual souls out of them as far
as possible. Christ did not become man in order to enjoy the
world nor in order to destroy it nor even in order to reform it, in
the sense of turning it into a perfectly healthy pagan world. He
became man in order to save it: that is to say, to rescue the souls in
it from the inevitable shipwreck. The keynote is that of redemp-
tion. The world is on the point of destruction, yet salvation is pos-
sible. The zeal to save, the joy in being saved, will therefore be the
ruling Christian emotions.

This work of saving souls will be long and never wholly success-
ful. The parables of the wheat and the tares and of the net full of
all sorts of fish, to be sifted later, warn us of this fact and represent
the prudent opportunist catholic attitude of the future Church to
the world. Nature is normally neutral; the sun shines and the rain
falls equally on the just and on the unjust. Tares will therefore
always spring up with the same readiness as wheat, and the hus-
bandman must be patient and content with an imperfect harvest.

THE PARABLES

Yet this mildness and tolerance are temporary only and a matter
of policy, because evil is too deeply rooted to be eradicated, and
premature violence only compromises the forces that make for
virtue and renders them vain and cruel. Better wait for the harvest.
A strong wind then will blow the chaff away and leave the grain
clear, even if moderate in quantity.

This tolerant spirit is not in the least due to any naturalistic
sympathy with random growths: the criterion of excellence remains
fixed, particular, and monarchical. Together with those parables
counselling patience we find others breathing the most absolute
assurance and exclusiveness. The pearl of great price renders all
else worthless in the eyes of the happy finder. It is not a question
of relative estimation, but of a new, unexampled, passionate love.
The man who has spied a treasure hid in a field sells all he has,
and buys that field. Even in the parable of the wedding feast, when
the doors have been thrown open to the rabble, there is austerity in
reserve. The master of the house inspects the company, and casts
out the man without a wadding garment. Why this sudden require-
ment? How r should a poor beggar have a wedding garment? We
must not put such questions. The Lord is absolute lord: he makes
what laws he will. So much the worse for you if you fail to con-
form. Perhaps that requisite wedding garment was not an earthly
possession. Perhaps it was complete denudation; and perhaps that
wretched beggar had come to the banquet hiding a few bits of stale
bread in his rags. Had he come without possessions, with no trust
in himself, perhaps a miraculous wedding garment would have
covered his nudity. At any rate we read elsewhere that Whosoever
he be of you who forsaketh not all that he hath , he cannot be my
disciple ,

In spite, then, of all temporary accommodations, the Kingdom of
Heaven is something of incomparable, urgent, overpowering worth.
Faith in it fixes a great gulf between the saved and the damned.
If any man hate not his father and mother and wife and children
and brethren and sisters , yea , and his own life also he can have

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

no part in it. This hardness is conspicuous in the sentiment of
Christ towards his family, his race, his ancestral religion, his gen-
eration, and mankind in general. He is utterly indifferent to all
mundane interests, full of bitter invectives, and continually ends
his discourses with the grim prophecy: There shall be weeping and
gnashing of teeth. How is this possible when it was God’s love for
the world that sent his son into it, and when love for one another
was his chief precept? If he came to heal, to forgive, and to bring
peace, why did he exact such an unnatural, hectic, revolutionary
faith, and a zeal that soon degenerates into fanaticism: things that
he knew would create division and war, most unnecessarily, in
every society and in every soul?

Justice, reason, and truth cannot have the same grounds in God
that they have in us. In us they are secondary harmonies, estab-
lished between us and preexisting persons and things. They are
docile unprejudiced ways of adjusting our thoughts and actions to
the facts. But for God there is nothing prior. If he looks within,
there is only his own life, his own thought, his own will. If he
looks beyond, there is only his express creation. His prerogative is
absolute, and it is absurd to look for any justification, control, or
occasion for it from without. The scale of human values therefore
collapses in his eyes: not that he does not establish and recognise
it in us for ourselves, imposed on us by our nature and circum-
stances: but that for him our high is no higher than our low, and
our low no more ignominious than our highest. When he became
man, he did not, as God, adopt our distinctions, yet he did not
abolish them in us as men. Hence the compassion in Christ for our
necessities, and his scorn of our pretensions. His love is not craving
but sympathy, not admiration but pity. And this pity and sympathy
are the more profound in that he understands our nature and pos-
sibilities far better than we do. We know what we suffer, but he
knows what we miss. The blind, the lame, and the poor are aware
of his mercy in relieving them; but the prudent and learned are
puzzled and incredulous concerning that vague salvation which he

THE PARABLES

promises. Even his dearest disciples, who trust those promises
blindly, have no notion of what they really mean. James and John,
who are too shy to speak for themselves, commission their mother
to ask him that, in his kingdom, they may sit one on his right band
and the other on his left. Ye know not what ye ask. He does not
deny their devotion: they will be baptised with his baptism and
they will drink the cup that he drinks; but to sit on his right hand
and on his left is not for him to give, but is reserved for those for
whom the Father has prepared it from all eternity.

There is a mystery here. As in the case of die day for his second
coming, known only to the Father, Christ represents the absolute
prerogative of God as if it were an absolute secret. It is such from
the point of view of inference, presumption, or necessity. It will
not be Christ’s human affections that will decide the matter. It will
be the same primordial freedom and groundless actuality by which
God himself exists and wills what he wills. The truth is perfectly
well known to God, and so to the Word, who is the very utterance
of that truth in God; but the truth is not open to investigation by a
reasoning mind; it is only in God, and by union with God, that it
can be discovered. God must have acted, and then we may perceive,
in so far as it affects us, that which he has done.

In many of the parables this absolute prerogative of God ap-
pears, which places him and his decrees beyond the reach of our
wishes or reason or sense of justice. The representation of God as
an absolute monarch, or as a loving father, is obviously mythical;
yet it brings us much more squarely before the facts of moral life
than does, for instance, the philosophy of Socrates. Socrates was a
rationalist, and abandoned his first master Anaxagoras, when he
found that this philosopher spoke of the sun and moon as if they
were stones, without disclosing the reason why they existed and
shone so conveniently upon us. Now reason is an admirable method
by which to integrate our minds and characters, and adapt our arts
to the potentialities of matter: but reason imposed on the universe
is madness, because existence is necessarily irrational. Internally

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

the world may be as methodical and regular and calculable as ii
likes; yet that it is so will remain a perfectly arbitrary fact; anc
we shall soon come upon elementary data, absolutely groundless
for reason to play upon, if it is not to perish by a flight into thin
air. Such flights are not forbidden to the human spirit in dreams,
and in certain pure arts without fixed models, like music and
poetry. These are the creations of freedom and the arts of leisure.
The philosophy of Socrates, and all. metaphysical rationalisms, par-
take of this luxurious character. In them a high mental civilization
overleaps its bounds, and attempts to enclose the universe within
human logic and human fancy. Among the Jews the circumstance
of not being speculative saved religion and literature from this
danger. God was an irresponsible power, as nature actually is. He
was kindly, but jealous and irascible: he prescribed laws and limits,
but remained free to change or enlarge them. His thoughts were
sublime and inscrutable, his love enrapturing, and his wrath ter-
rible. In the Gospels this traditional image still fills the back-
ground, and falls in perfectly with fresh observations of nature
and life, such as abound in the parables. We learn to trace the
ways of God anew, with a more inward eye and a tenderer sensi-
bility.

Thus the husbandman in the early morning engages labourers
for his vineyard at the customary wages; but at noon and at the
eleventh hour he still engages others, and at the end of the day
pays the same wage, one penny, to them all. Here is lordliness and
generosity, yet it provokes murmurs, as bounty in nature provokes
murmurs among the envious who feel that they are injured because
someone else is favoured. It is a vile passion, in that it closes the
heart to the beauty and variety of life and mind; and a beastly
passion, in that it redoubles and sanctifies the fury of accidental
will in the animal. Only free imagination can bring us into sym-
pathy with the truth and the will of God. People without free
imagination think that God should have created nothing but
themselves.

THE PARABLES

Sympathy with the will of God shines everywhere in the par-
ables. It indudes dramatic sympathy with the will of men also, and
of men of all sorts: there is insight into the mammon of iniquity no
less than into simplidty and warmth of heart. The wicked and the
foolish are not hated or reviled; they too are God’s creatures; but
their predicament and fate are exhibited unflinchingly, because in
both cases it is sympathy with the will of God that underlies and
controls sympathy with created things. The lilies of the field are
loved for their beauty; yet no tears are shed because they must fade.
Others will bloom tomorrow: or if not, in any case God lives m
eternity, with all things present to his undouded vision, where
nothing can be lost.

Such seems to be the sentiment of Christ in the Gospels in regard
to natural beings and their excellence, which includes the brave
side of what we call vice or crime. But there is a different note, a
note of alarm, of urgency, even of despair, in regard to the soul
and its supernatural destiny. The gospel must be preached, even
if often without avail. We must watch and pray. We must sell all
we have, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. The foolish virgins
not only find themselves napping, but are too late for the wedding,
and see the door shut in their faces. There will be weeping and
gnashing of teeth. Now all these warnings that a catastrophe is ar
hand, all these fevered exhortations allow of a double interpreta-
tion. Exoterically, as the Evangelists undoubtedly understood the
matter, the last day was actually at hand. A last chance of salvation
was being offered to believers. Believe, be converted, or sink for-
ever into the abyss of darkness and death. Animal vitality, super-
stitious horror, and Hebraic thrift were appealed to together. Come
and lay your wager. If you lose, you lose nothing: if you win, you
gain immortal life in a celestial paradise. Christ has come to earth
to lay this alternative before us. Such is the exoteric reason for the
apostolic zeal and tragic vehemence of Christ and his disciples.

Yet if we reflect on the perennial truth and lesson of the
parables, and of the sympathy with the will of God that pervades

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

them, I think that a different esoteric signification will appear. The
world was not really coming to an end. It was only Jerusalem that
was to be judged and destroyed within the life of that generation.
And the Church that was to be founded was to remain always a
missionary Church, a leaven in the lump, a voice crying in the
wilderness. The national fervour of the Jews misled them and
made them conceive salvation politically and temporarily, when it
can only be spiritual and individual. And even in the individual,
it is not essentially a question of two periods in time, but of two
levels of allegiance and affection. Instead of living concentrated in
your an imal will and personal fortunes, you may surrender these,
as far as your heart is concerned, and attach yourself to the will
of God only. Then you are saved forever, because the will of God
is always and everywhere fulfilled. Your faith, your insight, your
surrender, in so far as you live by them, will have made you whole.

In suggesting this spiritual interpretation for the kingdom of
God, and for the means of entering into it, I am far from wishing
to insinuate into the idea of Christ in the Gospels any abandonment
of the ordinary eschatology. Jesus is presented to us as having actu-
ally come down from heaven, and being about to ascend into
heaven again, in order to come down once more with glory to
judge all nations. The urgent note in his teaching presupposes such
a material background, and would not be justified without it. But
the reader knows that I am not attempting to reconstruct a Life of
Jesus. I am only studying the idea of Christ in the Gospels. And in
that idea, beneath the legendary figure of Jesus on earth, there is
undoubtedly a theological and mystical figure of Christ the son of
God, the eternal Word of the Father, and the inner fountain of
salvation within the soul of the mystic. Now between this hidden
life in the heart and the cataclysms of a mythical eschatology the
contrast is as sharp and ultimate as possible. Not that the images
of hell and heaven are inappropriate. Weeping and gnashing of
teeth are only too real in the tragedies of passion, and in physical
catastrophes; while the heavenly peace and transport of union with

THE PARABLES

the will of God can hardly be exaggerated. Yet it is all, in reality, a
contrast in ourselves between passion and reason, will and free
imagination, egotism and love of the truth. The covetous, political,
Jewish idea of salvation must be reduced, from this point of view,
to a local and temporary symbol, or superstitious substimte, for a
spiritual transformation. This symbol subsists in the minds of the
Evangelists and passes among them for a literal tmth. Without
questioning that they so conceived it, a philosophic critic is not
forbidden to trace back this symbol to the national ambition of the
Jews, as to its origin, and to trace it forward s, as to its religious
truth, to the idea of Christ implicit in the Gospels; that is to say,
to the idea of God in man.

THE PROPHECIES AND THE PRECEPTS
All the Evangelists unite in telling us that Christ had a precursor,
John the Baptist, a prophet announced by the prophets and one
who came before him to make straight his paths. The message of
John the Baptist was simple and puts in a few words the whole
burden of the gospel: Repent , for the Kingdom of Heaven is at
hand . This is a summons or command justified by a prophecy.
Save for this prophecy, prompted by sheer inspiration, the call to
repentance would have no force. The Jews had the Law of Moses
which neither Christ nor John the Baptist denied to be the law of
God, and they most scrupulously obeyed it. What had they to
repent of? The Messiah would not come to correct them but to
exalt them and make them and their Law supreme over the whole
world. And yet the announcement that the Kingdom of Heaven was
at hand did not altogether please them. The old prophecy, as now
repeated, seemed to have a new tendency. It was unauthorised, and
far from flattering their pride and their national ambition it seemed
to threaten them. They had their covenant, and God could not
change sides.

How did John the Baptist know that the Kingdom of Heaven was
at hand? Was it not because his conscience rebelled against the
state of mankind, whom he called a generation of vipers? And
what else could have led him to fly to the desert, to live half naked
THE PROPHECIES AND THE PRECEPTS ”

on locusts and wild honey, and to induce his astonished admirers
to plunge bodily into the Jordan, as a symbol for a complete end
of their old life, and the beginning of a new one? What, except
the mystic aspiration of his heart, could have taught him that such
penances and such ceremonies were a necessary preparation for
entering the Kingdom of Heaven? If, then, the prophecy that this
kingdom was at hand alone justified the urgency of his precepts,
it was a spontaneous insurrection of his moral being against things
as they were that had inspired that prophecy. Thus the precepts in
the Gospels rest on questionable predictions for their compulsory
force; but the predictions in turn spring from a profound change
of allegiance in the heart, which also dictates the character of those
precepts.

It was no new thing in Hebrew prophecy to invoke divine
retribution for human wrongs and divine vindication for down-
trodden virtue: nor was it altogether new to subordinate or neglect
the law and the ritual for the sake of mercy and loving kindness.
The characteristic of Christ among the prophets is that he was more
than a prophet. He did more than interpret and vivify the given
law; he was himself a new legislator, speaking with an authority
superior to that of Moses. And he addressed a new people not so
stubborn and hard of heart; a people no longer selected as a tribe
from among the tribes, but picked out individually from the mass
of mankind by the special grace of faith, humility, and charity.
The condemnation of the world, though more sweeping in the
mouth of Christ than in that of any of the prophets, and inspired
by a more mystical and superhuman sense of the true good, is less
vindictive and violent. He is not merciless to the alien; he is gentle
to the sinner. ‘Without abolishing degrees and distinctions he has
no illusions about the saints; his best disciples are blind and of
little faith; his own heart is full of sadness; and the best gift that
he can leave to his followers is peace. The kingdom that he
promises is not of this world: it is beyond the valley of the shadow
of death.

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

Ostensibly the prophecies and precepts of Christ seem nothing
but a revision of die Jewish prophecies and precepts. The Sermon
on the Mount begins with a promise and ends with a threat.
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth; pray and give
alms in secret . and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward
thee openly. And everyone that heareth these sayings of mine, and
doeth them not , shall be likened unto a foolish man, which build-
eth his house upon the sand ; and the rain descended, and the floods
came, and the wind blew , and beat upon that house ; and it fell: and
great was the fall of it. The fear of the Lord would still seem to be
the end as well as the beginning of wisdom, and wisdom to be the
crown of life, rather than vision or love. Yet in the Sermon on the
Mount there is a different dement, a poetic, disenchanted, ascetic,
unearthly insight, as if secrecy were in itself sweeter than blatancy,
poverty and sorrow freer and holier than prosperity, and the
absence of all daims more blessed than all possessions. Those
promises of being rewarded openly before die assembled universe,
amid a blare of trumpets, because one’s heart had preferred simplic-
iiy and peace, sound a litde like primitive metaphors, figures of
speech that belie the thought struggling for expression. Yet the
Evangelists undoubtedly counted on gaining another world by
renouncing this one: and the Kingdom of Heaven, the civitas L)ei,
was never content not to be also the future government of earth.

The same external agreement with the Jewish view of salvation
appears in Mark, where a scribe, after questioning Christ concern-
ing the greatest Commandment, and having been answered, ob-
serves, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God,
and there is none other but he: and to love him with all the heart,
and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all
the strength, and to love bis neighbour as himself is more than ail
whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he
answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the
Kingdom of God. Not fax, yet we are not told that he ever readied
it; and when we consider the first Commandment as given in

THE PROPHECIES AND THE PRECEPTS
Exodus and Deuteronomy, I think we may doubc it. The word
“love” occurs there only by the way, as an equivalent to allegiance;
and the burden of the first Commandment, and of those that follow
concerning the Sabbath and against profanity, is evidendy loyalty to
legal and tribal unity. There is no suggestion of any inward or
mystical love, of any consuming fire or transforming insight. The
well-taught Scribe’s speech about love of God and love of one’s
neighbour amounts simply to this: Be a good Jew, and also be a
good man.

Thus confirmed in his good opinion of the law and the prophets,
of Jesus, and of himself, the Scribe goes away happy. Not so the
rich young man who, having been well-behaved all his life, never-
theless asks what he should do to be saved. And to him Christ
adds what he did not add to the Scribe: If thou would st be perfect,
sell all thou hast, give to the poor, take up thy cross and follow
me. The rich young man had always done his duty in the world,
and this advice seemed contrary to that duty. Yet doing his duty
had always left him unhappy; and he goes away sorrowful, fore-
seeing that in the other world as well as in this he is destined, with-
out hope, to live in desire.

These two episodes show clearly that there are two sides, or two
levels, to Christ’s precepts and prophecies. One is exoteric and a
continuation of the prophetic teaching that, to secure the protec-
tion of Jehovah, righteousness and love are more important than
religious observances, although these too should not be neglected.
The other side or level of Christ’s teaching is more like Buddha’s,
and strikes at the roots of self-will, illusion, and passion within the
soul. In Christ’s spiritual discipline, as in Buddha’s, there is noth-
ing superstitious or terrified. He comes eating and drinking, lives
familiarly among sinful men, and what is more, and not found in
Buddha, exercises a personal magic, a direct ascendancy of secret
love, over those whom he chooses, such that when he says, Follow
me, the cross that is to be taken up seems light and the death to be
suffered seems sweet. With him a complete self-surrender means

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

less an escape from all evil and suffering than a supervening
courage that can endure and overwhelm them. There is militant
chivalry in the purity of Christ. The mystical transformation
brought about by his grace consecrates persons without abolishing
them; and the illusion that he dispels does not touch the reality of
mundane things bat only the attachment to them that enslaved the
spirit.

Here we see one advantage that the Jewish mythology inherited
by Christ — since a man must inherit some mythology — had over
the Indian. It preserved a firm apprehension of the real world; a
firm distinction of real persons, earthly and heavenly. It thereby
retained terms between which spiritual affections and spiritual
unions might be established, and did not attempt to keep the light
of spirit burning without the fire of the flesh.

This realistic and brave holiness belongs properly to a God who
had created the natural world and has no reason to fear it: who
indeed loves it so much that he has adopted it for a habitation and
voluntarily suffered all that such habitation imposes on an incarnate
spirit. For the world and the life of all animals are wonderful to
contemplate from above, but terrible to endure from within, as
inornate spirit must endure them. In Christ alone God has chosen
to endure in h’S own person all that he had imposed on his crea-
tures, yet without losing for a moment the sovereignty of his eternal
mind. For him, in his divine immutability, all things, including his
own Incarnation and Passion, remain a spectacle; they compose a
part of that all-embracing truth which, when vivified into knowl-
edge, is bis very being. Yet he has chosen not merely to con-
template that spectacle but in part to enact it, like a dramatic poet
who should play one of his own characters, and actually live that
brief life, as in a dream.

Consider trow the judgment that such a creator, become one of
his own creatures, would pass on the rest of creation, and what a
double aspect that judgment would have. Instinct, and the intrinQir
problem of each character, would dictate to the player how he

THE PROPHECIES AND THE PRECEPTS

should play that part. These demands would form the law and
the prophets for the theatre, and the art of satisfying them would
bring its natural reward. But if now the actor, himself a potential
poet, were not content with that, but asked what he should do to
be saved from the radical falseness and the thousand sorrows of a
player s life, then the poet-actor in him would say: “If you would
be perfect, drop all your masks and disguises, identify yourself only
with the pure spirit that conceives but is not blinded by them, and
follow me into the realm of truth, where nothing is false and
nothing is transitory.”

There is another trait in Christ’s prophecies and precepts, at first
sight contrary to his gentleness, that may be understood when we
remember that he is God in man: I mean his severity in some direc-
tions, his absoluteness, and his threats of damnation. For instance,
he sends his disciples two by tw T o to preach in the surrounding
villages, imposing on them the most austere poverty and trust in
Providence. He endows them, it is true, with some powder to cast
out devils and to heal diseases, but doubtless under many obscure
conditions, and certainly without communicating his own magic
insight and ascendancy. Yet he condemns to perdition the towns
that fail to welcome them: it will be easier in the last day for
Sodom and Gomorrah than for those towns. And in his own
preaching, especially against the Pharisees and in his discourses in
the Temple, recorded in John, he denounces his hearers in enig-
matic and irritated language, such as they seem hardly to have done
anything to provoke. Why is he so much concerned to defend and
to assert himself before men of slow understanding entangled in
inveterate prejudices? It is not in order to enlighten them; he has
Iitde hope of that. Is it not rather the very hopelessness of their
case that throws him back from his habitual humanity to his
solitary unseen divinity, and fills him with wrath — because, after
all, he is a man, too — at their blindness, and with sorrow at their
missing all that they perversely miss? Theirs is the stupid vidous-
ness of bad troops, enlisting in a good cause, and then straggling,

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

pillaging, and deserting on the march. He, their commander by
right, blushes for them, and sees in their fate a most just punish-
ment. That so human a reaction, such indignation at seeing hu m a n
nature withered before ir flowers, should be attributed to God may
seem arrange to a philosopher, if his idea of deity is speculative and
not traditional. Bur the Gospels, let me repeat, move within the
frame of a monarchical theism. To be a jealous God, exacting hom-
age, issuing commands that may be disobeyed, cursing the dis-
obedient, and troubled that his own works should not come up to
his intentions, then seems the very essence of divine holiness and
justice. The God in Christ is therefore more severe than the man
and less sympathetic. It would have been derogatory to his sover-
eignty to be too humane; for he was in some sense a rival power
having enemies, whom it behooved him to crush and to punish.

Against this background of celestial despotism, the mercy and
brotherly love in Christ shine the more beautifully: and the con-
trast is not artificial or accidental. The background of life is really
despotic in respect to human aspirations and meanderings. It
affords limited and temporary opportunities, it exacts special
labours, and bestows arbitrary graces. It would have been a falsifica-
tion of divine government to have represented it otherwise. And
when a son of God has come down from sitting on the right hand
of Power, in order to reconcile mankind to his Father, two thing s
will be requisite for the success of his mission. He must proclaim
the decrees of God in all their unchangeable severity; and he rp»«~
probe the heart of man to its depths, so that once for all it may
discover what things, in view of those decrees, it must r enounce,
and in what things it may find a sure and perfect happiness. Christ’s
sympathy with m a nk i n d will be all the more poignant, in. that he
understands all that is forbidden them, and the perpetual distrac-
tion of their souls in pursuing it; and his longing will be all the
more intense that they should find the narrow path of obedience
and of self-correction which would lead them to rhwr only
perfection and joy.

THE PROPHECIES AND THE PRECEPTS

“We may see in the Sermon on the Mount how the new gospel
stands to the old law. It does not abolish that law on its positive
side, but transforms it spiritually; for in the first place, the ideal
of life proposed in the law, though attainable with good conduct,
was not a truly human ideal, but barbarous and adopted only pro-
visionally, because of the hardness and blindness of men’s hearts.
Towards God it was obedient, but for man it was unsatisfying. Not
that by way of material goods the spirit in man requires more than
what the old morality promised and could secure. It demands very
much less; and the supercharge is an enslaving burden, and the
source of endless competitive crimes. Outwardly, then,, the new
gospel will introduce retrenchment, simplification, indifference.
Inwardly, however, it will open up immense vistas. The Son of
God is now leading. He is a native of heaven. To despise the fat-
ness and glitter of earth is not difficult for him: he has all knowl-
edge, all glory, all love perpetually before his eyes. And the soul
of man, made in God’s image, really lives happy only by partaking
in those divine things.

So the Beatitudes begin: Blessed are the poor in spirit, that is,
those for whom all the things they possess or desire are as crumbs
fallen from God’s table; who claim nothing and hoard nothing, but
accept all and rejoice in all that God has given, no matter to whom.
To be meek, merciful, and pure in heart, to mourn, to hunger and
thirst after righteousness, to be peacemakers and persecuted, reviled
and slandered is blessed and a just ground for rejoicing. The
crowd that came to be healed and perhaps to be fed might only
have been astonished at these maxims; yet the maxims were justi-
fied by corresponding prophecies, which all could hear with relief.
They were all unfortunates, and it was already a kind of blessed-
ness to hear that they were to be filled, to inherit the earth, and also
the Kingdom of Heaven, to , obtain mercy, to see God, and to be
called the children of God.

rhrisr knew that he was to come again in glory to his everlasting
kingdom: yet the extraordinary change of heart that had preceded.

THE ILEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

and the passion that had merited that reward, could not help trans-
forming the chancier of the reward afterwards acceptable. The
flesh-pets of Egypt, Job’s thousand she-asses and fresh family of
children, Solomon’s gilded temple and his three hundred wives,
assuredly v..:aid no: do. On the other hand, it would be a little sad
to have only the prophets’ reward who after being stoned to death
were frequently quoted. Shall we say that seeing God is only a
figure of speech for inheriting the earth, or that inheriting the
earth is only a figure of speech for seeing God? Or shall we say
more discriminatingly that inheriting the earth may be the reward
of some, and seeing God the reward of others, according to their
nature and aspirations? Perhaps this last is what the divine economy
of nature really has in store for us, and what we may suppose to
have been in Christ’s mind; yet his passionate preference cannot be
doubted for the ascetic prelude to seeing God. And how should it
be otherwise for a son of God, who is not merely called a son but
really is one? How indifferent, how pervasively shabby and sad
must all the cravings and pleasures of this world seem to him, and
how- blessed any sorrow, any revulsion that frees the soul from that
animal bewitchment and enables it to turn, at least in remote
aspiration, to the heavenly peace that was Christ’s native element!

Every anecdote reporting some act or some saying of Jesus
should be interpreted as realising a divine plan and announcing the
speedy end of the present phase of human existence and the begin-
ning of another. This is the essence of the glad ridings which are
the gospel.

The first words of the Sermon on the Mount breathe these pre-
occupations. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand: therefore, blessed
are die poor, the humble, the down-trodden, the lovers of right-
eousness. Very soon the tables will be turned, and they will be on
top. Therefore , there would be lack of faith in troubling about the
morrow. But here, in the very act of confirming the Jewish expecta-
tions of a millennium, these expectations are revised and spirit-
ually transformed: the mystic flower of Christianity breaks out on

THE PROPHECIES AXD THE PRECEPTS

the dry stem of Judaism. Not by war. not by anion, will the King-
dom of God arrive, but by prayer and fasting, by an absolute pas-
sivity, a perfect purity taking possession of the inner man. Nor is it
merely the manner of the coming revolution that is paradoxically
transformed, so that the preparation for it has become ascetic and
its advent miraculous, but the character of the Kingdom of Heaven,
too, becomes unrecognisable. Perhaps no political revolution is
needed at all: perhaps all national hopes and hatreds and boasts are
unregenerate; perhaps the Kingdom of Heaven has already come
unobserved; perhaps it is already among us. We seem to be on the
verge of escaping, in the mystical direction, from that positive reli-
gious faith with which we began. The sun shines on the unjust no
less than on the just: if we forgive our enemies, God will forgive
us; he ■watches over us as over the sparrows; he clothes us as the
lilies of the field; and when he sends winter to us and we fall or
wither, what odds will that make if we have resigned our will, live
by sympathy with his creative love, and have identified ourselves
with that fatherly impartiality by which all things are perpetually
fostered and renewed?

Christianity never passed altogether into this mystical heaven,
pulling up the ladder after it: it prudently preserved both the
Jewish prophetic hopes and the ascetic foundations on which such
mystic insights must rest if they are to remain Christian and moral.
This double allegiance is covered in the Lord’s Prayer under the
simple name of the will of God, which bears two different mean-
ings. First we pray that the will of God may be done on earth as
it is in heaven, that his will may be done, and his kingdom may
come. This dearly assumes that the reign of God on earth has not
yet begun, and that his will is not done here. Presently, however,
we beg God to give us our daily bread, which assumes that he
reigns over our earthly fortunes; and then that he deliver us from
evil or from the Evil One, as if our moral welfare and decisions
were also in his hands: for it is he that delivers us from temptation
when we resist it And if we add the coda to this prayer, we con-

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

firm emphatically this second view that God’s will is done every-
where: for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for
ever and eter.

Nor is this a merely verbal or theoretical ambiguity: there is a
corresponding alternative in the sentiment with which we say: Thy
will be done. On the one hand this is a sigh, full of resignation: we
recognise our impotence, the vanity and blindness of our wishes,
and the absolute authority of God to govern the world as he w’ills;
an authority to which both reason and piety teach us to bow. On
the other hand the same words breathe aspiration, joy in seeing the
work of God done and his works unfold before us, with pride in
being in our modest measure vehicles and instruments of his power.
And here, in the region of emotion, it is not difficult to see how
the two feelings, at first so contrary, may become ultimately one:
because resignation, if complete, if our private desires and inter-
ests could be wholly surrendered, would of itself have become
enthusiasm. We should feel that the will of God had been secretly
done always, even in those things that had seemed to be done by
the wicked most contrary to his will but really to his greater glory.
This sentiment, however, would revert to the mystical view, tran-
scending all moral distinctions, all indignation at wrong, and all
pity of suffering. It would also subvert that monarchical theism
which is the foundation of Christianity. It would represent God to
have willed and approved as creator all that he forbids as legislator
and punishes as judge.

Orthodox theology meets this difficulty with courage. God is a
moral being; his will is selective, he loves and hates; and as the
Koran also tells us, he has made the world not for a toy, but in
order to render manifest the absolute contrast between good and
evil. Therefore the conscience and the bias of the human heart,
though enlightened by union with the will of God, are confirmed
by that union. But in man the love of God may be misled by igno-
rance of the good: and he is able and in fact compelled to act in that
partial ignorance. There lies his free will and his danger. God does

THE PROPHECIES AND THE PRECEPTS

not share the false judgment by which the erring man chooses evil,
thinking it good: but God allows that false judgment to arise and
to breed its terrible consequences, because his own love of the
good and hatred of evil are exhibited and enhanced by that tragedy.
And that tragedy for him is no mere spectacle: in the person of
Christ he too has enacted it.

A further pregnant petition in the Lord’s Prayer, Jewish in the
letter and Christian in the spirit, is this: Forgive us our debts as we
forgive our debtors. The background here shows us a monarchical
God whose wrath is kindled at all who love what he hates or hate
what he loves, and whose justice appoints condign punishments for
these offences, according to their gravity. We legally owe God
reparation for departing in this way from his will. The debt may
be cancelled, however, at least for the guilty individual, if he re-
pents, corrects himself, and offers the appointed sin-offering. But
now a fresh condition is added, specifically Christian, which opens
ip a prospect in quite another direction. Our fellow creatures also
often hate what we love, or love what we hate, and act accord-
ingly; so that by analogy, if we put our interest in our conscience
in the place of God, they owe us a corresponding debt: and Christ
low warns us that we must not ask God to forgive us our debts
jntil we have forgiven our debtors. How inwardly, how specu-
latively, are we intended to take this warning? Is it simply patent
iffences, blows, thefts, or insults, that we are to forgive? Or must
we forgive our neighbour for offending us in his heart, by loving
what we hate or hating what we love? And if we forgive him for
-his, which is what we are asking God to forgive in us, how can
we preserve our loyalty and courage in sticking to our own con-
science and in following the law of our own God, of which our
leighbour perhaps knows nothing? Why then does not God him-
self begin by forgiving the heathen and the lawbreakers, and by
forgiving us? Bur I will not pursue this inquiry here; which would
art y us beyond the cadre of monarchical theism.

There is a good deal of disillusionment in the Sermon on the

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

Mount. The reason for loving our enemies, and sinners generally,
is not that by our •wonderful kindness we may convert them, win
their friendship, and make them no less virtuous than ourselves:
the reason is that God loves them as much as he loves us, that we
too are sinners, and that they too are unhappy and in a deep sense
innocent. Yet the disillusionment about religion is deeper still,
and double-dyed. Established religion is a convention; the Sabbath
was made for man, nor man for the Sabbath; and the living spirit
may speak with authority as against Scriptures and priests: never-
theless. we must submit to the priests and to the Scriptures. Nothing
would be gained by rebellion. The immense folly of mankind, the
hopeless blindness of the heart, must be endured, and can be van-
quished only by being understood.

Here are two notes that might seem, at first blush, to express
natural morality not merely apart from religion but even in oppo-
sition to it: the preference given to brotherly love over religious
observances, and the preference given to intention and feeling over
outward achievement. But both these sentiments, as proclaimed in
the Sermon on the Mount, are mystically inspired and destructive
of merely human bonds or merely human ambitions. Brotherly
love, extended to c-nemies, dissolves the state, undermines the char-
acter. and alienates the mind from every positive art or allegiance:
the biological ar.d political basis of virtue evaporates into cosmic
sympathies. So also with the sufficiency of inwardness. A good in-
tention may be more valuable than a good action, in that it is an
earnest of many systematically good actions to come; but in itself a
good intention is a vapour, a bit of dream, a string of unspoken
words; and nothing is politically more worthies. To regard such
a momentary feeling as making the whole difference between sin
and salvation, is an extreme instance of religion replacing morality:
and though on a deathbed such a substitution may be edifying and
harmless, at any other moment of life it is destructive of the moral
order. The moral order of antiquity, which is the secular moral
order, was indeed on a sickbed when Christianity arose, and sub-

THE PROPHECIES AND THE PRECEPTS

stituted a moraiiiy founded on religion for one which man had
no longer the strength to draw from his whole nature.

As to the precepts, while the transformation in sentiment is
complete and the language of the Commandments is changed, their
effecr remains the same. The sin is traced from outward actions to
their psychological roots, from murder to the passion that prompts
it, from adultery to the lust it satisfies. Yet the Ten Command’
ments, also, forbad coveting our neighbour’s wife or anything that
is his: they thereby recognised the same derivation of action, and
of the guilt of it, from an inner disposition. That which blows
like a fresh w’ind of emancipation and insight through all these
maxims is the spirit of the Son of God, of God in man, of a
superhuman reason taking possession of a human heart and flower-
ing there into holiness. Love your enemies, bless them that hate
you, pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute yon.
In a word, resist not evil.

Why this unnatural demand? The atmosphere of the Gospels is
too Jewish for the principle that virtue is its own reward to be
dearly established there; and we are soothed by the promise that
the meek shall inherit the earth, and that our Father who seeth in
secret will reward us openly. But the meek do not wish to inherit
the eatth of the proud; they wish to live in a gender heaven, and
they do not ask for a reward less silent than their prayer. When
we have deared away this possible misunderstanding, there are
two great blessings inherent in this interior sacrifice of nature to
spirit. One blessing is complete peace within oneself; the other
blessing is ready understanding and sympathy towards all other
beings. Christ does not offer us external peace, peace among nations
or peace among opinions. He offers us only his peace: die peace
he left to his disdples when he breathed on them and said, Receive
ye the Holy Ghost. External peace is impossible so long as the
world endures, because matter is indefinitely fertile and develops
into all sorts of incompatible growths, that inevitably hinder and
seek to supplant one another. And so long as the spirit is dominated

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

by the will of any one of these growths, it suffers the contradiction
and defeats, and accepts the criterion of value, proper to that
creature. Yet such partiality and subjection are intrinsically foreign
to the spirit; it feels and knows itself to be caught in a trap, because
its essence is to see and to love all things impartially, as does God
who created them. It lives, then, in inner contradiction, until the
Holy Ghost is breathed into it, infusing new strength and loyalty
into its pristine candour. And although spirit in the creature must
always preserve an accidental seat and centre of survey, with a
limited range of vision and limited sympathies, yet it knows that
these limitations are personal and accidental; and virtually, in its
worship and union with God, it surrenders them and overcomes
them in intention, and escapes error by confessing the partiality
and ignorance that incarnation has imposed upon it.

In whom, indeed, could this predicament of the spirit, native to
it in every man, be conceived more dramatically or uttered more
boldly than in a son of God actually descended from heaven? In
the Sermon on the Mount we read: Agree wtih thine adversary
quickly, uhile thou art in the way with him ; lest at any time the
adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to
the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verbally, here, we have a
counsel of modest prudence and compromise; yet that is hardly the
motive that renders bickering and bargaining and counting pennies
odious to Christ. The real motive is surely indifference to such
trifles, and perfect willingness that the man who is stripping him
of his coat should get his cloak also.

Another verbal mannerism that for us, at least, distorts these
spiritual counsels is oriental hyperbole. It is a mere idiom that
makes an Evangelist say that all Jerusalem and all Judea ran*> out
to meet Jesus: the meaning can only be that people from sundry
parts of Judea and of Jerusalem did so. Similar latitude of expres-
sion appears in the precepts about plucking out the eye and cutting
off the hand that offends us. These are graphic images, like making
oneself a eunuch for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. To takf such

THE PROPHECIES AND THE PRECEPTS

advice literally, as has sometimes been done, is to miss the ascetic
discipline really recommended. One of the great beauties in the
idea of Christ, as afterwards carefully thought out by the Fathers
of the Church, was precisely that his humanity was in no way
mutilated, but in all ways exalted, consecrated, and controlled by
the spirit. This is a much harder path for us to tread than mutila-
tion, either physical or moral; because it is very true that people
can put up rather contentedly with one eye, one foot, or one idea.
But these people are precisely the most avid and contentious: they
want to drive everybody away with their crutch. Patience and sweet-
ness follow rather on possession of all faculties and acquaintance
with all temptations, when they have been turned bade by the
experience or the foreknowledge of their vanity. We then pluck
out and cut off the deceitfulness from the eye and the cupidity
from the hand, dedicating both to liberal uses.

We may say of Christ’s human nature what he said about the
Mosaic law, that he came not to destroy but to fulfil it. And this
was singular charity and lack of prejudice on his part, when he was
naturally the Son of God, something that we never really become
even by the most laborious adoption; yet it was precisely his in-
comparable elevation that made it possible for him to descend no
matter how low without being contaminated. He even becomes
jealous of his appointed humanity and appointed sufferings, as if
they had been a special privilege. Note the vivacity of his protest
when the good Peter suggests that Christ’s chosen Passion and
death must never come to pass. Get thee behind me, Satan, he
cries; not so much, perhaps, to the well-meaning Peter, as to the
echo of the real tempter, that had once suggested to him the use
of his divine power to elude hunger and defy the danger of falling
from the pinnacle of the Temple. No doubt fidelity to his Father’s
will was die fundamental ground for repelling such suggestions;
yet he had not become a man against his own inclination or with-
out fully knowing what awaited him. There was therefore in him
a rooted affection, as it were, to his humanity, and a consequent

THE IDEA Or CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

immense pity for that humanity disfigured and corrupted in others.
He hugged his cross with a love that did not wish to escape suffer-
ing. Not at least so long as suffering existed anywhere: for there
would have been a kind of blindness and insensibility in a God
that floated in absolute bliss while his innumerable creatures
struggled and writhed in themselves and with one another. It was
necessary to create a bridge between existence and eternity, be-
tween man and God: but not bv destroying man, which if he
had once lived would be impossible for the divine mind, since
that mind is a name for the truth itself; nor yet by denying God,
which for mankind would be foolishly to deny on the one hand
their dependence and on the other hand their criteria of judgment.
The dominant power— call it God, fate, or matter — cannot be abol-
ished: an ideal end, though it may not be discerned, cannot help
lying at the terminus of every endeavour. The vital problem is
so to remodel our endeavours that their ideal end may become
attainable, in conformity with the nature of things. Now for this,
a long agony, a profound transformation of the will must occur:
and this transformation Christ comes to prescribe, while in his
own person he endures that agony.

The patience of Christ with the load of hereditary evil that
weighs upon the world is no less heroic than his determination
to suffer the consequences of that evil. He is full of compassion
for physical trials, especially for that sort of madness which is a
physical derangement or possession by a devil. The sins of the
flesh, too, he forgives as readily as he heals its miseries: neither
can disgust him with being a man. What taxes his patience is the
incapacity of the virtuous to understand the principle of mercy;
also, the incapacity of the ready intellect to understand the necessity
of faith. The cities that reject the Apostles, he had said, shall fare
worse than Sodom at the Last Judgment. Yet when his favourite
disciples, “the sons of thunder” said. Lord wilt thou that we
command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even
as Elias did? … he turned and rebuked them and said. Ye know

THE PROPHECIES AND THE PRECEPTS

not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not
come to destroy men’s Ii: es, but to save them.

This time, indeed, in his unglorified human body, Christ had
come to save men’s lives, or rather their souls; and his human
heart was set on this mission of mercy. Yet he could r.?t have
forgotten his frequent prophecies that in the end the Son of God,
in his glorified human body, would say to these very Samaritans
that he had come to save: Depart from me, ye cursed, into ever-
lasting fire. Evidently his heart and his present mission stood on
one side; his foreknowledge, the example of Elias, and the impulse
of his own disciples stood on the other. Between these two sides
we may imagine a contention like that between Abraham and the
Lord concerning the fate of Sodom. Peradvenrure there were fifty
righteous found in that city, or forty, or twenty, or ten. Would the
Lord slay the righteous with the wicked? The text of Genesis tells
us that the Lord went his way, as soon as he had left communing
with Abraham ; and Abraham returned unto his place. So the two
contending commitments must have done in the mind of Christ,
when he had done communing with himself: and we know what
the solution was in the case of Sodom. The city was consumed
with fire falling from heaven, but the individual Lot, Abraham’s
brother, was saved with his family, his backward-looking wife
excepted. Just this was the solution found by the Christian con-
science: the world was condemned, but the individual soul could
always be saved out of it. Christ’s profound insight into the in-
dividual heart, his knowledge of its helplessness, its confusion
under the pressure of custom and of circumstances, and its untried
possibilities, broke down the collective responsibility of the ancients
and picked out the elect, contrary to expectation and to human
judgment, from amongst little children and great sinners.

This vocation to heal, to rescue, to console, this insistence that
all men should forgive, tolerate, and love one another, even their
enemies, surely all this rests on a direct sympathy with life and
pity for life more profound than any purpose or any reason. It

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

does not abolish or obscure moral distinctions; it does not turn
away, shocked and rebellious, from the worm that gnaws and the
fire that torments eternally. These phrases are metaphorical, but
they indicate irremediable realities; and Christ tells us of a sin that
shall never be forgiven, the sin against the Holy Ghost.

What h the Holy Ghost? Is it not, perhaps, the very spirit of
love and understanding that forgives every sin, every offence,
every’ contrariety in the movement of things against our own move-
ment? Is it not the spirit of truth enlightening in all rational crea-
tures the blind vehemence of will and passion? The unpardonable
sin is the refusal to pardon: the impudence of being an arbitrary
creature and denying to all other arbitrary creatures the right to
live. And this sin is unpardonable because it is incorrigible. The
original impulse of life imposes it, in imposing the necessity of
feeding, breeding, and fighting. For that reason it must last as
long as life lasts, and must bring forever its inevitable punishment
of hatred and suffering. Escape from it is impossible on that
natural plane of life. To be saved we must be born again. Christ
by becoming man. by ascending again from earth to heaven, and
by sending the Holy Ghost to inspire the Church, has taught us
due allegiance to our native humanity, together with a truly human
way of transcending it.

The precepts of Christ thus rest logically on his prophecies, and
these rest on the fa a, assumed in the Gospels, that he is the Son
of God, with a superhuman sentiment about man and a sup erhuman
ideal of what man is called to become. This superhuman sentiment
takes a human name, love , for this Son of God is the son of man
also. But what kind of love is this that extends to all mankind
and especially to one’s enemies, to the deformed, insane, vicious,
and disreputable? There is not a trace in it of that delight and
pride in perfect human virtu which had inspired the Jews them-
selves in their palmy days. Who was their national hero? David,
a comely bold shepherd, ready with his sling and his harp, faith-
ful in friendship, adulterous in love, chieftain of a marauding

THE PROPHECIES AND THE PRECEPTS
band, become king by popular acclamation, dancing and leaping
before the Ark, and conquering a considerable kingdom to make
the glory of his son Solomon. That is the sort of man that men
spontaneously love, and that they would love to be. Compare that
,figure with Christ, that life with Christ’s life, and you see that
the Christian love of mankind is not natural love at all, but some-
thing else, charity. It is divine compassion, based on perfect un-
prejudiced insight into the helplessness of man, his -weakness, his
childish passions, his horrible sufferings and his pitiful end: and
this fate seems all the more pitiful in that a spark of celestial spirit
lies hidden in those ashes and might be kindled into a different
life altogether, a life of pure vision and pure joy. To this ulterior
possibility the son of God is naturally sensitive: he is leading a
divine life in the midst of his humble surroundings: the conrrast
between this adopted earth and his native heaven is only too violent
in his eyes. He is obliged sometimes to flee to the desert to escape
the pressure of that contrast, to be alone again with himself, with
his Father, with the immensities in which mankind is lost. And
yet now he is himself a man; and that fact makes his charity towards
his fellow men very different from the lordly love of mankind that
his Father had always manifested; for he had created them like the
other animals, and had even specially chosen and favoured some
of them, to raise them to a dearer knowledge and worship of
himself, and to enjoy the spectade of their fidelity, their stum-
blings, and their repentances. When God had become man, those
dramatic episodes had come to an end. Henceforth the adventures
of mankind on earth, without losing their poignancy, had lost their
supremacy. It was the adventures, so to speak, of man within him-
self, the transformation of the soul, that now mattered. With this
transformation the prophedes and precepts of Christ are exdu-
sively concerned.
THE PRAYERS

Prater is at once the most childlike element in religion and the
most spiritual: for it begins with a cry for help or a gesture of
surrender and it ends with complete self-forgetfulness and absorp-
tion in the divine life. There is nothing, therefore, in which the
two natures in Christ might be expected to reveal themselves in
dearer contrast and union than in his prayer. We may presume,
however, that the prayers that would most enlighten us were never
overheard by the disciples or revealed to the Evangelists. Only
those appear that were human enough to be proposed as models
for the Christian community, especially what we call the Lord’s
Prayer, which is not his prayer at all, but expressly recommended
as suitable for us to repeat, and to repeat in common. For the
initial form of address, in the first person plural, shows that it is
intended for public occasions; mankind is seen as a unit, with
identical needs and all in the same predicament. This is our natural
feeling in moments of public disaster or rejoicing, but hardly that
which accompanies us when we retreat to our doset and shut the
door, as we are elsewhere advised to do, in order truly to pray.
The divine point of view thus seems to creep even into this formula,
meant for human lips. We are seen in the mass, as the genus homo,
rather than as individual souls, and we are expected to pray in
chorus.

As to the characteristic word “Father,” rare though not unknown

THE PRAYERS

before in addressing God, a great deal might be said. In modem
times, it is gratefully accepted as showing confidence in the ten-
derness of God towards ourselves, and our perfect safety in his
hands: it revives the feelings of the young child carried in arms
or begging to be carried. In other days, the word was felt to be
rather presumptuous; so in the prelude to it in the Mass we read:
“admonished by thy healthful precepts, we dare to say: Our
Father,” etc. From this point of view it would be the divine son-
ship of Christ that would have prompted him to assimilate us in
this undeserved way to his own station and intimacy with God:
this would be a part, then, of the new, ambitious, superhuman
endeavour to lift the soul into union with the deity.

A naturalist, on the other hand, might detea, in this use of the
word “Father,” a profound atavism. It was the father, not always
an affectionate father, that ruled the ancient household. To him
everything was submitted for judgment; he was the only defence
against beasts and against elder brothers; life and death were in
his hands. So conceived, this expression would be far from pre-
sumptuous. It would mean implicit submission and readiness to
obey, as does the oriental custom of falling on one’s face before a
shrine or a throne, or striking the ground thrice with the forehead,
or even as does our attenuated practice of kneeling or bowing.
Autocratic parents and monarchs are often regarded as enemies;
these acts of renewed allegiance signify that all our hostility is
disarmed, as nowadays on die field of battle does the soldiers’
practice of holding up their empty hands in sign of surrender.
The Greeks when they prayed also held up their open hands, but
here besides homage there was perhaps a sense of opening one’s
arms to receive a superior influence. To all these things there may
be some analogy in this eloquent opening to the Lord’s Prayer.
We approach the God of heaven.

As we proceed, the recognition of divine sovereignty is modified
by other shades of feeling. First a wish is supexadded. We not
only acknowledge bat we desire that God should be sovereign.

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

That his name should be hallowed, that his kingdom should come
and that his will should be done are almost synonymous ideas,
repeated after the Hebrew poetic model; and they involve a most
serious problem. What is the sense of desiring or praying for some-
thing which is already a fact? For if God is sovereign, his will is
already being done everywhere; and if he is not sovereign, what
is the sense of asking him to make himself so? Here the text helps
us out with a distinction. We pray that God’s will may be done
on earth, as it is done in heaven. A part of the universe, and
perhaps also of our own wills, is subject to him, but another part
is not. We desire that this rebellious part may disappear: but the
fact that it is rebellious seems to make it absurd to beg God to
suppress it. We ought to address ourselves rather to the rebels,
or to our own sinful side, and persuade them to change their wills
so that we might all live happily at peace with God.

The contradiction is due no doubt to the metaphorical language
proper to monarchical theism; there is no contradiction in the heart
of the suppliant. He is sincerely giving voice to his aspiration and
addressing the hidden fountains of power, whatever they may be,
not because he thinks he can change them but because he cannot
silence his heart. Now the Son of God, having become man, does
not wish to silence his human heart, and does not wish us to silence
ours. Therefore he directs us to pray, yet not superstitiously, not
without submitting our desires to the actual decrees of God, what-
ever these may be. Prayer, so chastened, passes towards its mys-
tical issue. It continues to express poetically the troubles and long-
ings of the soul, but in expressing them tends to transcend diem,
to accept defeat, to make a victory of that acceptance, and to redeem
itself fay self-transfotmarion. All poetry contains this catharsis;
there the pleasure of singing turns what was a sorrow into a subtle
joy.

Having prayed grandly for the greater glory of God, we are
taught to pray modestly for our own needs. This contrast between
the first and the second pans of the Lord’s Prayer shows what a

THE PRAYERS
S
pathetic aspect human life wore in his mind. He does not stoj
to ask for the things that even a pious natural man would most
desire, such as health, security, domestic happiness, or immortality:
much less for such vanities as wealth, beauty, or science. Something
to eat to-day is enough. “Daily bread” may indeed be understood
metaphorically, to cover all physical conveniences; yet the ascetic
abstinent, minimal claims are evident which we are encouraged tc
make in this direction. Christ’s heart is full of the joy of heaven:
when it turns to earth, it can only suffer. This appears also when
we come to the moral life. We are to pray to be delivered from evil
or from the Evil One, to be protected from the danger of falling
again into his hands, and if we do so, to be forgiven. If physically
human life is all privation, morally it is all peril and guilt. Most
indicative, however, of the spirit of Christ is the condition he
prefixes to our petition for mercy. Forgive us, we must say, as we
forgive. If we come to offer those high praises to God, and remem-
ber that we owe something to our neighbour, we must first go and
pay that debt, and come and praise God afterwards.

What can be the secret of this tenderness in Christ towards the
guilty, of this insistence that we should not judge or retaliate or
defend ourselves? Is it that he sees the beam in the revengeful eye,
and challenges him who is without sin to cast the first scone? Yet
if this were all, we should be in the presence of a great despair in
regard to human virtue. The whole race of criminals should go free
because not one of them was good enough to be the hangman.
Judgment and vengeance would then indeed be the Lord’s exclu-
sively, but would probably be terrible. Such a sentiment is not
absent from the mind of Christ. It is part of the general sense
that a crisis was at hand, the world in its last throes, and that the
only solution was to warn it, to turn away from it, and to pray
for the advent of the new era. Yet there was a deeper reason for
mercifulness in Christ and for his’ insistence on mercy in us. He
naturally took the point of view of the Creator, who, however
offended he might be as a legislator, was after all the parent of all

HE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

these erring souls, equally near to all and as familiar with one as w
another. He knew only too well that each had been bom helplt
sinful, and entangled in a net of oppressive circumstances. Mo
over, Christ knew by experience something that his Father coi
know only in idea, namely, that in each of these unhappy cream
a spark of spirit was continually breaking out, struggling, and bei
smothered amongst the ashes. It was in kind the same spirit tl
shone so gloriously in God from all eternity, jet in fortune h(
different! And since in Christ this single spirit was aware at oi
of that glory and of this distress, can we wonder that in each situ
he should overlook the cumulus of dust, and think only of d
buried and almost extinguished spirit? He recognised it with co
passion even in the miserable devils that he cast out in pity j
their victims: net that the devils were not wicked or the victi
mad, but that both madness and wickedness would only be
creased in the world if we excited ourselves to madness and wickc
ness against them. Therefore he counselled us to endure evil
patience, neutralising it as much as possible at its source by c
disinterestedness and abstention, until our prayers should
granted at last, and the Kingdom of Heaven should appear.

Still more significant of Christ’s secret character are the pray<
that he utters in his own person. That he should pray at all rail
a problem for theology and for the psychology of ^religion: f<
being God in man he would be praying to himself, or to a ps
of himself : and more glaringly than in our distracted prayers t
contradiction would arise in asking a good and omniscient G<
to do anything but what he is doing. Yet precisely in the conjur
tion of aspiration with accepted plight in the same person and
he same moment, we may hope to understand better die necessi

f both and the reason for it.

The two appear most clearly in Christ’s prayer in the Garde
c was an agony: there was a sweat of blood; there were comin
uid goings through the sleepless night; there were passions
■epetirions of the same words: O my Father, if it be possible, i

THI i- RAY IHS
this cap pats from me: net erthcies s not a: u ill, but a: thou u
And acorn: O my Father, if tut: cap may not past away
except I tit ink it. tcy it ill be done. Here is submission, bu: s
mission to an alien force, against ’which the whole soul speak
is passionar.lv contrary. It is like the pleadings and tears c
mother over a dying child; she sees the black cloud coming, v
a total, cruel, unnecessary blackness. She has heard that the g
can do anything; it may yet be possible that they should help i
and she throws herself on her face before them. Yet Christ is
Son of God: in heaven his will and his Father’s will were identi
and he has become man that he might be able to suffer this \
Passion and drink this very cup. Only an hour before, he has
stituted the sacrament of the Eucharist, to be a memorial an
renewal forever of the sacrifice he is about to make. Many til
he has foretold to his puzzled disciples that he is to be seiz
maltreated, condemned and put to death. Once, when Peter
protested that such a thing should ’never be, we know that he s:
Get thee behind me, Satan. The coming Passion has been thj
known and thrice accepted. And as to the possibility of avoid
it, how can he have any doubt? Is he not going to say, an b
later, to that same Peter, who draws a sword to defend hi
Thinkest thou that cannot nour pray to my Father, and he si
presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? Nothi
then, was easier than to let that cup pass from him, if he hum
had willed it. It was not his Father that denied anything or m;
it impossible: it was not submission to an alien will that cost
this terrible struggle. It was division within himself, as all me
stru gg le must be within oneself. It was the stirrings of his adop
humanity, or rather of its animal, part, against his fixed purpe
It may surprise us, with our conventional notions of Ch
(which already in the fourth Gospel begin to grow abstract t
non-human) that these animal stirrings should have been so ’i
lent, and that he should seem to have forgotten for a moment
own free choices and resolutions. But as the theologians tell

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

the Word in becoming flesh assumed a perfect humanity; a com-
t? Human ps*v cnc, as v» <j» as a human body. Now one of the
richest endowments of the human psyche is the dramatic imagina-
tion, the faculty of acting cut a part, working out a motive, finding
words an i gestures and actions that express it. This is the faculty
that creates dreams in slrep and genius in natures that are wide
awake and simultaneously aware of many circumstances. It is not
necessary ta pr^vj that the author of the parables couid not have
lacked dramatic imagination. Those are graphic pictures and simple
words drawn fjxm the life ana manners of the ancient East; but
more \ ivid images still, and stronger words, would irresistibly
flood a mind so endowed by nature when that mind was swept by
profound elemental currents: the impulse to live, the dose ap-
proach cf death, the scandal of apparent failure, the blindness of
mankind, the bitterness of love wasted and of sufferings borne in
vain. In a reflective hour all such impulses equalise and balance
one another in the rational mind: but in a sleepless night, between
solemn partings and a cruel death, imagination is more vehement;
it work’s out each theme separately, histrionically, exuberantly,
hvperbeiicaJIy, as in a dream, and while the stage is occupied with
one passion, an opposed passion, and a supervening judicial reason,
cannot be heard. That the whole bitterness of his life — and it must
have been full of bitterness — should have flooded the mind of
Christ during that vigil of Gethsemane; that the human nature and
the animal nature within him should have found a voice, regardless
of reason and of divine decisions, follows from the assumed
reality of his human nature. It is impossible for inspired language
to say everything at once, or for strong feeling to feel everything
equally. At best, after venting one emotion we may recall another,
and so qualify the issue; but the inspiration, if it is genuine, must
remain in each case specific and vital. Harmony can reign in the
soul only over a heap of ruins. Human nature, assumed in order to
be sacrificed and to be transformed, then utters its last cry at the
foot of the altar. It cannot understand the High Priests purpose.

THE PRAYERS

It sees the axe brandished, and, accustomed as it is to the yoke,
it bends the neck.

Variations on the same theme appear in the seven viords utter wi
by Christ upon the cross. All the seven are important in considering
the idea of him transmitted by the Evangelists. One cf these re-
ported words may have been a memory, another an inspiration
and a third an intentional symbol: they all form integral pans of
the drama of the Passion, as Christian tradition has conceived it.
and therefore contribute equally to that idea of Christ which is my
theme. None of these words express the exact sentiment of the
prayer in the Garden. The element of submission, there so promi-
nent, does net reappear. The phrases that represent human impulse
are uttered frankly, spontaneously, without qualifications or second
thoughts: I thirst, or My God , my God . uhy List thou forsaken
me? The first of these is simplicity itself, the abeyance of all but
an immediate sensation that may prevail for a moment in the
midst of the greatest plights. The second is no less direct, no less
impulsive, but engages the whole soul: a cry of despair, as if the
life of the body, in spite of all its sufferings or on account of them,
had remained blindly attached to its continuance, to the chance of
some recovery or some escape. Why have I been created, cries the
animal will, only to be tortured, only to be crushed? In the Garden,
this primary will to live and to conquer had masked itself in the
vague phrase, if zt be possible . Now, fully realising how possible,
how easy, victory would have been, the same will shuts out all
contrary reasons, and sees nothing but defeat and darkness. It is
human, it is honest, it is noble: but the other currents in the soul,
deflected for a moment, are bound presently to flow in, and raise
the level to the normal fulness and apparent calm. The calm, in
this life, can never be real, if we look beneath the surface; because
the potentialities of life are many, and most of them in any case
have been suppressed. There is therefore nothing scandalous in
this cry: Why hast thou forsaken me? Even the son of God has
reason to utter it. He is the truer man for doing so, when the

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN’ THE GOSPELS

condemned hope v.as noble. and the supervening contrary interests
have sunk* out of sight. When awareness of them becomes again
possible, the crisis will be past. The histrionic passion that had
tarried the spin: for a moment into that dream will give place to
a less concentrated and v.i:L-r consciousness.

Ail this may be said, tailing prayer merely as the initial cry of
human nature. impuSsible to suppress in the stress of misfortune;
but the same words or ge- cures may represent much more than an
ckmcitarj ::e! /tree. Ultimate hopes and lifeieng convictions
may be a: stake, and that cry may be the voice of the whole soul
in the dark night cf the spirit. I th:r:t may be taken symbolically
as well as literally; and God may have abandoned us because per-
haps he does not exist. The black void may be swallowing up our
life and cur prayer in infinite derision.

That the Passion of Girisr included such a moral crisis seems
to be indicated by these words, repeated by two of the Evangelists
in the original: Eli, Eli, hu,a salachthani. It seems also to have
extended to the disciples that dispersed and abandoned him on his
arrest. Tire confidence that he was the Messiah had been lost: all
had been a delusion. Yet at the time when the Gospels were written
that confidence had been recovered and, justified by a theory, be-
come the fundamental dogma of Christianity. Yet those words,
drawn from Scripture, were still assigned to the dying Christ, as
if they had been his last words. In the devout idea of Christ they
seemed, then, not incompatible with his divinity. Are they so really,
or was this only an unsolved contradiction that existed between the
various traditions, w’hich in their eager faith and neglect of criti-
cism the Evangelists enshrined in their Gospels?

This question becomes the more interesting the more we dis-
regard the historical value of these narratives and study them, as I
do here, only for their moral and dramatic inspiration. If in a myth,
we were describing God become man, should we include the Dark
Night of the soul among his experiences? I think we should, and
a few words may suffice to indicate the reason.

THE i* RAY E
:j>

On the road to Emmnus. the ri-en Christ. unrcccgn.-.: cxpLiir^
to two of his disciples that, as the Scriptures hau : Vitold. : K-
hcoved the Messiah to suiter a cruel death, and to he rented b\
the Jews. His kingdom, as he says elsewhere, was net of ths wor.J.
Now this was a hard lesson to learn, nor only icc ether jews
but for the man, himself a Jew, in whom the Son of God wis
hidden. And it would be a mere evasion of that lesson to suggest
that the human nature in Christ had been so enlightened and ex-
alted by its union with his divine nature as not re retain any weak-
ness. or rather any strength, for the exercise of human vinues. On
the contrary: the fact that by alliance with dhinir; tone human
impulses may have been transmuted from the beginning — because
his body, like Adam’s, was perfectly subject to his soul — only made
the remaining human impulses in him the more imperative. A
stupid devil, at the beginning, had tempted him with the satisfac-
tions of appetite, vanity, and power — net at ail passions capable of
seducing him; but new. ar the end. it v as faith, hope, and love
that were threatening to betray him: and how could he endure to
give them up? ill; God , m% God . why Lvt thou jo?:a
en me?
It was his love of human souls, his hope of justice, his faith in
the triumph of the truth that had played him false. How could
the good have so misled him?

This form of despair is more high-minded, more heroic, than
merely physical anguish, yet it is not less human. The divine
nature in Christ was just as much obscured by the one as by the
other. And the obscuration had the same cause: a cloud of human
troubles darkening the sky, a black cloud, but passing. When the
violent pressure of disappointment was relaxed, even if it were only
death that relaxed it, the clear sky of divine illumination would
reappear. God had forsaken him, so that he might forsake himself.
He had been denied the good, to teach him to see good in every-
thing. God had crushed him and reduced him to nothing, in order
that up that path. Nothing , nothing, nothing, he might climb to
spiritual dominion over all realities.

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

It is still human nature that speaks in two of the other words
uttered on the cross: Father , forgive them , for they know not what
they do, and, Father , into thy hands I commend my spirit . The
invocation Father, made so tenderly, shows of itself that the human
soul here retains full ‘consciousness of its adoption, is sitting
familiarly at the feet of God, if not beside him upon his throne,
sees things from God’s point of view, and can make petitions that
are sure to be granted. He is aware of his mission and in the midst
of his sufferings renews his charity, understands the circumstances
of his brutal executioners, forgets his wrongs, and forgives. He had
not so constantly preached forgiveness without inwardly feeling
the justice of it, in spite of his own innocence, and now he begs
this justice for them, in spite of their wickedness. Such prayers are
petitions only in form. Does not God care for his creatures as
much as we do? Does he not understand them better? Yet our
childlike babble has its weight, as expressing our own disposition,
and in that capacity counts in the budget of’ the moral world. And
in this case, forgiveness breathed by the victim surely has a greater
potency than merciful scruples could have in the judge: especially
when we consider that, beneath the play of his adopted humanity,
the will of Christ and that of his Father are absolutely one.

A sense of this latent oneness begins to appear in the words:
Father, into thy hands commend my spirit . This spirit is the
human soul in Christ, now exhausted, feeling the ebb of its life,
during a moment’s pause, perhaps not the last pause, in its suffer-
ings. There is gradual relief, a diminution of pressure, as it were
the on-coming of peace and of sleep. Not at all the sleep of death;
rather the sleep of a child. The bosom of God is not Abraham’s
bosom, not limbo, but the very centre of light and life, calm only
on account of its equilibrium and infinite security. There an un-
exampled destiny awaits the human soul, after an obscure youth,
an unavailing mission, and a horrible martyrdom. It would seem
that the voice commending this soul to God is not the voice of
that soul itself, forsaken in its mission, but that of the divine

THE PRAYERS

Christ in his eternity. He is delivering that human soul which
he had assumed to his Father, by whose will he had assumed it.
Its work was done: now what should be its reward? God had
become man on earth: should not that man become God in heaven?

Yes, but not in the sense of losing his humanity, either in body
or in soul. These could be committed to the Father with all con-
fidence that they would be preserved and renewed. The risen
Christ would sit upon the throne, alone visible to the eye of the
saints, who only by their intelligence and intuition would know
that he was identical with the son of God, and that God dwelt in
him. Thus the Jewish expectation of the Messiah ruling over a
purified universe would be literally fulfilled in heaven.

It is in perfect assurance of this identity, uttering no prayers but
himself commanding the future, that Christ speaks the three re-
maining words from the cross: To-day shall thou be with me in
Paradise , Woman , behold thy son, Behold thy mother , and It is
finished . They are testamentary words. He is no longer living his
life in time but considering it transcendentally; disposing, with
creative authority, what its relations shall be in eternity. It w^as by
no means necessary for him to die or to ascend into heaven in
order to exercise these sovereign rights. He did not and could not
always exercise them while still a wayfarer in this w T orld; but he
always possessed them virtually. There is no contradiction between
these divine prerogatives, recalled at certain times, and Christ’s
habitual mode of speech and behaviour as a man. On the cross, he
manifests both natures boldly, in sharp alternation, as is natural
in supreme moments. Everything is uttered together, when he cries
out at last with a loud voice.

The episode of the repentant thief is no doubt symbolical, and
useful to encourage hardened sinners to become saints. It is in the
nature of religious homilies to treat historical facts as moral sym-
bols, and moral symbols as historical facts. That does not concern
or trouble me; the point is that this incident exhibits the idea of
Christ to perfection. The thief does everything that appeals to

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

Christ’s heart. First, he suffers, and suffers precisely what, mate-
rially, Christ is suffering at that moment. Then, he is humble and
accepts his sentence as just. Finally, he believes in Christ precisely
when belief in him was most difficult, when his claims seem to be
disproved; and he prays to Jesus: Lord, remember me when thou
comest into thy kingdom . And then the answer comes, complete
and immediate: To-day thou shalt be with me in Paradise. This is
more than a prophecy, it is a decree; the Son of God is speaking,
but not impersonally from a cloud, as his Father is wont to speak.
The human soul of Christ has become the instrument for that
exercise of divine prerogatives. And the human soul is no lifeless
or passive instrument. It supplies the language, the tone, the occa-
sion for the act performed; Christ speaks in his human person,
moved by human feelings, yet armed with divine powers; and this
can happen without any conflict or sense of duality in his will, be-
cause now, in his human soul, the part dominant is precisely the
part always secretly flooded with divine light and knowledge. In
the midst of the passions the passions can be eluded, and the divine
intellect can see all those red and golden atoms of passion shining
in an eternal mosaic.

Out of the same background of peace, and more pensively,
without any incident to call it forth, comes the word to his mother
and to the beloved disciple: Woman , behold thy son , and Behold
thy mother . Taken for an actual event, this shows an unusual
tenderness in Christ towards his domestic circle. Ordinarily, he
emphasises the greater claims of the world, of his mission, and
of obedience to the spirit: here he offers his mother another son,
and his young friend another guide, as if he were sorry to desert
them. Could he have been sorry? The end of anything is always
sad, even if timely and followed by something better. At the close
of life, early memories return and old affections. We wish to do
what is possible to render the issue beautiful and consoling. But
in this case the rationalist aides are the first to tell us that every-
thing is symbolic. Mary signifies the Jewish tradition; John, the

THE PRAYERS

Gentiles to be converted: the latter must accept the old dispensa-
tion as a foundation, and the Church must adopt the pagan world
for its field of labour. Both the literal and the symbolic readings
are in the Johannine spirit. Loving-kindness among men: Christ as
a private oracle and guide over individuals: the Virgin Mary and
the beloved disciple beginning to appear, discreetly but pregnantly,
in important places. So much by way of amplifying the chronicle
and rendering it more devotional; and then, in the ecclesiastical
direction, a firm reassemon, against the mystics, of the Jewish
dispensation for the past, with the heart open to Greek inspiration
for the future.

In John , where the bold and troubled side of Christ’s humanity
is suppressed, the last word from the cross is: It is finished, or
better, It is consummated, consummatum est, TT£?.£otcu. For the
word retag, end, is certainly used here not in the material sense
of something done with and past, but in the moral sense of some-
thing perfected and accomplished. Christ in this Gospel is every-
where the master of his own fate. Even when he cries, I thirst , he
does so not because he is thirsty or cannot endure his thirst in
silence, but in order that the scripture might be fulfilled . It is con-
summated is surely to be understood in the same transcendental
sense: the appointed course has been run, the sacrifice made, it is
time to awake from the agony of this voluntary dream. This action
will not be drowned and merged in the flood of time; it is stamped
distinct in eternity. The divine spirit gives the blessed signal; the
human soul obediently hears it, and the head drops upon the
breast. We are not told of Christ’s crying out with a loud voice:
that is already well known or else not welcome in this picture; it
might disturb our assurance that this brutal tragedy was in reality
a ritual sacrifice, in which the victim was also the high priest.

This same superior vision, mingled, however, with a quite human
valedictory sadness, presides over the prayers and injunctions that
Christ pronounces after the Last Supper. The tone is solemn and
oracular; there is much repetition. These themes are so important

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
spiritually that we understand the propriety of developing them;
yet the discourses seem rather those of the risen Christ, bidding his
disciples farewell before his final ascension. The mixture of
fervour with mystical calm seems already heavenly; a veil of in-
cense and tears covers, to earthly eyes, the meaning of the words.
Yet we must endeavour to understand them, because this is Christ’s
spiritual testament. As in Matthew he leaves a political legacy to
the Christian community, bidding his disciples go and baptise all
nations,* and saying to one of them, Thou art Peter, and upon this
rock I u til build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail
against it ; so in John he leaves a spiritual legacy to each inwardly
converted soul in these last admonitions and prayers. What is it
that they actually convey?

In the first place, we may observe one important limitation in
Christ’s prayer. I pray not for the world, but for them which thou
hast given me . We are told in many places that Christ was sent
to save the world, and we see his charity especially going out to
outcasts and to sinners: but it is only because they have redeemable
souls. As to the world at large, the prince of this world is already
Judged. In other words, Christ is not come to save the world, as
the world would wish, in its own interests; he is come to save his
own, whom the Father has given him out of the world. They will
live in the world without being of the world, because the world
cannot receive the spirit of truth. This spirit of truth he has already
imparted to them in some measure; and he will not leave them
comfortless, but will send the Holy Ghost, to impart it to them
more fully. And what does this spirit of truth bring to those who
receive it? .

It brings union with God. I come to thee, Holy Father, that they
may be one, as we are one . As the branch cannot bear fruit of
itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide
in me. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you; continue
ye in my love . This is my commandment, That ye love one an –
other, as have loved you . . . He that hath my commandments,

THE PRAYERS

and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me, and he that loveth me
shall be loved of my Father . . . and we will come unto him and
make our abode with him .

Union with God is something mysterious and the language used
about it must be taken loosely, else we come at once upon flat con-
tradictions. Here, for instance, Christ says: I and the Father are
one, He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; but he also says,
The Father is greater than , I came forth from the Father and
am come into the world; again I leave the world, and go* to the
Father . And he prays to the Father, who has given him all power,
as if that power still flowed from a removed source, with which,
by that influx, he is made one. I think that without going beyond
these texts we may gather two things: that union or oneness is
not meant to be identity, and that it has degrees. For the degree
of oneness between Christ and his Father is surely much greater
than that possible between them and merely human souls; and if
there be identity in the quality of this possible union between
spirits, there are degrees in the extent, so to speak, to which that
union pervades those spirits. We may be one in some measure
and in some respect: we remain several in our existence, status,
and persons. The great bond of union is love; and love itself
implies the keenest recognition of otherness in the person loved,
with various feelings of attraction, compassion, admiration, and
concern about someone from whom fate might part us. The duality-
makes all the tension, the wonder, and the unhappiness of love,
upon which rapture may supervene when all barriers break down.
Then there may be a feeling of absolute union, such as mystics
describe; but even this feeling implies that two persons have it;
otherwise there would be no miracle. That A is A creates no
emotion; what is rapturous is that A and B should become one.

There is also a sort of union in sacrifice, when a soul voluntarily
surrenders and abolishes its being for the sake of a good not to be
enjoyed by that soul itself. Such a soul may be said to transfer its
egoism to the ensuing object or life. It survives in another, but

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

only by ceasing to be the soul that it was. Nature is not averse
to these fertile sacrifices; they are sometimes made instinctively and
sometimes heroically, with a suicidal zeal. And although the
Pauline theology with its theory of the atonement sees such a
sacrifice in the death of Jesus, the Gospels present it to us as an
a a of obedience rather than of enthusiasm on his part. By his mute
sufferings he pays the price exacted; he does not rush self-forget-
fully into danger for the sake of a better world in which he will
play no part.

The direction in which the prayers of Christ in the Gospels open
a long vista is that of the inner dialogue of the spirit with itself.
He is God in man: banished in a certain sense from himself yet
profoundly aware of his concealed divinity. All its prerogatives, if
he wills, are at his command; but he has willed not to will them
during this earthly episode, except in a limited measure in special
cases. Therefore this temporary life is lived within him in earnest,
though not without a sense of the really eternal status and infinit e
scope of the spirit that enacts it. In these circumstances the dialogue
between God and man goes on in his mind: and it is a profoundly
human dialogue. To convince ourselves of this, we need but re-
member that God lives in the eternal. All things are present to him
always: all his dialogues are, as it were, already written out in a
book, but in a book that he is eternally reading, as if for the first
time. Everything for him remains equally fresh and yet there are
no novelties. Therefore in Christ, as God, his human life and all
his human perceptions and wishes are perpetually present in idea.
In him as man, the experiences corresponding follow one another. ,
connected only by evanescent pictures in expectation and memory
and supported by an instinctive trust. How inevitable and how
warm, in such a mind, must be the inner dialogue between man and
God: on the one side a perpetual prayer, on the other an unfailing
illumination and support! That all goes on within one person is no
paradox. In reality, k could never go on otherwise.
THE PASSION

The Passion of Christ, as it passed through his mind, is expressed
for us by the Evangelists in his prayers; it is expressed dumbly also
in his demeanour. For the most part this demeanour is passive:
he has consented to endure whatsoever was appointed for him to
endure. His accusers, his judges, the public and the executioners
are puppets in God’s hands. Above their heads and behind their
actions he sees the overruling will of his Father, which is his own
deliberate and primitive will. These instruments are hardly worth
attention in their various degrees of violence or malice. He seldom
deigns to answer their questions; and if he does, ir is only to
reassert his divine authority and prophesy his second coming in
the clouds.

There are, however, certain episodes, antecedents, or asides
provoked on special occasions, in which Christ’s spontaneous feel-
ings appear. So in regard to the alabaster box of very precious
ointment poured on his head at the house of Simon the Leper.
In this scene, what freedom of spirit, what range of thought and
judgment, what tenderness in despair! The woman is unmistak-
ably Mary Magdalene, the sister of Martha, whose brother at
Bethany Jesus had just raised from the dead. He knows that she
will soon reappear by his cross and at his sepulchre. There is,
however, some confusion in the reports. Never mind whether
there were two or three occasions and two or three women, or only
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

one. In any case the shy disciples and hypocritical guests, who all
know the law and the prophets, dare not say how shocked they
are at such a scene; but murmurs arise about the waste of money
that might have been given to the poor. Christ says: Ye have the
poor always with you: but me ye have not always. For in that she
hath poured this ointment on my body she did it for my burid.
And this a a, so audacious, passionate and decorative, would be told
in the whole world for a memorial of her. He was already living
his coming Passion, his death, and the fate of his image in the
afterworld.

This episode was a foreword to the Passion and is introduced,
as it were, by chance; but Christ himself expressly introduces a
most unexpected action to which I have already called the reader’s
attention. When all had taken their places for the Last Supper, he
rose, laid aside his garments , and took a towel and girded himself .
After that, he poureth water into a basin and began to wash the
disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was
girded . . . . So after he had washed their feet and had taken his
garments and was set down again, he said unto them: Know ye
what have done to you? … I have given you an example, that
ye should do as I have done to you . And there was more than an
example of humility and service; there was a symbol of purification.
When Peter protested, Jesus had said: If I wash thee not, thou
hast no part in me . And Peter, understanding, had replied. Lord,
not my feet only, but also my hands and my head . Here the lesson
of humility had been already learned. For the fruit of humility is
reconciliation with the truth.

Another original, even more mysterious, action was about to
follow: the institution of the Eucharist. This too is a symbol: not
merely that the bread represents Christ’s body and the wine his
blood, but that the eating and drinking represent, and ought to
induce, participation in his divinity. Here recurs a well-known
most ancient intuition of the religious min d : an animal, the em-
blem and secret seat of a god, in being solemnly sacrificed, divided.

THE PASSION

and eaten, transmits the god’s strength or his blessing to the devout
worshipper. Here is at once a tragedy and a feast; the god incar-
nate in his chosen animal dies, yet is immortal in his proper func-
tion and essence. This apparent tragedy or even cannibalism renews
the life of the spirit in man, and renders him the special seat and
image of his divine patron.

Such is the core and primitive meaning of these embodiments
of the divinity and this communion with it; but in the Christian
mystery there is also another intention. The vi aim sacrificed was
a sin-offering; and participation in his body and blood (blood
being the seat of life) meant also liberation from the guilt which
that sacrifice might cancel. For the viaim, though spotless in itself,
had been devoted and made a scapegoat. The sins of others had
been magically piled on its head by an incantation: and in paying
the price of death in its innocence, that viaim had given a new
lease of freedom and life to the guilty.

If we would recover the secret of this eucharistic mystery, we
need to reawaken in ourselves that ancient sense of divine influ-
ences, emanations, and interfusions of spirit; so that, as Christ says
so often in John, we may feel God abiding in us, and ourselves
in God. Christ wishes to assimilate our lives to his. He is one with
his Father, by a perpetual generation that establishes a distinaion
of charaaers without permitting any conflia of will; for when you
are completely derivative you ate at once entirely different from
your source and necessarily in harmony with it. Why shouldn’t
we, who are also completely derivative, be perfealy obedient and
perfealy happy? But for us that happy issue is naturally impossible,
since we depend on a variety of independent forces and accidents,
so that our individuality is buffeted and thwarted at every turn by
its circumstances and supports. We have not, like the Son of
God, a single and changeless parent. Therefore this ideal of per-
fect unity within ourselves and with our source, while deeply
appealing and realised at moments in certain respects, is devastat-
ing to our complex and vacillating interests. We must first unify

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

ourselves, which is in itself a great mutilation; and then we must
cling only to the abstracted power that supports this heroically
integrated self, ignoring all the other forces that control our
fortunes. We may thus save our souls, or the part of them that we
have chosen to cultivate; but it will be at the cost of dire conflicts
with the world and w’ith everything that we have condemned in
ourselves. This is the cross that we must take up if we would
follow Christ. This is his flesh and his blood, that we must eat and
drink if we are to have any part in his resurrection.

How severe this sacrifice was to the Son of Man himself, we have
seen in his prayer in the Garden. He is facing death and the sur-
render of all his human hopes. In his demeanour there, when his
mind reverts to the incidents of the moment, we see the fruits of
resignation. What , he cries to his drowsy disciples, could ye not
watch with me one hour! . . . The spirit indeed is willing, but
the flesh is weak . And to Judas, when he appears with the band
brought to arrest him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? . . .
bettayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss? There is no hope in his
mind, no anger, only a slightly sarcastic sadness. Before leaving
Jerusalem, after the Last Supper, he had said: When I sent you
without purse, and scrip , and shoes, lacked ye anything? . . .
But now, he that hath a purse , let him take it, and likewise his
scrip; and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and
buy one . And when his disciples, taking his words literally, say
they have two swords, he replies: It is enough. Later, when Peter
actually uses one of them, secret thoughts have to pass into ex-
plicit maxims: Put up thy sword . . . All they that take the sword
shall perish with the sword. And he touches the man’s ear that had
been cut, and heals it. The will of the Father must be fulfilled, and
the Scriptures. The disciples disperse, and Christ is bound and
carried before his judges.

The same pensive prophetic mood, that looks abroad over the
melancholy spectacle of life and death, as to the vast background of
his acute suffering, appears in his words to the women on the

THE PASSION

way to Calvary: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but
weep for yourselves and for your children . For, behold, the days
are coming in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and
the wombs that never bare, and the paps that never gave suck.
Then shall they begin to say to the mountains , Fall upon us; and
to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree ,
what shall be done in the dry?

These utterances, together with the seven words from the cross
already considered, exhaust the tradition handed dowm to us con-
cerning the spirit in which Christ suffered. They are only sparks
from the flame that would certainly have burned within him, and
we are left to our own inadequate inspiration to discover what
most concerns us; I mean that secret spirit of victory through sac-
rifice which is precisely what might be reproduced in some measure
in our misguided lives.

The mind of the Church (which includes that of the Evangelists)
could attribute to Christ during his Passion only such motives and
thoughts as corresponded to the full truth regarding that Passion.
But that full truth was exceedingly complex, and popular tradition
could only hand down scattered sayings and partial doctrines that
expressed divers sides of it, until thorough saturation in the faith
should provoke a fresh intuition and prompt the requisite syn-
thesis. Not one of those sayings must be forgotten, not one of
those doctrines denied, but each must be interpreted in the light
of all the others. It is impossible to say everything at once. It is
impossible to think of everything at any time with an equal dear-
ness and force; yet the elements that are in abeyance do not cease
to make their presence felt and to ballast, as it were, the ship
that rises and falls with the waves.

What, then, is it that the inspiration of the Church has dedared,
after centuries of meditation, to be the full burden of Christ’s
Passion, the * radical and ultimate purpose of his incarnation and of
his death on the cross? The Gospels indeed tell us that it was the
redemption of the world, and that the Father so loved the world

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

that he gave his only begotten Son, that as many as believed in
him might have eternal life. But we are left to wonder how love
of the world could lead the Creator to meditate the destruction
of it, as by another Deluge, and to substitute for it an eternal life
in quite another world, to be granted to comparatively few souls,
in whom he would inspire faith in his Son. Nor do we gather
from the Gospels how the sacrifice of the Son could be requisite
or appropriate for the salvation and eternal life of the believer.
The need of that sacrifice is indeed asserted; Christ himself in
instituting the Eucharist says that this is my blood of the new
testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sms . The
Passion of Christ is therefore to be understood as a ritual sac-
rifice; and in other parts of the New Testament we find this idea
developed in two parallel but religiously different forms: the theory
of the scapegoat and the image of the Lamb.

The theory of the scapegoat, developed by Saint Paul, has
rather unsavoury antecedents. Saint Paul is full of the spirit of
Christ when he looks out upon the world, but of the person of
Christ he has no intuition.

The contrary is eminently true of Saint John; and it was most
appropriate that the whole prophetic and mystical tradition of the
early Church should have been formed under his auspices and
called after his name. This Johannine tradition retained the moral
and political quality of Hebrew prophecy (as the Apocalypse
shows) in regard to earthly destinies and the revolutions to come;
and it accepted the Pauline doctrine of redemption and vicarious
atonement; but at the same time it infused into all this legalistic
and eschatological system, and superimposed upon it, an inward
spiritual redemption. The scapegoat became the Lamb of God.

Now it is surely as the Lamb of God, and not as a scapegoat,
that Christ in his Passion would have conceived himself. The
scapegoat was a passive victim, not spotless and sacrificed upon
the altar: curses were cast upon it without its knowledge or will;
and the crimes it was to expiate were named, numbered and cal-

THE PASSION

ulated officially. But Christ never doled out forgiveness by weight
nd measure, nor balanced so many graces for so many prayers or
d many drops of blood. He was the Lamb of God, sacrificed
willingly. He was God himself become man in order to endure
re trials which he imposed, and in order to become the pattern
nd model of all endurance; also of such transformation of the
uman soul through suffering and love as might truly and in-
■insically redeem it.

The Lamb, after the prophetic figure of the paschal lamb, was
aosen for its spotlessness and innocence; yet this Lamb of the
ipocalypse is not weak. Although he appears “as one slain,” he
; the Lord of lords and the King of kings, with a hundred and
Drty-four thousand followers as pure and as miraculously power-
ll as himself. They are such as “were not defiled with women,
ar they are virgins,” and they are destined to overcome the world.

But for them this is not to be a thundering material victory,
hey have been redeemed from the world of battles; they were
ever entangled in their own sins or in the Law. They sing a new
Dng, “and no man could learn that song but the hundred and
Drty and four thousand which were redeemed from the earth.”
or them “the mystery of God is finished” and “there shall be
me no longer.”

This whole spectacle, then, not only the vision of Patmos but
le entire creation and history of time, is “the mystery of God,”
nd only when “it is finished” and the truth of it shines in eternity
an the secret of it be manifest. This very phrase, “it is finished,”
ad been uttered by Christ on the Cross. There the mystery had
een solved, and it is there, perhaps, that we may gather the clear-
st hints of what the secret may be. One episode, already consid-
red, lends itself particularly to interpretation, when Christ sees
is mother and his beloved disciple providentially standing before
im, and says to them respectively: Behold thy son , Behold thy
tother . Orthodox commentators admit that three or four inter-
iretations of Biblical texts may be equally valid, and need not ex-

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

dude one another; and here especially, in a scene so characteristic
of John, what is recorded as a fact and by believers must be
accepted as a fact, is surely a symbol also, and who knows in how
many senses, rising to who knows what angelical removes? Could
we divine them all, we should understand why Christ’s Passion
was necessary, and how, by undergoing and transcending it, he
overcame the world.

In the first place we may observe that this episode has the same
relations within the Gospel narrative as has the Transfiguration.
It is a detached vision, not connected with the preceding or suc-
ceeding events, but intervening like a moment of rapt meditation
and glimpse into eternity. The scene and the mystery, given to-
gether, must be felt together. The bare cross, even without a
figure, has remained the well-understood emblem of the whole
Chri stian faith: and so, in many a great church, the vision of Christ
crucified, between his mother and his beloved disciple, has been
raised high in air over the altar screen as the sufficient symbol for
all Christian devotion. Christ, after his mission was begun, had
been markedly detached from his mother and brethren. But now, at
his last hour, his heart reverts to its first attachment. He sees his
mother at the foot of his cross. Was she really there? And had his
favourite disciple, who the night before had abandoned him like
all the others, somehow found his way back? What does it matter?
In any case, he sees them there. His pilgrimage is completed: he
has nothing more to suffer. The whole past, and the whole future,
begin to come forward, to recover their intrinsic presentness, and
to loosen him from the horrid fetters of the casual now. In eternity
how should he be less faithful to his earthly mother than to his
heavenly Father? Was it not the Father who gave him that mother
to bring him into this world and define the place, time, and circum-
stances of his incarnation? She is the mother of his flesh, of his
humility, of his sorrows; and there is something bitter as well as
sweet in being bound to her: but he recognises the bond and its
necessity, not only for him but for all life. As he has taught all men

THE PASSION

to call his Father “Father/’ so he will teach all men to call his
mother “Mother” : that they may learn that nature can be full of
grace, and that the flesh can be a parent of the spirit.

In this visionary scene Calvary is transported from the realm of
urgent agony and irrelevant accidents into a spiritual emblem; and
these figures become as it were a human Trinity, God dwelling in
three earthly persons in different degrees, all three replete with a
genuine humanity. In Christ, God dwells absolutely, his person
being essentially divine; but he has entered into a human body,
accepting the life and death proper to that body. This is a super-
natural and inimitable union; yet we have seen how it overflows in
the miracles and in the words of Christ, all instinct with compas-
sion for the plight of the spirit in man, and with eal for its de-
liverance. In Mary there is only human nature, but sinless, flower-
like and passive, absolutely submissive from the beginning to the
will of God, and predestined to be drawn into the drama of the
redemption, with all its anxieties and vicissitudes, by special dis-
pensations: first by being chosen for the incomparable honour
of becoming the mother of the incarnate God, and then by in-
evitably participating in his unspoken sorrows and public martyr-
dom. Her motherhood had humanised her purity, and her human
tenderness had become universal in unison with her son’s mission.
Still, though merely human, she remains exceptional, a celestial
soul untouched by the sin of Adam, in whose body God had dwelt
bodily, and whose spirit was miraculously overshadowed by his
grace.

More normal, nearer to our common lot, was the case of the
beloved disciple. He was a young fisherman, ardent but chaste,
ambitious, a “son of thunder,” not at first knowing the spirit that
he was of, but ready to drink of the cup that Christ would drink of.
Tradition has it that he was actually martyred, but rescued mirac-
ulously from the cauldron of boiling oil into which he had been
cast. At any rate, the New Testament represents him as living to
extreme old age, and pouring forth the spirit that he was of, now

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

fully recognised by him, in his Apocalypse, Gospel, and Epistles.
God is in him in the natural form of inspiration. He remembers
vividly the circumstances of Christ’s life, and appreciates above all
the mystery of his divinity, the depth of his love, the magic of his
presence. The whole has become visionary, enchanted, hieratic, like
this very scene, this human Trinity in Calvary, in which he stands
for all the souls that Jesus has loved.

Why is it the cross that in this vision unites three so different
persons? Why, being all three innocent, should they come to drink
of the same cup, Christ voluntarily, Mary submissively, and John
enthusiastically? Might not the Son of God have remained in his
heaven, and showered from there whatever mercies and graces he
wished to bestow on the world? Then Mary might have finished her
life in the humble solitude and peace which her soul had chosen,
and John need never have deserted his father’s nets or his brothers’
boats by the Sea of Galilee. It was all done, we are told, in order
to save the world. But in what sense? It was not by the cross that
the Jew’s or the other nations wished to be saved, nor has the cross
saved them. Their lives and their wars are what they always were;
and as to their souls, according to the Gospels, now that salvation
by the cross has been offered to them, they are doomed to a much
deeper damnation than if they had been left in their heathen igno-
rance. And even when the world is nominally or officially converted,
it remains in the mass no less worldly and as little regenerate as it
was before; and the very preachers of the cross become a part of it,
more contaminated with worldliness than the world was ever
leavened with sanctity.

The salvation worked by the cross is worked by it essentially,
intrinsically, spiritually, not by accident or legal artifice or in the
interests of the world itself. It is salvation of the spirit out of the
world, not by a change in the world (though some change will
incidentally occur in it) but by a change of allegiance in the heart,
so that the interests of the world will count for less and less in the
heart, and the interests of the spirit for more and more.

THE PASSION

In the synoptic Gospels this spiritual meaning of the redemption
remains in the background, as it naturally does in the miracles
worked by Christ during his mission: for it is a humane character-
istic of Christianity that it begins with works of corporal mercy and
then, if possible, proceeds towards a spiritual regeneration. And
this recognition of the body and its necessities, and even of its
fundamental place in the life of the spirit, is not abolished even in
heaven. Christ wept over Jerusalem, wept, no doubt, at the impos-
sibility of his earthly kingdom: yet he was sure of material resurrec-
tion and of a material victory at the last day; and orthodox Chris-
tianity has always believed in another life in another world, in
vitam venturi saeculi, as well as in a metanoia of the spirit. At the
same time, save for this spiritual regeneration, that other world and
that future life would be nothing but a new trial, a different slavery,
and a fresh disappointment: a second redemption would be
required.

That victory of the Lamb in the Apocalypse over the Beast and
over Babylon and even over time itself could therefore be only a
spiritual victory. It lies in the very nature of time, as well as of
Babylon and of the Beast, that they should perish continually. There
is no escape from mutation, which so deeply wounds the spirit in
its affections, except by accepting mutation, while transferring its
treasures to the realm of truth, where mutation is impossible. Christ
on the cross is in the act of passing back in his own person from the
distress of mortal life to his native heaven. In no other soul could so
intense and so complete a sense have existed of that transition. At
the height of his agony he must have begun to hear that new song
which the spirit sings in the Apocalypse. This Lamb of God could
not resist the knife, and made no effort to do so; for he knew that
he triumphed by shedding his blood, and lived by having consented
to die. In such supreme moments the mind and heart turn from the
pursuit and cares of life to the understanding of it, from personal
preoccupations to the intuition of truth, with a purified joy in the
beauty of that truth. This is no passage from one world to another

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
or from this life to the next; it is the infusion of the Creator’s vision
into the created mind. Such is the only possible union of man with
God, in which God remains God and man remains man.

This transformation the theologians call supernatural and attrib-
ute it to grace obtained by Christ’s sacrifice: such is the language
of ancient ritual. But in itself the transformation is neither un-
natural nor inhuman. The ideal of every child-like mind and will is
to be omnipotent. The spark of divinity lives always within us.
Therefore it was always easy for fable to conceive the gods in
human form, visiting the earth and becoming masters in some
human art or adventure. Yet the humanity of these gods was only a
mask or a deception: in Christ it was a dire reality. It was not the
semblance of man that he had assumed but his flesh and blood, his
banishment and his sorrows. And in assuming human nature,
instead of mocking it he had sanctified it; and he will carry it back
with him to heaven. It will not embarrass him there, as his divinity
sometimes embarrassed him on earth. There is no place where spirit
arises more spontaneously than in the heart of man, or shines more
becomingly than in his face. For spirit is a light that burns, and
requires the flesh for its fuel: yet it cannot burn clearly until the
greater part of that fuel has been turned into living flame. The
sacrifice and the grace that flows from it are thus two sides of the
same thing, of the assimilation of man to the idea of Christ in his
Passion.

In Greek mythology there had been some hint of a god that
would not merely impose a supreme sacrifice on a human hero, such
as Prometheus, but should himself suffer for man’s good. Demeter,
bereft of her own child, appears as a wise stranger in a king’s
palace, and nurses the infant prince paradoxically, secretly laying
him at night on the burning embers, in order to render him im-
mortal. Her action is detected and misunderstood, and she is being
driven away with imprecations when in the act of vanishing she is
transfigured from a mournful wayfarer into a shining goddess.
Dionysus also is a secret benefactor, coming to rouse men’s souls

THE PASSION

from lethargy and commonness; but he does so wildly, upsetting
well-ordered society, and driving the rout of his female followers
into the wilderness to commit a ritual murder in their madness. In
Christ there is no intoxication; his inspiration is not madness but
charity. Nor is it some private sorrow of his own, like Demeter’s,
that teaches him compassion for the world. His compassion for the
world was itself his divine sorrow, and had prompted him to be-
come man. He did not thereby cease to be God or to assert the abso-
lute prerogatives of the godhead; yet he enabled himself to suffer
as his creatures inevitably suffered. He showed them how love can
render suffering voluntary, and how obedience can disinfect suf-
fering of all rebellion and dissolve it into ineffable peace.

THE RESURRECTION
What little the Gospels tell us concerning the risen Christ is of
the greatest importance to our theme, for it indicates the character
that was attributed to Christ when he was fully revealed and ap-
peared in his double perfection. This is also the character that every
Christian would aspire to develop in himself, so that it manifests
the goal of Christian morals and the life to be hoped for by the*
saints in heaven.

These scanty reports do credit to the good faith of the Evan-
gelists, each of whom gathers such accounts as he happened to hear;
accounts which differ in detail, as the testimony to recent obscure
and exciting events is bound to differ, but on the whole tell the
same story. Christ, they report, was buried in a rock-cut tomb in a
garden, very near the place of the crucifixion; and on the morning
of the first day of the week following, pious women, who came to
mourn at that place, found the stone rolled away from the entrance
and the tomb empty. Informed of this, Peter and John ran to the
spot, and saw that such was indeed the fact, observing in particular
that the winding sheet was lying in the grave, while the napkin that
had been wrapped about Christ’s head lay apart by itself. These are
just such details as a narrator, perplexed about the main issue,
retains and loves to repeat, to prove the reality of his observations.
We are also told that one or two angels in white sat or stood by
the tomb, and spoke, saying, Fear not . He is arisen . He is not here .
THE RESURRECTION

Why seek ye the living among the dead ? He goeih before you into
Galilee . There shall ye see him .

But it was not necessary to go so far or to wait so long. Mary
Magdalene had been one of the first visitors at the tomb; and when
she turned in distress, because the body had been taken away, she
saw in the morning twilight a figure she thought the gardener. Sir,
she said, if thou have borne him hence , tell me where thou hast laid
him , and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary . She
turned herself and saith unto him , Rabboni, which is to say, Master .
Jesus saith unto her. Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my
Bather; but go to my brethren and say unto them, l ascend unto my
Father and your Father; and to my God and your God .

Other apparitions to individuals are mentioned, but this to Mary
Magdalene is the most life-like and the most important. Christ
seems to have just come out of the grave, as if he were still haunting
the spot and not quite free as yet from contact with the earth. Touch
me not, he says, as if the ritual uncleanliness of a corpse still dung
to him. And he repeats, and wishes to have repeated to his disdples,
that he is indeed ascending to his Father. These seem the words of
a human soul still in travail, irrationally subject to acddents of
mood and occasion. He is going to appear presently to his disdples
in person, and to give them full counsels and directions. Why send
them messages through Mary, and such merely prayerful messages?
Why appear to Mary Magdalene at all? Because she was here seek-
ing him? Because she loves him? No doubt: yet these are earthly
and human reasons. His Resurrection has not severed the bonds of
his soul with place and time. For the moment, as if under the im-
pression of a terrible catastrophe not yet shaken off, they seem
particularly to oppress him. He says nothing to Mary about herself.
He longs to ascend to heaven.

There follow at once, and then at intervals, various public or
offidal apparitions that are related with a double purpose: first to
assure the disciples of Christ’s Resurrection, and second, to transmit
his earthly mission to them and bid them farewell. It is notable in

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

these instructions that little or nothing is said of his second coming,
which had often been announced as almost immediate. All nations
are to be evangelised and baptised first; and there is to be a history
of the Church, more or less protracted. Forgotten sayings of Christ’s
will be recalled and a fixed doctrine built up; persecutions will be
endured and sins forgiven; whatever the Apostles shall bind or loose
on earth shall be bound or loosed in heaven. These are points that,
for ecclesiastical reasons, it interested the Evangelists to make clear
at the close of their narratives; but they are not illuminating in
regard to the idea of Christ’s person or of his inner relation to the
believer.

Consider, in contrast, the scenes in which Christ had appeared
glorified. In the Transfiguration we are ushered into eternity. As in
a dream, we have lost all spatial and temporal position, all relation
to action and even to circumstances. Here are Christ, Moses, and
Elias in the realm of light, in the realm of truth. How do we recog-
nise them? We need no clue, no external point of reference. These
beings are their own standard, and possess those names by an
intrinsic prerogative. And they are discoursing about the eternal
fitness of things: how proper and necessary it was that Christ
should become man, suffer, and die, so that the world might be
saved. This is a dialogue in heaven, a part of that eternal truth
which fills the very mind of God.

Turn back now to the apparitions of Christ immediately after his
Resurrection. What a strange difference! No radiance, no splendour,
no heavenly peace or intellectual dominion. Elusive glimpses. Is it
a gardener? Is it a ghost? To reassure his bewildered disciples he
must exhibit his hands and his side; seeing him and hearing his
voice does not suffice. He is not recognisable at all on the road to
Emmaus. He is busy with arguments, with warnings, with making
appointments that seem afterwards to be forgotten. All this is life-
like in its way; it belongs to the sphere of spirits summoned from
the grave or haunting the night. But of the triumph over death, of
the great solution, of the light of heaven, there is as yet nothing.

THE RESURRECTION

Like the shade of Achilles in Homer, Christ risen from the dead
seems sadder, more vacant, more helpless than when he was living.
And yet we are told that he was no disembodied spirit, but pos-
sessed his same body, tangible, material, and capable of eating and
drinking.

Finally consider the Ascension, barely mentioned in the Gospels
and described briefly in the Acts. The Resurrection, which is the
central miracle of the whole history of Christ, had occurred in the
night, without any witnesses. A semipublic confirmation of it was
therefore given to the disciples, an official farewell, somewhat sad
and cold, when they saw him finally rise from the Mount of Olives
into the clouds. We are still in a sort of limbo or purgatory. The
troubled life of the Church militant opens before us, and Christ,
retired to heaven, remains with us only ideally, or in the sacraments,
or in the laboured controversial pronouncements of the Church.
Everything thus remains in suspense; we must continue to live by
faith and hope, and the solution will come only at the Last Day,
when Christ will appear again, really alive, with the hosts of
heaven in all their glory.

All-important, on the other hand, is the fact of the Resurrection
of Christ with the same material body yet with changed aspects and
powers; for this is the model of the Resurrection that all men may
hope for and of their everlasting life. Since the body did not remain
in the grave, we are forbidden to suppose that the risen Christ has
a different kind of astral or ethereal body, perhaps an effluence or
voluntary projection of the soul, variable at will, such as angels and
disembodied vagrant spirits were reputed to have at their command.
No; Christ takes pains to convince his disciples that he is no spirit
or spectre, but the same bodily person of flesh and bone. Behold
my hands and my feet, he says, that it is myself, handle me and
see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have .

An implication of this physical resurrection is this: Heaven must
be a spatial region, where material bodies may move about and en-
counter one another. Heaven, like hell, must be a part of the

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

astronomical world. This was undoubtedly the primitive concep-
tion; but it is interesting to see that Christian faith is pledged to
maintain it at any cost. If Christ rose not from the dead, as Saint
Paul tells us, our faith is vain, and we are the most miserable of
men. We have painfully persuaded ourselves not to eat, drink, or
be merry, hoping for something better in the Kingdom of Heaven;
and if we never rose again we should be cheated of our reward.
All Christian virtues, including that charity which is the crown of
them, hang on faith in the Resurrection.

It was essential, therefore, to prove that Christ had appeared
with his own body; and the one convincing test was that the appari-
tion should be tangible; or that by taking food it should cause the
food to disappear. That would really prove that the body seen was
normal, and not a ghost. Christ submitted amiably to this test, a
little saddened, however, to see that it was demanded: Blessed are
they , he said, that have not seen and yet have believed . He had
always preferred, even when living in this world, to disregard the
physical concatenation of things, and to trace only the movement of
the spirit. Now that he had raised his dead body to a second life,
destined to be everlasting, he had lightened it of some of its mate-
rial qualities and turned it into what Saint Paul, by a contradiction
that I suppose was voluntary, calls a spiritual body. It could pass
through closed doors: it could become at will visible or invisible; it
could blind people to its identity; it could transport itself instan-
taneously from place to place; it could rise into the douds, as it had
once walked on the sea. In fact, we seem to gather that even when
consenting to submit to the limitations of bodily life, Christ had
always longed to discard them. Humility and the desire not to per-
plex his good disciples had alone restrained him. When he was
alone he was doubtless transfigured; and now, although he re-
mained a man, he was a man already inwardly transfigured and at
home only in heaven. This would not prevent him from speaking,
familiarly with his friends, walking and eating among them —
though not for need of food — and lending himself patiently to
their ignorant questions and innocent suppositions. God had

THE RESURRECTION

created human nature, why should the Son of God scorn it? Yet in
order to dwell with him now men must first have received the Holy
Ghost. They must have learned to be spiritual in their affections, to
transcend themselves, to hate their father and their mother and
their own souls, in so far as the love of them imposed any partiality
or injustice. Then the spirit in them might keep their human lives
and attachments as pure themes for intuition and judgment, as they
are present eternally to the mind of God.

How tragically this transcended humanity survives in the risen
Christ may be seen in two other episodes recorded, one in Luke and
one in John. They are both pure apparitions in character, mys-
terious, dubious, dream-like, and seen in the twilight; yet in their
intention and spirit they are less apparitions than visits: one a visit
of instruction, die other a visit of affection.

We read in Luke that two of the disciples, not of the twelve,
were on their way to Emmaus, when a Stranger drew near and went
with them . . . And he said unto them: What manner of com-
munications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk and
are sad? . . . And they said unto him: Concerning Jesus of Naza-
reth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word, before God
and all the people: and how the chief priests and our rulers deliv-
ered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him . But we
trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel . – .
And certain women also of our company made us astonished . . .
saying that they had . . . seen a vision of angels, which said that
he was altve . Then the Stranger said to them: fools, and slow of
heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken . Ought not Christ
to have suffered these things … to enter into his glory? And
beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them in
all the scriptures the things concerning himself , but their eyes were
“holden,” that they should not know him until as he sat at meat
with them, he took bread and blessed it and brake and gave to them .
And their eyes were opened, and they knew him, and he vanished
out of their sight .

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

the essence of Christianity. Jesus was the Messiah not in spite of his
passion and death, but because of them. Now this revelation sub-
verts the moral foundations of Judaism and turns a political into a
spiritual religion. There is still a glory promised, but it is not the
glory that David and Solomon wanted. How disconcerting, how
unintelligible such a transformation was to the Jews appears in the
bewilderment and sadness of Christ’s immediate disciples at the
Passion, which, according to these very Evangelists, Christ had often
foretold and explained. They dispersed; and they abandoned their
master not so much out of fear for themselves — apparently they
were not molested — as by the collapse of their faith in him; and
even after the Resurrection they asked if it was now that he would
establish his kingdom. And there is a pathetic, perhaps uninten-
tional, symbolism in the disciples’ eyes being “holden” throughout
those surprising interpretations of the prophets and opened only at
the blessing and breaking of bread, mutely initiating them into a
spiritual mystery and a spiritual sacrifice. It required a different
kind of intuition, a metaphysical rebirth, to recognise Christ in
Jesus. The secret of their identity was far too subtle, far too revolu-
tionary, to be conceived either by the worldly-minded Jews, or by
the mythologising Greeks. It could be adumbrated only in obscure
language about two being one and each abiding in the other.

How human, how much attached to the scene of his earthly pil-
grimage, the heart of the risen Christ remained, appears in a
different episode related in John . The angels at the sepulchre, and
Christ himself in speaking to Mary Magdalene, had referred to
meeting his disciples in Galilee: but this appointment seemed after-
wards to be forgotten and the disciples were commanded on the
contrary to remain in Jerusalem until Pentecost and the descent of
the Holy Ghost. There are references, however, to a mountain in
Galilee and to Christ appearing, perhaps there, to five hundred
disciples at once. More precise and more life-like is the scene
recorded in the last chapter of John . Seven of the remaining eleven
apostles had returned to their native shores of the Lake of Galilee.

THE RESURRECTION

They were apparently recovering from their tragic disappointment
and picking up again the threads of their old lives. Night was com-
ing on and Simon Peter saith unto them } go a- fishing. They say
unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth and entered into
a ship immediately : and that night they caught nothing . But when
the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore : but the dis-
ciples knew not that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said unto them Chil-
dren , have ye any meat? They answered him, No. And he said unto
them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find.
They cast therefore and now they were not able to draw it for the
multitude of fishes. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith
unto Peter, It is the Lord. … As soon then as they were come to
land they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid out thereon, and
bread. . . . Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of
the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou ? knowing that it was the
Lord. Jesus then cometh and taketh the bread and giveth them, and
fish likewise . This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself
to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.

The beauty of this scene lies in the tenderness with which Christ,
his mission fulfilled, his Passion outlived, already free, already in
paradise, reverts to the haunts and companions of his first labours.
He chooses them once more, confirms his affection for them, ap-
proaches them in disguise, so as to seem again unknown as on the
day when he first called them, although he knows that they are
destined to be apostles and martyrs in his cause and for his sake.
He is not thinking of that for the moment, but only of them in
their present bewilderment and poverty. Children, have ye any
meat? He knows that they have been out all night fishing, and have
caught nothing; he has prepared a miraculous litde feast for them,
when they shall come ashore; but first, to hearten them and restore
their finances, he will give them a miraculous draft of great fishes,
one hundred and fifty-three of them, and their nets not broken.
The miracle betrays his identity, and Peter, who was naked, girds
himself with his fisher’s coat and casts himself into the* sea.

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
Here something tragic intervenes. This Jesus who so befriends
them, who had provided miraculously their meat and drink, and
has blessed their manual labour, which he perfectly understands,
does not seem to his disciples, as they come ashore, to be the same
Jesus. They dare not speak to him. And he too, in spite of his good
will, seems to keep silence. Their life in common cannot be re-
newed. His human gift of leadership has gone: he comes to them
only with a divine charity, with a breath from the eternal world,
that paralyses their natural impulses and even paralyses his own.
They can silently worship him and he can silently bless them, but
they can no longer live together.

Still, when they have broken their fast in a strange constraint at
his presence, so familiar yet now so unearthly, he calls Peter and
says: Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? and repeats the question
three times, as Peter has repeated his denials; and to the contrite
protestations of Peter, who says, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,
he appends, also thrice, a new commandment: Feed my sheep, feed
my lambs . He does not now say, Preach my gospel . The commis-
sion is the same in effect, but the form and the spirit of it are
tenderer. Christ does not now wish to think of vindicating his
authority or even of enlightening the world with high doctrine. He
prefers to think only of fostering and succouring life at its hum-
blest, at its roots. He is drawing his charity from its deepest and
most universal foundations. The little lambs and the stupid sheep
shall not perish uncared for. In every form life has its appointed
perfection, its innocent health and natural joy. The lowest instance
is as good a symbol for the whole as the highest, or even a better
symbol, since the lowest form is present in the highest, but the
highest is scarcely foreshadowed in the lower. For ultimately and
essentially Christ himself is the whole life of the world. Unless we
eat his flesh and drink his blood we cannot be his disciples, we can-
not become what the spirit in each of us aspires to be. To feed us is
to kindle that spirit in us. There are many pitfalls, many ruins in the
way, many aberrations: but we are on the path, if we are endowed

THE RESURRECTION

with reason, towards union with God. Christ is God in man; and if
we love Christ in his essence — that he is the divine Spirit incarnate
and crucified in this world — we shall feed his lambs, feed his sheep.

This scene, which forms a postcript, as it were, to the fourth
Gospel, seems to me most happily placed. Inspiration here has
outrun the art and the intention of the Evangelist, and constructed
a bridge from Christ on earth to Christ in heaven. On earth, he is a
man suppressing his divinity : in heaven, he is a god sublimating his
humanity. It was not possible in the Gospels or even in the theology
of the Church, to explain this mutual interference of the two
natures as independent philosophy might explain it. All had to rest
on the monarchical theism inherited from the Jews; and on that
basis, the two natures being separately existent and each complete
in itself, their union could only result in an alternation of phases
and a compromise in status; and this is precisely what w T e find in
the idea of Christ in the Gospels. Christ there is descended from
heaven, superhuman and the son of God, yet not quite God. To
have called him God absolutely would have sounded blasphemous:
it is done only once or twice in an explanatory or veiled manner,
balanced by continual insistence on the subordination of the Son
to the Father. And at the end, when Christ has already passed into
the other world, and when, as God, he ought to have shone as he
did when transfigured on Mount Tabor or when as Jehovah, in
pure light, he sat enthroned on the cherubim’s wings in the Holy of
Holies, we are not favoured with any glimpse of heaven. Even the
Ascension is tragic: a second farewell, almost a second death,
rather than a second Resurrection and triumph; as if only after the
end of the world could God and man live together happily, each
in his perfection and both in their union.

The secret of this postponement is perhaps contained, though
not revealed, in that mysterious injunction of the risen Christ to the
Magdalene, Noli me tangere. Why should he forbid her to touch
him? Not because he was now intangible; for he was ready to chal-
lenge his disciples to feel as well as to see the scars of his wounds.

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

But this was to be merely an argument for faith, a proof to the
intellect that he still had his human body. It was not to be done in
satisfaction of any affectionate impulse in his friends. Nor was it
necessary for the doubting Thomas actually to touch him. The chal-
lenge to do so sufficed, and the flood of faith overwhelmed all
doubt before any test was attempted. Nor can the reason be that
Christ wished to repel the spontaneous impulse of the Magdalene
to embrace him, after he had suffered her to bathe his feet in her
tears as long as she would, and to dr}’ them with her hair. He was
not afraid of her passion when he was still a wayfarer on earth; how
should he be afraid of it now, when he had one foot in heaven? Is
not the cause rather this: that now there is a difference in kind, a
radical chasm, between even his bodily life and that of those who
have not yet died? Contact is still possible but might seem cold or
discordant: the natural current is cut off between soul and soul.
And it was in her case by an impulse of the heart, not at all to
solve a doubt of the intellect, that she offered to touch him. Was
he not warning her in order to spare her an unintended rebuff?
When he should have passed, with his transmuted human nature,
into his everlasting kingdom, and she, transmuted also, should find
him again there, then there would be no discord any longer be-
tween her instinct and his dignity. There would be no gusts of tears
any longer, no doubts, no anxiety. All troubles would have cul-
minated in vision, all cravings would have been quenched before-
hand in a flood of peace.

The Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, as related in the New
Testament, thus leave us still full of expectation. Far from being the
end, they announce fresh trials and make new promises. They do
not open paradise to us, but, on the contrary, establish the Church
militant: on the whole not a pleasing prospect. The interval was at
first expected to be short, and the spirit of that expectation survives
in the individual Christian, in as much as however long the troubles
of this world may last for mankind, for each man and woman they
are soon over. Partly for that reason, and partly by a cheerful

THE RESURRECTION

anticipation of that glorious liberty of soul which the Passion of
Christ has made possible for us in heaven, Easter and the spirit of
Easter seem, in some parts of Christendom, the crown of the
ecclesiastical year. It is indeed, not by accident, the season of rejuve-
nation; and people who meet in the street cry to one another, Christ
is arisen; to which the response is, Alleluia. By a genial fiction
people imagine that the new year will be freer and happier than the
last; that life henceforth will be mystically dear and beautiful. The
Kingdom of Heaven, they say to themselves anew, is at hand. At
least, it may now begin to exist within us.

The Easter sunshine and the peal of bells thus come to promise to
the Christian the satisfaction of a sentiment perennial in die human
mind: nostalgia for paradise. This nostalgia is in one sense an illu-
sion, because it represents no past experience (unless it be that of
slumber in one’s mother’s womb) and no true memory. The garden
of Eden is an inverted image of aspiration, like Arcadia or the
garden of Epicurus; not, however, the image of a wise aspiration.
We may fancy that children ate happy, or that we should live
better like the animals: but this is hardly the case. There is the seed
of something else within us, and we cannot be so easily satisfied.
The evangelical Kingdom of Heaven or reign of God is a much
better symbol for the true good of man. This true good would be
union with God. But what is God, and what are we, and how is
union possible between him and us, and what sort of union? The
idea of Christ in the Gospels is an answer to these questions, and
a most eloquent answer; so much so that the imitation of Christ has
become the path to paradise for thousands of souls. Whether they
have reached paradise in another life the uninspired critic has no
means of knowing: but I think that their lives here hardly present
a satisfactory view of human perfection. Their model itself, the idea
of Christ expressed in the Gospels and in the imagination of the
faithful, we have found on examination to be vivid indeed, but not
intellectually clear. Moreover, the union of God in his case was con-
genital and perfect; while for us union with God can only be ideal.

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
partial, and attained by an imperfect assimilation of our will and
our vision to those of God. And it might seem, in view of the
traditional picture of the risen Christ and of life in heaven, that
even this partial assimilation of ourselves to God involves a most
bitter sacrifice, such as Christ himself offered up; and that by that
sacrifice and that death human nature in us, as in him, would be as
much devastated as it was exalted.

An ulterior question therefore arises for a philosophical critic in
regard to the idea of Christ transmitted to us by the Evangelists. Is
it an altogether just ideal, founded on the true nature of man and of
his destiny? Or are there elements in its Jewish presuppositions, and
in the later Greek philosophy that served to formulate it, that may
be discarded with advantage? A sincere consideration of these ques-
tions may serve to place our subject on a broader background and
in a dearer perspective.

PART SECOND
ULTERIOR CONSIDERATIONS

TRADITIONAL ASSUMPTIONS

Having considered, by way of literary criticism, the idea of
Christ as it appears in the Gospels, and having found that it gives
an inspired dramatic expression to the felt presence of God in man,
I turn now to a different question, and ask: How far is this idea of
Christ, as being God in man, a philosophical idea, valid for all men
and in all religions?

This new inquiry in one sense outruns my subject, which is the
idea of Christ in the Gospels; and nothing is farther from me than
to impute to the Evangelists the views I shall now propose, not to
speak of imputing them to the historical Jesus, about whom I make
no hypotheses. Yet in the Gospels the idea of Christ seems to be
emerging from a background of traditional prejudices that do not
allow it to manifest its ultimate implications. The risen Christ him-
self calls his disciples fools for not understanding that he ought
to have suffered and died before appearing in his glory. Yet the
prophets who had spoken of a man of sorrows and of the tribula-
tions he must endure before restoring his kingdom were surely
themselves quite unaware that they were foretelling the Passion of
Jesus. They meant to foretell, or actually to describe, the trials of
Israel at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and other conquerors. Now
just as the Evangelists drew their inspiration from that unexpected
interpretation of the prophets, so an independent critic may inter-
pret their idea of Christ as an inspired symbol for universal moral

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
truths, latent in their religious sensibility, but not disentangled in
their habitual thoughts. They felt that God was in Jesus, and felt
it strongly; but neither their idea of God nor their idea of the
human soul was speculatively clear; and how God could be in Jesus,
or how Christ could be in them, though they were somehow sure of
the fact, was not expressible in their traditional language or logical
categories.

Criticism of inspiration would indeed be useless if it were
founded on an incongruous inspiration. This is doubtless the reason
why such confusion reigns about the idea of Christ. The critics of
different schools all have the same documents before them; they
are all learned; they are all sincere; but each has an inspiration of
his own, traditional or personal, which he is intent on identifying
with the inspiration of the Evangelists or even with the historical
Jesus himself. Why this forced assimilation between intellectual
and moral impulses separated by great differences in date, in cul-
ture and in inspiration?

The reason is that these critics, while full of the spirit of inquiry
about special points, retain at bottom their ancestral habit of faith,
without perhaps any of the tenets which that faith imposed. They
are blind to religious inspiration because they are hungry for reli-
gious truth. In their scrupulous scholarship they continue to assume
that inspiration must be knowledge: therefore the text of the
Gospels must be either literally true, both in history and doctrine,
or else uninspired, corrupt, and of no religious value. In a word,
these critics have not perceived what inspiration is, either in them-
selves or in ancient prophets. Instead, therefore, of catching the
spirit of the Evangelists, and ruminating on the idea of Christ as
Christians ruminated, they endeavour to distinguish what may have
been true about Christ, because compatible with what the critics
now believe, from what must have been interpolations and perver-
sions due to superstition. By this uncritical method, they compose
each his own idea of Christ, innocently proposing it to the public as
the probable truth about the historical Jesus. But, his torically, the

idea of Christ nrst arose in tne minds or the disapies because
were inspired to believe that Jesus had risen from the tomb,
sitting at the right hand of the Father, and would soon come d
again in glory to judge the living and the dead. This idea ex
before die Gospels were written; it was theologically expounde
Saint Paul; and fervendy and piously enriched by the inspiratio
the Church, which preceded and continued that of our four E
gelists. The faith of the Church created and developed this idea
in die faith of the Church we must look for it if we wish to ur
stand it.

A critic must indeed have a criterion of criticism, and his
inspiration might serve that purpose in his private mind or in
of his sea. But if he is addressing the uninspired and unprejuc
public he should rely only on common sense and on secular his
and science, as modest and unspeculative as possible. With
criterion and careful study he may come to conclusions a
the inspiration of the Evangelists, and therefore about their
of Christ; but he can never reach any conclusions about the
torical Jesus, because almost everything we know about him
reasonably suppose rests not on independent lay evidence about
person of Jesus, but on inferences drawn from the existence of i
in Christ in the minds of Christians. This faith had well-kn
roots in Jewish religion and in the moral condition of die worl
the first century of the Roman empire. The special roots th
doubtless had also in the personal life and teaching of Jesus, i
the cardinal point that he was crucified, we cannot disentangle i
the living image of Christ evoked by faith and perpetually d
ened and developed in meditation. For this reason criticism oi
Gospels requires a certain warmth of fancy, and a certain :
pathy with la fonction fabulatrice: which is not idle dreaming
dramatic divination of potentialities latent in human nature. I
poetry, so in religion, the question whether the events desa
have actually occurred is trivial and irrelevant. Anything may c
in infinite time. The question is what light it would kindle w

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

us, if it happened to happen. Facts matter little for the spirit except
for what they mean to the heart. Whether the Christian faith is true
is a momentous question for science and history, because it affects
the conditions under which men must live and their destiny; but the
spiritual value of the idea of Christ does not depend on its having
been already realised in fact but on the depth to which it sounds
the ultimate vocation of every living being. Lucifer might admit
that a divine Christ had existed, yet might disdain to imitate him;
and a disillusioned philosopher might aspire to imitate him with-
out believing in his existence.

The Church, animated by the same faith as the Evangelists, but
having had more leisure for meditation and more contact with
heresies, made great advances in unifying and defining the idea of
Christ. Almost all the Fathers were saints and some of them, like
Saint Jerome, extraordinarily learned. Their intimacy with many
oriental inspirations and pagan cults, together with their own zeal
and spiritual insight, fitted them to fathom the secrets of the union,
in a single person, of the divine nature with the human. Yet even
the saints were bound in this matter by Jewish traditions and by
Greek habits of thought. A more circumspect psychology and a
critical mood towards religion in general may therefore not be use-
less in unravelling the mystery of God in man thus handed down
to us in a dramatic and oracular form. For in my opinion this mys-
tery is entirely natural; by no means the invention of a wild
theosophy but only a poetic expression of the dawn of spirit in
every reflective mind.
MONARCHICAL THEISM

There are religions and philosophies called pantheistic, for which
the presence of God in man is something obvious* and inevitable,
since everything, according to those systems , is a part of God and
perfectly at peace in being at once a specific thing and a phase of
the infinite. A mystical unction is not absent from this knowledge
that God lives within us, truism though it be; because if each of
us, as a particular creature, can be only an infinitesimal part of the
universe, still as an intensive reality each living being may justly
feel in himself the potentiality and the dormant seed of everything
else. This is clearly verified in the flux of persons and things in the
physical world; for there the substance and energy of each individ-
ual visibly go to fashion things of which he had no premonition;
and nothing seems to exist save in the act of passing into something
else. Moreover, when living beings have minds, all things are
capable of appearing in each of them in a new and marvellous way,
as perceived, thought of, or remembered; so that in this ideal way
all things may be endlessly reproduced, foreseen before they exist,
and present still after they have perished. When a creature has a
mind, God and all things, for a pantheist, may therefore be said to
exist in him doubly: materially, by identity or interchangeableness
of substance, and ideally by revelation to the spirit.

Nevertheless in these pantheistic systems no special advantage
accrues to man by God’s presence within him. A worm too exists

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

only because the universal substance has here taken that special
form; and the dullest or the most horrible feeling, as well as the
falsest thought, is a spiritual echo of what is going on in the world,
as spontaneous as the sublimest philosophy.

In Hebraic religion, on the contrary, the guiding motive has
always been the advantage and moral dignity of man. It is a tribal,
political, moralistic religion; and so long as it is orthodox it can
never drift into pantheism. Identity between man and God, or
literal inclusion of either one in the other, makes nonsense a priori
for this mode of thinking. That which may then be investigated
with profit is what degree of support the human will may find in
the universe or may obtain from God by express favour. In little
troubles and in great, it is always a question of salvation.

By the Jews the nature of God was not conceived metaphysically,
but historically: he was the one who had led them out of Egypt,
had given them the promised land, and would yet give them the
Messiah. This God had a human heart; he had eyes and ears, and
kept watch over his creation. His creatures might offend him; but
in that case it was always possible for them to repent and to cry to
him for mercy. And even when a man or a nation was condemned
to disappointment, a safe and sweet life of obedience would not be
denied them. If the fellowship between God and man was mani-
fest in victory, it might prove closer and more lasting in renun-
ciation.

This religion relies less on intuition than on experience. It studies
the ways of God; that is to say, the treatment that mankind may
expea at the hands of nature and fortune. Still, these ways of God
could hardly be traced scientifically: they had to be conceived dra-
matically. God was an absolute monarch. The maxims gathered by
painful experience were his commandments and laws, which he
would sanaion by signal rewards and punishments. Such absolute
irresponsible authority in this divine government represents truly
the non-human forces that control human life, both within man and
without. At the same time the personality assigned to that ruling

MONARCHICAL THEISM

power lends to general maxims and to national customs the definite-
ness of royal decrees. Moreover, this God is capable of sudden feel-
ings. He can make exceptions, grant prayers and inspire particular
resolutions. He is a moral being, makes plans, has enemies, and has
favourites; and there is no reason to doubt that mysterious cere-
monies and prescriptions, apparently irrational, may not be com-
manded by him and may not deflea his wrath. A traditional cultus
may thus be associated with prophetic insight in the same living and
popular religion. Nor is it unworthy of a spiritual deity to enter
into these humane relations with man. To be flexible to prayer, to
be capable of love, may be the inmost will of a truly living being;
and the God of Israel was a living God.

Greek philosophers had a perennial quarrel with the poets for
making the gods too human; and Christian theologians have also
explained away the anthropomorphisms in the Bible and in the
pious mind in favour of ideas sometimes quite metaphysical and
mystical. I think a philosophical criticism of religion would do
better to allow the poets, whether sublime or popular, full license
in their metaphors, and to inquire what it was, at the level of
human observation, that prompted those metaphors and made them
applicable to natural events. All human ideas are, in one sense,
anthropomorphic: the idea of God as a pure spirit is eminently so.
We cannot help being poets; but we may make our poetry better,
more harmonious in itself and more exaaly symbolic of our rela-
tions to all that attraas and to all that controls us. Greek philos-
ophers were themselves saturated with myths. They were merciless
to the poet only because he was their rival in a kindred art. They
could not discount their own poetry.

Now the chief characteristic and merit of the Jews in religion is
usually found in the faa that they were not polytheists but wor-
shipped only one God. Yet, philosophically, monotheism is com-
mon to all religions, because if you mean to direa your worship to
the reality on which you depend, whatever that reality may be, your
total dependence on it and ignorance of its intrinsic nature unify

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

your concept of it. If you divide that influence into parts, it is to
the sum of those parts in their mutual relations that you are really
subject. So Greek religion, when it survived in philosophers, became
monotheistic, without ceasing to recognise the various traditional
gods as channels or phases of the divine power that keeps the
universe alive.

Critics have not failed to perceive the radical difference between
this philosophic monotheism and that of the Jews. The latter be-
came monotheists not by philosophic synthesis but by tribal and
ritual exclusion. At first they did not doubt the reality of the gods
worshipped by other nations, and later regarded them as daemons;
but they were pledged to worship only their own God, who should
have only one temple. It was an essentially political zeal that caused
them to call polytheism an abomination: it meant treason to their
people and despair of their hopes. That their God was the only
God, or at least so powerful that all other beings, human or super-
human, were subject to his nod, was an inference from their trust
in him. He had promised to make them victorious over their
enemies and to vindicate righteousness in their midst; and how
could they rely on these promises if the God who made them had
rivals who might thwart his action? He must therefore be omnipo-
tent and the governor of the whole world. All the forces and con-
junctions of forces that carry on the world must be secretly his
single force and must conform to his eternal design. This insight in-
deed outruns, if you follow it far enough, the principle of monarchic
theism: because a ruler presupposes a society needing his control,
but prone to elude it. The omnipotence of a monarchical God must
remain potential. He can bring anything he wishes about; but there
are other forces at play, which require manipulation.

Thus die relations between man and God in this system are exter-
nal and political. The two are conceived to be collateral powers
within the same universe, but so unequal in strength that man is at
the mercy of God. Yet not brutally, as if they were radically
enemies. Both are living and moral beings, like a king and his sub-

MONARCHICAL THEISM

jects. There is a natural affinity between them in spite of their
different status. We are creatures that God loves to see alive in his
world. We are, as it were, his pet animals. And when anyone has
pet animals, however wild they may have been at first, he inevitably
tends to tame them; for something in him tells him that they can be
tamed, that there is a fundamental possibility of understanding and
friendship between them and him. Wildness itself, with its brave
virtues, has a deep charm for them both; and its presence quickens
their mutual sympathy by the very sense that this sympathy can
never degenerate into servitude or amalgamation. Something free
and secret will always subsist in the heart of each. Nevertheless,
affinity leads to familiarity, and familiarity tends to assimilation; so
that dangerous differences gradually disappear, and harmless differ-
ences come to be expected and even prized.

Such harmony between diverse natures is usually established by
mutual adaptation, as among friends or married people; but be-
tween an absolute monarch and his subjects the assimilation, at least
ostensibly, has to take place chiefly on one side. It is by being
obsequious that courtiers tempt or wheedle a king, or ministers
guide him; though for the public he may figure as the sole legis-
lator and judge. It is chiefly in these capacities that Jehovah made
himself known. They manifested his special solicitude for his
people, and at the same time his absolute and terrible authority.
His very anger was caused by his love, because his beloved people
forgot and disobeyed him. Had he not commanded them for their
own good? His was not the brutal dominion of the herdsman over
his cattle or the slave-driver over his captives, but fundamentally
sympathetic, for in their maturity they were predestined to govern
themselves by the very precepts which, by use of the rod, he had
imposed on them in their foolish childhood. In the end their wild
passions would yield in them to the legal and judicial mind. The
relation of God to man might then be compared to that of the
huntsman and his dogs: they hunt together. The wolf and the fox
are their common enemies; and some special dogs may even be

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

trained to keep the straying flock of the Lord’s sheep within due
limits.

Monarchical theism may also be led to moralise the divine nature
in itself, no less than in its action upon human fortunes. Man may
then come to believe that besides sharing the psychic essence of
God, by merely being alive and having thoughts of any kind, he
shares also God’s particular purposes and judgments. There may
still be moral conflicts between God and man, because of man’s
blind passions and disobedience; but there may also be positive sym-
pathy and cooperation between them in concrete matters, as in wars
or in religious customs and cults.

This faith is a distinctive trait of Hebrew religion. Such a persua-
sion is morally encouraging in all worldly undertakings. Unfortu-
nately, when undertakings have a long span and memory retains the
phases they have passed through, events seldom confirm the
original prophecies; yet the normal result of such disappointments
is not to destroy religious faith but on the contrary to exalt and
transform it into a more spiritual system. If God has not given his
servants the reward they expected, it must be because they had set
their hearts on unworthy objects. The true good should be con-
ceived more heroically, so that material disasters may seem insig-
nificant or positively favourable to the soul. At the same time the
prospect may be transferred to another life in another world, so
that earthly fortunes lose their finality, and may be instrumental in
bringing about ultimate prosperity, even in material things. The
moral cooperation of God with man may thus be reaffirmed in any
case by making the necessary new postulates.

In the books of Job and Ecclesiastes certain perils of speculation
began to appear in regard to monarchical theism. They were ulti-
mately met by ignoring or transcending natural philosophy and
public history and enthroning the moral sense in their place as the’
true seat of authority. Tradition and the fear of the Lord were not
thereby jeopardised. In Job they are saved by prophesying that in
the end the just man will always be vindicated and publicly re-

MONARCHICAL THEISM

warded by a miraculous abundance of this world’s goods. In Eccle-
siastes the solution is more subtle and somewhat ambiguous. The
wise man is rewarded by his very wisdom and resignation. Experi-
ence of the vanity of human wishes brings philosophic calm to the
sage. Yet in both cases, without expressly noting it, the idea of God
is itself modified. Instead of representing the manifest powers of
nature and fortune, the idea of God now represents the authority of
reason and conscience. Sanctions for this authority are indeed
posited to follow, either naturally in the peace of a pious con-
formity with fate, or miraculously by a final reversal of fortune in
favour of the just man. Even so, it is now in oneself, not in the
thunder or the whirlwind, that the voice of the Lord is to be heard,
enjoining this resignation or promising that reward. It is heard in
the heart; and if what is heard in the heart comes at length to be
heard also from the clouds, or from the public voice, this is itself a
sheer miracle that interrupts the expected course of nature, ex-
pressly to satisfy the needs or the feelings of man. Religion thus
comes to be based on the belief in miracles, not on the study of the
normal ways of God in nature and history.

Here we may detea a reversion from prophetic wisdom to popu-
lar piety; for the people see the hand of God only in exceptional
events, be they joyful or terrible. If all the passengers but one
perish in a shipwreck, God is devoudy thanked, and perhaps a
tablet set up in the church to celebrate that merciful exception;
while the rest of the passengers and crew are felt to have been the
natural victims of winds and waves. Theologically, however, it
would have been more consistent to attribute their fate to divine dis-
pleasure at their sins, and the salvation of the one survivor to his
special piety, or to the prayers of his pious friends. Thus mon-
archical theism may be kept alive in a world felt to be disobedient
to God or independent of him, by introducing a secret network of
miracles, by which the accidental conjunaions of things and the
wickedness of our enemies are turned into means of grace for the
purification of our chosen souls.

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

Speculatively, however, monarchical theism can hardly allow that
the world is ever disobedient to God or independent of him in any
respect. A man may indeed be free to disobey any one of God’s
explicit commands, this liberty being given him because God pre-
fers that he should have it, and knows how to fulfil his own inten-
tions all the more gloriously by crushing and eternally punishing
such rebellions. But this solution, proper to strictly monarchical
theism, as preserved for instance in Islam, may not altogether
satisfy the sense of justice in gentle minds: and these must either
bow to divine power raised above justice, or not attribute power to
deity at all, but only an ideal supremacy like that of truth, beauty
and perfection.

It was only, as it were, by accident that the ancient Hebrews
stumbled upon such speculative notions: the refinements of their
religion took instead a lyrical and penitential turn, as in the Psalms.
Their instinct, when a speculative mystery presents itself, may be
detected in the third chapter of Exodus where Moses, in colloquy
with the Lord, suddenly cries: Behold , when come unto the chil-
dren of Israel and shall say unto them , The God of your fathers
bath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name?
what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I am that
I am. . . . Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, i am
hath sent me unto you . Here is a profoundly enigmatic text to
delight the metaphysician. Several systems might be deduced from
it: that God is a name for Being or for Personality, or for the tran-
scendental Ego. But presently an alternative more intelligible to the
Jews is offered us: Thus shalt thou say, unto the children of Israel,
The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of
Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name
for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations . It almost
seems now as if that sublime first answer, i am that I am, had been
a refusal on God’s part to name or to explain himself. Perhaps what
God may be in himself is beyond human cognisance; and we should
be content to conceive and to name him after that which he is for us.
In any case, we hear no more of this question.

MONARCHICAL THEISM

Another fugitive oracle of a radically metaphysical kind appears
at the end of the New Testament, where the seventh angel of the
Apocalypse swears that when his voice begins to sound the mystery
of God will be finished and there will be time no longer. There are
intuitions, like that of eternity, that are intrinsically simple and
clear, but become confused when spoken of in terms, like temporal
terms, that are complex and dialectically elusive. Here, for in-
stance, we are told that time will cease at a certain time and will not
continue thereafter; so that the clear notion of timelessness, con-
tained in every logical relation, is contradicted by being embedded
in the medium of time. It cannot be at a certain time that time shall
be no longer, but only at a certain height, in a certain synthesis, that
time ceases to be enacted and is merely pictured as the truth about
time. In this way all times would be present ideally to the dateless
mind of God. With goodwill, however, we may neglect those
verbal contradictions and be satisfied with the glimpse they give us
of something beyond our habitual limitations. If we hear of a time
when time shall be no longer, we need not trouble to object that
that would be only a later time. Instead, we may understand that
we are invited to transcend the physical accident of our place and
time, and are to avail ourselves of our changeful status the better to
survey existence in memory and forethought, so as to taste the ideal
fruits of time without ceasing to undergo its material currents.

It appears, then, that monarchical theism, if more anthropo-
morphic than the monotheism of philosophers, for that very reason
is more fertile in moral implications and may develop into richer
religions. In representing God as a monarch we symbolise the rela-
tions of mankind to the external conditions of life, and quicken our
respect for the powers of nature. By representing God as a lawgiver
and judge we fortify and sanction the lessons of the arts and the
voice of wisdom and conscience. If this humanism stops at the
threshold of certain ultimate insights, which would disintoxicate it
too much, it is positively favourable to speculation in other direc-
tions. For instance, when the image of a divine monarch is softened
into that of a heavenly father, more is gained than a merely senti-

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
fluent al comfort; for it is truer to nature to conceive that our exist-
ence is derived, that we have been generated from kindred sources,
than to conceive that we have been created by a sudden and inten-
tional act of the divine will. If the creator is also our father, the
affinity of our nature to his must be congenital. His commands must
be friendly to us and must guide us towards the form of life that
vc sfciouid wish for ourselves if we knew our true possibilities. On
th_e other hand the idea of a creator, acting with deliberation and
futll foreknowledge of the issue, raises the intellectual and moral
fa-col ties of man to an ultimate supremacy, since they are repre-
se nterd to belong preeminently to God. These modifications or ex-
te:nsic}AS of monarchical theism lead to interesting alternatives in
religious sentiment, which it may be worth while to consider before
broaching directly the notion of God in man.
THE CONCEPT OF CREATION

“Creation” is a term with interesting implications which, as far as
I know, have not been carefully examined. In its inspiration this
idea is a refinement within monarchical theism. The image of The
Lord ceases to represent directly the elemental powers of nature or
the obscure forces that govern history; it becomes instead the image
of an omnipotent magician, calling forth nature and history out of
nothing according to a plan dear to his solitary mind. The idea of
God remains anthropomorphic but is made more selective and
exalted. God no longer battles with circumstances, but calmly enacts
as if by deputy a premeditated drama. In its unintended implica-
tions, however, this notion of creation tends to transform divine
supremacy into something less intentional, less life-like, and more
like the ideas of fate, of truth, and of the good.

The keynote is struck in the famous words: God said let there
be light . And there was light . God therefore preexisted in time;
and the philosophic gloss, to the effect that time could not exist
before there was a world in motion, while true in itself, does not
render timeless this dramatic fiat of creation, as Genesis describes
it. What the gloss proves is rather that creation can only occur
within an already existing and living universe. The Creator in
Genesis is a prehistoric being, living in time, revolving ideas in his
mind, taking pleasure in some of them, and exerdng magical
powers to bring objects like those ideas into existence. Thus he will

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

render them also living and himself will live more vividly in their
society.

Moreover, no mind could ever have framed the fiat, let there he
light , unless the word ‘light” already signified something definite, a
distinct idea of light breaking forth amid primeval darkness. Then
by a miraculous power of evocation, God might cause that idea to
be realised materially, and might actually see the light that before
he had only thought of. And as he found the idea good, he now
finds the realisation of it very good.

Creation thus involves psychological and moral processes going
on in a preexisting mind. It is a thoroughly anthropomorphic and
mythological conception, appropriately heightening the normal ex-
perience of artists and poets into miraculous powers. It is therefore
perfectly consonant with monarchical theism. God is represented as
a living God, with a human mind and heart marvellously enlarged
and endowed with overwhelming power. If, then, scientific investi-
gation could go back far enough, it would discover the fact of
creation, not creation of the universe, which includes the life of
God, but creation of this earth and sky, and this era in the march of
existence; just as, if scientific prophecy could go forward far
enough, it would come to the Day of Judgment and the beginning
of another life in another world. This is what the Bible, and espe-
cially the Gospels, expressly teach: and any explanation that spirits
away this material past and this material future is incompatible
with the Qirisdan faith.

Such, for instance, is the view that identifies creation with evolu-
tion, and spreads out the divine fiat, as it were, throughout the
biological development of living creatures. Everyone would in a
manner be creating himself, and his ancestors must have been doing
so from all eternity. In this would lie the free will of individuals,
the very essence of life, and if we like to call it so, the stress of
divine creation: for God would be perpetually creating himself by
this process. But to begin by creating oneself is an impossibility,
since one must have existed first in order to do it. We must all,

THE CONCEPT OF CREATION

then, have existed throughout infinite past time in some form in-
creasingly different, as we recede, from our present condition. We
must all have been parts of the plastic stress by which God or the
universe is perpetually transformed. And this so-called creative
evolution must have gone on without the least foresight of what
it was going to become. It would then not have been creation at all,
but automatic perpetual blind metamorphosis: just what in fact
goes on in nature, as a scientific materialism conceives nature.

This automatism when animals by trial and error have painfully
learned to make their way in the world ceases to be blind; for then
we can foresee and intend a great part of what we do, particularly
when well-trained in some art; and we can often, when circum-
stances have not materially varied, bring about exactly what we have
learned to intend. Here is the experience that inspires us with the
idea of creation. Intelligence has arisen: it has become prophetic
of the course of nature in general and of the capacity of its own
organs; also prophetic, though more vaguely, of people’s immanent
thoughts and feelings: of what they are full of and able to do and
say, although when the moment comes their performance is prob-
ably rather different. Yet the ideal of commanding themselves and
commanding the environment looms before diem, and when they
are competent that ideal is actually realised. But it is not the
images in the mind or the hopes of the heart that work this happy
result. It is on the depth of the physical impression retained from
things and on the vital readiness with which an “acquired reflex”
or organic trope has adjusted itself to those circumstances that in-
sight and intelligent action depend: so that the miraculous har-
monies that suggest to us the idea of creation follow on our plas-
ticity to the world that we profess to create. There is indeed in every
living being an individual centre of reaction and preparation, a
brain and a seed. In preserving and expressing ourselves we may
transform our habitat; but this is only because we have inserted
ourselves opportunely into that habitat, drawn in power from
ambient powers, and consented to grow into what this occasion

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

favoured and the stealthy concourse of events was destined to
support.

So much for the notion of self-creation applied to cosmology:
but at the other pole of philosophy, in politics and morals, that
notion proves no less incoherent. It abandons the moral advantages
possessed by monarchical theism. For instead of securing a divine
sanction for the teachings of human wisdom, an evolution without
divine foreknowledge or design invites ripe wisdom and high
ideals to yield to little pushes of blind instinct, and to lose them-
selves in the romantic uncertainty and plastic divinity of everything.

Orthodox theology, without abandoning monarchical theism and
the kindred doctrine of creation, softens as well as it can the too
human character ascribed by tradition to the deity. The fiat of
creation indeed had a date in earthly chronology, yet subsists tune-
lessly in God, whose life contains the vibrations and inner tensions
of existence but contains them unchangeably. So, in regard to the
future and to politics and morals, divine decrees and command-
ments remain invariable, but are eternally suitable in each case to
its special circumstances: for God always sees every temporal event,
and sees it always in all its relations. Christianity has no fear of
making God unreal by making him perfect. It knows of a better
way of making him human.

All the arts teach us that we may control matter if we respect it,
and may find peace in the truth if we dare to see it. This secular
wisdom is well translated into religious terms in monarchical
theism. God is autocratic, an absolute lawgiver and a severe judge;
yet he is approachable. Submit; submit even to suffering and death
in your innocence, as Christ, who was God himself made man,
voluntarily submitted; and you will thereby be raised to heroic part-
nership with your master. You will learn to wish what he wishes,
and to see things as he sees them; and as he begins to dominate
in you, you will begin to dominate with him. Plodding along this
round-about path you will reach your goal, or at least come within
sight of it; whereas flying about on the young wings of Icarus, you

THE CONCEPT OF CREATION

will find breathing every hour more difficult, sight every moment
more blurred, until you collapse exhausted and unrewarded.

Symbols, however (and all religious ideas are symbols), when
taken for pictures of additional facts, have a deceptive side, and
may misrepresent the occasions that suggested them. So the en-
thusiastic cry of the Hebrews that their God was almighty and ever-
lasting went beyond the actual events that provoked it, such as the
passage of the Red Sea or the conquest of Palestine. What these
wonders proved was only that the God of Israel was, then and
there, more powerful than his enemies, and could outlive them.
That he would do so always and everywhere was only an inspired
inference: it was faith. And even if this faith should be repeatedly
confirmed by even greater marvels, it would follow only that this
God could maintain his empire for a long rime , longer perhaps than
human foresight can trouble about; but if he is a being leading a
life through time, there is no knowing, he cannot himself know,
what fate may await him. So a God who makes the world, and
manifests his wisdom by fashioning it in ways that it could never
have fallen into of its own accord, proves that he has an imagina-
tion and an ascendancy capable of remodelling the reality that he
finds at hand, as does every artisan and every ruler. But had he an
instantaneous and unconditional power over all things, he would
neither require to devise means to his ends nor leave traces in his
work of difficulties vanquished or purposes pursued. Yet these
traces of things done to nature which nature could never do are the
proofs of his intervention and of his existence. If his presence has
been felt overwhelmingly, it has been at the sight of miracles; for
he is the unseen power that has visibly circumvented the inertia or
the explosiveness of matter and the well-laid plans of our wicked
enemies. He and his power, in our actual experience and conviction,
are therefore finite, specific, and not identical with the univetsal
drift and natural issue of events: they are one element working at
present victoriously amongst other elements. If in our enthusiasm
we proclaim him to be absolute, we are unwittingly introducing

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

into our conception of him an element that will undermine that
conception and our whole religious faith.

An absolute omniscience and omnipotence can only be ascribed
to God if we transfer the argument to the plane of eternity. Events
will then be all synthesised into the truth about them, and the
beginning of anything will not be the sole cause of the end nor will
the end alone be the reason for the beginning. The will of God
will then coincide with the history of the universe. Facts may re-
main contingent and free acts free in relation to one another; yet the
whole series possessing this texture will have been surveyed and
called into existence by an eternal fiat of the divine will. This act
of God, though itself free and contingent, will form an integral
part of God’s life: he can never have existed before or without it.
Therefore all the trepidation and insecurity proper to monarchical
theism belongs only to the shifting perspectives proper to beings
living in time. In God there would be no drama, but only vision. He
would, properly speaking, create nothing, but simply perceive and
bless all that exists as the perfect expression of his will.

This treatment of the matter assumes, however, an uncommon
interest in ideal categories such as truth, essence, and eternity:
whereas the Hebraic mentality was thoroughly positivistic. It culti-
vated legend and history, and loved to diversify its positivism with
the most stupendous miracles, such as the seven plagues of Egypt
and the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea between two
walls of water. The charm of these wonders was precisely that they
were material facts, as real as those of every day, yet marvellous,
and worked by God for the sake of his chosen people. This mental-
ity persists in the Gospels and even in the theology of the Church,
in spite of the strong Platonic influence that had helped to mould it.
Truth and eternity, and essences of every grade, could not be over-
looked altogether; but there was a strong tendency to materialise
them, eternity being assimilated to everlasting time and truth to
opinions that the believer was unable or unwilling to doubt. Ideal-
ism is fundamentally hostile to Christian orthodoxy. Instead of

THE CONCEPT OF CREATION

nature morally knit together by ideal bonds, theology offers us
nature interrupted and completed by the supernatural:

Praestet fides supplementum

sensuum defectui .

In the Pauline theory of the potter and the day and in Moslem
sentiment the full consequences of the idea of creation are accepted.
God is not only omnipotent potentially but omnificent actually:
everything that happens and everything we do or think is his work.
The spirit in us must humbly and if possible joyously accept the
position assigned to it for the fuller glory of God. But in popular
Judaism and Christianity the fiat of creation is not felt to be the
only and omnipotent ground of events: either a preexistent matter
— the waters over which the wind of evolution sweeps — or the
free will of rational souls must cooperate, or both these uncreated
sources. They must be uncreated, so that they may be responsible
instead of God for the regrettable side of things. That God should
have planned and imposed this regrettable side also is incompatible
with a religion based entirely on morals. Omnificence would free
God from human morality: a consequence welcome to monarchical
theism and to unprejudiced speculation, but too unhomely for
limited and earnest humanists. Orthodox theologians steer anx-
iously amid these cross-currents. They are pledged to the doctrine
that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing: the
inertia of matter cannot, then, be invoked, as by the Platonists, to
explain imperfection in the result. And free will, though admitted
and sometimes emphasised, cannot serve in the end to construct a
theodicy : for God had foreknowledge of the ill use that men would
make of their liberty, and of the eternal punishment they would
suffer for it; and nevertheless he chose to create that world, and to
aid sinners in the commission of all their chosen crimes: for with-
out him they could neither have existed, nor willed or accomplished
anything. Divine responsibility for the entire course of creation
therefore remains complete. God was hampered by no conditions.

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

occasions, or hindrances in choosing the world he chose, and in
every particular it exactly fulfils his intention.

This is not merely a logical implication of tenets that might be
abandoned: it belongs to the inmost nature of religion. God must
be omniscient: he would be less divine than the truth, if he were
not the truth personified. He must be the silent witness that
searches all hearts, that knows us better than we know ourselves,
and is the eternal haven in all doubts and errors. He must there-
fore be also omnipotent, commanding all events throughout eter-
nity: otherwise he would be as miserably subject as we are to
surprises coming from quarters beyond his control or calculation.
There would be no more peace in his bosom than in ours; and his
promises would lapse like human covenants when unexpected de-
velopments rendered them inapplicable to the facts.

Nevertheless, within the created world there need be no logical
necessity. All events may remain contingent, all laws ideally change-
able and perhaps actually plastic or only approximately applicable
even when they apply. Human choices in particular may be utterly
unpredictable by any anthropologist, historian or psychologist, and
intimately inexplicable to the man himself who makes them, or in
whom they occur. But then, paradoxically, the more groundless our
choices seem, the less they seem to be ours: and absolute freedom
comes round again to absolute fatality. I think there is a word that
might solve this ancient riddle. It would come to us if we distin-
guished clearly the physical from the moral order. Contingency in
the physical order is quite irrelevant to freedom in the spirit or to
responsibility of a moral sort. If I heartily love my transgressions,
and am ready to stick to them forever, I am spiritually one with
them, no matter what causes or antecedents might explain my love
according to the usual course of nature. If, on the contrary, I hate
my transgressions, or hate my hypocritical virtues, God will not
charge me with them, seeing that they were contrary to my free
will, and only imposed on my ignorance and helplessness by forces
hostile to my moral nature and hidden heart. Moral freedom,

THE CONCEPT OF CREATION

therefore, does not lie in an alleged magic power to produce events
contrary to the course of nature; it lies only in the physically undis-
coverable love of the spirit for that which it truly loves. The will is
free, not because it is uncaused historically, but because it is a moral
choice and allegiance by its very nature. For, as Saint Augustine
asks: Quid magis in voluniate quam ipsa voluntas? Love, which has
obvious biological grounds as a vital habit, is spiritually the first
possible seat, instance, and essence of freedom.

Now the creative fiat of God is a primary case of this moral free-
dom. Unlike a physical force, his will chooses and summons that
which it loves. If he was an omniscient spirit, the whole realm of
essence lay before him, all as yet non-existent, save the essence of
spirit, fully realised in his own omniscience and moral freedom.
Nothing external could prompt him or thwart him in choosing
what he loved or in bidding it exist. His moral responsibility for
creation is therefore absolute; and the fiat which we describe as if it
were an event is really an eternal and changeless act of self-expres-
sion; or as the theologians put it, God makes the world for his own
glory. Leibnitz preferred to say that God chooses the best of pos-
sible worlds, since no other reason for his choice is conceivable; and
nothing, Leibnitz thought, could happen without a reason. Cer-
tainly any world chosen unchangeably in the clear presence of all
the worlds possible must have been the best loved by God, and the
best loved by him for all eternity. Monarchical theism requires us
in turn to call that choice good. Yet if God had chosen differently —
and his choice was admittedly free — a different world would have
been the best in his eyes. Therefore in saying that this world was
chosen because in itself absolutely it was the best, we are using the
language of a courtier, such as Leibnitz was. In reality, nothing can
be good absolutely but only in relation to some living being who
needs or loves it; and it is impossible that there should be a reason
for everything, or for anything fundamental, such as the will of
God or the nature of things. And if we wish to be quite honest we
should say that the only meaning in asserting that this is the best

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS
of possible worlds is that it was the best in God’s eyes, and that he
chose it.

Creation therefore presupposes monarchical theism, and like the
latter is an anthropomorphic idea and metaphorical. But it is bor-
rowed from a more intellectual and better integrated side of human
nature: not from the violent and capricious despot, but from the
artist or poet, who works collectedly and expresses his inmost
thoughts uninterrupted by any alien influence. Yet the two phases
are but developments of the same masterful life; since a monarch
must meditate his designs and measure the capacity and goodwill
of his various servants: so that in the end, if he reflected enough, he
would come to form a coherent ideal of policy and a coherent
notion of the virtues to be esteemed in man. He would thus turn his
government, if he could, into his creation, and his children into the
dream of his heart.

At the same time the notion of God as creator tightens the moral
relation between him and us. From being political, this relation
becomes intimately moral and spiritual. No non-religious side sub-
sists any longer in our virtue. We cannot escape God’s eye or cir-
cumvent his plans in any particular. We cannot, with a good con-
science, set up our own preferences, even when innocent, against
his: for now he represents not so much our environment as the best
part of ourselves. Our playfulness has become frivolous in his sanc-
tuary; and we are gradually driven to attempt to transform our
nature into a complete unanimity with his. Creation, though a pic-
torial and historical image, thus introduces us to ultimate spiritual
problems that transcend the monarchical theism to which creation
itself belongs.
THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD

In the Old Testament the name of Father is hardly ever given to
God, although it is a natural poetic variant on the names of Creator
and Lord. It is used spontaneously in other religions when the feel-
ing of kinship with our sources and our surroundings becomes
vivid: for a father is a source of our being that, unlike the ambient
elements, wears our own form and species; and he is a master that,
unlike a king, lives with us familiarly and knows and loves us in-
dividually. The Chosen People, however, were satisfied with this
title, and not inclined to claim descent from God. To be chosen is
in one sense a greater compliment than to be begotten. It implies
a moral rather than a physical bond; it forms a political covenant
and inspires flattering hopes.

In the New Testament, however, Christ not only continually calls
God his Father, but teaches his disciples to call him so: something
that in their case could be taken only in a figurative sense. Yet this
figurative sense marks the complete revolution that had already
taken place in the religion of the Evangelists. They were Jews, but
they had broken with their nation, abandoned political hopes, and
looked for the speedy end of this world and the coming of a
Heavenly Kingdom where Jews and Gentiles, if inwardly trans-
formed, might be equal in glory. Now in the cadre of this faith,
Christ’s impulse to assimilate his disciples to his own sonship had
an extraordinary magic. For he was the Son of God in a sense not
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

so much literal as superlative. As he had had no father on earth,
so he had had no mother in heaven, but was bom miraculously and
perpetually from the divine substance like Athena (who also repre-
sented wisdom) from the brain of Zeus. This mystery was ulti-
mately defined in the Nicene Creed by declaring that Christ was
begotten, not made: a most pregnant pronouncement that, at the
roots of being, substitutes the principle of generation for that of
creation.

For the Evangelists the matter had not become so metaphysical.
They conceived it pictorially: that as God has always been King in
heaven, so Christ had always been his Son there, whence he had
been sent down on his earthly mission. And in these terms, too, the
command, coming from the lips of Christ, to call God our Father,
seems a mark of singular affection and generosity on his part; for
we, who are creatures, are encouraged to assimilate our relation to
God to Christ’s congenital and eternal sonship. This is not impos-
sible, because a part of us, the spirit in us, though created, is created
in God’s image, as if it were generated from him spontaneously, like
Christ, who is his Word or his Thought; and in recalling this
similitude to divine descent in ourselves, we are led to aspire to such
a union with God as only identity of nature could render possible.

The inner economy of divine life lies beyond my subject, since it
is not broached in the Gospels; yet it may be useful to observe
that “generation” and “procession,” notions that figure in the
dogma of the Trinity, are logically equivalent to what we now call
“evolution” or “dialectical development,” the difference being only
that in the natural world it takes time for the implicit to become
explicit, whereas in the ideal sphere, as for instance in mathematics,
implication involves no change and may be surveyed in any direc-
tion, as between a whole and its parts, or between subject, predicate
and assertion. Now this dialectical relation of “generation” or
“procession,” which theology posits in the Trinity, polytheism,
pantheism and naturalism (when the latter becomes poetical or
religious) posit between God and man. God lives in all the parts.

THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD

every part lives in God; and divinity lies neither in the specific
nature of any part nor in the passive unity of the whole, but in
the inseparable life flowing through all, so that neither can any
part exist Tby itself, nor the whole without any of the precise parts
that compose it. Such an economy of mutual implication Christian
theology ascribes to the divine life, but not to the relation between
God and man, where it maintains the principles of creation and
monarchical theism. By this distinction it preserves two things
essential to Christian faith: the unity of God, in spite of the vital
dialectic distinguishing the persons within that unity; and the
moral and political relations of man to God. Such relations would
lapse, if the dependence of the creature on the Creator were turned
into interdependence between the two, so that the world with all
its evils were made necessary to God’s existence. Union with him
would not then be the goal of any specific moral or spiritual aspira-
tion. It would be achieved materially willy-nilly, whatever one was;
and it might be enlarged ideally, not by purifying one’s own nature,
but by extending one’s participation in life in every direction.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son we may see how Christian
sentiment conceives the fatherhood of God. The bond of kinship
remains fundamental. The two sons are neither their father’s slaves
nor his creatures: they are his heirs; he has begotten them without
predetermining their personal characters, and he loves them both
with a certain anxiety about their fate and a certain respect for
their independence. When the younger one has claimed his por-
tion and wasted it, he is welcomed back without reproaches. But
observe the Christian revulsion supervening: the prodigal vehe-
mently reproaches himself; and without claiming any rights of
kinship, begs to be received as a servant. Yet a feast is prepared
to celebrate his return; and we feel that his union with his father
will henceforth be far warmer and closer than his dutiful brother’s,
because he has a humbler and a larger heart.

Here we have a perfect picture of orthodox Christian sentiment
about the fatherhood of God. The bond of blood, the community

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

of nature, is presupposed and pulls strongly in both directions: but
it is felt socially and morally, in terms of monarchical theism, rather
than biologically. The Father is the Creator, the Master, the Judge,
not the cosmic process of evolution; and the true union to be estab-
lished with him is moral and spiritual. It is the conventional
worldly son who will inherit the estate and deserves to inherit it.
The prodigal who had other dreams also had another reward:
because the universe and our bodily life are not made in the image
of God; it is not they that are our Father; only the spirit in us is
of his race; and, when it conquers the flesh in us, it allows us to
become really his children by a regeneration and readoption, like
that of the Prodigal.

In reality the material bounty of God in creating and preserving
the world, with those picturesque beauties which it wears to the
human eye, is not fatherly; it is simply procreative. Seeds of every-
thing are scattered broadcast; some take root, for if none did the
seeds themselves would not be reproduced. Universal sterility
would prevail, and would cease to be an evil to anybody. But
matter is full of potentiality. Everything seems to arise, or to
threaten to arise, that can do so, and whatever circumstances permit
at any point becomes actual there. We are planted, we are fos-
tered; like the lilies of the field and the sparrows, some of us at
least for a season find nourishment and protection enough to exist
and to grow into what it was in us to be. But we are not insured
against disaster: no provision is made for us in the long run. On
the contrary, we are internally predestined to decay, even if the
circumstances are favourable; and meantime we are at best endowed
with the brave impulse to take our fighting chance. Vitality in us
is indeed sometimes too timorous to accept this adventure without
guarantees; and we attribute every happy accident to a special
providence, and invoke divine favour for the future also. But this
is an act of self-encouraging faith. It is true that we owe whatever
good comes to us to God: but gratitude becomes presumption
when a favour received seems to us a pledge of favours to come

THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD

ad infinitum. This assurance does not rest on observation of
the ways of God in nature or history: it rests on revelation, which
itself rests on inspiration overmastering experience and taking itself
for a surer guide to the truth. The fatherliness attributed to God,
therefore, is attributed either by resolute faith or by sentimental
weakness; in either case it involves belief in revelation. It reasserts
monarchical theism, and expeas miracles as much as does the
original faith of the Jews that they were the chosen people.

Fatherhood in nature, biological fatherhood, by no means in-
volves the proteaion and indulgence that the poetry of home lends
to the word “father.” Much less does the indiscriminate fertility of
matter involve any loving-kindness. Nature has no horror of the
things that horrify us: infinity, emptiness, monotony, repetition,
madness, waste, pain, slaughter, utter destruaion. She is, of course,
not intentionally cruel: her cruelties are inevitable incidents of her
irrepressible propulsion in every direction at once. She brings
everything she can into existence, no matter how brief, how tor-
mented, or how troublesome that abortion may be. Now a father,
if he were really concerned about the welfare of his children,
would never bring them into the world without a reasonable pros-
pea of finding a place for them there in which they might live
well. But no such thought arrests the brutes or arrests the natural
man in their impulse to multiply. In all species the waste of seeds
is prodigious, and even the waste of births. And in the human
family, though the parental instina is strong while the offspring
are young and helpless, really unselfish and sympathetic care for
the children is far from general: what is general is a conventional
treatment of them, such as is convenient in the house or prescribed
by custom or social pride. Where tenderness and forgiveness are
found at all it is usually in the mother: the father retains the
monarchical character of judge and source of supplies, with whom
friendship, if it exists, turns on intellectual, moral and political
guidance on his part, rather than on personal intimacy or sense
of kinship. The analogy of the typical human father does not.

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

therefore, carry us far towards the truly Christian idea of God. It
is rather the analogy of monarch and voluntary creator that remains
dominant in this religion.

Nevertheless, generation runs much deeper, both in the idea of
Christ and in the actual economy of spirit, than does the relation
of ruler to subject or of designer to anything designed. The most
absolute king is not responsible for his people or for his ministers:
his subjects are such as fate has given him, and his ministers such
as impose themselves on him and on their following by their arts.
The nominal ruler seldom has the skill or initiative to remodel
them after his own heart. He rules by obeying. He has to be a
man of his own time, of his own court, of his own army. These
are more responsible for him than he is for them. Even when he
has a strong character and occasions arise for him to exert it
efficaciously, the ultimate results will not be what he foresaw or
desired. All will grow of itself out of the same obscure network
of causes that made him what he was: and to float down that
stream in good weather, or swim against it desperately in some
adverse flood, will be the crowning manifestation of his power.

Nor is automatism less fundamental where the material worked
upon is comparatively malleable, and the operation secret or pri-
vate, as it is for the poet or artist. We commonly speak as if artists
and poets were possessed from the beginning with definite ideas,
which it was a simple process of copying to carry out materially.
But if the creator were a pure spirit, with ideas perfectly dear and
fixed, the reproduction of them in words or in matter would be a
sheer mirade, as the creation is in Genesis. The normal creator
must belong to the same world as his works: he must first have
been, in his own person, one of its automatic products. He must
have eyes, tongue and hands to watch the world he would master,
and to insert into it at the right place and moment the little word or
the little push that, working in it, may transform it. And in living
minds the idea of a world, as it is or as it should be, does not arise
of its own accord but in behalf of needs and impulses already

THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD

rooted in the animal soul. In reality it is always one world that
generates another, however great may be the transformation
brought about spontaneously by some sudden explosion or in some
established cycle of vital phases. Nor is such a cycle invariable.
Accidents may modify it, as accidents originally led it to settle
down into a particular round.

Even if we allow (what is frankly superstitious) the magic
power of an idea, still disembodied, to materialise itself without
the aid of any material concurrence, it will still be automatism
that does the vital work. For suppose a poet laboriously composing
a sonnet. The result will be called a creation of his, not a product
of undirected evolution. Yet the more original is the guiding idea,
the more inspired and unforeseen it will have been. It was gen-
erated in him he knows not why or by what process; so was the
impulse to express it in words. And for this purpose he must adopt
an extant language. And why has he been tamely led to compress
and expand it, so that it may exactly fill out a conventional literary
mould? Or perhaps, if he is ashamed of such servility, he may
heroically discard all known meters, and even all intelligible lan-
guage, so as to be more spontaneous and creative. But unfortunately
the better he succeeds in this endeavour, the greater will be the
part of his work casually evolved and the smaller the part de-
liberately chosen. The vital force of artistic creation is thus due
entirely to automatic and undirected processes.

Now it is when we are spontaneous that we most truly express
or betray ourselves: and a spirit thoroughly at peace with its sources
and conscious of a power not its own, that flows into it and works
through it, may well give to that power the name of Father: for
such a spirit at once inhabits the world, and yet judges it as does
the God that made it, inheriting his mind, and dispensing in his
name miraculous favours. So at least I understand the insistence
of Christ in the Gospels in calling God by that name, often re-
peating that the Father sent him, and declaring that he and the
Father are one. Here I see spirit recognising its true relation to the

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

universe which gave it birth and of which its organs are a part.
Spirit continues to be wholly dependent as Christ felt himself to
be dependent; it finds itself to be sent, as Christ said he was sent;
it knows, as Christ knew, that it utters what has been laid upon
it to utter and suffers all that has been appointed for it to suffer.
Yet spirit looks also, as Christ looked, towards a return into God’s
bosom, without any loss of its own light or articulation. For
although spirit may seem in one sense foreign to its source, as
light may seem foreign to matter, both- light and spirit being
immaterial, evanescent, and accidental, both are, notwithstanding,
generated in the very depths of the real and the dynamic. It is the
real and the dynamic that they flow from, express, and enrich. In
them reality becomes an object of apprehension and delight in its
own eyes, as God in the mirror of his Word first saw his own
glory.

In this way, as bounty is the essential character of fatherhood in
God, so sonship, or derivativeness, is the essential character of
spirit in nature. Only that in nature spirit is scattered and con-
stantly contradicts or forgets its several utterances; whereas in the
idea of Christ it is conceived to equal the Father’s life in scope and
intensity. Yet even in us those scattered moments which are pure
and true to the impulse that evokes them are our moments of moral
glory: so that if a man could utterly consume and burn up his
substance in kindling that flame, he would not think he had sac-
rificed anything worth having or forfeited his human dignity. On
the contrary, he would be filled with a great pity for all half-realised
and self-contradicting creatures, who never remember anything in
the presence of any other thing, but attend to each only to swallow
it, even if that thing be an idea. The pure, legitimate, divine off-
spring of being is seeing, and the ripe fruit of seeing is compre-
hending. That which biologically is derivative, the Son, becomes
morally the crown and fulfilment of the whole cycle: for without
the Word that utters and reveals the heart the whole dynamism of
the heart would remain barbarous and blind.
MORALISM

The images of king, magician and father are drawn from the
life of man in society. They are humanistic images. Yet they are
turned in religion into images of the origin and government of
the universe. That inspiration should take this mm is intelligible
because the natural forces distinguishable by common sense have
decisive effects on human welfare. They are our greatest friends
and enemies; and poetry as well as prudence has always seen them
in that light. Freely in myth and cautiously in cultus the pagans
had described these ambient influences and sought to propitiate
them; but when monotheism has ascribed all effects to a single
cause, the friendliness or hostility of this universal power becomes
a burning question; and the experience of divine favour or wrath
becomes overwhelming. It becomes so, I mean, for those who feel
intensely and think clearly: as to the vulgar, they continue to be
pagans under all creeds.

Belief in a single God has an inner counterpart in making the
soul single. To what is it that the powers of nature and fortune
may prove friendly or hostile? Is it to one’s nation? Is it to one’s
passions? Is it to some ideal of the mind, such as justice, or order
or intelligibility? If the heart is firmly set on any of these objects,
concentration on that object will make terribly clear the favour or
the wrath of God. And since God is now conceived to be the
only power in the universe, life will become a most dramatic dia-
logue between him and the single soul.
*
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

The Jews had posited that God was the patron of Israel and
the vindicator of righteousness; but Israel was in captivity and the
righteous Job in dire distress. How was this to be explained?
In the case of Israel it might be done by recalling that the Covenant
was conditional. Israel must be faithful to its God and to his Law,
or his protection would be withdrawn. In the case of Job the
matter remained obscure: for an ulterior reward given to his
patience would not justify the sufferings imposed upon him or the
scandal of such misfortunes falling on so good a man. But some
suggestions of Job’s friends, and of the Voice speaking in the
Whirlwind could be afterwards developed in theology into a con-
sistent explanation. Justice and right belong to a social order: they
should govern the relations between beings living under the same
conditions, mutually affecting one another, and in that sense equals.
But God and man do not form a society of equals: man is wholly
dependent on God, and God cannot be affected by anything that
men may do. His will and action are therefore subject to no jus,
to no social justice or right. He lives alone. But he has chosen to
create mankind and to assign to them a natural and also a revealed
Law, commanding them to obey both. The question between them
and God is therefore not what is just or right, but what is licit
or illicit: fas aut nefas. Duties toward God, then, are not rational,
but partly instinctive and partly revealed. And obedience will be
sanctioned not according to any covenant or imposed proportion
to pretended merits, but by grace, and by partial assimilation to
the will and the vision of God himself .

Here a remarkable antinomy arises in the religious mind. Those
names of Lord, Creator, and Father expressed a sense of the human-
ity of God, assimilating him to a king, to a poet or artist endowed
with magical powers, and to a warm-hearted, just, and venerable
patriarch. Religion could then hope to secure divine favour for
human ends. But now, after the message of John the Baptist and

Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologies , Part II, Quest. , Art. ,
especially reply to Objec. .

MORALISM

the crucifixion of Christ, those human ends themselves had to be
dismissed in favour of a religion that was an end in itself: the
coming of God to dwell within man and to superhumanise him.
In orthodox Christianity this antinomy is disguised, because ortho-
doxy sanctions and proteas the natural man and remains charitable
and prudent in its effort to render him spiritual. But among heretics
and in the borderland between monotheism and pantheism the
problem becomes grave. The effort to moralise God or nature, and
to see in God or nature the model for human virtue — an effort
which I call mordism — ends by justifying all evils and dissolving
any definite human morality in theory if not in practice.

Christ in the Gospels is not in the least moralistic. He accepts
as natural the hard economy of nature, where the sun shines on
the just and on the unjust, where to him that hath shall be given,
one taken and another left, and where there shall be weeping and
gnashing of teeth. He seems even to take a certain sad pleasure
in these severities. They manifest the prerogative of God, which is
God’s virtue, as obedience is the virtue of man: obedience and
faith, which is obedience of the heart. He accepts with an even
deeper acceptance the special mission laid upon himself, his hu-
manity, his Passion, his apparent many-sided failure. Over all this
there shines, indeed, a transcendent glory: but this again is a dis-
pensation and triumph of God, not won at all, as moralism prom-
ises, by the proud cultivation of human reason and conscience.
Salvation must come by a special grace, by an unmerited personal
love on the part of God for particular souls, such as was the love
shown by Christ for his Galilean disciples and for the many
wretches that he cured and forgave. To be numbered among them
was their reward for having worshipped God and not having wor-
shipped their own virtue and their own judgments.

Two mistakes seem to me to inhere in moralism: one, that God
cannot be good or worthy of worship unless he obeys the precepts
of human morality; the other, that if God is not good after our
fashion, our own morality is undermined. Regarding the first point

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

I would ask: If God conformed to human morality, could he be
a god at all? Were he bound, for instance, to play the good
Samaritan on every occasion, no man and no animal would ever
suffer any distress; the whole order of nature, with the presuppo-
sitions of human morality, would be abolished. And in thus abol-
ishing the world under pressure of his human conscience, God
would have abolished his own functions as creator, governor, and
father. He would have ceased to be the ideal object of religion.

Touching the second point, it should be observed that the ideal
virtue of any living creature can never depend on the nature of
any other: for this ideal virtue, by definition, is that to which this
living being naturally aspires. God therefore, in creating human
nature, has rendered living and authoritative over mankind the
human ideal of virtue. If human nature changes, this ideal changes
with it. So, once for all or by gradual definition, through instinct,
custom, and the inspiration of prophets, God has imposed on man
rules of conduct suitable to his human condition, together with the
suitable emotions. These rules are inflexible, so long as human
nature and the relevant circumstances remain the same, but are
expressly different according to personal endowment, age, station
and epoch. In order to be living, binding and practicable, laws
must be suited to the living man. Otherwise the voice of conscience
would not confirm them, and true morality would demand reforms
in the morality prescribed. The only righteousness that God vin-
dicates is that which people are capable of and circumstances allow.
In that measure he continually confirms good men in their sense
of duty and honour, and rewards them royally for the appropriate
virtues that they may have developed. But this by no means pledges
him to demand the same virtues from all men or all races or all
worlds. Much less does it pledge him to imitate any of his good
creatures or to resign his absolute freedom and lordship.

Thus conscience and reason may well be called the voice of God
within us, but only as all the voices of nature are his voice, which
all reach us selected and modulated by our special faculties. Such

MORALISM

inspirations deserve respect in the human world; great natural
forces and tragic issues loom behind them. If suppressed in private,
they blow the harder in public; and a man without a conscience
is a monster, as a man without an intellect is an idiot. Yet to wor-
ship these inspirations absolutely would reduce them to super-
stitions. In themselves they are animal cries, ignorant of their causes
and of their true validity. They must be interpreted like dreams
and discounted; for spiritually they suffer a profound transforma-
tion in the light of truth, if this light ever falls upon them.

In regard to the word “good” there is an unfortunate ambiguity.
If by this word we understand kind and charitable, like the good
Samaritan, God might seem not to be prevailingly good. We are
not all born well or happy, and our Creator is not always sensitive
to our needs or desires; very much the opposite, if the orthodox
doctrine of eternal punishments be accepted. But that is not the
primary and vital meaning of the word “good.” Vitally and intrinsi-
cally, good is whatsoever life aspires to in any direction; not, as
in charity or kindness, the confluence of aspiration in one life with
aspiration in another. Now in this primary and vital sense of
goodness, as perfection realised by anything according to its own
nature and standard, God cannot help being absolutely good and
even, as Christ tells us, alone good , since God alone lives and
deploys his being unconditionally, without any hampering or com-
pulsory environment. An omnipotent life, that perpetually achieves
whatever it aspires to, would be good by an intrinsic necessity.
Any external criterion that we choose to judge it by would be
irrelevant and impertinent; and it was moralistic insolence in
Milton to profess to justify the ways of God to man. The justifica-
tion of God’s ways is that he has chosen them. What ultimate
reason can any of us give for loving anything, except that we
love it?

The dialectical irony latent in moralism appears most clearly in
certain personal philosophies, simple and bom full-grown, such,
for example, as those of Marcus Aurelius and of Spinoza. Both

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

these solitary heroes begin by making vehement and sweeping
moral demands, yet both in the end abandon all moralistic claims
in reverence for the divine order of things. Thus Spinoza entitles
his pantheistic cosmology Ethics , because he is led to frame it by
his contempt for pleasure, wealth, and reputation and by his fixed
ambition to ‘enjoy throughout eternity a continual and supreme
happiness.” He professes to have got what he wanted, although
what he actually gains is not eternal happiness but only temporary
happiness in intellectual allegiance to the eternal truth. And he
ends by saying that “one who truly loves God cannot wish that
God should love him in return.” Such sacrificial worship cannot,
indeed, be clouded by events since it rests on complete acquiescence
in whatever may happen; but it expires at each man’s death, and
solves only theoretically, by a desperate contradiction to nature,
all the misfortunes that may precede. Certainly in this “intellectual
love of God” there is great elevation; it brings to a head that in-
flexible courage and honesty that characterise all Spinoza’s think-
ing, even when his pious diction might seem disingenuous: be-
cause his religious emotion was genuine, although its object was
not the object of popular religion. This very limitation of his sym-
pathies has a savage dignity and strength, as it had in many ancient
sages. It presupposes such love and respect for the universal order
of nature as to render contemptible the desire for miracles or
favours for any creature or tribe of creatures. The good that God
loves is meantime being realised in all things; and it includes our
good, in so far as we have the strength and the luck to secure it.
So the Moslems are always praising “the Merciful and the Com-
passionate,” while attributing to his will, as their “portion,” what-
ever misfortunes may overtake them. The logic of this is sound: yet
there is something false in the pretence that it brings happiness and
salvation. It brings resignation or self-contempt or despair; it brings
a savage courage and pride; but it hardens the heart to human
misery and drowns charity in lust. Better, much better, for human
morality to be humane than to be sublime.

The violence done to the human conscience by removing it from

MORALISM

its animal soil appears even more plainly in Marcus Aurelius. This
virtuous emperor had a simple mind; his borrowed technique as a
thinker was lax, not masterly like that of Spinoza. On the other
hand, he possessed the highest breeding and station, and led the life
of a soldier. Like any man who feels out of place in his world,
he habitually set down his solitary thoughts, to console himself
for having nothing to hope for. His philosophy was his religion.
He hugged it as if it were revealed truth or a spar in a shipwreck.
It gave him a melancholy ground for optimism. This radical con-
tradiction was not disguised by him with pious phrases or by the
arts of a sophist. He lived it out.

In man, according to him, besides the body and the breath of
life, there was a guiding principle, x fjyEjxovixov; and this last was
alone distinctive of man and worthy of him. It was his conscience
and reason, and united him morally to the guiding principle of the
universe, which was likewise reason and perfect order. To live
according to nature was the great maxim of the Stoics: a superfluous
maxim, one would think, for how can anything arise in nature
contrary to nature? But many things happen according to the uni-
versal order of nature that are contrary or hostile to the nature of
particular things, because the universal law or truth of nature cannot
be disturbed, but the law of a particular body or mind may easily be
broken by the intrusion of another agent. It is therefore a reasonable
maxim to propose in morals that everything should be true to its
own vocation or innate nature or specific virtue; as it will be if it be
suffered to develop, like God or the universe, unimpeded by any
alien force. Now man had been defined by Aristotle to be a rational
animal; so that when he goes mad, even slightly mad, he contra-
venes his true nature and vocation, which is to be rational. But how,
if he be rational, can he ever demand the impossible, or wish that
anything should happen otherwise than as the order of universal
nature demands? His reason therefore counsels him to conform
willingly to that universal order which he must conform to in any
case: according to the line of Seneca:

Ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt .

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

But is it true, we may ask, that the whole nature of man, or
of woman, is to be rational? An animal is called rational if he can
be rational occasionally, in any degree: and he would cease to be
true to his fundamental nature if he were rational only, pure reason
galvanised, and not an animal at all. Man has also been defined as
the anima l that laughs: but does it follow that he would be false
to his nature if he ever stopped laughing?

By this equivocation, apparently so childish, the most virtuous
and earnest advocates of moralism are brought to the brink of
denying all moral distinctions. Marcus Aurelius admits that it
would be contrary to universal reason (which is identical with the
truth about the universe) that bad men should be good; and it
would be contrary to the guiding principle of the universe that
there should be no bad men. Inadvertence or embarrassment usually
prevents him from extending this justification of wickedness in
others to any remnants of weakness in himself; and sometimes he
upbraids himself for his little failings and proposes to correct
them. But why should he do so? Is it contrary to universal nature
that he should doze a little in the morning when he is tired? Why
should he not cultivate the people he likes or not avoid those he
abhors? Why should he not read the books that would interest
him? Or even, if his temper had been violent or sensual, why
should he not have indulged it, as did so many of his predecessors,
not to speak of his son Commodus? That would surely have been
to follow the guiding principle of the universe, of which the Stoic
Cleanthes says in his hymn to Zeus: ”That which is evil to us is
not evil to Thee!” Such conduct would surely have been con-
formable to the nature of those loose, lazy, dissolute men that are
required to make up the perfection of Zeus or of the universe.
But, alas, it would have been sadly contrary to the ideal nature of
a brave Roman and a dutiful emperor . Something traditional, tem-
peramental, psychological recoils in Marcus Aurelius against what
is self-indulgent or ignoble. He has an exacting conscience and
honours hardship and even sorrow. He would have agreed with

MORALISM

‘Ecclesiastes that the house of mourning is better than the house
of mirth. It brings us nearer to the truth of the universe: a sad
truth only because the neglect of morality there saddens the moral
man.

Yet one more step towards assimilating reason in us to the
nature or truth of the universe might correct that sadness. Hints
are not wanting in Marcus Aurelius that he feels the need of
extending his conformity with nature to the extreme of being
content with his own faults. Two souls then struggle within his
breast. There is the chaste, thoughtful, harassed and scornful prince
and heroic soldier, who remembers that (unfortunately) he is an
emperor, bound hand and foot to a corrupt and tyrannical social
order. And there is the transcendental intelligence observing all
this, seeing its necessity, seeing its futility, and at once girding
itself and sighing to meet its fate.

Such is the ambiguity that profoundly troubles an earnest soul
open ingenuously to the truth of nature and at the same time
vowed to the worship of its own moral sense. Only in the person
of Christ, as conceived by the faith of his followers, does this
problem find a solution. His person is divine and native to heaven:
so that spontaneously and whole-heartedly he lives in perfect har-
mony with the universal order of things and with the will of God.
Yet by a free act and prompting of God’s will within him he
has submitted, as in a dream, to live also in a human body, to
suffer, and to die; and then, with true sympathy and tenderness
towards his assumed human body, he raises it from the grave, and
will henceforth live in it in heaven. In choosing an earthly life,
as in first choosing a world to be created, God himself has accepted
every detail in both as right and needful, no matter how evil those
features may appear to one another or to themselves, when they
are living beings, and no matter what suffering they may impose
on his own human soul. He understands all these partial judg-
ments and passions, and he shares them on occasion. Yet he knew
the lesson of life before learning it by experience, as God knows

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

everything that he is not; and this prior knowledge continued to
unite him to his Father, even in his worst human agony, with a
closer bond than any that could unite him to his assumed flesh
and blood, or to his disciples, except as these might come to par-
ticipate in that divine union. He lived through his human life as
a man lives through the profession he may adopt or the part
assigned to him in a play: more or less completely lending himself
to that convention, yet always holding in reserve his allegiance to
his true self. God in him was living disguised, and his immersion
in earthly circumstances could never be more than partial. At every
turn he could remember who he really was, and could recall the
omnipotent freedom with which he had imposed on himself this
tragic incarnation.

This idea of Christ is more to the moralist than a mere picture
of how human sensibility and conscience might be united with
divine insight and absolute prerogative: it is also an ideal to hold
up before the philosopher who cannot renounce being a man, yet
cannot help transcending his humanity in thought before the
overwhelming spectacle of nature and the infinite intricacies of
logic. He can never, like Christ, attain to a perfect equilibrium of
his two natures, each demanding and loving the other; because he is
not God willing to be man, but man impotently aspiring to raise
himself to God. Yet, with this model before him, he may at least
escape the snare of moralism, that destroys the sweetness of human
affections by stretching them on the rack of infinity and absolute-
ness. He may learn from Christ to cultivate and honour these
affections for what they are, human and accidental, but ordained
and sanctioned in that capacity by the eternal order of things.
GOD’S LOVE OF MAN AND MAN’S
LOVE OF GOD

It concerns this inquiry to consider what can be meant by the
love of God for the world, since this love is the avowed motive for
the incarnation of Christ and for his mission and Passion. Follow-
ing this trace we might come to a radical reason why the spirit in
us must love the world and its own life in the world.

The notion of a love” that creates or animates all nature seems to
have been at first vague and vitalistic. The courses of the stars, the
cycles of fertility in animals, and especially the spring, were poeti-
cally likened to the procreative passion in man, with its mysterious
emotions and its fecundity. Eros in the Greek poets and philoso-
phers represented natura naturans, the potentiality in matter work-
ing as in a seed and unfolding itself in every form of life. But by
Socrates and Plato the tables were turned. Love, instead of being
the inner vitality in matter generating ever fresh transformations,
became the quickening of dead matter to imitate the fixed types
of being shining immortally in heaven, or in the mind of God.
Love then ceased to look towards the world’s life, and became the
world’s nostalgia for its divine prototype.

It is only by poetic licence that the unfolding of natura naturans
in evolution can be called love. That process is something uncon-
scious, unpremeditated, unenjoyed, always going on best in pro-
found slumber. The cosmologies that appeal to it are pantheistic
THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

or atheistic. In a genial polytheism the pleasures of gods and men
begin to mingle with the generative stress of the universe. This
then becomes real love, the sexual and vernal passion of nature
astir in her creatures: but it is a scattered, blind enchantment, pos-
sessing us we know not why, and in itself quite ignorant of its
purpose. Nor does it always work for good, but often for havoc in
the world and misery in the individual.

In the book of Genesis , where the Creator is seen gloriously
exercising his magic omnipotence, we are not told that he loves
his work, but it is evident that he does so and that he must; yet
this is rather the joy of the artist, the victorious feeling of self-
expression and enlarged domain, than any precise benevolence.
Indeed it is not quite possible to love anything not yet existent,
any thin g that we do not come upon as an independent power, by
miracle friendly or entrancing. The mere poet’s love of his works
and his discontent with them are largely complacence or discontent
with himself. It is a great undertaking, a great encumbrance, this
self-imposed task of creation. Its joys are mixed, its light decep-
tive; and it often repents the author that he has not restrained his
impulse to stamp his image upon a foreign substance, such as
words are to feelings, objects to ideas, or an existing world to a
free spirit.

When once, however, the rash deed has been done, works con-
front their maker with their separate fortunes, appear in novel
lights, are turned, perhaps, to disgusting uses, and produce con-
flicting sentiments in his mind. There may sometimes be wrath,
but the prevailing feeling is probably anxiety, disappointment,
sorrowful alienation. It was when the creation had reached this
stage of otherness from God that he really began to love it: for
curses are themselves expressions of disappointed trust. And where
mankind, instead of turning wicked, proved docile and devoted
there was occasion for loving them with a special personal predi-
lection, very different from the generic bounty of blind nature
or of lordly munificence. Often, too, love and reproaches go to-

GOD S LOVE AND MAN S LOVE
gether. These children know not what they do. Initially they are
innocent, sprightly and brave, yet a curious precocity invades them,
some devil possesses them, they instigate one another to collective
crimes, and their spirit is smothered and enslaved in unnecessary
passions and cruel sufferings.

It was this spectacle that moved God, in the person of his Son,
to a new Christian love for the world, which is called charity: no
longer the artist’s love of self-expression or of the fascinating
variety of possible forms, but rather love of something missed, of
something defeated and unexpressed, to which this erring world
was inwardly addressed, and for the lack of which it horribly
and perpetually suffered. It almost seems, at times, as if the lower
the world had sunk, the more it excited this Christian charity: but
this should not be misunderstood. The call for help in that case is
more urgent; but the degree of good to be normally restored by
redemption in those circumstances is itself inferior and unsatisfy-
ing. Violent madness may be silenced, flowing blood may be
stanched, but life is not thereby rendered beautiful or even decent.
That which kindles charity is not the evil in the world, but the
hidden good that might take its place. For the goal of love is love
itself: and the nearer the loved object is already to perfection, the
better can it awaken and satisfy the deepest possibilities of love.
For this reason the theologians teach that the first and ultimate
object of charity is God himself. The remedial character of this
virtue is secondary; charity hastens to succour the afflicted because
the perfect good that it loves is so painfully absent there. Indeed
affliction would not be affliction and sin would not be sin were
no different condition inwardly possible for the sufferer and secretly
desired by him; so that it is to uncover the good hidden by evil,
and not merely to stop the evil itself, that charity is called forth.

The love of Christ for the world is therefore not radically differ-
ent from the fatherly love of it in the Creator; only it has passed
through the tragic phase of feeling the good lost. The good is then
loved in its eclipse, which lends it a crepuscular and elegiac colour;

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

and even when recovered it can never be the same: richer and
deeper, no doubt, for that intermixture of sorrows and shadows in
it, yet also not so whole-heartedly and confidently loved: for its
first allurement is now seen to have been specious and deceptive.
It was not a safe good nor the only good possible. Charity there-
fore is no innocent, spontaneous, absolute love of things or persons.
It descends upon them from a higher sphere, of which it remains
conscious. It is such love as God in man can feel for the world.
The Incarnation is subtly involved in the existence of charity.

At the same time, like creative love, this Christian charity is
centrifugal: it must have real, not merely ideal, objects. Both types
of love make for all degrees and kinds of excellence: both reverse
the movement proper to mystic rapture, or direct approach to pure,
ineffable good, without parts or variations. They see the light of
that sun only reflected, and dwell on the humblest manifestations
of the good, as on the Child Christ in the manger. Hierarchy,
degrees, and differences belong to the essence of vital good, even
in God himself: whence the Trinity inherent in his actual One-
ness. This deployment, without which nothing could exist or enjoy
its own being, is reproduced in the creation and in the order of
society; also in the degrees and diversities of sanctity and wisdom
possible to the mind. Charity by no means aims at reducing all
hearts to a single pattern, but only at bringing each to clearness
and peace in its own vocation.

I say advisedly dearness and peace, because dearness alone and
an absolute singleness of will are present in well-knit h uman pas*
sions, as also in the brutes: and it is not the part of charity or
Christ’s love of man to condone or love these passions; only to
forgive them. They bring dearness in war, not peace. They there-
fore involve hostility to the will of God, though this be excusable
where imagination is lacking to conceive as good and as willed by
God anything but the object of one’s ruling passion. But the Chris-
tian should love his enemies; and this brings peace, if not always
materially, at least ideally. For if we recognise the initial right

god’s love and man’s love

of the enemy to pursue ends divergent from ours, we dear our
minds of injustice and stupidity and even of rebellion against the
will of God, in so far as he has breathed that spirit into those
creatures. This is commonly understood in regard to wild beasts:
but a refractory man is not forgiven. Charity also brings peace
in regard to ourselves; for we then recognise the appointed limi-
tation of our lives and of our possible virtues, as well as their
suffidency according to God’s intention for us . It is in the absence
of this humility that the moralistic conscience and reason depart
from charity; for they presume to impose themselves on God, and
to regard as totally depraved every natural will or form of life
other than this consdence and reason of theirs. Therefore they are
at war forever with the universe and with their own human nature.
When the right and beauty of these alien things have been rec-
ognised, consdence and reason in us begin to be enlightened, and
to turn into love of nature and of God. And the great boon of
this light is that it teaches us to love nature, and ourselves who
are parts of nature, as God loves us, without exdusiveness or in-
justice.

Yet under pressure of hardship and blind passion neither the
will of God nor the good of man is easy to discover. The good
attainable by each creature seems different at each moment; and
desire or consdous love stops in each case at a different object
or idea. When with experience interests are better defined, the
wiser heads divide the powers that they encounter sharply into two
dasses, the good and the evil. Ultimately, if we look far enough,
human interests are always defeated. Policy always evaporates in
the end, if judged by the intention of the statesman; and even
the monuments of art and literature soon lose their first function
and become melancholy relics. But it is also human to reflea, to
observe the ways of nature and to philosophize. Instead of living
in a moralistic world, divided into two inexplicably hostile parts
by the bias of human self-love, we may begin to live also in the
impartial worlds of physics and of logic. These seem godless to

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

the ecclesiastical mind; for it is not under pressure of hope or fear,
or by the aid of prophecy, that logic and physics study the power
that rules the universe; yet they do study that power and reveal it
to our admiration and to our prudence, and even to our liberated
hearts. Thus they bring us round, without intending it, to what is
in effect the love of God.

Originally the love of men for God appears as does the love
of any fostering influence. Its object is so much of the unseen
powers as may come miraculously to our assistance. We then love
God in so far as he loves us, and fear him in so far as he punishes
or restrains us. When these mutual relations are studied and traced
dramatically, the art and the discipline of religion arise together:
the art, in so far as we think we discover means of winning God’s
favour for our own ends; the discipline, in so far as we learn to
bend our hearts into conformity with his dispensation and into
joy in it.

Both this art and this discipline tend to establish fellowship
between God and man, but differently. When we feel that we are
assured of God’s favour, that we are his chosen people or his
saints, our success and security endear to us the world in which
we move: we seem to have been made for it and it for us. Any
change of heart would then be uncalled for and ungrateful. God
has given us this paradise to live in, with these splendid oppor-
tunities for congenial work and abundant profits; and it would
be madness to grumble or to ask for anything better. This may
be called union with God at the human level. When, on the other
hand, we undertake to extirpate in ourselves, as false and unworthy,
everything that the thought of God puts to shame within us, the
path of union becomes narrower and steeper, and the union then
attainable proves, save at rare moments, less assured and complete:
for it is exclusively spiritual. And this we may call union with
God at the divine level. The union in both cases is genuine, as
far as it goes; but the fields in which unanimity is achieved are
different, and different too the disposition of the pious mind. The

god’s love and man’s love

field in one case is the world and our fortunes in it; in the other
case, the imagination and the heart.

Since God, conceived philosophically, is immutable, events such
as alienation or reunion can occur in the world only, not in him.
Radiations of divine power and grace will vary in quality and date
according to the fitness of the world, or of each creature, to receive
them: so that from our point of view God will seem to be animated
at different times by different sentiments, sometimes wrath, some-
times love, sometimes mystery and sometimes openness. In this
sense we may say that on one occasion he comes down to us and
on another draws us up to himself. The Incarnation is the palmary
instance of God uniting himself with man at the human level. Yet
the whole life and teaching of Christ, and especially his Passion
and death, show that this descent was not accomplished for its
own sake, as the creation was. It had an ulterior object: the salva-
tion of man, his elevation from the human to the divine level.
This demands a tragic transformation in man himself, who must
sacrifice his animal will and a great part of his nature in order
to assimilate his spirit to that of God. No wonder that mankind
is recalcitrant: nor do I think we could blame them if all the
sweets and all the virtues proper to our nature had to be renounced
in honestly following Christ. But that is not the case. There is
nothing more human or more satisfying than self-transcendence;
and the liberation and light that come of renouncing the will seem,
when really attained, the fulfilment, not the surrender, of our in-
most powers.

There is therefore one strain in human nature that craves union
with God at God’s level. It may be called reason, but it does not
proceed by reasoning. It may be called love, but it claims possession
of nothing. It is that free life of the spirit which continually peeps
out in intelligence and in laughter, only to be smothered again in
the press of affairs. This is the element in us that we have dis-
tinguished and hypostasised in the idea of pure spirit. Spirit in us
drinks in and watches all the vicissitudes of fortune, suffering them

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

all; but suffering them, as it were, from above, innocently and with-
out contamination, as Christ endured everything human. For it is
in the nature of spirit to transmute the physical impressions made
on us by events into images and into enduring knowledge. God
became man precisely to undergo and to transcend all that man
may have to endure: and in Christ the spirit rises again to God with
all its human burden, in order to preserve and eternalise this
humanity, as spirit alone can, clearly, victoriously, and in peace.

We should never forget that the object of love is always a good,
since love shines upon it; and that love itself, though it may
be agitated and tremulous, is a foretaste of happiness. We should
be seeing spiritual life falsely, with too crude a chiaroscuro, if we
put all the torment, and nothing but torment, into love in the flesh
and nothing but bliss into love in the spirit. The torment comes
normally from some impediment in the bliss; and the bliss comes
from the vanishing of some torment that was itself half blissful.
The truest lovers of God and the most ascetic are essentially joyful;
because a strong spirit, that knows and despises the world, has joy
enough in its very freedom. All things are its own in idea, and to
none of them is it a slave. It has begun to taste the bliss of seeing
earth from heaven.

THE ANIMAL PSYCHE AND THE
SUPERNATURAL SOUL
In the Old Testament the soul is taken to be the life of the body*
To save one’s soul means to save one’s life. This was the public
daylight view of the matter: yet as in all primitive peoples there
was also a whispered crepuscular view of it. Ghosts of the dead
sometimes rose out of the earth and appeared at midnight in their
old haunts or in troubled dreams. This survival seemed something
melancholy and sinister; yet it was destined to play a great part in
noble religion and philosophy: and not without cause. For wherever
there is appearance, animal faith and the awakened impulse to
action impose on us the assumption of a reality; and in memory,
in imagination, and in optical illusions figures constantly appear
where exploration can discover no bodies. An elusive body, visible
and sometimes audible, but not tangible, was therefore conceived
to survive the gross body, and sometimes to come out of the dark-
ness of Sheol or Hades and cross our path or our meditations. This
elusive or astral body was the wandering and surviving soul. It
had a substance, although a subtle one: for if it did not exist, it
could never have appeared.

That wherever there is an appearance there must be a substance
can be made certain by a suitable definition of terms. Let “appear-
ance” be anything that arises only in and for an observer; and let

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

“subs tan ce” signify anything that exists in itself. It will follow
that wherever there is an appearance there must be a substance
in the observer : whether there be a substance also in the object
remains an open question. Now in the case of dreams and imagina-
tion this question should be answered in the negative: there is
then no substance in the ghost, but only a vapour in the brain. In
the case of optical illusions there may be a substance also in the
object, but not such as the appearance at first leads the observer
to suppose.

In a ghost, however, popular belief posited more than a thin
material substance or astral body; when the ghost appeared it
also spoke and lamented its comfortless state. It felt and thought
and was not only a wraith but also a spirit. This mental and moral
life attributed to the dead was in keeping with their physical help-
lessness: spasmodic, vague, melancholy, and retrospective. Mind as
well as body was but the shadow of what it had been in the upper
world. This stunned and bewildered character of souls without
their earthly bodies appears in all ancient poets, and even at times
in Dante. These souls were still the life of such bodies as they
had, groping in the twilight which they inhabited.

Besides all this, or instead of it, the Jews eventually developed
the highly dramatic prophecy of the resurrection of the dead, or
of some of them. Between the hour of death and the resurrection
the just slept in the bosom of Abraham. A normal vitality could
not return to them until the soul became again inquisitive and
happy by resuming the functions of the body in the sunlit world.

This conception persists in the New Testament, and seems to*
have been satisfying so long as the second coming of Christ was
looked for in the near future; and it remains fundamental in the
official doctrine of the Church. When generations had passed,
however, and the Church itself had become a world within this
world, departed apostles and martyrs could not be conceived to be
always “sleeping in the Lord”; they must be already in heaven,
with Christ, in communion, through prayer and descending grace.

PSYCHE AND SUPERNATURAL SOUL
^t>
with their spiritual children on earth. Moreover, Christian specula-
tion and sentiment had begun to be deeply affected by Platonism.
Hence, while the soul was still a transferable substance and prin-
ciple of life, its divorce from the body seemed less unfortunate
than their marriage: and a wholly different proof was found for
the survival of the soul; not that dead persons appeared, and
that such an appearance must have a substance behind it, but that
the essence of the soul was intellectual and moral, that it was
essentially spirit, so that its inhabiting an animal body or exercising
material functions at all was a descent from its proper dignity
and must be taken as punishment or purgation for some purely
spiritual sin of its own. The popular animistic, empirical notion
of the soul, as a travelling substance or astral body, thus tended to
be replaced by a mythological notion of the soul as a burdened
self-existing and immortal spirit. Yet the Jewish conception of the
soul as the life of the body, with the prophecy of a glorious re-
union, subsisted in the Christian mind and had to be retained,
since the central dogma of the Resurrection of Christ made it im-
perative.

Catholic theology has ended by subdividing the Last Judgment
into two separate sessions, one private for each individual imme-
diately after death, and another public, at the Last Day, as described
in the Gospels. The hour of death thus became, for the believer,
the momentous hour. It was then that his destiny was sealed and
that he entered, with his soul only, into eternity. The final Day
of Wrath lost for him all its dramatic terror and wonder. He could
then be surprised and edified only by the fate of others. His own
peace with God had long since been made; and the recovery of
his body now had little importance.

There was thus a strong undercurrent tending to identify the
soul with pure spirit, an undercurrent which came to the surface
at last in Descartes. The Platonic myths could not be accepted by
the Church. The intrinsic self-existence of each soul through in-
finite past and future time not only contradicted the dogma of

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

creation, but rendered theism superfluous. Gods might indeed
exist, and one of them might even be omniscient and supreme,
his will coinciding with the truth; but he would remain only one
of the society of monads, and unnecessary. Furthermore, if the
destiny of each soul was determined only by its own free actions,
salvation, grace, and the effectual intervention of charity would
be abolished; and ultimately that society of monads would retreat
into a thought in a solitary spirit, and not be a society at all. Such
is the nemesis of egotism.

It was therefore not until theology began to look to Aristotle
rather than to Plato for its terms that a properly Christian theory
of the soul was constructed. For Aristotle, as for the ancient Jews,
the soul was the life of the body. This life, or perfect functioning
of an organism, was no substance, air, breath, fire, or fine atoms,
coursing through the body and escaping at death through the
mouth. This had been materialism without dialectic and had con-
fused form, because language gives it a substantive name, with a
kind of matter. But life is the form or order that all suitable
substances conspire to compose when any seed develops into an
organic body. This form is hereditary; and the psyche is a name
for the natural magic that keeps each individual true to his species
and predetermines his normal organs, habits and passions. Hence
the absurdity of transmigration; as if functions could migrate from
one organ to another, so that the eye should hear and the ear
should see, or as if music, which is the soul of the lyre, could
migrate into an axe, or the power of cutting from the axe into the
lyre. Nor could such cutting or such music be believed to go on
in a vacuum without any lyre or any axe, any ear to hear or any
wood to be cut. It will be convenient to reserve the name “psyche”
for this biological animation proper to specific bodies, and keep
the more poetic word “soul” for the notion of bodiless spirits, like
angels.

Since the psyche, so conceived, is not immortal, it could never
have been introduced into theology, had not Aristotle admitted

PSYCHE AND SUPERNATURAL SOUL

another element in man, absent in the lower animals, namely the
intellect. This intellect, according to him, was divine and immortal;
it came into the human psyche “from without the gates,” and
reverted at death to its divine source. He added that as man was
specifically the rational animal, it was best for him and most truly
human to live as much as possible in the eternal. These were
edifying words coming from a pagan philosopher who four hun-
dred years before Christ could not be blamed for not being a
Christian; but his theory had to be recast. The Christian soul could
not be uncreated, and like the psyche it must belong to its body
and must carry away forever its memory and character and all
its congenital bonds with earth, home and nation; yet it must be
separable from these circumstances and destined to live in another
world. Nor will the word “intellect” do to indicate the life of God
or the godlike element in ourselves; both must be personal and
distinct spirits.

These requirements were fulfilled in the Thomistic doctrine of
the soul, which may be found summed up poetically by Dante in
the twenty-fifth canto of the Purgatorio. The parts that concern
us may be paraphrased as follows:

Blood purer and richer than that which courses mrough the
veins gathers in the heart. This perfect blood is potent to turn into
all the organs of the body. From the heart it descends in due season
to the appointed places, where after the male seed has mingled
with the female, it begins to live. The active element in that blood
then becomes a soul, as if life had reached here what it was striving
after in the plants. Now it stirs and is sensitive, like a sea fungus,
and gradually assumes the form of those organs with which it was
pregnant. Thus is the virtue hidden in the fertile heart by turns
deployed and concentrated.

But thou wilt wonder how this animal soul ever grows rational.
Know then that as soon as in the foetus the brain is fully formed,
God, the prime mover of all things, turns towards it, well pleased

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

with that masterpiece of nature’s art, and breathes upon it an
added breath of life, rich in still greater virtue. Whatsoever was
active in the animal soul, the new spirit draws into its own orbit,
and out of the two fashions a single soul that lives and feels and
turns back upon itself in thought. To thee, if this seem marvellous,
consider the warmth of the sun, which, mingling with the vine-
sap, turns it into wine. And when Lachesis has spun her thread
to the end, the human spirit departs from the flesh, bearing away
with it the potency of all in man that was animal and of all that
was divine.

Notable in this theory of the soul is the simple good faith with
which a physical origin *s assigned to life, in such terms as the
science of the day afforded. Naturalism is accepted as far as it will
go; but, since Christian faith must be safeguarded, nature is ex-
tended congruously and continuously into another sphere, not nor-
mally revealed to the senses, but designed to crown earthly life
ideally and to explain it morally. The system is therefore properly
called supermxm&L Far from abolishing the real and material world,
it adopts and completes it, as the rational soul in man adopts and
perfects his animal psyche, or as the divine person in Christ adopts
and sanctifies his humanity.

Notable also is the point at which the spiritual element is in-
troduced, not at all the place where modem philosophy sees a
chasm between matter and mind. Here life grows of itself out of
the depths of matter, and no break is made between physical life
and feeling or perception. Where a chasm is discovered is between
animal sensation and an intellect capable of forming general ideas
and reasoning about them in words. Ancient unsophisticated sci-
ence never doubted that the dynamic object of sensation was a
material thing, and that the logical theme of definition or thought
was an essence. What antiquity failed to perceive, or never took
to heart, was that the subject in both cases is equally spiritual.
If, then, sensation could spring of itself out of motion and physical

PSYCHE AND SUPERNATURAL SOUL

tension, there is no occasion to suppose that reason or language
came to the psyche from outside. Nor does the ideality or eternity
of the theme, when it is an essence, involve any eternity in the
intuition that apprehends it. It is the themes entertained that estab-
lish the degrees of dignity in apprehension, not the mere light of
attention falling upon them, like the sun shining on the just and
on the unjust. A thought addressed to the eternal is as transitory
as any other thought, and as much a phase of animal life.

The artificiality of this Thomistic doctrine of the soul is no
fault of the theologians but a consequence of their fidelity to the
faith they inherited. The theory is compound because it rests on
monarchical theism, at once naturalistic, political, and miraculous;
on which now a self-transcending spiritual discipline had to be
grafted. They were therefore compelled to satisfy the claims both
of the natural psyche and of the intellect addressed to the ideal
and the eternal, and they do so by fusing the psyche and the in-
tellect into a supernatural soul.

A striking analogy subsists between this union of the rational
with the animal nature in man and the union of the divine with
the human nature in the idea of Christ. Can this analogy be
accidental? Is it due, perhaps, to a conscious assimilation of the soul
in the believer to his chosen model? Or is it possibly an unwitting
assimilation of the idea of Christ to the felt duality in unity within
the human soul? Whatever be its origin, this analogy is important
to our inquiry, because it clarifies the problem of salvation by the
initiation of Christ, and helps to define the presence of God in man.

Lest this analogy should mislead us we may note that it is not
perfect. For in Christ it is the divine nature that is original and
persistent and that assumes the human nature as an apanage or
appendix, and thereby the divine nature raises the human to a‘
supernatural sanctity and power. In man, on the contrary, what
is original and persistent is the animal psyche, which when assumed
by a rational soul infects the latter with its hereditary taints,
physical and moral. In Christ neither nature had anything to com-

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

plain of. Not the divine nature, since the lodgment and disguise
of it in a man were voluntary, and a part of the eternal will of
the Father eternally accepted and shared by the ySon. Nor could
the human nature in Christ, though it suffered cruelly, complain
of being in any way denaturalised by its union with a divine mind,
since it had never existed apart or acquired any habit of rebellion
against the faith and love that flooded it from its beginning. In the
supernatural soul of man, on the contrary, both the animal and the
spiritual elements are in straits. His psyche is radically automatic,
impulsive, vegetative, a temporary swirl in inorganic dust; for
nine months this animal psyche had presided with perfect compe-
tence over the growth of the body, with all its organs and eventual
passions in the bud. Is it not an unmerited exaction to impose a
supernatural regimen on this natural creature and to denounce its
native will as so much sin and rebellion? Has not God angels
enough in heaven that love nothing but what he loves and desire
nothing but to see his face and sing his praises? Why could he not
leave mankind to their natural virtues, which they could practise
gladly and nobly? Why demand other virtues from them, in which
they must always fall short? Nor are the protests of the rational
soul, though less often uttered, less forcible and well grounded.
How should a free and rational soul, at the moment of its creation,
be infected, without any fault or knowledge of its own, with the
hereditary taints and passions of an animal? And how could it
deserve to be frustrated in its spontaneous spiritual life by all the
commitments and sufferings of so unnatural a union? Is not in-
heritance a sure sign of continuity in life and substance, and is not
contagion a sure sign of parity of nature? A soul that carries the
body’s burdens must have sprung from the same root as the
body.

This is so much what would have been murmured against the
supernatural soul by the Old Adam on the one hand and by pure
spirit on the other, that the theologians did not fail to forestall both
objections by a bolder appeal to the miraculous. Immediately after

PSYCHE AND SUPERNATURAL SOUL

his creation Adam had been raised to a supernatural state of grace
and endowed with immortality, for body as well as soul. It was only
in punishment for sin that he fell back into an animal condition,
subject to death like the animals; and while his soul remained
immortal and rational, it was now beset by bodily passions not,
as in the state of supernatural grace, perfectly subject to the spirit.
His children were born in this abnormal condition, with a rational
soul obscured by being lodged in a rebellious body. The life we
call natural is diseased. No alien good is therefore proposed to man
Plow by his supernatural soul. He is simply recalled to his pristine
condition, to his truly normal life. It is not the body, but only the
disorder and rebellion in it, that obstruct the soul. And if now the
spirit (in us) seems to be caught in a trap, this is only because
originally (in Adam) it had given licence to the body to fall into
that trap. And now the grace of Christ is ready, if we believe, to get
us out of it.

With an admirable consistency and courage, the theologians
confirm and generalise this doctrine by teaching that no part of the
direct works of God was intended to perish, and that all will be
restored, and will subsist forever in the world to come. Christian
realism and affection for matter, when matter is obedient to the
spirit, thus are to triumph in the Resurrection; the endless reign
of Christ will be on earth, or at least in a material world comparable
to the earth. But there will be no marriage there, or giving in
marriage, no new births or increase of population; and we may
infer from this that if Adam and Eve had not sinned, when they
had sufficiently obeyed their evident vocation to multiply and
people the earth, they would have passed into a kind of chaste
old age, with all their descendants also. The predestined ideal
number of human beings, and of all animals and plants, would
then bloom forever in a paradise without further fruitfulness or
vicissitudes. All nature would be consecrated: an unchanging psalm
would rise from all throats; and the sun and the full moon (as
we read in the Summa of Saint Thomas) much more brilliant than

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

they are now would stand opposite each other, forever motionless
in the heavens.

This is a strange picture, and I am not sure that the Catholic
Church is pledged to accept it; but for my purpose here I find it
most instructive. It shows us the supernatural, as it culminates and
tri um phs over the natural, triumphing also over itself, and cul-
minating in the ideal. It does so unawares; but an arrested physical
universe is something so utterly unnatural and contrary to life that
it contradicts the primary Jewish and Christian prophecy of “life
in the age to come.” My philosophy would go a step further and
maintain that arrested being contradicts the very essence of exist-
ence; because even the existence of pure spirit involves transition
from term to term, culmination, synthesis, and retrospect, with the
possibility of repeating identical terms in new connexions: so that
to exist means to take form, to undergo evolutions, to run through
rhythms, and to figure in a realm of accidental and varying rela-
tions. Neither life nor thought can endure petrified, nor could even
stones so endure, if petrified at heart, since the distinction of
matter from space and the existence of physical space itself require
tensions and variable relations, measurable in terms of time. Static
being is therefore something ideal, a term defined by intuition,
attention and logic, but only an essence and essentially non-
existent.

If we grant this, it follows that the motive which prompted theo-
logians to attribute absolute immutability to God and to life in
heaven was not love of life but respect for the ideal. They could
not, however, express this respect (which they deeply felt, as
spirit always must) without employing laudatory rhetorical terms
which attribute to it an impossible life and existence. This some
of them did enthusiastically, because they honestly loved life and
not the ideals revealed in life; and they were pleasantly deceived
by their own metaphors. But others, I am sure, felt the illusion
contained in those metaphors, and sought to avoid it by using
negative terms. That is an unfortunate expedient, since any ideal

PSYCHE AND SUPERNATURAL SOUL

essence, far from being negative, is pellucid, and distinct, and
definable, as existing facts never are at bottom; so that in escaping
myth by taking refuge in mysticism those sages did not*reach
the true object of their devotion, which was the unchangeable
and eternal in its endless distinctness and variety.

On the moral side, too, the ideal is the goal of that aspiration
which makes an unnecessary loop through the supernatural. When
we place the good directly in the ideal we are for the first time
completely freed from the predicaments of existence, without
doing the least violence to nature. For the ideal would lose its
moral ideality were it not, for some real person, the ideal of some
natural demand. Nothing can be good unless something real
aspires after it. And such an ideal good, like a visual or musical
harmony, though it is a pure essence and static in itself, appears
to the spirit by virtue of a myriad material vibrations, approaches,
and conjunctions. These the spirit overleaps, and rests ecstatically
in suspended animation before the transfiguring apparition. I say
advisedly transfiguring, because to figure, to paint, define or possess
mentally is to transfigure what we have before us materially. A
living wave has mounted, trembled, and receded beneath; but only
the idea formed by the mind remains for the mind, a milestone by
which to measure its journey, and a treasure laid up in its private
heaven. Facts thus culminate for the spirit in ideal revelations, in
attainments or perfections of form: that is the only ultimate func-
tion that passing existence can have. The theme of such a revela-
tion is not a further coming and vanishing fact, but simply that
idea in its eternal essence, like the idea of Christ on which this
book is a meditation.

Such a theme can be reviewed any number of times, and the total
state of mind and the sidelights crossing it will naturally be differ-
ent in each survey: but in so far as the idea is defined at all, it
is defined, as that idea, forever, without forbidding other ideas
more or less resembling it to be defined more or less differently.
When ideas are ideals, when they express and satisfy a demand

of the psyche, their essential identity hangs, as does that of a poem,
on ful fillin g that precise moral function. Whether such an idea
shall ever recur, or how often, or in how many different persons,
or for how long in each case, all depends on the physical conditions
that arouse it.

The f ulfilm ent of any life or work, then, is not to be sought
in another region into which we might walk, and where, as in
the palace of the Sleeping Beauty, we should find all life paralysed,
and the sun and moon preternaturally brilliant, both standing still
in the sky. That is simply a misunderstanding, perhaps a verbal
misunderstanding only, of inevitable but clumsy metaphors. If the
world stood still it would be dead, and nobody could be alive to
perceive it. But the moving world, when observed at all, is ideally,
to that extent, synthesised and arrested; and when the power of
the observing mind is enlarged and draws the heart deeply into
its vortex, the apparition evoked grows more and more compre-
hensive, more and more absorbing, until it seems as if all knowl-
edge and all bliss were caught up into it. Did this actually happen,
as we conceive it to be always in God, the sun and moon would
stand eternally fixed for us, not in one place, but in all the places
and conjunctions into which they had ever wandered. All the sun-
sets, all the cloudracks and storms, all the tears and smiles of
nature, would subsist as present truths, as they are eternally for
having been so once. But neither God nor man can live in a dead
world, or endure an everlasting paralysis of things whose very
nature is to arise, to dance, and to disappear.

I think this paradox of heaven realised in an arrested earth typi-
cally exhibits the mistake involved in the notion of the super-
natural. The supernatural is the ideal hypostasised. But if you
hypostasise the ideal you kill it. To quicken it again you must revert
to the plane of nature, reincarnate the spirit there, and let circum-
stances awaken in that spirit once more some eternal image of the
real become an ideal.

Yet the mistake, as I call it, of positing the supernatural is no

PSYCHE AND SUPERNATURAL SOUL

gratuitous mistake. It arises in the effort to do justice at once to
nature and to the ideal, and to vindicate the superiority, or rather
the exclusive ultimate value, of the latter. For the good is itself
essentially ideal, being good only because something existent and
natural culminates and is perfected when it reaches that form.
Illusion comes in, however, when the ingrained habit of speaking
metaphorically congeals into an incapacity not to think mythically.
People then feel they would be dishonouring the ideal, did they
not materialise or personify it: not considering that an actual thing
or person would have no excellence unless it approached an ideal
demanded of it by itself or by some other person. Thus the ideal
is really something super-mmidl and divinely authoritative over
the natural; but only because the natural, when it has life and
thought, posits that ideal as its intimate need and perfection. Yet
this ideality of the ideal, which makes it an object of sublime
worship and sacrifice, seems ironical to the materially acquisitive
psyche, directed by its self -preserving impulse to gyrate and chase
its tail forever in the vortex of existence. If ever this psyche be-
comes rational, if ever it can reflea on its own career and see its
vanity, the very uselessness and sorrow of that mechanical pros-
pea raises the eyes of the spirit to whatever joy and beauty may
come to it on the way; and the soul is now a wayfarer with a
religion, not avid for what lies before it but enraptured by what
floats above. This the ancients expressed clumsily by talking of
fame, or immortality in other people’s mouths; and the modems,
perhaps by talking of honour or duty: but a more Giristian and
more natural name for it is love. Its object is not something coming
but something already come.

It is this inalienable vocation of the spirit to detach itself from
the flesh and the world that is defended by the doctrine of a super-
natural soul; defended efficaciously for the purpose of moral
suasion, but compromising the spontaneity and disinterestedness
of that vocation, at least in theory, by buttressing it with prudential
fears and worldly hopes. On the other hand this doctrine escapes

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

two pitfalls into which spiritualistic theories are apt to stumble.
One is to deny matter and propose a moralistic or dialectical magic
ruling a multitude of pure spirits. Against this the Christian is
safeguarded by monarchical theism and by faith in the Incarnation
and Redemption; these place the spirit in its true relations in the
univ erse, though the facts may be veiled in myths. Myths are little
deceptive when they are fresh and voluntarily poetical. Thus in
Dante we have a material geographical Inferno and an astronomi-
cal Paradiso; yet the actual moral life of those disembodied souls
contains nothing but surviving passions and bitter or pious recollec-
tions of life on earth, with a lyric exaltation of its ultimate lessons.
That is, the supernatural is composed of the high lights and ulti-
mate sentiments proper to natural life: it is the ideal invoked in
a fable to crown and to judge the real.

The other pitfall in the path of heathen spiritual systems is the
infinite. The infinite is inhuman and therefore non-moral. It should
be recognised and respected in the realm of mathematics and of
matter, of origins and primary forces; for here, however much the
infinite may limit and specify itself, it always remains outside to
laugh at those limitations. This ambushed infinite was well rep-
resented in the Christian tradition by the absolute and unfathom-
able will of God. But God, by his incarnation in Christ, has human-
ised himself, at least in all that concerns his providence and justice
towards the spirit in man. If the will of God is inscrutable, it is
also unalterable, and for our world it has published its decrees
and granted us a covenant. Christianity is therefore civilised and
civilising: it lives in a cosmos full of abnormalities and miracles;
but these are recognised to be such, and do not obscure the plan
and the possibilities of salvation. This is true to life: the human
and moral world is small and clear; it has been circumnavigated a
thousand times. There is no excuse in it for romanticism, which
is another form in which the infinite allures the heathen soul. It
would chase adventures and transformations forever, without piety
for the past or plan for the future. It does not know it is a soul,

PSYCHE AND SUPERNATURAL SOUL

a natural psyche; it has no self-knowledge and thinks itself pure
spirit. But such purity has nothing sacred about it; it is only tran-
scendental. It lives to marry and divorce every inhuman thing, until
fate marries it with nothing. This is a consequence of assuming
absolute freedom and ignoring the animal economy by which
spirit is evoked and by virtue of which it lives.

Might not the wisdom of the Catholic doctrine of the soul, its
moral and spiritual soundness, with the idea of Christ for its model,
be somehow preserved without what seems artificial in that doc-
trine? I think so. I find there .various accidental assumptions, not
drawn from religious inspiration or spiritual insight, but taken
over from popular or philosophic errors. Why did Aristotle main-
tain that the intellect came into the psyche from outside? The
reason he offers is that intellect has no special organ. Without
replying that the nervous system or the brain or certain parts of it
or the relational web and “central exchange” of all impressions
and habits are its organ, it is evident to the layman that the whole
man is the organ of his intelligence, for he is sensitive not only
to the influx of stimulation from the senses, but to their order,
their differences, and the relations between the physical objects
that produce them. The larger and more clearly defined the field
to which the psyche is sensitive, in time no less than in space, the
more intelligent that psyche has become. Intellect is thus internal
to the psyche and potential there, just as the psyche itself is internal
and potential to the organism. Aristotle might well have turned his
sarcasms about migrating souls into sarcasms about migrating
intellects.

It is a natural illusion of the active mind to imagine that lights,
colours, and sounds are resident in things and not evoked by the
life of the body on receiving divers impressions. Yet no one would
seriously maintain that lights and colours see themselves, or that
music enjoys its own harmonies. Sensations are vital phenomena,
and ideas are doubly so, since the psyche evolves them unaided.
And it is in the Interests of animal life that the psyche develops

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

those acquired reflexes which, when they settle into habits of
quick recognition and appropriate action, are the outer evidences
of intellect. The verbal intellect, the mathematical intellect work-
ing upon abstract symbols, and the poetic intellect constructing
myths seem indeed to be disembodied activities: yet they fatigue;
an opening door interrupts and defeats them, and what seemed
luminous and self-justified in one mood seems dull or false in
another. It is always the psyche that supports the spirit, and be-
comes spirit in her free moments.

This criticism applies with equal force to the belief that any
inspiration comes from outside. Inspiration, in proportion to its
vital force and significance, comes from the depths of the heart.
This heart may be more or less impetuous, more or less chastened
and instructed; but it is always the central life of the psyche that
speaks when speech or thought is inspired and not merely parrot-
like and caught from without. Whence should religion especially
— so feebly supported by external evidence yet so mightily and
persistently governing mankind — whence should religion come but
from within? And this is perhaps less true of its errors (which
are often, like Aristotle’s, scientific, not poetic errors) than of its
ideals and heroisms. That these flow not only from the heart but
from the very nature of existence, from the inmost web of matter,
may seem a paradox. For me it is a truism, and I will devote the
faext chapter to giving my reasons.

SELF-TRANSCENDENCE
That spiritual minds should appeal to the supernatural is not to
be wondered at. Few are courageous enough to accept nature as it
is, and to build their spiritual house on the hard rock of the truth.
Moreover, tradition has consecrated a superficial and prejudiced
view of nature, as if it were wicked or dead, and not the parent
of their own spirit. It was a sad misfortune for Christian theory
that it drew its philosophy from the disciples of Socrates rather
than from his predecessors, who had faced the world bravely and
without prejudice; for Socrates and his followers, in the interests
of morals and politics, which in their time were in a parlous state,
had thought to save ancient society by attributing to the universe,
quite falsely, a political and moral constitution. This unhappy
method not only verbalised natural science but represented moral-
ity and holiness as hanging on imaginary physical sanctions, and
not on the inherent vocation of human life and mind.

What is this inherent vocation? At which moment of his life
is any man actually the ideal person that he fancies himself to be
and in whose interests he means to act? His faculties, his affections
and his real opportunities have been varying since he was bom.
If he identified himself simply with his quiescent body, it might
seem that his true good was always to be well fed, safe, and warm:
so that his aim in life would have been attained only when he lay

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

in his mother’s womb, and his only rational endeavour would be
to return there. Yet when in fact he finds himself in the open
he is prompted by his nature to attempt all sorts of perilous ad-
ventures. In childhood he will be constantly running into blind
alleys, from which he will slink back in tears: later he may find
many an open door, each with unexpected commitments beyond;
and in time he may develop a professional or conventional integrity,
and almost become the character that he is forced to enact. But in
the most favourable case this social personality of his will remain
an idea, never the same in two other persons’ minds nor at two
different times in his own. Can this vague and shifting idea, often
casual and mistaken, determine his real nature and what should
be his aim in life?

The most interesting of these spontaneous adventures, and most
akin to religious inspiration, is prompted by love; and in this case
the result obtained is that, in spite of inevitable disappointments
and death for each individual, life continues to flourish through
reproduction. Reproduction was, in fact, a prerequisite for the happy
slumber that the rudimentary egoist enjoyed before birth. And
there is no snare and no sacrifice that the blind impulse towards
reproduction may not prepare for him, when he thinks himself
most free and most clever. Nor is there any end to the anxieties,
battles, and tortures that nature will lead the male and especially
the female to endure in the pursuit of this end; an end that neither
hp nor she, in their conscious love, ever meant to pursue. Not that
some day some reflective man, quite without passion, may not
desire to have children. A patriarch may even set his heart, in
harmony with blind nature, on having an infinite number of
descendants; and more often a commonplace man may care for
nothing so much as pursuing women and enjoying them. Self-
interest would probably rebuke both these followers of nature;
yet at times they might say to themselves that, after all, it was
those passions that had made the high lights in their lives, and
that all the rest had been a vulgar slavery in comparison.

SELF-TRANSCENDENCE

Nature was Indeed never directed towards making individuals
happy. She had no means of knowing what any individual would
demand before she had made him, and it is only in him, as her
local representative, that she ever discovers it. There is little likeli-
hood then, in the midst of innumerable other processes going on in
the same field, that these particular demands should be satisfied.
A demand is simply the conscious form of a proclivity; but pro-
clivities are everywhere, each by itself, tending to precipitate in a
particular way, and all together, by mutual impact, issuing in some-
thing that nobody demanded. But this result is itself unstable.
Everybody, with somewhat altered interests, continues to pull his
own way. His pleasures are in his thoughts, while his action helps
to turn the world, for posterity, into something he never thought
of. Sic vos non vobis.

Thus everything would seem to waste itself in the service of
something eventual, unknown, and of uncertain value. Reflection
on the “romantic irony” of such evolution led pious sages in an-
tiquity to the thought, not that life was an automatic madness,
but that it should be a voluntary self-surrender and worship on the
part of existence: perhaps its object should be fame, perhaps in-
sight, perhaps Nirvana, perhaps the glory of God. Before venturing
so far, we may observe that the maxim, Sic vos non vobis > does not
convey the full truth of the matter. The bees profit by their honey
before man comes to rifle it; the sheep also profit by their wool,
and the birds presumably by their love-making. The ox indeed
becomes such only by a cruel mutilation; yet much as the bull
would originally resent this outrage, when once his temper has
been transformed by it, he acquiesces, and develops the virtues
proper to his new condition. He becomes patient and stolid, plods

The form of this epigram is inimitable, but the meaning may be rendered
as follows:

Not for themselves their yoke the oxen bear;

Not for themselves birds build their nests, and pair;

Not for the sheep the fleeces on their backs ;

Not for the bees the honey or the wax.

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

and chews the cud with a certain contentment. Thus even so
violent a diminution of one’s vital powers may have its compensa-
tions, as old age has; and since spirit can never live without
specific limitations, any life that is lived well may be worth living.

This perpetual self-transcendence in existing things, irrational
as it may seem, is self-transcendent in another sense also: it over-
flows, as it proceeds, into quite another dimension of being, and
produces intelligence. Intelligence is indeed self-transcendence it-
self, become a principle of thought. Yet there is a radical difference
between physical and logical self-transoendence. In the flux of
existence, each state of the world, as it arose out of a previous
state, so it lapses in turn and disappears, such memory of it as
may exist being a part of the succeeding phase, not a survival of
the previous one. The truth of history is indeed eternal; but the
view of history taken by any historian is a part of himself; and all
historical knowledge is recast in each generation, forming a fresh
romantic perspective according to the dramatic genius of the day.
That which actually occurred once cannot be still occurring now
and forever after: it has become unattainable. That is the price
it has to pay for the brilliant intensity of existence that it enjoys
for a moment. In all other moments it can be nothing but a possi-
bility or a report.

Logical self-transcendence, on the contrary, begins with some
image or term or, as I call it, some essence, present by chance to
intuition: an essence that may suggest another essence logically
related to the first. In this case nothing in the first essence is
lost or altered; the force of the conjunction lying not in the casual
occurrence of one, idea after the other but in the necessity of the
relation which, each of the terms being clearly defined, inevitably
connects them. The logician here is entirely accidental. In so far
as he is a logician he is not a particular person at all, but pure
spirit, the light of attention falling for a moment upon those two
terms and revealing their essential relation. Each term transcends
itself by its implications, which it preserves and which preserve it

SELF- TRANSCENDENCE

in its identity. The glance that traces, by psychological accident,
some one of these implications, although itself fugitive and casual,
opens to the spirit that feature in the structure of logical being.
Observation may immediately lapse, or jump to something irrele-
vant; but for that moment intellect has transcended all pre-occupa-
tion with existence and peeped into an eternal realm of logical
implications.

Expectation, memory, and dialogue transcend themselves in still
another manner. The actual datum is a fictitious object like a person
in a novel; but it is taken for evidence of a fact: and the credulous
intellect is launched upon a sea of conversations with its past, its
future, and an entire imagined society of gods and men. At certain
epochs the learned become doubtful about the gods; but the most
critical sceptics build on the experience of the human race as if
they had a personal acquaintance with it in its entirety. This would
be an incredible assumption were it rot for the fundamental
naturalism of all sane minds. People are confident of the past
existence of the material world, looking just as it looks to them
now, and peopled with all the tribes and civilisations pictured in
story-books. Therefore they are confident also of understanding
what must have gone on in the minds of the people who led those
pictured lives. But this belief in the material world, though funda-
mental for common sense, is itself transcendent and not at all
unquestionable. Still it is imposed on us by animal faith, which is
inseparable from expectation and action.

Arrest of faith upon the images of sense, or psychological ideal-
ism, is indeed transcended beforehand by all the beasts, more
intelligent in this respect than the modern sceptic; for it is not
the landscape that interests and excites the animals; they are nobly
quiescent when it is merely a question of seeing the sun shine or
die clouds pass. But the dog barks at the moon because he feels a
disquieting influence, a secret danger, a strangeness that perplexes
his instincts. He is at home only amongst images that at once
determine his action, as when at last, recognising his long-lost

THE IDEA OF CHRIST IN THE GOSPELS

master by scent, he leaps up in a tempest of joyful affection. The
dynamic mystery in things, the noumenal powers in places, the
dangers and the lures of adventure are what he believes in and
watches for. The signs of them in his senses he is too healthy and
too brave to stop at or to value for themselves. Appearances some-
times deceive him by prompting the wrong action. They never
deceive him into supposing that they are all in all. He may become
an idolater, never an aesthete. Instinct and action are thus self-
transcendent initially; and it is only by an inhibition of will and
intelligence, in arrested animation or trance, that something not
self-transcendent, an ultimate quietus, takes possession of the soul.

In a word, fate decrees that we shall take our ideas to be knowl-
edge-, and in this we are not misled, because in fact our ideas are
signs of an entirely different, ancient, perpetual automatism in a
universe impossible for us to fathom. The pictorial science of it that
we possess remains only a symbol, save where it becomes purely ab-
stract and formal, reporting certain mathematical harmonies run-
ning through nature, and does not attempt to substitute other
images (which would still be myths) for those that sense and
religion supply in abundance.

Interesting and absorbing as human knowledge may be to the
contemplative mind, as poetry is interesting and absorbing to the
feelings, our vitality prizes that knowledge most for affording a
summary intellectual dominion over our circumstances and our
destiny. Nothing in this knowledge bears to be pressed or scruti-
nised too dosely; but most of it, if taken lightly and convention-
ally, as we take language, helps to carry us prosperously through
life. Knowledge, says the statesman, is power; knowledge, says the
prophet, is salvation. So once more the intellectual world is accepted
only to be transcended. We depute it to make our peace with that
illusive power that incessantly encourages and abandons us in our
ambitions.

Knowledge is thus self-transcendent intrinsically, since if it were
not transcendent and had no object beyond itself, it would not be

SELF-TRANSCENDENCE

knowledge but imagination or, as the Indians call it, illusion. But
Christianity, being realistic, conceives that knowledge has a dy-
namic object, the world, which the mind does not misrepresent
altogether; but may describe more and more justly. For this world
was made by God, who has a mind after which our own min ds
were fashioned. And as the world is his work, and simply one
of his ideas realised, the truth of it is perfectly known to him;
and it can be revealed to our minds also, in so far as we can assimi-
late ourselves to the divine mind. The object of our knowledge is
thus transcendent, being an existing world and an existing deity;
and the ideal which opinions set before themselves is transcendent
also, being the truth. This ideal is realisable by us in a measure,
because our minds are partial reproductions of God’s mind, in
which all truth is grounded and displayed.

Now The Truth is one of the names of God, and one of the
most philosophical; and conceived under this name, we can see
very clearly how he might enter into us, and how we might, as the
full truth about us, have always been present to God’s mind and
been in that sense a part of his being. Parts of the truth can enter
into us without forfeiting an iota of their absoluteness and eternity;
and we, as themes, necessarily enter into the truth, preserving there
our exact limitations and idiosyncrasies. Yet it will only be our
portraits, as it were, perspective views of our evanescent flurries and
tensions, that will subsist in the truth, which itself does not live,
but is only a segment of the realm of essence: so much of it as
God, who does live, chooses to exemplify in existence.

It appears, then, that life, no less than matter, knowledge no
less than will, is perpetually leaping the chasm from now to then,
from here to there, from me to thee, from the given to the assumed,
and from all times into eternity. This may be denied, but only in
a post-mortem examination of life. To be alive is to be inspired.
When then the Gospels bid us abandon our worldly interests, to
repent, and to set our hearts on the Kingdom of Heaven (however
we may interpret these phrases) we cannot tax the Evangelists with demanding anything unnatural. The normal life of many plants
and animals (including man, who grows from a minute seed)
involves complete transformations. Why should not the normal
life of the human soul involve them? And why should premoni-
tions of such an appointed metamorphosis not visit us sometimes
spontaneously, or be awakened in us by the words and lives of
prophets, more mature or more deeply sensitive than ourselves?

And in fact mankind is only too prone to trust inspiration,
naively in prosperity and desperately in disaster. There is diversity
in these inspirations, which is a virtue, but sometimes contradiction,
which raises a painful problem. Is one inspiration right or superior
and another wrong or inferior? Shall one man or nation cultivate
the one and another man or nation cultivate the other? Or should
each man cultivate all inspirations in turn, as far as time and genius
permit?

The idea of Christ and his precepts answer these questions un-
equivocally. All inspirations are intrinsically good, but they form
a hierarchy, and the lower become sinful when they disturb the
higher. Where the higher are not sent, the lower remain innocent
and amiable, as in the brutes. In man, however, the dominance of
the animal becomes ugly and vicious; while in mature or highly
favoured souls such animal functions as are not indispensable — for
instance, the sexual and the warlike — remain in abeyance, poten-
tial in the psyche and understood, but never actually exercised.
The inspiration which they contained transcends its original object,
and goes to swell and to humanise the spiritual life. Christ and his
hundred and forty-four thousand undefiled companions in the
Apocalypse never felt those impulses come in animal darkness;
for in their supernatural souls the ultimate goods to be attained
by those inspirations were clearly visible from the beginning, and
would have been obscured had the physical violence of any passion
been suffered to dominate in the soul, even for a moment. Holiness
is therefore selective and sacrificial: it excludes many things good
in themselves that would not be good in the sanctuary.

SELF-TRANSCENDENCE

Self-transcendence, then, or spontaneous intent fixed upon an
unseen object, is no vice peculiar to religious faith but is the very
breath of intelligence in memory, expectation, perception, and
natural science. Common sense, the honest expression of what we
constantly must assume in thought and in action, never reduces
the object of belief to the vacillating ideas of it that we may form
from moment to moment; and the successful effort of science is
to change these ideas so as to render them less subjective in their
deliverance and truer to their assumed but unfathomed objects.
Language and ignorance no doubt tend to identify things with
the names or the images by which we distinguish them. Genuine
science, however, never outgrows the original human curiosity and
confidence, visible in every child, eager to investigate the unknown.
To ask a question is to betray belief in the transcendent; also belief
in the possibility of learning the truth about it.

Nor is the quite original and symbolic character of the terms in
which revelations may reach us any obstacle in the path of knowl-
edge or of love. In the beginning the eye and the ear report the
same material world in two sets of entirely different and incom-
mensurable sensations, sights and sounds; yet the two witnesses
supplement each other’s evidence, and are equally trustworthy,
though both invent every word they say. If I see an explosion,
my belief is not contradicted if some seconds later I hear it. On
the contrary, I am confirmed in the interpretation that I gave to
the first sign by the interpretation that I can give to the second.
They brought me tidings, each in its own language, of the same
physical fact. As to what this fact may be in itself, there is abstract-
ness and variation in the oracles of science, in proportion as they
transcend the images of sense and trace deeper, unsuspected webs
of relation connecting the parts of nature in the dark. The danger
to valid speculation is precisely to rest content with some image,
like that of the round sky in ancient astronomy, or in some form
of words called a law of nature. Such arrest destroys at that point
the original self-transcendence native to perception, and takes the symbol for the object, as idolatry is accused of doing in religion.
But I think there is less dense idolatry in religion than in language
and in the literary vesture of common opinion in morals and poli-
tics. The ancient Jews, for example, gave the world a ringing
lesson in the need of transcendence when they proclaimed the wor-
ship of images to be an abomination. A political motive lay behind
this enlightenment, because the trust in images persisted among
their own people and dishonoured the singleness of their devotion
to the living invisible God of their nation. The one imageless
Temple was jealous of hilltop shrines and household Penates.
The usual argument against idolatry was derision; the heathen
were fools to pray to stocks and stones that could neither see nor
hear. But the heathen were not idiots: they were artists; and if
sometimes their thoughts were arrested on some colossal image
without clearly transcending to the unseen Power that it symbolised,
this was but a momentary trance of the senses; and if ever a statue
was reported to have spoken or to have nodded, the miracle was
hailed as an exceptional sign that the god had come into his statue
and granted their prayer. So Jehovah himself was reported some-
times to appear in glory, seated upon the wings of the cherubim
in the Holy of Holies. These were local apparitions that, far from
identifying the deity with his image or shrine, expressly contrasted
him with it. Often, however, the Hebrew prophets themselves were
overwhelmed by the force of the senses, and stopped at the precise
words of their dramatic dialogues with Jehovah, without transcend-
ing to the moral predicaments in their nation that had set that
problem and inspired that prophecy. Yet who better than these
prophets could hear those footfalls of fate which they turned into
such graphic eloquence? Why did it never occur to them that if
figures of stone or wood, made by men’s hands, were a cheat, fig-
ures of rhetoric on men’s tongues might be far more subtly and
cruelly deceptive?

It seems, then, that self-transcendence belongs to the very essence
of existence, temporarily, qualitatively, morally, and intellectually.

SELF-TRANSCENDENCE

Existence can be preserved and can live only by transition from
phase to phase and tension between part and part. Any protest
against transitive knowledge or against self-sacrifice, as if these
were contrary to nature, misrepresents the life of nature. But tran-
scendence must not be conceived to abolish continuity. Even tem-
poral self-transcendence presupposes continuity of substance: for
if nothing positive passed from moment to moment (as nothing
would in geometrical time) each moment would form a universe,
and no one of them would be before or after the other. Much
more so in the moral and intellectual self-transcendence that inter-
ests us here. When attention passes from a fact to an idea, both the
psyche thinking and the fact confronted continue to exist: the in-
tuition, which is transparent and self-forgetful, and die essence
which is its theme, are elicited by that substantial process and
tension beneath, which probably continue beyond. Transcendence
and sacrifice thus form a moral accompaniment to a particular
cycle in the flux of existence. They do not imply a suicide followed
by the inception of a new being. Vital continuity in the psyche is
presupposed, carrying personal identity with it. As Christ remains
the same person, the Son of God, when he becomes man, so each
human soul remains the same soul, no matter what new affections
it may develop. Otherwise the development would be a substitu-
tion and the exaltation a disappearance. We do not always know
what nature has made us capable of becoming. Many a vacillation
and disillusion warns us that we are liable to mistake our true
vocation, and to fly blindly from our true good. And why should
not premonitions of this appointed metanoia not visit us some-
times spontaneously, or be awakened in us by the words and ex-
ample of prophets, more mature and deeply sensitive than our-
selves?

I see no reasonable presumption against this: but the choice of
any stage or of any culmination as the right or final state of the
spirit is arbitrary and dictated by some particular moral sentiment
that has no special authority. So vital feeling or stress takes a great leap when it forms images, articulate and analysable; and
intelligence takes another, doubtless simultaneous, when it tran-
scends these images and posits independent and dynamic objects
beneath or beyond them. This is an invaluable progress from the
point of view of conduct, the practical arts, and religion, because
it adjusts action and sentiment to the real forces on which existence
depends. Yet spirit may silently pass on in what might seem the
opposite direction when it abandons or despises all this prudential
and blind knowledge — blind because it has nothing distinct to
offer in the place of the sensuous or poetic images that it transcends
— and reverts, now with an enthusiastic worship, to the cult of
ideas. Yet it is this step that crowns the life of reason. For what
profit is there in discovering the order of nature or the history of
mankind except that we may thereby protect and sweeten the tran-
sit of the soul through the world, and choose eternal objects of
study and love?

The idea of Christ, with the corresponding theory of a super-
natural soul in man, puts this conclusion before us in a dramatic
myth, where the changed affections of the enlightened spirit are
represented as a life lived or to be lived in other worlds. The illu-
sion that may attach to this is innocent and the truth conveyed is
important. Yet that element of illusion would cease to be innocent
if, instead of uttering the spontaneous aspiration of certain souls,
it became a ground for denying positive truths or prohibiting
other aspirations. The ladder by which transcendence dimbs must
not be kicked away from under one’s feet; and that a man should
remain man is the first condition of God’s coming to dwell in him.

What meaning may we give to the phrase: God in man? If we
use it, as I do in this book, with the idea of Christ before us, we
must exdude at once the pantheistic sense of that phrase, which
would be that God exists in man because everything is a part of
God. Only a part of God, then, could exist in man , and that part
would exist in God only because man exists and forms that
feature in the totality of being. There would therefore be no
reduplication, assimilation, or worship possible towards God; the
sublimity of God would be merely quantitative, in that he was in-
finitely greater and more powerful than man. But man would be,
in every respect, an intrinsic part of God, so that God could
never create, command or condemn him, nor could man in any
sense transcend himself and have more of God in him than his
own particular fragment of being. Within these limits, however,
man would be as original, free, spontaneous, and self-justified as
every other portion of the universe.

Now it is obviously not in this sense that God is in Christ
or that Christ offers to come into us with God and to dwell within
as. God, for the Jewish tradition, is a power, a will, an individual
not composed of parts; he is a spirit and can enter into man only
n spirit, that is to say, ideally. For there is spirit in man also;
and the peculiarity of spirit is precisely that it can harbour in an
image or embrace in intent the whole of any object, even the whole universe; and therefore also God, who in this cosmology
is a part only of the totality of being. God exists in Christ, then,
because Christ knows and loves God: and as knowledge and love
have degrees, nothing prevents God from entering in some measure
into any of us, without obscuring our own integrity, or forfeiting,
in his personal being, any degree of his independence. So the
mind can review and re-enact its past without robbing the past
of its inalienable reality and independent existence; or one mind
may understand another, and coincide with it in feeling or opinion,
without either lapsing into that other mind or reducing it to a
mere idea in some third person who, perhaps ages later, discovers
it and agrees with it. This realistic background is proper to mon-
archical theism. It is also requisite if intelligence is to have any
transcendent validity, or idealism any moral function or dignity.
For if idealism is turned into a psychological physics or cosmology
it becomes merely naturalism disguised in romantic or dialectical
myths. Idealism then inspires the same religious sentiments as
pantheism and the same morality.

The idea of Christ, however, is not that of an ordinary man who
has been more or less inspired by the spirit of God; that might be
the Jewish or Mohammedan view of Jesus, or that of some of his
disciples before they had discovered who their Master really was.
He was really God become man; and that is a very different idea
from that of a man living, as far as his nature permits, in an
ideal union with God. Nevertheless, it is the model of Christ,
not that of the godly man, that inspires the Christian, and that
is really adequate to guide a free and heroic spirit. This is the
crux of my problem. It is what forced Catholic theology to adopt
the doctrine of a supernatural human soul: so that only a sac-
rificial human life and a sanctified human body should be truly
natural to man and compatible with his perfect happiness. This
implies the sacrifice of almost everything that a man ordinarily
cares for, including his animal will and his animal self.

Can this really be the universal vocation of spirit? I will answer this question in the honest scholastic way, by a distinguo. Spirit
may be taken in two ways, in its essence or its instances. In its
essence, the vocation of spirit is that of Christ: to be incarnate,
to suffer and do what is appointed, and to return, at every rec-
ollected moment, to perfect union with God. In its instances,
however, the vocation of spirit is different in each soul. In the
poet, the artist, or the wit, intelligence and love are disinterested:
in so far as they deserve those names, that which lives in them is the
liberated spirit. At moments they may touch perfect self-forgetful-
ness; and no fulfilment can come to the spirit more genuine than
that. Moreover, the whole evolution of nature and history is cen-
trifugal, polyglot, reaching incommensurable achievements. Life
radiates in every way it finds open, and in each species, in each
art, flowers into a different glory. To impose one form, one method,
one type of virtue upon every creature would be sheer blindness
to the essence of the good. Spirit, then, I reply, has its essence
in a single vocation, to reflea the glory of God; but this vocation
can be realised only in special and diverse forms. Christ, being
God, refleas Gods whole glory. For us, also, there is no difference
between God entering into us and our attaining our special per-
feaions and reflecting our appointed part of the good.

It is indeed one of the beauties in the idea of Christ that in
spite of his absolute holiness, or because of it, he shows a spon-
taneous sympathy, shocking to the Pharisee, with many non-
religious sides of life, with litde children, with birds and flowers,
with common people, with beggars, with sinners, with sufferers
of all sorts, even with devils. This is one of the proofs that
natural spirit, not indoctrinated or canalised, was speaking in him.
Wherever it peeped, however rudimentary or hidden or contorted
it might be, he recognised it, and wished to liberate and draw
it out, as far as it would come. Was it not the fate hanging over
these poor beginnings or sad frustrations of life that saddened
him and carried him first to the desert and at last to the cross?
Spirit was everywhere so smothered and tormented that nothing short of death to this world could save it. It could be saved if it
saw that in Christ, with his voluntary Incarnation and Passion, it
had its saviour and exemplar. However brief or troubled its career
might be, it would be justified if ever the same light touched it
that shone in Christ. This was the light of ideal union with God,
and all else was vanity.

The prerogative of the idea of Christ to be in this way the light
of the spirit, leading it through every other love to the love of
God only, will be justified rationally if we can trace the idea of
God itself to its roots in the natural life of that very spirit. Now,
the idea of God as Lord and Lawgiver represents dramatically the
contact of spirit with all external powers. Respect for these powers
is wisdom, and Christ in his parables continually teaches us what
are the ways of God in the government of the world. Earthly wis-
dom and virtue will establish our political covenant with God, and
will suffice to save us materially. When we pass to the idea of God
as Creator and Father what is dramatised is rather the dependence
of spirit upon the vital powers that generate it: an agitated and
troubled dependence, because not all psychic movements are favour-
able to spirit, and many a dark passion crosses the inspirations that
seem to come by the grace of God. If we are not content with a
legal righteousness and the earthly well-being which it promises,
if we would be perfect, we must battle against all the forces of
our own nature that impede the perfect union of spirit in us with
the will of our Creator and Father: a loving will, since he made
us because, in idea, he eternally loved us, and a will that is radically
also our own, since our spirit was made in his image, and our
true happiness can never be found save in his glory.

This idea of God as spirit, loving the spirit in us and realising
in himself all that spirit in us looks to as its supreme good, is
evidently prophetic ; that is, it sees in a vision as an accomplished
fact, though hidden from vulgar apprehension, a secret ideal of
the heart, and helps to render that ideal clearer and more communicable.

CONCLUSION

Thus the enigmatic presence of God in man signifies the same
thing as holiness, or the complete triumph of spirit over the other
elements of human nature. And this presence of God, far from
destroying those other elements, presupposes them, as it does in
Christ, and merely coordinates and purifies them, so that they may
be perfect instruments and not impediments for the spirit. This is
strongly expressed in the inspired notion that Christ, being God,
positively chose to assume a human body and a human psyche.
Spirit could not otherwise have had a history. The idea of Christ
thus represents the intrinsic ideal of spirit; that is to say, the acme
of disinterested intelligence and disinterested love.

All these considerations might seem inconclusive and contra-
dictory if one final point were not understood. The life of spirit,
being natural, is contingent; it cannot be anything obligatory. It
was not a duty for matter to produce life, nor is it a duty for
life to produce spirit. For the most part these transitions do not
occur, and the universe rolls on in a peace it does not enjoy
towards catastrophes it does not expect. But life when it has arisen
begins to pursue certain contingencies and to tremble at others;
and spirit inherits this moral and dramatic sensibility. Yet its own
impulse is to transcend that agitation. When conflicting movements
divide the psyche and would destroy each other, the spirit, being
hostile to nothing, feels the suasion of both and triumphs if they
manage to unite in a relative euphoria and harmony. But not all
souls love harmony. Harmony involves sacrifice, and vital passions
will not endure it. If they did, their objects would be transformed.
They would become themes for the spirit, moving in the magnetic
field of the truth, where all things are eternally pictured. That is
the realm that spirit looks out upon from the beginning. For spirit
is addressed to qualitative being, such as pure attention would
discover in every image of sense, in every feeling, in every event:
the eternal essence of that image, of that feeling, of that event.
This is what poetry, painting, and history arrest and preserve. But
attention is seldom or never pure; it is distracted by the irrelevant abundance of blind excitements and the feebleness of its own
light. And the automatism of life in most men thirsts for irrelevant
excitements, not finding much joy in anything definite and true
to itself.

The idea of Christ crucified has had many worshippers, and has
inspired many saints. But it has not converted the world or saved
it. The world does not wish to be saved. If we say that the world
thereby wills its own damnation, we are merely venting our private
displeasure, without frightening the world. The flux of existence
cannot be stopped by reflection, save as it has partially stopped
already to make that reflection. To stop may well seem to it a
worse damnation than never to be able to stop. But in fact life is
not condemned to either fate, because materially it always passes
on, but in spirit it sometimes transcends into realisation of the
eternal. There is aesthetic delight in this, as well as moral peace
and intellectual clearness; but those who miss these things do not
regret missing them. It would not be in the spirit of Christ to
blame them for that privation: verily they have their reward. Yet
that reward, from the spiritual point of view, is itself their punish-
ment, for it keeps them from ever understanding the power of
their own minds or judging anything otherwise than by an accidental passion.


GEORGE SANTAYANA [December 16, 1863 – September 26, 1952]