The Divinity of Christ – An Argument: Chapter I

cover of the ebook 'The Divinity of Christ: An Argument', by Bishop Louis-Victor-Emile BougaudGeneral features of the physiognomy of Jesus Christ – His mind – His heart – His influence

Let us first look at the physiognomy of Jesus. The physiognomy is the manifestation of the soul through the dust of the body. It is the soul coming forth, so to speak, from its retreat, taking possession of the face, and imprinting on it a beauty which has no equal in the order of created things. “What,” says FĂ©nelon, “are all the fires of the sun in comparison to the fire in the glance of a man of genius?” He was right, and yet he spoke but of one characteristic of human beauty. It is not genius only that enkindles: the heart too has its fires as glowing, and more melting, which light the countenance yet more quickly. Nor is the will without its fires. From the will comes that bright and manly flame of courage and of strength, which crowns the human brow with the mystery of beauty.

Now, in all these respects the physiognomy of Jesus is incomparable. In Him the human mind reaches the highest manifestation. “I am the Light,” said Jesus Christ. This cannot be called in question. He is the pure Light. Around the greatest geniuses gather clouds and mists, the creation of the senses: around Him there are none. Spots are seen on the sun; there are none in Him. His mind is full of light; pouring forth its rays in every direction without stint, and with royal munificence. He expands in fruitfulness on all sides, with an absence of effort such as imagination could never picture.

Where, I ask, have you seen a greater loftiness of character than in Jesus Christ? Who ever proposed to Himself so high an object? Who ever reached his object by such simple and spiritual means? What lightning flashes in His conversation, at once gentle and piercing, which give light but do not dazzle, so natural do they seem! How He rises all at once to the most sublime heights, and carries you with Him! Or, rather, He does not rise: He always dwells on the heights. If He were going up like a man, we should experience as we went with Him that oppression, that blessed weariness of mounting step by step: and, dazzled Himself with that sublime sight, He would communicate to us His emotion. But it is not so. “He is full,” says Bossuet, “of the mysteries of God, but we see that these mysteries do not surprise Him. He speaks of them naturally, as one born in such mystery, and in such glory.”

This calmness in such a light, this absence of effort in attaining heights which so few reach, and in always remaining there, have appeared to some the greatest characteristics of this wonderful mind. But I own that I am yet more struck with its depth. Depth is perhaps of a more divine order than height. It is the characteristic of superior minds, but how rare is it! How much haziness, how much uncertainty is there not in the forecasts of the greatest geniuses! How are they falsified day by day! And yet it is an enviable power this, of being able to penetrate into the hidden windings of events, and beyond the present, to foresee and greet the future. Now this glorious state is the habitual state of Jesus Christ. Nothing escapes His penetrating gaze. Who has not remarked in the Gospel the intuition with which He discerns the secret thoughts of the heart, however deceitful may be the outward appearance? What a surpassing power He has of casting into the depth of the soul a single word, full of mystery; a word, which, misunderstood at first, or despised, is only revealed later to envelop him who has received it in confusion or in light, according to his inward dispositions! With consummate skill, with a master knowledge of the heart of man, by a short conversation He carries forward His mission, and takes His place as master, where that of disciple had been given Him. He sees into the hearts of His apostles, and at the very moment when they are multiplying protestations of devotion, gently but distinctly He tells them of their approaching fall.

And this direct, perfect, and divine intuition of souls is not all. He knows the destinies of nations as He knows the secrets of hearts. The future of Jerusalem is as clear to His eyes as the future of Peter or of Judas. The great revolution that was then beginning, the new world which was to be born at the foot of the Cross; the cross which would draw all to itself, the humble apostles who should teach all nations, the nations who should be converted, one fold enclosing all, and one Shepherd governing all; He sees all this with a direct certainty, with perfect distinctness. And His vast mind, which, over-leaping time and space, travels onwards to the last days of the world, in predicting the ruins of Jerusalem gives us the proof that He knows how the human race will end.

And yet there is no effort, no surprise in His prophetic intuition, any more than there was in His sublime elevation. “There is nothing in the knowledge of the future that causes Him disturbance or astonishment, because His mind embraces all time. The mysteries of the future which He proclaims are not sudden and unforeseen lights that dazzle Him, they are familiar objects, of which He never loses sight, and whose images are ever present to Him; and future centuries are to His all-seeing gaze as the light of the present day is to us.”

But if we would form a true idea of the whole spirit of Jesus Christ, we must add to this height and depth a third and crowning intellectual beauty. Each of His words is fruitful. It sows for the future. He says, Blessed are the poor. Blessed those who mourn. Blessed the pure in heart. Blessed those who suffer persecution for justice. Marvelous seeds! Who shall recount the harvests that have sprung from them? From them have sprung all the apostles, all the virgins, all the martyrs, all the benefactors of the human race. He says, “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s;” and he lays the basis of the distinction between the two powers on which modern civilization rests. He says, “Our Father who art in heaven,” and He sows the seed of universal brotherhood in true equality. Every word from His lips is a germ of indefinite progress.

And yet more wonderful is the language which He speaks. Never have loftier thoughts been expressed in fewer words; never have words, heavy and material in themselves – the despair of those who write – been so idealized and transfigured by thought. They are truly “spirit and life,” according to the noble expression of Jesus Christ Himself. He uses the fewest words possible; short, transparent words, which show the spirit that animates them. Science has found a means of reducing the highest medicinal and life-giving properties of nature to the smallest possible compass: Jesus Christ has done the same. In a few clear and precise words He has laid down the eternal laws of things, the fundamental principles of the family and society, the causes of the decline of nations and their remedies, and, above all, the divine laws of the soul. And under so simple a form that it is at once milk for infants and wine for the aged.

Here, then, we have the spirit of Jesus Christ – not only in His high and sublime teaching, and in His profound knowledge of the human heart and of the future, but also in the instantaneous and unlimited fruitfulness of His words, increasing with time, and producing the renovation of man, of the family, and of society. Whence has such a genius arisen? From whom does He proceed? Previous ages had sought for Him, but in vain. None like Him had ever appeared.

And now having studied the mind of Jesus Christ, let us look at His heart. We shall find there other gifts, other charms, but the same manifestation of the Divinity. Or rather, a still more powerful manifestation, for the heart is naturally more beautiful than the mind: it is formed out of a more heavenly material; it is a far worthier vehicle for the Divinity.

Think how the heart of man is constituted. You will be surprised to see how little the heart of Jesus Christ resembles it. We love, no doubt; we give ourselves to each other. This is our glory, the sign that we come from above. But our love is feeble. Is there any whose love has attained the total surrender of self – the thirst for self-sacrifice? Is there any who has not yearned to descend from that Thabor where self is sacrificed for love?

We all bear about that sad wound in the heart of not being able to suffer long, even for those we love the most. There is but one exception – the heart of Jesus Christ. He loves, and He gives all. And because there is no greater act of love than to die for those one loves, from the first moment of His existence to the last He longs for the accomplishment of His sacrifice. “His hour,” as He calls it, that which He awaits with impatience, is the hour when on Calvary His sufferings can equal the excess of His love.

And here is another grandeur of the heart of Jesus, corresponding to another weakness in the heart of man. Precisely because we love little, our love embraces only a few. We shut ourselves up in order to love; we build a little nest where we place the beings most dear to us – a father, a mother, a wife, children, a few chosen friends. Because we have but a little drop of love, we take care of it: we only give it to a few; and even in giving these few all the affection we possess, we are not sure of giving them enough. How different is the heart of Jesus! He loves all, and He loves all with the same ardor. The little ones, the great, the poor, the rich, the just, sinners, the forsaken, those abandoned by the world which has He forgotten? Is there one He has not loved tenderly, ardently? Have there been any too sinful for the purity of His Heart, or too common for its nobility? Has one been found either too great for the Humility, or too little for the Sublimity of this Heart? It would seem even as though this immensity was not enough; and we discover in His words, and in His prayers, bursts of love with which He embraces all creatures, and generations which are unknown to us.

To such a heart is joined a purity which I dare not call angelic, for it would he saying too little. He lives in the midst of the world. He sits at table with sinners. He sees at His feet every human weakness, and never has. I do not say the shadow of a doubt in the virtuous, but the shadow of an insult from the lips of the wicked, been aimed at Him. Everything has been attacked except the purity of this heavenly Being. And as though it were necessary that this heart, so loving and so pure, should possess an unrivaled halo. It has created a multitude of hearts in Its own image – virginal hearts, loving and pure as Itself.

And the perfection of His beauty is this. Instead of presenting Himself to the world with that sadness which made Pascal say so mournfully, “Our greatest infirmity is to be able to do so little for those we love,” He appears, on the contrary, with a calm bearing, with the full certainty of healing, consoling, saving, beatifying those He loves. “Come to Me,” He cries, “all ye who are weary, and I will refresh you, and you shall find rest for your souls.” Happy heart which can pronounce such a word! Alas! we dare not say it to a father, to a friend, to our children, and He has said it to the whole world! “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink.” Thirst for happiness, thirst for consolation, thirst for holiness, thirst for peace – He makes no distinction. His Heart, feeling itself capable of realizing every dream, becomes yet bolder. “Let not your heart be troubled,” I bring you peace – peace which the world cannot give, peace which surpasses all understanding. And not only peace but joy. “Your joy shall be full: your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” Happy he who can thus speak to those he loves, who can offer them other than impotent desires, or unavailing tears! But what greatness does not such language suppose! And unless we sorrowfully admit that it is but the illusion of a noble and generous nature, we must recognize in it and greet with admiration – a human heart, no doubt, but a heart unlike any other heart, in which we cannot help perceiving an evident manifestation of the Divinity.

Strength is the third attribute of human beauty. We have it here in its highest expression. Jesus Christ has every form of strength: the strength of modesty in His triumph in the midst of the enthusiasm of the multitude: the strength of patience with the self-will of His disciples, the cavils of the Pharisees, and the deceitfulness of the chief priests: the strength of peace and joy in the midst of injuries, buffetings, spittings, scourgings: and what is still more marvelous, the strength of resignation in anguish, when beaten down by the most fearful exhaustion of nature. Such unlimited courage and calm dignity in the midst of circumstances so well calculated to baffle and discourage, challenge the noblest effort of the human will. And yet there is more beyond. He has given a still more wonderful and supreme manifestation of strength in the way in which He has lifted up the world, according to His expression, “I will draw all things to Myself.” Archimedes said, “Give me a fulcrum and I will move the world.” Jesus Christ has moved the world, and He had no need of a fulcrum. He took twelve poor, rude artisans – men without genius, and without learning – and He did, what is stranger than to move the world: He changed it, He improved it. He transformed it. And what is more remarkable. He accomplished this change after His death. During His life He did nothing. He died abandoned on a cross. But it was then, as He had predicted, when He had disappeared from earth, and it seemed as though His work were extinct, and had vanished with Him, it was then that he proved His strength by miracles from beyond the grave, and that from the depth of the sepulchre in which this work was thought to be forever buried, it re-appeared suddenly, full of an endless life, and an eternal fruitfulness.

It seems almost useless to add, in finishing this first outline, that these divine beauties in the physiognomy of Jesus Christ – beauty of mind, beauty of goodness, and of love, of strength, and of courage, are perfectly balanced. You cannot discover either gap, or weakness, or stain, or exaggeration, or effort. Each faculty reaches its highest degree of intensity, but it is impossible to mention one that eclipses the others. They blend harmoniously together, and in Him and in His life we find a tranquil grandeur, a sweet simplicity, and a sublime peace.

From time to time the human race has produced wonderful beings, but none that can be compared with Jesus Christ. He has everything, and in an unlimited measure. In Him, thoughts, words, poetry, eloquence, love, power over men, and immense results, every gift, and every power are united, and in such perfection that the mind which has meditated the life of Jesus Christ can conceive nothing greater.

And this is the meaning of the word “Son of Man” which appears in every page of the Gospel. Jesus Christ is not only a son of man like all the descendants of Adam: He is the Son of Man in an absolute sense: the pure, perfect, beautiful ideal man: the fairest flower, the choicest fruit the earth has ever produced, or rather the one fair, perfect flower that has budded forth from the tree of Adam.

– taken from The Divinity of Christ, by Bishop Emile Bougaud