The Divinity of Christ – An Argument: Chapter IX

cover of the ebook 'The Divinity of Christ: An Argument', by Bishop Louis-Victor-Emile BougaudThe new life, and the transformation of the world, cannot be explained if we reject the Divinity of Jesus Christ – Jesus Christ regenerated the world by stamping His likeness upon it

But let us lay the Gospels aside also – the Gospels in which the dazzling beauty of the Son of Man lives, and will ever live, without ornaments, without grand phrases, in the simplest style – a beauty which will suffice to defend it against all doubt, and attract every soul to itself sooner or later. After all we have other means of forming a judgment on the character of Jesus Christ. We may measure it by its shadow, as Parker says, or rather by the light which it has cast on the world. We can appreciate Him by the wonderful effects of His word, by the results of His life and death. What was the world before He came? What has it become since? Let us try to measure the change He has caused in it: the intellectual, moral, and religious beauty which He has communicated to it – we shall find at the same time a new measure, and a very just one, of the greatness of Jesus Christ.

Strange phenomenon! Jesus made the world in His own image and likeness, and it is by this that He has regenerated and transformed it. Those grand characteristics of His mind and heart. His loftiness of thought. His tenderness and purity of feeling, His breadth of comprehension as displayed to us in the Gospels, are reflected in the modern world, and it is this which distinguishes it from, and makes it superior to, the ancient world. The ancient world was plunged in idolatry, in ignorance of God, in superstition so deep and inveterate, that Plato, with all his genius, felt himself incapable of dissipating it, and called loudly for intervention from above. And now this God, whom Jesus called His Father, is ours. This pure and spiritual worship, this adoration in spirit and in truth, this beautiful religion founded on purity of heart, on the divine paternity, and the brotherhood of man, is the religion of all, even the most lowly. Like Jesus, we know and feel ourselves to be Sons of God. God is not outside us, and far off; He is within us. He dwells in our hearts, and makes our life godlike. The dullest existence, the one most forgotten by men, has yet an insight into a corner of heaven. And who shall say to what perfection the virtues that shone in the heart of Jesus – His humility, obedience, zeal for the glory of God, love of men – have attained in certain souls? Nowhere, doubtless, has the Divine Model been equaled, but discouragement has never arisen from the inability of reproducing it in its perfection. And, as nature multiplies its efforts, varies its shades and colors, brings forth millions of species of roses in order to realize the type, so each of the virtues of Christ has created during eighteen centuries thousands of men who have made the sublimest efforts to try and reproduce something of His inimitable beauty. The world has been filled with the perfume of these efforts, and has owed to them, besides the general character of religious aspirations, a supernatural fruitfulness, of which the ancient world had not even the idea.

And this is not the only feature of His character that Jesus Christ has imprinted on modern society. Jesus, who in heaven saw only His father, on earth saw only souls. For Him there was neither great nor small, neither rich nor poor, and I will say with the Apostle, neither male nor female, neither young nor old. Wealth and rank, greatness and poverty, old age and youth, and all other outward distinctions were but transparent veils, through which His most pure eye perceived alone that majestic presence which is called a soul. Now this character of high spirituality is the second character of the modern world. Towards the close of ancient history men had regard only to the exterior, and esteemed none but the rich and powerful. They crushed the weak, women and children, and trampled the poor under foot. Suddenly a strange thing occurs. The soul imperceptibly takes possession of the first place. And as a consequence, woman, despite her weakness, is raised: the child is raised, even the sickly child whom the State condemned to death: the slave is raised while keeping the chains he will soon lay aside: the poor man is raised, and will see his rags touched with respect by the rich. It is an unheard-of, unhoped-for, irresistible revolution. The great and the strong pass to the second place. There is infinite consideration bestowed on the lowly, and a new society is built up on gentleness for the little one, on respect for woman, on love for the poor, and on the self-respect of all in a holy equality.

And as one of the features of the beauty of the Son of Man is the universality of His love, as one cannot think of Him without seeing Him fastened to the cross, His arms extended to embrace the world, the barriers between nations fall: the love of country, without ceasing to have a share in the heart of man, becomes less exclusive; beacons are lighted all along those sea-coasts where formerly profit was made from ship-wrecks; the word hostis has no longer any meaning; the human race is born – that is to say, the great republic of brothers, separated still by interests and language, but having at least three bonds which make them one, notwithstanding the barriers of mountains and seas – the bond of blood, the bond of faith and the bond of love.

And this is but the commencement. Here is the most divine and royal feature which the beauty of Christ imprints on modern society. Modern society, like Him, has something infinite, incommensurable, never to be satisfied, which constitutes its pride and its beauty; and here is the origin of its progressiveness. Look at the ancient world. Everything in its way is perfect. Each man attains his ideal, and realizes the good and the beautiful as far as his nature apprehends it. In the modern world, on the contrary, the aim is never reached. All aim at a beauty – shall I call it imaginary, since no one attains to it, and since all lament that it is beyond their reach? Listen to the ancient world. In art, in philosophy, in poetry, what an expression of satisfaction! It found and realized the beautiful, and was happy. How different from this long aspiration, this incessant lamentation of the modern world: “Ah! if I could arrive at absolute beauty! If I could find eternal truth! If I could make the good, the beautiful, the noble, the holy live in me!”

The old world erected its temples, set up its statues, composed its dramas and its glorious epics, all with a certain finish. The new world, in its art, in its philosophy, in its poetry has nothing which it considers as finished. It has not the courage to finish anything: its ideal so far surpasses any reality. The Parthenon expresses the desire of beauty satisfied; the Cathedral of Cologne the soaring aspiration of love unsatisfied.

I can never think without amazement of the strange conception of the gods in Homer. They are crowned and recompensed in the Elysian fields, but they are not happy – they are full of regrets. And what do they regret? The earth they have quitted, this life, the light they had here below. Great as they are, they estimate themselves as shades only. Light, beauty, life for them is in this world. Darkness is above where they are. Listen to them; listen to Achilles. Does he desire a greater splendor? No, he regrets his strength, his former valor. And all are the same. Unfortunate shades, who live turned towards this earth which they have left, and whose only consolation is to come back and wander among the living. We, on the contrary, remain unsatisfied though we live in this new world of Jesus Christ amidst all the splendors of creation and art. We dream of a beauty greater than any beauty we have ever known, which we despair of realizing here below. Even when we find ourselves in heaven we shall scarcely be satisfied. We shall go from light to light, always seeking something yet more beautiful, retaining our desires, our aspirations, but not our grief; for desires as they arise will be ever satisfied. Such is the human mind in the modern world. It has been completely changed.

This grand phenomenon of history, on which I do not further insist, evidently presupposes an extraordinary event which corresponds to it, and effected the transformation. There must have been a moment when the ancient world came to an end; and the new commenced. Some influence must have been exerted over souls to drive them in the new direction. When was this moment? What was the first step in this endless progress? Who opened this era? There is but one reply – Jesus Christ. It is absolutely certain that the ancient world comes to an end at the Cross of the Saviour, neither sooner nor later, and that the new world begins then. The cross is the stopping-point of the fall, the point whence renovation begins; and if Jesus Christ is God, all is to be understood and explained. But if Jesus Christ is not God; if He has substituted idolatry for idolatry; if He deceived mankind, and if by this falsehood, or by this illusion, He has regenerated the world, then everything is to me wholly unintelligible. All my ideas of certainty, of truth, of justice, of virtue, and, I will add, of cause and effect, become confused to my mind, and even the idea of God is enveloped with a veil. What Napoleon said is true: “In short, and this is my last argument, there is no God in heaven, if a man could conceive and execute with full success the gigantic design of appropriating to Himself supreme worship, and usurping the name of God.” And I add, if he could, while usurping the name of God, and plunging the world into idolatry, at the same time regenerate it.

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