The Divinity of Christ – An Argument: Chapter V

cover of the ebook 'The Divinity of Christ: An Argument', by Bishop Louis-Victor-Emile BougaudJesus Christ plainly asserts His Divinity – He is the Son of God

This great name of Son of Man, of which we spoke above, which Jesus assumed continually, and which recurs more than eighty times in the Gospel, contained in itself a peculiar and startling revelation of His true nature. For whence could He have derived that sublime peculiarity of being not only a son of man, like all the descendants of Adam, but of being the Son of Man, the perfect man, in whom, and in whom only, the human ideal is fulfilled? How is it that He alone has realized all that is contained in the idea of man? And is it that on this account He knows Himself to be, and calls Himself, the Head of the Human race, which He, and no other, can raise, heal and enlighten, on condition of its being united to Him. “The Father has given Him power to do judgment, because He is the Son of Man.” “The Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.” “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.” “He that will be first among you shall be your servant. Even as the Son of Man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a redemption to many.”

All these texts, and so many others which express either His supernatural elevation above the common level, or His touching condescension and voluntary self-abasement in coming down to our fallen race, constitute, in my opinion, the vestibule, and as it were, the splendid portico through which we enter into the shrine of His Divinity.

But if He called Himself Son of Man, He called Himself also, and still more clearly, Son of God, His only Son, begotten of the Father before all ages, who had descended from Heaven, and was alone capable of reascending thither, and taking the human race with Him.

All who surrounded Him call Him the Son of God, without provoking in His humble soul the least surprise, or the least opposition. Peter fell on his knees, and said to Him, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Martha, “Lord, I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God who art come into this world.” Thomas, after having touched the wounds of His feet and hands, “Thou art my Lord, and my God.” And all the Apostles, when He had calmed the tempest, “Truly Thou art the Son of God.”

What does Christ reply? Is He surprised? Is He moved to grief and indignation at seeing the sacred and incommunicable name of God transferred to a creature? Three years afterwards, when the people, carried away by the teaching and the miracles of Paul and Barnabas, threw themselves at their feet to adore them, Paul was indignant, Barnabas rent his garments, and both Apostles exclaimed from the sincerity of their hearts, “Brethren, why do ye these things? We also are mortals, men like unto you.” Remember, too, the extreme carefulness of John the Baptist not to deceive the people. He is always saying, “I am not the Christ, I am not He whom you look for.” And who does not recollect the anger of Moses, and his noble indignation, and the care to hide his sepulchre in order not to take from God the glory which belongs to Him. With Jesus there is nothing of the sort. He is called God, Son of God, true Son of God, by all. Though so pure and humble, so holy and wise, He calmly lets Himself be called Son of God, and adored as such.

And He not only accepts this title, but He blesses and rewards those who give it Him. “Blessed art thou,” He says to Simon, after he has confessed the Divinity of Christ, “for it is not flesh or blood,”- it is not prejudice, ignorance, or passion, that have prompted this confession – “My Father who is in heaven has revealed it to thee. And therefore I say to thee, Thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Jesus Christ does yet more than simply accept this title, and bless those who give it Him; for He assumes it Himself, and challenges those whom He wishes to save or heal to address Him by it. He says to the man who was born blind, “Dost thou believe in the Son of God?” And the blind man, raising his newly opened eyes to Him, replies, “Who is He, that I may believe in Him?” And Jesus continues, “Thou hast both seen Him, and it is He that talks with thee.” And then the blind man falls at His feet and adores Him. Could He go farther? If Jesus is not God, is not that a challenge to a crime? And in order that we may not imagine that this name of Son is His only in the same way that we are called children of God by adoption, and great men are called godlike, He asserts distinctly that He is the only Son of God. He says to Nicodemus, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son – the only son by nature – the son who is in the bosom of the Father.”

And He makes these words, which He said to Nicodemus in the intimacy of a private conversation, the ordinary theme of His preaching in Jerusalem. He affirms His divine, absolute, and eternal filiation. His unity of essence with the Father, in such terms that the Jews, filled with indignation, stop their ears, and take up stones to stone Him. And when Jesus said to them, “Many good works I have shewed you from My Father; for which of those works do you stone Me?” they answered, “For a good work we stone Thee not, but for blasphemy; and because that Thou, being a man, make Thyself God.”

He was arraigned before the courts, and neither prayers nor threats, nor supplications from those who were perplexed, nor the prospect of the penalty of death, can make Him forego His claim. “If thou be the Christ, tell us.” And Jesus said, “If I shall tell you, you will not believe Me.” The priests answered, “Art Thou then the Son of God?” “You say that I am.”

The High Priest was not satisfied with this reply. He insisted on putting the question with all possible distinctness, and investing it with the solemnity of religion. “I adjure Thee by the living God that Thou tell us if Thou be the Christ, the Son of God.” And Jesus replied, “Thou hast said it.”

He was taken to Pilate, and what was the accusation brought against Him? “We have a law; and according to the law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.”

The people acknowledged that it was for this, and for no other reason, that He suffered; and therefore, even in His agony, they insult Him with the cry, “If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

Thus Jesus called Himself God, Son of God, true Son of God. He did not content Himself merely with accepting this title, with blessing and recompensing those who gave it to Him – He assumed it Himself, in private, in public, in the streets oi Jerusalem, and before the tribunals. He died rather than renounce it. He died because He assumed it. On this point there is no ambiguity, for it is admitted by even the most advanced rationalists. “The expression Son of God,” says M. Salvador, “was in ordinary use among the Hebrews to indicate a man of great wisdom, and great piety. It was not in this sense that Christ made use of it: for then it would not have caused such a sensation.” And he adds, “The question the people had raised was this: Did Jesus make Himself God? Now the Council, judging that Jesus, son of Joseph, born in Bethlehem, had profaned the name of God in arrogating it to Himself, but a simple citizen, applied to Him the law against blasphemy, and pronounced sentence of death.” Such is the fact, and certainly it suggests matter for reflection.

But the logical intrepidity of this assertion is, I may dare to say so, still more striking than its novelty, its boldness, and ever increasing vehemence. In fact, Jesus assumes all the titles of God, Jesus claims all the homage due to God, and, I may say. He exercises all the powers of God. This, in fact, is the main point; for we may dispute about a name, about the meaning of a Hebrew expression, although under certain conditions of clearness and precision, such as we have just cited, discussion would be very difficult. But this is not the question. Jesus has not only assumed the name of God, of the Son of God; but He has also assumed the offices and acts, the necessary and sovereign attributes of the Divinity.

Let us first remark that when Christ calls Himself God, He draws a clear distinction between Himself and God the Father who sent Him, whose works He is come to do, to whose will He submits, to whom He prays, with whom He converses interiorly. “My Father loves me. My meat is to do the will of my Father. I do always what is pleasing to my Father. I will pray the Father. O Father, I know that Thou hear me always.”

There the distinction of persons is perfectly stated.

He draws the same clear distinction between Himself and the Holy Ghost, who rested on Him at His Baptism, whom He breathed upon His disciples, whom He promised to send to them as the spirit of truth and holiness, with the fullness of all gifts. “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter…the Spirit of truth. I tell you the truth: it is expedient for you that I go: for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you: but if I go, I will send Him to you.”

Thus Jesus draws a clear distinction between Himself and the Father, and again between Himself and the Holy Ghost. He never draws a distinction between Himself and the Son. He never speaks of the Son as of one different from Himself. He is the Son. He takes the name of the Son, and in a sense which implies nothing short of perfect and substantial equality with the Father and the Holy Ghost. Listen to this passage, at once so intelligible and mysterious, and meditate upon it: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me. Philip saith to Him: Lord, shew us the Father, and it is enough for us. Jesus saith to him: So long a time have I been with you, and have you not known me? Philip, he that sees me, sees the Father also. How say thou, ‘Shew us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? Otherwise believe for the very works’ sake. Amen, amen, I say to you, he that believes in me, the works that I do, he also shall do, and greater than these shall he do: because I go to the Father: and whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name that will I do: that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you love me keep my commandments, and I will ask the Father and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you for ever. The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it sees Him not, nor knows Him. If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make our abode with him.”

This passage reveals to us the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. We have the unity of nature and distinction of persons. And among these three Persons, Jesus is the Son. As such He affirms His real and conscious pre-existence before man existed – or rather before the world existed. “Verily, verily, I say to you, before Abraham was (began to be) I am.” And in the prayer of the Last Supper, “Father, glorify Thou me with the glory that I had with Thee before the world was.” And hence all those wonderful and sublime expressions: “I am the Light of the World. I am come a Light into the world. He who follows me walks not in darkness. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I am the Beginning. I am the Resurrection and the Life. I am the Living Bread that came down from Heaven.” Expressions which would be those of a mad-man if they were not those of a God; words which should have scorched His lips, and He pronounces them with divine calmness. Amidst declarations so startling, there is not to be found in Him the least thought of pride, ambition, or vanity. He speaks and acts with the simplicity and superiority of undeniable truth.

Not merely does He assume all the titles which belong to God alone, but consistently with this assumption He does all the works of a God. He speaks as God. “It was said to them of old and I say unto you.” He commands, as God: “Go, teach all nations…. teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, even to the consummation of the world.” He grants pardon as God. Who can forgive sins, asked the Jews, but God alone? “But that you may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, I say to thee, arise.” And addressing Mary Magdalene He pardons her all the sins she has committed against God, as though they were a debt contracted with Himself, and because of the love which she has for Him. Finally, He judges as God: He announces that He shall appear at the end of the world, in the clouds of Heaven, surrounded with power, and great glory, and that as a sovereign He will pronounce the final sentence on the assembled nations.

To crown all – after having assumed all the titles and powers of God, He claims also Divine homage. Faith: “You believe in God, believe also in Me.” Prayer: “Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Love: He claims to be loved above all; to be loved more than father and mother, more than wife and children, to be loved with a love that does not flinch before death itself. To those who die for Him, He will give eternal life.”

How can we be unmoved when we think of the noble heart whence issued such words: of the great and sublime intellect which pronounced them – of the pure, spotless, light-giving conscience, out of which they sprung. Could He, the wisest, best, and holiest of men, be the most corrupt of men? Could He, the humblest and most modest, be the proudest of men? Could He, the ideal man, the typical man, He who possessed every human perfection, be after all the most infirm? For such in truth would He be, if being only man, He identified Himself in His will, in His essence, and in his attributes with the infinite God, and that in a sense so wide, so deep, so unique that no man could make a similar claim for a moment without blasphemy and madness. Words such as these, moreover, which would be revolting to us if spoken by any other, and which in fact no other has ever dared to utter, appear quite natural to us from the lips of Jesus. They appear to Himself yet more natural. They are so nobly sustained by His Life and works, that even those who do not believe in Him dare not accuse Him of fraud, or vanity, or ambition. Such an accusation would contradict the common sense of mankind.

If, after all these proofs, yet another proof were wanted of the consciousness He possessed of His Divinity, I would ask for no other than His method of carrying out His great work. He has but one way of enlightening and healing mankind, which is – to propose Himself to the world as an object of faith – that is to say, an object for its love, admiration, and adoration. This in itself we may observe, if not manifestly absurd, supposes the consciousness of so great a superiority, that we are obliged to admit in Him who so speaks a presumption at least in favor of His claim to the adoration of the human race. To cure mankind, to heal its wounds, to raise it to holiness, to endow it with every virtue, Jesus Christ knows but one way – Himself. Himself alone, Himself, loved, known, adored. When He teaches, it is not to expound a system, but to reveal His own mind. When He suffers and dies, it is to manifest His love. And when on the cross He says that “all is finished,” it is because He has unfolded His whole Soul, and thenceforth nothing more remains for Him to do. He leaves disciples behind, but do not think that it is to propagate His ideas. They are to preach Him Himself: to make Him known to the world, that He may enlighten all with His light. They were to serve, according to His own expression, as witnesses to Him in all parts of the world. This is the one mission that He gives to His disciples, and this alone is the mission which after eighteen centuries His Church continues to fulfill.

Attempts have often been made to draw a parallel between Christ and those great geniuses who, like Him, have collected and formed disciples; and the name of Socrates suggests itself to all, because he also had the honor of dying for the truth. The resemblance, however, is but apparent; the difference is deep and radical. Socrates preached the truth, Jesus Christ preached Himself; Socrates considered all adhesion to his teaching that proceeded from confidence in himself, and admiration for his genius, illogical and unreasonable. Christ desired that the conviction of His disciples should rest on an entire faith in His word. Socrates, fearing to be an obstacle to truth, ever sought to blot out self, and carefully conceal his superiority, thus meriting an eternal remembrance. Christ, on the contrary, calmly and constantly affirms His own absolute superiority and the necessity of believing in Him. If Christ were not much above Socrates, He would be much below Him. The fact is, one taught as man, the other taught as God. And in making use of Rousseau’s celebrated phrase, I would say – if the teaching of Socrates, and his method of conducting souls to truth, prove the philosopher, the teaching and method of Jesus Christ prove the God.

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