The Divinity of Christ – An Argument: Chapter VI

cover of the ebook 'The Divinity of Christ: An Argument', by Bishop Louis-Victor-Emile BougaudJesus Christ claimed and received the worship and the love of mankind

We will go still deeper. We have seen that Christ was not satisfied with calling Himself God, but He claimed all the rights of God, and the homage due to God. Now there is one act of homage which He demanded with peculiar persistence, which He obtained in a perfect degree, and in which He is distinguished from all others. I speak of the love which Jesus Christ exacted from men: a love so entire, so great, so absolute, and so heroic, that the idea alone of asking for such a love implies the consciousness of the most divine superiority, and removes our wonder that, having dared to ask so much. He should have been able to obtain it. And as though human ideas were to be reversed in all that concerns this wonderful Being, at the same time that He asked for love He foretold how He should be hated, and hated with a hatred as sublime as the love He would inspire. And what He foretold has been accomplished. At once loved and hated, adored and scoffed at, loved with a passionate love which eighteen centuries have not satiated, hated with a ferocity of hatred which eighteen centuries have not explained. My Jesus, I am going in search of Thy Divinity in the best way I can. I had a glimpse of it at first, sweet, and as though half concealed beneath the dazzling beauty of Thy Human Physiognomy. Now I seem to see its rays. The clouds have dispersed. The sky is clear. The sun, the sun of Thy Divinity shines forth. Help us yet a little that we may not arm ourselves against Thee with the last resource that remains to us – that of willfully closing our eyes, and saying to the Sun itself – I see you not.

We have related in the course of this history the principal occasions when Christ put forward this peculiar claim to be loved, this design of winning and ruling all hearts. Now I remark in this claim three things, which, when united, constitute a phenomenon, unique in the history of the feelings of man.

The first is that Jesus Christ wished to be loved by all. Alas! we find it difficult to gain the love of a few: how could we dream of winning the love of all? Besides, who ever did dream of it? No one: not even the founders of religious systems; the sense of helpless misery was too overwhelming. Besides, in order to be happy, do we find it necessary to be loved by all? In childhood, we wake into life under the eye of a father, and a mother, surrounded by little brothers and sisters who play and sing with us. This for a long while satisfies the cravings of our heart. Later, when we have grown up, we look amid the companions of our youth for some souls which sympathize with ours, and if we find one, we esteem ourselves happy. And, later again, when that more passionate and more serious time of life comes, in which these first charms no longer suffice, what do we say to ourselves? Some day I shall have a home, a pure and peaceful fire-side, some few friends, and if God allows me to meet with a noble, elevated, faithful affection, I ask no more for my happiness. And when we actually possess this, storms may come, the heavy weight of human affairs may oppress us, but we are not cast down; for we have a shelter, a harbor, and a support. Such is the heart of man. He must have floods of light, floods of glory, floods of happiness. But if he find one drop of love it is enough for him. When, then, we see Jesus Christ so different, and hear Him declare that He desires to be loved by all, we are lost in amazement.

Yet this is not all. Not only does Jesus Christ require ail to love Him, but He desires that each individual should love Him above all. He exacts the strongest, the most generous love: a love which tears men away from their pleasures: a love which, under certain circumstances, does not shrink from the testimony of blood. He asks of man a love, in presence of which every other love fades away.

In childhood you love your father and your mother. They are objects of veneration to you. I know not why I should say in childhood, for is there an age in which father and mother are not the objects of our veneration? It even seems in proportion as we advance in life, as years gather round their venerable heads, and we feel they are left to us but for a brief space, our affection increases, and rises to a kind of worship. You have your father and your mother, and you love them with all the affection of your soul. Jesus Christ claims to be loved more than your father, more than your mother. “He who loves father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me.”

Or, say you are a mother, and in your arms lies that little child which you so ardently longed for, and which you love so passionately. Jesus Christ claims to be more loved even than that child; and to Him if necessary you must even sacrifice that child. “He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not Worthy of me.”

And even in those still more intimate affections, where two souls form only one, Jesus Christ claims the right to penetrate into their inmost recesses, and demands to be still better loved. “He who loves his wife more than Me, is not worthy of me.”

Can Jesus Christ ask such love? Is it not madness to ask it? If He persist, He must stand alone, abandoned by all, the butt of the ridicule and contempt of men. To obtain such love, even from a few, would shock our sense of right. Higher than father, mother, wife or children, man knows only God. To yield affection stronger than family affection would be sacrilegious.

Jesus Christ goes still further in His triumph over all the common feelings of mankind. Not only does He claim to be loved by all; not only does He claim to be loved above all; but He declares that He will win to Himself this mighty, wondrous, impossible love after His death! He was not loved during His life, and He makes sure of being loved after His death. Whilst He was in this world, and bore on His countenance that charm which we were trying to portray, He did not succeed in making Himself loved. For were there any who sacrificed themselves for Him? Who accompanied Him in His last journey? Alone He mounted the hill of Calvary, and there, as the Scripture says, He sought one to console Him and He found none. And having been abandoned in His lifetime, denied in His lifetime, betrayed in His lifetime, not having been loved in His lifetime, to dream, that after He had disappeared, He should be loved with this mighty, heroic, unparalleled love: once again this would be the dream of a madman, if it were not the thought of a God.

Yes! but perhaps He did not understand the human heart? Did He not know that intercourse is the great sustainer of love? did He not know how easily men forget? For a while, I allow, the tears of some faithful friend follow us beyond the tomb, but soon they who mourn, lie down in their turn in the same dust; and the day comes when the indifferent passer-by treads under foot alike those who loved, and those who have been loved. So short a time does love endure! And, not having been loved during life, to dream of being loved after death, to the end of time! Can His clear, powerful, robust mind cherish the anticipation?

Nevertheless, however strange may be the anticipation, it has been surpassed by the result. Scarcely was He dead before love awoke upon His tomb. His cross was covered with kisses. A whole generation of men and women and maidens appeared, filled with passionate enthusiastic love for Jesus Christ, who took Him down, so to speak, from His gibbet, and exclaimed while they covered His feet with kisses – Who shall separate us from the love that we have for Him? Shall hunger, or thirst, or persecution? No, nothing can tear from our hearts the charity of Jesus Christ!

In vain have years gone by, and ages succeeded one another. Time, which destroys all other affections, has witnessed the growth of this affection. Even Revolutions have been powerless against it. In truth, Europe has passed through many divisions, through fearful convulsions; it has been shattered into a thousand fragments – but there is one unity that has never been taken from it – the unity of the love of Jesus Christ. Photius could wrest the Greek empire from the crook of the Roman pontiff; but he could not make Jesus Christ descend from the throne that He occupied in the heart of the Oriental population. Henry VIII could throw the great English nation into schism, but the shadow of Jesus Christ, known, loved, served, and adored, still rests upon her. Luther was able to separate Germany from Catholic unity, but Ger- many still loves Jesus Christ. Finally, through whatever trials we have passed ourselves, after Voltaire and Rousseau, on the morrow of the Regency and the Revolution, does not Jesus Christ still shine forth in the adoration of the whole of France? “Jesus Christ,” M. Renan himself confesses, “is a thousand-fold more loved now, than He was during His life.”

But a doubt arises in my mind. Has Jesus Christ been indeed loved as much as He desired? Has He been loved with that all-conquering love which incites the soul to every sacrifice, with that incomparable love which makes every other love grow dim?

If you doubt it, go and knock at the door of one of those convents of Carmel where the mere enclosure provokes you to fear or anger. Ask the young maiden why, in the days of her youth and her hopes, she abandoned all, to hide herself behind an impenetrable grating, and under a coarse woolen garment. She will reply, I love Christ. This is the love of Jesus Christ – a love so strong that it created the Christian Virgin, the Sister of Charity, the little Sister of the Poor. It created the apostle. It created the martyr. It took man in his weakness, and selfishness, and crowning him with the triple diadem of virginity, of martyrdom, and of the apostolate, it raised him to the most divine pinnacles of love.

It has done yet more. For to suffer and to die is not the perfection of love, because it is not perfect sacrifice. The perfection of sacrifice is, to see those one loves, die. The loftiest height of love in a mother, for instance, is not to give her own life for Christ; it is to give Him the life of her child. And the world has witnessed this. There have been mothers who have so loved Jesus as to sacrifice their children to Him. He dared to ask it, and He obtained it.

Hardly had He died, before the Christian mother could say to her child, “I would rather see you dead, than see you betray Jesus Christ.” And as she spoke, so she acted. She accompanied her child into the presence of his judges; she descended with him into the Coliseum; she mounted the scaffold; she inspired him with her own enthusiasm; and if she feared he were wavering, she threw herself on her knees, saying – “My child, remember that I carried thee in my bosom, that I nourished thee with my milk; through pity for thy mother do not betray Jesus Christ!” No human language can say what a woman, what a mother must suffer at such a moment, what a FĂ©licita, a Symphorosa, and so many others who imitated them, have suffered. We can only feel that an eternity of happiness with their children in their arms would not be too great a recompense for such sacrifices.

Who, then, is He who could obtain such a love? Who is He that once said to Himself in a little village of Palestine – I will be loved by all, I will be loved above all, – and who, having said it, obtained such a degree of love that all love grows dim before the love given to Him? Once more. What is He? And who shall dare to say that He was but man?

This is the great argument which struck the captive of Saint Helena in those years of grace which God gave him to contemplate the things of eternity, after having played so stirring a part in this world. He said, “Jesus Christ claimed the love of man: He claimed that which is most difficult to obtain: that which a good man asks in vain from a few friends: a father from his children, a wife from her husband, a brother from his brother, the heart: that is what He demanded for Himself. He demanded it, and He succeeded in obtaining it. From this fact I infer His Divinity.”

He added: “Christ spoke, and thenceforth generations belonged to Him by ties closer and more intimate than those of blood: by a union more sacred and more imperious than any other union. He kindles the flame of a love which extinguishes the love of self, which prevails over every other love. I have often thought of it, and it is what I most admire, and what proves to me beyond a doubt the Divinity of Jesus Christ.”

And insisting on the characteristic which I pointed out just now, that Christ desired to make Himself beloved after His death, he said: “I filled the multitudes with enthusiasm, and they were ready to die for me, but my presence was necessary, the electric effect of my glance, my voice, a word from me. Now that I am at Saint Helena, now that I am alone and nailed to this rock, where are the courtiers of my misfortune? Who troubles himself about me in Europe? Where are my friends?” And going back from himself to Louis XIV, and looking at the great king with a glance unbiassed by the vanity of human things, he added, – “The great king was hardly dead but he was abandoned in the solitude of his bedroom at Versailles, neglected by his courtiers, and perhaps the object of their derision. He was no longer their master: they saw only a corpse, a coffin, a grave, and the horror of approaching corruption. Yet a little while, and such will be my fate: this is what will happen to me. What an abyss between the depth of my misery and the kingdom of Jesus Christ, preached, loved, adored, and living throughout the whole universe!”

And Pascal before him, jotting down these flashes of genius on scraps of paper which were afterwards collected as relics, wrote these three sentences, which from his pen would have made such a wonderful chapter: “Jesus Christ desired to be loved: He was loved: He is God!”

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