The Divinity of Christ – An Argument: Chapter VIII

cover of the ebook 'The Divinity of Christ: An Argument', by Bishop Louis-Victor-Emile BougaudThese facts cannot be denied – They cannot be explained if Jesus Christ be only man

It would seem that when brought into contact with facts such as these, and with claims, not only extraordinary in themselves, but still more extraordinary in their realization; in having to deal, moreover, with the words in which Jesus Christ so clearly, distinctly, and consistently affirmed His Divinity, and exacted for it the homage of all – two courses alone are left to those who will not believe; either to attack the testimony of Christ Himself, if they hold the Gospels to be true; or to throw doubt on the Gospels themselves.

To attack the testimony of Christ, is to suppose either that through lack of intelligence He could, in good faith, be mistaken about His own nature, or, that through lack of sincerity He intended to deceive us! In either case Jesus Christ sinks to the lowest level. There is no longer any consistency in His life, nor any intelligible explanation of His character. Everything in His life and character falls to pieces, and becomes contradictory; and the mind recoils from the numberless impossibilities which arise. “Can there be any union between light and darkness?” said the prophet. Evidently not. Sunshine and darkness, truth and falsehood, absolute purity and deceit, sublime intelligence and gross delusion, cannot be found together in the same soul. They are conflicting elements. If light is there, it must chase away darkness. If Christ is what we have seen Him to be, so pure and so holy, so completely humble and modest, so perfectly calm and gentle in His light, free from all exaggeration and enthusiasm, He could not be mistaken as to His real nature: He could not have believed Himself to be God. He could not have said He was God if He did not believe it to be true. This, the bright side of His character, drives away the other absolutely and entirely, as the sun drives away darkness. Do we not feel there could be no place for such a fundamental and astounding illusion, and for the intoxication of such a dream about His Nature in a mind like His, clear as the sky; in a heart such as we have seen His to be, absolutely pure, and transparent as crystal; in a character healthy and vigorous in every respect, always strong, and always master of itself; and still less could there be room for the artifices and miserable contrivances which would have been necessary to persuade the world to believe in it. This is evident, with evidence clear as the sunlight.

If, on the contrary, you believe that Jesus was mistaken, that through lack of intelligence He believed Himself to be God, or that through lack of sincerity He wished to make us believe it – be it so! But then He ceases to be holy: He ceases to be great. You must blot out the saying of Pascal, “He was humble, patient, thrice holy in the sight of God, terrible to demons, and sinless.” You must say He was nothing of the kind; He was just the contrary. How could He be humble and modest, and intelligent, if He believed Himself to be God when He was only man? How could He be holy if, knowing that He was not God, He could nevertheless say that He was? How could He be great if, in order to make men believe this, He employed miserable and unworthy means? And yet, was not Christ great? Was He not gentle, modest, humble, divinely beautiful in life and in death? Was not His every breath, and the faintest beating of His heart, pure with a perfect, ideal purity? Then what are we to believe, what are we to say? Where else is there anything certain – anything that I can admire, and love, and venerate? Where is the True, where is the Good, where is the Beautiful, if Jesus Christ be but illusion, falsehood, fraud, moral deformity, united, by some monstrous mystery, to greatness the most divine that has ever been seen? Weigh that well. A character must be consistent. It cannot inspire at once contempt and love, adoration and disgust. There is no middle path. Such as Jesus Christ presents Himself to the world He must necessarily either fall into dust, or we must fall at His feet. He is all, or He is nothing.

Perhaps you think you can lessen the difficulty by transferring the accusation from Christ to His Apostles and Evangelists? You may say it was they who invented this fable, and who persuaded us of it? But you will encounter a host of impossibilities. “You must find,” says Bossuet, “an apparent cause for the most unshaken faith ever exhibited in the world, yielded by men most timid and incredulous, in truths far beyond our comprehension, under the severest trials. Deception does not go to such length, nor last so long, and madness is not so consistent. For to follow to a conclusion the reasoning of the unbelievers, what do they think of our holy Apostles? That they had invented a fine fable, which they were pleased to announce to the world? Would they not have made it more probable? That they were foolish and imbecile, and did not know what they meant themselves? But their life, their writings, their laws, the holy discipline which they established, and finally, the event itself, proves the contrary. That artifice should invent so clumsily, or folly carry out so happily, is unheard of. The project does not betoken men of cunning, nor its success men destitute of sense. They tell us, ‘We have seen, we have heard, we have touched with our hands this Jesus, risen from the dead; and not once only, or for a minute, or in private, but often, for a lengthened period, and before many witnesses.’ If they speak the truth, what reply remains? If they are inventing, what do they aim at? What advantage, what reward, what recompense for all their labors? If they expected anything, it was either in this life, or after their death. To hope for anything in this life? The hatred, the power, the number of their enemies, and their own weakness, would not allow of such a hope. Thus they must look to future ages; and either they must expect from God happiness for their souls, or they expect from men glory and immortality for their names. If they expect the happiness which the true God promises, it is clear that they do not aim at deceiving the world, and if the world imagines that the desire of making a name for themselves in history could reach these uneducated minds even in their fisher’s boat, I can only say: If such as Peter, and Andrew, and John, in the midst of so much opprobrium and persecution, could foresee from afar the glory of Christianity, and the honor which we pay them, I require no stronger proof in order to convince all reasonable minds that these were divine men, enabled through the Spirit of God, and the ever invincible power of truth, to see in the extremity of oppression the secure and certain victory of the good cause.”

Such are some of the difficulties, stated with the logic, the vigor of mind, and the eloquence of Bossuet. But there are others, and one in particular absolutely insoluble, which Rousseau himself had caught a glimpse of, and which modern criticism has carried to Bossuet, “Panégyrique de S. André.” a degree of evidence which admits of no reply. You say that the Apostles invented this character of Christ – His life, His death, His scheme, His character: Rousseau gives the answer. “The inventor would be more wonderful than the hero.” Modern criticism goes farther, and says: “The inventor is an impossibility. To invent the character of Jesus, a second Jesus would be needed.”

I have already cited, in treating of the Gospels, very remarkable observations of Channing, Goethe, and the anonymous author of Ecce Homo, showing how impossible it would have been for the Apostles to create a character which was so completely above them. For, let me insist on this: it was not a question, as was said formerly, of inventing a fact – the fact of the Resurrection for example – a thing in itself impossible, nor of embellishing and arranging certain events. It was necessary to create a character which should be consistent with these facts and events. Now, if the Apostles had tried, they would have created a human character, and very probably a Jewish character: a perfect Rabbi like Hillel or Gamaliel, at the most a prophet like Elias or John the Baptist; and if, endeavoring to surpass any known type, they had exaggerated the true proportions, they would not have made a real character. For they were utterly incapable of creating a character such as the one we have seen unfolded under our eyes, that is to say, a character, the most novel, the most original, utterly beyond all the ideas of the time, opposed to all the aspirations of the Jews, the least human, or rather the most superhuman – at once human and divine, and nevertheless real. They call Him man: where then could they have found the idea of this perfect sanctity, this spotless life, this complete freedom from fault, never before found in man. They believed Him to be God: why then did they represent Him as so weak? Did they not know how to describe a courageous death? “Yes,” says Pascal, “for the same Saint Luke represents the death of Saint Stephen as more full of strength than that of Jesus Christ.” “And if Jesus Christ never uttered the ineffable Sermon on the Mountain, the discourse at the Last Supper, the prophecies of the ruin of Jerusalem and the world, and those vivid descriptions of the future, who could have invented them? “Suppose,” said Parker, “that Plato and Newton never lived – that their story is a lie – but who did their works, and thought their thought? It takes a Newton to forge a Newton. What man could have fabricated a Jesus? None but a Jesus.”

It is then impossible that a single man should have conceived and invented in all its aspects a character like that of Jesus, which so completely surpasses all the experience of the human mind. The difficulty is greatly increased by the fact that, instead of being created by one alone. He must of necessity have been created by several. And it avails nothing to say that each Evangelist presents to us a different Christ. This is false to begin with – as we have proved. Moreover, on this hypothesis, instead of one miracle you have four to deal with. The Jesus of each Evangelist, in fact, is wonderful, inimitable, absolutely superior to the writer who described Him. Besides, He is complete in each Gospel. Take but the Jesus of Saint Matthew. Destroy the three other Gospels – you would doubtless lose some treasures. But the Jesus of Saint Matthew will suffice to call forth the adoration of the world. Take all four Gospels, and blend them in one. The manner, the style, the language, and the point of view of each writer is unlike that of the others, but the Christ of whom he writes is always the same – a distinct exalted individuality, never to be confused with any other. In the pages of four different authors Christ appears the same, divinely beautiful in each, and in all raised so above His humble painters that far from being able to create Him they were even unable to copy Him. This avowal escapes from M. Renan, in one of those moments when the truth forces itself even on those who deny it. “So far from Jesus having been created by His disciples,” he says, “He appears superior to His disciples in everything. The disciples, with the exception of Saint Paul and Saint John, were men without invention or genius. Upon the whole, the character of Jesus, far from having been embellished by His biographers, has lost in their hands.”

If they were incapable of embellishing it, if they could not do it justice, if “it entirely surpassed the mind of His disciples,” as Parker says; “if it surpassed even,” according to Channing, “the human intellect” – they could not have created it. It existed independently of them, before them, and is greater than they are. It is then in every sense real, in every sense historical, and this is the final verdict of modern criticism.

What shall we say now, in completing this subject, of an hypothesis which had a certain vogue in Germany, but never in France, in spite of many efforts to introduce it? for if French genius has its weaknesses, it glories in a clearness which would not allow of its being employed in such mists. I speak of the mythical hypothesis of Strauss. Neither one writer nor many acting in concert or not, could have created a character which so completely and absolutely surpasses the experience of the human mind – and it is asserted that it came from the slow, hidden, unconscious incubation of a people. The most beautiful book that has ever enlightened, consoled, and enchanted mankind is the creation of everybody, that is to say, of nobody. That face and form which not even the master hand of a Raphael, a Fra Angelico, a Leonardo, or a Van Dyck could worthily portray, whose beauty no art, however beautiful, can represent, was made of itself! It came forth by successive touches from the heart and the feelings of the first Christian communities! But let me here ask one question. Who made these communities? How did they become Christian? Was it not the Christ, the Christ known, loved and adored as God and man, who made the Christian people? Then, how could these same people have made the Christ? You will not accept the historical date of the Gospels? Good! but you cannot deny the date of the Acts of the Apostles, nor the authenticity of the Epistles of Saint Paul. Now these two monuments are full of Christ. He appears there as the center, the bond, the cement, and the architect of all the first Christian communities. How could it be they who created the Christ, since it is from Him that they sprung. If it were they who by successive and unconscious strokes made this sublime portrait which has enchanted the world, by what were they themselves enchanted?

But, however, this question is no longer discussed. It has gone by. It has succumbed, not beneath the efforts of reason, because what is illogical and irrational has such a charm for certain minds! Two facts have finally disposed of it: the discovery of the Syriac version of the Gospels by Dr. Cureton, and the discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus by M. Tischendorf. Time, and a great deal of time, would be required for such an incubation: here no such time elapsed. This is what these two archaeological discoveries have proved. This discovery consigns Strauss’s book to the waste-paper basket.

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