The Divinity of Christ – An Argument: Chapter X

cover of the ebook 'The Divinity of Christ: An Argument', by Bishop Louis-Victor-Emile BougaudHistory is inexplicable, and faith impossible unless we believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ

Yes, and this is my conclusion. If Jesus Christ be God, everything is consistent, and all the parts hang together – His life, His doctrine. His miracles, the wonderful effects of His appearance on the earth, and even the very time and place in which He did appear. When the fullness of time was come, when the faith of the infancy of the world had become feeble, and when from every lip was heard the question, Who shall show us any good? – when human hearts had become disgusted with the burden of sin – then God sent His Son into the world to bring help to man, who was sinking beneath his burden. He appeared in the central point of history, in the capital of the world, full of grace and truth, free from error and from sin, innocent and holy, practicing every virtue, overflowing with the tenderest love for God, with the most divine pity for man, and He sealed a most pure life by a sublime death. Outwardly He is man, but the light of His divinity manifests itself through the ideal beauty of His Humanity – very gently at first, then with greater vividness, at last bright and dazzling like lightning. He appears quite impregnated with divine life, and men, in uniting themselves with Him, find in His mind, in His heart, in His strength, in His entire life, an expansion of their own. What more simple, what more consistent, what worthier of God, what more honorable to man!

Let us suppose nevertheless that Jesus Christ be not God: that the hero of this drama be but an innocent dupe, or a clever impostor – what do you gain? Do you escape the mystery? On the contrary, instead of one mystery there are ten or a thousand: a chaos of inexplicable difficulties, of contradictions whence there is no issue.

Yes! if Jesus Christ be not God, if He be but a man, a crucified Jew, it is inexplicable that men should have believed in Him, believed in Him during His life, believed in Him after His death: that they should have believed Him to be the Son of God, His only Son, born of a Virgin, risen from the dead, and ascended into Heaven in the presence of five hundred disciples. That is inexplicable. Can you, being man, and the child of man, call yourself God, and bind yourself to act as God? You could not keep up the character for a quarter of an hour. You would be seen through before the end of your first discourse. And nevertheless men believed Christ to be God: and His enemies, who were watching Him closely, could not find a single vulnerable point, and could not find at any moment that the man appeared and betrayed Himself. This is inexplicable.

And what is still more inexplicable is that men should have believed in Him with such intensity of faith, with such ardor, purity, and heroic generosity. And not a few men only. I might almost say the whole world has believed in Him with a belief amounting to passion, madness, and readiness to sacrifice everything – even life.

Count up, if you can, the millions of martyrs who, during eighteen centuries, in every land and in every phase of civilization, have hastened to death as to a feast, set on fire by their invincible faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ. Count up the hermits who have left all for Him, whose life was a prodigy of abnegation, patience, and sacrifice. Count up the virgins who, renouncing the noblest joys of earth, took Him for their spouse, and consecrated to Him their pure virginal thoughts. Count up the many holy wives, devoted mothers, and innocent maidens who owed to Him the beauty of their souls. Count up the mourners, innumerable also, who in the midst of their tears have welcomed sorrow in consoled and resigned hearts. Count up those again who, beginning their life anew for Him, have firmly and resolutely climbed the rugged heights of penance.

For what is wholly inexplicable, if Jesus Christ be not God, is, not only that men have believed in Him – believed in Him so far as to lay down their lives for their belief, but also that they should have been regenerated through this belief. What is wholly inexplicable is that this falsehood or this dream, whichever you call it, should have overthrown paganism, destroyed the religion of the senses, and purified the poisoned air of the ancient world. What is wholly inexplicable is that it should have produced the greatest characters, and the most heroic virtues; a Saint Agnes, a Saint Cecilia, a Saint Augustine, a Charlemagne, a Saint Louis, – that it should have brought forth Christian Europe, that it should have created the Church: that at the end of eighteen centuries it should still be able to calm passions, and inspire heroic actions, to stop the tears of mourners, and assuage sorrows which seem beyond consolation, and that it should strip death of its most appalling terrors. What is inexplicable is that a falsehood should produce such effects, and that it alone should produce them. A great orator once exclaimed – Ah! if I wished to gain a worthy idea of truth, I would go and kneel at the foot of the cross. I would say to myself – it is but a dream, an error, a conscious or unconscious falsehood, – and seeing the tears it has dried, the sorrows it has consoled, the misfortunes it has softened, remembering the heroic virtues and self-sacrificing devotedness it has inspired, I would say to myself – my God! if error can do such things, what then will not truth accomplish when its reign shall come?

But how can I dare to invoke the name of truth? What is truth? Where is truth? Where is truth in history? If you do not believe in Christ, in whom do you believe? Do you believe in Caesar, in Alexander, in Socrates? “But the facts about Socrates, which no one doubts, are less strongly attested than those relating to Jesus Christ.” Where is truth in religion? You say Christianity is but a falsehood. Much more so then is Paganism, Mahometanism, or Buddhism. Nothing remains in the religious archives of the human race but error succeeding error, and the most divine of human aspirations has been a snare. Natural religion remains, you will tell me: but do you find in natural religion a single dogma, a single precept which rests on deeper and more solid foundations than the divinity of Jesus Christ? God must be adored and prayed to, you say. And why? Because the conscience of man demands it, because the voice of humanity teaches it. But for eighteen centuries the voice of humanity has proclaimed the duty of adoring Jesus Christ, and conscience declares that this adoration is reasonable. Once more, then, where is truth? Where is it in philosophy, in morals, in jurisprudence, in political economy? You believe in property, in the legitimate transmission of the fruit of your labor, and you are right in believing in it. But this fact of property, the basis of the social world, does not rest on truer, more numerous, more certain, and more irrefragable proofs than the Divinity of Jesus Christ. If this is not proved, you can prove nothing; and the hand which dethrones Jesus Christ, willingly or unwillingly, must also dethrone God. For God after all, from the height of His throne, has seen the triumph of falsehood and wickedness. He has seen a simple mortal arrogate to Himself the Divine Nature. He has seen the world dazzled, fascinated, falling at the feet of their false god, and He has permitted it. He has permitted that the world, instead of being corrupted by this idolatry and adoration of falsehood, should be thereby regenerated. He has permitted the purest flowers to spring from this corrupted soil and He has not intervened. He has seen the human race incapable of distinguishing between truth and error, since if truth is anywhere it is barren; whilst Christianity, which is error, falsehood, and idolatry, is fruitful and rich in blessings – the sublime source of goodness and beauty. God has seen all this, and has held out no helping hand to poor deluded men. His children!

My God, my God! into what abysses do we not fall, into what inextricable chaos does not the human mind precipitate itself, when it refuses the light Thou hast prepared for it. And what anguish does it not prepare for itself if it loves the truth, and feels unable to live without it. Wandering in darkness, coming into collision with a thousand insoluble problems, such an one is not long in becoming acquainted with the most painful of temptations – he will close his eyes and will not even try to see. The spirit of darkness watches by the pillow where his sleep is broken and his suffering soul disturbed, and in the hours of sleeplessness a voice makes itself heard – “Dismiss these questions, abandon thy search of truth, shut thine eyes, try to forget and to sleep.” Oh Jesus, have pity on these suffering souls, on these poor and noble searchers after truth. They have not fled from light, they have not desired darkness, and had they done so, Thine is the heart, oh Jesus, to conquer them by excess of love. Let but one ray of light, however feeble, dart from Thy wounded feet and hands and from Thy open heart. Let them see Thee, oh Jesus! and they will be saved. For Thou Thyself art the most convincing proof that the Religion Thou hast founded is true, and the dullest mind will be enlightened, the faintest heart will be healed, if only Jesus Christ appear.

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