The Divinity of Christ – An Argument: Prefatory Words

cover of the ebook 'The Divinity of Christ: An Argument', by Bishop Louis-Victor-Emile BougaudWhen Abbé Bougaud wrote the second volume of ‘Le Christianisme et les temps présents’, from which this little book is an extract, he was about fifty years of age, having been born on 24 May 1824, at Dijon, in Burgundy, the fatherland of Saint Bernard, of Bossuet, and Lacordaire. He describes what sentiments filled his soul on his fiftieth birthday, 24th May, 1874, in a prayer at the close of the introduction to his admirable life of Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque.

“O Jesus, from my mother’s arms to the ardent years of my youth, I never ceased to believe in that infinite love which is the sap, the divine sustenance of Christianity; and now, at the age that brings to man experience of the world, and if he has been faithful, opens to him the splendors of heaven, I feel that same infinite love shining on my head with undimmed brilliancy. It is true to say, I now scarcely believe in man’s love, for I believe much more in God’s love! Help me, then, Christ, Saviour, Friend, and may these my last words, if they are to be my last, bear to the very depths of souls the knowledge of that love whose charm I have tasted, but of whose sweetness I shall never be able to speak.”

Of this love, however, he was able to speak; and, for many years, until 1890, when death removed him from the episcopal see of Laval, his learned and exquisite pen produced many a volume.

To explain the tone both of deep love and of melancholy so noticeable in this prayer, we have to turn to the touching dedication of the Life of Blessed Margaret Mary:

“To the memory of my mother, to her upon whose knee as a little child I learned to know, to love, to adore the Sacred Heart. Three months before her death, 23 June 1873, on my return from Paray le Monial, my mother besought me to resume this biography, previously undertaken at her request, then interrupted, again taken up, and almost finished in the midst of the first anxiety consequent on her illness, and the inconsolable sorrow of her death. Today I lay it on her tomb as a last tribute of homage to the heart of that incomparable mother to whom I owe all.”

Fittingly does he point out in this filial homage, the abiding influence received from his “incomparable mother.” For she had truly formed in her son that tenderness of heart which explains his entire life, just as it pervades all his work.

Eloquence springs from the heart. Above all. Bishop Bougaud was eloquent. The presence of this splendid gift was revealed to him when, twenty-three years of age, just ordained at Saint Sulpice, where he had completed his theological studies, and already, in spite of his youth, professor of dogmatic theology in the seminary of Dijon, he heard in that city Lacordaire, then at the zenith of his glory. Like the illustrious Dominican, Abbé Bougaud devoted his talent to the defence of our faith. He was “an eloquent apologist.” Even the biographies which he wrote form a chapter of apologetics. They are intended to demonstrate the divinity of Christianity from its results.

But his great work is the complete and magnificent demonstration entitled: Le Christianisme et les temps présents. Nowhere can his whole soul be felt as in these pages. They were preached, as it were, before being written. This is why we do not hesitate to apply to this work what has been said of his oratorical powers:

“His soul overflows with adoration and with love. He becomes seized with a sort of intoxication from the life-giving sap that flows from the sacred tree of the cross, and the moving tones of his voice betray the interior rapture that possesses him. He is then irresistible. Monsignor Bougaud is truly a man of his times, and in an orator, or a writer, whose mission is to gain souls, if this be not the chief quality, it is, at any rate, the most winning. One is able to exercise an influence on one’s age when one is in sympathy with it, speaks its language, understands its passions and its aspirations, correcting the one and directing the other. Now, Mgr. Bougaud has mastered these things. He has not confined himself to the unchanging, eternal depths of the human soul, though he has sounded them too, hut has marked that mobile and passion-tossed element that changes from age to age under the influence of events and environment. His ear has been attentive to the voices of his contemporaries and while he speaks to them of their joys, their sorrows and their dreams, they feel that he has heard the sobbing and the cry, and the echo of it is ever ringing in his remembrance. He is in touch with the living soul of his age.”

The success of the work was as great as that of the Conferences of Lacordaire. Like Lacordaire, he had his severe critics, perhaps over severe; but all agreed in admiring in him, as in Lacordaire, the accent of love with which he speaks of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need not quote the famous passage in the great Dominican’s Conferences on Jesus Christ: “There is a man whose tomb is guarded by love,” etc., or the one in the last Conference on Life: “One day, at a corner of the street, in , solitary path, we halt, we listen, and a voice in our conscience says to us: Behold Jesus Christ,” etc.

One day, Abbé Bougaud brought the five volumes which form his Apologetics to Pope Leo XIII, thinking that His Holiness had hardly heard of them before.

– “Ah! figlio mio,” answered Leo with a smile, “I have had your work in my library for a long while, and every page I have annotated with my own hand.”

A few months ago, the same Pontiff declared the present year, closing the century, a year of Jubilee, a Holy Year, that, all over the world, there may be aroused new manifestations of faith and religion with the special intention “of satisfying publicly for all that has been recently said and done against the Divine Majesty of our Lord Jesus Christ, such as the renewal in these times of the blasphemy of the Arian heresy against the Divinity of Jesus Christ.”

Such a reparation is necessary in our own country. Those who are well-informed tell us very sad things about the actual state of the belief of our countrymen.

It is really appalling. “Outside of the pale of the Catholic Church,” says a recent writer, “even among the most orthodox sects, faith in Christ’s Divinity is built upon shifting sands, and even as we watch, we can see that gradually the foundations are being weakened and parted asunder. In a word, the current of Protestant thought is setting towards the system of belief which denies the Divinity of the Son of Mary, thus destroying that faith on which were built the spiritual lives of thousands, and for the saving of which their hearts’ blood had been most gladly shed.”

We thought it therefore timely to issue a new edition of this book, one of the best in the whole range of our religious literature – and willingly consented to write these prefatory words.

We shall conclude with a touching incident connected with the history of this book.

“Carpeaux, the celebrated sculptor, was dangerously ill. One of his friends procured for him the volume on Jesus Christ. Its perusal changed the heart of the great artist, who had been far more concerned with his profession than with religion or morality. This book brought him back at once to the sentiments of religion which he had entirely neglected since childhood.

“When, after having received the last sacraments, the crucifix was presented to him to kiss, he cried, as he embraced it:

‘My poor, dear Lord, how hast Thou been disfigured! If I had but a little more strength left, I should love to represent Thee as the good Abbe Bougaud has made me to see Thee.'”

Our Nineteenth Century is in its last moments. It too has busied itself more with art than with religion and morality. Alas! how Christ has been distorted before its sight! May this little book of Bishop Bougaud help it to find its true Christ, the living ideal that all the ages have adored and loved, the true Son of Mary and the true Son of God.

– Joseph Bruneau
Saint Joseph’s Seminary
Dunwoodie, New York
Feast of Saint Teresa
15 October 1900

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