ND   Christ in the Church / by Robert Hugh Benson




Let us now, as these are merely introductory chapters, and therefore rather incoherent and broken up, consider one more preliminary necessary to all accurate thinking -- a consideration of what may be called, Points of View. I am quite aware that to many, especially to those brought up in Protestantism of the more Evangelical type, and still more to those educated under Unitarian or rationalistic influences, the whole point of view which I have attempted to describe, and which I shall hope to illustrate during the following chapters, must seem unreal and fantastic. We live in what is known as a "scientific age" -- an age, that is, in which men's minds are inclined to regard as unproven all theses which cannot be reduced to physical formulae. Let me suggest an example or two of what I mean -- in a parabolic form. Once upon a time three men went to look at a mountain -- a geologist, an agriculturist, and an artist. Tbe geologist noticed the formation of the rocks, the strata, and the watercourses; the agriculturist examined the soil, the aspect, and the climate; the artist sketched the outline, the colors, and the atmosphere. Now, each of the three believed that he had made an exhaustive study of the mountain each was firmly convinced that he had noted all that was worth noting, and that unless the phenomena of the mountain were reduced to his own terms, they were useless and negligible. Each would have dismissed as an unpractical dreamer his two companions. The geologist would have condemned the agriculturist as sordid, and the artist as a sentimental fool. The agriculturist would have condemned the geologist as a dreamy scientist, and the artist as a trifler. The artist would have dismissed the geologist and the agriculturist as a pair of gross materialists. Yet it is perfectly obvious to ourselves -- as laymen in all these matters -- that each was right, as I have remarked before, in his affirmations and wrong in his negations. Their evidences were not in the least mutually contradictory, though it may be that they were agreed upon nothing except the existence of the mountain and the testimony of their own senses. Further, it is obvious, that to possess a really adequate knowledge of the mountain as a whole, one must take into account the evidence of all three witnesses; one must know its geological, its agricultural, and its artistic characteristics if one is to arrive at any solidity of truth with regard to the mountain -- if, that is to say, one is to be more than merely superficial in one's acquaintance with it.

My parable is not difficult of interpretation.

There stands in the world a mountain -- called by Catholics, at least, the Mountain of God -- the city built upon a Hill; and it is surrounded by observers.

To one it is interesting as a vast human society, vaster in its range and outline than any similar Society; it is formed on certain lines; it bears the marks of large elemental forces upon its sides; it is constructed in a certain manner; it exhibits certam characteristics; it is, largely, what it is, through purely human and social circumstances. This is the view formed by the historian.

To another it is a society productive of certain results; its soil is capable of bearing some fruits and not others; it has an effect upon the surrounding country; it is capable of development or deterioration. So judges the sociologist.

And to a third it has another aspect. It stands for a certain dominating idea; it has a beauty entirely its own; even more, it conveys to this onlooker an emotion, and even actual knowledge; it reveals facts and relations that are the inspiration of his life. So speaks the student of devotion. And so the aspects may be multiplied indefinitely. Now the tendency of the age in which we live is to judge one aspect only as worthy of consideration, to reduce the phenomena of Catholicism, and, indeed, of all religion, to one set of formulae, and to assume that all phenomena that cannot be so reduced are simply negligible. This is surely as narrow-minded and one-sided as to accept the geologist, or the artist, or the agriculturist, as the single trustworthy witness, and to dismiss the rest.

It is simply amazing to observe the complacent blindness of some who are named "modern thinkers," more particularly those who give themselves that name. It is perfectly true that they have contributed enormously to the sum of knowledge that we possess; they have told us innumerable facts in the science of comparative Religion of which we had hitherto known nothing. No Catholic who has any intelligence at all would dream of dismissing "modern thought" as useless or, in its affirmations at least, as misleading; and yet that very Modern Thought which prides itself upon its broadness, its powers of generalization and correlation, has fallen headlong at least as deeply as any mediaeval monk, into the delusion that no point of view is of value except its own, no phenomena of any importance except such as can be reduced to its own terms. You have not given an exhaustive account of a Cathedral when you have said that it is built of Bath stone in the decorated Gothic manner, any more than when you have said that it is a place where men worship God, or a place where polyphonic music is performed, or where a Bishop has his seat. All the facts are equally true, and until you are aware of them all you do not know what a Cathedral is.

Now, in the thesis of these chapters I am purposing to treat of the Catholic Church from an aspect familiar to Catholics, and yet one that, it would seem, is almost entirely unknown to non-Catholics. One can find, in book after book, the most admirable treatises upon the Church as a human Society, as a worshiping Society, as a patroness and inspirer of art, as a form of pious Freemasonry, as a police force to keep the poor quiet, as a refuge for the ineffective, as the home of learning. Yet non-Catholics, as a rule, seem simply unaware that there is another point of view, infinitely more significant -- whether true or not -- from which that Society is regarded as the Body in which the Divine Being tabernacles among men; and that, in spite of the fact, that without this aspect, without at any rate the fact of this belief existing, the main phenomena of that Society's history are inexplicable. This is as wildly unscientific as to think that you have accounted for a Cathedral, if you leave out the worshipers' belief in God It is no explanation of the Cathedral to discourse about the Bishops, and the word Cathedra as signifying his seat. A more fundamental point is, Why should there be such a phenomenon as a Bishop at all? Polyphonic music may be characteristic of a Cathedral; but why should anyone take the trouble to sing? The architecture may be excellently Gothic; but why is there such a thing as architecture? Such commentators as these, on the subject of the Catholic Church, state, blandly, that she is the best organized Society upon earth; the most elaborate and august in her worship; the Mother of the noblest art; the most exclusive Society in one sense, and the most inclusive in another. Or, again, they denounce her as the masterpiece of Satan, or the monument of the keenest human ambitions; or the unhappy result of an elaborate series of social conditions; or as a fetish whose sanctity rests upon nothing but superstition or association or circumstance; and they seem even to be unaware that countless minds as shrewd as their own have, after an examination of the evidence all round, deliberately come to the conclusion that she is actually the Temple of God, actually the social, corporate, and human Body in whom the Son of God to-day dwells and speaks, and that it is for this reason, beneath all the others, that she is what she is. I am not complaining of their affirmations; I have no quarrel whatever with the lights they have thrown upon her history -- even upon the less reputable parts of that history -- her sins of omission or commission, considered as a result of her extremely human humanity -- I only protest against their ignorance of the fact that there is another point of view -- their tacit assumption that phenomena which do not fall under their categories are not phenomena, and that any account given of her must be unreal and negligible, for the reason that it is in other terms than their own.

This, then, is my object in these papers, to speak of the Church on the hypothesis that she is the Body of Christ in very truth, that what she, as an organism, and not merely as a conglomeration of fallible and faulty units, does, says and lives, is the action, speech, and life of Jesus Christ. If I am able to show a strong presumption that this is so -- that the Life recorded in the Gospels is reproduced with inimitable fidelity in the life of the Church, and that the characteristics of that life are the characteristics of a Divine Life, I shall also have established a presumption that she is indeed what she claims to be -- the one and unique organ of Divine Revelation. It is necessary therefore to keep this point of view in mind, at least as an hypothesis, throughout. Alexander VI may have been a very wicked man; that does not affect the argument. Catholics may, very often, be very stupid and unspiritual; that does not affect the argument. Transubstantiation may be a very difficult doctrine; it may appear to some that the worship of Mary, as they understand it, is degrading, or the practice of confession humiliating; there may be excellent explanations for the miracles of Lourdes, or the ecstasies of St. Teresa, or the predominance of the City of Rome -- all this does not affect the argument in the very least. It is necessary to remember that all these things may seem facts, and yet the Church may be the Body of Christ, and He its Soul and its Supreme Life. Sins of omission and commission on the part of Catholics, stupidities, misunderstandings, apostasies, ignoble and unfashionable circumstances, countless failures, tragedies, comedies and even screaming farces -- these simply do not touch the matter at all. Our Lord was betrayed by one Apostle, repudiated by another, and forsaken by the rest; He was the fool of Pilate's court, the butt and buffoon of Herod's. Even when He lived on the earth in the days of his Flesh, "His visage was more marred than any man's, and His countenance more than the sons of men."

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