ND   Christ in the Church / by Robert Hugh Benson





There are perhaps some half-dozen perpetually recurring problems by which the Church is continually faced -- such questions as the use, and indeed the desirability of her wealth, her relations to politics and civil government, the right of her domination over individuals who do not formally belong to her. The problems in question arise nearly always out of the fact that she claims to be at once spiritual and temporal; supernatural and natural; a Heavenly Kingdom, yet living on the same platform as earthly kingdoms; Divine and human. On either side of her stand professedly spiritual bodies that have solved the tangle by cutting it. Quietists and non-Catholic mystics on the one side escape the problems by avoiding them, by standing aloof from the world altogether; Erastians have avoided the difficulties by becoming frankly human and civil. If the Church were spiritual only, or earthly only, her task would be comparatively easy; it is because she is both at once that she is continually in trouble.

Roughly speaking, her difficulties may be summed up under three heads.

1. The first is more or less speculative. How is it, it is demanded, that if the Church is really the Darling of God, He does not protect His own in a simple and earthly sense? Occasionally He seems to have done so, but far more often He appears to leave her to herself. The earthquake tumbles down the Catholic cathedral, the convent, the brothel, the Protestant temple, all in one common ruin. A revolution of infidels sweeps away a thousand Tabernacles at once; and the stipends of the priests who served them; and God's children are deprived of the Children's bread. And God makes no sign from heaven to protect her even in her most material needs. If the problem of pain and failure in general is insoluble, how far more insoluble is the perpetually recurring misery of her who professes to be His own!

Out of this speculative difficulty -- a difficulty that surely has been responsible in the past for an enormous amount of distrust and even loss of faith amongst once ardent Catholics -- arise a number of practical questions. To what extent may the Church avail herself of, or rely upon, earthly forces for her own preservation and prosperity? May or may not her missionaries appeal to gunboats for protection, and to large battalions in her wars? If she were purely spiritual the answer would at once be -- "No -- My kingdom is not of this world." If she were purely earthly and human, her answer would be -- "Yes -- Let him that hath no sword sell his coat and buy one." But she is partly spiritual and partly earthly, or at any rate claims to be so; and there is no short answer at her disposal. Somehow or another she has to reconcile the paradox uttered indeed by her Founder at the beginning.

2. A second problem is also partly speculative, and concerns the question as to why God does not more frequently interpose with some miracle on behalf of her purely spiritual life. If it be really true that the Catholic Religion is God's Revelation, how easy would it be for Him to prove it so by unmistakable signs! If He truly desires the conversion of all men to the Catholic Church, why is it that He allows her miracles and signs to be reproduced by other bodies who do not possess the supreme truth? Why can Lourdes be, apparently, paralleled by psychological laboratories; and the morality of Catholics rivaled by the morality of Buddhists? Ought not the professed Founder of the Church to vindicate her superiority and uniqueness more convincingly? And, again, from this arise practical problems. To what extent, if at all, ought the Catholic Church to rely upon miracles as means of converting the world? To what extent ought she to demand scientific investigation into her phenomena? To what extent ought she to demand from God visible and supernatural proofs of her mission; and to what extent would He support her if she did so? How is she to reconcile practically her Lord's two utterances -- "These signs shall follow them that believe," and "Neither shall they be persuaded though one should rise from the dead"? If she were purely supernatural, or purely civil, the answer would be easy. If she were purely civil and human she would discount miracles altogether and rely merely upon those qualities and activities that cause other human societies to succeed; if she were purely supernatural, she might sit with her hands in her lap, and leave the rest to God; she could hardly trust in His miraculous interposition too much. But her difficulty arises from the fact that she claims to be both.

3. A third problem meets her in a thousand varying degrees, on almost every plane of her life; and it concerns the most fundamental relations of good and evil. It may be stated in a sentence. At what point does a lesser good become an evil? At what point does positive evil pass upwards into a lesser good? Let us state it in concrete form.

(a) It is acknowledged by all moralists that a temporary "material evil" may occasionally be permitted, if it is certain that any attempt to remove it will result in a greater evil. If I see an obstinate man, in good faith, doing something he ought not, I am not always bound to inform him of it even in the confessional, particularly if I know that my information will not deter him from doing it. In such a case my information will merely increase his guilt.

(b) Yet there are so many exceptions to this theory that the practical problem appears almost insoluble. I cannot, for example, allow a callous father to beat his child to death, however invincibly ignorant the father may seem to be of his own cruelty. And it is perfectly plain that I cannot, a fortiori, allow a deliberate grave sin to continue, even for the gaining of the greatest ultimate good. I cannot let Judas go unrebuked to the high priests, even though his going is a necessary step in the process of the world's Redemption.

Now, the Catholic Church is continually faced by concrete problems of this kind. "Look," cries the world, "at the appalling amount of sin and misery caused by the indissolubility of the marriage tie. See that man with a wife incurably insane in a lunatic asylum. Are not you Catholics simply putting a premium upon sin, simply compelling that hot-blooded man to contract illicit unions in bad faith, by this idealistic notion of marriage? Why, again, should an innocent girl's life be wrecked because in a moment of weakness she consented to marry a lustful tyrant?"

Or again, it was urged very strongly at one time upon Catholic missionaries in Japan to relax temporarily the rigor of the sixth commandment.{1} They were told -- and with perfect reason -- that if they would but do this, their converts would flock in by thousands. Is not the conversion of Japan as a whole worth a few acts of sin done in comparative ignorance?

Or again, how bitterly the Pope was blamed for allowing wreck and ruin to fall upon the Church in France, simply for the sake of a theory of Papal jurisdiction! Surely, it was said, the theory might be suspended for a few years until the crisis was past; and then peace be made with honor and prosperity to both sides.

And that sometimes even theologians can differ with regard to this main problem is shown by the divided opinions held at one time as to the point of whether or no Chinese proselytes might be permitted to practice ancestor-worship until they learnt to realize by this means the full doctrine of the Communion of Saints.

Now this kind of problem, like the other two, arises from the Church's double nature. It is because she claims to be both divine and human that she has so often to arbitrate between the apparently conflicting Divine Rights of God, and the human rights and necessities of man. Somehow or another, because she stands on both sides, she has to reconcile both sides.

Now it would be impossible here to do more than indicate the problems and the reasons for the problems. To answer them would be to write a book on moral theology; for the solution of each depends upon innumerable circumstances and considerations peculiar to each. It is remarkable, however, to notice that these three main heads which I have described correspond precisely to those three crises described in the Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness, and arise from precisely parallel and even identical reasons. It is only on the hypothesis that Christ was both God and Man that He could be so tempted; it is only because the Church claims to be both Divine and human that she is tempted as was He. In a word, we have here one more illustration of the theme of these papers -- viz.: that Jesus Christ is tempted in the Church to-day by the same arguments as in the wilderness, and for the same reasons.

1. "If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." "If you have come into the world to redeem it, it is obvious that you must not die at the very outset of your mission. Use, then, your power to preserve your human life -- that human life which is to be the medium of Redemption. If you do not use it you will die; and you will have shown that you are not the Son of God."

So the Tempter urges to the Church; and suggests to her that if she does not comply, or if God does not interfere, she is not what she claims to be.

"If you are really Divine, you ought not to allow your human side to be so overwhelmed by men's violence and earthly circumstance. Use all the powers at your disposal, because, however Divine you may be, you cannot be effective in the world except through your human effectiveness. Command that these stones be made bread. Use gunboats as spiritual weapons, whenever you possibly can." Then follows the subtle suggestion, in the presence of catastrophe: -- "Surely you cannot be Divine, or God would not treat you so. If you were really Divine, the stones would become bread almost of themselves. At least they would cry out in your defense. But the heavens are as brass above you; there is no voice nor any that answers. . . ." And again follows the maddeningly skillful argument: "Be content, then, to be human, and to take your place with other human societies. Come down from the Cross, and we will believe." And what is the answer? It is a reassertion of Divinity, and a simultaneous refusal to use it. "Man shall not live by bread alone." "It is true that I do live by bread -- that I am human; but I am more than human, and am not therefore dependent upon it. It is true that I am an earthly Society, dependent upon earthly conditions for my effectiveness; but I am also Divine, and therefore not dependent upon them for my survival."

2. "If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down from a pinnacle of the Temple." "If you have come to convert men to a belief in your Divinity, convert them. Show a sign from heaven, an unmistakable and unique miracle, and they will believe." "If you are truly a Divine Society, throw the responsibility upon God. Expect His interposition confidently. Make a simple act of faith, and surely He will respond with fire from heaven . . . Ah! you are afraid that He will not. In fact, you know He does not. Then you are not really confident in your own Divinity after all. . . . Ah! take Him at His word. Surely His Angels will bear you up! Has He not said so?" And the answer is an assertion of true Humanity. "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord Thy God. I am here to work in human fashion, not to explode celestial fireworks; to win men through their hearts and their understandings and their wills, not to obliterate their manhood by an overwhelming exhibition of power. I gave free-will; I will not take it away unless they give it freely. No sign shall be given to this generation but the sign of the Prophet Jonas -- a Divine uprising from below, not a whirling descent from above. It is Lucifer who falls like fire from heaven. It is God who is born as a little child from below, to persuade, not to stun, into submission."

3. "All this will I give Thee if Thou wilt fall down and worship." "Here is your work visible before you -- to change these kingdoms of the world into the Kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ. And here, too, is a quiet place where, if any evil be in what I ask, it will be but transitory and unknown. Then perform this little material action of worship, and accomplish at one stroke what must otherwise occupy centuries, and involve an enormous and wholly unnecessary expenditure of blood and tears."

So, too, to the Catholic Church.

"Here is the conversion of the world to be accomplished. Throw this grain of incense on Diana's altar -- a merely material action with no reality intended -- and win toleration and a foothold for yourself in the Roman Empire. Be silent about the most rigorous of all your rules for a few years, and gain Japan. Suppress one little principle concerning the constitution of your hierarchy, and keep your French Cathedrals and your wealth. No one will know. It will be a purely temporary arrangement. In a few years again, when all is quiet, you can reassert anything that you like. The crisis will be past." And the answer: -- "Get thee behind me, Satan. . . . Thou shalt worship the Lord Thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve." "When once I do see plainly, in any given case, that actual right and wrong is involved, no consideration on earth shall make me swerve. Better the Rejection and the Cross a thousand times repeated; better the loss of every earthly aid and hope; better the loss of all things, than the destruction of one jot or tittle of the Law of God. It is the kingdoms of the world that are to be raised to the Kingdom of God; not the Kingdom of God degraded to the level of the kingdoms of this world. If I sacrifice the perfect Divine Plan in one detail, I do not save the world; and I lose myself."

Finally, notice that these three great temptations are temptations of strength, not of weakness. It is Christ's strength that is appealed to. "Assert Thy self. Save Thyself. Use Thy Power." It is the Church's strength that is appealed to. "Use the large powers at your disposal, natural and supernatural. And, you are so strong that you can afford to be weak for one instant." And the answer of both alike is the answer of St. Paul: "When I am weak, then am I strong." "I faint often in the wilderness, yet I do not die. All power is given unto Me in heaven and earth; yet I choose to work by human methods since I live amongst humanity. I am willing to submit to the supreme shame and failure of death and rejection; and I conquer through the very elements which conquer Me."

And the answer is justified. On every earthly hypothesis the Church ought to have died long ago in the wilderness; yet she did not, since she lives not by bread alone. By every argument the Church's claim to supremacy in spiritual things ought long ago to have been relinquished; yet new adherents pour in day by day. She ought long ago to have perished through her refusal to make terms with the world; she lost England three hundred years ago, Rome forty years ago, and France yesterday, by her incorrigible obstinacy and foolish fidelity to the Law of God. Yet, Christus vivit; Christus regnat; Christus imperat. Angels have ministered to her unknown and unperceived; though they have not so far borne her up that she has not dashed her foot against every stone. Angels have served her, because of her very refusal to serve Lucifer. Blessed, then, are the meek; for these shall inherit the earth.

{1} The Protestant "Seventh" Commandment.

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