ND   Christ in the Church / by Robert Hugh Benson





We have compared the phenomena of the Gospels and the Church, and have attempted to see how they are not only similar, but identical; and we have just touched very lightly upon that peculiar attitude towards Pain which is characteristic of Jesus Christ, and characteristic also, and only, of the Catholic Church. For the Catholic Church alone amongst religious bodies welcomes and wills her own pain -- (as is shown in her fruitfulness with regard to contemplatives and her organization of their life) -- not only for the sake of the individual who suffers, but of the whole body to which he belongs.

The Church alone, I have said, recognizes and uses the principle. She is therefore accused of "morbidity" by those who resent the facing of Facts, and who believe that Pain is incompatible with Joy. But it is a singular misuse of a word. Morbidity is the state of unhappiness in a man who ought to be happy; while the Contemplative is a man who is happy when he ought, in the world's opinion, to be unhappy. The moment a soul recognizes that there may be a Joy in Pain which is absent from Pleasure, she has taken the first step towards the practical solution of the Problem of Pain.

So far, however, we have only discussed the Church's interior attitude towards pain; later we shall consider exterior pain, its meaning and its functions. In the meantime it will be worth while to reflect upon the characters of those who were chiefly instrumental in bringing that exterior pain to bear upon Jesus Christ, and to see whether they do not correspond very closely with the characters of those who in all timed are the enemies and judges of Catholicism. And it will be my endeavor to show that the types persist to-day in a very significant manner amongst those who reject the claims of the Church; that the kind of opposition aroused by Him, is aroused by her, and that the same element of tragedy marks the progress of the Church as marked His. And, so far as I may succeed in showing that it is the Divine only that is so rejected, that no human theories arouse the same kind of opposition -- in other words that the type of opposition aroused by the Church is unique in kind as in vehemence -- I shall also have succeeded in showing that the Church has the right to make those unique claims which she does actually make. In the last two or three chapters I shall endeavor to show that, great as is the tragic failure of the Church, the triumph she ultimately elicits from it is proportionately great, and greater; and that the phenomenon of a continually recurring Resurrection from a death more than ordinary, is the supreme sign of her Divinity.

Let us begin by a few considerations upon her "failure" in general, before passing on to a discussion of the kinds of characters to whom she fails to appeal.

That the Church is in one sense the greatest failure that the world has ever seen, is an obvious fact, from the very magnitude of her claims and the apparent smallness of her achievements. Not only does she not convert the hostile world as, it would seem, she ought to do if she were Divine, hut she cannot even keep her friends faithful. Whole districts, countries and races that were once her lovers are no longer so. She failed, comparatively early, to keep North Africa, once wholly her own; she has failed within recent times in keeping France, once her eldest daughter in Europe. To descend to particulars, in the districts of England where she reigned supreme, almost within living memory -- in Cornwall, and parts of Scotland and Wales, she has now almost more bitter enemies than anywhere else in the country. Families that retained the Faith through all the period of persecution and ostracism have lost it in the rising tide of tolerance and peace. Two main charges are brought against her by intelligent persons, as reasons for her failure.

1. First, that she does not move sufficiently with the times. It is an age, we are told, of material and social progress, of increasing knowledge, and of consequent modification of past theories. More and more, we are informed, the center of interest is coming to lie in this world; the next is, comparatively speaking, an unknown thing. Duties lie ready to our hands here -- obvious and plain duties; and, if the Church would but give up her dreaming and her visions and occupy herself with practical matters, she might yet lead the armies of progress. But no! She is wedded to the past; she is too spiritual to live; she still babbles on about Heaven and Hell; she walks with her head among the stars. She is as much out of place as a hermit in a Highstreet. We do not want skin-clad prophets any longer; we want men of action and common sense.

2. The second charge brought against her is exactly the reverse of this. The Church, we are told, is far too worldly to be successful. Is it not a fact that the Jesuits -- or at any rate Catholics -- are at the bottom of all the sedition and troubles that the world has seen? They always will mix themselves up with what is not their affair! If only the Pope, for instance, would dissolve his diplomatic service, and give up his claim to temporal power, and live as a simple paternal old man, busying himself with his own proper affairs, being content to direct the spiritual lives of his children, instead of attempting to interfere in the counsels of Kings -- the Church might perhaps win back the respect she has lost. She is too much of a worldly sovereign to be the Representative of Him who said, "My Kingdom is not of this world."

The Church then is too much of a Prophet for practical men; and too much of a Queen and a worldling for the rest.

And in these two charges -- brought against her continually -- the world, amazing as it seems -- appears to find no inconsistency!

When we turn to the Gospels, we find that it was exactly upon these two charges that Jesus Christ was condemned to death. If only He had taken the advice of either set of His friends, His life would not have ended in the appalling catastrophe of Calvary.

There was a time when His enthusiastic followers would have taken Him by force and made Him a King. Humanly speaking, if He had but grasped that offer, He might well have been able to march an army into Jerusalem, dethrone Pilate, seat Himself in his place and win at least a temporary mon archy. Yet He chose this very moment to hide Himself, to go back to the mountains and reassume the guise of a Prophet.

A little later He did directly encourage the idea. He deliberately caused a procession to be organized; He took His seat upon a beast provided for Him, and rode into Jerusalem with practically royal honors; the air rent with acclamations hailing Him as the Son of David on the way to His Father's city. And this too was a mistake, it seemed. He set all spiritually minded men against Him. "Master," expostulated the Doctors of the Law, "bid Thy disciples that they hold their peace." If, even then, He had taken their advice, and repudiated all temporal allegiance, He might quite conceivably have won a real spiritual homage instead.

Finally, it was on these two counts that He was arraigned and sentenced to death. Caiphas condemned Him because He claimed an emphatic Divinity. "By our Law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God " -- because He claimed a Kingdom not of this world. Pilate condemned Him because He claimed so emphatic an Humanity, because He claimed a Kingdom that was of this world. "Whosoever maketh Himself a King, speaketh against Caesar."

The coincidence, I think, is more than remarkable. It is the Catholic Church, and she only, among all the denominations of Christendom that is at once too worldly and too other-worldly to be tolerated. The kind of religion that the world likes is a religion that is neither one thing nor the other -- a religion that is not too vivid or eloquent about the next world, and not too practical about this -- a gentle and pleasant compromise between the two -- in a word: "Morality touched with emotion." This kind of religion is always successful, always at least tolerated. Such a religion as this never tramps to any Calvary; is never crucified between two thieves.

Now is it not eminently characteristic of Divine Truth, as distinguished from human opinion, that it should always and everywhere live in an atmosphere of tragedy? Is it not characteristic of Divine Truth, as distinguished from human opinion, that it should always be accused of being extreme in both directions at once? For Divine Truth always must be extreme -- it must, so to speak, always overlap at both ends, just because it is Divine, and therefore much too big for this world. It must always be more human than man, and therefore be thought inhuman; and also a great deal more Divine than man, and therefore thought visionary and fantastic. A butterfly, if it had a mind, might think the human creature a very unpractical kind of phenomenon. He actually picks the flowers -- a brutal and uneconomical action, since they hold honey; the only thing the butterfly thinks worth considering -- at one moment; and pays no attention at all to them at the next moment. So the world, terribly intent upon its own business, thinks the Church quite hopelessly inconsistent. The Church seizes money and jewels and architecture and music at one moment, busies herself in politics, in monarchies, and republics -- in fact all those things that the world most values; and the next tells us that all these are of absolutely no importance -- lets them all go; as recently in France -- compared with the world that is to come. She is too intensely worldly to be truly spiritual; she is too intensely spiritual to be of any use to poor commonplace man. And because in this instance the butterfly happens to be the stronger, the Divine Man is nailed up, thorn-crowned, to the nearest - tree; because He is too extreme, at both ends at once, for the eminently common-sense butterfly. He is fit neither for Heaven nor earth; therefore He is hung up between them.

But human societies do very well. No one wishes to crucify other denominations, simply because they consent to compromise in some form or another. They do "come down from the Cross" and save themselves in an attempt to save others. They do not understand that they cannot save both; and therefore the human race is content to tolerate them because they are so comfortably human. Is not this literally true? Is it not a fact that the average English family bears with complete equanimity the passing of its members from one denomination to another, or even to no denomination at all; but if a son or daughter becomes a Catholic, the two thieves are the only persons who ought to associate with them in future? . . . Certainly the Church has failed remarkably! But, then, so did Jesus Christ.

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