ND   Christ in the Church / by Robert Hugh Benson





We considered in the last chapter the preëminently Catholic sin of Judas -- a sin of treachery. We must discuss now the opposition of the external world; for if the character of Christ's companions throws one light upon His Personality, the character of His enemies throws another, no less illuminating. And first, Caiphas.

It is a remarkable thing, as I have pointed out before, that really religious opposition to the Church is at least as strong as any other. It is comparatively natural that the world, as world, should hate Catholicism, for, after all, the ideals of the two, as well as their methods, are completely different The world, as world, wants one thing, and the Church, as Church, another. The world desires to be sufficient to itself, to round off its schemes, to complete itself in its own orbit. The Church tells us that that is impossible. As Mr. Chesterton has pointed out, it is not for nothing that the world is round, and that the Church is cruciform. For the circle, and still more the globe, is the very symbol of completion and complacency; it suggests nothing beyond itself; it cannot expand indefinitely without bursting. But the Cross is the symbol of absolutely endless expansion; it is never content; it points forever and ever to four indefinitely receding points. You can enlarge it eternally, without destroying its figure. It is perfectly natural, then, that the Ball and the Cross should be in strong opposition. But what is remarkable is that certain kinds of religion should be even more intensely antagonistic to the Church. I would far rather, as regards my own comfort, visit the churches of Europe with an atheist than with an extremely fervent Protestant; for the atheist, much as he may dislike my point of view, has practically no common platform on which he may abuse me and my co-religionists; we simply have different ideals altogether. I believe in God; he does not. Therefore there is nothing particular to say. We can walk together because we are so entirely disagreed. But the really fervent Protestant -- the man, that is to say, who really believes in Protestantism -- thinks, at any rate, that he has a great deal in common with me underneath; and therefore there is no end to possible recrimination. He tells me that I am quite right in believing in God, but completely wrong in the kind of God that I believe in. Surely, he tells me, I cannot really believe that God likes incense and mumblings and bowings and scrapings and the rest of it. Even if I travel with what is called a "tolerant" man, I find that there is always one thing after all that he cannot tolerate -- from the nature of his own position -- and that is my "intolerance." He can stand anything else, but not that. His very foundation is that all religious are pretty much the same in the long-run, and he has no words strong enough, therefore, for a religion which entirely denies that, that claims to be unique and final. The tolerant man, therefore, quite as much as the intolerant, must be, so far as he is fervent and sincere, the deadly enemy of Catholicism.

It is a very delicate and significant compliment, then, to the Catholic Church, that religious people are bound, if they are sincere and consistent, to hate her more than anything else in the wide world. Religious people may differ among themselves on every other imaginable point, but they are at any rate agreed on this, that the Church is the enemy and must be annihilated. You may do anything else, you may become anything else, and find forgiveness, but not if you become a Catholic. An eminent and very holy clergyman, known to me in England, once stated that he preferred his friends to commit any crime under the sun rather than that they should become Catholics. "Men repent," he said, "of murder and adultery; but they hardly ever repent of becoming Catholics." He was quite right. They do not.

Now, surely this is a remarkable phenomenon -- that one religion, and one religion only, should have such a monopoly of being hated by religious persons. Anglicans do not hate Wesleyanism; Wesleyans do not hate Congregationalism; Congregationalists do not hate Christian Science. They disapprove, and they disagree, but their emotion is not vivid enough to be called Hatred. But they do hate Catholicism. There is no question about that. I am not aware that there are any newspapers in the world, for instance, whose main object is the destruction and discrediting of any sect under the sun; no newspaper primarily exists for the abuse of Anglicanism, or Presbyterianism, or Christian Science, or Swedenborgianism; but there are any number of newspapers in England, America, France, and Italy, whose main object is the abuse of Catholicism. Even the most diverse sections of Christianity will sink their differences and meet on a common platform in order to find fault with the Pope. Of course it is the fashion at the present moment, at least in England, to hide this hatred, and to pose as being tolerant even to Catholics; and we owe the abolition of the King's Declaration to that amiable assumption. Yet no one who knows England is really deceived into thinking it any more than transitory pose. "Liberals" have been shamed at last into an attempt to be liberal. "Churchmen" have consented to an external act of justice to the Church. But conceive for one moment that liberty of conscience was really allowed in England and that the King did become a Catholic, and that the fact was made known -- and it is absolutely certain that he could not continue to reign. And there is no other step that he could take which would cause such fury. Beneath all the fair words and the assurances of toleration, and the avowals of religious equality, there remains still, possibly only in the subconscious self of the country, yet certainly there, an hostility to Catholicism which is simply unrivaled with regard to any other form of religious belief. "Bloody Mary," or the Inquisition, or the massacre of St. Bartholomew are alleged as reasons for this hatred when it does make its appearance; but it is not really these things. It is Catholicism itself.

Turn now to the Gospels.

Caiphas and Annas were, without doubt, sincerely religious persons; they were, from one point of view, markedly unworldly. They were men who lived decent lives, who almost adored the Law of God, who had nothing whatever in common with the ideals of the Roman Empire as represented by Pilate. They hated to think that the Roman yoke lay on the shoulders of God's people; they resented intensely the presence of the Roman garrison in the Holy City; they, too, like the most fervent zealot, looked for the Kingdom of God to come with power; they "loved the beauty of God's house and the place of the habitation of His glory." They were, in short, convinced and pious Establishmentarians. The one thing that Caiphas feared probably more than death itself was the absorption of Israel in the world -- the coming of more Roman legions and the taking away of what was left of the place and the name of Israel. And therefore Caiphas crucified Christ.

"It is expedient," he said, "that one man should die for the people; and that the whole nation perish not." Now at first sight this seems a very extraordinary piece of reasoning. Why in the world did he not try to win Jesus Christ over to his side, and attempt to use the great influence that this Prophet was beginning to command, for his own purposes? They had so much in common after all; they both loved the Law of God; they were both lovers of holiness and purity and spirituality; they were both, it seemed, "unworldly"; they both resented secular interference in the things of the soul. There is only one answer. Caiphas knew perfectly well, in the bottom of his heart, that underneath all their apparent agreement there was a fierce and irreconcilable antagonism; that their ideals were not the same; that Jesus Christ meant one thing by "the Law of God" and himself another; that their whole conceptions of even the character of God Himself were different; and that there was not the faintest chance or possibility of winning Jesus Christ over to his side. It was unfortunate, but it was so. It is true that there was no change of ideal in Caiphas, as in Judas, and therefore the priest had the lesser sin. Yet that there was divergence is evident enough. So Caiphas went straight to the point, with all the shrewdness of a real ecclesiastical statesman. "Do you, or do you not, claim to be the Son of God? Do you, or do you not, claim to be unique? If you do not, we may yet come to terms. If you will take your place with the rest of the prophets, well and good. But if you claim to be unique, there is no use in talking any further." And Jesus answered, "I do." And the thing was settled.

Now this, I venture to think, is the real quarrel between Catholic and non-Catholic Christianity. And it comes out at every point. It is the claim to uniqueness that causes all the trouble. The Ritualists would be friendly to-morrow if we would but acknowledge the Branch or the Province theory, and confess that they, too, were of one Church with us; the Nonconformists would meet us with open arms if we would but allow that "there are diversities of gifts but the same Spirit " (in the sense in which they understand the words), and that, while all were equally right together from our various points of view, we Catholics happened to have predilections for incense and ceremonial as a matter of temperament and individual taste. Even the Theosophists and the Neo-Buddhists and the Pragmatists and the "Modern-Thinkers" would be our cordial friends if we would but acknowledge that we were all striving for the same idea, in spite of our variations in dogma. Religious people would make up the quarrel to-morrow if the Church would but take her place with the rest. Religious people do, in fact, get on admirably with lukewarm Catholics who have learnt the trick of tolerant talking; who pretend that after all it does not matter so very much. But lukewarm Catholics are not the Church, and the religious world knows it. It is what is called "intolerance" -- that is, the claim of the Church to be the Truth -- that is at the bottom of the trouble; in short, what well-informed persons label as "Vaticanism" or "Ultramontanism." And so we see religious persons rending their garments in horror at this blasphemous arrogance; and we see Jesus in His Church, bound, spat upon and condemned, standing at the bar.

It is unnecessary to comment at length upon this. I have already touched upon the point more than once. I would only urge a little steady reflection upon the superb significance of the whole scene; and that once more the question should be faced, From whence does this amazing self-confidence and self-consciousness on the part of Christ and His Church really come, if it is not from above? What is this mysterious influence which enables the Church to resist the whole modern stream of "broadmindedness," and to stand out, like a rock, as the one single religious body left in our midst which entirely refuses to rank itself with the rest? All other denominations are prepared, at any rate at present, to assume an attitude of humility, to make friends, to allow that "the wider divergence is the deeper unity," and all the rest of it. The Catholic Church alone stands absolutely rigid, repeating her claim to be the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth; to be in need of no one, to be sufficient to herself. And how is it that really religious persons, who have so much, after all, in common with Catholicism, yet are so fierce in its condemnation, if it is not that they do subconsciously recognize that their ideals are not the same -- that themselves are but human after all, and that this marred and despised Figure, more than human?

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