ND   Christ in the Church / by Robert Hugh Benson





1. There is a certain type of character with which, I suppose, we all feel very great sympathy -- I mean that type which refuses to class itself under any particular form of faith, but which has, underneath its professions of doubt and hesitation, a real sympathy with religion. It is religious in form, but not in (as I think) essence; or as itself would say, religious in essence, but not in form. For example, a man of this type often calls himself an Agnostic. "Yes," he tells us, "I should very much like to believe as you do; but I cannot. It must be delightful to have a creed, and no qualms about it; to have sacraments in which you really believe; to feel confident that you really have got the truth in an adequate form, that you possess a Divine Teacher who cannot err. But I cannot possibly imagine myself taking up such a position. It is too simple to be true. I do not know what Truth is, but at any rate it must be larger than your little Church; it must be larger than any system. Whatever Truth -- the Water of Life -- may be, she cannot be so direct as this. Either she lives at the bottom of a very deep well, or she lives in the clouds. But she cannot possibly be so simple as to live in your little channels and pipes. No man in the world can possibly have the right to say, 'Come unto Me and drink.' " And it all sounds very large and wide and spiritual?

Sometimes this type of character changes abruptly into another. The Agnostic becomes a Gnostic -- a Theosophist, let us say, or a Rosicrucian. Yet the spirit of the man is unchanged. He still maintains that Truth cannot possibly be simple; it must be remote and esoteric; a matter for the initiated, not for the vulgar. Truth is, to such a man, a mysterious recluse, dwelling within curtains, breathing in the atmosphere of flutes and ceremonies and red fire, shrouded in veils and trailing garments. She is not exterior, but interior. External religions are admirable for the mob, who are children and must be taught like children; but the real disciple must be an initiated adept, with knowledge beyond the ordinary. Truth is not simple; but he has found it.

Now to such a man as this, in whichever mood he may be, Catholicism cannot possibly be true. He has no very grave quarrel with it; he does not in the least wish to crucify it; only, he cannot believe it. It is too simple and common and direct. If he is an Agnostic, he says it is too positive and too much systematized; if he is a Gnostic, he says it is not esoteric enough. How can that be Truth (with the largest capital letter) which is really accessible to the child and the Irish laborer?

Now this, as I read the Gospels, is precisely the spirit of Pilate. Obviously Pilate was a man of religious instincts. There are few judges on the bench to whom a wife would send the account of a dream she had just had. Certainly no wife would send such a message to her husband in court unless she knew that he had a certain weakness, at least, for the occult. His own behavior, too, his uneasiness, his reiterated questioning of Jesus Christ -- all bear witness to his undoubted religious instincts.

Obviously, also, he had no sort of resentment against Jesus Christ; he did not in the least wish to crucify Him; in fact, he distinctly wished to release Him. He had a certain uneasy feeling about Him; but certainly it never entered his head for an instant that this figure could possibly be Incarnate Truth. Truth, surely, must be something quite different from this.

It is an extraordinarily pathetic scene. Here sits a man, obviously interested in Truth, or he would scarcely have asked a rhetorical question, so characteristic of the Agnostic of all ages that it has passed into a proverb: and here before him stands One who was -- so Catholics believe -- the actual answer to his question. "What is Truth?" says Pilate. "I am the Truth," says Jesus Christ.

Now, this phenomenon is one that is being reproduced with extraordinary frequency in every age of history; but perhaps never more than in our own.

"How charming it would be," says such an one, "if this Catholic religion really were true. But it cannot possibly be. It is too simple. How delightful to believe, like that priest in the pulpit, or this neighbor who sits beside me, that there is really and truly a Divine Teacher on earth, who is infallible, whose every word is absolutely true, whose guidance is unerring. But it is too simple and direct. No. Whatever Truth is it cannot be this. It cannot reside in this simple Figure standing patiently before the Judgment-seat of the world. Why, look at the kind of people she gathers round her, just a few children, some tired women, some laborers, some artists; a few penitents who would give faith to anybody who gave them hope. Truth is larger and deeper than all this. I do not know what she is, nor her name nor her face; but she cannot possibly be here."

Or we hear the Gnostic.

"Ah! if these Catholics only knew! How simple they are! How touching it all is! If they only knew the real secret of Truth; if they could only see beyond the veil, as I do -- if they could only understand that the truth is hidden, and must be hidden, from babes and sucklings, and revealed to the wise and initiated! But it is no good. So long as they actually believe that Truth dwells on broad steps in the light of day, with a yelling mob behind her, and a few broken-hearted friends sobbing in corners -- it is no good talking. Why, look! This Truth of theirs actually has her arms tied behind her back; she is bloodstained and weary. Whoever heard of Truth in such a state as this! Truth is a splendid and majestic Queen, dwelling in inner palaces; not this broken caricature of a Queen, this mock-sovereign, with a reed-scepter and a crown of thorns. This is a mere popular parody of sovereign Truth -- not herself. I have no quarrel with this poor thing; I would release her and let her go, if I had my way. How sad it all is!"

In a word, Pilate rejects Jesus Christ because He is too simple.

And yet the question rises, What do you expect God's Truth to be? If God be Truth, and God be Love, is it not absolutely inevitable that the Love of God should bring the Truth of God down to the level of the very simplest? Truth is at least as necessary for the simple as for the wise. Human opinion certainly must be as graduated as the human intellects which generate it: the wise will form one opinion of the world, and the simple will form another -- if they are left to themselves. But if they are not left to themselves -- (and how can they be, if God is Love?) -- if they are not left to themselves, it must mean that Truth will be the same for everyone, since Truth will be that which God reveals to them. God's Truth, therefore, must always be as Jesus before Pilate -- must always be a Figure fettered and bound by men's hands, bloodstained with the struggle, and yet standing in the plain light of day, equally visible to all, since He is sent to all.

Oh! these superior persons who ask, What is Truth! They are the people who mistake vagueness for spirituality -- as if spirit were not infinitely more concrete than tables and chairs: they are the people who are eternally asking, What is Truth? and never answering their own question; the people who think that seeking is nobler than finding, and that the best thing to do after having knocked at a door is to run away for fear it should be opened, and something, perhaps unwelcome, look out. They are the people who are so exquisitely subtle that they never can see the obvious -- persons who, as has been said, are like a door so large that little people cannot go through it.

They are aware that God is infinitely mysterious -- that "God is a spirit"; but who are not aware that "The Word was made Flesh and dwells amongst us " -- they think that co-relatives are contradictions; that what is spiritual cannot be incarnate; and are unaware that the sole reason for the existence of flesh is that spirit may express itself in its terms. They are always crying the versicle of "Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself "; and never answering it with its proper response, "The Word was made Flesh and tabernacled amongst us, and we beheld His glory." They are aware that God is mysterious; but unaware that He must also be perfectly simple. They think that the "Living Bread," because it is Divine, cannot possibly be given to children.

These people are always speaking of Modern Thought and Progress. They are forever talking of the Spiritual Movements of the age -- everything to them is always new and epoch-making; they are always wondering secretly what position they themselves will be considered to have won in the record of religious thought. They need not trouble; they have already won an inalienable, and infinitely pathetic position, in the religious history of the world; they actually, alone among all men, with the exception of. Mary, are named expressly in the Christian Creed -- so significant is their work -- "Crucified under Pontius Pilate"!

And how wonderfully unconscious they are of this one real claim of theirs to distinction! They are anxious about their significance in the religious movement of the time, and entirely fail to realize how actually vital they are to the consummation of the Divine Plan. Anatole France has somewhere a story of the later years of Pilate. He describes him, an old gray-haired man in his quiet villa, talking over with a comrade his experiences in Judaea.

"Was there not some trouble," asks his friend, "over a man called Christus? I forget the details; but I think he claimed to be one of the gods. I think you crucified him, did you not?"

Pilate sits a moment thinking over his wine-glass.

"No," he says presently. . . . "It may have been so. But I do not remember it."

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