ND   Christ in the Church / by Robert Hugh Benson





In our last chapter we considered the Agnostics and the Guostics -- those who regard Truth as a recluse.

Let us turn now to their precise opposite. These persons we have been considering are those for whom the Truth is too simple: let us consider those for whom the Truth is too deep. But we need not spend long over them; they really are not worth it. Jesus Christ condescended to argue with Pilate, to speak to Caiphas and even to plead with Judas; but for Herod He had no answer but the dead silence of Divine scorn.

These Herodians fall into several classes: there are the cheerful noisy fools whose sole interest in religion lies in seeing something curious. We see them on the Continent a good deal -- generally regarding High Mass through pince-nez and eyeglasses, and wondering on Palm Sunday whether really the priest is going to ride on a donkey or not. . . . Well, let them alone. Our Lord did.

But some of them are really more subtle than this.

There are, first of all, those who are perpetually asking for objective proofs that they can understand -- who think that they have settled the Catholic religion once and for all when they have examined, let us say, some exaggerated story about Lourdes, and found that it will not bear investigation. Their view of religion is that unless it can produce extraordinary and startling results which can be verified in five minutes, it cannot be true. There is a school of psychologists which so treats religion, which takes the abnormal cases, the ecstasies, the apparitions, the levitations, and neglects the quiet piety of millions, the countless uneventful but heroic lives of simple faith and suffering, and thinks that it has really examined religion. "And when Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad; for he hoped to see some miracle done by Him." The point of religion, to such persons, is its extraordinary and unusual side. They demand that the Creator should always be doing conjuring tricks instead of creating, and their only view of the Light of the World is that it should break out continually into fireworks.

A yet more subtle subdivision of the Herodians consists of those who are always demanding material statistics of a Spiritual Society. They are always comparing Catholic and Protestant countries to the discredit of the former. And the remarkable thing is that they appear to think that the object of the Catholic Church is, or ought to be, the production of well-fed and prosperous business men. They notice that the drains in Ireland are not all that they ought to be; that Spanish guns cannot shoot as straight as American guns; that Elizabethan England succeeded in killing more Indians and capturing more treasureships than the England of a century earlier; they think that colonial enterprise, and Consols, and Government stocks, and machinery are the fruits of the Spirit. They do not say anything at all about the purity of Ireland, or the holy family-life of Catholic Germany, or the fact that Catholic Spain still really worships God at a considerable expense of both time and money; or that what is left of Catholic France still does more for missionary enterprise than any other country in Europe; or that the number of communions made annually in the diocese of Cologne exceeds the number of all Anglican communions made in the British Isles -- all those things, to them, are not religion. Religion must not be tested by Love, and Holiness, and Worship, and Faith, and Self-sacrifice -- No: it must produce Commerce, and a high rate of interest, and State efficiency, and tram services and electric light.

Finally, the most religious Herodians of all conceive of religion as that which gives them agreeable sensations in what they believe to be their soul. Emotion is to them the mark of a standing or falling Church. They like incense, so they go to High Mass; they do not like Latin, so they stay away. One preacher makes them feel warm and happy, so they sit under him. Another makes them feel cold and unhappy, causes them to be uncomfortable -- really uncomfortable, not pleasantly so -- about their sins; and they do not hear him again.

These people, then, as a rule, conclude against the Catholic Church, because -- in spite of the popular saying to the contrary -- they ultimately find out that emotionalism is very much discounted in the Catholic Church; that there is very little glamour indeed after a month or two; and that she is distinguished for a terribly cold and businesslike way of dealing with the soul, insisting upon obedience rather than sacrifice, and fidelity and humility and duty, rather than upon incense and Sunday-evening sensations.

Now what is the Herodian mistake? It is this: The Truth is too deep for them.

When Christ stood before Herod, Herod wanted one thing, and Christ offered him another. Herod wanted his scepter to be duplicated, a man-at-arms to be struck dead and raised again to life -- he wanted something to relieve the intolerable monotony of a sensual life: he desired a new sensation, and superficial signs -- in short, fireworks. And He who claimed to be the Light of the World offered him light instead -- the white flame, without flicker or flare, of a Divine Personality in the lantern of a Sacred Humanity.

Now, this is precisely the appeal of the Catholic Church, as we have considered. It is true that she does miracles, or rather that He who dwells in her does them, as He did two thousand years ago. It is true that He does do sensational things; He did ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; He still, as Eternal Priest, offers mass in every Catholic church. He does do useful works; He does feed multitudes with bread; He does build up a wholesome domestic life and a sound social system wherever his sovereignty is received; He does offer marvelous consolations; He truly comforts the penitent, and thrills His lovers as they consummate their union with Him at every altar-rail. But, for all that, His real fundamental appeal does not lie in these things. It lies in one thing only -- the appeal of his whole Personality to ours. As he stood before Herod, that appeal was eloquent, though there were no particular sensations or proofs. As He stands before the sensation-mongering world to-day in that Church in which He dwells, He makes the same appeal.

Religion is not a matter of mere emotion, any more than of mere intellect. The man who says, "Unless I feel, I will not believe," is as narrow and foolish as the man who says, "Unless I understand, I will not believe." The Love of God can no more be compressed into a single human heart than the Wisdom of God into a single human mind. Mr. Balfour says somewhere that "if the scheme of Revelation were small enough for our intellectual capacity, it would not be great enough for our spiritual need." So, also, if the Love of God were reducible to our tiny emotional capacity, it would not have been great enough to have redeemed the world by giving the Son to death. Religion, then, is a great deal larger than brain or heart -- than comprehension or feeling. It must at least touch the will; for however small our will may be, it is always large enough to he united to the Will of God.

Religion, then, is larger than any one department of our nature -- it must be so, if it is Divine. It is the personality of the Catholic Church as a whole that appeals to the personality of man as a whole. God does not condemn us for not understanding, or for not feeling; but He does condemn us for not adhering to Him. He places His personality, dwelling in His Church, at the bar of our personality; and the sentence we pronounce on Him is the sentence He ultimately pronounces upon us.

Still, as of old,
  Men by themselves are priced.
For thirty pieces Judas sold
  Himself, not Christ.

This, then, is Herod's crime in every age -- not that he asks for miracles, but that he asks for nothing else; that he has so lived in sensation and externalism that all his personality has run to seed; he lives only in sensation; he is not a complete man at all. He is as a man who can only read his news in headlines.

"There are plenty of people," said an Irishman in Boston the other day -- "plenty of people who are dead without knowing it." "Yes," said his friend, "only they haven't the sense to lie down."

And this is Herod's crime now. He is dead without knowing it. He has missed the point of Life, and thinks it to lie in sensation. He sees nothing in the Catholic Church except her claim to work wonders; she is to him only a beneficent Society, or a police force, or an artistic corporation; and if she fails, in his opinion, in any of these functions, she no longer is of any interest to him. She can only be laughed at and made game of. So Herod had his sensation out of Jesus Christ after all. He dressed Him up as a sham King; he laughed loud and long with his men-at-arms, and sent his God to death. We all win from God exactly what we deserve. We all get from God exactly what we really want of Him.

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