ND   Christ in the Church / by Robert Hugh Benson





We must pass on to the final scene. In previous chapters we have considered various personages who sent Jesus Christ to Calvary. Let us now consider His journey there.

We have observed how what is called "current religious thought" always condemns Christ just because it is "current," and not fixed; how for one section of humanity Christ is too simple, for another too deep. Let us look at the whole thing once more from another angle.

There are three great ideals in the world -- summed up under the three well-worn words, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. People are always talking about these things under various disguises; but they cannot escape from the fact that, if ultimately analyzed, their ideals always fall under these three heads. For all energetic Society is made up of three elements -- those who devote themselves to Law and Order and Social Reform and ethical and civic virtues, and so forth -- what may be called the Good -- all those things that people attempt to enforce by, and incarnate in, regulations and rules and Law. Secondly, those who are always pursuing ideas of a final kind, schemes of the universe, cosmic explanations, philosophy -- in a word, Religion, or Truth. Thirdly, the artists of every description -- those who live for something between the Good and True, something that partakes of the nature of both, and yet which is neither; who live for sensation, and feeling and delicate fancy, and thought that is valued because it is exquisite, rather than because it is true, because it feels good rather than because it necessarily is good -- in a word, the Beautiful.

Now each of these sections of the world condemns Catholicism.

1. The seekers after Law condemn it because it seems to them lawless. Catholicism appears to them the one disturbing element in Society. They themselves, as I have pointed out already, endeavor to round off this world in itself, to make Society sufficient to itself to organize Society apart from God. They condemn Catholicism, therefore, because Catholicism is always appealing to another world, declaring that all this is only a detached fragment, a broken arc, that it must be remembered, in all schemes of restoration, that temporal existence is but a part of Another Whole. Again, Catholicism is always urging that men are warped by original sin, that external interference is absolutely necessary if the world is to be healed -- in short, that Redemption from outside is demanded. The Lawseekers claim that man is risen and rising -- not fallen.

Or put it in another very concrete way. These Law-supporters are always finding that the trouble in the world is caused by Catholics (and they are more right than they know). Most of the great cataclysms of history are caused by Catholics -- the massacre of St. Bartholomew, the Inquisition, the Spanish Armada; these never would have happened except for Catholicism. And each of these things, and many like them, if you analyze them far enough, arise from this appeal -- often perhaps a misapplied appeal -- to the Supernatural, which is the very life of Catholicism. The massacre and the Inquisition both arose from the Catholic claim that God's Truth was more important than men's bodily comfort. The Armada was inspired by the idea that Catholic unity -- the Commonwealth of God on earth -- was a greater thing than England's National Independence. So again and again in history it is this Catholic appeal to a supernatural idea -- rightly or wrongly conceived -- that is at the bottom of sedition and trouble: from the broken peace of the Roman Empire in the province of Pliny, and of Elizabethan England, down to the most recent estrangement of father and son in a home where Catholicism has found entrance. With one consent the great Law-givers and Law-supporters of the world condemn the Catholic Church as the enemy of real peace and order. Caiphas and Pilate are quite agreed upon this point, and quite rightly so from their premisses, even if upon nothing else.

2. Next, we have seen how Catholicism is condemned by all religious bodies whose main idea is the pursuit of Truth rather than its possession -- to whom Truth is an ideal, rather than a series of real and solid facts. Christ is condemned by these just because He is a living, breathing, and accessible Personality, down on the world's stage, instead of an abstraction at the bottom of a well, or an impersonal Force beyond the stars. Pilate condemns Him for this, as well as for being seditious. Herod fails to understand Him for the opposite reason -- just because Christ's is too mighty a Personality for Herod's nonentity to realize Him. Both in their way are seeking Truth. For one it consists in a sort of dream, for the other in a sensation. The devotees of the True condemn the Truth no less finally than the supporters of Law condemn the Lawgiver. Caiphas, as the representative of Lawful Truth, National Religion, agrees with them.

3. Lastly, the artists condemn Him. I am aware that artists often seem not to do so -- in fact, in words they seek to praise Him, but it is only on matters on which they do not understand Him. They love the crucifix of ivory and gold; but they hate the Living Crucifix of Calvary. It is far too real and sensational to do anything but repel those who live by mere symbolism. The blood is too red, the wounds too wide, the face too deathly; above all, the lights are too low for the colors to be appreciated. Their praise is not sincere, or at any rate not genuine. How can those who speak of Art for Art's sake, love Him who teaches that all must be done for God's sake? How can those who live for exquisite and satisfactory sensation understand the cry, "I thirst"? How can those who confess openly that they truly live only when they feel, sympathize with Him who in the very climax of His earthly life cried, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"

Artists then -- the pursuers of the Beautiful simply for the sake of the Beautiful, and not for His sake who is Absolute Beauty, and therefore also content to be marred and disfigured for the sake of the unbeautiful -- artists when they are really sincere, or rather, let us say, when they really understand the Church with her terrific teaching on the eternal hideousness of sin, and the duty of detachment and mortification and crucifixion -- artists may now and then blurt out the truth -- that the Church is not beautiful but ugly, that she is perpetually spoiling the joy of life by her monotonous prohibitions, Thou shalt not Thou shalt not; that she is continually urging upon the world that which the world finds the most dreary of all things -- its duty; and that it must resist the only thing it wishes to yield to -- which is temptation; that she is always trying to substitute the bloodstained Christ for the vivid and lovely Apollo; that she provides the skeleton at every feast as well as in the cupboard; that she is the kill-joy of Creation, in spite of her Botticellis and her Raphaels and her Palestrinas. Swinburne in a few incomparable lines has uttered with the most superb passion this deep undying protest of the lovers of the Beautiful against the lovers of the Crucified:

Wilt thou yet take all, Galilean? but these thou shalt not take.
The laurel the palm and the paean, the breasts of the nymphs in the brake,
And all the wings of the Loves; and all the joy before death.
Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world is grown gray with Thy breath.

Now, there are three great languages of civilization: Latin, Hebrew, and Greek.

Latin is the language of Law -- the language of those old Romans, whose genius lay in law.

Hebrew, the language of religion: that in which God spoke to His people; the language of those people who first dared to speak with God as a man with his friend.

And Greek, the language of the most superb artists that the world has ever seen.

The Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

Pilate, the supporter of Law, has cast Him off in the name of the Roman Empire and of the Roman peace which He has troubled.

Caiphas has rent his clothes, and repudiated Him who has blasphemed against the Truth.

And Herod, the lover of sensation, the builder of palaces, has dressed Him in a scarlet robe -- (notice the touch of art, even there!) -- and sent Him back to Pilate as a kill-joy, and a disappointing impostor. And for once Herod and Pilate are friends -- the inartistic Law and lawless Art -- friends in their common enmity to One who has refused to identify Himself with either.

"And Pilate wrote a title also. And the writing was, Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews: And it was written in Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin."

Is it quite a meaningless coincidence that as Christ went on the Way of Sorrows, He bore about His neck a board on which his condemnation was written in the language of Law and Order, the language of Truth, and the language of Beauty? Whether or no it was an insignificant detail then, it is certainly an exceedingly significant fact now. For it was in the name of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful that He was condemned; and it is in these same three names that He is driven now, incarnate in His Mystical Body, along that eternal Way of Sorrows that we call human history. On every side rise up the condemning voices against Her who claims the allegiance of the world that has cast her out.

"The Church," cries one, "is the enemy of Law, and Society, and mutual toleration. She is the destroyer of the world's peace, since she points to a Peace that the world can neither give nor take away; the breaker up of all those pleasant compromises and relationships that make the world's machinery work smoothly. She is the eternal enemy of the Good, as we understand it. Crucify her in Latin!"

"The Church," cries another, "is the enemy of Truth; for she professes to have found it and to possess it. She is the enemy, therefore, of all sound education and research and science. She dares to claim to be the very Truth. How can that be, since we are not aware of it? True religion consists in searching and asking and knocking -- never in finding. This alone is the Truth about God, that He hides Himself. The only thing that we know about God is that He is Unknowable. Then crucify her in the name of that God -- in the name of all those religious societies who are humble enough to confess that they are but human. Crucify her, then, in the name of that God who always speaks in clouds and darkness -- but never in the light of day -- the negative God of Sinai who says, Thou shalt not, but never, on a Mount of Beatitudes, Thou shalt. Crucify her in Hebrew."

"The Church," cries the third, "is the enemy of all true Beauty. She dares to say that the beauty of this world is not absolute and final; that it may be a snare; that at the best it can be but a sacrament; that contrasts of good and evil are not artistic; that Art can never possibly exist for Art's sake; but only for God's sake, or man's. She is the preacher of mortification, and denial and self-repression. She dares to say that man's highest life does not consist in self-expression, but in self-sacrifice. Then take her at her word and let her die. Crucify her in the language of Apollo and the Muses. Crucify her in Greek!"


Once more, before passing on, it will be well to sum up what has already been said, and to end with one or two final observations.

We have considered the element of tragedy -- one might say the environment of tragedy in which Divine Truth must always find itself in the world. Human opinions and human schemes are always at home here, since the world is their native place; but Divine Truth, or Revelation, is always a stranger, and sooner or later will be treated like one. The extreme hatred and opposition, then, which our Lord aroused more than any living being has ever aroused it; and that same hatred and opposition which similarly mark the progress of the Church in which He lives, are very strong arguments indeed for His and her Divinity, for their transcendence of Humanity. In her willing acceptance of pain we saw how she identifies herself not only with Nature, but with the God of Nature -- with God, that is, in a Garden -- yet unhappy, not happy, in that Garden. As He went out to embrace grief, before she embraced Him, so the Church makes willing sacrifice (which is the practical solution of the problem of Pain) the very heart of her system: it is she and she only who organizes and directs the life of interior mortification. Others look to Religion for comfort and sensible sweetness. She alone dares to face and to incorporate into her life, as did Jesus Christ in Gethsemane, that amazing and redemptive principle of all creation, -- that life only exists through death, and Joy through Sorrow.

Then we considered again the exterior opposition of the world, and saw how the witness of that to her Divinity is especially marked in the case of those who were once her friends. The resentment of the apostate is the bitterest resentment in the whole world. The crime of Judas is the most vivid and the most forcible crime in human history.

Next we considered Caiphas -- the type of all religionists who hate Catholicism. At the bottom of their hearts, in spite of their professions of a common Christianity, they know perfectly well that the Catholic Church is entirely different from themselves; since she claims to be unique -- to be the Teacher come from God, and not merely one of the prophets. They themselves, on the other hand, claim that religion is not the particular property of any sect: all have their rights; none has an exclusive right. Therefore they rend their garments in sincere horror in the face of this appalling claim, and condemn her to death.

Next we considered Pilate -- the type of man for whom Catholicism is too simple; the man who is always asking, What is Truth? and never finding it. It is not that he has any hatred of Catholicism; on the contrary, he thinks it a harmless and rather beautiful and pathetic phase. But it certainly cannot be the Truth. So he is forced by circumstances, in spite of his personal sympathy, to condemn her to death.

Or else he is one who has found some little esoteric Society who worships truth all by itself, who thinks that truth is the prerogative of the initiate, or the philosopher, or what he delights to call "the thinking man or the Mystic." It cannot possibly be the possession of the vulgar. The fact that the common people believe anything is to him an absolute evidence that that thing is not true. Truth is never the possession of babes and sucklings: it is the pearl of great price shining only in the locked cupboards of the wise and prudent. It cannot possibly be the marble that children play with in the streets. That would be much too simple and too royal, as, too, are the golden streets in which they profess to play.

Then we considered the Herodians -- those for whom the Truth is too deep. For these, truth must always be something sensational -- either it must be abnormal, or it must produce solid statistics in terms of finance and commerce and municipal reforms and town halls; or it must be sensational in the strictest sense -- that which makes people feel sentimental, or comfortable, or devout and pleasantly regretful. It is not to these a Solid Fact, true whether they like it or not. It must always justify itself to them in some superficial way. It must never say, I AM THAT I AM; but, I AM what you feel that I AM.

Then we looked at the Way of Sorrows from another angle altogether; and we saw how those who were always talking about the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, always crucified Christ each in his own appropriate terms. The pursuers of the Good -- those who think simply of mutual human relationships, and therefore always adore the Law that adjusts those relationships and keeps the machine running -- condemn Him as a Lawbreaker. The pursuers of the True -- literally the pursuers, for it is an essential part of the process never to come up with their quarry -- condemn Him in the sacred name of Religion -- the name they give to this agelong search that never finds (in fact, one phase of Pilate over again). Finally, the artists condemn the real bloodstained Crucifix as a darkener of the sun, and an outrage on the fair name of Nature.

And so Christ is crucified, in Jerusalem and in every country of the world, in all the three languages of civilization. The Law-lovers, the Philosophers, and the Artists are agreed on this and this only; they are made friends together on this one point; those who otherwise are at enmity -- Pilate and Caiphas and Herod -- those all with one consent cry altogether -- "Let Him be crucified."

I will make but one observation to conclude.

Is it possible to believe that a Cause so unique in arousing opposition, so universally and eternally condemned, so provocative of the fury of all right-minded people -- a Cause that is capable of being the central figure of a tragedy so terrific, and of a failure so gigantic -- can be human in its origin and nature? If it were of the world, would the world, so concentratedly and so intensely, hate it, even to death and Crucifixion?

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