ND   Christ in the Church / by Robert Hugh Benson





We considered in the last chapter how once more in our day modern religious thought has pronounced the cause of Catholicism practically extinct; and how many of those thinkers who are thought to be in the forefront of progress no longer consider that the Church is even an enemy to be met. Yet it is remarkable that these philosophers do not seem to reflect that the dirge has been sung over the grave of the Church of Rome not less than ten or twelve times already, in almost universal chorus, in the history of the past, and that every single time it has somehow died away -- that the same things have been said again and again and again, and that each time all predictions have been completely falsified. Nero said it; Arius said it; Henry VIII said it; Voltaire said it; and now Viviani, Mr. McCabe and Mr. Fawkes take up the chant with undiminished confidence. And yet, somehow or another, the Body lives. Oh! I acknowledge freely that it ought to have died; that it is clean against all precedent and all experience; that Nero's persecution ought to have stamped it out, but that somehow it did not; that Arius' arguments were amazingly common-sense and ought to have silenced the Catholic paradox that Jesus was both God and Man, but that somehow they did not; that Sabellius' argument, that if God were really one, He could not be really three, ought to have convinced all persons who think themselves "thinking men," but that somehow it did not; that Henry VIII and Elizabeth were really brilliant politicians and administrators, and that their policy in destroying the religious houses and insulting the most sacred shrines of England ought to have put an end forever to what they called " Popish superstition," but that somehow it did not; that McCabe's statistics are admirably worked out, and demonstrate practically that there is no such thing as the Church of Rome at all -- and yet that somehow there is; that Viviani's measures are extremely forcible, and ought to have finished the affair five years ago -- only somehow the affair is not finished; that the Modernists, supported as they are by such ecclesiastical authorities as the Times newspaper, to which they appeal, ought to have said the last word, but that somehow the Pope still issues Encyclicals; in short, that if the Catholic Church were what these people suppose it to be, an extremely well-organized human society, like any other earthly kingdom or association, it certainly would have perished, if not under Nero, at any rate under Napoleon; that if its articles of belief were just the result of extremely clever and subtle human theorizing, they ought to have been extinguished, if not by Arms and Sabellius, at least by Voltaire -- or, at any rate, modified by the Abbé Loisy or Mr. Fawkes.

I said just now that it was remarkable that these philosophers and historians and sociologists do not seem to be aware that their predictions have been already uttered and falsified at least ten or twelve times before in the history of Catholicism. But it seems to me even more remarkable that they are choosing this particular moment, of all others, to repeat them. Fifty years ago, or a hundred years ago, there might have been some shadow of excuse; at the time of the Reformation there was a great deal of excuse; in the heart of the Renaissance, or the captivity of Avignon, even more. Even forty years ago when Rome fell and the Pope fled, it might have appeared quite reasonable to have declared that the blow had fallen at last -- as indeed it was declared -- and that historical precedent was justified; but now! . . . now of all moments!

Now I am aware that statistics -- the mere counting of heads, that is to say -- can be manipulated so as to prove almost anything (Mr. McCabe shows us that); and I do not propose to compete with him. Since, however, it is seriously maintained by apparently reasonable people that the Church of Rome is dying, if not dead, it is, I suppose, necessary to do something to show my own conviction that, so far from this being the fact, we are on the very verge -- as Mr. H. G. Wells tells us -- of a revival of Catholicism, in the world as a whole, such as the world has never yet seen; that the religion of the immediate future, at any rate -- at least such religion as there is -- will not take the form of diluted Protestantism, or of a system of ethics or Modernism, or of a kind of pious Pantheism (which is about what the newly discovered doctrine of Immanence amounts to -- though Immanence and its correlative Transcendence have in a sense been preached by the Catholic Church from the first moment of her existence); that the religion of the future will be none of these, but dogmatic, credal, disciplinary and Papal Catholicism, such as has been known from the beginning.

1. First, then, there has never been a time when Devotion -- and devotion in its most practical form, and directed to an object which the world considers the very acme of Catholic foolishness -- I mean the Sacrament of the Altar -- has been so intense. Those who were present in London a couple of years ago at the Eucharistic Congress must surely have been aware of this fact. Not only were the streets nearly impassable with a crowd beyond all reckoning, gathered from every country of Europe, but even the solemn British Constitution itself was troubled. Certainly other societies could have embarrassed the politicians, and blocked Victoria Street; but I am sure that no society in the world could have aroused such intense feeling of love and adoration on one side, and of fury and terror on the other, with regard to a small white object which one-half of that world declared to be a piece of Bread. I do not in the least wish to avoid discussion on this point which is the very heart of Catholic devotion; but this is not the occasion on which to discuss it in full. But I will only draw attention for an instant to this matter -- that the Eucharistic Congress of London in 1908 -- and the Eucharistic Congress of Cologne in 1909, with the Papal delegate sailing up the Rhine to the roar of cannon and the pealing of bells -- that the Eucharistic Congress of this year at Montreal, are all gathered, not to dispute as to the question, or to argue about modes in which it is to be interpreted, but simply to do honor and glory to the Fact (as Catholics believe it) that Jesus Christ, God and Man, takes Bread and makes it His Body, and that the Human Nature, born of Mary, crucified on Calvary, and raised on Easter Day 2,000 years ago, is present to-day under the appearance of bread, in London, in Cologne and Montreal, and in every Catholic tabernacle in every Catholic church throughout the world. I am not discussing whether it is true or not; I am only attempting to show that a period which produces such phenomena as these Congresses, which gathers those international and supranational multitudes together for the glorifying of this central dogma, is scarcely the period to select for the assertion of Rome's decay. And if the doctrine appears to those philosophers -- as it does -- ludicrous and silly, the phenomena is the more inexplicable. It is impossible to dismiss these crowds of worshipers as mere barbarians and savages, mad with fanaticism; for there worshiped amongst them, scientists, doctors, philosophers, astronomers, judges on the bench, lawyers at the bar, soldiers, business-men, merchants, as well as women and children -- those who with natural purity of heart, naturally see God.

2. Secondly, it is probably true to say that seldom, if ever, have the wise and prudent of the world shown themselves more willing to accept Catholicism when once it has been presented to them. I have already touched on this point, and need not dwell on it now at any length. Recent conversions in France, as well as in England, have surely put it beyond the power of any critic to say that the Church appeals merely to the uneducated. It is perfectly true to say that many of the wise and prudent to whom the Church is presented reject her; and that the fact that others accept her is not a proof that she is what she claims to be. But the fact that some do accept her -- some of those, that is, who are aware of all that can be said against her, who know perfectly well the arguments of science and biology and all the rest -- this, at any rate, is a proof that she is not contrary to those things. Father Cortie, the Jesuit astronomer, is quite aware of the fact that the earth is but one of the planets, yet he finds no difficulty in believing that the Son of God was incarnate on the earth. Professor Windle -- a recent convert -- is fully acquainted with all that has ever been said or surmised as to the constitution of matter, and yet he has deliberately chosen to believe that the substance of Bread is changed at five words uttered by a priest, into the substance of the Body of Jesus Christ. Lord Brampton was as well aware of the insufficiency of human evidence as any man who has ever lived, and yet he, too, in the very height of his powers and his reputation, chose to become as a little child, and to believe and to do as he was told by other human beings far less accomplished than himself. The Professor of History at Halle University knows all that can be said as to the secular causes and circumstances that are urged as the reason of Rome's preëminence, and yet the other day he made himself a student at her feet, and accepted as his Mistress and Queen her whom he had been taught to criticize and reject. Is this period, marked by the conversion of men of this kind, in every civilized country of the world, the time to say that the Church of Rome is evidently false, that her claims are at least disproved, and that no "thinking man" can possibly ever look for enlightenment in her direction?

3. A third sign of her undying vitality lies in the attitude of so many of those towards her who have no ax to sharpen, either against her, or in her quarrel -- I mean that attitude expressed by those who say, "I do not profess to have any religion; but if I were a religious man at all, I would be a Catholic."

Now this sounds a very slight matter; but the thing is so common, at least in my experience -- (I have had it said to me by total strangers again and again, in the street, in railway trains, and on the tops of omnibuses) -- that it must stand for something rather significant. If you press the man who says this a little further, he will generally say, "Well, you Catholics at any rate know your own minds; and you do what you're told. You're all the same, everywhere; you haven't got one religion for one man and another for another."

Sum that up in a sentence. It is this. The man somehow or another has knocked up against this very vitality of which I am speaking. He has discovered -- Heaven only knows how -- that the Church is a living organism, very much alive; that she has a mind of her own; that she is not just a code, but a being, which thinks and speaks; not just a collection of individuals who agree to call themselves by one name, but are agreed hardly on anything else; that she is not an antique survival, or an aesthetic club, or a loosely knit human society of any kind whatever, but a vital and imperious Person, who speaks, moves and acts as a person should. He has discovered, in short, that very thing of which I have spoken again and again, that she is quite unlike any other society in the whole world. He sets her by herself, and the rest all together, and says, "If I were anything, I would be a Catholic."

Once more, then, is this the time to speak of the decay of the Church of Rome; when not only the disciples, but the very stones cry out -- those very souls who lie beneath her, motionless and inert, and yet have wit enough to recognize the thrill and vibration of her feet? If the Church were dead and discredited, would these things be said of her?

4. Fourthly, I would like to recall another point I have already discussed at length -- the manner in which one by one her ancient conclusions, at least in the realm of phenomena, are being painfully verified by science.

We live in the days of psychology. All sciences, more and more, are finding that in psychology lies an immense amount of evidence necessary for their own perfection. Biology is coming to its center, which is consciousness: History is discovering that events must be interpreted according to the characters of those who witness to those events, that character is complicated after all, and not simple, and that therefore events are complicated, too: Medicine is discovering that the attitude of mind of a patient is at least as much an element in his cure as are the things administered to him. There has sprung up, then, a school of psychology that hopes some day to supply the central key to all these mysteries; and the very first fact that psychology has stumbled upon is this -- that religion in general supplies what is probably the strongest secret, as well as open, motive of the human mind, and that the Catholic religion in particular, which has witnessed alone continuously and unwaveringly to this central fact, also supplies the greatest wealth of extraordinary and significant phenomena produced by it. All these ancient truths, known to Catholicism from the days of Jesus Christ downwards -- the healing power of faith, the abnormal states of body produced by an interior condition, communications at a distance, apparitions of the dead, the possibilities of what are apparently two characters in one organism -- all these things maintained by Catholicism, and hitherto denied scornfully by science, are found to be objective facts after all, and must be dealt with in some way before any real progress can be made. Is this the time, then, to speak of the Death of the Catholic Church, when she has just been discovered, even by psychologists, to be so appallingly alive, and to possess powers -- powers of suggestion and stimulus, if you prefer to call them so -- which no other body, up to recent times, has claimed or even confessed to exist?

It would be possible, I think, to continue almost indefinitely with these signs of undying vitality. It would be possible to show that the stability of all Society, the one safeguard against anarchism, the one protector of domestic life, the one inspirer of art, the one competent adversary of race-suicide, has lain in the past and will lie in the future, in the Catholic Church and the Catholic Church only. After all, she alone has been able to preserve from the past what is best worth preserving; it was she who saved the music of the old world from total destruction, who transformed and preserved the architecture of that same world, as well as invented a new one of her own on which practically all future progress must depend; it is she who has saved the life of Latin and Greek, using them with her lips as well as in printed books of the past; it is she who has caught up philosophy after philosophy and made them the vehicles of her own truth; it is she, in short, who has been the mother of all civilization as we know it; and it is where she has been rejected and thrust aside that that civilization is already beginning to crumble. Compare the art-galleries of the Luxembourg and the Louvre, the one pagan, the other Christian, and ask yourselves honestly, which is the finer art of the two? Or put the ideas of Fraternity, Liberty, and Equality, as understood in France now, beside those same qualities as understood in the ages of chivalry, and ask yourselves which promise best for the stability of Society. Or look even at Anglo-Saxon countries and honestly decide where lies the best hope of continuance -- in that Society which is believed to consist in a race for wealth or reputation among units each fighting for his own hand, each following his own heart and his own private judgment (which is the very essence of Protestantism) both in America and England -- or in a Society where there may indeed be tyranny from time to time, and abuse of power, and undue cringing, but where at any rate the theory is that the Christian Society is a mystical Body in which Christ dwells, in which each member has his vocation, his duties and his responsibilities, and an eternal future in which the performance of those duties will find its right reward.

All this, however, is too vast and complicated for our purposes. Only, I have no fear of the result if the question is but honestly faced and honestly answered.

This, then, in a word, is my final argument -- and it is that to which Christ Himself ultimately appealed -- the argument of Resurrection, for nothing can raise itself from death, except Divinity. We have seen a number of points in which the Life of the Catholic Church corresponds strangely and wonderfully with the Life of Christ.

We have seen the characteristics of those who accept and those who reject the claims that the Church makes; those who accept -- the simple on the one side and the highly educated on the other; those who reject -- the middle kind of intellect which has not learned enough to know the limitations of knowledge; and we saw how these classes corresponded with those who respectively accepted and rejected Jesus Christ. Then, after touching on the element of hiddenness and contemplation which mark alike the Life in the Gospels and the Life in the Church, and seeing how that witnessed to a consciousness of something beyond the things of sense, we considered the substance, mode, and sanctions of the teaching of the Gospels and the Church. The substance in four points was the same, and those points of a very startling character, productive of the same kind of protest in all ages from those who reject them. And the manner of the teaching is the same -- an authoritativeness and finality that can only rise from a consciousness of the possession of absolute Truth -- an authoritativeness that must always be a mark of such consciousness. Then we discussed the miraculous element in both alike, and noticed how a Teacher who claims to be Divine must exhibit these signs, and that a world that rejects the Teacher must explain them away, as the critics of Jesus Christ explained them then, and as the critics of Catholicism explain them now. Then we passed on more particularly to the kind of characters that reject Divine Teaching in all ages -- Caiphas, the representative of all religious societies that are simply human; Pilate, the type of all who think that Truth must be a rare and elusive thing; and Herod, for whom Truth consists in the abnormal and sensational. Then summing all this up we saw how the three great divisions of worldly energy -- the supporters of Law, the pursuers of subjective Truth, and the lovers of the Beautiful, -- however various their ideals, yet all unite in condemning Him who claims to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and that these same thinkers to-day, disunited in all else, are united in this alone -- that they condemn and reject Catholicism as the one common enemy of them all. Finally, we considered the failure of both Christ and His Church; and attempted to see whether the ultimate tragedy of Calvary in all ages was not, as a matter of fact, the one condition of all success considered from the Divine standpoint -- whether Love must not express itself in pain, and Christ be dead and buried before He could conquer the supreme enemies of man. That the Church has always failed is perfectly evident to every student of history; she has failed in a degree in which no human society has ever failed without extinction. She has passed through, again and again, in country after country, at the hands of heretics, persecutors, critics, philosophers, and worldly powers and energies of every description, every phase of failure and condemnation which it is possible to imagine. She has not succeeded in satisfying perfectly any single human instinct; she has always broken down under (as her enemies would say), or transcended (as her friends say), every demand made upon her. No one except her own prejudiced friends is satisfied with her, it seems; no one finds in her that degree of humanity which he desires. She is always echoing the cry of the world -- "I thirst" with the same cry on her own lips; she is always discredited, always found out, always dying, always forsaken by God and man, even down to death itself; she is always being buried; she is always vanishing under stone and seal, always being classed by the world with every other form and system of belief that has passed or is passing into the grave.

And yet she lives.

Once more we saw that that which in every age calls itself "Modern Thought" has, once more in our own, pronounced sentence of death upon her -- has done more, has declared life actually extinct. And, simultaneously, we see that she lives with an impulse and vitality that are simply unique in human history; that, at the very moment when the "wise and prudent" declare her dead, the wise and the prudent turn to her as the source of all life and knowledge; that at the very moment when the masses are alienated from her, the masses turn to her once again as their Mother and Queen; that there has never been a period when her devotion has been more fervent, her discipline more perfect, and her hopes higher. Even three hundred years -- so short a time in her history who has lived from the beginning and will live to the end! -- have seen the rise and fall of countless sects; but never hers. Nationalism has crumbled into Congregationalism; Congregationalism into Individualism; and Individualism has once again begun to cohere under new and fantastic forms; but she remains exactly as she was.

Other religious societies have found it necessary to issue new dogmas and new conceptions, to recast thought as Arms did, or Sabellius, or Voltaire, or the Abbé Loisy; she alone retains the old; and, simultaneously, where the new religions crumble, in spite of their professed adaptability to the times, she remains rigid, and yet retains more countries under her sway, and more temperaments among her lovers, than all the new religions have ever dreamed of.

I do not for one instant profess to believe that all the world is about to turn Catholic: I am quite sure that it is not; I even think it probable that we are on the verge of a Great Apostasy; but of one point I am as certain as of my own existence, that fifty years hence there will be no considerable body in the whole of western Christendom which will be able for one moment to compete with her; and that a thousand years hence, if the world lasts so long, we shall have once more the same situation that we have now.

On the one side will stand human society ranged against her, in ranks and companies of which hardly two members are agreed upon anything except upon opposition to her. There will be the New Theologians of that day, as of ours; new schools of thought, changing every instant, new discoveries, new revelations, new presentations and combinations of fragments of old truth. And on the other side will stand the Church of the ages, with the marks of her Passion deeper than ever upon her. From the one side will go up that all but eternal cry, "We have found her out at last; she is forsaken of all except of a few fanatics at last; she is dead and buried at last." And on the other side she will stand, then as always, wounded indeed to death, yet not dead; betrayed by her new-born Judases, judged by her Herods and her Pilates, scourged by those who pity while they strike, despised and rejected, and yet stronger in her Divine foolishness than all the wisdom of men; hung between Heaven and earth, and yet victorious over both; sealed and guarded in her living tomb, and yet always and forever passing out to new life and new victories.

So, too, then as now, and as at the beginning, there will be secret gardens where she is known and loved, where she will console the penitent as the sun rises on Easter Day; there will be upper rooms where her weeping friends are gathered for fear of the Jews, when, the doors being shut, she will come and stand in the midst and give them Peace; on mountains, and roads, and by the sea, she will walk then, as she has walked always, in the secret splendor of her Resurrection. So once more the wheel will turn; there will be ten thousand Bethlehems where she is born again and again; the kings of the earth will bring their glory and honor to lay at her feet, side by side with the shepherds who have no gifts but themselves to offer. Again and again that old and eternal story will be told and retold as each new civilization comes into being and passes away -- that old drama reënacted wherever the Love of God confronts the needs of men. She has already seen the rise and fall of dynasty after dynasty, of monarchies and republics; she will see in the future, no doubt, Socialism on the one side -- that tyranny of Society over the individual, and Anarchy on the other -- that tyranny of the individual over Society. She has seen so far all the conceivable theories of life rise and die away, and she, the Life, remains the same. She has seen a thousand schools of thought and aspects of Truth; and she, the Truth, remains the same. She has seen all these, and she will see many more; but she will see them all to bed before the end comes -- before that Mystical Body of Christ, which she is, has attained that measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ which is her eternal destiny and her certain hope. For this is her final and supreme appeal -- that sign of the Prophet Jonas -- that miracle of Resurrection to which she has always appealed, and which has never failed her yet.

It is possible, as we have seen, for those who are determined to do so, to explain away her miracles; it is possible to make out excellent reasons for her success in uniting those whom nationality divided; it is possible to account for her sanctity by psychological arguments upon temperaments and the power of suggestion; it is possible to meet her philosophy with another philosophy, her statistics by other statistics, and her arguments by answers. But is it possible to meet the phenomenon of her agelong Resurrection by any explanation that will not break down -- to account, on secular or social principles, for the fact that while she has met reverses which no other religion or empire or society has ever been called upon to meet, yet she is more vital than them all? That she is as young and as active as she was a thousand years ago, as much an obstacle to all worldly politicians, as much an offense to all who seek another ideal than hers, as much a scandal and a stumbling-block to her critics, as she was when Nero ruled or Elizabeth tyrannized or Arius or Voltaire sneered.

For I see through her eyes, the Eyes of God to shine, and through her lips I hear His words. In each of her hands as she raises them to bless, I see the wounds that dripped on Calvary, and her feet upon her Altar stairs are signed with the same marks as those which the Magdalene kissed. As she comforts me in the confessional I hear the voice that bade the sinner go and sin no more; and as she rebukes or pierces me with blame I shrink aside trembling with those who went out one by one, beginning with the eldest, till Jesus and the penitent were left alone. As she cries her invitation through the world I hear the same ringing claim as that which called, "Come unto me and find rest to your souls"; as she drives those who profess to serve her from her service I see the same flame of wrath that scourged the changers of money from the temple courts.

As I watch her in the midst of her people, applauded by the mob shouting always for the rising sun, I see the palm branches about her head, and the City and Kingdom of God, it would seem, scarcely a stone's throw away, yet across the valley of the Kedron and the garden of Gethsemane; and as I watch her pelted with mud, spurned, spat at and disgraced, I read in her eyes the message that we should weep not for her but for ourselves and for our children, since she is immortal and we but mortal after all. As I look on her white body, dead and drained of blood, I smell once more the odor of the ointments and the trampled grass of that garden near to the place where He was crucified, and hear the tramp of the soldiers who came to seal the stone and set the watch. And, at last, as I see her moving once more in the dawn light of each new day, or in the revelation of evening, as the sun of this or that dynasty rises and sets, I understand that He who was dead has come forth once more with healing in His wings, to comfort those that mourn and to bind up the brokenhearted; and that His coming is not with observation, but in the depth of night as His enemies slept and His lovers woke for sorrow.

Yet even as I see this I understand that Easter is but Bethlehem once again; that the cycle runs round again to its beginning and that the conflict is all to fight again; for they will not be persuaded, though One rises daily from the dead.


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