Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

most civilized portion of the human family. The question arises how to account for this fact. There is no difficulty at all in accounting for it if we suppose Him to be, and to have proclaimed Himself to be, a Divine Person. But if we hold that, as a matter of history, He believed Himself to be a mere man, how are we to explain the world-wide upgrowth of so extraordinary a belief about Him, as is this belief in His Divinity? Scepticism may fold its arms and may smile at what it deems the intrinsic absurdity of the dogma believed in ; but it cannot ignore the existing prevalence of the belief which accepts the dogma. The belief is a phenomenon which at least challenges attention. How has that belief been spread ? How is it that for eighteen hundred years, and at this hour, a conviction of the truth of the Godhead of Jesus dominates over the world of Christian thought? Here, if scepticism would save its intellectual credit, it must cease from the perpetual reiteration of doubts and negations, unrelieved by any frank assertions or admissions of positive truth. It must make a venture; it must commit itself to the responsibilities of a positive position, however inexact and shadowy; it must hazard an hypothesis and be prepared to defend it.

Accordingly the theory which proposes to explain the belief of Christendom in the Godhead of Christ maintains that Christ was 'deified by the enthusiasm of His first disciples. We are told that 'man instinctively creates a creed that shall meet the wants and aspirations of his understanding and of his heart .' The teaching of Christ created in His first followers a passionate devotion to His Person, and a desire for unreserved submission to His dictatorship. Not that Christ's Divinity was decreed Him by any formal act of public honour; it was the spontaneous and irregular tribute of a passionate enthusiasm. Could any expression of reverence seem exaggerated to an admiration and a love which knew no bounds ? Could any intellectual price be too high to pay for the advantage of placing the authority of the Greatest of teachers upon that one basis of authority which is beyond assault? Do not love and reverence, centring upon a friend, upon a memory, with eager intensity, turn a somewhat impatient ear to the cautious protestations of the critical reason, when any such voice can make itself heard ? Do they not pass by imperceptible degrees into adoration? Does not adoration take for granted the Divinity of the object which it has learned

[ocr errors][merged small]

St. John's writings fatal to the theory. 271 imperceptibly and unreflectingly to adore! The enthusiasm created by Jesus Christ in those around Him, thus comes to be credited with the invention and propagation of the belief in His Divinity. “So mighty was the enthusiasm, that nothing short of that stupendous belief would satisfy it. The heart of Christendom gave law to its understanding. Christians wished Christ to be God, and they forthwith thought that they had sufficient reasons for believing in His Godhead. The feeling of a society of affectionate friends found its way in process of time into the world of speculation. It fell into the hands of the dialecticians, and into the hands of the metaphysicians; it was analysed, it was defined, it was coloured by contact with foreign speculations ; it was enlarged by the accretion of new intellectual material. At length Fathers and Councils had finished their graceless and pedantic task, and that which had at first been the fresh sentiment of simple and loving hearts was duly hardened and rounded off into a solid block of repulsive dogma.'

Now St. John's writings are a standing difficulty in the way of this enterprising hypothesis. We have seen that the fourth Gospel must be recognised as St. John's, unless, to use the words of Ewald, 'we are prepared knowingly to receive falsehood and to reject truth. But we have also seen that in the fourth Gospel, Jesus Christ is proclaimed to be God by the whole drift of the argument, and in terms as explicit as those of the Nicene Creed. We have not then to deal with any supposed process of deification, whereby the Person of Jesus was transfigured' in the apprehension of sub-apostolic or post-apostolic Christendom. It is St. John who proclaims that Jesus is the Word Incarnate, and that the Word is God. How can we account for St. John's conduct in representing Him as God, if He was in truth only man? It will not avail to argue that St. John wrote his Gospel in his old age, and that the memories of his youthful companionship with Jesus had been coloured, heightened, transformed, idealized, by the meditative enthusiasm of more than half a century. It will not avail to say that the reverence of the beloved disciple for his ascended Master was fatal to the accuracy of the portrait which he drew of Him. For what is this but to misapprehend the very fundamental nature of reverence? Truth is the basis, as it is the object of reverence, not less than of every other virtue. Reverence prostrates herself before a greatness the reality of which is obvious to her; but she would cease to be reverence if she could exaggerate the greatness which provokes her homage, not less surely than if she could depreciate or deny it. The sentiment which, in contemplating its object, abandons the guidance of fact for that of imagination, is disloyal to that honesty of purpose which is of the essence of reverence; and it is certain at last to subserve the purposes of the scorner and the spoiler. St. John insists that he teaches the Church only that which he has seen and heard. Even a slight swerving from truth must be painful to genuine reverence; but what shall we say of an exaggeration so gigantic, if an exaggeration it be, as that which transforms a human friend into the Almighty and Everlasting God? If Jesus Christ is not God, how is it that the most intimate of His earthly friends came to believe and to teach that He really is God?

Place yourselves, my brethren, fairly face to face with this difficulty ; imagine yourselves, for the moment, in the position of St. John. Think of any whom you have loved and revered, beyond measure, as it has seemed, in past years. He has gone; but you cling to him more earnestly in thought and affection than while he was here. You treasure his words, you revisit his haunts, you delight in the company of his friends, you represent to yourself his wonted turns of thought and phrase, you con over his handwriting, you fondle his likeness. These things are for you precious and sacred. Even now, there are times when the tones of that welcome voice seem to fall with living power upon your strained ear. Even now, the outline of that countenance, upon which the grave has closed, flits, as if capriciously, before your eye of sense.

The air around you yields it perchance to your intent gaze, radiant with a higher beauty than it wore of old. Others, you feel, may be forgotten as memory grows weak, and the passing years bring with them the quick succession of new fields and objects of interest, pressing importunately upon the heart and thoughts. But one such memory as I have glanced at, fades not at the bidding of time. It cannot fade; it has become a part of the mind which clings to it. Some who are here may have known those whom they thus remember; a few of us assuredly have known such. But can we conceive it possible that, after any lapse of time, we should ever express our reverence and love for the unearthly goodness, the moral strength, the tenderness of heart, the fearlessness, the justice, the unselfishness of our friend, by saying that he was not an ordinary human being, but a superhuman person? Can we imagine ourselves incorporating our recollections about him with some current theosophic doctrine elevating him to the rank of a Divine hypostasis ? While he lies in his silent grave, can

Mankind not prone to 'deify' human virtue. 273

we picture ourselves describing him as the very absolute Light and Life, as the Incarnate Thought of the Most High, as standing in a relationship altogether unique to the Eternal and Selfexistent Being, nay, as being literally God? To say that 'St. John lived in a different intellectual atmosphere from our own,' does not meet the difficulty. If Jesus was merely human, St. John's statements about Him are among the most preposterous fictions which have imposed upon the world. They were advanced with a full knowledge of all that they involved. St. John was at least as profoundly convinced as we are of the truth of the unity of the Supreme Being. St. John was at least as alive as we can be to the intinite interval which parts the highest of creatures from the Great Creator. If we are not naturally lured on by some irresistible fascination, by the poetry or by the credulity of our advancing years, to believe in the Godhead of the best man whom we have ever known, neither was St. John. If Jesus had been merely human, St. John would have felt what we feel about a loved and revered friend whom we have lost. In proportion to our belief in our friend's goodness, in proportion to our loving reverence for his character, is the strength of our conviction that we could not now do him a more cruel injury than by entwining a blasphemous fable, such as the ascription of Divinity would be, around the simple story of his merely human life. This

deification of Jesus by the enthusiasm of St. John would have been consistent neither with St. John's reverence for God, nor with his real loyalty to a merely human friend and teacher. St. John worshipped the jealous' God of Israel; and he has recorded the warning which he himself received against worshipping the angel of the Apocalypsey. If Christ had not really been Divine, the real beauty of His Human Character would have been disfigured by any association with such legendary exaggeration, and Christianity would assuredly have perished within the limits of the first century.

The theory that Jesus was deified by enthusiasm assumes the existence of a general disposition in mankind which is unwarranted by experience. Generally speaking men are not eager to believe in the exalted virtue, much less in the superhuman origin or dignity, of their fellow-men. And to do them justice, the writers who maintain that Jesus was invested with Divine honours by popular fervour, illustrate the weakness of their own principle very conspicuously. While they assert that nothing

Rev. xxii. 9.

was more easy and obvious for the disciple of the apostolic age than to believe in the Divinity of his Master, they themselves reject that truth with the greatest possible obstinacy and determination; well-attested though it be, now as then, by historical miracles and by overwhelming moral considerations; but also proclaimed now, as it was not then, by the faith of eighteen centuries, and by the suffrages of all that is purest and truest in our existing civilization.

But, it is suggested that the apostolic narrative itself bears out the doctrine that Jesus was deified through enthusiasm by its account of the functions which are ascribed, especially in St. John's Gospel, to the Comforter. Was not the Comforter sent to testify of Jesus? Is it not said, 'He shall glorify Me'? Does not this language look like the later endeavour of a religious phrenzy, to account for exaggerations of which it is conscious, by a bold claim to supernatural illumination ?

Now this suggestion implies that the last Discourse of our Lord is in reality a forgery, which can no more claim to represent His real thought than the political speeches in Thucydides can be seriously supposed to express the minds of the speakers to whom they are severally attributed. Or, at the least, it implies that a purely human feeling is here clothed by language ascribed to our Lord Himself with the attributes of a Divine Person. Of course, if St. John was capable of deliberately attributing to His Master that which He did not say, he was equally capable of attributing to Him actions which He did not do; and we are driven to imagine that the closest friend of Jesus was believed by apostolical Christendom to be writing a history, when in truth he was only composing a biographical novel. But, as Rousseau has observed, in words which have been already quoted, the original inventor of the Gospel history would have been as miraculous a being as its historical Subject. And the moral fascination which the last discourse possesses for every pure and true soul at this hour, combines with the testimony of the Church to assure us that it could have been spoken by no merely human lips, and that it is beyond the inventive scope of even the highest human genius. Those three chapters which M. Renan pronounces to be full of the dryness of metaphysics and the darkness of abstract dogmas’ have been, as a matter of fact, watered by the tears of all the purest love and deepest sorrow of Christian humanity for eighteen centuries. Never is the New Testament more able to dispense with external

« AnteriorContinua »