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CHAPTER III

THE INCARNATION AS INTERPRETED BY THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH

WE left the Apostles at the end of the last chapter in possession of a certain conviction as to the nature of their Lord, which they were to proclaim broadly to the world. To them it appeared in the light of a simple fact they had known Christ, known Him as man first, and come to know Him at last as the Son of God. And as such they proclaimed Him, not with any elaborateness of explanatory statement, but simply as they knew Him. But this simple proclamation of their faith inevitably raised a profound and abstruse problem. It was wholly impossible, in the very nature of things, that men should continue to accept this statement just as it was, without attempting to explain to themselves what it meant. They were called upon to take into their range of ideas what was really a completely new thing; it was not likely or possible that it should remain simply as a bare unexplained fact, it would require to be probed and examined and weighed, that its full importance might appear. It would hardly be necessary to point out this fact in any other connexion, because it would be taken for granted on all hands that no body of men would go on maintaining and spreading a belief which they could only

assert as an unexplained fact. It would be inevitable that they should find questions asked about it, which they would have to try and answer, doubts arising which they must endeavour to solve. Only the most extravagant dogmatism could possibly hope to come before the world, and call upon it to give up the sins which it loved, for the sake of an alleged fact which could not be explained. And we have seen that the Apostles were not dogmatists. They alleged their fact, and adapted their proclamation of it to the special needs of their various audiences. In most subjects, we say, it would be superfluous to comment on the necessity of this result; it is necessary in theology because the process of interpretation, initiated in S. Peter's speeches in the Acts, carried on by S. Paul, and completed by the Catholic Church, ended in the formulation of definite dogmatic articles; and it has been customary of late to deny the necessity of such definitions of belief. The practical effects of Christianity have come to occupy the whole horizon, and it is contended that, provided these are retained, the whole dogmatic system may be safely dispensed with. Possibly this might Possibly this might be true, if the Christian scheme of morals did not rest upon the Person of Christ, if He were only a human prophet and reformer, aiming at the establishment of a better way of life. And of course there are many who would accept this account of Him. But for those who do not, for those who believe that He was really the Incarnate Son of God, it is imperative to say, as nearly as may be, what this precisely means.

For the fact, as it spreads through the testimony of the Church, meets with minds of very various types, with minds furnished with very various prepossessions,

and all these will interpret it in various ways. To some it will seem easy enough to believe that God should come upon the earth and reveal Himself to man, but impossible that He should robe Himself in real human flesh, seeing that the flesh is corruptible and impure, and responsible for evil. To others it will seem incredible that God should suffer such a change as is apparently involved in an Incarnation. Hence the former class of thinkers will so interpret the fact they have received as to deny virtually the Humanity of Jesus Christ, the others will interpret it so as to deny His Divinity. These will be, of course, private speculations. They are neither affirmed in the earliest form of apostolic preaching nor explicitly denied. But it cannot be maintained that they are unimportant, that one is as true as the other. For they are in flat contradiction as to a matter of fact. Each interprets the testimony of the Apostles to the dual nature of Christ, so as to destroy the duality. The one favours one factor in it, the other exclusively maintains the opposite. And it simply is not reasonable that two contradictory propositions should be equally true in relation to one matter of fact. It may be granted that there are certain regions of theology in which our best hope of arriving at a sound position is to state both sides of a contradiction and leave it unsolved; but this can never be the case with matters of fact. It has been maintained, for instance, by theologians of a certain school,1 that if we say that God exists, and then endeavour to ascertain precisely what we mean, we find that God does not exist under any known form or mode of being, and therefore that the affirmation of the existence of God requires to be completed by its exact con1 Cf. Dionys. Areop. De Div. Nom. ch. v. § 8.

tradictory. It may be questioned, perhaps, whether there is not here an ambiguity in the word existence-whether it does not refer to the matter of fact in the proposition God exists on the one side, and to our interpretation of the fact on the other. But however this may be, the cases are not parallel. In the one, we are dealing with a wholly transcendent subject-matter, in which our senses and intellect by themselves are quite at a loss, and incapable of definite assertion; in the other we are dealing with a fact which has its material as well as its transcendent side. But those who deny the Humanity of our Lord deny the material side of the fact altogether, and those who deny the Divinity deny that the Manhood is in any measure out of the common.

But granted the necessity of interpreting, who is to decide when interpreters differ? Differ they almost certainly will, according as they approach the matter from their various points of view. Whose is the decisive interpretation? The Apostles while they live will, at least, know which interpretation, if any, expresses their meaning, and will be able also to explain what their meaning is, with reference to the particular problems raised. S. Paul, for instance, when he finds that the Colossian Christians are by way of adopting an elaborate system of angel-worship, writes to them, and stoutly denies that this is even compatible with his view of Christ. And he gives his reasons: it is practically to deny our Lord's unique prerogative as Mediator, both in nature and in grace. The Son, he insists, was the sole instrument of creation; in Him all things were created and had their system; no created being can share the solitary dignity of the Son. And then in the Incarnate Christ, the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily; into

unity with Him Christians were baptized, and in that unity, by Christ's power alone, they were saved. Further, this, he maintains, was the faith he had always preached and taught, the other was the tradition of men. Now here we have an example of the way an Apostle went to work. He refers to the tradition of the faith as he had delivered it; but that is not all, he also enters upon the subject apart from Church authority, and shows that the consequences of the theory, with which they are showing sympathy, are subversive of all that the preaching of Christianity was meant to do. To hold such a position would bring men back under the minute and elaborate rules from which they had escaped, and would infringe the rights of Christ, by whom alone the handwriting which was against us had been removed. This line of argument reveals, when analyzed, the seat of authority as conceived by S. Paul. There is the external condition of harmony with Church tradition, and there is the inherent force of the truths: and the bearing of the intellectual side of the question is settled by its practical effects. S. Paul writes in such a tone as to exclude the possibility of a rigid separation between the intellectual and practical sides of Christianity. It does matter how the Colossians express their faith to themselves, for there are ways of doing it which cut at the root of the practical and moral significance of Christianity. This and the formulation of the faith in definite terms go together.

By means of this instance we have obtained considerable light on our problem. We see that the dogmatic statements of the facts in question are necessary not only to secure accuracy of thought, but also to assure the practical effect of them. The two things are not

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