Doctrines of the Creed
Their Basis in Scripture and Their Meaning Today
by Oliver Chase Quick
London: Nisbet & Co., Ltd.. 1938
[Footnotes have been moved in square brackets to their places of citation or immediately following the paragraphs in which they are cited.]
Part I – THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IN GOD Parts 1 & 2 below on this page
I The Meaning of Faith
II Faith and Reason
IV Man’s Thought of God
V God as Creator
VI The Fatherhood of the Creator
VII Divine Omnipotence
Part II – THE INCARNATION
VIII The Jewish Background of Christology
IX The Primitive Doctrine of the Incarnation in Jewish Christianity and St. Paul
X Gentile Influences and St. Paul’s “Christ-Mysticism”
XI The Christology of St. John
XII The Christology of the Epistle to the Hebrews
XIII The Development of Christological Doctrine in the Church
XIV The Incarnation and Historical Criticism
XV The Virgin Birth
XVI Our Lord=s Knowledge in His Earthly Life
XVII The Moral Perfection of Jesus
XVIII The Person of the Incarnate
Appendix Divine Impassibility in Relation to Creation and Incarnation
Part III – THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE OF SALVATION Parts 3 & 4
XIX The Problem of Salvation and its Conditions
XX The General Significance of the Atonement
XXI Theories of the Atonement
XXII The Last Things (General)
XXIII Judgement and Final Condemnation
XXIV The Hope of Resurrection
Part IV – THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE CHURCH
XXV The Relation of the New Testament to the Old in the Doctrine of the Spirit
XXVI The Holy Spirit in St. Paul=s Theology
XXVII St. John=s Doctrine of the Spirit
XXVIII The Doctrine of the Spirit in the Modern World
XXIX Freedom and Authority in Faith
XXX The Historical Foundation of the Church
XXXI Order, Orders and Unity in the Church
Index (omitted for web)
It is in the hope that it may prove useful both to teachers and students in the subject, and also may perhaps be of interest to a wider circle of readers, that I offer this essay in systematic theology. Systematic theology has a distinct field of its own, to which, in the Church of England at least, insufficient attention is being paid. This neglect is due in part to a failure to recognize the distinct aim of systematic theology and to a confusion of its proper subject with others, especially that of dogmatics. “Dogmatic theology” concerns itself mainly with the genesis and original significance of traditional dogma, and, in so far as it turns its attention from the past to the present, it seeks only to answer the question, What does the Church teach as de fide? or, To what beliefs are the teachers and members of the Church essentially committed? “Systematic theology”, on the other hand, asks the question, How can we best understand and interpret as a coherent whole the doctrinal tradition of our Church in relation to that particular world in which we are now called upon to uphold the Christian faith?
Systematic theology can only be written from the point of view of a particular Church-tradition, but it does not claim any dogmatic authority for its conclusions. The answer given to its central question is bound to vary more or less with the individual, and the variation is likely to be particularly marked in a Communion which, like the Anglican, includes widely different “schools of thought”. A man is trained in systematic theology, not by learning and accepting any particular presentation of it, but rather by exercising his powers of understanding and criticism upon some particular presentation.
This book, of which much of the substance has been delivered in the form of lectures to theological students at Durham, is an attempt to provide such a presentation with reference to the main doctrines of the Christian Creed. I am aware that there are conspicuous omissions, while some of the subjects treated will appear to many to be side-issues. But I have tried to emphasize the issues which seem to me to be of chief importance today, and, as an Anglican, I have also borne constantly in mind the appeal to Scripture as the supreme standard of doctrine. The lessons taught by historical criticism seem to me to require us to use this standard in a new way, but yet to emphasize, rather than to diminish, its importance and authority. If the Church is to preserve the gospel without admitting the principle of ecclesiastical infallibility, the interpretation of doctrine must always be based upon the interpretation of Scripture. I do not therefore apologize for the amount of space I have devoted to the discussion of Christian doctrine as it appears in the New Testament.
I am deeply indebted to my colleague the Archdeacon of Auckland for much sympathetic advice and encouragement, and also to Professor Dodd of Cambridge, who has most generously found time to read my book in proof and to make very valuable corrections and suggestions on details connected with Biblical scholarship.
O. C. Q.
Part I – The Christian Faith in God
Chapter I – The Meaning of Faith
The first three words of the Creed, “I believe in,” are perhaps neither the least important nor the least misunderstood. It will be well if, before entering upon further discussions, we can gain a clear idea of what the term “faith” means to the Christian. In the present chapter I shall try to distinguish faith from bare assent on the one hand and from spiritual vision on the other.
1. FAITH AND ASSENT
[For some further remarks on the distinction between faith and assent, see Chapter XXIX, 8.]
Faith and assent are both kinds of belief. The difference between them is often marked by the presence or absence of the word “in” after the verb “believe”. To believe that God exists is, or may be, bare assent. To believe in God is faith.
There are of course many things which we believe without any thought of believing in them at all. We believe, in a quite detached manner, all sorts of facts which we are informed of by competent authorities. We believe, for instance, so far as modern theories of relativity still permit, that the earth is a more or less spherical mass traversing in orbit round the sun. But our acceptance of this proposition evokes in us no particular enthusiasm. And therefore to say we believe in the spherical shape or orbital movement of the earth hardly seems accurate, if we are using words carefully. On the other hand, there are many things to believe which is a matter of intense personal conviction. Suppose a man believes that he has discovered a cure for a hitherto incurable disease. Naturally he will spend years of his life trying to perfect his discovery, to convince others of its genuineness, and to make its results available for mankind. We should then say at once that the man believes in this cure, whatever it may be, or that he has faith in it.
The Creed then affirms faith both in God and what God has done and revealed for man=s salvation. And this faith is a kind of belief quite different from bare assent. It is conceivable in the abstract that a man should assent without hypocrisy to every clause in the Creed, and yet have no spark of faith in anything which it affirms.
But we need not for that reason necessarily suppose that faith in Christ or his gospel is the exercise of some quite peculiar or mysterious faculty which those whom we call “unbelievers” have not yet received or learned at all to use. Doubtless that Christian faith is a gift of God which seems to us unaccountably to be withheld from some good men while it is bestowed upon others of vastly inferior merit. Doubtless also, all religious faith has for its object the unseen spiritual world which cannot be apprehended by the bodily senses. But still I do not see any reason for alleging that the faith whereby a man believes in the gospel of Christ must differ, as a mere attitude of mind, from the faith whereby a man believes in a cure for a bodily disease. The difference between the two cases seems to lie less in the faith considered as such than in the object of the faith. And if you contrast the enthusiasm shown by some men in spreading the knowledge of remedies for disease with the relative lack of enthusiasm shown by many Christians for missionary work, the relevant question suggested is whether these Christians really do believe in their gospel at all, and are not mistaking for faith what is really a bare assent to propositions. Is the Christian gospel the one sovereign remedy for ills more terrible even than cancer? If we do not believe that, are we really Christians? And if do believe it, why is there not more tangible evidence of our faith? How is it that men can still allege with show of plausibility that the Christian profession does seem to make much difference in those who make it?
2. FAITH AND NOVELTY
Let us assume, then, that Christian faith, while it differs radically from assent, is not a special kind of belief reserved Christians alone. And let us pursue rather further the question of its relation to its object. Men today believe enthusiastically in Communism or in National Socialism, partly because these movements and their characteristic doctrines appear to be new, whereas orthodox Christianity is old. I suggested just now that it seems hardly accurate to say that we believe in the movement of the earth round the sun. But time was when that doctrine also was new, and its discoverer believed in it so intensely that he was almost ready to be a martyr for its truth. I am not of course suggesting that even Galileo supposed the movement of the earth to be in itself a gospel. But his new theory on this subject no doubt represented in his mind a new conception of scientific method and its possibilities, for faith in which a man might be prepared to die. Today even faith in experimental science has lost its freshness. Its method is established and will continue to be used. But men are coming more and more, as they accept that method, to realize its limitations as a gospel. Ominous doubts of its sufficiency to lead us to the promised land are uttered by many. And even Communists look beyond experimental science to a highly disputable philosophy of history, dialectical materialism, in order to discover a substitute for religion and a faith to live by.
The connexion of faith with novelties is not accidental. If there can be any permanent object of a lively faith, it must be such as to afford permanently something of the freshness of a new discovery. For though “in a higher world it is otherwise, here below”, as Newman saw, “to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” And lively faith is the possession of an aim and principle of direction which enables us to travel hopefully through ever-changing experiences, because we know that our journey has a worthy end. The Christian Creed sets before us as the object of our faith nothing less than the unsearchable love of God. It affirms that that love was once for all revealed in Jesus, who died in every circumstance of shame and horror, and rose again for men. And therefore it assures us at the same time that no experience, however terrible or repugnant, can be such that through it no fresh discovery of God’s love is possible for one who has God’s Spirit in his heart. Here then is the gospel which provides the truly permanent object of faith.
Nineteen hundred years ago that gospel itself was new in time. Then to say, “I believe in God the Father and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord” was indeed a new discovery, the discovery of a new world. St. Paul writes at times as one bewildered by the novelty of the one new thing which the clever Athenians could neither tell nor hear, the thing which had shown the weakness of God to be stronger, and the foolishness of God to be wiser, than every work of man’s hand and thought of man’s brain. But today, what we have to prove in thought and life is this, that the essential newness of the Christian revelation is not a temporal newness, which, as the centuries pass, passes itself into old age. It is as true now, as it was when the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, that “that which waxeth old is near to vanishing away”. We believe in Christianity not because it is old but because it still is new. It is the gospel of an ageless truth of which ever fresh discoveries are to be made; and in making them our faith itself must live. Christ’s call to union with himself through sacrifice will bring as fresh a revelation when the earth is becoming uninhabitable by the exhaustion of the sun, as it did when Mary cried “Rabboni” and Paul was blinded by the light on the Damascus road.
3. FAITH, DOUBT AND VISION
What then of the opposition between faith and doubt? There is a kind of doubt which is the enemy of faith, and there is a kind which proceeds from faith, and is often a condition of its growth. The difference between the two is easy to define in abstract terms. But there is a story in St. Matthew’s Gospel which makes it clear by concrete illustration. Our Lord bids St. Peter, at his own request to walk on the water towards him. St. Peter starts; but when he sees the wind, he becomes afraid and begins to sink. And our Lord takes hold of him and says, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”
Faith is essentially that which enables us to direct our effort and movement towards a goal not yet attained. No doubt faith must give us some apprehension of the goal itself. But, especially when we are speaking of religious faith, the clearness of the apprehension may vary very greatly with different persons and at different times. It may be as definite as we may suppose St. Peter’s sight of Jesus to have been when he descended from the boat. Or it may resemble rather a sort of spiritual instinct or impulse analogous to what we call “the homing instinct” in birds or animals which enables them to find their way apparently without any distinct knowledge whither they are going or why or how. [Cf. Jeremiah 8:7.] Or again, faith in some persons becomes more conjectural, like the guesses and calculations of some explorer who is traversing an unknown country towards a destination he has heard of by report. Faith as we know it has many degrees of clearness, certitude and perfection. But in every case the real enemy of faith is not the dimness or distance which hides the goal from sight, nor even the misgiving which may induce a man to take his bearings afresh and start along a different path, but rather that which suggests to him that there is no goal attainable or worth attaining, and that he had better abandon quest and effort altogether. Such is the doubt that is deadly, because it means the loss of hope and courage. It was when St. Peter saw the wind and was afraid that he began to sink.
Christian faith is that by which a man directs his life in the following of Christ. If he has at all realized the meaning of the Cross, he will not expect on earth any clear or uninterrupted vision of his goal. Imagine, in the story about St. Peter, that a mist had blown across, as he walked on the water, so as to hide Jesus from his sight. He might still have persevered in the same direction as nearly as he could, and he might have found himself much closer to Jesus when the mist cleared, than he had been before. Like such a mist are many of the doubts and questionings which arise in the mind of any Christian who thinks seriously. They are always perplexing, and sometimes acutely distressing for a while. But when they are squarely faced, they can be passed through; and the proof of faith is thus to face and pass through them without evasion. They are never in themselves enemies of faith, even though they fling us back for a while on a blind trust that those who seek shall find, and to those who knock it shall be opened. All sincere questioning has faith at its root. For why should we ask, if we do not believe that there is an answer to be had which is worth having? Faith is a movement of the mind and soul towards an end. Therefore it is incompatible with two states of mind and two only: first, the doubt which makes a man abandon search in despair, and secondly, the self-satisfaction which makes him content to stay where he is. In fact, those two states of mind are nearer to one another than at first sight they appear to be. And the real faithlessness of the modern world is seen in its half-despairing, half-complacent agreement to give up ultimate questions. Most of the so-called “skeptical” philosophies collapse at the first breath of a scepticism which is genuine and thorough.
4. FAITH, CREED AND GOSPEL
It is with the Creeds as expressions of Christian faith that we shall hereafter be concerned. The Creeds have been put to various uses in the course of history. Originally they were professions of faith made by converts at their baptism, and they formed the basis of the instruction given to catechumens. By the fourth century they had also become formulae of assent used as tests of orthodoxy for the Church=s teachers. It was as a test word, which the Arians could not accept, that the term homoöusión introduced into the Creed of Nicea. Subsequently Creeds have also had a regular place as acts of praise in the Church’s worship.
With the liturgical use and meaning of Creeds we shall not deal at all. Of their use as tests of orthodoxy we shall speak only when we come to discuss the Church’s exercise of authority. [Part IV. c. V.] Our principal aim is to expound what it is that the Christian believes in as the essential content and object of his faith. We shall therefore regard the Creeds primarily as the classical expression of what Christians believe about God and Christ. As such they will furnish the framework and main themes of our discussion.
The object of Christian faith is Jesus Christ himself and the facts concerning him which the New Testament records. These facts constitute the gospel. As a human expression, however divinely inspired, of the essential content of the gospel, the Creeds are distinct from the gospel itself. And it is important to bear this distinction in mind. In the nature of the case no Christian creed could be delivered by the incarnate Lord himself. And indeed all the evidence goes to show that he carefully refrained from formulating or handing down to his followers any statements of a credal sort. His contemporaries, as later generations have been, were perplexed because he refused to speak more definitely concerning the nature of his own person and mission. The deepest reason for his reticence is not difficult to conjecture. He knew, as the greatest teachers perhaps have always known, that the truths by which men live, though their substance is conveyed through outward events, must be formulated and expressed by the inward travail of men=s own minds and hearts. A merely oracular revelation cannot touch the deepest springs of man’s being. It must therefore be for the disciples to say more definitely who “the Son of Man” is, and to speak the truth ever more fully as they grow in knowledge of him after his visible presence has been withdrawn. Thus the Creeds are seen to be not only human expressions of what it is that Christians believe in, but also expressions of the particular age which produced them. To borrow a well-known term of modern pedagogics, they are the expression-work of the early Church.
To say this is not to deny that the Creeds have permanent authority. But by insisting that the Creeds are primarily the inspired “expression-work” of a particular age, we secure for subsequent ages a freedom of interpretation which is necessary for the life of faith itself. The real and permanent object of Christian faith is, not the Creeds, but Christ and his gospel. To substitute creed for gospel is to go back from “the newness of the spirit” to “the oldness of the letter”, and to allow faith itself to be confused with that orthodoxy of mere assent which, as St. James grimly pointed out, may in principle be shared by devils. A living faith must re-express and reinterpret ancient truths, and make ever-fresh discoveries of their meaning.
Yet, even so, we can only claim to be true heirs and successors of the age in which the Creeds were composed, so long as it is the same gospel of Jesus Christ that we are interpreting anew. The element of permanent identity in the gospel will, we must hope, emerge more plainly as our discussions proceed. Meanwhile it may be pointed out, that if the permanent gospel is to be reinterpreted by faith, it is as important that the interpretation should be really fresh as that the gospel should be really the same. It is a poor sort of “modernism” which can only revive heresies which the Church of Athanasius and Augustine had already tried in the balance and found wanting. We can learn much from the heresies of all ages, and must admit the frequent unfairness of orthodox polemics. But it would be a paradox indeed, if doctrines which could not survive the criticism of the first four centuries could be hopefully resuscitated to resist that of the twentieth.
Chapter II – Faith and Reason
There is a further question connected with the nature of faith which we are bound to raise, before entering upon the subject matter of the Christian Creed itself. For upon the answer to this question depends, as we shall see, our whole method of treating our principal themes. What is the true relation of faith to reason?
1. NATURAL AND REVEALED THEOLOGY
Scholasticism divides the truths about God and man which a Christian holds into two classes; (a) truths of natural theology, which can be proved by reasoning from axiomatic premisses, and (b) truths of revelation, which, though not contrary to reason, are neither discoverable nor demonstrable by reasoning, and require for their acceptance faith or trust in Christ as the revelation of God. To the first class belong the being and perfection of God, the validity of the moral law, the freedom of the will, and the immortality of the soul. To the second belong the divine tri-unity, the incarnation and the atonement, and the doctrine of the Church and the sacraments. Thus, though faith is not held to be irrational, the spheres of pure reason and of faith are clearly marked out and distinguished from one another.
If we accept this demarcation of spheres, it is clear that our subsequent expositions should show a corresponding order and division. First we should seek to prove by the purely philosophical reason, without any appeal to Christianity in particular, the general truths about God and his relation to the world, and about the nature and destiny of the human soul. Then we should proceed to show what truths the Christian revelation has added, not seeking to prove these latter by reason or philosophy, but expounding them as truths in which we trust on the authority of Christ and his Church.
This apportionment of distinct spheres to faith and reason, however, proves on examination to be unsatisfactory. There are two grounds of objection to it:
(a) If by “rational proof” we mean the cogent demonstration of logic, it is doubtful whether by such proof we can establish any really important truth about God at all. No doubt, if certain premisses be granted, logic can show that a certain conclusion must inevitably follow. But obviously the truth of the conclusion so demonstrated remains dependent on that of the premisses. And, if these are not to require demonstration in their turn, they must be axiomatic or self-evidently true. Genuine axioms are difficult to find. Many propositions that were once accepted as axiomatic are no longer admitted to be so by a more rigorous logic. And any real axiom, which might form a basis for theological inference, turns out on examination to be so abstract that no conclusion of concrete value can fairly be derived from it. In this incurable abstractness lies the real defect of the traditional proofs of God’s being. Let us grant both the formal validity and the truth of the old cosmological argument from contingent to necessary being. Still, necessary being as such seems to have little more connexion with the reality of God than, let us say, the square root of minus one has with a sunrise. And the moment we endow necessary being with any concrete attributes or qualities, we find we have gone altogether beyond the logic of our proof. The truth is that without a certain exercise of faith we cannot lay down the foundations on which the argument for any important belief in God must rest. For instance, we must trust our moral experience, before we can build upon it any argument for believing in the reality of a moral power behind phenomena. No doubt good reasons can be given for such initial trust; but they fall short both of logical cogency and of axiomatic self-evidence. And in any case even to guess at the existence of a holy, righteous or loving God is vastly more important than to be absolutely certain of the existence of necessary being.
(b) Again, the scholastic distinction between natural and revealed theology seems to do less than justice to the organic unity of the Christian Creed. Take the two clauses, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord.” What is really left of the meaning of the first clause, if you take away from it all that is derived from the meaning of the second? The title Father in its Christian use is wholly derived from faith in Jesus, and the Christian’s belief in God’s fatherhood ought profoundly to modify his conception of God’s almightiness and creatorship. If, therefore, we seek first to prove what we might know of God apart from Jesus, and then to add to it what Jesus has revealed to our faith, we shall find that the whole plan ends in confusion. Indeed, the attempt to keep to such a plan has done grave harm to the traditional orthodoxy of the Western Church. Doctrines concerning God which were held to belong to natural theology have for that reason been artificially and wrongly isolated from the influence of the Christian revelation, with the result that they have been retained in a really sub-Christian form.
2. PROTESTANT IRRATIONALISM
In recent times some Evangelical theologians have been so much impressed by the objections to the scholastic distinction between natural theology and revelation, that they have attempted a quite opposite line of approach to Christian theology as a whole. Everything of value, they would suggest, in the Christian doctrine of God and man is derived from the Christian revelation, and is apprehended by faith and not by reason. Therefore the best order of exposition is to start from the record of the facts concerning Jesus, and to draw from that source exclusively the whole content of the Christian=s creed. This content is then presented as an object of faith essentially alien from everything which rational philosophy or non-Christian religion may claim to have learned or discovered. We must make up our minds that Christian beliefs are not to be judged or criticized by the general reason or conscience of mankind at all; their truth is to be discerned only by a quite non-rational faith which is itself a special gift of the Holy Spirit. Such a task as ours, therefore, ought to consist simply in the further exposition of what is contained or implied in the pages of the New Testament. Our chief concern should be to separate Christian theology from the adulterations of a pagan rationalism and mysticism. Faith and reason move in such different worlds that the very attempt to relate them positively to one another is a mistake.
But this more radical opposition between faith and reason seems to be open to objections not less serious than those which cast doubt upon the doctrine of the scholastics. The objections can only be appreciated fully in the light of that further exposition of the meaning of the Christian gospel which we are presently to undertake. But we are at least justified in treating with suspicion a theory which easily disposes of all radical criticism of Christian beliefs by assuming to start with that only those who already believe in Christianity are qualified to criticize it at all. Moreover, it may well seem a quite impossible task to purge Christian theology of all elements which have entered into it from sources external to that particular series of historical events of which the Bible is the record. It really is not true that everything which is of permanent value in man’s knowledge of God is derived from Jesus, or from biblical documents, alone. And even from a Christian point of view it seems hardly tolerable to suppose that the whole attempt to relate Christian belief to the secular philosophies of the time, which was the work first of patristic, and then of scholastic, theologians, was from the beginning simply a sin or a mistake. To condemn in principle the whole theological aim and method of an Origen and a Thomas Aquinas is really to condemn oneself.
In general it appears to be true that, while the error of scholasticism was to tie down Christianity to a particular philosophy, the error of much modern Protestantism has been to disparage philosophy altogether. The former sought to impose faith in the Christian revelation as a superstructure upon a base of Aristotelian rationalism. The result was that it did not allow the new revelation in to penetrate into and transform the very foundations of theology. Modern Protestantism on the other hand has sought to interpret the historical revelation of God in Jesus Christ as a wholly self-sufficient basis for theology. It has thus represented Christian theology as a closed system of truth, apprehended by specifically Christian faith, which makes no appeal to the general reason or conscience of mankind and cannot in any way be judged or criticized by the principles or methods of rational philosophy. The result has been that it also limits in effect the universality of that very gospel which it seeks to exalt by isolation.
3. REASON AND LOGIC
The scholastic distinction between the spheres of reason and of faith identifies the sphere of reason with that of cogent logical demonstration, faith being concerned with the apprehension of truth which cannot be thus logically proved. But this distinction cuts across another which appears to be more important, viz., that between logic, as the science of accurate thinking, and reason, as that by which we apprehend the rational order of actual being. This latter distinction requires clearer statement and explanation.
The relation of logic to truth must first be examined. The use of logic can assure us that if certain premisses be accepted as true, then a certain conclusion must be accepted as true also. But logic by itself can never take us beyond the assertion of a hypothetical truth: if a, then b. If all men are mortal, and Socrates is a man, then Socrates is mortal. That syllogism is an instance of strict logic. But logic cannot tell us either that all men are really mortal, or that Socrates really is a man. Nor would the logic of the syllogism be in the least impaired, if some men were in fact immortal, or Socrates were a mythical being. The proper function of logic is indeed confined to analysing the meaning of statements, so as to exhibit the necessary connexions of these meanings with one another. Logic shows us that, if we affirm two propositions, a and b, we must affirm a third, c, because its meaning is implied by that of a and b taken together; and also that we cannot affirm a fourth, d, because its meaning is incompatible with that of a and b taken together, and so the three propositions, a, b and d, if affirmed together, would constitute a contradiction in terms, which is meaningless nonsense. Logic throughout is concerned with the mutual implications of the meanings of propositions, not with their truth or falsehood as such.
Now if we are in possession of premisses the truth of which is indisputable, we can by logic draw from them conclusions the truth of which is indisputable also. For the meaning of the conclusion, when affirmed as true, is implied by the meaning of the premisses when affirmed as true: and, on the other hand, to affirm as true a contradictory conclusion would be nonsensical. But in fact the deep and vital affirmations about the real nature of the world we live in are never either indisputably true in themselves or capable of being logically inferred from indisputable premisses. One such affirmation is that the universe is rationally ordered. The truth of it is both disputable and indemonstrable. It would be indeed a paradox to assert that to affirm that the universe is rational is not itself a rational affirmation. But the only alternative to the paradox is to distinguish reason from logic. And then at once the distinction of the sphere of reason from the sphere of faith completely vanishes. For it is obvious that we believe in the rationality of the universe, because we trust our reason. The Christian may acknowledge his faith in reason to be a reason for his faith. On the other hand, this faith in reason, which is also a rational faith, certainly cannot dispense with logic in its pursuit of truth. Vital truths cannot be discovered or demonstrated by pure logic; but we must test and exhibit by logic the mutual coherence in meaning of the propositions which we affirm as true, in order to assure ourselves that we are not asserting propositions which contradict each other and are therefore in conjunction meaningless. Herein lies the value of the logical discipline of the mind. For though significant propositions may be false, meaningless propositions cannot be true.
4. THE MEANING OF RATIONALITY
But what does it mean to affirm that the universe is rational? It means, I take it, that reality is throughout informed by a single principle of order and intelligibility, so that the meanings of all truths must be coherent and consistent with one another for the thinking mind, though they need not be demonstrable from one another by any process of purely logical deduction. It is on such faith in the rationality of things that the scientific search for truth depends. No doubt for a time experimental science may pursue its inquiries by the help of two hypotheses which apparently contradict one another. But, while it does so, the science must be content to regard both these hypotheses as “working hypotheses” only. It cannot seriously believe both of them to be true, so long as their mutual contradiction remains. And since the aim of the science is truth, it must ever be seeking further knowledge which will remove the contradiction.
But then we must go onto recognize that physical science does not take into account the whole of reality, or concern itself with the coherence of the universe in its deepest and widest aspects. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the universe is using up its energy and gradually “running down”, as the second law of thermodynamics seems to suggest; and suppose further that the process of space-time in which the universe is thus exhausting itself is the ultimate order of reality. It might then still be argued that there is nothing in all this which conflicts with the rationality of the universe as physical science assumes it for the purpose of pursuing its inquiries. And yet the conclusion we have supposed, if it is clearly thought out in all its implications, must appear utterly unintelligible to the spiritual reason and conscience of mankind. If man with all his ideals of beauty, truth and goodness, all his gropings after God and intuitions of eternity, has come into being simply as the product of a physical process to vanish again in the physical dissolution of all things, then, from a point of view wider than that of physical science, we must say that there appears to be no sense or intelligibility or rationality in things at all, and the universe as known to us has a fatal incoherence at its heart: for the moral and spiritual aspect of man=s being, which is a fact of experience as much as any other, is now made fundamentally discordant with the rest.
5. REASON AND FAITH UNITED IN CHRISTIANITY
We conclude therefore that any faith, which can interpret the ultimate order of the universe so as to make man=s spiritual nature and experience somehow coherent with other aspects of reality, may legitimately claim reason for its ally. And if the faith which can best perform that task is one which recognizes a special revelation of God to man in certain particular events, then that faith is seen to be supremely rational. For the really rational doctrine or theory is not one which can be logically demonstrated to be true, but one which, when it is believed as true, exhibits an intelligible order in the whole scheme of things and makes coherent sense of our experience.
It must be our task, therefore, to expound the main beliefs of Christianity in such a way as to show that these beliefs, when accepted as true, do illuminate the order of the universe as nothing else can.
We do not admit that Christian faith goes beyond reason. For we do not mean by reason an activity of thought which demonstrates truths a priori before the facts of experience are considered. Reason, as we understand the term, considers the facts and interprets them so as to make them intelligible. Some facts give more illumination than others. And it is our Christian conviction that the life of Jesus interpreted as God=s unique and supreme self-revelation is uniquely and supremely illuminating to the reason of mankind. It would therefore be absurd to proceed as though reason apart from Christianity could prove certain truths about God and man, and then faith in Christ came in to complete a knowledge which reason has left incomplete. Reason and faith are not concerned each with a distinct sphere of cognition.
On the other hand, still less can we speak as though all true knowledge of God came through faith in Jesus, and the Christian believer moved in a world of specifically religious truth which the philosophic reason is debarred from entering. On the contrary, faith in Jesus shows itself to be true by illuminating the reason and submitting to its criticism; and the philosophy which is enlightened by that faith is simply a better, truer and fuller philosophy than one which either has not considered the facts concerning Jesus or has rejected their Christian interpretation.
We shall therefore endeavour to expound all the truths of the Christian Creed, and not some only, in the light of faith in the Christian revelation. We shall assume the truth of that revelation at the outset without proof or examination of evidence, and seek to show how it does illuminate all our thought about God, the world and human life. And we shall follow the order of the historic Creeds in considering first the more general beliefs about God in his relation to the world which Christianity did not create but enables us to reinterpret.
Chapter III – God
1. THE ESSENTIAL QUESTION AND ANSWER
Behind all questions of particular doctrines about God, and behind all arguments for and against theism, there lies the fundamental question which the modern world is asking with a new insistence: why should we believe in God at all? what is the real value and importance of that belief which is at the centre of traditional religion? It is well that we should attempt a summary answer to that question before entering upon more detailed discussions amid which we may otherwise lose sight of the wood for the trees.
The essential answer can indeed be given in a few sentences. Belief in God, as Christians understand it, is the conviction that the destinies of the world, of the human race and of individual men, are ultimately controlled by the eternal and living will of goodness which, because it is eternal, is utterly steadfast, invariable and unfailing. In less directly personal language, God is the alpha and omega of all things, the source from which they proceed, the end towards which they move, the unity in which they cohere. To believe in the one eternal God alone gives us the right to speak and think of the universe as being really the universe at all. For if there be no eternal reality above and beyond the changes and chances of temporal succession, “the universe” itself is found to be but a phrase fashioned by man for his convenience, which, if it be taken to denote objective reality, merely falsifies the limitless multiplicity and variety of particular events extending for ever into the darkness of the unknown. To believe in the goodness of the eternal alone enables us to hope that the tiny efforts any of us make after righteousness and truth can have any abiding consequence or value. For, if there be no eternal reality, or if the eternal be indifferent to good and evil, the same result of dissolution and extinction will wait on all our achievements in the end. Only look far enough ahead, and selfishness and self-sacrifice, sin and holiness, delusion and enlightenment will all come to the same thing. From such a conclusion belief in God affords the only possible deliverance, if we think coherently at all. Apart, therefore, from all the logical proofs of theism, apart from all doctrines of particular revelation and from all enlightenment of mystical experience, the mind of man in its most clear-sighted moments will always retain the substance of belief in God, simply because any real rejection of it involves consequences which are intolerable alike to reason and to conscience. It is exceedingly difficult to say what particular value the belief possesses. For the question is rather: if the belief be taken away, what value in anything is left? [A very forcible exposition of this line of thought is to be found in Père Sertillanges, Dieu ou Rien? (Paris, Flammarion).]
2. A HISTORICAL COMPARISON AND CONTRAST
“These are brave words,” the sceptic will reply, “but how is it, then, that so many of the keenest and most influential intellects of our time reject your belief as obsolete and worthless?” This further question is very pertinent, and we must acknowledge its force before we attempt an answer.
Compare the situation of civilization today with that of the Greco-Roman world during the later days of the Roman Empire. Then, as now, the foundations of society were threatened with collapse under the assault of anti-Christian and barbarian forces. So far there is resemblance. But in the reaction of civilized men to the danger there is a startling difference. Under imperial Rome the best minds of the age turned to an other-worldly religion for hope and consolation. This was true not only of Christians but of pagans also. Stoic and neo-Platonist philosophers were as religious and as other-worldly as St. Augustine himself. The darkness of the outlook for human society upon earth caused the finest and most cultured minds to turn inward in order to cultivate that life of the spirit which is above time and place. But now it is quite otherwise. Men do not believe in an eternal world at all. Where religion is valued, it is valued largely because it is thought to be effective as a means either of bringing about changes in this world which are desirable, or else of preventing changes which are not. Considered strictly as truths, the central doctrines of religion are losing their appeal to the human mind. Why? Certainly not because men today are more content with contemporary circumstances than were their forefathers. Certainly not because the danger of relapse into barbarism is substantially less now than in past ages of civilization. The main reasons seem to be two:
(a) The first is the belief which the last century established in general progress and evolution, a belief shared, though with important differences in form, by Marxists, nationalists and humanitarians. To all alike the history of life on this planet is a story of constant development from lower to higher, and the development seems bound somehow to continue. There is indeed no more profound difference between the mind of the ancient and that of the modern world than that which is to be found in the attitude of each towards time. The ancients never entertained seriously the notion of general progress. They never saw any reason to think that what comes later in time must be better than what comes earlier. They usually put the Golden Age in the past, and if they did occasionally indulge in utopian hopes of a good time coming, the hope was based on the expectation of some divine intervention, and not on the Operation of any natural law. But now almost everyone has a belief in general progress firmly rooted at least in his subconscious mind. Almost everyone is convinced that much better times for all are coming or can be made to come. To reformer and revolutionary alike – and which of us is not either one or the other? – time is the bringer of all good things, though some, it would appear, think that his slow footsteps need occasionally to be hastened by a judicious application of bombs and poison gas. As to what will happen ultimately they refuse to inquire. The ultimate future seems too far off to be of interest. The prospect of some better age to come in a few generations provides faith and hope enough to carry them through the present. To ask what reason there may be for this apparently quite uncritical trust in time brings us to the second cause of the disfavour into which other-worldliness has fallen.
(b) It is the new control which man by experimental science has won over nature and is continually extending. The result of it is a quite new consciousness of power which has convinced our generation that human destiny is in human hands. However great may be the dangers, men are sure that they can and must escape them by the use of their own resources. Here is the great reason why traditional piety and belief in God make so little appeal to the modern world. Salvation must lie in some political or economic gospel. For man can do everything that can be done at all by the knowledge and equipment which science puts ready for his use. No doubt the saints of old dreamed of another world, because they lacked the scientific apparatus necessary to build heaven upon earth. They may be excused for meditating upon God’s ways, when there was no broadcasting station to fill the silence with propaganda. In the twentieth century we have more efficient methods of redeeming the time. We can afford to trust the future because there is no limit to what man can do with it. It is this new Titanism of man which has thrust God out of mind and blinded our eyes to the ultimate ends and issues of human living.
3. THE FRUITS OF MODERN GODLESSNESS
Yet it is becoming increasingly evident that modern godlessness must bring what ancient heathenism used to call a nemesis upon its head. When men have abandoned all belief in an unchanging and eternal authority over human life, they can reach no agreement as to what ultimate end they ought to pursue, or by what means it is right to pursue it. Where there is no agreement on such matters, the appeal is inevitably to force. Accordingly it is to the use of force, physical and psychical, that the adherents of the new gospels betake themselves. But even the modern world is not allowed to forget that those who take the sword perish with the sword, since force constantly begets force in opposition to itself. And therefore the majority of us live in terror of war, civil, international or economic, which as experience has shown must under modern conditions bring disaster to all and victory to none. Of course cooperation alone can save us. But where is the power that will enable us to cooperate? Government control of press, wireless and education is the modern answer to that question. But official propaganda, however perfect its organization, can only deceive the citizens of one state at a time; and a policy of too systematic lying can but increase in the end the very confusion it sought to remedy.
We said just now that when belief in eternal realities is abandoned, men can reach no agreement as to what ultimate end they ought to pursue or by what means it is right to pursue it. Let us notice more exactly what is actually happening in both respects.
First, as to the end. Man’s destiny being in his own hands and no authority set over him, what end should he live for, what future ought he to make for himself? Some say that the supreme end is the establishment of a classless society. Others say that it is to make one nation or race dominant over others. Forthwith we have the rival religions of Communism and Nationalism arrayed against each other. What court is to decide between them? There can be no appeal to any eternal principles of right or justice or truth. For these are rejected by both sides. “Philosophy”, said Lenin “is a partisan affair”, and his followers say the same of justice. And there at least the Nationalists wholeheartedly agree with them. The only difference is that their “philosophy” and “justice” are partisan on the other side. Nothing can arbitrate but force. And when the guns and bombs and poison gas have done their work, will it much matter which side says it has won?
Secondly, as to the means. If you believe in an eternal and divine principle of right and goodness, the means you take to achieve your good end must be the expression of that same goodness and morally appropriate to it. If the end is a divine kingdom of righteousness and peace and love, the means you take to move towards it must be themselves the appropriate expression of a righteous, peaceable and loving spirit. For the end you seek is set by eternal principles which lay their authority upon you now. But if you believe only in some future good as the end, there is no reason why your choice of means should be thus limited. Love and truth and freedom may be the goal for the future: hatred, lies and oppression may be the policy for the present. Why should not the classless society, which is the Marxist’s heaven, be sought by deliberately creating the ruthless dictatorship of the proletariat backed by the methods of the Ogpu? Why should not the noble civilization of the Nationalist’s dream issue from an utterly sordid persecution of the Jews? Once men have thoroughly rejected the thought of the divine, the other-worldly and the eternal, they will inevitably think that they can justify the blackest crimes in the present, because their result will be some glorious Utopia in the future. It is perfectly possible to gather grapes from thorns and figs from thistles, when there is no eternal law which decrees that thorns and thistles must bear less desirable fruit. Clearly Jesus did not understand the principle of dialectical development.
4. THE CHRISTIAN BELIEF
Christians think otherwise. St. Paul’s teaching at this point makes a particularly instructive contrast to that of some modern missionaries. He also looked for a glorious age in the future. The Kingdom of God, he said, is righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Ghost; and no doubt he was thinking primarily of a future world. But he did not mean that Christians might now hasten its coming by violence and fraud. For the Kingdom was God’s; and therefore it was not future only, but eternal. Therefore again he who would enter it fully in the future, must begin to enter it now by living according to its law of love even in face of suffering persecution and apparent failure. There is indeed a bringing of good out of evil, of which the Cross of Christ is the sacrament; but the Christian “dialectic” depends on the eternal consistency of God’s love.
We need seek no further to exhibit what is to the Christian the essential meaning and value of belief in God. It is not the mere clinging, for comfort and guidance, to the orthodoxy of the past: the Christian must never forget that the Son of God himself appeared out of the Nazareth which the orthodox despised. It is not a bulwark against revolution. Modern society, however different from that of the first century, is still far too like the world which the New Testament condemns not to stand in need of a revolution at least as drastic as any Communist could wish. Belief in God is the conviction that we may enter now into communion with that living and eternal will of goodness which, because it is above the changes and chances of time, alone can give meaning to their movement and order them towards an end.
Chapter IV – Man’s Thought of God
Both the Apostles’ and the Nicene Creeds teach us to think of God as revealed in three great attributes – fatherhood, almightiness, creatorship. These attributes have a common characteristic which they share with all, or almost all, the names which we use to describe God=s being and nature: they derive their primary meaning in our experience from the activity not of God but of man. Fatherhood denotes primarily a human relationship. The notion of creatorship takes its primary content from man=s work in making. And, though it is true – if we may ignore certain extravagances of Freudian psychology on the subject of the infant mind – that no human being outside a lunatic asylum would claim to be almighty, yet our primary understanding of might or power itself is given to us in the achievements of our own hand and brain. Therefore, at the very outset, our attempt to interpret the Christian Creed is confronted by the problem of anthropomorphism. Is the God of Christianity a god made in man’s image?
1. TRADITIONAL CHRISTIANITY NOT ANTHROPOMORPHIC
It is from this suggestion that most of the sceptical attacks on the Christian doctrine of God derive their destructive force, at least in the judgement of ordinary men. Christian orthodoxy, it is alleged, thinks of God simply as a human person imagined on a much vaster scale. Such, we are told, is the deity Christians really profess to believe in, if they are honestly loyal to their faith. But this whole way of thinking about God has become impossible for the modern mind. Modern science has shown convincingly that even as a mental being man may no longer assume that he occupies any place of central importance in the universe. And to suppose that the power behind the universe has any special affinity to man=s nature at all is quite illegitimate. The whole notion of God as Father, Creator and almighty Ruler is therefore no better than a fantasy. The Christian Creed is but a nursery tale which mankind has now outgrown.
If apologetics were our main concern, there are many lines of reply to this criticism which we might elaborate. [See e.g., B. H. Streeter, Reality, cc. I and II.] Our purpose, however, is not to argue in defence of the faith, but to explain it. It is therefore more relevant to point out that the charge of anthropomorphism, when brought against the doctrine of the trained theologians of the Christian Church, can hardly be substantiated.
It is true that the theology of the Old Testament, whatever may be said of the later and more philosophically minded Rabbi’s, is in a high degree anthropomorphic. Jehovah is represented as thinking and acting like a greatly magnified human sovereign. Even the explicit warnings against a too literal anthropomorphism which are frequent in the Old Testament are themselves evidence that such warnings were needed, and that the Jewish mind was too prone to think of Jehovah as though he were a man. The implications of Christ’s own teaching we shall consider presently. But the other great formative influence in the theology of the Catholic Church was the tradition of Hellenic philosophy and mysticism. And this influence from the first counterbalanced and corrected the anthropomorphic tendency of Judaism, chiefly through the teachings of neo-Platonic mystics. Neo-Platonism insisted that God=s being and nature could only be truly expressed in negative propositions, since God is beyond and above all beings properly so called. Hence patristic theologians constantly recognized the need for a reverent agnosticism to qualify all affirmations about God. This agnosticism, based on the ground that God transcends all human powers of knowing, is particularly strong in the two great doctors of the Western Church, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. According to St. Thomas we can indeed know certainly by the light of reason that God is the eternal ground of all being, and in him all perfections are realized. But even these affirmations do not imply any positive knowledge of God as he is in himself, but only of the relation of complete dependence in which we and all things stand to God. Even by the revelation of grace, which gives a higher knowledge than that obtained by the natural reason, we cannot in this life know of God what he is. [Summa Theol., Pt. I, Q. 12, Art. 13.] St. Thomas’s teaching is summed up by saying that we do not know what God is, but only what he is not, and the relation of all things to him. [Contra Gentiles, Bk I, c. XXX, ad fin.] If the theologian still uses about God language derived from human thought and action, he must do so only in the same way as a Copernican astronomer still speaks of sunrise and sunset although he knows that such terms are, when strictly considered, inaccurate. There could not be a more complete mistake than to suppose that modern science first showed Christian theology that man=s mind must not fashion God in its own image.
2. THE REAL DIFFICULTY
But our main concern is not to defend traditional theology against the criticisms of the ill-informed. We must determine more precisely for ourselves in what sense terms, which have their primary reference to human activities and relations, are applicable to God. The question has to be faced at the outset, if we are to gain any clear idea of what we mean by affirming credal statements about God to be true.
Men are fathers, men are mighty, men are makers. But no magnifying of human fatherhood, power or creativity could give its true meaning to the affirmation, I believe in God the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. Such magnification could only give us the conception of a superman. And a superman, however much we emphasize the prefix super, would still not be God. Moreover, whatever Christian faith has meant by asserting the Lord Jesus Christ to be God and man, it has certainly not meant to attribute to him anything like superhumanity. As we shall see more clearly later on, any such interpretation of the doctrine of the incarnation would simply destroy its value and significance. Again, it is no help to say that we apply human attributes to the Godhead in a merely “symbolic” sense. The point at issue is not whether the attributes are symbolically used (of course they are!), but how far and in what way they can be said to symbolize a truth. And it is still more dangerously confusing to suggest that these attributes, though in plain prose they are applicable only to man, may be poetically true of God. The truth which is proper to poetry consists in its peculiar power to give vivid expression to human feelings and imaginations. Literature has poetical truth in so far as it does express vividly a human imagination or emotion which can be shared and appreciated by other men. Prose becomes poetical in so far as it affords such expression. Poetry becomes “prosy” in so far as it fails to do so. But the true opposite of poetry, as Wordsworth long ago pointed out, is not prose but science. Now, if you ask whether a poem, which vividly expresses human imagination or emotion, expresses also some further truth about reality, you are dealing with it no longer as poetry but as science in the broadest possible sense of that term, in which it may be held to include scientific history, philosophy and theology, as well as what is commonly known as natural science. Thus, Milton’s Paradise Lost undoubtedly has the truth of great poetry, but what degree of theological truth it may possess is obviously a different question altogether. In the same way, the dramatic truth of Shakspere’s Julius Cæsar is independent of its historical accuracy.
Now no one doubts that anthropomorphic language about God, such as that which we often find in the Old Testament, is poetically true, in the sense that it vividly expresses religious imaginations and emotions of man which are shared by all who respond to its appeal. And in the same way the language of the Christian Creeds, with all its sacred associations, inevitably stirs our feelings and convinces us of its poetic truth. But the precise question we now have to ask is this: how are these credal statements true in a manner other than poetical? Granted that it is true poetry to speak of God as the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, in what sense is this true poetry true theology also? What is the truth symbolized, how is the symbolism to be rightly understood?
3. SOLUTION OF THEOMORPHISM
In order to answer that question we have to make a great assumption or hypothesis. We call it an assumption or hypothesis, since its truth cannot be demonstrated by deductive logic from more elementary or axiomatic principles. We may equally well call it a venture of faith. But we do not mean that it is irrational or even beyond reason, if we distinguish reason from deductive logic. Its rational justification lies in its power to throw light upon all our experience and to help us to interpret that experience as a coherent whole. The assumption or hypothesis or venture of faith is this: that ideas of God, including anthropomorphic ideas as well as others, only enter man=s mind and experience at all, because man’s being has its source and ground in that being infinitely other than his own, and yet inclusive of it, which the human word God properly denotes. The word God does not denote any idea of God, but the reality of which the human mind can frame no adequate idea at all. Yet an idea of God is only possible to man, because man’s being is dependent upon God’s. [The statement above represents what I take to be the truth expressed by the so-called “ontological proof” of God’s being, at any rate in its Cartesian form.]
In the beginning, God. That is the grand and primary affirmation of the Bible. And, if it is true, then it follows that every process whereby man reaches any sort of idea of God, is not a process which man initiates: it is but a response which God has enabled him to make. “It is said”, wrote Voltaire, “that God made man in his own image: man has retaliated.” Those words, written in irony, indicate the truth towards which anthropomorphism really points. If man makes a god in his own image, his action in doing so is still a retaliation, a response, only possible because the initiative does not lie with him, but with the God who made him in the image of the divine. This is the hypothesis of theomorphism.
Starting from that hypothesis, we shall have no difficulty in explaining anthropomorphism, nor even in finding in it a certain value. God, we shall say, gave man all his natural capacities and powers and faculties of acting and knowing, so that, as the apostle said, he might feel after and find God himself. Man must rise towards the knowledge of the true God by enriching and seeking to explain his experience both of himself and of his surroundings. And the worship of a fully man-like God is at least a better and a truer worship than that of the definitely sub-human forms of being which idolatry, ancient and modern, has often represented as divine. And yet we must insist that no imagination of a being endowed with human and superhuman attributes and powers, however magnified, can give us a positively true conception of the Godhead. It is not even accurate theology to say that God is greater than man, however much greater. For “greater” is a comparative term; and between God and man there is, strictly speaking, no comparison. Still, there is something in man which gives him a true indication of what God is.
We can perhaps best explain as follows what that something is. Man, according to our hypothesis, cannot be an absolute or ultimate originator, author or authority. His very notions of absolute origination and authority are not notions of anything which exists in himself. And, inasmuch as he has no experience of what it is to be an absolute originator or authority, these notions are to him primarily negative. They mark man’s sense of his own inadequacy and limitation. Yet to be conscious of limitations is in some manner already to transcend them. If man were not at all an originator and an authority, he could have no consciousness of his own limitations in those respects. But, being in fact a relative and partial Originator, and wielding relative and partial authority, man has in that experience a hint of that absolute divine origination and authority on which his own, in their limitation, are dependent.
Thus, in recognizing our limitations we recognize our dependence upon God as the being not thus limited. St. Thomas Aquinas taught at the same time that we cannot know God as he is in himself, except by negations. Nevertheless, to negate our limitations, when we think of God, is not a pure negation, even though we can have no clear conception of the positive truth. And we need not be afraid of affirming that we rightly and truly predicate of God the highest human attributes, if we remember that such attributes, as for instance fatherhood, power, and creatorship, are in man but dim hints and reflections of the one perfect being from whom humanity itself proceeds, towards whom it aspires, and before whom it bows its head in worship. We do not in any way make human fatherhood, power and creatorship the standard by which we are to judge of the divine. That is the error of anthropomorphism. But we insist that human fatherhood, power and creatorship themselves teach us, if we think about them deeply enough, that they are not self-sufficient or self-explanatory, but point beyond themselves to an Author, an Authority, and a Power from whom they come and in whom their truest meaning is found.
4. THE RELEVANCE OF CHRIST’S PARABLES
And, now that we have reached our conclusion by a process of abstract reasoning, do we not find that it is essentially the same way of relating human experience to the Godhead which our Lord taught in his parables? Consider the three parables which follow one another in the fifteenth chapter of St. Luke: the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son. Remember that the characters in all three are natural, even ordinary, human beings, not heroes or supermen chosen to represent God because of their difference from others. It is natural for the ordinary man or woman to take trouble to find lost property and to rejoice over success. It is natural for the ordinary father to welcome home the lost son even when he returns destitute, broken and ashamed. “Likewise I say unto you there is joy in the presence of the angels of God ...” What does it mean? Not that there is an apparently rather far-fetched and dubious analogy between the particular actions of certain individuals and certain other actions which faith may symbolically or poetically attribute to God; but rather that the instincts of care for property and of parental love, which are deep in the common heart and nature of mankind, are themselves of divine origin, and reflect at an infinite distance something which is true first and last of the relation of all things and persons to God, who is the author and owner of all. It is not that God is like a man, like the shepherd, or like the housewife, or even like the father of the prodigal. To interpret the parables so is to begin to make them into allegories, which they are not. The point is rather that certain relations, which exist in common experience between a man and his property or his children, have their true ground and significance in relations of things and persons towards God, which they help us to conceive truly even under conditions of human limitation. Human ownership and fatherhood have their truest meaning and value as parables of God, parables to which the human ear and eye may nevertheless be deaf and blind. Believe that, and human life begins to make sense at last.
5. A MODERN ILLUSTRATION
In conclusion, let us consider one illustration of the way in which the line of thought so far suggested may be applied to modern perplexities. During recent years it has been maintained by some psychologists that the idea of God as father is a projection of the human mind. During infancy and childhood the human being is entirely dependent upon parental care. This dependence generates an instinctive temper or disposition which the adolescent finds it impossible to throw off when the parental care is withdrawn, and he or she has to face the world without it. In such circumstances the human soul subconsciously seeks to compensate itself for its loss by imagining a heavenly parent who will guard and guide it all the days of its life. The obvious inference from these facts constitutes to some minds a grave obstacle to belief in God. But consider the in the light of the Christian hypothesis as to the relation of man to God. There is no reason to dispute any of the facts alleged by the psychologists, not even the fact that the notion of the heavenly father is really a projection due to the subconsciously felt need of the earthly father. But we shall put God first and last in the whole process. And we shall say that God is teaching man about himself and drawing him towards himself, first by giving him experience of the human parent’s care, and then by withdrawing it, so that by his sense of need he may learn to depend on his father who is in heaven. It is by making what the psychologist calls projections, and by learning through experience their inadequacy and their truth, that man grows in the knowledge of God whose image he bears. It is only because God is there from the beginning that man has any power to project any ideas upon heaven at all. God, as man speaks and thinks of him, is no doubt always in some sense a projection of man’s mind. But that can only be true because man is first a creature of God=s mind and bears the image of his heavenly father and creator within himself.
Chapter V – God as Creator
We have now to consider severally the different attributes of God in which the Christian Creed expresses our thoughts about him. But we must first acknowledge one difficulty which springs from this very necessity of separate consideration. It is the limitation of the human mind which splits up the perfection of God’s being into different attributes so that we may direct attention first to one and then to another. But inevitably by doing so our thought sets asunder things that in God are indissolubly joined.
1. DIVINE SIMPLICITY
Even in the case of a human personality we are conscious that we mar the unity of the whole, when we separate, let us say, our account of a man=s family life and dealings with intimate friends altogether from his professional or public activities. For it is essentially the same man who is manifested in all. Yet in the case of a man, the separation is to a great extent justified, though in proportion to the man=s greatness and goodness we feel that the justification is diminished. The man enters many different fields of activity and thought, and he can only live in one at a time. Therefore the separation is justified. Yet it is a weakness and imperfection in his character, if a man shows himself in his office a quite different person from what he is in his home. The character of the best and greatest men is rightly felt to be indescribable, precisely because the description of such a man’s varied characteristics and activities, because it can only take them one by one, is unable to convey the total simplicity of the impression which his whole personality made upon those who knew him well.
The perfection of God’s nature surpasses all human thought and knowledge, not only in its infinite variety, but also in the absolute simplicity in which the variety coheres. God, as scholastic theologians remind us, is not just wise and powerful and loving, even in a supreme degree. In him perfect wisdom, power and love are one, and the unity in which they cohere is also his creative and redeeming will. The efforts which we make to suggest what God is by speaking of his various attributes, are at best somewhat like an effort which might be made to suggest the character of some great chorus by humming successively the parts assigned to the several voices. The defect would be of a double nature. The humming would fail to reproduce the quality of the several voices. And the separate rendering of each part would break up the unity of the harmony which is the very essence of the chorus itself.
The illustration is of course exceedingly crude. But it may indicate the sort of difficulty which confronts us when we try to speak of God successively as creator, father, almighty and the like. Yet the insurmountable difficulty need not altogether destroy the value of our attempt. The attempt, if we recognize its inadequacy, may train the spiritual ear to hear what language cannot utter.
2. THE PROBLEM OF THE FIRST CAUSE
We will begin then with the thought of God as creator. What do we mean by affirming that God is maker of heaven and earth?
In answering that question it is convenient to start from a provocative assertion made by a well-known modern writer: “Darwin’s Origin of Species is today a good deal more profitable as theology than the first chapter of Genesis.” To see the confusion of thought in this statement is to understand the difference between a theological doctrine of creation and a scientific doctrine of origins. Natural science is concerned with the causal order of events as they actually happen and have happened in space and time. This order, as it is traced backwards, brings us to certain primitive events which we may believe to have been the origin of life, or of the earth, or of the solar system or the stars. As to the nature and succession of these events it is doubtless true that the authority of such experts as Darwin is to be preferred to that of the author of Genesis. But theology is not interested primarily or chiefly in the question of temporal origins, even when it is stating its doctrine of creation. It is interested primarily and chiefly in the end or value of what has been created. In other words, it is only because of its interest in the final cause of things that theology is interested in the first cause at all. Now on the question of final cause, in any absolute sense, natural science has nothing whatever to say. Biology can indeed point out the relations of structure to function in organisms, and chemistry the peculiar adaptation of the terrestrial atmosphere which is needed to sustain life. Biology can even go further and show that man may in the future control the development of his own species in hitherto undreamed-of ways. But if you question the end and value of life itself, natural science is simply dumb. But just at this point, Genesis speaks with no uncertain voice. “God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good.” That is the reason why “in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”. And to vindicate the belief that the world has a divine value the theologian attributes to it a divine origin. The value of the ultimate end must reveal the ultimate source. But when we speak of “ultimate source” in this theological or metaphysical sense, it is obvious that we are speaking of something altogether beyond the series of spatio-temporal events with which alone natural science can deal. “Thou madest us for thyself,” wrote St. Augustine, “and our hearts are restless till they find rest in thee.” It is because the Christian believes himself to have been made for God, that he believes also that God made him. And the belief so grounded cannot be upset by anything that natural science may discover about the temporal origin of mankind.
Thus it appears that the expression “first cause” is ambiguous in meaning. It may denote simply the event which comes temporally first in a causal series of events. Thus we may say that the falling of a spark is the first cause of a conflagration. When the expression is used in this sense, “first causes” in the universe are investigated by natural science rather than by theology; and Darwin is more authoritative than Genesis. On the other hand, “first cause” may denote the explanation of a process or series of events, i.e., that which causes it to exist as its reason or ground. Thus we may say that man=s appreciation of music is the first cause of the construction of pianos. In this case it is obvious that the first cause is not itself a member of the series of events which constitutes the process explained. The appreciation of music is not one of the events which constitute the construction of a piano. It exists both before the process of construction begins and after it has ended. And in such a case the first cause is one with the final cause; for it is only purposive processes which can be thus explained. It is in some such sense as this that theology affirms God to be the first cause or creator of the world. Theology in its doctrine of creation takes us beyond the events of the process of world history altogether to something which is in a fundamental sense their origin, because it directs the whole and explains it in terms of a value realized in its end.
Imagine a race of intelligent beings who are excellent craftsmen but are tone-deaf and have never heard of music. Imagine further, that in some way they find a musical instrument and examine its constitution and method of manufacture. They might understand it well enough to be able to make a duplicate for themselves. But they would still be no nearer to understanding what was the real origin and purpose of the instrument. If the world has any purpose or final cause, Darwin may still need Genesis to help him in his account of origins.
But, it may be said, the analogy is not a fair one. A musical instrument, as for example a piano, is a mere instrument: it exists for a purpose outside itself. The music is not in the piano, although without the piano the music cannot be played. The nonmusical people, therefore, whom we have been imagining never get into contact with the music at all, and are studying a quite different object, the piano. On the other hand, the theologian and the scientific expert, in so far as each is concerned with the world of nature, are both studying the same object, though perhaps with different interests and from different points of view.
If this is a valid objection, it can easily be met by a slight change in our myth. Let us suppose that our nonmusical people were made sufficiently familiar with music to analyse the physical characteristics of the sound, and the method by which it was produced, while still remaining quite untouched by its aesthetic quality. They might then learn everything about the music except the reason or end of its composition. And in that case they would be as little able as ever really to explain its origin.
3. TWO HUMAN ANALOGIES FOR CREATION
There are, it seems, two main types of human analogy which theology can use to help our minds to think truly of the relation of God to his created world. There is, first, the analogy of the maker of instruments or machines, the craftsman or mechanic; and there is secondly the analogy of the creative artist. We must remind ourselves once more of the limitations under which we use such analogies. We must not be taken to suggest that God is like a craftsman or an artist. That would be to fall into the error of anthropomorphism. Our intention is to proceed on the hypothesis that, because man is made in God’s image, man=s relation to that which he makes is grounded in and points towards the relation of God to his creatures. At the same time we remember that man, because he is a creature, can have no experience nor any adequate conception of that absolute creation which is properly divine.
Now we may notice at once that it is the work of the creative artist which must give us relatively the fuller analogy of the two. The reason is that the work of the artist necessarily includes in some degree the work of the craftsman, whereas the converse does not hold. No artist can be an artist without being to some extent a craftsman also, whereas the craftsman, if we understand by that word the maker and manipulator of instruments, need not necessarily be an artist at all. It must have been an artist in music who first invented a musical instrument. Afterwards, no doubt, musicians and composers use instruments which they have no skill to make. But still the composer remains a craftsman in musical technique. The aesthetic imagination which is the creative artist’s peculiar gift is not by itself enough for artistic creation. We all recognize that some great artists excel in sheer force and originality of imagination, and others in technical skill. But without having something of both a man could not be an artist at all. On the other hand a skillful maker and manipulator of instruments or machinery need not necessarily have any aesthetic gift.
It has been a defect at least in the more popular theology of the Jewish-Christian tradition that in interpreting its doctrine of divine creation, it has attended too exclusively to the analogy of the craftsman and neglected that of the creative artist.
4. THE ANALOGY OF THE CRAFTSMAN: ITS DEFECTS AND VALUE
It is not unnatural that some analogy of craftsmanship should be the first which occurs to the mind of man when he contemplates the marvels of the world he lives in and regards them as the work of the divine creator. In the book of Job, for instance, it is the utterly astounding skill of God’s handiwork, rather than any aesthetic value or moral purpose in it, which has evidently impressed itself upon the author=s mind. Modern craftsmanship consists largely in the making of machinery. And nature revealed itself both to the scientific and to the theological inquirers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a vast working mechanism. In some ways man finds himself in a position not unlike that of the unmusical people we were imagining just now, who could appreciate the skillful mechanism of the piano, but not the value of the end which it was designed to serve. Some scientific experts, indeed, recognizing their inability to answer the question why the wonderfully intricate order of nature should be such as they find it to be, have used this ignorance as an argument against the belief that it proceeds from any designing or purposive intelligence at all. But the religious man, who prefers the hypothesis that the order is designed to realize an end, the value of which he can only in very small part appreciate, would seem to have at least as good reason to show for his alternative. Yet so long as he allows his theology of creation to be confined by the analogy of the machine-maker, it will be gravely defective, and that especially at two points:
(a) If we think of nature in its relation to God after the analogy of an elaborate and skillfully constructed machine, we naturally suppose it to be finished and complete at the first moment when it begins to work, and we may conceive it thereafter to work by itself, save for occasional interventions on the part of its maker. Thus a clock or watch, if we may borrow one of Paley’s celebrated illustrations, is finished before it begins to go, and then it goes automatically, except for occasional interventions which are needed for purposes of winding or of repair. But in its theological application this way of thinking tends inevitably towards a false kind of supernaturalism. For it is a false supernaturalism which would teach that God’s activity in the created world is to be looked for mainly in occasional acts which are to be conceived of as interventions from without into its ordered working. It is precisely because Protestant orthodoxy at least was tending to a supernaturalism of this kind, that the physicists and biologists of the last century found it so easy to rest in a philosophy which regarded nature as a simply automatic mechanism, and saw no need for divine activity at all.
(b) Again, the craftsman and mechanic make instruments, things for use, intended to serve a purpose outside themselves. And in the case of instruments but little of the soul of the maker is expressed in what he makes. Not much of the watchmaker’s individuality can be expressed in the products of his labour. And modern machinery has greatly diminished what chance of self-expression the craftsman once enjoyed. It is therefore no matter for surprise it a science, which has studied the constitution of the world as though it were an instrumental mechanism, should find but little of the creator=s mind expressed in it. It is indeed to be expected that such a science should be able to characterize that mind only as that of a mathematician. The conclusion only proves that a student wholly interested in pianos or in sound waves may forget the music.
Nevertheless in the relation of man to his instruments and machines there is something which does really interpret the relation of the divine creator to his world. Man has been inspired to make machines because he finds in nature a working mechanism which has been made. And as the purpose of an instrumental machine lies outside the actual constitution and movement of the machine itself, so the ultimate end of this created world lies outside all those uniformities of ordered change and movement which constitute its own actual being. Perhaps the deepest truth which this analogy has to teach us about divine creation is that this world of our present experience, with all that it may reveal to us of God, remains nevertheless instrumental to his ultimate purpose in creation. It is designed to achieve an end beyond itself, which, so long as we are in this world, we cannot fully appreciate or apprehend. At present we ourselves are instruments in the great craftsman’s hand. What he is doing with us we cannot fully know. Yet we can know that we are instruments adapted to some great use of which, however dimly, we may guess the nature, and so ourselves cooperate towards God’s end. Therefore we are not instruments merely; and so the analogy breaks down. But still it has its partial and characteristic truth, which in regard to human life has never received a more profound expression than in Browning’s poem Rabbi ben Ezra.
5. THE TWOFOLD VALUE OF CREATIVE ART
We have a different set of ideas in our minds, if we take as an analogy for divine creation the work, not of an inventive craftsman or mechanic, but of a creative artist. The work of art exists not for use but for admiration. Its value, that is to say, is in itself; it is not instrumental to an ulterior end. Further reflection seems to show that this inherent value of the work of art is essentially twofold. It consists partly in what the work of art directly reveals, partly in what it indirectly expresses.
This distinction requires explanation. First let us consider what is meant by the revealing character of the work of art. The creative artist works primarily in order to see, hear, or perceive more clearly the aesthetic values which are latent in the world of common experience, but become patent only when his own hand, directed by his imaginative insight, has fashioned a fresh object to embody them. In this sense the artist=s primary aim is revelation. The painter works that he may see, the composer that he may hear, the poet that he may perceive with perhaps a more inward sense. Before the artist has actually set himself to fashion something, he apprehends, as a rule, but dimly what the finished work will display. As the work proceeds, the vision becomes clearer; often the work itself seems to take charge of him, and to demand some alteration of his original design. [G. K. Chesterton somewhere wrote of Watts that he went on painting because of the word of truth and meekness and righteousness, and his right hand taught him terrible things.] But when the work is complete, it reveals to him what all the while he had been striving to see clearly. Having once seen it, the true artist will very likely lose interest in that particular work, and proceed to another. But what the great artist has revealed once for all to himself, his finished work continues to reveal to others also. And it remains to those others a source of joy and wonder which does not grow old.
But, secondly, the great work of art not only reveals, it also expresses. It expresses, that is to say, the qualities and the genius of the artist himself. Probably the greatest artists do not work in order to express themselves. Their interest is mainly in the perception of values outside their own personalities. Hence their self-expression is indirect. But none the less they stamp their own characters upon their art. True, Shakspere is so intensely interested in the human world which he observes, that his plays give us little direct indication of his own personal views or judgements. He infuses such personal vitality into the very varied characters he creates, that they give a strange effect of impersonality in their creator. In this respect Shaksperian characters are the exact opposite of those puppets of the modern stage which appear to be mere mouthpieces of the dramatist=s complicated dissatisfaction with the world he lives in. Yet none can doubt that only a mind of the deepest insight and sympathy could have produced Shakspere’s plays. Shakspere’s personality remains a baffling mystery just because the expression of it in his art is at once so indirect and so profound.
Because art is in this way essentially expressive, every great work of art has a certain individuality and relative perfection, so that it cannot be reproduced with improvements by later hands. It is in this respect that artistic creation differs most obviously from mechanical invention. There are flaws in Botticelli’s drawing; but no more skillful draughtsman of later days could really improve one of Botticelli’s Madonnas in copying it. On the other hand, Stephenson’s locomotive, the Rocket, has been improved upon by subsequent generations of engineers in a way which might leave Stephenson himself speechless with admiration. We cannot today reproduce the excellence of much ancient art, though we could easily reproduce ancient machinery if we cared to waste our time in doing so. Leonardo da Vinci painted “The Last Supper”. He also invented the wheelbarrow. “The Last Supper” is badly damaged, and nothing can restore or replace it. Wheelbarrows, no doubt with some improvement on Leonardo’s original design, are turned out by the million and used everywhere. But it is not in them that Leonardo’s soul still lingers.
6. THEOLOGICAL APPLICATION OF THE ANALOGY FROM ART
Let us pass on to the theological application of our analogy, remembering the double value of art both as revelation and as expression. The true artist, we suggested, works primarily in order to see or perceive clearly. “God saw all that he had made,” wrote the author of Genesis, “and, behold, it was very good.” Dare we emphasize the parallel? In one way, no doubt, we dare not. We must not attribute to God the longing and the sense of need which drive man to fashion out of the world on which his life depends something which may more nearly satisfy his aesthetic soul. God creates, not to supply his own need out of what is beyond himself, but rather from pure love of creation and out of the riches of his own eternal being. Every human analogy at this point inevitably breaks down. Yet something in the artist=s essential aim and motive may bear the true image of the divine. We may at least believe that there is a joy for God in the contemplation of the beauty of his own works. Their value is in themselves; and in the recognition of the value is the only answer to the question why they were made. Again, we said that what the creative artist has revealed to himself, he reveals at least in some degree to others also; for others also have the artistic capacity to appreciate what only the artist can create. And if God has indeed made man in his own image, he has done so not only that man being pure in heart might be able to see God, but also so that man according to the tiny measure of his capacity might see what God sees of beauty and acknowledge its goodness. Perhaps in every great achievement of human art some artist has seen more divinely an aspect of what God has made. And, as Rudyard Kipling has suggested with great discernment, there may be for all of us something of the same quality of creative joy in the love we have for deeply familiar places which we see for that reason with a truly original insight.
God gave all men all earth to love,
But, since man’s heart is small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove
Beloved over all;
That, as he watched creation’s birth,
So we, in god-like mood,
Might of our love create our earth
And see that it is good.
Rudyard Kipling: Sussex.
The second point we noticed was that the work of art expresses the soul of the artist. When we are thinking of God, there is no longer any distinction possible between what his work reveals or displays, and what it expresses of his own mind and nature. For what God creates, he does not make out of any material which he finds existing outside or beyond himself. All things depend for their being on him, the creator of all. And, since he creates out of the infinite resources of his own being, all things in various manners and degrees of perfection express him. It is thus that the artistic analogy leads us towards a conception of divine immanence which the analogy of the craftsman or machine maker could not suggest.
And at this point the difference which we noticed between the self-expression of Shakspere and that of some modern dramatists may have a theological value. Shakspere at first sight seems not to be expressing himself at all, and his own personality remains an enigma. The moderns, on the other hand, seem to be doing little else than express themselves, and we are left in no doubt as to what they think and feel. But the truth is that Shakspere’s greatness manifests itself in the self-repression which allows his characters and situations, as it were, to speak for themselves uninterrupted by his own personal comments. His creative mind is immanent in them all, and we can only reach its own essential thought and feeling by a deeper appreciation of the meaning and value of the drama as a whole. In the modern play, on the other hand, the dramatist=s comment on life is obvious, and the situations and dialogue give an impression of having been specially constructed to convey it. In such cases the author=s mind is less truly immanent in the play as a whole; and seems rather to mar its dramatic quality by continual interruption from outside. Perhaps such an illustration may help us a little way towards understanding how it is that a world which we affirm to be in all its points an expression of the divine mind should nevertheless often seem to a superficial view entirely to conceal it. It is true to say that God is expressed in the parts; yet it is truer to say that he is expressed only in the whole. And it is precisely the final wholeness of creation that we cannot see. It is for that reason that we are so often obliged to think of ourselves as but instruments in God’s hands designed by him to serve a purpose as yet unrealized. Yet the analogy of the instrument, right and true as it is up to a point, can never give us the whole truth of the relation in which we and the world of created being stand towards our creator. Moreover, Christians believe that in Jesus Christ God’s whole purpose for mankind stands once for all revealed and accomplished. And God=s Spirit through Christ dwells in our hearts. God’s self-expression in his works is infinitely more mysterious than Shakspere’s. Yet by his living Spirit he is infinitely nearer than Shakspere to our souls.
7. THE VALUE OF TIME IN CREATION
Again, the analogy derived from art helps us to a fuller understanding of the function of time in God’s creation. If we think of the world of nature as a vast machine, we naturally suppose it to be completed from the first moment when it begins to work. It is thus that we explain the order and reciprocal adaptation of all its various parts and members. To conceive of nature as of a machine in the making, which does not as yet work at all, would explain nothing. No doubt when a machine is finished, it still needs time to work and to produce the results for which it was designed. But, generally speaking, the less the time needed, the better the machinery. In the working of a machine time means just delay, and the object of the maker is to speed up the machinery until the desired result is produced as nearly instantaneously as possible. And therefore, as soon as we regard nature as a divinely constructed mechanism, we inevitably ask, why does it take so long in producing its results? Why do the mills of God grind so slowly? Is it because the creator has to learn and acquire skill as his work proceeds? Does he have to wait to improve the anthropoid into man, for the same sort of reason that man himself must wait to improve the Rocket into the modern railway engine? Such an hypothesis of course destroys the very notion of God altogether.
But the analogy drawn from art enables us to see further. The value of the work of art is in itself, not in an ulterior result which its working produces. And human works of art not only take time to produce, but also require time as an essential condition or constituent of their completed beauty. Drama and symphony are fashioned out of the stuff of time, and could not exist apart from it. A masterpiece of architecture is built in time rather than on it. Yet a great medieval cathedral derives its essential grandeur from the historical developments and changes which have expressed themselves in its stone. If then we regard nature and even man himself as being in some sense a work of God’s art, can we not see more clearly that development through time may be essential to the goodness of the creation? Even primitive forms of life, now extinct, may have value, not merely as means to the production of higher and later forms, but also as very subordinate constituents in the beauty and meaning of the whole as it appears to God. The gradualness of creation need not be a necessity laid upon God by an intractable material which he could not immediately master. It may belong to the perfection of his method in achieving his purpose. It may be necessary to that purpose that the earth should bear fruit of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear, and finally the harvest. Without the gradualness of the process, the perfection of the final whole would not be attained.
If this be so, we must affirm that God=s creative work is continuous through time and, from our point of view in time, is not yet complete. According to the record of the Fourth Gospel, such in fact was our Lord=s own teaching. We there read that the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he had healed a cripple and made him carry his bed on the sabbath day. “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’” In other words, there can be no sabbath rest for God, while evil remains to be overcome, and perfection still to be achieved. The six days’ labour of creation spoken of by the author of Genesis is still unfinished.
Yet in one sense the work of creation is complete in the ascension of Christ. There is a great difference between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Sunday if we consider both as symbols. Prophetically the book of Genesis affirmed God’s rest on the seventh day when creation was finished, and prophetically the Jews kept sabbath on the last day of every week. But the first day of the week has always been the holy day of the Christian Church. Why? Historically, no doubt, because on that day Christ rose from the dead; but that is not the whole reason. In Christ as the first fruits, to use Pauline language, manhood became perfectly what God intended it to be, and in so doing it rose from the dead and passed behind the veil which hides the eternal from the temporal world. Henceforth, therefore, the Christian is not one who only strives on and on, looking for a distant goal, a rest at the end of the working week. No doubt such striving and pilgrimage still constitute one aspect of his life. He cannot forget that “the whole creation”, and his own natural manhood as part of it, “groans and travails in pain together until now”, or, as the modern poet writes:
To get the whole world out of bed,
And washed and dressed and warmed and fed,
To work, and back to bed again,
Believe me, Saul, costs world of pain.
John Masefield: The Everlasting Mercy.
The Christian knows it, and therefore, like the Jew of old, he still looks for the life of the world to come. But his faith has another dimension also. He looks back on the perfection once for all achieved in Jesus, and up to the already glorified manhood in heaven. Whither his Lord is gone, he knows the way. And therefore Sunday has ceased to be for him the symbol only or mainly of an everlasting day of rest which will dawn when work is over – that endless sabbath the prospect of which used to frighten Victorian children hardly less than its alternative. Sunday to the Christian is the symbol of creation perfected in the victory of Christ. In Christ, God’s whole work of creation and redemption is complete; yet in Christ’s members, still living in this world, it remains to be achieved.
Chapter VI – The Fatherhood of the Creator
It may be said that in considering human analogies to help our thought about the divine Creator we have so far still neglected the nearest analogy which our experience affords. We have made mention only of man=s creative work in the realms of matter and imaginative fiction. But if we ask what within our experience is the most effective force in fashioning personality, we must answer that it is the influence of other personalities, and that the most truly creative influence is that which is directed by love. It is such influence from parent, teacher and friend which really makes the character of a man. We are anything but readymade personalities from the moment of birth. It is our environment, above all the environment of other souls, which draws out of every man what he is capable of becoming; and it is largely in proportion to the love he finds in that environment that a man will realize his capacities of spiritual growth. In every moment of our mutual converse we are in a very real way creating one another.
1. THE CREATIVE QUALITY OF LOVE
If, then, we are to think of God as the true creator of souls, we shall naturally follow the author of the Book of Wisdom and think of him also as their lover. The human love whereby in social life we make each other must have its source in God’s love, which is the creative environment of us all. And love enables us to conceive a form of creation in which the very nature of the creator can go forth into the creature, in such a way that the creature itself can share the creator’s work. For, in proportion as another’s love creates a soul, it communicates to it its own living essence. The parent’s love makes the child’s character only by itself passing into the child and being, as it were, born again in him: And if in truth God’s love creates us, we can then without any assertion of independence for ourselves lay claim to some share in the creative activity which is derived from him alone as its source.
No doubt there is profound truth in the thought just indicated; but the truth needs guarded expression. When we speak of the relation of the human artist or craftsman to what he makes, we are speaking of his relation to something which belongs to a lower order of reality than himself. On the other hand, when we speak of the love of human parent for child or of friend for friend, we are speaking of a relation between two beings of the same nature and order of reality. And the creative power of this love seems to depend on such equality or identity of nature; for it presupposes a capacity in the object of love for loving response. But man is not of the same nature as God. It is no doubt for this reason that orthodox theology has hesitated to use the analogy of parental love as an aid to understanding the significance of divine creation. The Creed speaks of the only-begotten Son of God, of one nature and substance with the Father, who because he is begotten is not created. The created children of God are of a quite inferior order of being to the only-begotten Son: they are children not by nature but by grace. The dependence of the creature on the creator is of a quite different kind from the dependence of the son on the father. It seems then that we cannot find in the creative influence of man=s love on man an analogy for the creative power of God’s love on his creatures.
But again this negative conclusion only yields a half-truth. Man is unique among creatures in being made in God’s image, and through God=s grace in Jesus Christ he is capable of receiving a true sonship, so that Christ himself can be called in a figure the first born among many brethren. Christ’s manhood is itself created, and as man Jesus Christ is himself inferior in nature to the Father. Yet he became human that we might become divine; and the Christian who in Christ has been begotten again as a child of God is no longer a mere creature and nothing more. Moreover, this rebirth is only possible because man was originally made in God’s image. That is to say, man had from the beginning in virtue of his own nature an inherent capacity for being united with the only-begotten Son and for becoming through that union divine, as the limb of a material body is human through being the organ of the mind or spirit of a man. It is this inherent capacity of man, not destroyed by sin, which is made an actuality through the incarnation and the atonement.
We can therefore hardly be wrong in saying that natural human love at its best is the clearest mark of the divine image in man, and the sign of his capacity for a status higher than that of a mere creature. And though the analogy drawn from love as a relation between man and man is defective when applied to the relation between man and God, inasmuch as it ignores the gulf between creature and creator, yet we shall rightly expect to learn from it something of the divine creator’s relation to the human creatures which bear his image.
We will inquire, therefore, more precisely what we may learn from it. In so doing we pass inevitably from the thought of God as creator to that of God as Father. It is true that the concepts of father and creator are in our minds quite distinct, and, as applied to a man, they are to some extent incompatible with one another. The human father is only in a limited and partial sense the creator of his child; just as the human creator is only in a limited and partial sense the parent of what he makes. But if both fatherhood and creatorship in man are themselves dim and partial reflexions of the transcendent reality of God, it is not absurd to suppose that God can fashion a creature capable of a filial as well as a merely creaturely response to his will. That this supposition is indeed the truth is what Christian faith and experience affirm. And it argues want of reason as well of faith to pronounce the Christian experience an illusion, because the intellect cannot find concepts which adequately express its content or remove its mystery.
2. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN AGAPE AND EROS
The Swedish theologian, Professor Anders Nygren, has recently helped us to see how we may think of God’s love as that of one who is both Creator and Father. In his book, Agape and Eros, he calls fresh attention to the difference in meaning between the two Greek words which we translate by the same English word “love”. Eros and agape, he argues, are respectively the dominant ideas which characterize two great types of religion. Eros-religion is the product of the Hellenic mind at its best. Plato and Aristotle, and perhaps Plotinus also, are its great exponents, and Plato the greatest of all. Agape-religion is pure Christianity. In the theology of the Church elements of agape and eros have been intermingled and confused with one another, even in the concept of caritas. But in their proper and essential meaning the two terms remain radically opposed to one another; and Christianity has not been enriched, but rather adulterated, by the admixture of an eros-religion derived from an alien source.
The contrast thus drawn between eros and agape is not only of great importance in itself, but also very relevant to our present subject. Its essential point is this, that while eros is man’s way to God, starting from man’s sense of spiritual need, agape is God’s way to man, starting from God’s free goodwill. According to Nygren agape is essentially creative.
This [he writes] is the deepest reason for the spontaneous and uncaused character of God’s love. The love of which we are thinking is God=s love, and God is the creator. It is not that God loves that which is in itself worthy to be loved; but, on the contrary, that which in itself is without value acquires value by the fact that it is the object of God’s love. Agape is the direct opposite of that love which is called out by the worthiness of its object and so may be said to be a recognition of the value and attractiveness of its object. The man whom God loves has not any value in himself. His value consists simply in the fact that God loves him. [Agape and Eros, p. 54.]
As thus stated, the opposition of eros to agape seems open to criticism. To say that that which is in itself without value acquires value by the fact that God loves it, suggests that we can at least conceive it to have existed before God loved it, and in that condition to have been entirely without value, although created by God. This is probably not what Nygren means to say. He means that God’s love for the creature both created it and gave it value as by a single act. But in that case he ought not to have said that the creature as it is in itself is valueless. For it is impossible to distinguish even in thought between a thing as it is in itself and a thing as God created it, except perhaps in so far as the thing has been corrupted by evil since its creation. Nothing can be itself at all apart from its relation to God; and it is this same relation which gives it both existence and value. We must not make a separation either between the existence and the value of the creature, or between the creative activity of God which gave the one and his love which gave the other. It is in man as he is in himself that we must look for the value which God’s love has given him.
We must therefore restate Professor Nygren’s antithesis. And we shall find its primary ground, not in the simple opposition of God’s love to man’s, but rather in an opposition between two kinds of love in man, one of which reveals God’s love more directly than the other and affords an indication of a love in God in which the perfections of creative power and fatherhood are one. The words eros and agape may very aptly stand for these two kinds of love; and we may also cordially agree with Nygren that Christ alone has revealed to us the true meaning of the difference between them. Agape in its Christian usage is in effect a new term coined to represent a fresh idea. And it is a defect in language, due to a defect in spiritual insight, which compels us to use only one word in English, where Greek-speaking Christians of old felt the necessity of two.
Eros is essentially the love which springs from desire and the sense of need. In its psychological and biological origins no doubt it is closely connected with sex. But, as Nygren points out, the developed meaning of eros is by no means confined to what is sexual. In Plato and his followers it is sublimated into what is really a new emotion, as spiritual and other-worldly as any human emotion can be. It becomes a hunger and thirst after the beatific vision and after the righteousness and purity of heart which alone can exalt a man to heaven. Yet still it is closely connected with man=s sense of his own needs and defects. If eros is called divine, it must be principally because God is its object. For in God himself there can be no eros. He can have no sense of need or defect, or desire anything because his own nature lacks it. Thus Aristotle taught that, although God sets the whole world in motion as being the object of its eros, he himself in the eternal enjoyment of his own perfection has no knowledge of the strivings of the imperfect world towards him. Aristotle stops short of any doctrine of creation properly so called. According to him, God exercises influence upon the world not by any action of his own upon it, but only by the desire of the world for the perfection realized in himself.
But there is even within human experience a very partial and rudimentary realization of another kind of love also. It is this which the New Testament has taught us to call by the name of agape, and in its pure form it is essentially divine. Human agape is never without a considerable admixture of eros. But this need not prevent us from recognizing the essential difference between the two even within human relationships themselves. The difference may be shortly stated by saying that whereas in eros desire is the cause of love, in agape love is the cause of desire. I may begin by loving a person because I desire him, because he gives me something I need, because he has some special attraction for me, or because I recognize in him some peculiar quality which stirs my admiration. So far this is eros-love. But, as I get to love him deeply and truly, I find that I love him more and more not simply for my own sake, but for his. And this love of a person for his own sake is really another kind of love. It is not caused by any desire of mine, nor does it seek directly any satisfaction of my desire. Rather it is the cause of a new desire in me, a desire purely for the good of my friend. In such love we begin to have a hint already of the nature of God’s love for man.
Now if we look for traces of this agape‑love among men at the most simply natural level, it is in the father’s love for his child that we shall find them in their clearest form. The love which draws man or woman towards a member of the opposite sex is mainly based in the first instance upon their need of one another. The same is true in a less degree of friendship; and even the mother has naturally more need of the child than the father, a fact which tends to make the mother’s love at once more devoted and more possessive than the father’s. The father’s love, as a natural phenomenon, is perhaps less intense than any of the others; but it also has naturally more of the peculiar quality of agape, in that it is less caused by any instinctive need, and is more purely a love of a person for his own sake, which issues naturally in a simple desire for that person’s good. And in a special way the father’s love illustrates the creative quality of agape. For the father especially loves the child not only for what he is but also for what he can help him to become. [Perhaps it is because in natural human relationships eros needs to be completed with agape, that the Church has taught that in normal circumstances marriage ought only to be contacted by those who are willing to have children. The coming of children is not of course the only opportunity, but it is the most natural and normal opportunity, for agape to supervene upon eros.]
If we could imagine the love of one who loves men purely for their own sake, and not because of any need or desire of his own, purely desires their good, and yet loves them wholly, not for what at this moment they are, but for what he knows he can make of them because he made them, then we should have in our minds some true image of the love of the Father and Creator of mankind.
3. LOVE IN GOD AND IN MAN
Among the peoples of the world the Jews have always been preeminent for the strength of their parental affection. Among them the impulse of sex has been subordinated to the love of offspring in a remarkable degree. This national or racial characteristic cannot be unconnected with the fact that through them the full revelation of God=s fatherhood has been given to mankind. We may see here one reason why the Saviour was, according to the flesh, a Jew. Our Lord’s greatest parable of the divine agape is the story of a natural father’s love. For we miss the whole point of the story of the Prodigal Son, if we suppose that in it the father acts in any supernatural way. It is indeed remarkable how inevitably our Lord seems to turn to the parental instinct in order to express God’s disposition towards his people. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets and stoneth them that are sent unto her, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings.”
Certainly then we shall not understand as fully as we may the Christian doctrine of God as creator, unless we think of the creator also as the father. Aristotle was profoundly right in attributing eros to the world and not to God. God does not love from any sense of need or defect in himself, or because of the perception of any value in another. But Aristotle was wrong in concluding that therefore God cannot love his imperfect world at all. Perhaps because he was a Greek and not a Jew, he missed the obscure hint which exists, even within human relationships, of a love which is not caused by any desire to have something that it now lacks, nor by any recognition of value or merit in another, but is simply the spontaneous outflowing of goodwill causing the desire that another should enjoy all good. This absolutely uncaused love in God is, as the Christian believes, the ultimate raison d’etre both of man’s existence and of every true value which his life possesses. It is the same love which by the cross of redemption brings to fulfillment in spite of sin the original purpose of creation. And man the creature can recognize and cling to its divine grace and power, because in his own nature its creative work has left traces, never entirely effaced, which make him capable of such response. If Christians alone can address God as Abba, Father, in the true and full meaning of the word, nevertheless the fullness of that meaning itself involves the faith that all men can recognize and accept the gospel of God’s fatherhood in Christ as the saving truth.
We must still, however, acknowledge a final difficulty of understanding. Agape, it has been suggested, is the highest and divinest love, and in human nature are found the traces of it which enable us to recognize it as divine. In itself it is God’s love for man. But what of man’s love for God? Is not this the highest of which man is capable? And yet must it not be essentially eros, since it cannot but arise out of man=s need for God? Man cannot will God’s good, nor reciprocate towards God the agape which he receives. And then, if so, does it not
follow that man’s love for God is self-regarding, inasmuch as it arises from man’s sense of his own need for God?
We must, I think, say that the highest love of which man is capable strictly as a creature is the eros for God, and that this eros at every stage short of complete fulfillment is in a manner self-regarding. For man’s very self-abasement before God still makes him think of his own unworthiness and imperfection, even while he longs to lose himself in adoration of God. It is precisely the deepening sense of this tension which makes the religious man cry out for an atonement. Nevertheless, the absolutely highest thing in man does not belong to him simply as a creature, but as the bearer of God’s image which gives him the capacity for rising above what is strictly the creature=s level. That highest thing is not man’s love for God, but divine love in man, the image of that love which in Christ communicated itself to man up to the utmost capacity of human nature to partake of it. “Herein is agape, not that we loved God, but that God loved us.” Man cannot directly reciprocate that love to God. Only Christ the Eternal Son can love the Father with the Father’s own love, and we in Christ can only realize and understand our own incapacity to do the same. But we can manifest God’s agape within us towards one another. “We know that we have passed from death into life, because we love the brethren.” And we can forgive one another as God in Christ forgave us. [For Caietan’s different solution of this problem, see Newton Flew, The Idea of Perfection, p. 239.]
Nevertheless, we may say that in the fulfillment of heaven eros is swallowed up in agape. For in the self-surrender of complete thanksgiving (and thanksgiving is man’s proper recognition of God) [See Rom. 1:21.] man’s concern with his own needs and defects vanishes away. He no longer needs anything when he has finally given himself to the giver of all. All things are his, when he is God’s.
Chapter VII – Divine Omnipotence
Traditional discussions of divine omnipotence suffer from the assumption that the difficulty of the doctrine lies in the meaning of “omni–” and not in the meaning of “‑potence”. St. Thomas Aquinas explicitly starts from this assumption: [S.T., Pt. I, Q. 25, Art. 3. One of the objections, which St. Thomas himself states, argues that, since God has made the wisdom of this world foolish by showing those things to be possible which the world judges impossible, therefore human ideas of what is intrinsically possible are no valid criterion of what God can or cannot do. He does not however state or meet the opposite form of the same objection (which is far more damaging to his own doctrine) that, since we do not know what is and what is not intrinsically possible, many things may be really impossible for God which we judge to be possible. St. Thomas might no doubt meet this difficulty by appealing to the authority of God’s own word in the gospel; but it is sufficient at least to show that his doctrine of divine omnipotence, as a truth of natural theology, is worth very little.] “All confess,” he writes, “that God is omnipotent; but it seems difficult to explain in what his omnipotence consists, for there may be a doubt as to the precise meaning of the word ‘all’, when we say that God can do all things.”
1. THE MEANING OF “POWER”
St. Thomas next proceeds to argue that omnipotence can only operate within the sphere of things that are in themselves possible. Some things are possible in themselves, but impossible for creatures of limited power. These things man cannot do, but God can. But there are other things which are impossible in themselves, because the very idea of them involves self-contradiction – as, for instance, the making of a square circle, or the creation of a being with freedom of choice who is unable to choose wrong. Such things even God cannot do; though it might be truer to say that they cannot be done, than that God cannot do them, since the impossibility implies no real restriction of God=s power. According to St. Thomas, therefore, the doctrine of divine omnipotence means that God can do everything which is intrinsically possible.
But St. Thomas has not stated the real problem, and therefore his solution is worth little. It is evident that with our imperfect knowledge we are unable to say, except within very narrow limits, what is and what is not intrinsically possible, and which of our highest hopes may turn out to involve self-contradiction. It would therefore be no logical contradiction of St. Thomas’s doctrine of divine omnipotence to say that the promises of the gospel are incapable of fulfillment.
The truth is that the value of the doctrine of divine omnipotence lies, not in enabling us to maintain that in some sense God can do everything possible, but in assuring us that certain things are possible for God to do, that the eternal salvation of men and the final victory of good over evil are not idle dreams. In other words, what we need to know is not in what abstract sense God can do everything, but what is the actual nature and effect of God=s power. It is really idle to talk about power at all except in relation to the concrete nature of a thing or person who is powerful. The word “power” by itself conveys no definite idea whatever to the mind. We must discuss the character and quality of God’s power before the doctrine of his omnipotence can become really significant.
Let us then make a fresh start by examining the meaning of the word “power”. There seem to be three principal meanings which the word can bear:
(1) It may mean only capacity or potentiality, δύναμις in the Aristotelian sense. Thus we may say that heat has the power of melting ice, or that ice has the power of being melted under heat. In this sense power is as much passive as active, and an omnipotent being would be one which is omnicapable, i.e., capable of every kind of action, passion, motion and change. This definition sounds less applicable to God than to primary matter as Aristotle conceived it, a being purely indeterminate which might be the subject of all possible determinations. Certainly a human character which is as yet unformed and immature may be said to have a greater variety of capacities or potentialities than one which is already stable. But clearly such multipotence, if we may coin the word, would be a sign of weakness, not of strength. And we may at least follow St. Thomas Aquinas in excluding this sense of the word power from anything we mean when we speak of the omnipotence of God. There would have been no need to mention it at all, if the traditional theology of the Western Church had not translated the Greek word παντοχράτωρ by the Latin omnipotens. It is the ambiguity lurking under the Latin word potentia (corresponding in this respect to the Greek δύναμις), which has led to the ridiculous notion that “an omnipotent God” ought somehow to mean a God who is capable of being or doing any conceivable thing. No sane theology ever intended to affirm anything of the kind.
(2) In a second sense, the word “power” is equivalent to “physical force”, as when we speak of “horsepower”. Exact scientific definitions of force are apt to be unintelligible to the layman, but we know at least roughly what we ordinarily mean when we use the word. We mean the impulse to motion, or the restraint of motion, in material bodies; and we usually measure the amount of force by the amount of change produced in relation to the resistance encountered. To talk about an almighty or omnipotent force would be nonsense. For force by itself cannot control anything at all, nor does it even act in the proper meaning of that word. A volcanic eruption produces certain conspicuous changes in material bodies, but it cannot be said to control the effects of which it is the cause, and in the interaction of material bodies the distinction between action and passivity is always relative and to some extent arbitrary. Therefore force is from one point of view essentially powerless, until it is directed by some power other than itself.
(3) In the third sense, “power” means power to control or the ability to achieve purpose. Clearly this is the meaning which we mainly intend when we speak of the power or might of either man or God. Almightiness or omnipotence is then the attribute of one who can make all things serve his will or achieve his purpose in all things. What he does is necessarily determined or, if you will, limited by what he purposes or wills to do. A power which may do anything whatever, or a mere force which nothing can resist, is by definition purposeless, and therefore impotent. By affirming belief in an almighty being we must mean to assert that there is a purposive will controlling all events or phenomena, and able in the end to subdue all things unto itself. Can we further determine the nature or character which must be attributed to this purposive will, if our belief in its existence is to be at least intelligible?
2. POWER AND CREATIVITY
We may, I think, say at once that the almighty will must be creative and not destructive. The purpose of the almighty must control the world so as to make something out of it, something which has positive value in his sight. To control the world so as merely in the end to destroy it, or make nothing of it, could fulfill no intelligible purpose whatever: such an end would be a confession of failure which cannot be attributed to almightiness. Many things in the world may no doubt be destined for destruction, at least in respect of their own proper existence, in order that the almighty purpose may fulfill itself by this means. Christians indeed have usually held that this whole world of our present experience in space and time is ephemeral and must pass away with all that is within it. But to suppose that it must all be simply destroyed, so as to end in nothing and to produce nothing of enduring value out of its transience, would be to contradict the belief that an almighty power controls it. If power be essentially purposive, creative power is inherently greater than destructive. Almighty power has a positive end in what it does. And, if in the long run evil is inherently destructive and good creative, it will follow that the purpose of the almighty will must be a purpose of goodness.
3. POWER AND FORCE
With this conclusion in mind, let us next examine more closely the relations which we find in our experience to exist between the power of creative and purposive control and that other kind of power which we call force. So long as our own purposive control is being exercised over material things, we find that it must work by using force; yet the real power displayed is not in the force itself, but in the intelligent direction of it. The wonderful power which we acknowledge in the building of Durham Cathedral consisted not in the mere force which heaved vast masses of stone to great heights from the ground, but in the purposive intelligence which used force to shape and to move them into certain positions in which they form a structure of transcendent beauty. And when we come to consider the power which men as intelligent and moral beings exercise over one another, we find that the usefulness of force or physical compulsion is much more restricted. Those whose power over human minds has been strongest and most creative have in general tended to dispense with force altogether. Most of the great personalities whose influence over character and culture has been deepest have been wholly men of peace. No doubt in statesmanship and sometimes in the founding of a new religion, such as Islam, force has had its part to play. But in general we find that the effect of force in controlling human personalities is negative, and that to be obliged to resort to it is a sign, not of strength, but of weakness. We can, it is true, prevent each other by force from doing what otherwise would be done; we can shut men up in prison, or take away their lives, and so prevent them from doing anything more at all. We can also often induce them to do what otherwise they would not have done by making them afraid of the force they may suffer if they do not. Nevertheless, it is not the strong government which has to declare martial law and call out the military to keep order. It is when the authorities of a state are weak and society begins to be really afraid of its criminals, that judges use force more drastically, and sentences of death or flogging become frequent. Moreover, history provides interesting evidence of the comparative impotence of force in human affairs. We do not yet know, it is true, what will be the ultimate effect of the great communist revolution in Russia; but on the whole the great conquerors and revolutionaries have produced far less change in human culture and civilization than the prophets, saints, sages, and the pioneers of science, even though the discoveries of the latter have often been used by lesser men for the manufacture of weapons of destruction. It is interesting to reflect that you and I have only heard of Nebuchadnezzar because the despised and outcast Jeremiah has immortalized him.
It is true, no doubt, on the other hand, that modern experts in biology and surgery hold out to us the prospect of a complete remaking of human character by forcible or mechanical means. It would be foolish indeed to ignore the possibilities of change thus indicated. But on examination it would seem that the most which even the most wisely scientific use of force can achieve is the removal of certain material hindrances which now stand in the way of mental and moral development. No manipulation of man’s bodily organism, however drastic or skilful, can of itself supply the creative or educative power which fashions the soul of man into the true greatness of which it is capable.
4. THE OMNIPOTENCE OF LOVE
The more deeply we consider the matter, the more surely we shall come to rest in the conclusion that love, understood in the meaning which the New Testament gives to the word agape, is the greatest creative power in human life. And if we may suppose that, as Christians believe, agape is the clearest reflection in the created world of the divine will which directs it towards its end, we gain a quite fresh understanding of what almightiness may mean, and a fresh assurance that the Christian belief in the omnipotence of God is no extravagant dream, but a profoundly reasonable faith.
The justification of this statement is really the task of Christian theology as a whole, and it should appear more plainly as our discussions proceed. But we may notice at once one or two general considerations which are immediately relevant to the arguments about the nature of power just put forward.
One difficulty popularly urged against the Christian faith takes the form of a dilemma, that we might perhaps believe either in a God who is perfect love and goodness or in a God who is omnipotent, but that to believe in a God who is both is impossible. This dilemma rests on a radically false conception alike of God’s love and of God=s power and of the relation between them. The unreflecting mind tends to identify love simply with a tender emotion, and power with the use of force. It then pictures to itself a loving and almighty God as one whose love would use gentle methods so long as there remained any hope of their success, but whose power would be held in reserve to intervene with decisive force as soon as gentleness had proved finally to be ineffective. Thus God is naïvely imagined after the analogy of a schoolmaster who keeps a rod in his cupboard for use in the last resort. When facts seem to make it evident that such an analogy is utterly misleading, it is concluded that God cannot be both loving and almighty.
But the Christian revelation at least shows that a different conclusion is possible. It declares that the strongest power in the world is that of agape itself, which does not work by force to achieve its highest purpose or win its greatest victories. The Cross is the power and the wisdom of God. And if St. Paul speaks truth, our whole conception of God’s omnipotence must be transformed. The supreme manifestation of divine power is in no terrific theophany which compels man either to obedience or to destruction, but in the complete self-sacrifice of Christ which has overcome evil by suffering, made atonement for sin, and opened the kingdom of heaven.
And dimly we can see even by the light of reason that such a power has at least possibilities of omnipotence to which no other could conceivably make good a claim. For this power converts even suffering itself into something active and creative, and makes the very forces of evil, even through the apparent completeness of their triumph over it, nevertheless subserve its own purpose of good. Christians for this reason find the chief subject of their praise and thanksgiving in that very event which they also hold to be the blackest crime in human history, viz., the crucifixion. When we consider as symbolic of what God’s power can do the presence of dice, scourge, hammer and nails in the cast windows of our churches, we begin faintly to apprehend the nature of a power which is indeed almighty, the power which can make of sin and death opportunities for the sacrifice which redeems and conquers.
But one warning we must remember. The omnipotence of God is indemonstrable by any logic, because the power of love can only be truly apprehended from within, or rather by those within whom it already dwells. Selfish people can never understand it; and most of us have to learn with difficulty to recognize a new sort of power, before we can judge of the truth of God’s almightiness as Christian saints have believed it. It is to those who believe, says St. Paul, that the Cross is the power of God. It can be no matter of surprise to a Christian that many even intelligent people should reckon him either a fool or a hypocrite when he says that he believes in God the Father Almighty.
Part II – The Incarnation
Chapter VIII – The Jewish Background of Christology
Up till now we have been dealing in general terms with the main ideas about God which the Christian creed presents to us, without attempting to distinguish within these ideas that element which is derived from God’s historical revelation of himself in Jesus Christ. We have in fact said almost nothing about history. The moment, however, we pass to the next words of the Creed, “and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord”, history inevitably comes into the foreground of our thoughts. Whatever different views may be held about the truth of the incarnation, the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus Christ has a definitely historical origin, which the general doctrine of God has not. And, that being so, we must first try to discover as clearly as we can what the doctrine of his divinity meant to those in whose minds it originally took shape, before we can go on to determine what it means or ought to mean to us today.
1. THE PRIMARY RELEVANCE OF HISTORY
What are our primary data for such an historical interpretation of what the Creed affirms about Jesus Christ? The first obvious fact is that all the framers of Christian creeds have believed themselves to be affirming nothing that is not either explicitly asserted, or at least directly implied, in the New Testament. Nowhere among Christians could any doctrine of the person or work of Jesus have been maintained which was acknowledged to be in conflict with the evidence of scripture. The New Testament therefore must be the starting point of our interpretation. But, in the next place, it is obvious also that the New Testament doctrine of the Christ, however securely it may be based upon fact, is not a mere statement of fact, but is itself a work of theological interpretation. The authors of the New Testament affirmed, and the authors of the Creeds repeated, that Jesus is the Christ, the only Son of God, the Lord of Christians. It may be that all these titles were derived in fact from the lips of Jesus himself; yet still the meaning of these titles, as the first disciples understood them, was not derived from Jesus only, but also in part from the ideas which men had had in their minds about God, Lord, and Christ or Messiah, before Jesus came. In acknowledging a unique relation between Jesus and God, they did not understand this relation to be between Jesus and one who, apart from Jesus, was simply an unknown, an x. On the contrary, the disciples, as soon as they became preachers, assumed that their hearers already shared with them some notions about Godhead, Lordship, and Messiahship, which, though they would have to be radically changed in the light of the new gospel, were at least true enough to be made the starting point of its interpretation. Therefore, if we would know what the New Testament means by its doctrine of Jesus as Christ, Lord, and Son of God, we must begin by examining the ideas which the titles must have suggested to those who first heard them applied to him.
2. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN HEBRAIC AND HELLENIC IDEAS OF GOD
Principally we must direct our attention to characteristically Hebrew ideas of God and of his relation to the world; and, inasmuch as the Christian faith quickly came into direct contact with the Greco-Roman civilization which encircled Judaism, we must compare and contrast these ideas at every point with those which were current in Hellenic religion and philosophy.
(1) The most obviously distinctive characteristic of Hebrew theology is its belief in God=s guidance of history. We owe the familiar idea of Providence to the religious legacy we have received from Israel. It is right to emphasize the difference between the catastrophic view of history which we find in the Bible, and the evolutionary view which was the discovery of nineteenth century humanism. But the two views have at least this much in common, that both interpret history as a series of caused and causative happenings which lead up to a great dénouement in which the significance of all is seen. To the Jew, Jehovah was essentially the living God who acted in history and controlled the issues of events. In his religious philosophy history itself is the story of God=s mighty acts, wherein God achieves his purposes for the vindication of his chosen and the punishment of those who disobey him.
A striking illustration of the Hebraic point of view in theology is to be found in the prophetic teaching about idolatry. Belief in the universal rule of Jehovah the creator, which we find already in Amos, does not seem to have led immediately to the inference that other gods were simply nonexistent; and in the end a pure monotheism was attained by arguing, not directly the unreality of heathen deities, but rather their ineffectiveness or impotence. They are “things that cannot profit or deliver”. Thus, when their nonentity is finally declared, the declaration takes the curious form of identifying the heathen god with the mere inactive piece of wood or stone of which his image was fashioned. Prophets and psalmists simply deride the idols as lifeless bits of stuff: they do not denounce them as symbols of false ideas. They do not seem even to consider the possibility of the idol symbolizing anything at all.
In direct contrast with this way of thinking stands the philosophical and mystical religion of Greece, which comes nearest to Christianity in Platonism. To this religion all things in the world are more or less adequate symbols, which partly reveal and partly veil an unchanging divine reality which to the seeing eye shines through them. Such a religion, as Brunner points out, [The Mediator, p. 23.] gives men a sense of a divine being which, though as the universal ground of all things it may be called creative, is yet in absolute repose. Its manifestation is found, not when it acts in particular events to manifest itself, but when certain hindrances to the perception of its reality have been removed. Revelation then is due to a subjective process in the human mind: it is like opening the shutters that the light of morning may stream into a darkened room: it is not the act of God, but the unfolding of the soul God-ward. God is not conceived as the doer of mighty works who fulfills his promise or purpose against all opposition, but as the eternal and changeless perfection, imperfectly imaged in phenomena, and revealed to those who know how to look behind them.
(2) A further aspect of what is really the same contrast is found when we consider the way in which knowledge of God is attained and the character of saintliness. In the Old Testament the true knowledge of God is neither mystical nor contemplative nor theoretic: it is essentially a practical and obedient response to the will of the living God. Knowing God means loyalty to his commands. It is based therefore on hearing or hearkening to God’s word. The religious leader in Israel is the prophet in whose ear God speaks and who faithfully reports his message to the people that they also may hear and do it. The greatest of all the prophets is Moses, who received and declared the law of the covenant which contained God’s permanent commands for Israel. To Elijah on Horeb God is revealed as “the still, small voice”, which gives definite directions. True, there are many descriptions of prophetic visions in the Old Testament; but the vision is always interpreted by a divine voice conveying a definite message, and the main summons of the prophets from first to last is to hear the word which the Lord has put in their mouths. It is the later apocalyptists who rely mainly upon vision; and, as the pseudonymous character of their writings shows, they did not claim to speak with the direct authority of the prophet. Their visions were enigmatic even to themselves; and they did not dare to proclaim, “Thus saith the Lord.”
On the other hand, to the Platonist knowledge of God was essentially a clearer vision of the eternal reality behind phenomena; the end of action was the attainment of the spiritual or intellectual sight in which the saint might dwell for ever in the world beyond time and space and change. The famous simile of the cave in Plato=s Republic, while it appeals to one whole side of man’s religious nature, is almost typically un-Hebraic. It is significant that except in the most primitive parts of the Old Testament, where God is represented as appearing in bodily form, the true knowledge of God is a hearing rather than a seeing. Although the vision of God’s face may belong to the hope of a redeemed world order, [On this whole subject, see Kirk, The Vision of God, Lect. I, esp. pp. 10–14.] the conviction prevails that for sinful man to see God would be death. “Hearing God” is the Hebrew way of expressing that less open and direct communion which is all that man can attain to in this world. The author of 1 Samuel calls attention to the fact that “he that is now called a prophet was beforetime called a seer”. [1 Sam. 9:9.] It is interesting to notice that in Greek religion an opposite development occurred. The primitive prophets or prophetesses of the oracles became discredited, and religious authority passed to philosopher-seers.
(3) The last point in our contrast between Hebraism and Hellenism is concerned with the doctrine of salvation. To the Hellenic mind “salvation” consisted in the inward union of the individual soul with the eternal and divine reality. Since this salvation was an individual achievement and the divine was conceived as the changeless unity behind all the changes of external things and events, what happened in history could be of no essential importance to the attainment of the goal. The science of the Greeks usually regarded the time process as consisting of an endlessly revolving series of enormously long cycles which in the end led nowhere. To the Hebrew, on the other hand, salvation was essentially connected with Jehovah’s fulfillment of his covenant promises to his people. In the earlier documents of the Old Testament the content of this promise is believed to be the assured possession of the Holy Land in the fullness of prosperity and peace. It was the disloyalty of Israel which continually delayed the complete fulfillment of the promise, although the temporary splendour of the Davidic Empire gave some hint of what the fulfillment might be. Meanwhile Jehovah was obliged to deal with his people by way of punishment rather than reward. Even when the Northern Kingdom has been destroyed by Assyria, the people of Judaea carried captive to Babylon and the Temple demolished, the Jews never gave up hope of salvation to come. At times, indeed, prophets and psalmists seem to speak as though Jehovah recompensed the individual righteous man with temporal prosperity. This theory of salvation obviously raises more difficulty than it solves, and there is plenty of evidence in the Psalms and in Job that the difficulties were keenly felt. But in Jewish thought as a whole salvation never became a matter simply of rewarding individuals or even families. God’s promise had been made to his people Israel; and, whatever might be said of Israel’s sin and its inevitable consequences, the Jew felt deep in his heart that, if Israel as such were never finally saved or delivered at all, Jehovah himself would be convicted of failure: his choice of Israel would come to nothing in the end, if his promise rested on conditions which must remain for ever unfulfilled. Such a result was to the pious Jew unthinkable. Its unthinkableness is manifested again and again in different ways all through the Old Testament, and again and again it leads to assured prophecy, running counter to all apparent indications of fact, that somehow and somewhen a blessed age will dawn when Israel will be clearly shown to be God’s people indeed, and be satisfied with the goodness of the Lord.
3. THE MESSIANIC HOPE
It was this conviction, obstinate or inspired, which gave rise to what immediately concerns us in interpreting the title Christ, viz., the Messianic hope. The form of this hope, though not always vague, was variable in the extreme. There was never any doctrine of the Messianic age or kingdom defined as orthodox. The hope seems to have originated in the expectation of the pre-exilic prophets that a great conqueror and king of David=s line would one day arise to restore David=s empire in a yet more glorious and enduring form. Later on, the author of 1 Maccabees seems to find many characteristics of the Messianic kingdom in the righteous and peaceful rule of the priest Simon Maccabaeus. But often a much more distinctly supernatural note sounds in prophecies of the future blessedness of Israel; and as time went on this note was more and more accentuated. Moreover, in addition to the strictly Messianic expectation of an anointed king of David’s line, there arises a hope of a different kind, that God by a great intervention of his power will bring this world or age to an end, that there will be a universal judgement of men associated with a resurrection of the dead, and that thereafter a new world or age will come into being, in which the righteous will be rewarded with everlasting bliss. We find hints of this expectation already in the later passages of the Old Testament, [E.g. Isa. 24:to 27 and Dan. 12.] and it was developed by later apocalyptists who wrote after the canon of the Old Testament had been closed. Sometimes the visions of apocalyptic ignore the personal Messiah altogether, or substitute for him, as does the Book of Enoch, a supernatural figure called the Son of Man. Sometimes the two kinds of expectation are combined; the Messiah’s kingdom is represented as immediately preceding the end of the world, his reign is associated with miraculous prosperity and signs of divine power, but the general judgement and resurrection of the dead do not occur until its close.
Amid all this confusing variety of prophetic word and apocalyptic dream, it is manifestly impossible to arrive at any one clear or consistent picture of pre-Christian belief about the Messiah. What is indisputable is that at the beginning of the Christian era there was a widespread popular belief among the Jews, a belief however admitting great variety and by no means universal, that the Messiah, the God-appointed redeemer of Israel, might appear at any moment. As to the most generally accepted characteristics of the Messiah=s person and work, three points are of special importance:
(1) Although God would raise him up to full his promises to his people, the Messiah was never thought of as himself personally divine. He was to be a human king, of David’s line according to general belief, who was to reign over God’s people on this earth. It is true that the words of Psalm 2, “Thou art my Son”, etc., were usually interpreted as referring to the Messiah, but in the Old Testament both Israel and David were spoken of as God’s sons with no suggestion that they were other than human. [See Exod. 4:22; 2 Sam. 7:14 and cf. Hos. 11:9.]
(2) The Messiah’s work was to be primarily the salvation or deliverance of God’s people from their earthly foes and alien oppressors, so that they might live in righteousness, peace and prosperity.
(3) The Messiah’s coming was associated with a miraculous intervention of God declared in works of supernatural power, and more vaguely also with the end of this world or age and the inauguration of a new world order.
The first two characteristics of the Messianic hope, in a spiritualized form without definite allusion to an earthly conquest or sovereignty, are exactly and beautifully described in the Benedictus. And in these familiar verses, we may notice all three marks which we have seen to be characteristic of Hebraic religion in contrast with Hellenic. Here there appear clearly the thoughts, (1) of the living God of Israel who works through history, (2) of God’s will revealed and his final action foretold in the prophetic word, (3) of salvation as the fulfillment of God=s promise to deliver his people from their enemies, that they may serve him in righteousness and peace.
Chapter IX – The Primitive Doctrine of the Incarnation in
Jewish Christianity and St. Paul
New Testament gives us primary and direct evidence of the impression made by the life of Jesus Christ upon the first generation of Christians. In estimating that impression we have constantly to remember that the original disciples were Jews, and that the background of their thought consisted of those Jewish ideas about God, the world, and man which we have already tried to describe in outline.
1. THE FULFILLMENT OF MESSIANIC EXPECTATION IN JESUS
The original message of Christian preachers was that “Jesus is the Christ” or “The Christ is Jesus”, and they sought to prove this identification from the scriptures of the Old Testament. What did this preaching mean to those who gave and those who accepted it as truth? Although on the one hand Jesus was affirmed to be really the Messiah of Jewish prophecy and apocalyptic, yet on the other hand the idea of Messiahship was deeply changed by the affirmation that the Messiah was none other than Jesus of Nazareth.
Clearly the Christians believed that in Jesus all the promises of God were fulfilled. [On this point, see Dr. A. E. J. Rawlinson’s The New Testament Doctrine of the Christ, pp. 15 sq.] “For howsoever many are the promises of God,” wrote St. Paul, “in him is the yea.” And this belief already involves an enlargement of pre‑Christian conceptions of Messiahship. For the Messiah=s office had been variously conceived, and it was a new idea that everything that God had ever promised to his people should be bestowed through his sole agency. Not only were all the passages of the Old Testament which had been commonly given a Messianic interpretation now referred to Jesus, but others also, not previously thought to be Messianic at all; and moreover Jesus was to be the inaugurator of the new world or age, which had hitherto been only doubtfully and confusedly connected with the advent of the personal Messiah.
But the two lines of expectation meet and find fulfillment together in Jesus, only because Jesus himself has originated a new way of thinking about the Messiah=s work and person. The resurrection was the basic fact on which the Christian gospel rested. It was the resurrection which justified once for all the claim that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and also that, being now alive in heaven, he would come again to bring this world to an end and establish the glorious world to come. But the notion that the Messiah would make a preliminary appearance on earth to die and rise again, before he came finally in manifest power as king and judge of men, was a notion wholly new to the Jewish mind, though Christians strove to show that the Old Testament had predicted this also in language never before understood. And this new notion, distinctive of Christianity, revolutionized the whole Jewish conception of Messiahship. The proof lies in the plain fact that the preaching of a crucified Messiah was to orthodox Judaism a scandal.
2. THE FORGIVENESS OP SINS AND THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST
Why had the Messiah made this preliminary appearance to suffer a shameful death? The Christian answer is not doubtful; it lies at the centre of the earliest and most universal tradition, and it is contained in five momentous words, for the forgiveness of sins. God’s glorious covenant promises to his people must somehow be fulfilled. But God is righteous, not only in his faithfulness to his promise of glory, but also in his punishment of sin; and Israel remains too sinful to receive the glory promised. Such was the conviction which had cast its shadow over the hopes of the earlier prophets, and darkened the minds of the later apocalyptists, until their visions of the end often became pictures of gloom and terror for man, even more than of victory for God. For the pious and conscientious Jew there seemed to be no way out of the impasse. But the Christian declared confidently that the way out had been found; God had opened it himself. God has sent the Messiah Jesus both to declare his free forgiveness to all who receive him and also to give his own life as an accepted offering for the sins of all. Henceforth all without exception who would become loyal followers of this gracious Messiah, might for ever lay aside their fears of the last day, and wait in eager hope for his appearance in triumphant glory to bring this world to an end and complete their redemption.
There is no doubt of the intense reality of this gospel of forgiveness from the very beginning of the Church=s life. In the primitive stories which are preserved for us in the earlier chapters of Acts we find the apostles, directly after Pentecost, offering free forgiveness to the very men who shared responsibility for the shameful death of Jesus. From any point of view it is a startling attitude in the followers of a rejected and condemned claimant to Messiahship. But we must notice what a change in the conception of the Messiah=s office is involved.
(a) The Messiah of popular expectation was a conquering hero of David’s line. The “Zealots” expected him to be a nationalist Mahdi, and their fanatical hatred of Rome had caused more than one serious disturbance. The Zealots of course were extremists; but they were extremists only because they laid extreme emphasis on one aspect of the general Messianic expectation. The notion of a Messiah whose primary aim was forgiveness, and who put aside all methods of political agitation as a temptation of the devil, was unheard of. [Of course, if the term “Messiah” is understood to include the purely supernatural figure who fills the Messianic role in some apocalypses, the question of temptation to political agitation cannot arise in the case of such a Messiah.] And, once accepted, it changed the central idea of that deliverance from enemies in which Jehovah’s salvation was to consist. There was no longer any question of a deliverance from earthly enemies which was to issue in a kingdom of earthly prosperity for God’s chosen. The more spiritual Judaism, which had always felt that sin was the real enemy from which deliverance was needed, was completely vindicated in a quite unlooked for way.
(b) But a further and more important result follows. In the theology of the Jew forgiveness of sin was God’s prerogative alone, and belief in its exercise was always more of a pious hope in God’s mercy than an assured conviction of pardon actually bestowed. Jesus had gravely offended the orthodox by authoritatively and unconditionally absolving the sinner with the simple pronouncement, “Thy sins are forgiven”; [See Mark 2:5 sqq., Luke 7:48 sq. Critics question whether Jesus ever made such a claim. But, if he did not, the unquestionable belief of the primitive Church seems difficult to account for.] and his disciples regarded themselves as commissioned to do the same, to declare God’s free and absolute forgiveness to all who believed in the name of Jesus. But this very claim in itself set Jesus above prophet, priest, the Mosaic Law, and even Messiahship as it had been generally understood. As the mediator of a new and absolute forgiveness from God, Jesus was set forth as the possessor of a strictly divine authority. It was, we may reasonably conjecture, as forgiver of sin, and saviour from the wrath which was its penalty, that Jesus first stood forth in Jewish eyes as a divine person. Thus it was through the realization of atonement that Jewish Christians felt their way towards a full doctrine of the incarnation. Non-Christian Jews might think of the Messiah as a judge administering God’s law, perhaps not without mercy. But God alone, the author of the law, could absolutely forgive.
3. ST. PAUL’S DOCTRINE OF CHRIST’S DIVINITY
The sequence of thought which, as we suppose, led the Jewish mind towards recognizing the Godhead of the Messiah Jesus becomes apparent in St. Paul. St. Paul’s whole Christology rests upon the fundamental conviction that in the earthly life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God had accomplished a supreme act of grace for the deliverance of men from the otherwise inevitable consequences of their transgressions of his law. “Grace” to St. Paul meant primarily the free love of God coming forth and manifesting itself in action towards men; and Jesus Christ was, as it were, its personification. He was therefore emphatically not a miraculously righteous and holy man who by his life and death had succeeded in propitiating an outraged and wrathful deity. Nor was he just the perfect human saint whose goodness mirrored in human nature the eternal and infinite love of God. This latter thought, which belongs to a later Christianity, may well contain truth, but it is certainly not Pauline. St. Paul’s thought about the atonement is as far from that of Abelard as it is from that of Anselm. It is characteristically expressed in language which presents the life of Jesus as the act of the living God working mightily in love for the deliverance of his creation from bondage to sin and death. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” [2 Cor. 5:19.] “In this God commendeth his love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” [Rom. 5:8.] And this thought of the atonement, which begins by identifying what Jesus himself did, and not merely what was revealed in Jesus, with what God did to redeem mankind, ends inevitably in a doctrine of the incarnation. For the person who is Jesus Christ, being in some sense distinct from God the Father, comes nevertheless to be identified with one in and through whom the one God has always acted and will always act towards his people and his world. The Christ by whom we are forgiven and justified is the same person who will appear in glory to exercise God’s final judgement. Therein lies the assurance of perfect salvation. And it is the same person again who was the spiritual rock from which the Israelites drank in the wilderness when God delivered them from the Egyptian bondage and led them towards the promised land. [1 Cor. 10:4.] And, if by Christ’s work Christians are created anew through forgiveness and made inheritors of the new world, the original creation also must have been formed through the agency of the same person in whom now its final purpose is revealed and is being fulfilled; for, as Irenaeus says, “It is the same hand through which God creates and completes.” [Adv. Haer., V. 16, 1.] So, St. Paul writes, “To us there is one God the Father of whom are all things, and we unto him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him.” [1 Cor. 8:6.]
The remarkable sequence of statements in the first chapter of Colossians makes explicit the order of St. Paul’s Christological thought as we have been trying to expound it. First, Jesus Christ is “the Son of God’s love”, [Col. 1:13. It makes little difference if we take the words to mean primarily “the Son who is the object of his love”, υίος αγαπητός. St. Paul probably chose an ambiguous expression to convey both ideas.] i.e., the Son who is the living personal expression of God’s love, and actuality of his grace. Secondly, it is he “in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins”; by this fact his sonship is revealed. Thirdly, he is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation ... all things have been created through him and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist” or cohere. These metaphysical affirmations about the relation of Christ to the universe are inevitable inferences from the truths previously stated, which are the immediate content of the Christian experience or revelation; and in the following verse St. Paul passes on at once to assert that by his resurrection Christ becomes the “firstborn” of the new creation as he was also of the old. The fundamental thought is that, when the distinction is made between God as active originating creator and man and the world as creatures, Christ must appear on the divine side of the dividing line. [Cf. Heb. 3:3.] And this truth was first revealed in the fact that Jesus Christ is himself the forgiver, justifier, and redeemer of men, who wholly in obedience to the Father’s love, and yet wholly of his own love also, gave himself up for them.
And so we come to that difficult passage which has the most direct bearing of all upon St. Paul’s doctrine of the incarnation:
Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus (or, more probably, show towards one another that same mind which is yours in Christ Jesus), who, being originally in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and, being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross: wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow of beings in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. [Phil. 2:5–11. The word ευρεθεις (“being found”) in 5:8 is additional evidence against the view that the whole passage contains no reference to any pre-existence of Christ.]
St. Paul here affirms that Christ Jesus was originally, that is before he was born on earth, “in the form of God”. The word μορφή does not mean “form” in the sense of an “appearance” which may be superficial or illusory (the word for that is σχημα), but “form” in the sense of “essential shape or character”. The Christ therefore was from the beginning a divine person. But, St. Paul goes on, he did not treat equality with God as a αρπαγμός. This word properly means “something snatched”, “spoil” or “booty”; and its use here only becomes intelligible when we perceive that St. Paul is drawing as complete a contrast as he can between the action of Christ, the second Adam who redeems mankind, and that of the first Adam, who caused its fall.1 Adam, being originally in the form of man, counted it a prize or booty “to be as God, knowing good and evil”, and, in snatching at the prize, he fell, and dragged mankind down with him. Christ, on the contrary, being originally in the form of God, did the exact opposite; he denuded and humbled himself to the uttermost, and being therefore exalted, he raises mankind to life with God. The central thought is an elaboration of that expressed in the words, “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.”2 In both passages we trace the same underlying conviction that by his earthly life and death Christ Jesus expressed not only the Father=s love and grace towards man, but also and equally his own, and this is the reason why his pre-existent divinity must be asserted. “The name which is above every name”, interpreted by the quotation from Isaiah3 which follows, must be Adonai (translated χύριος), which in the Old Testament is the title of Jehovah as the covenant God. “The name of God” in the Old Testament commonly stands for the glorious character and power of God as manifested to men by his mighty acts.
1I take this illuminating suggestion from Dr. Rawlinson’s The New Testament Doctrine of the Christ, p. 134. But I cannot agree with him that St. Paul identifies Christ as the second Adam with “a heavenly man” who existed from the beginning. The teaching found in 1 Cor. 15 does not seem to me to support this idea at all. The new manhood, in which Christ is there spoken of as ο έσχατος or ο δεύτερος Αδαμ, only begins with the resurrection or, possibly, with the birth of Jesus. St. Paul’s whole point is that it comes after the manhood of the first Adam, i.e., after in time. Gore (The Holy Spirit and The Church, p. 279) could “find no trace of the pre-existing Man in the New Testament”.
22 Cor. 8:9.
In this whole passage St. Paul is not writing in the precise and carefully chosen phrases of scientific or metaphysical theology. He is preaching an ethical sermon with the help of a more or less pictorial contrast between Adam and Christ. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that he believes the contrast to be profoundly true. And if we draw out, with the help of a term which subsequent orthodoxy made definite, the theological doctrine which St. Paul’s language seems to imply, we may interpret his meaning thus: whereas before his self-humiliation Christ had the nature of Godhead, in the exaltation which followed the humiliation he received also the name of Godhead, so that all may worship him as they worship the Father. That St. Paul did definitely, if one may be allowed the expression, rank Jesus with God, is abundantly clear from evidence which extends all through his epistles. In at least one other passage, besides that just quoted, he applied to Christ Old Testament language which in its original context was used of Jehovah.1 But not less striking is the way in which in almost all his epistles, from the earliest onwards, he mentions God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ together as the source of grace and peace, and in one such prayer he actually puts first the name of Christ.2
1Rom. 10:13; Joel 2:32.
22 Thess. 2:16, cf. 1 Thess. 3:11. In both passages the two names of God the Father and the Lord Jesus govern a verb in the singular.
Such language is indeed startling on the lips of a Jewish monotheist. No doubt it could never have been used at all so soon after the death of Jesus, if Christians had not remembered words of his own, such as are recorded in the synoptists as well as in St. John, which imply his unique relation to the Father. But St. Paul does not expressly appeal to any words of Jesus in order to justify his faith and doctrine as to his divinity; and in any case it must have been the total impression and experience of the personality of Jesus rather than any particular sayings, which settled such a faith and doctrine in the minds of the apostles and evangelists. If then we may translate into more modern terms the inner logic of the process which impelled the Jewish mind, against rooted presuppositions of its theology, towards the doctrines of Christ’s Godhead and of the incarnation, we may perhaps express it thus without serious misrepresentation. The expected Christ of Jewish tradition was to vindicate the majesty of God’s law as a divinely appointed sovereign and judge, delivering the righteous and punishing sinners. Christ Jesus, on the other hand, had first and foremost brought to earth the gospel of God’s love and free forgiveness towards all men. Now God, the absolute sovereign, might in principle vindicate the majesty of his law by appointing and empowering a representative to act vicariously in his behalf. But in the nature of things forgiving love can only be effectively revealed in person, not by proxy. Forgiveness on the lips of a mere representative or messenger can never really carry conviction. Because the message of love can only be conveyed in person, therefore Jesus Christ must be personally God; for he has conveyed it, and shown unmistakably in so doing that the divine love, which is his gospel, is not only the Father’s but also his own.1 Once the message has been conveyed thus in person, it becomes the task of apostolic men to proclaim it. That which God in Christ has done and revealed is the substance of the kerygma with which St. Paul, and others with him and after him, are entrusted as ambassadors for Christ. But the gospel itself loses its essential content, if Christ is no more than an ambassador for God. The crucifixion does not bring the message of a forgiving love which suffers only by proxy. If it be true that Jesus suffered vicariously for men, still he did not suffer vicariously for God. The person who suffered in Jesus and as Jesus was the eternal Son of God’s love.
1As Dr. J. O. F. Murray has pointed out (Jesus according S. John, p. 261), it is a striking fact that in the Fourth Gospel Jesus speaks only once directly of his own love to the Father, and that in immediate reference to the Crucifixion. He goes to Gethsemane with the words on his lips “That the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14:31). To St. John therefore the Cross is the expression, not even only of God’s love to man, and certainly not of man=s love to God, but of the love which is eternal within the Godhead.
True, the wrath of God remained in St. Paul’s mind a terrible reality, working itself out in the misery and destruction which must inevitably by the operation of God’s laws fall on the heads of those who disobey them, and finally on those who reject the gospel. But to St. Paul Jesus Christ had once for all revealed that the personal attitude of God to sinful men is not the wrath of outraged majesty, but the love which seeks at all costs to save them from the wrath which they are drawing down upon themselves – and to him “at all costs” meant the cross of God’s Son.1
1See Dodd’s note on Rom. 1:18 in his edition of that epistle (Moffatt Commentaries).
4. JESUS AS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE TRUE ISRAEL
There is, however, another and quite different line of Christological thought about Jesus, also apparently having its starting point in Judaism, which must not be neglected. From the beginning the Christian community regarded itself as the true Israel, the people of God which inherited the promises made to Israel under the old covenant. Now Dr. Rawlinson has pointed out1 that
of the terms and titles which in Biblical literature are bestowed upon the Messiah all or most are as capable of being applied to the Church (whether Jewish or Christian) as they are of being applied to the Christ who is Lord of the Church.
1Op. cit., pp. 20 sq.
Dr. Rawlinson proceeds to illustrate the truth of this statement in respect of the titles, “Christ”, “Prophet”, “Priest”, “King”, “Son of God”, “Son of Man”, “Servant of God”; and he concludes as follows:
The Messiah or the Christ, according to each of these several conceptions of him, is the fulfiller of the hope, or the realization of some aspect of the ideal, of the elect nation, the people of God. We might be tempted to say that the Messiah fulfills Israel’s hope through the actualization of Israel’s ideal.
It was the common belief of post-exilic Judaism that it was the sin of the people which delayed the fulfillment of God’s promises. The Messianic feast was postponed, because “those who were bidden were not worthy”. And many scholars have been tracing and emphasizing the thought in the New Testament that the complete apostasy of the old Israel, manifested in the rejection of Jesus, left Jesus himself the Messiah as the sole representative of the true Israel of God, who because in his perfect righteousness he represents Israel as God=s beloved Son and Servant enables God’s promises to be fulfilled to the Christian Israel which owns him as its head. Such is the thought which seems to underlie the very primitive title παις θεου (servant or child of God) applied to Jesus in the early chapters of Acts, and also perhaps the description of Jesus as simply ο δίχαιος in St. James.1 It is also suggested in the whole story of St. Mark’s Gospel, possibly in its use of the title Son of Man,2 and certainly in its emphasis on the increasing isolation of Jesus, as first the religious authorities, then the multitudes, and finally his own disciples turn against him or forsake. In St. Paul again some sort of identity between Christ and the spiritual or redeemed Israel is presupposed by the great antithesis between Christ and Adam in Romans.3 No doubt the idea in St. Paul’s mind is different from that suggested by the title ο δίχαιος. He regards Christ as the representative and head of the redeemed society of his followers rather than as the one perfectly righteous individual who by fulfilling the law had obtained the promises on behalf of all God’s people. This latter way of speaking attached too high a value to legal righteousness to be congenial to St. Paul. Nevertheless the philosophy of history sketched in Romans,4 which shows how God=s selection of chosen vessels successively narrowed itself through the disloyalty of the chosen people until it rested on the one individual Jesus Christ, by whom all alike, having been previously rejected for sin, were now redeemed through faith, is thoroughly in accord with St. Mark’s picture of Jesus as the completely isolated Messiah. And, if St. Paul’s great conception of the Christian society as “in Christ” was mainly based on the new spiritual experience of Christians, he was at least helped to express it by the suggestions of the Old Testament and later Jewish thought, that the individual Christ might be regarded as the true representative of the Christ-nation, or, conversely, that the nation might be personified in the individual figure of the Christ. Behind all such ideas of course there lies the ancient notion of social solidarity, according to which the eponymous ancestor or hero is identified with the nation, tribe, or family called by his name.
1v. 16; cf. also 1 John 2:1 2See Dan. 7:14, 18. 3C.V., where see Dodd’s notes.
4Admirably expounded by Dodd. op. cit. See especially pp. 183–7.
5. THE ORIGIN OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE TWO NATURES IN CHRIST
We have traced two different and, in a measure, opposite lines of thought by which the Jewish-Christian mind sought to give expression to the impression which the work and life of Jesus had made upon it. On the one hand, Jesus was, not merely the instrument, but in the fullest sense the personal agent, of God’s great act of love for the forgiveness and redemption of man. This was the thought which led to the doctrine of his pre-existent deity. On the other hand, Jesus was the sole perfect representative of human righteousness and obedience to God’s will, and, having been raised from death and exalted by God, he has become the head of the new Israel, which after his example and “in him” serves God in filial obedience and inherits the promises. Considering these two lines of thought together both in their opposition and in their unity, we are confronted at once by the theological problem which a few centuries later the Church defined by the orthodox dogma of two natures in one person. However that problem is to be solved, and whether or no it is capable of any full solution in this world, it begins to take shape the moment Christian faith becomes distinctly conscious of itself.
Chapter X – Gentile Influences and
St. Paul’s “Christ-Mysticism”
No doubt it seems strange at first sight that St. Paul, “the apostle of the Gentiles”, native of Tarsus, and ready to become all things to all men if haply he might save some, should in his letters to Gentile Churches have expressed his thought for the most part in a characteristically Jewish way.
1. ST. PAUL NOT A HELLENIZER
It is not surprising that critics of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries should have endeavoured to prove that his teaching about the person of Christ was really a Hellenization of an originally Hebraic gospel. But in the judgement of the best modern scholars that attempt has broken down. For instance, Bousset’s elaborately defended theory that the title χύριος or Lord, as applied to Jesus, is of Gentile, not Jewish, Origin comes to shipwreck on the Christian watchword “Marana tha” used in Aramaic by St. Paul writing to Greeks.1
11 Cor. 16:22. The watchword is a prayer meaning “Our Lord, come”, a prayer repeated in the closing words of the New Testament. The origin of the title Marana, our Lord, in its application to Jesus is probably to be found in the Christian use of the Messianic Psalm 110:1, quoted by Jesus himself in Mark 12:36. It does not of itself imply essential Godhead, nor was Psalm 110 understood by the Rabbi’s to refer to the Messiah as a divine person; but the prayer, “Marana tha”, could only have been uttered by men who felt a devotion to the exalted Christ which was indistinguishable from worship. (On this whole subject, see Rawlinson, The New Testament Doctrine of the Christ, Appended Note I.) To this day in the Apostles’ Creed “our Lord” remains as the title of personal devotion given to Jesus by his followers. The title “Christ” connotes essentially a God-appointed office. Jesus is the Christ, the fulfiller of God’s promises to his people, the king who is to reign over the earth. But he is our Lord, i.e., the object of the personal, freely given, loyalty and devotion of Christians. In acknowledging the risen Jesus as both God’s Messiah and their own Maran, the first Christians were beginning to discern, though not yet actually asserting, his full Godhead. (Sec Acts 2:36.)
The radical Hebraism, however, of St. Paul’s theology, both in content and manner of expression, becomes more intelligible when we remember that every Jewish community in the Gentile world had attached to it a number of Gentiles who followed the Jewish religion as closely as they could without being circumcised and becoming proselytes. These Gentile adherents were known as “God-fearers” (οι σεβόμενοι τον θεόν), and it was from them that the majority of the first Gentile converts to Christianity were made. The Septuagint was the Bible of the early Gentile Churches, and many of their members had been already familiar with it when they first heard the gospel.
2. ST. PAUL’S ENCOUNTERS WITH GENTILE MISCONCEPTIONS
Nevertheless, it is clear both from Acts and 1 Thessalonians (where St. Paul reminds his readers that they had now turned from idols to serve the living God), that some converts came into the Church direct from heathenism. And there is plenty of evidence in the Epistles that some of St. Paul’s teaching was specially directed to those whose heathen misconceptions hindered their understanding of Christianity.
As we have already noticed, the central characteristic of the religious philosophies of the Greco-Roman world was their tendency to conceive the ultimate Godhead, not as a power personally active in human affairs and historical events, but rather as the unchanging unity and ground of being behind phenomena. This fundamental difference in the conception of the Godhead has throughout the Church’s history caused a tension in Christian theology between Hellenic and Hebraic elements, which constantly becomes apparent in the great controversies of the faith and remains with us today. It is indeed a tension between opposite truths which constitutes the central problem of Christian metaphysics. In St. Paul’s time, however, the presuppositions of the Hellenic mind had certain consequences in Gentile religion which were definitely incompatible with the faith of the gospel. We must now particularize some of these consequences, and show how St. Paul strove to meet them.
(1) The Gentile conception of Godhead was readily compatible with polytheism. For the divine supra-sensible unity was partly veiled and partly revealed or immanent in all manner of phenomena; and it was therefore easy for the mind to present to itself the multitudinous deities of the pantheon as quasi-phenomenal symbols of, or emanations from, the ultimate Godhead. Thus particular religious societies might devote themselves to the cult of a particular deity, without in any way claiming exclusive or catholic authority for that cult or its object. A deity so worshipped would be called the Lord (χύριος) of his worshippers. And the terms “god” and “lord” in such connections came to be very cheaply used. Different gods could be readily identified with one another, when convenient, and new deities, or deities with new names, easily admitted on a level with the rest. When the Athenians heard that St. Paul was preaching about Jesus and Anastasis, they supposed he was initiating people into the worship of two new minor gods, male and female, to which they were very ready to give a welcome.1 Against all such empty toleration the Jew set his doctrine of the jealousy of Jehovah. And St. Paul the Christian has to remind his Corinthian converts that “though there be that are called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as there are gods many and lords many, yet to us there is one God the Father, of whom are all things and we unto him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and we through him”.2
1See Acts 17:18. 21 Cor. 8:5 sq.
(2) A further consequence of Hellenism in religion was that immortality became the chief characteristic, or differentia, of deity. From an early period Greek literature had spoken of the gods as the immortals; and to popular thought the only definite feature of the ultimate Godhead, which is the ground of being, is that it must abide for ever, while phenomena change and pass. Thus, while in Judaism the fundamental contrast between God and man represented God as holy and man as sinful, the corresponding contrast in Hellenism lay rather between divine immortality or eternity and the mortality or transiency of men. But there was a widespread belief in the pagan world that, although the body was wholly subject to death, there was a higher element in man’s being which at least had the capacity of rising to a diviner level. In St. Paul’s time it was the chief aim of personal religion among the pagans to give man such communion with deity as would ensure the immortality of his soul or spirit. It is evident that Gentiles, for whom the attraction of Christianity lay in the surer or more substantial hope of immortality which it offered, would be likely to grasp eagerly, and also seriously to misunderstand, St. Paul’s gospel of the new and heavenly life which was the gift of God in Christ Jesus.
Some of the Thessalonians, carried off their feet by the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection and the approaching end of the world, seem to have taken St. Paul’s teaching to mean that henceforth Christians would not be subject to physical death, and their whole faith was shaken when some of their number died. St. Paul reminds them that they are not worshippers merely of some divine being, such as those in pagan myths, who had died and risen again, but followers of a historical man who had actually endured physical death in order to be exalted. That is the ground of their true hope. “For, if we believe that Jesus (not Christ) died and rose again, even so them that are fallen asleep in (lit. through) Jesus shall God bring with him.” 1
11 Thess. 4:14. The Epistle is clearly addressed in the main to men who had been converted straight from paganism to Christianity. St. Paul’s eschatological teaching would have been much more likely “to go to the heads” of such men than of those who by close contact with. Judaism had already been made familiar with Jewish expectations about the end of the age. That something of this kind had happened is clear from other indications in 1 and 2 Thess.
At Corinth, where St. Paul had made a much longer stay than at Thessalonica, the misunderstanding seems to have been of a much less elementary sort. Kirsopp Lake1 must surely be right in conjecturing that some, if not all, of those Corinthians who denied or questioned the resurrection of the dead, were nevertheless inclined to rest upon some mystical doctrine of an immortality secured to the Christian soul here and now by participation in the sacraments. Such a belief would have been thoroughly in line with the teaching of pagan mystery religions. One main point then in St. Paul’s celebrated illustration of the seed2 is to bring home to these semi-pagan believers that that which is truly spiritual must come after that which is natural. The Christian hope is for a future transmutation of the physical body in the completed triumph of Christ. Meanwhile Christians must be content to bear the image of the earthly and natural, even to the grave if need be, and to persevere in the moral conflict against its tendency to sin. They must not rest in the security of an immortality already possessed, as though the fight were over. For the sting of death is sin, and we must conquer sin before we can be secure from death. Death is the last enemy that shall be destroyed. Its destruction marks the final triumph of the last Adam who, through death, has become life-giving spirit.
1Earlier Epistles of St. Paul, pp. 215 sqq.
21 Cor. 15:35–58.
(3) A third consequence of the Hellenic conception of divine being was the belief that salvation or union with God is attainable by man through some sort of initiation, combined with an ascetic discipline, whereby the human spirit wins a mystic vision of supersensible realities, and in this way detaches itself from dependence on the body. It is an error derived from this source which St. Paul appears to be combating in Colossians, although the Colossian heresy seems also to have contacts with a kind of Judaism which had come under Gentile influence. St. Paul meets it by insisting that the one mystery of God, now manifest in the Church, is Christ himself, whom St. Paul proclaims “admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom that he may present every man perfect (or fully initiated) in Christ”. St. Paul means that there is behind the gospel no esoteric way of salvation which belongs only to the specially enlightened few.1 The Epistle brings home the same essential lesson in another way by reiterating that really Christian life consists in loyal membership of, and labour for, the whole Church which is Christ’s body, and not in the private enjoyment of wonderful experiences attained through a special ascetic discipline. Such, for example, must be the main point of the obscure passage in the second chapter, which warns the Colossians against the man “who dwells in the things that he has seen (i.e., in mystic visions), and holds not fast the head, from whom all the body increases with the increase of God”.2 St. Paul’s whole warning against false mysticism in this Epistle may be summed up in Herrmann=s words, “When the mystic has found God, he has left Christ behind.”3
1See Col. 1:25–9.
2Col 2:16–23. It makes no difference to the meaning if in v. 18, St. Paul really wrote (according to another reading) “dwells in the things that he has not seen”, i.e., with his bodily eyes.
3Communion of the Christian with God, p. 30.
3. ST. PAUL’S “CHRIST-MYSTICISM”
In the foregoing cases we have traced the characteristic influences of Gentile religion mainly in the misunderstandings and heresies which St. Paul had to meet rather than in any teaching of his own. But what of the theology which St. Paul derived from his own spiritual experience? Can we not discern leanings towards Gentile mysticism in his thought of his own union with the risen Christ?
St. Paul of course was himself a mystic. But his “Christ-mysticism”, as it has been called, has peculiar features which exhibit it as the mysticism of a Hebrew Christian, whose mind and spirit never lost contact with the national religion which had been their preparation for the gospel. In nothing is that truth more evident than in St. Paul’s insistence that Christian life and faith consist in the hearing and obeying of a divine message or word of God rather than in the seeing of any spiritual vision. “The hearing of faith” and “the obedience of faith” are characteristic phrases of his, and the whole content of the Christian revelation is summed up for him as a ευαγγέλιον or χήρυγμα, tidings which he is commissioned to proclaim. This emphasis on the heard and spoken word is certainly connected with the fact that in St. Paul’s mind the whole truth of Christianity is bound up with the occurrence of certain historical and quasi-historical events which are in the profoundest sense acts of the living God, viz., the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and his future appearance in glory at the end of the world. The mystic who penetrates to the direct vision, necessarily ineffable, of eternal reality can have no need of a revelation mediated by particular historical events. For, to put the same point in other words, his whole religion is based on the revelation, or unveiling, to the inward eye of the one divine reality which endures unchanging behind all things. But to St. Paul the gospel is not a mere revelation, in this strict sense, at all. It is not primarily an unveiling of the eternal unseen, but tidings of what God in Christ has done, is doing, and will do. Thus for St. Paul, God’s self-revelation is necessarily mediated by historical events; for the revelation is itself in the first instance the divine act by which Christ came to die on the cross and rise again for men. And St. Paul still looks forward to the last great act of the drama of redemption, when “the (natural) creation itself shall also be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God”. And St. Paul goes on to speak of Christians, who in the gift of the Spirit have the first-fruits of the redeemed life, as groaning within themselves as they wait and long for that full and final sonship which will come to them with the redemption of the body. On this hope, he says, rests the salvation which they have already received. The final end of redemption is hoped for and not seen; for what is seen is present, and can no longer be the object of hope. But the Christian, hoping for what he does not see, waits for it with stedfast endurance.1
1Rom. 8:21–6, paraphrased.
It is therefore quite untrue to say that St. Paul’s vivid consciousness of the spiritual presence of the exalted Christ makes him in the last resort indifferent to the historical events connected with Jesus of Nazareth. This suggestion is due to the attempt to classify St. Paul’s mysticism as belonging to a type from which in fact it is alien. In St. Paul’s thought redemption consists in a great series of divine acts, all equally essential to its consummation. In the preparatory stage we have the call of Abraham and the giving of the law through Moses. In redemption proper the first act is the life and death of Jesus followed by his resurrection and ascension. These are finished and belong to the past. They have now become the message or kerygma which Christians must hear and accept through faith. In the present is the communion of the Holy Spirit wherein Christians themselves have been spiritually raised to a new and heavenly life, are being united to their living Lord, and are bringing men of all nations into their fellowship. In the future is the final consummation when Christ will appear again in manifest glory, all his enemies will be destroyed, and the whole creation will be transfigured and transformed. Each of these stages is essential to the divine plan of redemption, and the realization of each depends on a divine act. Final salvation cannot be attained by any until the final day has come for all.
It is true that St. Paul is not much concerned to go back and trace again in detail the life of Jesus which is over. Others can tell that story. It is enough for him to be sure that he who was in the form of God did take upon him the form of a servant for the redemption of mankind. The present reality for him is the guiding presence of the living and exalted Christ. And he does therefore tend to find in the historic life of Jesus only the veiling of that divine glory which was first revealed through the resurrection. But it is equally true that St. Paul does not apprehend the exalted Christ chiefly through spiritual vision, although he is sure that once at least he has seen him. It is something much more like spiritual audition on which St. Paul normally relies. Even when, as he believed, he was “caught up into paradise”, he does not say that he saw things eternal and ineffable, but only that “he heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter”1 And the antithesis is not unimportant. For what St. Paul finds in his present communion with Christ is not the vision of God or of all things in God which would be the final satisfaction of his spiritual longing. What he finds again and again is the word of comfort, admonition and guidance for himself and for others on their earthly pilgrimage. It is no accident that all the visions described in the New Testament, outside the Apocalypse, are primarily directive visions, where what is heard is definitely more important than what is seen.2 This characteristic expresses their nature and function. They are not regarded primarily as privileges or marks of attainment granted to those who have reached a special degree of spiritual insight, but rather as messages to guide the conduct of the recipient and very often to be communicated to others. It is a fundamental thought in the New Testament that he who hears and obeys a divine message received through another may be on a spiritual equality with him to whom the message came. “He that receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet=s reward.”3 For, as St. Paul puts it, it is the edifying of the whole body through the diverse gifts of individuals that constitutes the divine purpose, and those who have only the humbler gifts are not less members of the body. And all this emphasis on hearing rather than seeing is connected in St. Paul’s theology with the thought that all Christians and the whole Christian body are being gradually led onward and upward through toil and struggle and a darkness which has only begun to break, towards a glory not yet seen which remains to be revealed in the last great act of God. “Now I see in a mirror darkly, but then face to face.”4 “The night is far spent”,5 but it is not yet gone. Meanwhile the spiritual ear can hear the Christ more plainly than the eye can see. Communion is still at best indirect. “Brethren, I count not myself yet to have apprehended ... I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”6 All the religious associations which have formed themselves about the words “call” and “calling” have their historical origin in the characteristically Jewish conviction that in this world God communicates with man through the hearing of a summons rather than through sight.
12 Cor. 12:4. In any case St. Paul regards this experience as a special and abnormal privilege.
2The vision of St. Stephen at his death (Acts 7:55) is not an exception which disproves the rule.
3Matt. 10:41. 41Cor 13:12.
5Rom. 13:12. 6Phil. 3:13 sqq.
I am not forgetting the tremendous language which St. Paul also uses about his personal union with the risen Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ,” he writes, “yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me.”1 But here surely St. Paul is thinking, not so much of his own conscious communion or communication with his Lord, as of the Lord’s activity through him. St. Paul, indeed, cannot speak of his own absolute union with Christ in this way, without remembering at once that there is still something lacking, an open vision still withheld. And so immediately after the words quoted he adds, “And that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith”, not sight. The great phrase “to be in Christ” means to St. Paul not primarily what we call “a mystical experience”, but rather active membership in that new-created manhood, the manhood of the new age, of which Christ is the head, but which cannot attain to the full glory of its communion until the body also is redeemed.
First, the Christ veiling his glory in the form of a servant crucified for men: next, the word of atonement and forgiveness, and Christ speaking in the half-darkness to the spiritual ears of believers whom he guides: finally, the day broken, and the Christ seen face to face in a wholly transfigured and glorious world. Such are the essential stages of salvation through Christ in the theology of St. Paul. We shall never understand either St. Paul’s mysticism or his doctrine of the incarnation, until we grasp the truth that to him all of these stages, and their sequence upon one another, are equally essential to God’s plan.
Chapter XI – The Christology of St John
In attempting to interpret the theology of the Gospel and First Epistle of St. John we are confronted at once by difficulties due to the uncertainty of their authorship. It is impossible to disregard the question of authorship altogether, since our interpretation of the author’s essential meaning must be very different from the traditional interpretation, if we suppose him to have been a Christian mystic or visionary of the early second century to whom the historical facts, as such, of the life of Jesus were of no essential importance. On the other hand, a critical examination of the problem of authorship would be obviously out of place in a work such as the present. I must therefore content myself with stating dogmatically a broad hypothesis as to the authorship of these books, which seems to me to be required in order to make their teaching intelligible.
1. THE DOUBLE AIM OF ST. JOHN’S TEACHING
We will suppose that the author, whether he was John the son of Zebedee or not, was at the time he wrote one of the last survivors, perhaps actually the last, of those who had seen Jesus in the flesh. This hypothesis will give us a key to the purpose with which the books were written, and in the light of which their theology is to be understood.
(1) At the time St. John wrote there was, we will first assume, much questioning among the less philosophical and more literal minded Christians about the second coming of Christ. Some were relying upon a supposed promise of Jesus himself that he would return in glory before the whole generation of those to whom he spoke had passed away. St. John himself did not believe that this promise was ever made, at any rate with the meaning it was supposed to bear, nor did he, in all probability, believe that the second coming would ever take place in the literal way in which the imagination of these simple minded Christians depicted it. He knows therefore that his own approaching death will bring a sore trial to their faith. He is afraid that many will be caused to stumble when he himself passes away and the world still goes on. Accordingly he desires, before he departs, to set forth a permanent record of Christ=s life and teaching, which will show once for all that the eternal truth revealed in him does not depend on any second coming to bring the world to an end before a stated period of time has elapsed. He wants to make it clear that the popular belief is based on a misunderstanding of the whole revelation which Jesus brought. But he knows also that he will not achieve his aim of saving men’s faith by direct and controversial denials which would in fact do more harm than good. A new constructive work is needed which will help those whose faith is in danger to gain a deeper insight into the truth that is in Jesus.
(2) Secondly, we must suppose, there is another danger of a quite different kind threatening the faith of other Christians. The false esoteric mysticism, which St. Paul began to combat in Colossians, has by this time assumed a more definite shape and become a formidable enemy of the gospel. It has already passed into the gnosticism with which orthodoxy was in conflict all through the second century. The adherents of this heresy did not believe in any literal “second coming”; but neither did they believe that at the first coming the Son of God had really been incarnate or actually suffered in human flesh. They seem to have imagined that some divine spirit or emanation from the deity had come upon the man Jesus at his baptism and left him before the passion. But really what happened exactly in the case of Jesus or any other historical person did not essentially matter to them. For the whole phenomenal and material world was in their view either evil or unreal. In so far as it was real at all, its existence could not be due directly to the creative act of God, but was to be accounted for by an elaborate theory of divine emanations, in which the pure spirituality of the divine being was gradually debased until at last matter could be formed. According to this doctrine it was unthinkable that God should reveal himself in the flesh, still more that he should suffer in it. Salvation and immortality for man were found in the reascent of the spirit that was in man towards the pure Spirit which was properly divine. This ascent could only be achieved by progressive separation of the spirit from the flesh; and the proof of the reality of this separation was found in the mystical vision or knowledge, attained through ascetic discipline, in which the spirit appeared to function independently of the body. According to gnosticism, the life of Christ might have been some mysterious theophany, or else Jesus might have been the greatest of all human mystics or gnostics, but there could have been no incarnation of God. Such a doctrine, St. John well knew, though it avoided all the crudity of eschatological beliefs derived from Judaism and made a strong appeal to the more refined souls in the Christian community, was nevertheless more fundamentally opposed to the Christian gospel of redemption than any expectation of a sudden rending of the heavens at the Lord’s return.
St. John therefore had to contend both with the popular Hebraic adventism which relied upon supposed predictions of Jesus, and with the mystical Hellenic gnosticism which disparaged history altogether. His aim was to use both his historical knowledge and the fruits of his spiritual meditation in order to present a witness which would show Jesus to be the full and final revelation in the flesh of God=s eternal love and truth. Against the adventists he emphasizes the finality of the revelation which has already been given. There is no need to look anxiously for any future event which will reveal the Christ in any glory different from that already consummated through his crucifixion. The event of his first coming in the flesh has already revealed the full eternal meaning of judgement and of resurrection. The Holy Spirit’s work is to interpret that revelation to Christians and to unite them with the living Christ who was incarnate, rather than to pin their faith to something which has not yet happened. On the other hand, against the gnostics St. John would bring out clearly the vital fact that the full and final revelation of God was in the flesh. The truly spiritual knowledge of God therefore does not consist in any purely inward or mystical experience in which the spirit of man is separated from his body; and for the same reason it is entirely inseparable from love manifested in simple external charity towards the brethren. Belief and conduct, theory and practice, to St. John are one. The truth itself is something which must be outwardly done in order to be inwardly known.
We will now examine more closely these two aspects of St. John’s teaching in order to see what is the essential doctrine of Christ’s person which lies behind them. It will help us at each point to mark the characteristic difference between St. John’s presentation of Christian truth and St. Paul’s.
2. THE SECOND ADVENT IN ST. JOHN’S CHRISTOLOGY
St. Paul’s mind clearly retains the Hebraic cosmology of two worlds or ages, the present world of sin and struggle and the future world of righteousness, peace and communion with God; this world is to be ended and the next world brought in by a catastrophic act of God which will include the reappearance of Jesus in glory, a universal judgement, and the transformation of the whole of material nature. Nevertheless, even to St. Paul the coming of Christ has, as it were, confused the temporal boundary between this world and the next. His cross and resurrection have enabled the spirit of the Christian to attain already by faith to the next world, of which the risen manhood of Christ is itself the first fruits. Spiritually the Christian has already risen from the dead and lives with the life of God’s new creation in Christ Jesus. On the other hand, in so far as he still has a mortal body subject to decay, death, and the lusts of the flesh, the Christian still lives in this world; his communion with the risen Christ is indirect and incomplete; he waits for the future parousia to complete his redemption and his sonship.
In St. John the Hebraic idea of the new world to be inaugurated at a future date, together with the future judgement and resurrection, seems to have withdrawn altogether into the background. It is doubtful whether there is any great cosmic event of that nature to which St. John looks forward. It is significant that whereas St. Paul writes, “The night is far spent and the day is at hand”,1 St. John goes so far as to say, “The darkness is passing and the true light already shineth.”2 In St. John the contrast between present and future worlds (αίωνες) seems to be almost wholly merged in the contrast between the evil world (χόσμος) which passes away, and the eternal truth of God which has been revealed in the midst of the darkness by Christ, himself the way, the truth, and the life. To St. John everything in this created world which is according to God’s will, partakes of the truth and therefore abides. On the other hand, this same created world, apart from the manifestation of the Son of God within it, is under the dominion of evil, and is therefore evanescent and perishing. Before the incarnation the Word was from the beginning God’s agent in creation, and “the light that lighteth every man”; but in a sinful world he was not clearly revealed, and there was no clear discrimination possible between the good and the evil, or between the saved and the perishing among mankind. Then in Jesus the Word himself became flesh; there was a clear manifestation in outward fact of God’s grace and truth. Forthwith judgement takes place. Everything that is really good and true in human life is attracted to Jesus and finds its eternity in him. Everything else rejects Jesus, and thereby suffers condemnation. Men must discriminate themselves by taking one line or the other.3
1Rom. 13:12. 21John 2:8. 3See John 1:1–3 and 9; 3:16–21.
Moreover, the resurrection of Jesus does not seem to be regarded by St. John mainly as the promise of a resurrection of Christians into a new-created world at a future day. Rather it is the sign and assurance of the true abidingness of everything that is born of God and therefore triumphs over the transitoriness of the world.1 And in this matter St. John seems to wish his readers to understand that Christ’s revelation supersedes the popular Hebraic eschatology. For when Martha says of Lazarus, “I know that he shall rise again at the last day”, Jesus at once replies, “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Believest thou this?” I do not think that our Lord’s words to the Pharisees in the fifth chapter of the Gospel are inconsistent with this interpretation of St. John’s meaning. For here Jesus is addressing Jewish opponents, not his intimate friends and disciples, and St. John may well be suggesting to his readers that the words here uttered, like those about the destruction of the temple, bear one meaning to Pharisees and another to true believers. It is possible that St. John understood “the coming forth of those in the graves” to be a pictorial description of the awakening of souls to accept or reject the light. Indeed, it is difficult otherwise to understand the words, “the hour cometh and now is”.2 Similarly, in the sixth chapter the saying, “I will raise him up at the last day” (also addressed to non-believers), is carefully balanced by the words, “Verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me hath eternal life.”3 On the whole it does not seem that St. John himself understood the expression “the last day” to refer to a historical or quasi-historical event which was still in the future when he wrote. Probably he would have said that “the last day”, insofar as it was a historical period of time, began with the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. It cannot be without significance that the word “hope”, whether as substantive or as verb, which is so characteristic of St. Paul, only occurs once in the Johannine books.4
1See 1 John 2:17; 5:4. 2John 5:25–9. See 2:19 for the words about the temple.
3John 6:40 and 44. 41 John 3:3
Yet it would be absurd to suppose that St. John does not look forward to any future when Christians at last will enter fully into the joy of their Lord, and their communion with him and with the Father will be consummated. He does not believe that the Christian has so perfectly attained eternal life already that there is nothing left to hope for. Rather his real hope is that the Christian, advancing in communion with his Lord, will follow him to a “place” or plane of being, where the Son of God eternally is. “If any man will do me service, let him follow me; and, where I am, there shall my servant be.”1 And again, “In my Father’s house are many mansions ... And, if I go to prepare a place for you, I come again (present tense) and will receive you unto myself, that, where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go, ye know the way.”2 God’s universe is here pictured as consisting of many mansions or abodes, some closer to God’s presence and glory than others. This world of our present earthly experience is one of them, and one far removed from the highest. Yet the Son entered and tabernacled in it for a time, in order to reveal God’s love in the flesh, without surrendering that eternal communion with the Father which is the life of heaven itself. The Son did not abide long in the earthly mansion. He left it, when his mission was fulfilled, in order to take the manhood he had assumed up to the highest, and to enable those who believe in him to follow. He has thus become the living way. But when he spoke of coming again and receiving his disciples unto himself, he did not, according to St. John’s thought, refer to any external or catastrophic event at the end of history. He was referring in the first instance to the gift of the Paraclete who would guide them into a clearer knowledge of himself and a deeper understanding of his words and works than was possible for them before he had been glorified through the cross. St. John would teach us that the disciples were raised to a higher “mansion”, a more direct communion with Christ, when the Paraclete was given. But there is a further hope still. Its fulfillment will be a complete transformation of Christians themselves wrought through the final manifestation to them of Christ as he eternally is in his unity with the Father. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when (lit. if) he doth appear (or, it doth appear), we shall be like him, because we shall see him even as he is.” Meanwhile we know already that we are God=s children. Further speculation is idle.3
1John 12:26. 2John 14:2–4.
31 John 3:2. The reference to “a last time” and the coming of Anti-Christ in 1 John 2:18 sqq., would seem to be an example of what has been called “the transmuted eschatology” of St. John. Just as, in the Gospel, the judgement and “the second coming” are shown to be not just events in the future, but rather present experiences in the life of the Church, so with the coming of Anti-Christ also. It is already “a last time”. Anti-Christ has arrived, and has begun his activities in the person of false teachers who deny Christ’s coming in the flesh. The real promise of Christ is not a dated second coming, but the eternal life which is his present gift through the Spirit. The Christian=s salvation is to abide in the fellowship of that life, and to let happen what will.
It is evident that in regard to eschatology St. John=s outlook is on the whole less Hebraic and more akin to Hellenism than St. Paul=s.
3. THE INCARNATION VERSUS GNOSTICISM
It is otherwise when we come to consider the second aspect of St. John=s teaching, that aspect which confronts and opposes the Gnostics. St. Paul had met gnostic tendencies by insisting on two great principles: (a) that Christian life means the service of the whole community which is Christ=s body, and that any doctrine of an inner circle of enlightened persons within the Church who possess an esoteric knowledge, is an offence against the Christian conception of the fellowship of love; and (b) that in this present world all Christians, since they still live in the flesh, must be content to walk by faith, not sight, and look forward in hope to full vision in the world to come.
But in this matter St. John changes the Pauline emphasis. He insists that to those who, while still on earth, have been born again, the flesh is the very medium in which the glory of the eternal Word has been revealed. “The Word became flesh and we beheld his glory.”1 Though the coming of the Paraclete brings a closer fellowship with Christ than was possible before his ascension, still the believer who has seen Jesus in the flesh has seen the Father, and there is no other vision of God possible for man until the final manifestation when the Christian will see his Lord even as he is. “No man hath seen God at any time: God only-begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”2 Meanwhile the closer communion is to be sought and shown, not in the cultivation of mystical experiences, but in the keeping of the commandments of Jesus, of which the supreme commandment is to love the brethren. The greatest fruit of the life of Jesus is the communication to man of that love in which the Father is eternally united to the Son. The motive of the passion was that the world might know that the Son loved the Father and obeyed his will.3 And the proof of the presence of that love among Christians is their relief of one another’s bodily needs.4
1John 1:14. 2John 1:18, according to the reading of R. V. Margin. Cf. 14:9.
3John 14:31. 4John 3:17
At this point, then, St. John’s opposition to gnosticism is perhaps more radical even than St. Paul’s. There is no eagerness to shake off the fleshly body as though it clogged the wings of the spirit. There is no hint even of a longing “to depart and be with Christ, which is very far better”.1 The desire to be with Christ and the duty to do Christ’s work on earth are no longer felt as even possibly conflicting or competing claims. According to St. John, it is precisely as he follows Christ in the flesh and walks even as he walked, that the Christian has eternal communion with his Lord, and so waits for whatever may be to come with a quiet confidence which feels no strain either of hope or fear. As we read St. John attentively, we recognize that we are in the presence of a spiritual experience which has no parallel elsewhere. It has neither the anxious looking forward (αποχαραδοχία) which is characteristic of the Hebrew, nor the reliance upon a purely inward or intellectual spirituality which is characteristic of the Greek. It unites the Greek’s sense of the abiding eternal with the Hebrew’s recognition of the value of that which is outward, bodily, and practical. It seems to spring from a faith so sure that God’s eternal love has been manifested in the flesh that it is content to wait in that same flesh until in God’s good time this world, already known to be passing, has finally passed.
It is true that several of Christ’s sayings in St. John’s Gospel either make or imply an antithesis between flesh and spirit,1 but in every case the meaning of the antithesis is plain from the context. The Spirit, not the flesh, is the source of true life; natural processes of themselves cannot produce what is spiritually living. On the other hand, what God’s Spirit quickens is not merely the spirit of man but also the flesh so as to make it the expression and instrument of spirit. Thus the fundamental opposition is not between spirit and flesh (as it was sometimes to St. Paul), but rather between the fellowship of God’s children whom the Spirit has quickened into life, and the world outside which has no true life at all.
1John 1:13; 3:6; 6:63.
4. THE ESSENCE OF JOHANNINE CHRISTOLOGY
What, then, are we to say as to the essential features of St. John’s Christology? We shall perhaps see them most clearly by again comparing St. John’s thought with St. Paul’s. By both apostles Jesus who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and rose again from the tomb is identified with the divine person who was God’s agent in creation and whose full glory will be openly and directly manifested at the end of the world. But by St. Paul the earthly life of Jesus is valued for what it has effected rather than for what in itself it reveals. To him it is as it were the first step in the divine action for the forgiveness and justification of men. Its importance therefore is found mainly in its results. One of those results is the reception by Jesus of “the name above every name”, which manifests him, only after the ascension, as fully divine. The incarnation is the precedent condition of that revelation rather than the revelation itself. St. Paul’s thought follows this order, because he reaches belief in the incarnation through belief in the atonement. St. John, on the other hand, values the earthly life of Jesus mainly and primarily for the revelation which it conveys in itself of the eternal communion of love between the Father and the Son. True, for St. John also the incarnation is decisive in its effects. Its effects are indeed in one way presented as more finally decisive by him than by St. Paul. But for St. John those effects are the effects of a revelation in the earthly life, whereas for St. Paul the revelation is itself one of the effects of that life. St. John gives us no theology of the atonement. But he clearly regards the taking away of sin as one effect of the revelation of divine love consummated in the crucifixion. In this way he may be said to reach belief in the atonement through belief in the incarnation.
This central contrast in the theology of the two apostles may be illustrated in many different ways.
(a) Whereas St. Paul’s characteristic word is grace, St. John’s is truth. To St. Paul the earthly life of Jesus is primarily an act of divine grace, to St. John it is a declaration of divine truth. To St. Paul that act of grace has done its work; it is a thing of the past, and henceforth we are to know Christ no more after the flesh.1 But for St. John the coming of the Paraclete can never supersede the knowledge of God historically incarnate in Jesus. The Paraclete’s work is rather to bring to remembrance what Jesus had said, and to interpret the true eternal meaning of his words and deeds.
12 Cor. 5:16. It is clear, however, from the context that the phrase “after the flesh” qualifies the verb “know” rather than the substantive “Christ”.
(b) Again, it is significant that all through St. John’s Gospel there is a suggestion that the words of Jesus, himself the incarnate Word, are somehow more important even than his works. “The words that I speak unto you are spirit and are life.”1 It is a higher way of salvation to believe in the truth of his words, than to believe “for the very works’ sake”.2 And though the words are for ever unique, the works are not. “The works that I do shall ye do also, and greater works than these shall ye do, because I go to my Father.”3 Indeed, in St. John=s record it is clear that the deepest purpose of Christ’s mighty works themselves is to be signs, i.e., to have the value of words, revealing his relation to God. Everything that happens in the gospel story is regarded by St. John as in this way symbolic. There are no parables on our Lord’s lips here, because his whole life is presented as, in one sense, parable. But only in one sense; for St. John would utterly have repudiated the notion that his record is “symbolic” in the modern sense, i.e., that it is truth embodied in a tale, a tale which would be not less true if it were myth or fiction. To St. John the historical fact, the real flesh, of Jesus is the only medium of the true revelation of God’s love.
1John 6:63. 2John 14:11. 3John 14:12.
(c) Finally, St. John’s Gospel conveys the impression that in his inmost being the Son of God, though truly incarnate and truly suffering and dying, had yet in a sense never left the Father’s side. The repeated and solemn use of the present tense by Jesus when speaking of his own essential life and being cannot be accidental.1 Christ’s true life, so St. John seems to teach, is always in heaven. The heavenly communion between the Father and the Son is not really interrupted, it is only manifested, because the Son tabernacles in the flesh.
We may perhaps sum up the differences between St. Paul’s theology of the incarnation and St. John’s by saying that to St. Paul the earthly life of Jesus is the supremely effective act of God’s love; to St. John it is its uniquely true symbol or expression. When Christian thought has succeeded in doing justice to both aspects of the truth together, Christology will be complete.
1See e.g., John 7:34; 8:24, 28, 58; 11:25; 12:26; 14:3, 6, 19. See also 1 John 3:2.
NOTE ON ST. JOHN’S PROLOGUE
The Prologue to St. John=s Gospel is obviously a crucial passage for the understanding of his doctrine of the incarnation. The main difficulty for exegesis is to determine at what point St. John passes from speaking of what has always been true from the beginning of history to what first became true with the earthly life of Jesus. On this point two views are commonly held:
(a) The first, and more usual, marks the point of transition at the beginning of v. 11. According to this view St John begins to speak directly of the historic incarnation with the words “he came unto his own” (the verb is in the aorist), whereas before he had been speaking of the presence and activity of the Logos all through history from the creation.
(b) Others hold that the transition is not really made till v. 14 with the words “And the Word became flesh”. According to this view St. John in the previous verses has been affirming not only that all down history the Word, as the true light that lighteth every man, was always coming into the world, not only that he was always in the world, though the world knew him not, but also that in the history of the chosen people (perhaps in other history too?) he came unto his own, and his own people received him not. Even before the incarnation there were some who received him, and to them he gave power to become sons of God. (Such language might be used of Old Testament saints.) Then in v. 14 comes the climax. At last in the fullness of time the Word became flesh, and then we beheld his glory. What the Word had always been, and what he had always done, was at length revealed in outward fact.
(c) A third view, however, is possible, and, I think convincing. According to this we should mark the transition at the beginning of v. 4, with the words, “That which came to be in him was life.” This view, however, requires a punctuation and translation of vv. 3 to 5 different from that which we find in our English Bible. I agree with Dr. J. O. F. Murray (Jesus according to St. John) that in vv. 3 and 4 St. John intends a contrast between “all things”, which came into being through the Word, and the one thing, “Life”, which has come into being in the Word. I should translate vv. 3 to 5 as follows:
All things came into being through him, and without him nothing came to be. That which hath come into being in him was Life, and the Life was the light of men. And the light (still) shineth in the darkness; and the darkness did not overtake (or overcome, or come over) it.
In these verses St. John is asserting that in Jesus something was born into the world which was in a new relation to the eternal Word; it was not (like all created things) through him, but actually in him, or, as later theology put it, in hypostatic union with him. This something was true eternal Life, and this Life, in the historic ministry of Jesus, was the light of men. And, though Jesus left the world to return to the Father, the light still goes on shining in the world’s darkness, and the darkness did not come over it. (There is an allusion here to the synoptists’ story of the darkness at the crucifixion, which St. John omits from his own narrative.) The next verses, 6 to 8, deal with the Baptist=s relation to the life of Christ. (There is no awkwardness in the mention of the Baptist at this point, if vv. 4 and 5 are understood as I have just suggested.) Verses 9 to 18 amplify the meaning of what has been said about the same historic life. Verse 14 sums up what has gone before, and the “we” in this verse (“we beheld”) is to be understood of those disciples, John and others, who are referred to in vv. 12 and 18 as among those who had received Christ and been born again as God=s children.
Thus understood, the Prologue most clearly relates the revelation of the communion between the Father and the Son, which the rest of the Gospel records, to the doctrine of the Logos, a doctrine which must have had some special importance, owing, probably, to misuse of it in the interests of gnosticism. St. John wishes to insist on the identification of the Logos with the Son who is eternally and personally God, whereas heretical gnostics, following Philo, probably made the Logos a sort of intermediate being, who could be regarded as the agent of creation precisely because he was not fully or purely divine. St. John carefully identifies the Logos, who was in the beginning with God and was God (1:1), with God only-begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father (1:18). If the interpretation of the Prologue given above is correct, St. John would express the fundamental mystery of the incarnation by saying that with the birth of Jesus true Life, which is In the Logos as his own nature, without ceasing to be in the Logos, nevertheless came into the created world, whereas all things that are simply created came into being through the agency of the Logos, but not in him.
Chapter XII – The Christology of the Epistle to the Hebrews
No survey of New Testament teaching on the incarnation would be complete without some mention of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The Epistle is of peculiar interest for the Christian theologian, because it shows how a quite unknown author, of very different temperament and training from either St. John or St. Paul, held the same essential faith as to our Lord’s divine person and genuine humanity, and yet could give to that faith a quite distinct theological expression in the days before any definite standard of intellectual orthodoxy had been established.
1. THE AUTHOR’S TEMPERAMENT AND CHARACTER
In one very important sense the Epistle to the Hebrews is the most religious book in the New Testament, and indeed the only one which bears throughout the marks of a definitely religious motive.1 In all the other books, though their central theme is the gospel of God in Christ Jesus, allusions to cultus and worship are scattered and incidental. This Epistle, on the other hand, is the work of a mind concentrated on worship, and on the ideas and practices associated with it. Its author is a man of austerely religious temper, with a large natural endowment of that reverential awe for God which is kindled and expressed by dignified and solemn ceremonial. He also shows a considerable inclination to rigorism; and in both respects his attitude of mind has a resemblance to that of the early Tractarians. He has great literary gifts; but his art, while it shows many traces of a training in rhetoric, is modeled on severe and classical lines. Utterly unlike both St. Paul and St. John, he is careful to avoid the language of the emotions. The word αγάπη only occurs twice in the Epistle,2 and the verb αγαπάω not at all, except in one quotation from the Old Testament. The only mention of God as Father is made in connexion with fatherly chastisement,3 in a passage which suggests that the author’s nationality was not Jewish. Yet at the same time no other writer in the New Testament dwells so movingly on the truth that it became the Son of God to share our common flesh and blood, and to become in all things, save in sin, like us, so that as the great high priest of humanity he might be sympathetic to human sufferings and temptations.4
1If this use of the word “religious” seems to paradoxical, I may perhaps express my point more clearly and accurately thus: Hebrews is marked out among all the books of the Bible by the interest which it shows in man’s approach to God, whereas elsewhere the main emphasis is laid on God’s approach to man.
2Heb 6:10; 10:24. 312:9–11. 4See 2:10–18; 4:15.
The general impression that the Epistle gives us of its author is that he was a man of strong human emotions rigidly disciplined both by religious awe and by a stern adherence to intellectual consistency. Just because intellectually as well as emotionally he so deeply appreciates the perfect fittingness of Christ’s atonement as he apprehends it, he is uncompromisingly stern to those who having once believed become apostate. Just because God’s offer of grace through the sacrifice of Christ is so perfect, there can, he feels, be no second chance for those who accept and then fall away. He pictures God as himself severely consistent both in his love and in his justice. On the one hand, the Epistle contains no hint of any divine wrath to be visited on those who have not heard or do not understand the gospel. On the other hand, it offers no hope to those “who have done despite to the spirit of grace” itself.1
The thought of the author to the Hebrews is like St. Paul’s in that his primary interest is in the atonement rather than in the incarnation; but there is as much contrast as resemblance. St. Paul, astonishingly acute and powerful thinker as he is, expresses his feelings freely and passionately, without any great regard either for literary style or for logical consistency. At one moment he offers us a picture of all humanity doomed to suffer the punishment of divine wrath, at another the picture of all humanity redeemed by God’s love in Christ. He does not hesitate to suggest that it is God’s love which delivers man from his wrath. The author to the Hebrews does not use the language of love and wrath in St. Paul’s manner. His emotion is much more restrained, and his thought more unified by logic. He does not convey the same impression, which St. Paul and St. John both convey each in his different manner, that God himself has drawn near to man in Jesus Christ. To him Christ is rather the perfect high priest who by his sacrifice of himself enables us to draw near to God in perfect worship. He has a greater sense of the abiding remoteness of God’s holy and awful majesty, even though he shares the common conviction of Christians that God has in these last days spoken to us by his Son.
2. THE AUTHOR’S PLATONISM
Such being the author’s habit of mind, it is not surprising to find that the influence of Alexandrian Platonism, and especially of Philo, is more apparent in this Epistle than anywhere else in the New Testament. And this influence causes the author’s eschatology to approximate, at least in appearance, rather to St. John’s than to St. Paul’s. Jewish and Jewish-Christian apocalyptists envisaged the relation between imperfect and perfect states of being primarily in terms of time, distinguishing between this age or world of imperfection and the perfect age or world to come. But in general the language of Hebrews is true to Platonism in distinguishing between the imperfect world as a world of shadows or images, and the perfect world as that of heavenly and spiritual realities. For this author the present reality of the heavenly sphere, the sphere into which Christ has passed, and to which we are anchored1 by hope, is the fundamentally important thing. It is evident that when Christian hope is likened to an anchor, it has lost much of the strictly temporal significance which it had for St. Paul.
However, in the intermingling of Gentile and Jewish ideas, which had been going on for some time before the Christian era, neither the Hellenizers nor the more strictly Hebraic thinkers could afford to be quite consistent. Even Jewish apocalyptists pictured a true Jerusalem already in the heavens, a conception to which St. Paul alludes in Galatians,1 and which corresponds with that of “the city which hath foundations”, which is also “the city to come”, in Hebrews.2 For his part the author of Hebrews looks forward quite unplatonically to a time when this imperfect world order shall be abolished.3 The essentially Hebraic expression “world to come” occurs more than once in his Epistle.4 And one of the main points in his exhortation is to emphasize the need of the forward outlook by reference to the faith shown by the saints of the Old Testament. Moreover, even the word “shadow”, which sounds strictly platonic, has in his use of it a temporal reference which is really quite unplatonic, as it has in Campbell=s line “coming events cast their shadows before”.5 The author imperfectly reconciles a Hebraic or Pauline philosophy of history with a Platonism for which history is irrelevant.
1Gal. 4:26. 211:10; 13:14. 3See 12:26; 6:5.
42:5; 6:5. But in the former passage the word translated “world” is not αίων (age) but οιχουμένη (lit. the inhabited earth).
5See 10:1. Cf. Col. 2:17.
On the whole, it seems true to say that his Platonism excludes any great interest in eschatological speculation; but, like other New Testament writers, he is so keenly aware of the conflict between Christianity and the life of this world that he is convinced that such acute tension cannot last very long. Thus, he writes of an imminent judgement, but only in quite general, though most solemn, terms.1 He uses eschatological phrases mainly to suggest the absolute finality of the revelation in Christ.2 There is one quite explicit reference to the Second Coming.3 But this reference hardly accords with his picture of Christ as having once for all entered the heavenly sanctuary, or of Christ as our forerunner and pioneer who has opened up the way by which we are to follow him.4 The whole theme of the Epistle is our pilgrimage to the heavenly city where Christ reigns, and the expectation of Christ=s return to earth seems logically irrelevant to it. The dominance of this same theme accounts for the absence of any teaching about Christ’s resurrection, as distinct from his passage through death into the heavenly world. It is the resurrection which carries with it in St. Paul’s mind the prophecy of a future transformation of material nature and the final redemption of the body. But such ideas are much less congenial to the Platonism of this Epistle than they are to the more Hebraic thought of St. Paul and St. John.
1See, e.g., 10:26–31. 2See e.g., 1:2; 9:26. 39:28
4See 6:20; 9:12; 2:10, where the word translated “captain” means rather “pioneer”. In this discussion of the author’s eschatology and its relation to his Platonism I have derived help especially from Narborough’s commentary in the Clarendon Bible Series.
3. THE AUTHOR’S DOCTRINE OF THE INCARNATION
The Christology of Hebrews has more affinity to the kenotic theories of modern theologians than any found elsewhere in the New Testament. On the one hand, the author makes it quite clear that Jesus is the eternal Son, the effulgence of God’s glory and the very image of his substance.1 Again, in comparing our Lord with Moses, he writes that “Jesus hath been counted worthy of more glory than Moses by so much as he that hath built the house hath more honour than the house”2 – a passage which implies that, if we consider the difference between creator and creature, Jesus must appear, as it were, on the divine side of the differentiating line. On the other hand, no other book in the New Testament emphasizes so strongly as does Hebrews the genuineness not merely of our Lord’s manhood but also of the limitations imposed on him by the flesh. The author can actually write of Jesus, “who in the days in his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear, though he was Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered”.3
11:2, 3. 23:3.
35:7, 8. To insert either the definite or the indefinite article before the word “Son” misrepresents the Greek.
How then are these contrary aspects of our Lord’s person reconciled in the thought of this Epistle? The key surely is in these words, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say his flesh”,1 etc. The author’s thought starts with the assumption, consonant both with Platonism and with Judaism, that there is a veil between man and God, something which hides God from man, and hinders man from drawing near to God. This veil or barrier, which exists in spiritual reality, is symbolized outwardly or “shadowed” by the veil which separated the inner shrine of the Tabernacle, so that no one was allowed to enter it except the high priest on the annual day of atonement. The real veil is made impassable by sin; and hence it is that in the world of outward symbol the high priest, before entering the shrine, must always offer sacrifice for the sins of the people and for his own. But the real veil does not consist only in sin, though it may be wholly its consequence.2 In the natural material body the spirit dwells, as it were, encased by mortality; the flesh, though not in itself evil or sinful, is still like a curtain which hides from man the true vision of spiritual and eternal realities. This curtain would still be there even if man were sinless, though it is sin which renders it altogether opaque, and perhaps, if man had never sinned, there would have been no mortal flesh to constitute a veil.
2There is nothing to show whether the author regards the existence of the veil between man and God as a result of the Fall.
The essence of the Christological belief which we find in Hebrews is that through this real veil Jesus has opened and dedicated for man the one true way into the fullness of God’s presence and eternal life. This finished work of Jesus presupposes two conditions. First, Jesus is himself God’s Son. He came forth from the divine side, from beyond the veil. The work had to be initiated from God’s side. Through Jesus as his Son God speaks and acts. But, secondly, although Jesus came forth from God, it is equally true that he really did come forth to the human side of the veil which separates man from God. The way to God which he has dedicated is a way which man has to follow, and it must be therefore one which man is capable of following in spite of the limitations of his now mortal nature. Therefore Jesus, in being born as man, accepted all the restrictions which belong of necessity to natural, fleshly, and mortal manhood. Sin is not among these, since the flesh, which constitutes the veil, is not in itself evil or sinful. Nevertheless, there was even for Jesus a veil of the flesh. He did not enjoy on earth that uninterrupted consciousness of full and open communion with the Father, which belongs to him as Son in heaven. Hence the extraordinarily bold statement which we have already quoted from the fifth chapter, and also the repeated insistence that Christ’s work for man required that he should really share our flesh and blood and should sympathize with us in all things through entering into the experience of finite and mortal manhood.
How, then, was the living way opened and in what does it consist? To these questions the Epistle gives a clear answer. The way was not found in any mystical union with Godhead in which the spirit seems to separate itself from the body. It was found in the complete surrender of the human will of Jesus to the will of God, the surrender of obedience consummated in the self-sacrifice of the perfect high-priest upon the cross. That sacrifice accomplished through death leads on to the life of the ascended Christ in heaven which now communicates itself to believers and enables them to follow in his steps. The blood of Jesus, which sprinkles our consciences,1 means to the author of Hebrews, in accordance with Old Testament symbolism, his life which has passed through death. The complaint of some commentators, that the author gives no reason why the shedding of the blood should be necessary, is quite unjustified. The shedding is necessary, because death alone can exhibit and complete the perfect obedience of the life self-offered. And, for the sacrifice to be effective, the life thus offered must in all its purity and power be communicated to those whose consciences are stained with disobedience. Of this communication the author finds a parable or “shadow” in the sprinkling of the victim’s blood on the people in the covenant sacrifice of Exodus. So the sacrifice of Christ avails for Christians, because his offered life of obedience in all its heavenly and spiritual power is communicated to them from the unseen world in answer to their faith.
And thus a new light bursts upon God’s whole ordering of the universe. Man, the author of Hebrews boldly maintains, is destined to be the highest of all God=s creatures.1 In the world to come man is to be higher even than the angels; for does not the psalmist say that man is crowned with glory and worship, and that God has put all things in subjection under his feet? How can this be true? The answer is in Jesus. We do not yet see all things in subjection to man; but we do behold Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and worship because of the suffering of death. In other words, Jesus, in his manhood, is already above all, because he endured the cross. It is that supremacy of self-sacrifice and obedience which places him as man above all grades of angelic beings. And, in so far as he enables us to share that same obedience, we shall also share his glory, a glory brighter than that of spirits who have never known the meaning of bodily death. Thus Jesus has shown that the veil of mortal flesh which hides God from man may nevertheless be made the opportunity for an obedience which brings human nature through humiliation nearest to God=s throne at last. This is the new and living way, not a way of ascetic separation from the flesh but a way through the flesh, through obedient acceptance of its limitations and mortality, into the highest sanctuary of the heavenly world, which is the world to come. This is the way which Jesus has opened and dedicated for us.
1This and the following sentences are a paraphrase of Heb. 2:5–9.
If the foregoing exposition of his thought be accepted, it will be seen that the author of Hebrews, while sharing in all essentials with St. Paul and St. John the same faith in Jesus Christ as truly God and truly man, nevertheless has his own quite distinctive contribution to make to the theology of the incarnation. Because in his mind, as in St. Paul’s, the atoning work of Jesus takes precedence of all else, he, like St. Paul, tends to regard the flesh in which Jesus lived on earth as a veil rather than as a direct means of revelation. But, because he regards the earthly life of Jesus as the perfect life of human obedience and trust in God, he adds a suggestion, which St. Paul never makes, that the flesh was in some sense actually a veil between Jesus, as he was on earth, and God, a veil through which Jesus himself had to penetrate by death. This suggestion, it seems, was made possible to the author of Hebrews by his sympathy with Alexandrian Platonism, which regarded material flesh as a barrier to the vision of spiritual realities; and it is a suggestion of permanent importance in Christology. It seems natural to infer that the author of Hebrews was a Gentile, or at least a Hellenist, who had learned his Christianity, if not from St. Paul himself, at any rate in the Pauline school. The affinity of his thought with the characteristic features of St. John’s is relatively superficial, and consists in little more than the disappearance of the Pauline emphasis on the last advent.
Chapter XIII – The Development of Christological Doctrine in the Church
It has been truly said that all down the course of its history Christian theology has suffered from the refusal of the main body of the Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah. The original apostles were Jews, and the New Testament is in the main Jewish literature. But from the second century onwards the definition and development of doctrine passed into Gentile hands, and Hebraic thought ceased to make a fresh and living contribution to Christianity, although its influence through the New Testament undoubtedly restrained and profoundly modified the process of Hellenization. Thus the notion of the divine οιχονομία, which is so prominent in the Greek Fathers, is clearly the result of an effort to combine a belief, derived from the Bible, in God’s providence and providential action with a Hellenic theology which did not think of God as personally active in mundane affairs.1
1On this subject, see G. L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought.
1. CHRISTOLOGY UP TO CHALCEDON
To the Hellenic mind the most fundamental attribute of the supreme Godhead was immutability, and from this immutability the thought of God’s impassibility was immediately derived. From the metaphysical point of view the doctrine of divine impassibility1 means that God is not in any sense subject to suffering or passion; for, being immutably perfect, he cannot in any way be moved, nor can any effect be produced upon or within him. Thus impassibility implies the exclusion of those mutual relations which hold between particular entities which act and react upon one another, and the exclusion also of any experience of conation or effort towards an end not yet realized. St. Thomas Aquinas afterwards expressed the same doctrine of the divine perfection by teaching that God is actus purus, pure actuality, the being in and for whom nothing is potential or unaccomplished.2 It follows logically that, if God is in this way impassible, he cannot act in order to accomplish anything, although the eternal and changeless activity of his perfection may be the source and ground of action in his creatures.
1For a fuller discussion of the meaning of divine impassibility, see Appendix to Part II.
2The above seems to be a fair statement at least of one aspect of St. Thomas’s doctrine of the actus purus, viz., the Aristotelian aspect. See. e.g., S.T., Pt. I, Q. 3, Arts. 1 and 2, and S. C. G., Bk. I, C. XVI.
The truth is that in Hellenic thought, as has often been pointed out, divine immutability meant not so much a moral stedfastness of will and purpose as the ontological unchangeableness which is contradicted if God from his side ever enters into a new or fresh relation with created beings. That God in Christ has entered into such a new relation is a fundamental presupposition of the New Testament; and it was precisely at this point therefore that the Hellenizing theology of the Fathers could not do it full justice. The metaphysical dogma of divine impassibility stood in the way. The point at issue was not simply whether it is or is not tolerable to affirm that God suffered on the cross. To the metaphysical mind divine passibility is logically implied by the assertion that God was moved by man’s sin to initiate the work of redemption through Jesus Christ. Thus, if we maintain that God is strictly impassible, it seems inconsistent to affirm that the incarnation is essentially God’s act for man=s salvation; and the orthodox confession that Jesus Christ is both God and man becomes merely the statement of a problem which theology can do nothing to illuminate.
Of course orthodox Fathers did constantly affirm that the incarnation was God’s act for man’s salvation; but they could never make the affirmation consistent with their philosophical conception of God’s being and nature. And thus it was that during the early centuries one theory after another, which set out to make the incarnation more intelligible, ended by making it unreal. Either – and this was the constant danger of Alexandrian theology – the manhood turned out in the last resort to be a mere mask for the deity of Jesus Christ: or the incarnate person was represented as an intermediate being compounded, so to speak, of Godhead and manhood, but not fully God and man – the error of Arianism and, in a different form, of Apollinarianism also: or else, as in the Antiochene school and in some forms of Sabellianism, the reality of the human experience of Jesus was preserved by representing him as the perfect example of a man’s communion with God, so that in the last analysis he appears only as the human revealer and servant of the divine being who remains impassible in heaven.
All these types of heresy the Church as a whole strenuously and successfully resisted. But what was the upshot? The Chalcedonian formula and the Tome of Leo, in which it is declared that Jesus as the incarnate Son of God upon earth possessed in his single person the fullness of both natures, divine and human, with all the proper attributes of each, including the impassibility of the Godhead and the passibility of the manhood. No fresh attempt whatever is made to explain how this paradox could be true. It is, I am sure, a mistaken exegesis which would find in Leo’s Tome a definite theory that the Saviour used his two natures, so to speak, as alternative and mutually exclusive organs, acting and speaking now as God and now as man. All that Leo is trying to insist upon is that the Saviour must really have been both God and man; and he points to the miracles as obvious evidence of his Godhead, and to the sufferings as obvious evidence of his manhood. Thus heretical and subversive explanations are finally rejected, and Christian theology is thrown back upon the witness of the New Testament as the datum of faith.
So the original gospel was preserved; and, so far as it goes, that was a triumph indeed. But we must not let it blind our eyes to the fact that the thing left uninterpreted by the Chalcedonian formula is the saving act of God in the human life of him “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven”. Each nature, human and divine, is affirmed to have been present in the Saviour, each in its completeness and unconfused with the other. For a theologian who holds deity to be strictly impassible and not subject to any limitation, it seems to follow that Jesus Christ suffered and was subject to limitation only as man, and that as God he himself remained unaffected by any of the human experiences which involved suffering or limitation. Thus it becomes impossible to conceive God as acting through and in the manhood of Jesus at all, although this is clearly what orthodoxy did affirm. Orthodox teachers saved their logic by asserting that the incarnate Son suffered and was limited only in his human nature. But this solution suggests both a separability of the human nature from the divine and a separability of the divine person from his divine nature, which are hardly reconcilable with the fundamental gospel of the incarnation. The truth is that Hellenic theology cannot, without self-contradiction, go further towards a doctrine of the incarnation than to say that the historical life of Jesus symbolizes the perfect goodness of the Godhead more truly than any other human and passible life. It cannot say that in Jesus it is God who acted; for if he acted, he also “suffered”. Thus the epoch of theological history which closed with Chalcedon affords a striking illustration of the truth of Whitehead’s dictum that, whereas Buddhism is an example of a metaphysic generating a religion, Christianity has always been a religion in search of a metaphysic.1 Leo’s Tome proved that the search must continue.
1Religion in the Making, pp. 39 sq.
Scholasticism made the proof still plainer. For by St. Thomas Aquinas the full implications of the doctrine of divine impassibility are drawn out, and are seen to preclude any mutuality of relation between the creator and the creature.
Every relation [he writes]1 which we consider between God and the creature is really in the creature, by whose change the relation is brought into being, whereas it is not really in God, but only in our way of thinking, since it does not arise from any change in God.
1The passages referred to are in S.T., Pt. I, Q. 13, Art. 7, and Pt. III, Q. 2, Art. 7.
He illustrates the possibility of such a one-sided relation by the way in which sensible and intelligible objects remain unaffected by our perception and knowledge of them, and also by the relation of “being on the right or on the left”, which comes to be between a column and an animal, not by any change in the column, but solely by the movement of the animal. St. Thomas concludes that “the union of the two natures in Christ is not really in God, except only in our way of thinking; but in the human nature, which is a creature, it is really”. Strictly speaking, therefore, even in Christ there can be no real entry of God into manhood, nor any self-adaptation or self-limitation of the divine nature in the human which is its organ. Yet, according to St. Thomas, Jesus Christ was personally God; and therefore throughout the period of the incarnation, even in the Virgin’s womb, he must have possessed the fullness of free will, conscious vision of the divine essence, and omniscience. The Saviour therefore can hardly be said to have felt, thought, or acted as a man at all: the humanity is but a mask.
This manner of conceiving the incarnation is all the stranger, because the theories of the atonement which held the field in St. Thomas’s time belonged to the type of St. Anselm’s satisfaction theory, the logic of which forces us to regard the Saviour primarily and principally as man. Indeed, so far as devotional interests were concerned – and devotion centred on the atoning sacrifice of the cross and of the mass – the whole emphasis of medieval Christianity was on the reality of our Lord’s suffering manhood, as the contemporary type of crucifix is witness. Thus, while in the medieval doctrine of the incarnation Jesus Christ remains God, in the medieval doctrine of the atonement he remains man.1 But the reconciling thought that the divine person really acted through the reality of the historical manhood is made impossible to theology by the terms in which the divine nature is conceived.
1This criticism of medieval Catholicism was made by Ritschl, The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation, pp. 389–91.
3. FROM LUTHER TO THE MODERNS
With Luther Christology makes a fresh start, and most modern theories on the subject may trace their origin to him. The main value of Luther’s doctrine lies in his refusal to allow preconceived doctrines of the nature of deity, whencesoever derived, either to modify the witness borne by the New Testament to the Saviour’s manhood or to suggest (as did Calvinists) that the divine nature of Christ remained external to the incarnation. Very modern his language sometimes sounds.
The Scriptures begin very gently and lead us on to Christ as to a man, and then to one who is Lord over all creatures, and after that to one who is God. So do I enter delightfully, and learn to know God. But the philosophers and doctors have insisted on beginning from above; and so they have become fools. We must begin from below and after that come upwards.1
1Quoted by Mackintosh, Person of Jesus Christ, p. 232.
Brunner remarks1 that no one after Irenaeus had taken the vere homo so seriously as Luther.
1The Mediator, pp. 328 sq., footnote, from which the following quotations are taken.
Luther spoke quite openly about our Lord’s childhood, about his gradual growth and development, even in the spiritual sphere, pointing out that, so far as his humanity was concerned, “Like any other holy man he did not always think, speak, will everything, like an almighty being, which some would fain make him out to be, thus mingling unwisely the two natures and their work; for indeed he did not always see all clearly, but was led and aided by God.”
Again Luther writes: “He endured good and evil things like anyone else, so that there was no difference between him and anyone else, save only in this, that he was God and had no sin.” At the same time Luther returns uncompromisingly to the scriptural and primitive emphasis on the reality of God’s victorious act through Jesus, which involves the truth that Jesus himself is God.
For to conquer the sin of the world, death, the curse and the wrath of God in his own person (in semet ipso) is not the work of a creature but of the Almighty. Out of this there necessarily results that he who personally (in semet ipso) conquered is truly and by nature God. ... Because the Scripture ascribes ail this to Christ, therefore is he himself life, righteousness, and blessing, which is the nature and substance of God. ... Therefore when we teach the people that they are justified through Christ, that Christ is the conqueror of sin, death and the eternal curse, we bear witness at the same time that in his nature he is God.1
1Quoted by Brunner, op. cit., p. 239.
In other words, God’s nature consists not only in what he unchangeably is but also in what he triumphantly does. Luther will allow no separation between God’s nature and his work, or between divine nature and divine person. He who does God’s work in person (in semet ipso) is thereby shown to be both by nature and personally God.
Since the Reformation, Christological theory in the Roman Catholic Church has remained practically at a standstill. Further developments have been confined to the reformed Communions. In general, the common characteristic of modern theories has been that they have followed Luther in starting from the reality of the Saviour’s manhood, and even of his human limitations, as a datum, and in proceeding from that starting point to determine more clearly the meaning of his divinity. In Luther’s epoch-making phrase, they have begun from below and after that come upwards. The most typical of these modern Christologies fall into two main classes, the first being that generally associated with Liberal Protestantism, and the second being the work of those more conservative theologians who have developed the doctrine of the kenosis.
4. LIBERAL PROTESTANT CHRISTOLOGY
The Christology of Liberal Protestantism starts from the thought contained in a passage just quoted from Luther, that Jesus was a man like other men save for his supreme goodness which shows him to be divine. It argues that in and by his goodness Jesus reveals in a unique way the very nature and character of God. Jesus is not only the true teacher about God; his very character as man symbolizes and reflects God’s nature. We may therefore affirm that “God is like Jesus”, or that the quality of the manhood of Jesus is divine, in such a way that we are committed to the assertion that Jesus himself has the value of God. On that ground, it is maintained, Christians are justified in worshipping Jesus Christ as their Lord, in praying to God through him, and in declaring their faith in him in the language of the historic creeds of the Church, though modern Christians may and should interpret this language in a symbolic sense.
Liberal Protestantism was founded by the German theologian, Albrecht Ritschl. Before the war it won a large following in Germany and also in England, where its influence has been more lasting. In spite of the Unitarian tendency of much of their thought, which is especially evident in Harnack’s well-known book, What is Christianity?, the Ritschlians strongly maintained the divinity of Jesus Christ. But having rejected as falsely metaphysical the doctrine of the Catholic Church that Jesus is personally identical with the eternal and pre-existent Son of God, and being determined to think of him as the human subject of those value judgements of faith which truly ascribe to him divinity, they found themselves obliged to justify the altogether unique position which Jesus holds in the Christian religion by actually exaggerating his uniqueness as the one human revealer of the true God. This exaggeration is already evident in W. Herrmann=s striking and attractive book, The Communion of the Christian with God. In England, Professor Bethune-Baker carried it to even greater lengths by asserting, “I know almost nothing of God’s character apart from Jesus”,1 and again that “of Christian theology the centre is not God but Jesus”.2 Dr. T. R. Glover is equally emphatic: “For us, apart from Jesus, God is little better than an abstract noun.”3
1Article in The Modern Churchman for Sept. 1921, p. 301.
2The Faith of the Apostles’ Creed, p. 42.
3Jesus in the Experience of Men, p. 16. The truth for which Bethune-Baker and Glover seem to be really contending is that Jesus in his exaltation has received the name of God, only because God in his condescension has accepted the name of Jesus. In other words, Jesus is known as God, only because God is known in Jesus. As a positive statement this both true and important.
A much more balanced and persuasive statement of a Christology which still belongs to the Liberal Protestant type is to be found in Dr. Streeter’s book Reality. Here Jesus is represented as the ideal man whose every word and deed is intellectually, aesthetically and morally the right reaction to the actual circumstances. On the ground of this human perfection it is argued that the personality of Jesus also reflects and embodies a universal principle, creative love, which is the ultimate explanation of the world order and the essence of God=s nature. The man Jesus, therefore, in all he said and did and suffered, is “the mirror of the Infinite”. In other words, he is the perfect human symbol of Godhead.
Dr. Streeter does not himself apply the term “symbol” to the life of Jesus, nor, in all probability, would he have accepted it as adequate. For he explicitly rejects any inference that it does not vitally matter whether the gospel story be actual fact or only “a true myth”. Yet the reason he gives for the rejection is significant.
It is the actual death of Jesus [he writes] coming as the climax of the actual life he lived, which gives its meaning to the story. Pose the question, How far is this story, if considered as a representation of Ultimate Reality in its qualitative aspect, an adequate expression of the quality actually inherent therein? – and at once the factual character of its historic core is seen to be essential. The quality of Reality may be expressed in a construction of the imagination; but in what has in fact happened we have confidence that the expression is authentic.1
1Reality, p. 54.
In other words, the fact is necessary, because otherwise men could not be assured that the symbol of Jesus living and dying is a true symbol or expression of ultimate reality. If the story were but myth, there would be no reason in principle why the ultimate reality of God’s love should not be exactly the same as if the story were fact, but we could not have the same certainty. Thus Streeter seems to take us back to Christian Platonism.
The truth is that this whole type of Christology misses something which is essential to the biblical and primitive gospel, viz., its message that God is not only truly revealed in Jesus, but that he has decisively and finally acted. More than one modern theologian has made this criticism of Liberal Protestantism. Thus Father Thornton writes, “If we regard Christ as a human individual in the organic series, in whom there is a unique manifestation of the eternal order, then we have no ground for supposing that Christianity has the final character which Christians have ever found in it.”1 Brunner makes essentially the same point. He would say that such a view as Streeter’s ignores the einmaligkeit (the “once-for-allness”) of the Christian revelation. For if Jesus be merely the perfect human manifestation of a divine goodness which remains changelessly the same behind all symbols, there is nothing in principle absolutely unique, decisive, and unrepeatable about the revelation which he gave. But to Christianity “revelation means the unique historical event which by its very nature must either take place once or not at all”. “A final event can only happen once.”2
1The Incarnate Lord, p. 259.
2See The Mediator, Chap. I. The quotations are from p. 26.
I should prefer to state the same argument in a way which seems to me simpler. No revelation, considered as such, can ever be final, in the sense of unrepeatable; for an enduring reality once revealed may always be revealed as perfectly again. But with an act it is different. For what has once been done cannot be done again, except in so far as the same situation as that in which it was done recurs. And if the act in question be such as absolutely to prevent the same situation recurring, then that act is necessarily unrepeatable. If, therefore, Christ has really conquered death and sin, made atonement for man and opened the way to God, then the same situation which existed before his coming can never be repeated, and neither can his victorious act. The finality (einmaligkeit) of the Christian revelation is based on the finality of what Christ did. The fundamental defect of Liberal Protestantism is that it thinks of Christ only as revealer. Therefore it misses the point of the gospel of the new age.
5. KENOTIC CHRISTOLOGY
The second type of modern Christological theory is that which, while seeking to safeguard the genuinely human experience of Jesus with its necessary limitations, has nevertheless followed Luther also in sticking to the fundamental doctrine that Jesus is proved to be God by the victory and redemption which he wrought. This line of thought has led to the so-called “kenotic” theories, those, namely, which are based on the passage in the second chapter of Philippians which we have already discussed. This type of theory was originated by theologians of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches in Germany in the early part of the last century. Its first exponents tried to discriminate too exactly and academically between those attributes of the Godhead which the Son gave up in his incarnation and those which he retained. The original form of the theory therefore did not survive criticism. Nevertheless, its central principle, that the eternal Son or Word in his incarnation by a voluntary act limited himself to a historical human consciousness and human faculties of knowledge and action, has, I believe, proved itself to be the most important fresh contribution to Christology which has been made since the time of Irenaeus. The principle is thus stated by Bishop Gore.
I see no help so great as is supplied by two phrases in which St. Paul characterizes the act of the Son of God in taking our manhood – “he beggared himself” (or “made himself poor”), and “he emptied himself” or “annulled himself”. St. Paul, in using these words, is not thinking of any particular aspect of the human life of Jesus, such as the limitation of his knowledge; but he regards the incarnation in itself as having involved in some sense the abandonment of “riches” which belonged to the previous divine state of the Son. It is when we look at the facts in the Gospel that we are led to welcome St. Paul’s words as giving us the clue to what we see there. The divine Son in becoming man must, we conclude, have accepted, voluntarily and deliberately, the limitations involved in really living as man – even as sinless and perfect man – in feeling as a man, thinking as a man, striving as a man, being anxious and tried as a man. ... This was no failure of power. God is love, and love is sympathy and self-sacrifice. The incarnation is the supreme act of self-sacrificing sympathy, by which one, whose nature is divine, was enabled to enter into human experience. He emptied himself of divine prerogatives so far as was involved in really becoming man, and growing, feeling, thinking and suffering as man.1
1Belief in Christ, pp. 225 sq. The Chalcedonian Definition, as interpreted by Leo’s Tome, seems to commit orthodoxy to accepting a kenosis, in so far as it affirms that the Son of God in his human nature subjected himself to human limitations. The essence of “the kenotic theory” is that it postulates a self-limitation of the Godhead in the incarnation. This is what Gore’s language implies (see ibid., pp. 226–28). Some modern theologians following the Reformed (Calvinist) tradition seek to justify language about the Son of God=s descent by supposing that, although he descended and became limited as man on earth, his divine nature or deity remained external to the incarnation and did not as such enter the sphere of history at all. To Brunner (The Mediator, p. 343 n.) it seems that Biblical criticism has made this view the only possible one. To me the suggestion that God, but not deity, became incarnate is unintelligible. Still, though Brunner rejects “the kenotic theory”, it may be said that his Christology, like that of others influenced by Kierkegaard, is in a more general sense kenotic, in that it emphasizes the human limitations of Jesus’ Christ and attributes them to the descent of the Son of God.
The general aim of kenotic theories is sufficiently plain. They regard the earthly life of Jesus as one moment or constituent part in a whole divine act which has its beginning and end in heaven, an act which begins with a supreme condescension and ends in an exaltation of that humanity into which God himself has condescended to enter. These theories then make a fresh attempt to do real justice to that clause of the Creed which affirms that the Son of God “for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven”; they interpret that clause, not in terms of physical fact, as though heaven were above earth in space, but of spiritual reality, in which descent means a voluntary self-humiliation and self-abnegation. Neither Thomistic orthodoxy nor the modernism of the Liberal Protestants can take such an interpretation seriously. For the latter understands by the divinity of Jesus only the quality or value of his manhood in revealing God; whereas for the former the conception of the divine nature precludes the possibility that Godhead should ever enter into such a fresh relation with manhood as is postulated by a real, and not a merely formal or apparent, descent of God into a created nature. The kenotists would contend that the possibility of such a descent is proved, because to suppose that it took place is the only way to do justice to the content of the gospel. According to their doctrine Jesus on earth is really and fully God; yet in his earthly condition the Godhead in him is really limited by the fact that he is also really and fully man. The Godhead is not really changed by this self-limitation; for the self-limitation is itself the act of that absolute love, omnipotence, and wisdom, which constitute the divine nature. There is therefore no conversio divinitatis in carne. And yet that which is directly manifest in the earthly Jesus may be only manhood in its supreme perfection. That he is also truly God is indirectly manifest, when we account for all that Jesus accomplished and revealed by attributing it, as did St. Paul, to the act of a divine person in taking manhood upon himself in order through humiliation to exalt and save it.
6. CRITICISMS OF KENOTIC CHRISTOLOGY
As we have already seen, upholders of the kenotic doctrine can make a fair reply to those who urge that to suppose that in Jesus, as he was on earth, the Godhead was in a real way limited by the manhood must contradict the truth that he was truly God. Three other important objections, however, have been brought against the doctrine; and we must consider them briefly in turn.
(a) The first is derived from its alleged inconsistency with the orthodoxy of the primitive Church. Professor Creed points out that
this conception of the incarnate life is a wide departure from that which prevailed in the ancient Church. Dr. Loofs has shown that no real precedent for this type of thought can be adduced from the patristic writers. The nearest approach is to be found in the heresiarch, Apollinarius.1
1Mysterium Christi (edd. Bell and Deissmann), p. 133.
The truth of these statements may be admitted. But we have already seen why patristic theologians were prevented from working out the suggestions of a kenotic Christology to be found in St. Paul’s Epistles. They were committed from the start to a Hellenic conception of the divine nature. Just for that reason, if a patristic theologian had seriously put forward a kenotic theory, he would almost certainly have laid himself open to the charges of making the deity passible, or of teaching that it was subject to variation (τρεπτός), or that it was changed by becoming incarnate (conversio divinitatis in carne). But if we conceive God’s changelessness to consist simply in the absolute steadfastness of his perfect will of love, we can at once deny that the self-limitation of the eternal Son in the historical manhood of Jesus involves any real variableness in the deity; since it is the consistency of God’s love for man which is the very cause and ground of the self-limitation. Moreover, Anglicans any rate can hardly be accused of heresy for appealing to the Bible against a doctrine of the divine nature which, whatever its value, is certainly derived from extra-biblical sources.
(b) A more substantial objection is raised by Dr. Temple, in criticism of Dr. Mackintosh.1 In so far as Dr. Temple says that the kenotic theory has a mythological appearance, we may indeed not only agree with him, but go further in saying that it is inevitably expressed in terms of myth. For myth is the only language we can use about supramundane realities, in so far as we think and speak of them in the category of action. When we speak of the eternal nature and attributes of God, we make allowance for the imperfection of our human language and understanding by reminding ourselves that we are using our terms analogically. And if we speak of divine actions in the heavenly sphere, we must speak of them in the same analogical way, which means that we tell a myth about them. The myth is a true myth, if it serves to express a reality which we cannot express better in other ways. And the kenotist contends that the theologian, if he would express the truth about the incarnation as fully as he can, is bound to tell a myth in order to account for that element or moment in the incarnation which belongs definitely to the sphere of historical fact.
1Christus Veritas, pp. 142 sq.
But Dr. Temple clearly means that he considers the kenotic theory to contain bad or false myth.
What was happening [he asks] to the rest of the universe during the period of our Lord=s earthly life? To say that the infant Jesus was from his cradle exercising providential care over it all is certainly monstrous; but to deny this, and yet to say that the creative Word was so self‑emptied as to have no being except in the infant Jesus is to assert that for a certain period of history the world was let loose from the control of the creative Word.
Now it seems to me that in this argument Dr. Temple is really pressing too far the mythology inherent in the kenotic theory. In the first place it is not necessary for its supporters strictly to affirm that the creative Word had no being except in the infant Jesus. What their theory demands is a limitation of consciousness rather than of actual being.1 The difference may be illustrated from the cry of desolation uttered on the Cross. That our Lord underwent the consciousness of being forsaken by God we may not doubt. But it need not follow that he was in very reality cast out from the Father’s presence; indeed, such a separation is unthinkable. It must in a sense be true that all through the period of the incarnation the Son never really left the Father’s side: always he was in the Father, and the Father in him: it was the consciousness of the absolute unity and communion which in varying manners and degrees was limited by the flesh. And, if the critic proceeds to press the point that at least the creative Word, while self-limited in the earthly Jesus, was not consciously controlling the universe, the defender of the theory has the alternatives of elaborating myth still further2 (which is no doubt precarious) or of remaining agnostic upon such a point.3 After all, in postulating a supramundane act of the Deity we can only discern or judge of its reality through our apprehension of its effects in our world. Of its direct conditions or results within the supramundane or heavenly sphere itself we are necessarily ignorant; and it may well be that any precision of logic based on the application of spatio-temporal categories to the heavenly sphere will only lead conjecture astray. The faith in the incarnation, which is based on the gospel of the New Testament, leads us to believe that in the life of Jesus the Godhead, by a wholly mysterious act of love, both entered into a genuinely human experience, and, because it so entered, was made subject to the limitations of a human consciousness. And the kenotic theory, in its essence, does but suggest that St. Paul in his hints about a divine kenosis supplies us with a myth by means of which the unimaginable reality may be least inadequately expressed. Of the application of the kenotic theory within the historical sphere of our Lord=s earthly life more will be said later on.
1It must be admitted, however, that the particular distinction here suggested is hardly in accordance with what Dr. Mackintosh calls “the classic form” of the kenotic theory, op. cit., p. 267.
2Thus Godet suggests that during the period of our Lord’s earthly life the Father himself exercised directly the functions which he normally exercises through the mediation of the Logos. (See Mackintosh, op cit., p. 268.)
3So Gore, Belief in Christ, p. 226.
Dr. Temple himself prefers to think that God the Word, without ceasing his creative and sustaining work, added this to it, that he became flesh and dwelt as in a tabernacle among us. Such a doctrine may be, as Dr. Temple believes, more strictly Johannine. But from the point of view from which Dr. Temple himself criticizes the kenotic theory, it would seem to involve the supposition that he who is at the same time both the creative Word and the infant in the cradle is at that time the subject of two distinct consciousnesses and experiences at once. This may be the best way of thinking about the matter, provided we do not allow it to suggest to us that the Word was only partially incarnate; but it obliges us still to assume a kenosis, in so far as the consciousness of the Word made flesh is concerned. Granted that the Word, without ceasing his creative and sustaining work, added something to it, what he added is precisely that experience in which his divine consciousness was limited and his divine state surrendered. Thus the difference between Dr. Temple and the kenotists concerns only events in the supramundane sphere, about which no direct revelation has been given, and man’s knowledge is necessarily but guesswork.
(c) A third objection to kenotic Christology is connected with the doctrine of the Trinity. It may be urged that the theory involves a kind of distinction between the divine persons which brings us perilously near to tritheism. Liberal Protestants who are accused of a Unitarian tendency, may not unnaturally feel inclined to use this countercharge as a retort. Nevertheless, I think that upholders of the kenotic theory again have a good defence, and that on two grounds.
(1) Historically the dogma of the Trinity arose out of the original necessity in which Christian thought found itself at once of distinguishing Jesus Christ from God and of identifying him with God. This necessity in its turn arose out of the Christian experience itself, that is, out of the impression which Jesus Christ in his life, death, and resurrection made upon the minds of his disciples. Theologically speaking, we might almost say that it was in order to make intelligible the experience of the incarnation and the atonement that the doctrine of the Trinity was formulated. Therefore we ought to test the truth and significance of our doctrine of the Trinity by our apprehension of the truth and significance of the incarnation, and not to limit the significance of the incarnation by the supposed demands of the doctrine of the Trinity.
(2) In speaking of the eternal relations within the Godhead itself we are again in the sphere of the inscrutable where the only truth for us is in the form of analogy or myth. But if we base our theology upon the New Testament, and especially upon St. John, we find the main positive significance of the doctrine of the Trinity to be that the God who revealed his love in Jesus is eternally the perfection of love in his own nature, and that therefore there must be within God the mutuality of perfect communion. It is into the perfect and eternal communion that manhood has been taken up through the incarnation of the person of the Son who is the head and representative of redeemed mankind. Therefore it cannot be the best expression of the unity of God to declare that God is a single person. Among New Testament writers it is St. John who insists most clearly and fully upon the eternal communion between the Father and the Son; and in making this distinction between divine persons, he supplies a thought which becomes a support for the Pauline myth of the kenosis. If we thus base our teaching upon St. John and St. Paul, we can at least appeal to the New Testament against the theological judgement of any doctors of a later age.
7. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
It is time for us to sum up the results of our brief historical sketch of Christology, before we turn back again to apply them to the original facts of the life on which Christology is based.
One of our chief aims has been to show that the main differences in Christological doctrine are rooted in different conceptions of the nature of the Godhead. The difference of Christian theology from others is not adequately expressed by saying that its centre is not God but Jesus. Christology as such does not wholly determine the Christian’s thought about God. On the contrary, it is a particular way of thinking about God, whether derived from Jesus himself or from another source, which is the determining consideration in Christology. If the Christology of the Fathers or of modern theologians is inadequate, it is because it does not do justice to that revelation of God with which Christianity both completes and corrects the imperfect ideas of Godhead derived from God’s universal witness to himself.
Having thus set the thought of God at the centre of Christian theology, we have seen that all down the course of its history there are two principal ways in which the human and historical life of Jesus has been positively related to the Godhead in such a manner as to justify the affirmation that Jesus is himself divine.1 In the first way, the earthly life of Jesus is regarded as the instrument of God’s action; in the second, it is regarded as the symbol of God’s unchanging nature and character. The first way coheres with the Hebraic thought of God as the living sovereign Jehovah who works through historical events towards a future goal. The second way coheres with the Hellenic thought of God as the unchangeably perfect being who is the ground of all reality and value. Again, the first way leads us to value the earthly life of Jesus chiefly for its effects, which Christian faith has held to be the conquest of death and sin, the justification of believers, and the bringing in of the life of the new world. The second way leads us to value the life of Jesus chiefly for what it is in itself as the revelation of the eternal truth which has been from the beginning, is now and ever shall be.
1The notion that the life of Jesus represents the perfect personal communion of a man with God cannot in itself justify the affirmation that Jesus is himself divine. Even that form of Liberal Protestantism which comes nearest to Unitarianism postulates a divine quality or value in the personal humanity of Jesus which makes him divine as being in himself the human revealer of Godhead.
Both lines of thought have their origins in the New Testament; and there they are never separated, though we may find the first to be specially characteristic of St. Paul, and the second of St. John. But in the history of the Church=s theology the two lines have tended to diverge from one another. What God has joined together in Christ, man’s thought, to some extent inevitably, has set asunder. And one main reason for the separation has been the fact that right up to the Reformation the Christian intellect was dominated by Hellenic ideas of God which made it impossible for theology to take quite seriously the notion of any act of God in history, and most of all that of a divine act of self-limitation and self-sacrifice. The results of this great inhibition are seen most clearly in the orthodox theology of the Middle Ages, where on the one hand the doctrine of the incarnation is interpreted to mean that the manhood of Jesus was but a superficial mask hiding his deity, while on the other hand the atonement is represented as an act of sacrifice offered by Christ as man m reparation and satisfaction for man’s sin. It is the persistence of the Hellenic inhibition which has driven Liberal Protestantism to get rid of the medieval anomaly by subordinating the deity to the manhood of Jesus in its doctrine of the incarnation, as medievalism had subordinated the deity to the manhood in its doctrine of the atonement. Thus for Liberal Protestantism the incarnate Lord becomes a man whose manhood has a divine significance or value. On the other hand, the doctrine of Karl Barth, at least in some of its aspects, represents an irruption of Hebraism into Christian theology, which is the more violent because of its long exclusion.
The truest Christology is that which does most justice to the life of Jesus recorded in the New Testament, when we consider it as the ground and source of its results in the experience and faith of men. True Christology must therefore enable us to hold together in unity, and yet perhaps always in mutual tension, the two ways of thought which we have just distinguished. It must enable us to think of Christ’s life as one which by what it victoriously accomplished has made all the difference to the relation between man and God, one which by God’s action through it has brought a new world into being. It must enable us also to think of Christ’s life as one which has made no difference at all to the eternal truth about God and man which it has revealed.
If we face the problem squarely and steadily, we shall, I think, find ourselves constrained to build our Christology on that fundamental conception of God=s nature as eternal agape, which we have already tried in some degree to make clear. Our guiding idea must be that the historic life of Jesus is the supremely characteristic action of God’s love. But we must give its full force to the word “characteristic”. Primarily it means that the action reveals God’s constant nature; but, if God’s nature is that of the love which works to achieve its purpose in history, then its supremely characteristic action will be not only revealing but also directly effective. It will not be a mere gesture, that is, an act the only purpose of which is to reveal or signify what is. It will be an act which is in itself creative, redemptive, victorious – only so will it fully reveal God. With this thought in mind we can proceed to lay down conditions which are criteria of truth and adequacy in Christological doctrine.
(1) Such love as the New Testament attributes to God can only be revealed to man in person and in act. No mere message or oracle on the lips of a semi-divine mediator, or of a man, however divinely inspired, could ever really have conveyed it. That is the most fundamental reason why we must affirm Jesus Christ to have been, and to be, himself personally God. Yet at the same time no act even of God could ever have conveyed such love, except the act whereby God put himself at man’s side to suffer with him and for him in man’s own condition. We cannot be content to say that “the whole process of the universe in evolution is incarnation: God is in the process indwelling: the whole universe is not merely the scene of his operations, but a manifestation of him, in all the stages of its evolution: the whole is incarnation”.1 Such statements are at best the expression of a Christian Hellenism, modified by modern doctrines of evolution. They ignore the force of St. Thomas Aquinas’s reply to the objection that, since love makes us give ourselves to our friends as much as we can, the Son of God ought therefore to have assumed human nature in all human persons. “The love of God to men,” answers St. Thomas, abandoning Aristotle, “is shown not merely in the assumption of human nature, but especially in what he suffered in human nature for other men.”2 The Son of God’s love, of whom the Bible speaks, could only be incarnate in one man, who suffered for all others.
1Bethune-Baker, quoted by Creed, Mysterium Christi, p. 137.
2S. T., Pt. III, Q. 4, Art. 5, ad. 2.
(2) The Christian revelation of God is absolutely final, because it is inseparable from the final victory which Christ accomplished. The revelation is in the redemption; and God’s redemption of manhood in Christ was either achieved finally, or it was never achieved at all. And if it was achieved, it was achieved through certain historical events. It follows that the essence of Christian faith consists in the hearing and accepting of a gospel or good news of fact, not in the conclusions of abstract reasoning, nor in the mystical vision of an eternal reality behind and apart from outward things or immanent in all. That is the fundamental reason for the tremendous emphasis on the word of the gospel, which is specially characteristic of Pauline and Evangelical theology.
(3) At the same time, Christ’s victorious and redemptive life not only reveals God’s love but also embodies in manhood man’s own true ideal of human goodness. That is the truth which Christian humanists from Abélard to the Liberal Protestants have persistently vindicated, and which Augustinians and modern Barthians too often reject. God created man=s spirit to mirror his love, and never has the glass been completely darkened even by sin. These are necessary presuppositions of belief in the incarnation. It was the human nature of Adam that the Son of God took upon himself, and it is to all that is most truly human in the sons of Adam that he makes his appeal from Nazareth and Calvary and from heaven itself. As therefore the life of Christ makes no change in God, so also, in one sense, it makes no change in man. We must beware of those evolutionary teachers who invite us to compare the difference between Christ’s manhood and that of unredeemed mankind with the difference between unredeemed manhood and any subhuman nature. το απροσληπτον αθεραπευτόν. If it was but some superhumanity which the Son of God took upon himself, there is no real redemption and no incarnation either. And we must beware also of the “dialectical” theologians who persuade us that the human nature was so completely an incognito or disguise for the divine person, that his human goodness can do nothing to reveal him as divine. The manhood that was made in God’s image, even though the image is marred by sin, is still capable of recognizing God through, not in spite of, his incarnation in the goodness of a man.
We may thus mark in outline the central truths of the gospel which any adequate Christology must secure. These truths, of course, are not in themselves sufficient as a Christological theory; they do but challenge the efforts of the theologian and metaphysician to suggest theories which will do them justice, and there is wide room in such theorizing for differences of emphasis and for diversities of philosophical and historical opinion. But we can at least say that a theory of Christ’s person which is irreconcilable with any of these truths has missed an essential element in the gospel of Christianity.
We will now conclude our general sketch of Christological doctrine by suggesting the permanent significance of each of the three great titles in which the Apostles’ Creed expresses the Christian faith about Jesus.
First, he is the Christ. That title presents him as the one through whom God’s promise and purpose in history reach their victorious fulfillment. The promised victory of the Christ himself has been won already, and in him manhood has already entered the new world, the world to come. This title therefore speaks to us especially of the opus operatum, the accomplished work, which is the essential content of the gospel of deliverance and freedom. But it reminds us also of the glory of the Kingdom still to be revealed when all things have been subjected to Christ, and we shall see him even as he is.
Secondly, Jesus is our Lord. This title presents him as the present object of our personal devotion. It reminds us of the faith and loyalty which must be ours, if we would appropriate the benefits of the opus operatum which God through Christ has wrought.
Lastly, Jesus is the only Son of God. This title declares the mystery of the person of Jesus, which alone enables him truly to be both the Christ and our Lord. The promised victory and deliverance could in the end only be wrought by God himself. It was his own arm which brought salvation when man had utterly failed. And again, the worship and adoration of the heart are rightly due to God alone. To give to any being who is not God the place which Christian devotion gives to Jesus is to fall under St. Paul’s condemnation of those who honour the creature more than the creator; and it is to be deceived by that vainest of all human philosophies, which makes man the measure of all things and the spiritual centre of the universe.
Thus the three titles of the Apostles’ Creed set forth what are to the Christian theologian the conditions of his problem, and to the believer the grounds of his glorying in Christ.
Chapter XIV – The Incarnation and Historical Criticism
Having completed our survey of Christological doctrine, we turn back to the historical facts which are its foundation. What does it mean in relation to those historical facts themselves to say that the prophet of Nazareth whom Pontius Pilatus crucified was very God? And, in the first place, is any such affirmation credible at all, if we allow its legitimate place and function to the critical and scientific study of the historical records concerning Jesus?
1. THE DIFFERENT PRESUPPOSITIONS OF THE BELIEVER AND
OF THE CRITIC
It may seem that some answer should have been at tempted to these most searching questions, before we proceeded to any examination of the doctrines which have been built upon the alleged facts. We should have made sure, it may be said, of the historical foundation first; for if the foundations be insecure, it is but waste of time to examine the comparative strength and suitability of various parts of the superstructure. Nevertheless, the order of treatment which we have followed has been deliberately chosen for a reason, the bearing of which upon the strictly historical problem I propose now to discuss. The facts concerning Jesus, strictly as facts, cannot be fairly studied or estimated solely by reference to the documents and oral tradition which are their original record, but only when they are considered also as the sufficient cause of the effects which they have subsequently produced in human thought and life. For that reason some study of the nature of those effects in the sphere of faith and doctrine is required in order to give us part of the evidence on which we determine the nature of the original facts themselves.
I can imagine a historical critic objecting to this line of argument altogether, on the ground that it is but a thinly disguised attempt to import theological prejudice into a historical discussion. He may support his objection thus. “Historical conclusions are to be determined by purely historical considerations. This principle implies that the historical facts of the life of Jesus are to be established by exactly the same methods as we should use in the case of any other man. Now, if we are endeavouring to arrive at the original facts which made up the life, say, of Julius Cæsar, we do not first consider all the beliefs about Julius Cæsar which men have held in subsequent ages. We do not, for instance, regard Shakspere’s tragedy as part of the historical evidence. Rather we are careful, so far as may be, to dismiss all later beliefs from our minds. Having thus freed ourselves from bias, we search out the most nearly contemporary records which are available, and by scientific comparison and criticism of their contents we reconstruct the most probable account of Cæsar’s life. This account then becomes the criterion by which we judge the historical truth or error of subsequent beliefs about Julius Cæsar. The same method ought to be followed in the case of Jesus. In this case the early evidence consists almost entirely of the books of the New Testament; for the references to be found in non‑Christian authors of the same period are but scanty. This evidence then has to be sifted and criticized on the same principles as we should employ in any other case. And, having thus determined the most probable account of the original deeds and words and character of Jesus, and having carefully separated what may be regarded as reasonably certain from more or less doubtful hypothesis, we must judge all subsequent beliefs about him in the light of this account, dismissing as probably untrue or at least as doubtful any belief which rests on something not contained in the residuum of fact which the historical critic has certified.”
All this sounds very plausible; but there is a catch in it. That there must be a catch somewhere is shown by two facts. First, if we agree to take as the residuum of reasonable certainty those facts on which competent critics are unanimous, we find that we have practically no information about Jesus at all, except that a religious agitator of that name was condemned to crucifixion by Pontius Pilate, the procurator of Judæa, about A.D. 30. This seems a really absurd conclusion, when we compare the amount of nearly contemporary evidence we have about Jesus with the much smaller amount available in the ease of other men about whom critical historians agree in giving us much more considerable knowledge. It seems too paradoxical to say that we really know no more about him than we know about the man who was probably his namesake, Barabbas. Secondly, we notice that in order to support negative conclusions as to what we know about the original life and teaching of Jesus, historical critics often allow themselves to search the whole doctrinal field opened by the comparative study of religions. If historical conclusions are to be drawn from comparisons between Christian and non-Christian doctrines, it would seem after all to be part of the historian’s function to study and understand the doctrines which he compares.
But what is the real flaw in the argument which we have put into our critic’s mouth? It lies in the initial assumptions stated in its first two sentences. How far must the historian really treat the life of Jesus like that of any other man? Scientific methods of historical criticism assume, and must assume, that in all events which have ever happened human and physical nature conform to a certain order, the laws of which are known. If therefore any event is alleged to have happened, which demands for its explanation a causal agency transcending the possibilities of human or physical nature as known elsewhere, scientific criticism will tend to dismiss the allegation as untrue, and will at least require a much greater cogency of evidence in its favour than it would in other cases. Now there is no doubt that the earliest evidence which we possess for the life of Jesus assumes that, although he was a man, he was nevertheless a unique person in such a sense that what happened in his case was not restricted by the limits of what would be possible for human and physical nature in any other ease. It follows that historical criticism, working on scientific lines, is strongly prejudiced against this evidence. Rather than accept the absolute uniqueness of Jesus as the true explanation of any event, it will exhaust every other possible way of reconstructing the facts, and, if in the end it finds no alternative which it can honestly pronounce to be satisfactory, it will content itself with saying that no certain conclusion can be reached. On the other hand the Christian believer, having reached his faith, not by scientific examination of historical evidence but by the acceptance of religious teaching verified in his own moral and spiritual experience, if he is asked to examine the historical basis of his beliefs, will approach the primitive records with a quite opposite presupposition. He will have no antecedent objection whatever to the hypothesis that certain things happened which were only possible because Jesus was the unique person whom he has always believed him to be. And if this hypothesis seems to be the most obvious and natural way of accounting for the evidence, he will not trouble himself about alternatives, even though he cannot show them to be in themselves incredible.
Let us try to make clearer the fundamental difference between these two points of view by considering the crucial instance of the resurrection. Every writer in the New Testament believes the resurrection of Jesus to be a fact. One main purpose of the earliest Christianity of which we have any record was to bear witness to that fact, and even our written records go back to a time about twenty years after the alleged event. Now the historical critic, rightly from his point of view, regards all this evidence with the gravest suspicion. If he is true to his scientific principles, he will certainly not dismiss it offhand, but he will demand from it almost absolute cogency, and he will prefer any other possible explanation of the evidence to the supposition of its truth. But suppose (though the hypothesis is most improbable) that in the end he is convinced, as a scientific historian, that the resurrection did happen. He will then believe it on the ground that no fair-minded critic could reject such weight of evidence for the resurrection of anyone, and ever afterwards he will approach stories of other resurrections with presuppositions less hostile to their truth. On the other hand, the Christian believer will be predisposed to accept the New Testament evidence for the resurrection. He will not refuse to test the evidence critically; but he will not demand from it any proof that science or the law courts would call cogent. And if (as in all probability he will) he finds the evidence sufficient, he will accept it, precisely not on the ground that such evidence would establish the resurrection of anyone, but on the ground that it is the uniqueness of Jesus which makes it credible. Just because, therefore, he believes in the resurrection of Jesus, he will approach stories of other resurrections with presuppositions more hostile to their truth, since their truth would seem prima facie to conflict with his belief in the uniqueness of Jesus. Thus the historical critic and the Christian believer, if they were both to accept the fact that Jesus rose again from the dead, would not really agree with one another any more than they do while the one rejects the fact and the other accepts it. The difference in presuppositions is radical and decisive; and yet neither point of view seems to be in itself unreasonable.
2. SCIENTIFIC IMPARTIALITY IMPOSSIBLE
At this point we may imagine our historical critic to make a large concession, which indeed many critics would have been entirely ready to make at the start. “I agree,” he says, “that we cannot really settle the facts of the life of Jesus, without taking some account of the faith which was their consequence. The ultimate question which every student of Christian origins has to answer is this: the Christian faith being what it is, is it on the whole more reasonable to suppose that it came into the world in some such way as the New Testament alleges, or in some different way? I grant that the existence of the faith must be adequately accounted for somehow, and we cannot account for it, if we do not consider what it is. Doctrinal considerations therefore are not wholly irrelevant to the historical inquiry. But still, if we are to reach the historical facts, we must divest our minds of all presuppositions as to the value or truth of the Christian faith. Any such presupposition is really a vicious prejudice. I will abandon the parallel of Julius Caesar, for it is obvious that the life of Caesar gave rise to no new faith for which the historian has to account. But my essential point will remain the same and be more clearly indisputable, if I substitute for Julius Caesar the founder of some other great religion, let us say, Sakya Muni or Mahomet.”
Yet even this fair-minded concession is one which as Christians we cannot accept. We are obliged once more to dispute the parallel and the conclusions based upon it. Buddhism and Islam invite faith in the teaching of Sakya Muni and of Mahomet. And, since the recorded teaching remains the same whatever be its historical origin, we are not necessarily passing any judgement on the essential value of Buddhism or Islam as a religious faith by any conclusion we may reach as to the facts of its founder=s life, although no doubt certain conclusions might cause grave scandal to the orthodox Buddhist or Mohammedan. In the same way certain conclusions of historical critics about the life of Moses have caused scandal both to Jews and Christians; but they cannot be said in themselves to involve a denial of the divine authority of the Mosaic Law, since that Law remains what it is and may be equally inspired, whether its origin were a gradual growth or a single oracular pronouncement. But Christianity does not invite faith simply in the teaching of Jesus. Christian faith is faith in the living Lord who died and rose again to bring to men the eternal life which is the goal of history. According to Christianity therefore the life of Jesus stands in a unique relation to history as a whole, and the truth of that relation is of the essence of its faith. Therefore to suppose either that the main facts alleged by Christianity concerning Jesus are not historical facts at all, or that they are simply historical facts to be judged like any others, is necessarily to judge that the Christian faith is false, or at any rate that its truth is something essentially different from what the main tradition of Christianity has supposed it to be. It is strictly impossible to give any account of the historical origins of Christianity, which is impartial in the sense of being wholly detached from any particular estimate of its truth and value.
The same point may be expressed, perhaps more simply, thus. If the meaning of the Christian faith, involving certain beliefs about the historical life of Jesus, seems to us to be such as to make it of absolutely unique value for human life and thought, our treatment of the historical evidence concerning the life of Jesus will inevitably and rightly be different from what it would be, if we saw no such value in the Christian faith at all. If the resurrection of Jesus means to us the redemption of mankind, so that it transforms our whole understanding of the universe, it will rightly seem to us ludicrous to suppose that belief in it originated from a natural mistake of some overwrought women as to the tomb in which their Rabbi’s body had been laid. But this same explanation may as rightly seem to us perfectly adequate, if the whole gospel of redemption, based on the resurrection, seems to us to be in any case no better than a fantasy. Moreover, to maintain a strict impartiality as to any value, good or bad, in the resurrection gospel is simply to deprive ourselves of the means of reaching any reasonable judgement whatever upon the facts. The truth is that Christianity is a faith so unique in its connexion with history, so universal in its implications, and so searching in its claims, that we must make some answer to its challenge in the present before we can judge at all of its origins in the past.
3. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HISTORICAL CRITICISM FOR CHRISTIAN FAITH
Christians therefore should be quite candid in saying that they do not and cannot reach their conclusions as to what is historically true in the gospel narrative in a spirit of scientific impartiality. They do not deny the duty, or prejudge the results, of critical investigation. They must always be prepared to admit the force of evidence which shows their beliefs to be mistaken. But their minds are prepared to accept narratives about Jesus as statements of fact on evidence which the non-Christian critic cannot regard as adequate. For Christians will always think it reasonable to suppose that their wonderful and mysterious faith had its origin in a wonderful and mysterious person.
But does it follow that the Christian, while he remains a Christian, is either entitled or obliged to refuse consideration to the conclusions of all critics who do not share his faith? May he assume either (a) that the Gospels contain an inerrant record of fact, or (b) that the original facts must have been such as to vindicate everything that orthodox Christians have subsequently taught and believed about them? If, after what has been said already, we are to answer these questions in the negative, we must clearly give precise reasons for our denial.
(a) The object of the Christian’s faith is the person of Jesus Christ whose historical life and work the New Testament records; it is not the documents of the New Testament themselves. The New Testament warns the Christian that he must not believe in its letter, as the orthodox Jew believed in the letter of the Mosaic Law. Exactly because as Christians we believe, partly through the evidence of the New Testament, that Christ lives to enable us to know and to have faith in him by his Spirit, we are obliged to judge the New Testament by the apprehended perfection of Christ rather than Christ himself by the supposed inerrancy of the New Testament. If we believe that perfection is in Christ only, we cannot escape the duty of criticizing, in some measure, the documents in which imperfect men have recorded their impressions of him. The words which, according to St. John, Jesus addressed to the Jews might well have been addressed also to some more modern “fundamentalists”, in reference to the New Testament as well as to the Old. “Ye search the Scriptures, because m them ye think that ye have eternal life; and they it is which testify of me; and ye will not come to me that ye may have life.”1
1John 5:39 sq.
(b) The fundamental doctrine and mystery of the Christian faith is the historical incarnation, the fact that the eternal Son of God was made man. But, as we have already seen, from early times Christians have differed considerably from one another in what they have thought to be the demands of their faith in respect of the nature of the incarnate Lord’s experience and powers upon earth. Here then we are faced by differences of doctrinal presupposition among Christians themselves, which inevitably affect their historical judgements. Thus orthodox teachers who believe that our Lord’s deity made him omniscient are obliged to reject or explain away the Marcan saying in which our Lord acknowledges a certain ignorance of the future,1 just as others, who emphasize in a particular way the reality of our Lord’s manhood, reject or explain away some stories of miracles contained in the Gospels. It is inevitable and reasonable that the logical process by which the Christian arrives at his historical conclusions should be, to some extent, circular. He bases his doctrine of the Lord’s person mainly upon the general record of the New Testament, and then uses his doctrine to test and criticize certain details of the record.
For our own part we have already suggested that the particular doctrine about the incarnation, which best fits the whole mystery of our faith, postulates a real kenosis and self-limitation on the part of the Son of God in taking our manhood upon himself. In going back therefore to consider the historical life and personality of the incarnate Lord, we shall assume as a hypothesis that he was really limited by all the restrictions necessary to make his experience that of a man living at a particular time and place. Just in so far as we believe that Jesus shared such restrictions with all other men, we shall be ready to use and acknowledge the value of the method of the critical historian, whether Christian or not. For it is the essence of that method to assume that Jesus was a man like other men. On the other hand, just in so far as we acknowledge the uniquely divine and supernatural element in Jesus operating in and through his humanity, we shall not think the critical method adequate to give us the whole even of the historical truth. We shall not, for instance, assume, as the historical critic does assume, that, provided there is no cogent proof to the contrary, any manifestation of that supernatural clement in the record concerning Jesus must be due to a later tradition of the Church, and cannot have been part of the original facts. In other words, while we fully acknowledge the value of the critical method in helping us towards the truth, we cannot allow it to dictate to us, or strictly to limit, all our historical conclusions. It is, we shall say, a good servant but a bad master.
To the ultimate challenge, that by making such a claim to a relative independence of historical criticism we are only reserving the right of doctrinal prejudice to falsify history, we can make a perfectly straightforward and rational reply. The defence of the Christian’s convictions about the historical origins of his faith will always rest mainly upon the principle that effects must have an adequate cause. And the judgement as to the adequacy of an alleged cause must always depend on a judgement as to the value of the given effect. Therefore our judgement as to the value of the Christian faith must necessarily affect our judgement as to the historical causes which are adequate to account for it. Men do not gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles; nor is the Christian gospel likely to be the product of credulity and deceit. The story of Jesus, as the New Testament presents it, cannot, whatever critics may say, have been in its essential characteristics the fabrication of an ecclesiastical tradition. If it were, reason might as well put up the shutters. But of course, if a critic sees no peculiar value in the record concerning Jesus, his conclusions as to its historical origin will rightly be different from ours. What reasonable man could believe in “the resurrection of one Jesus who was dead and whom Paul”, and some other obviously unbalanced and neurotic enthusiasts, “affirmed to be alive”?
Chapter XV – The Virgin Birth
We have already said enough to show that belief in Christ=s resurrection is an integral and essential element in the Christian faith, and to indicate in a general way the grounds on which Christians regard the evidence sufficient to justify their belief in it as a historical fact. Further consideration of the meaning of the resurrection will be deferred until we discuss it in connexion with the Christian doctrine of salvation and of “the last things”. The miracle of the Virgin Birth is, however, more exclusively linked with the doctrine of the incarnation, and we must at this point say something further as to its place in the Christian gospel, considered both from a doctrinal and from a historical point of view.
1. THE DETERMINING CONSIDERATIONS ARE DOCTRINAL
We here enter a region of acute and most perplexing controversy. But there is one proposition on which all parties ought to be able to agree, namely, that doctrinal considerations must be the determining factor in our belief upon the subject. The strictly historical evidence is (and in the nature of the case it could hardly be otherwise) quite insufficient to satisfy anyone that the Virgin Birth is a fact, who is not already at least strongly inclined to believe in the truth of the incarnation. On the other hand, there seems to be no warrant for denying that the historical evidence must be regarded as considerable by one who approaches it with a really open mind.
2. THE HISTORICAL EVIDENCE
The historical evidence is in fact of a puzzling and ambiguous nature. However dubious it may appear to the critical historian, it certainly is not negligible. Let us briefly sum up the position, stating first the grounds for scepticism.
The positive scriptural evidence is found almost entirely in the first chapters of the first and third Gospels. There is nothing to show that either St. Mark or St. Paul was aware of any tradition that our Lord was born of a virgin; and it is somewhat strange that St. Paul, if he knew and accepted such a tradition, should have made no use of it in his Christological teaching. Again, the special sources of St. Matthew, which are responsible for the form of the tradition found in his Gospel, obviously contain a good deal of material which looks mythological and is of little weight as evidence for historical fact. As to St. Luke, there is considerable doubt whether the birth narrative belonged to the earliest edition of his Gospel.
On the other hand, the two traditions, embodied severally in the first and third Gospels, show no trace of dependence on each other; and this fact points to an early origin for the belief in the Virgin Birth. Again, it is an important fact that, whereas reverence for virginity belonged to Gentile rather than to Jewish religion, is absent from the Old Testament, and played no part in prophecy or expectation about the Messiah’s birth, nevertheless the birth narratives both of St. Matthew and St. Luke show a distinctly Jewish and Palestinian colouring. The prophecy of the Virgin Birth cited by St. Matthew from Isaiah1 is not in the original a prophecy of a virgin birth at all, and was not so understood by the Jews. Finally, and most important of all, it seems almost impossible to argue that these early traditions about our Lord’s birth were invented in the interests of Christological doctrine, for the simple reason that no doctrinal use whatever is made of them in the New Testament, save for one doubtful exception in two verses of the Prologue to St. John=s Gospel.2 All the evangelists mention our Lord’s brothers; yet none affirms, or uses any language which implies, the perpetual virginity of his mother. And St. Matthew’s assertion of the Virgin Birth certainly seems to weaken the force of the genealogy whereby he shows the Davidic descent of Jesus the Messiah through Joseph. The first Christian apologists certainly had a doctrinal interest in maintaining the Davidic descent of Jesus, but apparently none in maintaining his birth of a virgin mother. Any full estimate of the historical evidence would of course require a much longer discussion and the mention of many points of detail which have been here ignored. But enough has been said to indicate the main considerations which have to be taken into account on both sides.
1Isa. 7:14; Mat. 1:22 sq. 2See below, this chapter, Conclusions.
3. DOCTRINAL CONSIDERATIONS
The historical evidence being inconclusive, it is theology which must determine our belief whether or not the Virgin Birth is a historical fact. If the Virgin Birth seems to us to be an integral part of the Christian gospel, and in particular of the doctrine of the incarnation, we shall naturally and reasonably affirm it. If we doubt whether belief in the Virgin Birth belongs to the essence of the Christian faith, we shall naturally and reasonably doubt also whether it happened. But again this doctrinal or theological issue, though confident assertions are to be heard on both sides, is by no means easy to decide. In favour of dogmatic affirmation four arguments are of primary importance:
(a) There is the almost unbroken and universal tradition of the Church from the second century down to modern times that the Virgin Birth is an integral part of the faith.
(b) There is the particular fact that the Creed of most truly Catholic authority definitely states that the Saviour was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.
(c) Many Christians feel that the Virgin Birth is so peculiarly appropriate a sign and expression of the new creation of manhood by divine act in the person of Jesus Christ, that belief in it is practically inseparable from a genuine and full belief in the incarnation.
(d) There is the importance that reverence for the Blessed Virgin has for Christian devotion. Her perpetual virginity is recognized as an article of faith by the main body of the Catholic Church; and to the piety of many, perhaps of most, devout Christians it seems quite intolerable to permit it to be questioned. Any Christian must allow great weight to a consideration of this kind.
On the other hand, there are strong arguments in favour of the opinion that belief in the Virgin Birth is at least not among the primary essentials of the Christian faith.
(a) No attempt is made in the New Testament to show any connexion between belief in the Virgin Birth and saving faith in Christ. Thus the very fact which strengthens the case for belief in the Virgin Birth on historical grounds, to some extent weakens it on doctrinal grounds. The contrast between the place in the Christian faith which the New Testament assigns to the resurrection, and the place which it assigns (if it can be said to assign any place at all) to the Virgin Birth, is so conspicuous that it can hardly be without significance. For those therefore who do not allow to tradition an authority independent of scripture, there are grave difficulties in affirming as “necessary to salvation” belief in a fact of which St. Paul does not seem to have been aware, and of which the New Testament makes virtually no doctrinal use at all.
(b) While it is agreed that the fact of the Virgin Birth was universally believed from the second century onwards, the express mention of it in the text of Creeds was probably due in the first instance to the need of affirming that the Son of God was really born of a human mother, rather than to the direct intention to affirm that he was not born of a human father. Hence the latter belief is assumed rather than actually asserted in the Creeds.
(c) There are some modern believers in the incarnation, and among them some who are not in the least influenced by any Unitarian tendency, to whom the Virgin Birth appears to constitute a difficulty, rather than a help, in Christology. It seems to them more consonant with the whole character and content of the Christian revelation, that, when the Son of God took our manhood upon himself, his birth should have been completely natural in its physical circumstances and conditions. Even so strong a supernaturalist as Brunner can describe the Virgin Birth as an idea with which the amazingly glorious message of the incarnation has been burdened and its central meaning obscured.1
1The Mediator, p. 322.
(d) Apart from the perpetual virginity of our Lady, the Virgin Birth loses its devotional significance; and it is precisely as the condition of the further doctrine of the perpetual virginity that the Virgin Birth itself is chiefly valued by Christian piety. Yet for the perpetual virginity there is no positive evidence in the New Testament at all. To make this doctrine therefore an article of faith is to make necessary to salvation a belief which has no scriptural support.
I have tried to summarize the main arguments on both sides as impartially as I can. The chief result to my mind is to Suggest that on the subject of the Virgin Birth we ought to be especially tender and sympathetic towards the convictions of those who differ from ourselves. But, if we want to grasp the real meaning of the Virgin Birth in relation to the incarnation, we can hardly do better than ponder carefully the text of St. John’s Prologue, to which reference has already been made. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name; who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God.”1 There is evidence of a very early variant in the text which substitutes the singular for the plural in the last clause (“who was born”, etc.), thus making the words refer to our Lord himself. I do not think that this variant represents what St. John originally wrote; but it seems at least highly probable that, as he wrote, he had the tradition of the Virgin Birth in mind. St. John means that the true eternal life of every Christian, into which he is born again of water and the Spirit, is a life which has its cause, not in human heredity, nor in sexual desire, nor in a man’s will, but in the gift of God’s Son. And of Jesus, who was himself the Son or Word made flesh, it is true in a unique way that the life, in which he was really born as man on earth, was not produced by the operation of natural causes or of human volition, but by the fresh creative act of God refashioning human nature according to his love. So far all Christians may agree. Those who accept the Virgin Birth as historical will believe that this fresh creative act had its appropriate physical and outward sign of newness in the fact that Jesus had no human father. Others may prefer to think that, inasmuch as the manhood of Jesus was no superhumanity but our own human nature spiritually fashioned anew by an amazing act of divine condescension, the physical conditions of its conception and birth did not vary from those which nature ordinarily requires. In view of what has already been said as to the inconclusiveness of the scriptural evidence both in the historical and in the doctrinal sphere, I think we must hesitate to say that this latter opinion is inconsistent with the essentials of saving faith in Jesus Christ. On the other hand, when we consider the evidence for the Virgin Birth which the New Testament does contain, the constant tradition of the Church, and the value of all the devotion which has been centred upon the perpetual virginity of the Lord’s mother, it seems very hard for a Christian to believe that all these things, so intimately connected with faith in the historical incarnation, have their origin, nevertheless, not in the truth of historical fact but in a pious myth.
Chapter XVI – Our Lord’s Knowledge in His Earthly Life
1. TWO ELEMENTS IN KNOWLEDGE
Two elements are distinguishable in the object of knowledge, the general and the particular, the law and the fact. Knowledge of particular facts is only possible because there is some kind of pattern or system in events which is expressible in terms of general laws. In knowing an event or fact the mind is at the same time aware of its relation to other events or facts in a system. There can be no knowledge of particulars without some knowledge of universals.
Generally speaking, intellectual excellence consists in a special capacity to detect patterns or laws determining wide ranges of events, or to detect them through the observation and analysis of relatively few events. Those intellects which are rightly called great have a deeper knowledge than others of the laws according to which events cohere; and, because of this, they are better able to arrive by inference at particular facts which are beyond the reach of immediate observation whether through remoteness in time or space or for any other reason. Hence, on the one hand, it is true that men of outstanding intellect do, in one sense and up to a certain point, know more facts than do others. Indeed, it is impossible to carry an unusually large number of facts in the memory without some unusual power of arranging facts according to some kind of system, although for mnemonic purposes the system may be quite subjective, like that invented by Kennedy for remembering the genders of Latin nouns. On the other hand, the special excellence of men who have real knowledge, as distinct from mere learning, consists essentially in the knowing of pattern, system, or law, rather than in the ability to cite large quantities of particular facts or events.
Again, there is discoverable in the universe an infinite number of distinct patterns, systems or laws. All these fall into two broad classes, (a) those which manifest orders of de facto occurrence, and (b) those which manifest orders of value or goodness. Thus the playing of a piece of music illustrates both (a) laws of acoustics and (b) laws of beauty in sound. Each set of laws belongs to a different principle of order. If the music is played badly, the laws of acoustics are equally well illustrated, but the laws of beauty are illustrated only by the spoiling of the beauty through bad playing. The whole theory of knowledge is confused by the common assumption that the mental activity whereby we discern orders of value and their embodiment in fact is somehow less really knowledge than that whereby we discern orders of merely de facto occurrence. If I judge conscientiously that a certain action is right, that judgement is just as much a matter of knowledge as a judgement of sense – perception that there is a fire in my room, or a judgement based on logical inference that the angles at the base of an isosceles triangle must be equal to one another. All these judgements are equally both matters of knowledge and, in reference to their application, fallible.
Finally, the patterns, systems or laws, of which we have been speaking, enfold one another ad infinitum; but, if the universe be real at all, there must be one principle of order which is all-inclusive; and, if Christianity be true, this all-inclusive principle of order must be a principle of spiritual value. Therefore it is knowledge of that principle of order and of its operation in facts and events, which, according to Christian belief, must be the deepest and most precious knowledge that there is.
2. DIVINE KNOWLEDGE
The nature of God’s knowledge is necessarily a mystery which man’s mind cannot penetrate, nor ever will. But it would seem that we conceive divine omniscience most truly and intelligibly, when we think of God’s knowledge, not as an immediate vision of the total number of all particular events actual and possible, but as a perfect understanding of, and insight into, the order and law by which all events are determined towards their end. We must not of course exclude the cognition of particular facts from God’s knowledge, still less the most intimate insight into the being of every one of his creatures. God’s knowledge transcends altogether that process of abstraction which produces, in human knowing, the antithesis between particulars and universals. Still, when we speak of omniscience, we mean first and foremost, not that God is immediately aware of everything that has or might have happened and that will or may happen, but rather that he knows infallibly the order, plan and purpose, the origin and end, of all things. And we may add that the divinest element in that knowledge is the insight into that order of goodness whereby all that happens is controlled or overruled according to God’s will to the fulfillment of his unfailing purpose for his creatures. It follows that a right knowledge of values, which includes knowledge of what matters most and is most important, is always a deeper and diviner knowledge than a knowledge of mere facts, however extensive. It is of course true that for certain purposes the knowledge which matters most is precisely the knowledge of bare facts and of the uniformities according to which they happen. But this is only so, because considerations of value, i.e., the consideration of what is really worth doing, rightly lead men, for a particular and limited purpose, to ignore the value of the facts which they study in order to discover simply what they are. Ultimately the Christian at least is bound to hold that the order of absolute value or goodness, which gives things positive worth, does control the order of mere fact, according to which one thing, whether good or bad, is bound, whether for good or evil, to produce another. So for the Christian the knowledge which is most characteristically divine must always be that which consists of insight into the good and holds the key to its mysterious and ultimately triumphant operation. “Ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.”
3. EVIDENCE OF THE GOSPELS
We come to the historical evidence about our Lord’s knowledge. Nothing is more strikingly characteristic of his mind, as it stands revealed in the record, than his unwavering belief in, and insight into, the unity of that fundamental order of value whereby God works all things together for good.
(a) Consider what is implied in our Lord=s use of parable and proverb. The general lesson of most of the parables is that the natural order as such illustrates the supernatural, and can be shown to illustrate it by one who knows the mind of the one creator. We do the parables grievous wrong when we mar their truth at the natural level in order to make them fit our sermons. The father of the prodigal is at least not less genuinely human and natural a character than the worldly employer of a dishonest steward, or the woman who sweeps her house for a lost coin. The father, the employer, the steward, the housewife and many others, are all ordinary people, who all in their various manners and degrees, all more or less unconsciously and some even against their will, bear witness to the law of their creator’s goodness. The proverbs again (“Seek and ye shall find”, “To him that hath it shall be given”, etc.) all represent enormously far-reaching laws of spiritual reality disguised under a paradox or an apparent platitude.
(b) A similar conviction as to the spiritual ordering of the world underlies the seemingly prudential character of some of our Lord’s ethical teaching and exhortation. He makes a demand for absolute self-sacrifice; but he insists at the same time that God’s service is really worth while and cannot fail of its reward. The discussion of the problem thus raised really belongs to the subject of Christian ethics. But it is at least clear that such petitions as those of the familiar prayer that “we may give and not count the cost” and “toil and not ask for any reward”, are quite alien from our Lord’s method of expression, however truly they may interpret his inward unselfishness. And in truth to suppose that the ethical value of self-sacrifice is enhanced when the cost is not counted, is impossible for any moralist who takes his own language quite seriously. Self-sacrifice is not more unselfish when it is unreflecting and not deliberate; and, if it is deliberate, it must be undertaken to achieve an end which is believed to be very much worth while. Jesus gave his own life, because he was sure that God would make the life thus given “a ransom for many”. His assurance was either a delusion or the profoundest insight into the spiritual order of God’s world.
(c) Again, our Lord’s habit of seeking to elicit truth from his hearers’ own minds by question or parable, rather than to insert it by imparting direct information, has often attracted the attention of commentators. In this characteristic our Lord’s method of teaching shows a marked affinity with that of Socrates. But in his case the characteristic is especially noticeable in matters that concern his own person and work. Again and again our Lord replies to searching questions concerning himself in this indirect and superficially unsatisfactory way. And yet he gives no impression of uncertainty in his own mind as to the nature and scope of his authority. It is difficult not to conclude that our Lord knew, though probably he could not have formulated the truth in that way, that the Church’s creed concerning him must be the Church=s own work and could not be delivered ready-made by his own lips; for man cannot make the deepest truth his own except through the travail of his own mind and soul in expressing it. It seems not at all fanciful to conclude that our Lord’s reticence was the fruit of some such profound understanding, and is as sure a witness to his knowledge as any speech. In any case his whole method in teaching reveals a quite astonishing confidence that man can and must see what is true and right for himself, and act accordingly. A faith in man so stedfast even in its indignation, and so far removed alike from Augustinian pessimism and from the cheerful superficialities of the Pelagian and the humanist, certainly gives the impression that its source is an understanding as profound as it is mysterious.
(d) But how did our Lord meet man=s apparently complete and final failure to justify his faith in manhood? The answer to that question is clearly given by St. Mark. “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. ... And he called the multitude with his disciples, and said unto them, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it.”1 No doubt the exact form in which these utterances are set down by the evangelist shows traces here and there of the influence of a faith which the Church came to hold after the resurrection. But to suppose that St. Mark substantially misrepresents what our Lord said at the crisis of his ministry is simply to make the whole gospel story unintelligible. And if the record is substantially a true one, we can only conclude that our Lord, in the very moment of realizing that facts are inexorably refuting the very trust in man’s response which had been the inspiration of his ministry, realizes at the same time no less clearly the profoundest of all the spiritual laws of God’s universe, that the salvation of man can only be achieved by the absolute self-sacrifice of the one for the many. The Son of Man must suffer. That is the law of love. And in that knowledge he starts towards Jerusalem for the last time.
1Mark 8:31 and 34.
So far we have dealt in very summary fashion with the evidence as to the kind of knowledge which the incarnate Lord did possess. We must now as briefly estimate the evidence as to the knowledge which he lacked.
(a) There is considerable reason for thinking that he expected the end of the world to follow closely in time upon the temporal event of his own death, although St. Mark records a saying in which he professed ignorance as to the interval which must elapse before the final day.1 But it is impossible to reach any definite conclusion as to our Lord’s knowledge, or lack of it, upon this subject. Such sayings as the reply to St. James’ and St. John’s request for chief seats in the Kingdom, as well as many parables, indicate clearly enough that our Lord apprehended God’s Kingdom as a reality of the spiritual order, entry into which depended upon spiritual conditions. It is also evident that he thought of the Kingdom as the final goal of history. But the question of the historical or temporal relation which the divinely appointed goal of history bears to the historical process, is a problem so perplexing in its own inherent nature, that it is impossible to estimate degrees of nescience or error where no one knows the truth. Granted that our Lord did teach the imminence in time of the final coming of the Kingdom, it may still be the case that such teaching represents a truth which could not have been better expressed otherwise, even although history endures for countless centuries after the teaching was given.2 And how far our Lord in his own mind interpreted literally (whatever the word “literally” means in this connexion) the eschatological symbols which he used, must be a matter of conjecture.
1Mark 13:32. 2See below, Chapter XXII, §§ 3–5.
(b) Again, there is much evidence that our Lord accepted, and no evidence that he did not accept, the general beliefs of his time in the matters of demon possession and the authorship of the Old Testament. It is of course possible that he consciously accommodated his language to ideas which he did not himself share, in order to make his teaching intelligible and to avoid distracting attention from the main point of his spiritual teaching. Such an explanation may have its legitimate place in accounting for some utterances recorded in the Gospels; but it is obviously too artificial to furnish a solution of the whole problem. On the evidence which the Gospels provide, it certainly seems more straightforward to admit that in matters of human science and scholarship our Lord’s information did not extend beyond what a man, born and educated as he was, might naturally have acquired.
What then are our conclusions? To say that the knowledge proper to Godhead was altogether excluded from our Lord’s consciousness in the days of his flesh would be a serious mistake. It is indeed precisely the divinest kind of knowledge which he seems most fully to have possessed. On the other hand, it is at least probable that, as regards facts or events occurring in space and time, his knowledge did not transcend the limits imposed upon it by the particular time and place at which he lived as a man. He probably did not know any particular facts, past, future or contemporary, which were outside the range of a human mind living at that particular time and in those particular circumstances of education and environment. But this assertion may be qualified by adding the words: except in so far as his divine insight into universal order and values affected even the knowledge of particular facts present to his human consciousness.
According to this line of thought we leave abundant room for a genuinely human growth and development in the mind of the incarnate Lord and for a human faith and disappointment in regard to the actual course of particular events; while at the same time divinity reveals itself in the depth, simplicity and certainty of his apprehension of God’s will of holiness and love, which orders all. Thus, while remaining faithful to the historical evidence of the Gospels, we may begin to picture to ourselves, however inadequately, the historical reality of what is at once divine knowledge in a human mind, and a human learning and nescience in the mind of the incarnate God.
Let us remind ourselves once more in conclusion how constantly Jesus emphasized, as the most important knowledge, knowledge of real values, a right sense of proportion in all things. Such is the main point, for instance, in his frequent use of the figure of treasure. All is well with a man whose treasure is in the right place, whose value judgements are sound and true; his heart is even now in heaven. The very Kingdom of heaven itself is the one true treasure even upon earth. Therefore Pharisaic formalism and the sentimental piety of the man in the street are alike abhorrent, because each represents a perverted sense of proportion, a value judgement which is fundamentally wrong. St. Paul teaches the same general lesson in a quite different way.1 The supreme achievement of his Christi-inspired wisdom is his discernment of the relative values of spiritual gifts, culminating in the perception that faith, hope and love are what abide, and that the greatest of these is love. It is by the same kind of standard that the Christian must judge the divinity of the knowledge revealed in the incarnate Christ. Is it too much to say that, the more closely the standard is applied, the more divinely wonderful that knowledge is seen to be? Once we have pondered the insight into ultimate reality which turned the steps of Jesus towards Jerusalem for the last time, it is impossible to deal with the problem of his knowledge as though the issue hung on a question whether he was unaware that David did not write a particular psalm,2 or conceivably forgot that Ahimelech was high priest when David ate the shew-bread,3 or supernaturally read the thoughts of Nathanael under the fig‑tree.4 Surely we have seen greater things than these.
11 Cor 12, 13. 2Mark 12:35. 3Mark 2:26. 4John 1:48–50.
Chapter XVII – The Moral Perfection of Jesus
It is a postulate of the truth of the incarnation that Jesus can never have thought, said, or done anything that was either unfitting for God in the state of condescension into manhood, or unworthy of man as raised into union with the Godhead. We have already tried to show that the limitations belonging to earthly manhood were not unfitting for the incarnate God. But we must now consider more closely the problems suggested by the second half of our postulate.
1. “AUT DEUS AUT HOMO NON BONUS?”
If our Lord’s thoughts, words and acts were really not unworthy of man as raised to union with God, we are obliged to reject at once certain interpretations of the celebrated dilemma, aut deus aut homo non bonus. On the strength of this dilemma it is sometimes urged that, because our Lord is God, his conduct is not subject to judgement by any standard of human morality. Thus an easy way of escape is found from any awkward question raised about the moral perfection of Jesus; for it may be pleaded that men are simply not qualified to pass any moral judgement at all upon the conduct of one who is God. This plea of course makes it impossible to use the human goodness of Jesus as evidence for his divinity, and invalidates altogether the witness of the natural conscience to the truth of the gospel. For these reasons we cannot accept the plea. And therefore difficulties felt about the moral perfection of Jesus are for us real difficulties which have to be carefully considered, and may not be simply swept aside.
2. THE BIBLICAL POINT OF VIEW
At the outset, however, it must be recognized that as a distinct and definite concept the idea of moral perfection is not present in the Bible. The Bible does not speak the language of moral philosophy, and even in its portrait of Jesus Christ it sets before us no ideal of human goodness as such. In the Bible perfect holiness and righteousness are simply identified with the nature and character of God; perfection for man consists in obedience to God’s revealed will; and, since all duty is regarded as something which man owes to God, moral obligation is never clearly distinguished from religious. When we come to the New Testament, it is evident that the perfect holiness and sinlessness of Jesus are treated as axiomatic. But it is equally evident that we are not here invited, as we are by some modern theologians, to infer the unique relation of Jesus to God from the moral perfection which his human character manifests. Rather, according to the thought of the New Testament, the unique holiness of Jesus is manifest through and in the fact that he is revealed as the agent of God’s love and righteousness and power for the final redemption of his people from bondage to sin and death. The thought of the moral perfection of Jesus, as distinct from the thought of God’s salvation manifested through him, is for the writers of the New Testament impossible.
3. THE PHILOSOPHICAL PROBLEM
When we reflect on the idea of moral perfection from a philosophical point of view, we find ourselves confronted with difficulties which the thought of the New Testament avoids. In one sense at least, the realization of perfection in a single personality is impossible. For the ideal of moral life is inherently social; its realization consists in a communion and fellowship of spirits, wherein each enriches the others by the free and unselfish communication of whatever good is its own, and where the special contribution of each is necessary to the perfection of the whole. Such a community can be made actual only in the final Kingdom of God, where all are free and all are one in his love. A real truth therefore is expressed by the contention, often heard on the lips of social reformers, that it is impossible for any man, however pure in heart, to be morally a perfect Christian when he is obliged to live as a member of a very unchristian society. In so far as this contention is true, it would seem that Jesus, as a man on earth, cannot have attained to the moral ideal of Christianity.
On the other hand, it may be argued, with exactly equal force, that, in so far as the moral ideal consists in absolute self-sacrifice at painful cost to the self, it can be realized only in an imperfect and even sinful society which affords the opportunity for moral heroism. Strictly moral perfection, it may reasonably be said, is more nearly approached by a life which sufferings, unselfishly endured for a perverse and thankless generation, have isolated, than by one which finds fruition in the complete responsiveness of its fellows. The cross is the crown of the moral perfection of Jesus. In the perfect society morality is left behind.
4. THE SOLUTION OF CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY
There is only one satisfactory way of removing the apparent contradiction. We must return to the biblical or theological point of view. We assume, and cannot here give reasons for the assumption, that moral perfection can only be realized in life according to the spirit of love. Now perfect love, according to the New Testament, is in God alone; indeed, it is the supreme characteristic of his nature as revealed in Christ. But it is communicated to man by a double revelation, the two necessary stages of which correspond with the first and second advents of Christ, the incarnation and the final reign of God. In this sinful world love is supremely revealed in forgiveness and in the self-sacrifice of the cross, which represents the cost of forgiveness to the forgiver. In the world to come love is revealed as the eternal bond of the glorious triumphant society of the forgiven and redeemed. In both revelations the love is the same, deriving its identity from the fact that it belongs to the changeless nature of the eternal God. But in each the love is revealed under different conditions and in a different mode. In the first it is revealed in act towards the achievement of an end not yet realized. In the second it is revealed in fulfillment and completed victory. Each stage of the revelation has its own characteristic perfection, the first on the lonely cross of Calvary, the second in the unimaginable beatitude pictured for us in the apocalyptic vision of the great multitude which no man can number. The perfection of the first belongs to Jesus Christ alone, the perfection of the second belongs also to all whom Christ has made his own. But neither perfection could be itself apart from the other. The cross would not be the symbol of the perfect self-sacrifice, if it were not also the real means of redemption. Nor would the life of heaven be the fulfillment of redemption, if it did not consist in the thankful worship of the divine sufferer by those whom his suffering has won, and who have been enabled in some measure also to share it. No such perfection is possible in this world: nevertheless, in the communion and fellowship of the Church, which is Christ=s body, the life of the world to come begins to be present already. Thus from one point of view the fellowship of the Church on earth goes beyond the perfection realized in the solitary life of Jesus, though from another point of view it is infinitely inferior to it.
5. HOW JESUS WAS MORALLY PERFECT
How then are we to judge of the moral perfection of Jesus? It belongs to the whole thought of Christianity about God, the world and man, that no strictly absolute ideal of manhood is realizable in this world. All moral perfection here below is inherently instrumental; it is relative to a work and end to be accomplished, the final state of accomplishment belonging, not to this world, but to the world to come. In Jesus we see manhood raised to fulfill its highest capacities on earth in becoming the instrument and organ of God=s great act of love for man’s salvation. But, just because the human perfection of Jesus upon earth is relative to the accomplishment of God’s work through his manhood, and that work is unique, the life of Jesus cannot present an absolute example for the imitation of all other men. None other may or can do what Christ did for all. God’s will for each man is to do with him something different from what he did through Jesus; and in his particular task of obedience each realizes his own particular perfection. But, inasmuch as what God wills to do in and with every man is a work of that same love which redeemed mankind through Jesus Christ, and no man’s conscience is so far destroyed by sin as to be quite incapable of response to that love, each man may and ought to recognize in Jesus a truly human goodness made worthy, by God’s condescension into it, to be the instrument of that saving work which God accomplished through Jesus alone.
It follows that our broad judgement of the moral perfection of Jesus will be based, not upon a minute examination of particular acts and sayings in reference to some generally accepted rule of human conduct, but rather upon our recognition of the fitness of his whole life to be the human instrument of the divine love for that purpose of salvation which is revealed in it.
Nevertheless, even so, certain acts and sayings of Jesus recorded in the Gospels present serious difficulties which have to be faced. Some of them may be fairly disposed of by the historical criticism which teaches us to distinguish, and to allow for, the particular doctrinal interest and method of composition which are characteristic of each evangelist. For instance, we may very reasonably suppose that the occurrence of the saying “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” in certain contexts of St. Matthew’s Gospel is due to St. Matthew’s own editorial work. And if we admit that St. John makes our Lord’s revelation of the reality of his own divine person and mission more direct and explicit throughout his ministry than at that time it was, we can hardly refrain from inferring also that some verbal controversies between Jesus and the Jews, which the Fourth Gospel contains, have value as showing the religious and theological issues at stake rather than as recording actual conversations. In other eases we may rightly feel that difficulties as to words used by our Lord would disappear, if we possessed a fuller knowledge of the circumstances in which they were spoken. And in others again difficulty may be removed, if we remember the necessary limitations of thought and activity to which the Son of God made himself subject in the flesh. For instance, the apparent harshness of the saying to the Syro-Phoenician woman is surely to be attributed, not to the racial prejudice of the Jew, but to the inward struggle of the love which is compelled to restrict its immediate activity lest it fail of its widest aim. In the flesh Christ was straitened indeed. His particular words and acts are to be judged in the light of that coherent plan which determined his whole ministry. And that plan reveals its full moral significance only when it is regarded as God’s way of perfecting a universal fellowship through the limitations and the self-sacrifice of one who could not suffer himself to be a popular hero.
Perhaps the most serious of the difficulties of which we are now speaking arises from our Lord’s occasionally extreme severity in denunciation. Do we not sometimes catch an echo of a self-regarding and vengeful animosity against his most obstinate opponents? A study of the whole character and teaching of Jesus, as the Gospels record them, justifies a negative answer. It is perhaps hardly too much to say that, in the eyes of that love which was our Lord’s supreme motive, the one temper which is intrinsically damnable is that which is content to consign others to damnation. In denunciation of such unforgiving hardness or callous indifference the language of Jesus is quite unsparing; but it is for that temper that his extreme invective is reserved. The one sure way to incur God’s ultimate condemnation, he teaches, is to invoke that doom upon others. It is precisely here that supreme moral goodness affirms a doctrine of relativity which upsets the apparently absolute standards of conventional ethics. One man is not absolutely better than another because he has more closely observed the rules of a moral code, however admirable. The surest way for a man to know how the eternal goodness judges him is to consider how he himself judges his fellows. That great principle of relativity lies at the root of our Lord’s ethical teaching. And to recognize that fact fully will not diminish our reverent acknowledgement of the divine and human goodness of the teacher.
Chapter XVIII – The Person of the Incarnate
Was Jesus a human person? The question raises an ancient difficulty, which may be stated as a dilemma. If we affirm that Jesus was a human person, we are driven either into an impossible conception of a double personality in the incarnate Son of God, or else into the Christology of Liberal Protestantism which we have found to be inadequate. If we deny that Jesus was a human person, we deny by implication the completeness of his manhood and stand convicted of Apollinarianism. Dr. Raven argues1 that most of those whom the Catholic tradition has honoured as doctors of orthodoxy were in fact Apollinarians, though they condemned Apollinarius.
1See his book, Apollinarianism.
1. MYSTERIUM CHRISTI
From the point of view of the kenotic Christology, which we have provisionally adopted, what are we to say in answer to this dilemma? We are bound to hold, as historical orthodoxy has always held, that Jesus Christ in the fundamental principle of his being was not man but God. He was not a man who was made or became God, nor one who was divine merely in the quality of his manhood. He was the Son of God who was made or became man. On the other hand, we cannot be content to say that in Jesus Christ the Son of God took on himself a human nature without becoming a human person; nor do we make the proposition any more acceptable by suggesting that in taking the human nature he put off the divine. Such separations between nature and person are really unmeaning. They are but devices of logicians who seek to avoid formal self-contradiction by imagining impossibilities. Jesus Christ on earth was a divine-human person who combined two natures in himself. He was God and he was man; yet he was one person. That is to say that the Son of God by an act of divine power and self-limitation really identified himself with the created man born of Mary. But that does not mean that the man was created first, and that the Son of God afterwards identified himself with him. Such a hypothesis would imply that the human being Jesus, like all others, was created by God through the eternal Word, so that Jesus would at first have had that same relative externality to the Godhead which belongs to all other created souls. But, as St. John according to our interpretation suggests,1 the human being Jesus was created in the eternal Word, so that the created human being was from his very beginning altogether enfolded in the creative divine being, as the divine being was at the same time self‑limited in the human. This is the ultimate mystery of the incarnation, the γένεσις Ζωης in the created world.
1See above, Note on St. John’s Prologue.
All human personality is a finite image of the divine which is its source; and assuredly our human personality mirrors the divine not least in its capacity to restrict voluntarily its own range of activity in order to sympathize with, and put itself in the place of, others which have not yet attained to its own measure of spiritual stature. At the moment of the incarnation, then, we suppose that by a quite unimaginable act of divine sympathy the Son of God took upon himself both the human fullness and the human limitations of a created personality which, through his self-identification with it, became the personal expression of himself as man. The experience of Jesus was the experience of the Son of God as limited by a personal and individual manhood, and it was also the experience of a man so created wholly in the eternal Son that in the inmost reality of his being he was one person with him.1
1Commenting on some lines in Browning’s “Easter Day”, Mr. F. H. Brabant writes: “It might be pointed out that Beauty here is spiritual, not because it is divorced from matter but because it dominates and organizes the material; Music is spiritual, not when the notes are faintly audible but when they perfectly express the emotion; it was Pater who said that all arts aspire to be like Music (i.e., in the complete penetration of their material). So we might perhaps venture to say that Jesus is divine, not because his divine person or nature is divorced from the human, but because his human person and nature are dominated and organized by the divine. Because in him the divine is self-limited by the human, in him also the penetration of the human by the divine is complete.” (See Brabant, Time and Eternity in Christian Thought, p. 181 n.)
2. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE INCARNATE PERSON
It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the dogma of the incarnation is primarily a doctrine concerning Christ’s person, not his consciousness. It answers the questions, who and what was he? not, how did he think or feel concerning God, the world, and himself? The answer to the latter question is inevitably a matter of conjecture from the data which the New Testament provides, and it is a matter on which there must probably always be some divergence of opinion among Christians. In any ease we can hardly expect to penetrate far into the consciousness of the incarnate. Nevertheless, because he was the incarnate, we must make the attempt to enter even there, if we would know, as fully as we may, the truth of what God has revealed of himself in manhood. And, when we make that attempt, it is obvious that our conclusions will rightly affect, and be affected by, our interpretation of the Church’s doctrine concerning Christ’s person.
Starting therefore from the doctrinal interpretations we have already reached, we may proceed very tentatively to conjecture as follows. There was in Jesus what we should call a human ego. He thought of himself, and thought truly, as being the man Jesus, the son of Mary. And, being thus conscious of himself as a human being, he could not be fully conscious of himself as the eternal Son and Word of God. The divine person and nature were indeed fully present in the human, as the human were assumed into the divine; but they were not fully present to the consciousness of the incarnate. Nevertheless, they were not wholly hidden from that consciousness. If this line of thought guides us in any way towards the truth, we should conjecture that in the mind of Jesus there must always have been a certain tension between the limitations inherent in his humanity and the transcendence belonging to the deity which was the inmost reality of his being. He would have been in a limited yet growing degree conscious that, though he was a man, he was yet more than man, that his humanity was the earthly vessel through which the divine love, which he knew to be his own, was accomplishing its redemptive work.
Is not this the kind of conjecture which the gospel portrait of Jesus, especially that given by the synoptists, most naturally suggests? Clearly it would seem that our Lord not only felt and thought and spoke, but also actually prayed, as a man, and so far did not identify himself with God. But it is also clear that what impressed his disciples and others was the unique way in which he spoke of God as his Father, and assumed, in spite of his humility, a certain absolute authority in dealing with the things of God, which was different in kind even from the prophetic, though prophet men acknowledged him to be. Again, we have to take into account our Lord’s identification of himself both with the Messiah and with the Son of Man. It would appear that he spoke of himself as Son of Man in the third person, especially when he referred to the redemptive work which he was to accomplish through suffering. The figures of the Messiah and of the Son of Man were intimately connected each with one form or aspect of that hope of the final Kingdom of God which was a principal constituent of Jewish religion. Jesus deepened, spiritualized, and transformed the current conceptions of the Kingdom. If, then, the Kingdom of God was in his mind such as the Lord’s Prayer and the parables present it, and if he believed himself to be, as Messiah and Son of Man, God’s representative in the heralding and establishment of that Kingdom, what must have been his own thought about himself? Historical critics exhaust their learning and ingenuity in order to explain away the evidence of the Gospels for any such unique element in our Lord’s personal consciousness and power as we have tried to account for on the hypothesis that the evidence stands. But historical critics, as we have argued, have their own presuppositions. And it may still be that to accept the evidence brings us nearer to the truth of the historical facts than to explain it away.
3. THE JESUS OF HISTORY AS RELATED TO GOD AND MAN
In conclusion we may try to sum up in non-technical language the truth about the Jesus of history to which we have been trying to give such measure of precision as the subject allows. He learned, we suggest, about the world and about God as a man learns through human faculties of body and mind. He was tempted through those faculties, as a man is tempted, though the thought of sin in connexion with him is impossible. He guided his life, not by a divine vision altogether beyond man’s scope, but by a prayer and trust in his heavenly Father which were genuinely human. At the same time his human sense of sonship towards God was rooted in the reality of a sonship which belonged to him alone as the eternal Son. How clearly or constantly that reality was present to his consciousness we cannot know; and our uncertainty is increased by the fact that the titles, Messiah, Son of Man, and even Son of God, did not, according to Hebrew thought, necessarily imply the divinity of the person to whom they belonged. But that our Lord was conscious of some unique relation in himself to God the Father cannot fairly he doubted. And we may say that his consciousness of a human sonship towards God merged in, while it limited, the consciousness of the divine sonship and did not altogether exclude it, because the relation in which man naturally stands to God, in so far as man’s nature is unmarred by sin, is itself an image and reflexion in the creature of the relation in which he who is begotten but uncreated stands eternally to the Father of all.
However that may he, Jesus, by the use he made of naturally growing human faculties, trod man’s path to God, knew God, and knew himself as God’s own appointed representative on earth, all with an undeviating sureness and insight such as no mere man could have displayed. In all he did he was through human faculties taking up manhood to a new level of life whither no mere man, but God only, could have raised it. Just as our own human mind in the body, limited by the body, and using bodily means, can train and enable the body to perform new feats and acquire new habits, so the Son of God in our personal humanity, limited by it and using it, was raising it to new and glorious capabilities. He showed what can be done with common manhood, when God himself “takes hold of the seed of Abraham”. And what Christ did with common manhood he enables believers in him to do also. The most essential difference between Jesus and the greatest of his saints lies in this, that, what they attain of union with God, they attain in that fellowship which God’s only Son established through the loneliness of his self-sacrifice. Jesus remains the divine and solitary pioneer of their salvation.
APPENDIX TO PART II
DIVINE IMPASSIBILITY IN RELATION TO CREATION AND INCARNATION
In view of what has been said as to the influence of the Hellenic doctrine of divine impassibility on Christian theology, some separate discussion of the whole notion of passibility and impassibility seems to be required. Three kinds of passibility are to be distinguished, (1) external, (2) internal, (3) sensational.
(1) “External” passibility refers to the relations of a being towards that which is beyond or outside itself. In this sense passibility means the capacity to be acted upon by something from without, or, in a word, the capacity for passivity. Aristotle maintained the strict impassibility of God in this sense. For him God is the perfect being eternally enjoying his own perfection, and entirely unaffected by the movement towards his perfection which causes the restlessness of the imperfect world. St Thomas Aquinas keeps as close to his philosophical master as he can, but cannot follow him the whole way, since he is obliged to maintain that God of his own will created the world and therefore is not unaware of its existence. St. Thomas saves the external impassibility of God by the exceedingly difficult doctrine that, though the world was created by God, it does not in any way exist outside of, or over against, or in addition to, him. The bringing into existence of created beings adds nothing to reality, since God already from eternity comprehends in himself all the plenitude of the perfection of all being.1 Thus, properly speaking, there can be no external or even reciprocal relation between God and his creatures. Creatures are really related to God; but God is not related to them, except in our way of thinking.2 This doctrine comes dangerously near to making nonsense of the Jewish-Christian conception of creation. That which is of value in it seems to be sufficiently conserved, if we suppose that, in creating free agents other than himself, God voluntarily limited himself so as to allow them really to act of their own motion, and even to rebel against his will, if they would. In this way therefore God makes himself “externally” passible by creating. But we can still maintain that God is never acted upon by anything which he did not himself voluntarily create and does not himself always control by his over-ruling power. God is therefore never subject to the action of any other being. As far, then, as “external” passibility is concerned, we may say that God is absolutely or ultimately impassible, though he becomes relatively passible by his own act of creation.
1S. T., Pt. I, Q. 9, Art. 1. 2Ibid., Q. 13. Art. 7, and elsewhere.
(2) “Internal” passibility refers to relations within a conscious being or personality. The human being is conscious within himself of emotions and instincts which move him powerfully this way and that. He calls these “passions”, because it seems to him, when he reflects, that he is acted upon by them “in spite of himself”, i.e., in spite of the rational will and deliberate purpose with which his true self is identified. Thus St. Augustine actually defines the term passio (translating the Greek πάθος) as meaning a movement of the mind contrary to reason, although he goes on to say that passions such as anger and sadness can be turned to purposes of righteousness.1 In this sense it is that the Anglican Article declares God to be “without passions”; and we need not hesitate to assent. If we use about God terms like “anger” and “pity”, we must remember that they do not denote passiones or πάθη in the proper sense. The divine will and reason are not passive to changing emotions as are the will and reason of man. God’s nature, as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, is immutable, because it is simple. There is no cause of division or disturbance in the divine mind, similar or analogous to that opposition between rational will and non-rational feelings and desires which is so commonly the cause of mental conflict in ourselves. In this connexion, then, the doctrine of divine impassibility signifies the absolute stedfastness of the will in which is “no variableness nor shadow caused by turning”, while at the same time it provides a safeguard against anthropomorphism.
1See J. K. Mozley, Impassibility, p. 104.
(3) “Sensational” passibility is intermediate between “external” and “internal”. It denotes liability to those feelings of pleasure and pain, and more especially those of pain, which are caused within a conscious being by the action of some other being upon it. In the past the main tradition of Christian orthodoxy has certainly denied the “sensational” passibility of God, while on the other hand it has never drawn the apparently logical inference that God is insensitive to human sin or virtue, or unsympathetic with the sufferings of his creatures. In modern times many theologians outside the Roman Communion, who could hardly be called either eccentric or heretical, have maintained that, since God loves his creatures, he must be said to suffer pain or sorrow on account of their unhappiness and sin. At the same time these theologians would probably desire to add that, what in God may be called pain or sorrow, is assuredly not mere suffering, but is part of the victorious activity whereby he ultimately subdues all things to himself. Thus, according to this view, the truth of God’s “sensational” passibility is always limited and qualified by the truth that his “external” passibility, which is the cause of the “sensational”, is strictly relative and self-imposed.
If the awareness and sympathy of God on the one hand, and his victorious and all-controlling power on the other, are fully agreed upon, I am not sure that the Christian theologian need greatly concern himself about any further unanimity. But a few words must be added to show how the Christian doctrines of creation and incarnation are affected by such an admission of divine passibility as we have found ourselves obliged to make.
Creation, we have said, involves divine self-limitation. Through this self-limitation both the time process and created beings become real to God, so that God becomes relatively passible. God’s acceptance of this passibility is the negative aspect of that which, in its positive aspect, we call the original act of creation. By the same act there is set up a relation of interaction between God and his creatures; and it is thus that God’s activity in and for his creation becomes purposive. The fulfillment of the divine purpose is finally attained when the creation becomes fully and wholly the expression of God’s love in created being. In that fulfillment the relation of interaction between God and his creatures ceases, since God cannot be thought of as in any way passible towards that which is fully and wholly the expression of himself. The relation of interaction having ceased, the time process, at least as we now experience it, comes to an end also, since if there is no further, and as yet unrealized, object for which to act, the metaphysical cause and ground of what we know as time no longer exist. Nevertheless, when creation has reached its goal, temporal events will still be real as past, though not as present or as future. For the final perfection could not be what it is, unless it had been brought about by the divine self-limitation which caused the temporal world, and by the purpose which directed it to its end. In this sense time itself may be said to have an eternal value or reality.
The relation between the truth of the divine impassibility and that of the historical incarnation seems to be more complex than is sometimes supposed. The created manhood of Jesus in the days of his flesh is the perfect self-expression of Godhead within this world of history and space-time. Since that self-expression is in one way perfect, it follows that in the incarnate person, Jesus Christ, the Godhead is not (externally) passible towards the manhood; for in Christ’s person there is no sort of external relation between man and God. Because the manhood of Jesus is created without any external relation to the deity,1 it is from its beginning a new creation – a truth which has been safeguarded by the tradition of the Virgin Birth. Neither divine nor human nature, considered in se, is changed by the incarnation, but a new relation between them is established by divine act.
1See above, Note on St. John’s Prologue.
Nevertheless, in so far as the manhood of Jesus is the self-expression of Godhead within this world, it is not the absolutely or finally perfect expression, since it is also the instrument of that redemption and salvation wherein finality will hereafter be attained. In this world the manhood of Jesus is the effective instrument of salvation, because, in expressing himself in it, God enters upon a further passibility than that which was involved in the first creation. This further passibility has a double aspect, in respect (a) of internal and (b) of sensational passibility. For (a) the divine-human person becomes the subject of human emotional experience and temptation (he becomes a man “of like passions” with us); and (b) he endures everything which the world=s sin can inflict upon the sinless one, while he renounces the immediate divine consciousness of triumph over all evil, which constitutes the blessedness of God in heaven. It is by thus expressing in manhood his love for man that God wins the victory the fruit of which is final redemption.
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