CHAPTER IX — CHRIST THE MAN
THE improvement of communications aroused a persistent and increasing curiosity about peoples on the other side of the globe by shrinking the world. A desperate world war with ultimates at stake changed that curiosity into a consuming interest that set everyone peering over the back fence into the most detailed affairs of the family just around the world. It was to accommodate this curiosity, to satisfy the urgent demands of this interest, that newspapers adopted a steady policy of presenting this or that particular international back yard in the form of daily maps.
These maps were small, simple, easy to follow and were particularly appreciated by those who had come into contact with much larger, more detailed maps. Thus, for instance, the contrast between the newspaper map and a federal survey map of a rural district is almost like the contrast between the finite and the infinite as far as detail is concerned. The news paper map is better for our ordinary purposes, perhaps, because it is so much easier, simpler, much more helpful. But it will stand only a first glance; by it, one cannot even follow the account in the same newspaper of the military moves the map was drawn to make clear. On the contrary, the federal survey map is so detailed as to be almost frightening; it will, however, stand a second scrutiny. In fact, the more we study it, the more we appreciate it: every road, every creed, even every house is plainly located. With such a map, a stranger can safely pass through this territory.
The Way of life: Stages marked by the divine Exemplar of human living
Christ, as the divine model of human living, gave us a map of life. It is a perfect one, because it is divine; as perfect, it cannot be obvious or easy, certainly it cannot be dismissed as completely absorbed in one glance. Rather, the more deeply it is studied, the more it is appreciated. We may examine it any way we like: we may take a corner of it, study that intently, weighing every line of its detail; or we may stand off a bit to see the map as a whole, with a resulting view of the whole terrain comparable to an aerial photograph.
Looked at in this latter way, three quite different types of countryside are easily distinguished bordering the road a man must take home. There is first of all the space between birth and adolescence, a quiet, carefree, happy time; this time Christ passed principally in Nazareth. This is ordinarily followed by the period, long or short, that is taken up with the prosaic work of living, a time when a man meets only the ordinary obstacles that enter into a human life. Thus, in the years of the public life of Christ, in spite of petty persecutions, the nagging of the Pharisees, the dullness of the apostles, and the unappreciative stubbornness of those He was helping, He was engaged in the business of living. It is only later, toward the climax of His life, that He faced the bitter territory of suffering and dying which, quickly or with agonizing deliberation, brings every man’s life to a close. This is the large scale map of man’s life: living, suffering, dying. The path is plainly marked by the feet of Christ, indeed, in the last stages of the journey, the footsteps are drenched with blood.
It is not without importance that Christ, the divine model, spent some thirty years of the thirty-three He had to live at the business of living before plunging into the last two stages of suffering and death. In this, as in other things, Christ took the hard way. Living is a preparation for suffering; above all, it is a preparation for death. It is the long, slow, patient hours of preparation that gall the heart of a man; yet it is only a master in the art of living who knows how to suffer, and only those who know the meaning of life can know something of the art of dying, for that s the art of plunging into another life.
In a sense, suffering is an intensified course in the perfection of living. If at the start of our suffering, we do not know very much, we must learn shortly for suffering plunges us into the Master’s role. We make some curious mistakes, do some incredible fumbling, but we catch on because we have to. When we have learned the lessons of living and suffering, then we are ready to die; for then we are ready to try a greater life.
Reasons for the order of these stages
Thomas treats these three stages in the life of Christ as distinct chapters, going easy on us with the knowledge that our minds must learn slowly, step by step. To plunge into a consideration of suffering, by-passing living, would be like plunging into calculus before having learned the meaning of numbers. In life itself, there is always the fear that suffering, coming too soon, may result in cowardice, bitterness, self-pity, ands ultimately, despair. The conclusion would seem to be that only the old, and therefore wise, should suffer were it not for the easy grace and masterly perfection with which a Christian child suffers. Since Christ came, you see, even a child can be wise, can taste of the fullness of life.
In this present chapter, we shall limit ourselves to the first of these three stages of human living: the prosaic business of ordinary living as it was carried out by Our Lord, Jesus Christ. If we isolate this spot on the map of life left us by Christ, standing back a little to get the whole view of this little section, several high points immediately stand out. There is, for instance, His converse with men; then His doctrine; His temptation; His miracles; and His transfiguration. Remembering that this was the divine Exemplar of human living, we can understand that these outstanding activities of Christ are a model for the activities of every man; a truth that is immediately seen when it is translated into the language of ordinary life.
Divine lessons in human living: Four activities of man
Thus translated, we see the life of Christ as plainly marking out the four activities of men: the fast hold on human things, which is to say the embrace of other men and the rejection of the devil; the offering to others of the abundance of one’s own mind and heart, a task which, of course, supposes both the abundance and the willingness to share it; then the arrangement of the furniture of the soul to make room for divine things, working the wonders that God has given men to work, fitting oneself to be an instrument of divine power; finally, the appreciation of the inner glory of oneself and of all other men. In other words, Christ, by His living, brought special emphasis to hear on the fundamental actions which must find their way into the life of a man. These are the things a man must do if he is to live up to his high destiny; this is the perfect test of success or failure of a life.
Their modern contraries
An age that had failed by this test would look something like this. Instead of embracing other men, there would be a world-wide contagion of hate; rather than shun the devil, such an age would embrace the devil himself if he furthered the purposes of such an age. This, of course, need not be so crudely stated; the same thing could be accomplished by a series of catchwords like “business is business,” “ethics is a personal matter,” “right is what is good for the party, the race, the class,” and so on. Instead of advocating the sharing of the abundance of mind and heart, such an age might urge every man to be a rugged individualist, working entirely for himself whatever the cost to others; again, the thing might be said less crudely by insisting that men were really working for a far distant ideal, like the perfection of humanity, the race, or the party. Such an age, rather than insisting that men make room for divine things in themselves and fit themselves to be instruments of divine power, would ask men to narrow their minds down to the world of the senses and the goals that are proper to masses rather than men. No man would be encouraged to look for enduring glory either within himself or within other men; for that would be completely fatal to the aims and ideals of mass movements since, in that case, all other things would have to serve the individual. A vision of glory man must have; so this age would speak movingly to him of the glory of the state, the race, the group, of humanity.
However, a human way of living is not to be attained by destroying either the group or the individual. That is a modern method of meeting complexities, a method which, if adopted by the medical profession, would result in doctors shooting the patient whose diseases they could not diagnose. These are ways out of a difficulty, surely; but in the first case the humanity of life is destroyed as effectively as the second destroys the life of a human being.
Christ the Man — His converse with men:
Essentials for social intercourse: justice and charity
Men are made to live together, to associate, to converge. That very word, “converse,” contains the whole story; for its original meaning is to turn, to swing about frequently as a star swings serenely in its orbit as in the place where it belongs This is where men belong; in association with other men. The life of a man turns about, around, even within the lives of others; indeed, this is so true that we keep the circle of our lives small enough to make that constant and frequent turning possible. In other words, all men live in a small town because they are men. A New Yorker might be indignant at such a statement, thereby proving it; for his beaten path does not allow him to see much of the city. Anyone else would discover in very short order that New York City is made up of thousands and thousands of small towns. Every man is constantly putting up fences, marking out paths, placing limits to the activities of his days in order that he might swing through the daily orbit familiarly, easily, with a pleasant sense of belonging.
That same rich word, “converse,” with its insistence on frequent turning, carries a warning of the difficulties of social life. The frequent contact with men easily brings with it the danger of friction, of heat, of wearing, with the possibility of disintegration coming precisely at the point of contact. Certainly these dangers exist in social life; to an age as mechanically expert as our own, it should be immediately clear that men living together must have a social lubricant of some kind.
The lubricant of society is Justice; for the very least that must be given to men, if they are to live together, is that which is their own. Men’s rights must be respected; otherwise there will be, at the point of contact between lives, a disintegration either of the society or of the individuals composing the society. If men are to live together perfectly, living at the intense degree that perfection demands, the added, high-grade lubricant of charity is absolutely necessary. It is charity which brings not only the rights of other men into consideration, but also the very needs of others. Without these, charity and justice, society has no chance for continued existence as human.
Fittingness of Christ’s life among men
All the centuries have been surprised that God came down to live in the tenement of human society. He must have known that there His life would be crowded into the lives of others, would bump into them, clash with them, cling to them, bounce off them. Who could have believed that God would live so with men, humanly, familiarly, pulling the walls of His world about Him in a circle small enough to be completed again and again? Yet, in fact, He had His own country, His own city, His mother, relatives, friends, acquaintances. God did indeed come very close.
Its characteristics: Not solitary and austere
He might very well have insisted on the infinite superiority of His divinity and, while taking on a human nature, have lived off to one side, solitary, hidden from the eyes of the vulgar horde, much too good to mix with them. Fortunately, snobbery is not a divine trait or there would never have been an Incarnation. God came to teach men truth and to free them from sin; so He came to the places where truth was threatened and sin flourished. He elbowed His way into the crowded market-place, walked the dusty roads, thundered against the violation of the temple at the very height of a feast. He did not sit back, like the mythical maker of a perfect mouse-trap, content with His perfection and graciously stooping to forgive any sinners who might come to Him. He went out on the highways and byways seeking the sinners, pursuing them like the Hound of Heaven He was, eagerly, anxiously, relentlessly.
He came that through Him we might have easy access to God. We needed His help, for it is not an easy thing to go to God, particularly when we are weighed down with sin; even though we know there is no place else to go, we still have our human pride and our human fear. The enemies of Christ unwittingly made clear to the sinners of all future ages what confidence and courage His familiar life with men had poured into the human hearts of His time by accusing Him of surrounding Himself with sinners and publicans. Sinners ever since have laughed with joy to learn that the men who had the most reason for terror were precisely the ones who came to the feet of the Son of God.
Of course they came to Christ; He had made Himself one with men. He did not embrace the rigid fasting and penance of John the Baptist, for He did not wish to tower above men, striking terror into their hearts; rather He came down among men that they might more easily walk into His divine heart. He gave a perfect example in the absolutely necessary things and among these rigid abstinence from food and drink is not included. Abstinence is not an end in itself but a means by which men might attain to control and continence; the sinless Christ had no need of this means, so He lived as other men, eating and drinking.
True, He slipped off from time to time alone: to a high mountain to pray, into a desert to fast. But that was not to mark Him off sharply from other men or to furnish Him with an escape from social intercourse with men; it was to etch more deeply into the hearts of His apostles the truth that he who would give the fruits of contemplation to others must himself have some physical quiet, some time to pray, to stand off a little from the roar and confusion of life that he might keep his own values safe. For there is always the danger, in such work, of taking personally, and seriously, the honors men pay to an office; not to speak of the danger of starving the appetite for the things of God.
All through His life, Christ felt the privations and tasted the joys of poverty. On His own testimony, He was hungry, thirsty, and without a place whereon to lay His head. Nor was this a condemnation of riches. It was no secret in Christ’s time that riches can be an occasion of pride and offer opportunities for sins that are not open to the poor man; but then neither were the men of that time ignorant of the fact that poverty can be no less an occasion of sin, indeed, an occasion of all those sins a man will commit to seize the riches upon which his heart is set. It is neither riches nor poverty that count; but the poverty of spirit which is a casting aside of the trinkets of the world in the realization of how little they contribute to the perfection of man’s life.
Christ’s divinely deliberate poverty was a bold declaration that man’s life is not one of the body but of the spirit. Too, it was a thundering warning to His disciples. They were to give their whole time to God, not to become involved in the world of business; their teaching must not be open to the suspicion of avarice; their hunger and thirst must be a testimony to the wor1d that they had come, not in search of corporal riches, but to dispense spiritual wealth. They would conquer the hearts of men not by human power, but by divine power through human weakness.
Obedient to law
Men do not need riches for human living; they simply cannot get along without fellowship and law. It is small wonder that Christ insisted so strongly on these two. He came to perfect the imperfect law, yet His observance of that imperfect one was most exact; He came to liberate men from the burdens of the Old Law, but first He carried the burden Himself. None of His contemporaries could accuse Him of sin. He was no lawbreaker; for He would not have us miss the fact that the fruits of sin are degradation, subjection, and tyranny, not the liberty and perfection He came to give us. Even His indignant declaration that the Son of man was Lord of the Sabbath was not a rejection of law but a condemnation of a misinterpretation and a vicious perversion of law. Clearly the law of the Sabbath was not meant to forbid divine works; it did not prohibit the works necessary for life, even for corporal life; above all, it did not prohibit what pertains to divine praise and worship.
Now and then, the commands of the law seem unbearably heavy. If our human nature does not point this out to us, there is an angelic nature always ready to whisper it to us; for our fight for perfection is not only against our own nature but against the princes, the powers, the dominations of the angelic host who lost their own battle long ago. The abstract assurance of divine help against these vastly superior forces is a grand comfort; in the actual heat of the battle, it is a more solidly comforting thing to our human hearts to have before our eyes the concrete story of divinity’s own strategies against satanic cunning.
Victorious over Satan — Christ’s temptation: Its reasons
The temptation of Christ was just another of the devil’s bad mistakes. He had to guess; and he guessed wrong. Not even an angelic intelligence could pierce through to the divinity of Christ, for that is something to be believed, not seen; the devil could see the sinless life of Christ and suspect the mystery, then remember the infant helplessness of Christ and doubt that God could make Himself so lowly. He could not believe, for belief flows only from a good will. Up to the last minutes of Christ’s life, then, the devil was on tenterhooks about this strange Man; was He really God, or was He merely man?
It was fortunate for us that he made the mistake of trying to find the answer to that question. At least, his mistake protects us from foolish pride or smug security in our own sanctity. For sanctity is no guarantee against temptation; it is an invitation to it. The devil hates saints, they approach so closely to God; and, with the stupid stubbornness that has marked all of his career, he continues to batter his head against the divinely protected wall again and again. Really, sanctity and good works constitute a kind of diabolic desert where there is neither shade nor rest for the evil one. Indeed, sanctity is a desert place in another sense, for the corridors of sanctity are seldom crowded and man always faces his greatest dangers alone; so it was that Christ underwent His temptation when He was alone in a desert place. It was His invariable custom to face first the hardest of the things He demanded from us.
He went at that difficult task in a fashion that leaves no doubt in our minds as to the method we must pursue. There is no better preparation for future temptations than present fasting and penance. We know very well that there is no time in our lives when we can depend upon quiet security, rest on our arms idly waiting for the next fight to come up; surely we cannot take any chances on the grounds that we have worn down our strength with laborious good works. It was to a tired and hungry Christ, tired and hungry from fasting and penance, that the devil came. Whatever the cause of the fatigue, it ii just at that time, with our body protesting a bit, that the devil is most likely to make his attack; he was never one to overlook so powerful an ally as our sense appetite.
His diabolic strategy in the temptation of Our Lord is worth noting well. Since temptation must always come from the outside as far as our soul is concerned, it must be by way of a suggestion. Being what we are, suggestion has no chance for infiltration except along n path already made smooth by the journeys of our heart. The devil does not shock a saint into alertness by suggesting whopping crimes; he starts off with little, almost inoffensive things to which even the heart of a saint would make only a mild protest. So it was with the temptation of Adam; so also with the temptation of Christ. These two heads of the race could not be grossly attacked; they were to be subtly fooled. To our first parents, the devil made an intellectual appeal, a suggestion to that element of curiosity in all of us, asking: “Why did God forbid this particular fruit?” With that wedge securely in, he became bolder, appealing to pride and vainglory with a promise that their eyes would be opened; it was only when definite progress seemed to have been made that the full horror of the temptation was made plain in his invitation to the extreme pride of rebellion — they should become like gods.
Its order and manner
When the devil approached Christ, he used practically the same strategy — there is, after all, very little room for originality in the line of sin and temptation; he was perhaps a little more subtle with Christ, paying Him the same dubious compliment a bandit pays his victim in approaching him with extreme caution. He tempted Christ first with what even the most spiritual of men desire, the food necessary to sustain the body: “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” From there, he went on to that to which even spiritual men are too often victim, ostentation and vainglory: “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down . . .” (from the temple). With inevitable grossness, he advanced a temptation that appealed not to spiritual but to carna1 men, the appeal of the riches and the glory of the world, going even so far as contempt of God: “All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me.”
The devil, of course, understood that the desire for food was no sin. By reminding Christ of His hunger, the devil could at least discover whether this mysterious Man were willing to call on God for a miracle instead of taking ordinary means to obtain food; means such as John the Baptist had used, subsisting on locusts and wild honey, or the even simpler means of turning about and going to the nearest town for food. If Christ were willing to do these things, He might be guilty of gluttony in resorting to miracles rather than waiting for His food; there would be an even greater possibility of a taint of pride entering into His life.
The first thrust was not successful. Wisdom in the tempter would seem to indicate a complete change of attack, a search for some even subtler approach. But the devil is not wise, which is one of the reasons why he is a devil; the planned attack had to go forward, in spite of the failure of the first necessary maneuver, stupidly becoming clumsier at every step. It is no sin to trust in God, quite the contrary; but to plunge off a great height in deliberate temptation of God, demanding a miraculous rescue, that is something else again. To desire riches and the honors of the world is not necessarily wrong; but to be willing to abandon God and adore the devil to attain those ends, there s no excuse for that Christ was quite patient with the first two temptations, for, after all, He had come to conquer the devil by justice not by overwhelming divine power; at the third temptation, He lost all patience. He did more than reject the temptation, He dismissed the devil with a brusqueness that must have been gall to so proud a spirit. This was something not to be tolerated for an instant; for this was a direct attack, not on the things of men, but on God Himself.
That outburst of divine indignation sent the devil clinking away, still mystified by the God-man. When he had gone, the angels came and ministered to their Master. We shall read once more of an angel ministering to a tired Christ; then it will be on the edge of His passion, as here He was on the threshold of His public life. Each was a beginning; and it is at just these moments that comfort is needed, for beginnings, particularly beginnings of divine things, are hard. Since then, it is not angels but the Master Himself who brings comfort to the hearts of men courageous enough to begin.
Christ the Teacher: The doctrine of Christ
From the desert, Christ returned to the cities of men and set off on His career of bearer of divine truth to men. Much later, this part of His life would be summed up with a simplicity whose beauty forbids adornment: He had done all things well. He spoke with the appeal and persuasiveness of an orator reading the heart of his audience as plainly as the page of an open book; He denounced evil with the thundering authority of a supreme legislator; He confirmed His doctrine by stunning miracles, even more by the calm, persistent, quiet sinlessness of His life. All this was but the vehicle of His message. The doctrine itself surpassed anything that teachers of men have ever conceived; and it answered the deepest demands of the hearts and minds of men.
Its immediate subjects — exclusively Jews
Yet, looked at objectively, the actual proposal of this doctrine seems to have been miserably limited. It was strictly held within the narrow limits of Palestine and, even there, was restricted to Christ’s own people, the Jews. Why did not Our Lord preach to an men? How could He expect the same results from the lesser teachers to whom He commissioned this world-wide preaching? The point is that the lesser teachers actually achieved greater results, thereby showing more plainly the power behind that teaching. Obviously, it requires more power, not less, to accomplish through other, frailer instruments, than to work from the abundance of one’s own expertness and power; only one who possesses an overflowing abundance can safely and effectively share it with others. It was the divine power of Christ that could send His small band of apostles to convert the world — and have them succeed.
Christ’s restriction of His preaching to the chosen people was part of that orderly procedure so perfectly proper to God’s action. The promises of a redeemer and a messiah had been made to the Jews, not to the Gentiles; the Jews, then, should receive the fulfillment of these promises. They were the chosen people, they had had generations of preparation; they should be given the first chance to welcome the Messiah. From them, as a final, perfecting preparation, all excuse for rejecting the Messiah should be removed. But why did Christ not branch out in His teaching after the initial rejection by His people? That is not the limit of the patience of God. Seventy times seven was the number He gave Peter, and Peter was only a man. No, God keeps knocking tirelessly at the door of a soul until the rejection is ultimate, hopeless; until God Himself is put to death and an end made to His teaching.
Its characteristics: Not without offense
He came to the Jews in fulfillment of divine promises, in the name of God’s love of the race. His love was the strong love of God, a love great enough to be terribly severe. By their malice, the leaders of this chosen people were impeding the salvation of the whole race; they were rejecting the doctrine of Christ which alone held out hope of salvation; their vice. were corrupting the life of the people. This was not the time for a lover of the people and a teacher of truth to tread gently lest he hurt the feelings of some who were considered great among men. Of course Christ roared against them, sparing them nothing; yet there was the full vigor of divine love in that violence, a love that embraced the leaders perhaps even more strongly than the people who followed them.
To curry favor at the expense of truth may serve the disastrous ends of cowardice and selfishness; it can do no good to men or truth, for there is no price at which either men or truth can be sold. It does no cause good to sacrifice men in favor of power, for it is men and God who are the sources of power. On the other hand, it did the cause of Christ no harm to uphold the truth at all costs, to place men before all else. The people of His time, as those of every age, knew well the corruption of their leaders. If Christ had venally won the whole-hearted support of these corrupt leaders, He would probably have lost the few hearts that clung to Him as the sparse fruit of that three years of sowing; He would certainly have lost the millions of hearts that have since come to Him as the full harvest of His labors.
When, in the last days of His life, Christ was called to account, He could say with complete truth: “I have spoken nothing in secret.” He had not come to hide divine truth but to manifest it; He was not a miserly Master huddling over His knowledge in dark corners, gloating over His exclusive possession of it, afraid to share it lest He lose His mastery. The things He had to say needed nothing of the garments of sly ambiguity which hide the ugliness of the obscene and allow it to slip furtively into the souls of men. Christ taught publicly: to crowds in the temple, on the sea shore, in desert places, on the high road. To the little group of apostles and disciples, He talked incessantly. He let slip no opportunity to publish His truth. Some things He spoke to the multitudes in parables, giving them the milk of children because they were not capable of the meat of men; clearly, it was better for them to have this than nothing at all. Even these parables were explained in detail to the apostles to whom it was given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God that they might instruct the children of men.
Many years after, closing his own attempt to put the teachings and deeds of Christ in the prison of written words, St. John admitted the hopelessness of it: “There are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written.” The world could not contain the books, only heaven can; it is quite impossible to contain the sublimity of the teachings of divine wisdom within the narrow confines of words. Christ Himself wrote no words beyond those few He scrawled in the sand to scatter the accusers of the adulteress; how significant that it should have been sand in which He wrote! He did His real writing on the hearts of men and thus forever scotched the petty error that His doctrine was not more than is contained in the written Scriptures.
Writing seems somehow unworthy of the dignity of God. There is, first of all, the slavish character of the labor; then, too, the written word is thrown broadcast with just a faint hope for the best, like the seed of a sower thrown into the wind. Christ reached all men, sending His words carefully, from hand to hand, down the long line of infallible teachers to whom His word was entrusted. The complaint against His lack of writing has no justification. Those who make the complaint would not believe if they were given books autographed by the Son of God, any more than the brothers of the rich man in hell who would not receive Moses and the Prophets would have believed one returned from the dead. For it is not lack of truth, but lack of the courage to desire truth that is truth’s chief obstacle. It is hard to see how the autograph of Christ would carry more weight than His summons to Lazarus already dead four days. Yet the result of that miracle was not a complete conversion of all its witnesses; you will remember that there were some who sought to kill Lazarus that the miracle might be denied, as though the second death would be more irrevocable than the first.
Christ the Wonder-worker:
The miracles of Christ: Their reasons
While the written word did not befit the dignity of Christ, His miracles certainly did. There was nothing confining about them; rather, they threw open the vast spaces of infinity to the human mind. Indeed, their whole service is to lift the mind of a man above the limits of nature by bringing him into sharp contact with the Author of nature. A miracle is a wave of divine power that lifts men up to the crest and lets them see the distant shore if only for an instant. More concretely, they are worked either to confirm the truth or to show the presence of God in the man who does the works of God. On both counts, Christ fittingly worked miracles.
The miracles of Christ, like all true miracles, were worked by divine power, for miracles are such precisely because they outstrip the powers of nature. It is true that Christ reached out and touched the leper to cleanse him, it was His human voice that awoke Lazarus, Magdalen knew from His loving glance long before He spoke that her sins were forgiven; but the hand, the voice, the eye were mercy instruments of divinity, channels which carried the power of God. Christ, even as an Infant in the manger, had both the divine power and the human instrumentality of that power, for He was both God and man. It is, however, an extravagance of unbridled imagination to picture the childhood and adolescence of Christ as a gloriously triumphant journey leaving an uninterrupted wake of miracles behind it. If there was bread in the house at Nazareth, it was because it had been earned by Joseph and his Son; if the clothes were clean, it was because Mary had washed them.
There was no point in miracles until some truth was to be confirmed; until it was time to manifest the divinity of Christ to all men. The first miracle, then, is that recorded as such by St. John, the changing of water into wine at the marriage feast of Cana. It is comforting to remember that this first miracle was worked at Our Mother’s request, that it was for such a human end as saving the host of Christ from embarrassment, that it was a benediction of such a holy thing as marriage. I have often wondered what the bridegroom said to the master of the feast in answer to his complaint about saving the better wine until the last. Probably he just smiled knowingly and shrugged his shoulders, hoping Christ would not give him away.
From this beginning to the very end, all the miracles of Christ had the common purpose of confirming the truth of divinity, of manifesting to men the presence of God among them. All were, of course, works transcending natural powers; all were done in Christ’s own name. Again and again, He insisted that it was in confirmation of His claim to divinity that He worked miracles; if what He said were not true, then God Himself would have collaborated in a gigantic lie.
The scope of Christ’s miracles
Certainly, the scope of the miracles of Christ was a plainly written documentation of His mastery over all the universe, that is, of His divinity. Angelic beings bowed to His command in every expulsion of the demons from their possessed victims; the heavenly bodies offered their homage and submission when they covered their face against the spectacle of the death of God. Most constantly, however, His miracles revolved around His fellow-men; of these, the outstanding ones are the healing miracles, the miracles whose final goal was not the salvation of the body but of the soul. After all, He had come to save men, to enlighten their minds, and relieve them of the burden of sin. That no least doubt of His divinity might remain in the minds of men of good will, all irrational creation gave Him unquestioning obedience.
These were proud days in the lives of the apostles. The simple fishermen of Galilee were living familiarly with the Lord of the universe. Before their eyes, nature tumbled over itself in its eagerness to obey Him, the eyes of faith showed them the greater miracles of grace within the souls of men; they shared His confidence, listened to His patient reiteration of divine truth, even partook of something of His infinite power on that mission where they were told to heal the sick, raise the dead, give freely of what they had freely received.
They returned from that journey bubbling over with enthusiasm, swelled a little with consciousness of self, to be met with the laconic word of the Master: “Let us go apart and rest awhile.” That is, let us stop for a minute to think, to remember, to pray; after all, you are the same men you were before, not God. As the days of His life grew shorter, His warnings of His passion and death grew more plain; to the apostles, they were steadily unwelcome, even a little frightening, shaking that confidence and sense of power that had so recently come to them.
The glory of Christ the Man — the transfiguration: Its fittingness
They had some reason for fright. He was starting them off on a long journey over a road that was rough and steep. His divine wisdom could easily understand that the comforting memories of three intimate years with Him would hardly be enough for them. In the kindness of His heart, He gave them concrete, ocular evidence of some of the joys that awaited them at the end of the journey. For an instant, there on Tabor, Christ unveiled to His beloved three the glory of His human soul shining through His human body.
Nature of its brilliance
Understand, this transfiguration was a revelation of human glory. It was essentially the same brilliance that is a permanent quality of the bodies of the saints after the resurrection, the brilliance that would have been constantly shining forth from the body of Christ had not a constant miracle been worked to prevent what would have overwhelmed men as it did the apostles on Tabor. This glimpse of glory completed the dim sketch of the glory of the human body after the resurrection. Other vague details had been drawn when Christ passed through the closed womb of the Virgin, when He walked upon the water, when He passed unharmed through the hands of the Jews who attempted to apprehend Him before His hour had come.
Its witnesses, human and divine
This apex of human glory was not only for the men who were to come after Christ, but for those faithful ones who had preceded Him. Fittingly, then, Moses and Elias were present at that preview of glory in the name of all who had gone before; Peter, James and John, in the name of all who were to come after. Those five witnesses were really a mighty company: the Law and the Prophets, the Head of the Church, the first of the apostolic martyrs, the most beloved of the disciples and greatest of the evangelists, the Sons of Thunder, and the Rock upon which Christ was to build His Church.
The transfiguration of Christ was really a revelation of the full significance of our position as adopted sons of God. By that adoption, we are made conformable to the natural Son of God, imperfectly now by grace with its glory for the soul, perfectly in heaven with its glory for the body and soul. We enter the life of grace by baptism, the life of heaven by the light of glory. As at the baptism of Christ, go here again at His transfiguration, there is the divine witness to His natural Sonship and a divine promise as to our adopted sonship. As at the baptism the Son was baptized, the Holy Ghost appeared hovering over Him in the form of a dove, while the Father’s voice was heard approving; so here on Tabor, the Son was glorified, the Father testified, and the Holy Ghost hovered over the scene in a luminous cloud.
They came down from the mountain a little shaken to set about the business of suffering and dying. But now, what a different task it was, not only for them but for all men; for here was the goal that explained all the hardships and difficulties of the journey — the vision of glory within a man now, shining through his very body in heaven. Here was the secret of the glory of man: a human sharing in divine life.
Conclusion. Ways of life: Christ’s way
These were the high points of the divine lesson in human living. This was the way for a man to live and this was the reason for a man’s living as a man: to live intimately with men, holding fast to the roots for respect and love of all other men that reach into divinity itself. For in every man there is a spark of the divine, and the promise of consuming brilliance which is a dim reflection of the reward for human living on a divine plane. This is men’s reason for embracing men and for their recoil in horror from the satanic enemy of all men. In this human life of God we can see the inner depths which house the treasures that are to be shared with other men; here is an indication of the part divine things are to play in a man’s life and of the wide room that must be left in a man’s heart for those divine things. This is the culminating glory reserved for that sovereign being who is a man.
The way of the modern world: The world and men, truth, divine things, the glory of men
Christ’s way of living cannot, of course, be the mode of life in a world that has banned the spiritual to give itself wholly to the material. On a material basis there is little to love in men, nothing, certainly, to make us embrace other men; even if there were, it would be quite impossible for us to get out of ourselves. In such a world, the devil is not an enemy if he serves our material wants and goals. There are no treasures to be shared with other men, for in such a world every man is bankrupt of human riches; men must rather grope about in the refuse heaps of the world, increasing their hunger by satisfying only their animal appetites. In such a world, there is no room for divine things, for the divine is not to be encompassed within the material. Here, indeed, there is nothing of glory for man where his nature is distorted, perverted, degraded.
Dangers to social life: Injustice — met by law
In such a world, human living is impossible. There cannot be social life among men without justice, and justice is impossible if men cannot get out of themselves, cannot see others, their rights, and the obligation to respect those rights. Injustice, then, is the fundamental social threat, a threat normally met by the regime of law; but what law can there be in a materialistic world beyond the law of force?
Familiarity — met by: Absolute perfection — in Christ; appreciation of the eternal in man, growth.
A more intimate threat to social life springs from the penetrating knowledge born of familiarity; and this threat can be met only by absolute perfection — as in Christ where deeper penetration only uncovers greater perfection — or by seeing deeply enough into man to discover the spark of the divine in him. There is a real danger in familiarity of exhausting the grounds of appeal and coming upon a vast territory of defects and imperfection that drives us in revulsion away from our fellow men. The threat is neutralized if once we see the eternal in man, the spark of the divine life that makes the meanest of men a messenger of the sublime truths of God by his very existence; the threat is extinguished by a steady growth in perfection, a fanning of that divine spark into a flame of charity that will culminate in the holocaust of heaven. In a material world, men can get terribly disgusted with men. Obviously, in a material world there can be no absolute perfection; just as clearly, there can be no perception of the eternal in man by men who deny the eternal; and growth can only be the crass material thing that, in any man, is a constant threat to the life and joys of every other man.
We might say that the human, that is the social, way of living presented a severe test of the perfection of Christ. In the sense that His divinity was His title to superiority, it is not hard to see social life as a test of His divinity. It is not easy for a superior to live intimately with his subjects, yet hold to his dignity and authority; in the human order, his defects will inevitably be discovered. It is difficult for a superior to win the affection of his subjects and keep it, not only because some of his acts will inevitably displease some of his subjects, but also because there will inevitably be some defects in his commands, his laws. Christ, the supreme Lawgiver, lived intimately with men, met this test and pegged it. Strangely enough, His very success in the test was reason enough for men to shun Him. Not that they had found His law defective; the trouble was there was no defect in it. It was not that they found an imperfect superior; but rather one so perfect that subjection to Him was demanded. Men were not anxious to give up the things that the perfection of the Lawgiver and His law demanded. Something of this crops up in the daily life of every age when the pure are mocked by the impure, the just by the unjust, the truthful by liars, the merciful by the pitiless, the wise by the stupid, the industrious by the lazy. Not that these things are not valued; rather, because the recognition of them in others constitutes a stinging and constant rebuke.
A test of divinity and humanity
Social life is a test of humanity, for it is a constant test of our awareness of the spiritual in man, of our own growth in spiritual things, of our straining towards perfection. It is only on the grounds of the spirit and its growth that men can live together as men; for man, you see, is also a spirit. He cannot be made to live as a mere animal, a plant, or a clod of earth; for he is none of these things. He must live the way Christ lived or he must cease, slowly or quickly, to live as a man. He must hold fast to the vision of glory, even though the road be rough and long; for the loss of the vision will not make the road easier, it will rather make the whole necessity of the journey a thing of complete despair.