CHAPTER IV — LIKE UNTO US
NOT SO very long ago, a newspaper report of a medical meeting quoted one of the doctors to the effect that mothers, while very nice in themselves, were really luxuries. A child of today, outside the biological accident of birth, could take a mother or leave her alone; certainly it had no real need of the old-fashioned mother. Granted that the reporter might have had his passion for accuracy slightly dampened by the conjectures of a medical convention, still the trend seems to be in fact towards loosening the knot that ties a mother to her child that she might be freer to “live her own life.” The unusual note in this report is that it states that trend from the child’s point of view to give us the unflattering picture of a child cheerfully shrugging off its mother as so much excess baggage.
Maybe the modern child does fed that way about a mother. But then we would hardly expect a child to appreciate all of the homely functions of home when we ourselves take so much for granted. And we do take too much for granted. By way of making this point, let us suppose that some child of our day should be deprived of this luxury formerly known as a mother. If we concentrate on just one little consequence of that condition, we are given a somewhat startling insight into the obvious things we never see. Try to realize what a dreadful state that child would be in from the mere fact that no one really knows him. To the friends he will make, he will seem much better than he is; to his enemies, he will appear much worse than he is. To all the rest, the multitudes of men and women he will pass on the street every day, he will be just another stranger; they will not be interested enough in him even to hazard an opinion on his goodness or badness.
The home has always offered a subtle relief for all men. A man knows his friends are wrong in their benevolent estimate of him; he has inside information on the limitations of his own goodness. He sincerely hopes, in fact he must hope, that his enemies are unjust, that he is not nearly as bad as they think he is. At one time or another, he will walk the streets of a strange city and be a little frightened at the multitude who do not care in the least whether he is good or bad. But when he comes home he is enveloped in an invigorating atmosphere of truth. Here everyone knows him, better, perhaps, than he knows himself. Those at home know he is not perfect; they know he is not completely corrupt; and they are decidedly interested in him for just what he is.
Statements of human nature
Personifying human nature with these facts in mind, we can readily understand how justly we speak of “Our Holy Mother the Church.” We can see human nature coming home of an evening from a world in which it is a stranger, a world in which some men think it all bad while others can see nothing but good in it. Human nature comes home to the atmosphere of truth, to the Church; it snuggles into a warm robe, relaxes in slippers and finds grounds for hope, reason for effort, and support for love. Here human nature is known as neither all bad nor all good; and it has been staunchly defended against all comers for two thousands years for precisely what it was.
A thing of evil and corruption; of sweetness and light; indifferent to evil and to good
Men have vilified human nature, spat on it, despised it, insisting it was all corrupt. This was the ugly heresy that, retaining the name of Christianity, deservedly earned the contempt of so many modern minds. In the face of that contempt, it had to abandon its fundamentals or change its estimate of human nature; it was the fundamentals that went by the board. Other men have put human nature on a pedestal, insisting it was all sweetness and light. There human nature has remained, feeling silly, irritated by the combination of incense and rare air, despising its courtiers. At least the cloying sweetness of the whole business gave it a sympathetic understanding of the mean temper of lap-dogs.
By others, human nature has been elbowed about, trodden on, blindly passed by like another atom in a subway universe. It has been jabbed at, tamped, analyzed, and prescribed for like one of a thousand patients being rushed through a clinic operating on a mass production scale. It has felt outraged, undignified, irritated, and bitter at the conviction that no one in the place really cared what its condition was.
Christ’s summary of human nature
It has been a steady comfort for human nature to come home, to come to the place where it was really known; to come to the feet of God and hear the God-man corroborating the experience of centuries by the words of the eternal wisdom that is God’s. Christ’s summary of human nature is perhaps the briefest, certainly one of the most beautiful and profound that has come down to us. Standing over His sleeping apostles there in Gethsemane, with the blood of agony still fresh on Him, He said: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The very words, few as they are, give vivid expression to a divine, unselfishly generous understanding of human nature that removes the element of surprise from Christ’s later thoughtfulness for the women of Jerusalem, His care for the thief on the Cross, and His solicitous farewell to His Mother.
Significance of the summary: For all men
The whole picture in the Garden is worth studying well. On one side there is the long-suffering, understanding, pitying God asking so little. The sleeping group is made up of high-minded men who cherish goals impossibly out of reach, their hearts and minds stretching out to unthinkable things; and the flesh so often having the last word in their lives. So might the lives of the best of men be summed up: always we fall short; always we are unprofitable servants. This might be a summary of any year of our lives; indeed, of any day of our lives from childhood’s first examination of conscience, with its solemn, wide-eyed, firm purpose of amendment for faults that would not put dust on an angel’s wing, to the last moment when we link arms with the divine Companion of the road and set out for home. It is no doubt significant that in the fairly short tract which we are considering in this chapter, Thomas, who made so few mistakes, is twice forced to retract opinions he had held and written down in his earlier days, thereby giving as strong testimony to the weakness of the flesh as the brilliance of his doctrines gives testimony to the willingness of the spirit.
Once when very young, I was sent to a little church in the mountains of Switzerland on Christmas eve to hear confessions. On arriving, I asked the curé if there were not some peculiarly local expressions, expressions meant not to hide the truth but to make the hard work of baring one’s soul a little less difficult. His answer, which is the sole reason for this bit of autobiography, was classic. Shrugging his shoulders, he said: “C’est toujours la même chose” — it is always the same thing; and he was right. For while the spirit is always willing, it is likewise true that the flesh is always weak.
It was kind of Christ to give us this statement of the truth of human nature; in doing so, He gave us a declaration of the whole-hearted character of divine love. The Son of God did not pick and choose from human nature, like a spoiled child picking the nuts out of the salad or the raisins out of the cake. He did not choose the willingness and dodge the weakness as a half-hearted Christian might embrace the truths of heaven and the love of God while shying away in terror from hell. Christ took the whole, essential nature. In reality, it is a blasphemy born of snobbery that denies to Christ this or that part of our human nature; that is pleased to see Him in rapt contemplation but nauseated by the thought of sweat on His brow. This makes God a half-hearted lover, squeamish, cowardly, selfish, like a woman who smiles on orchids and diamonds but goes pouting to a judge at the mention of babies or housework.
For Christ the man, like unto us Christ was true man. Assuming human nature meant that He was not only embracing a willing spirit but also bearing, and bearing with the fierce pride of a fighting clan, the burden of the weak flesh. In Gethsemane He said in actions what men might not stop to read if it were said in words, offering us a kind of divine tabloid account of His humanity; for never has flesh protested so vehemently as when its protests were round and red and dropping to the ground, never has spirit proved more willing than when it said in the midst of agony, “Not my will but Thine be done.” Never has understanding been more generous, more profound; never has the spirit of man faced higher goals or faced them more courageously. The Son of God took on the perfection and the defects of human nature, for Christ was man. It happened to Him, as it happens to every man, that the vision’s splendor called Him on but the road was long and rough and hard.
In the last chapter we saw half of the perfection of Christ’s human nature in the perfection of His grace and virtue. We stopped there as a child might stop, pushing away the delightful drink that it might swallow and breathe after that long satisfying draught. In this chapter we shall look at the rest of that picture of supremely willing spirit; thus fortified, we shall go on to look at the defects, the weaknesses of the flesh. First, let us finish up the beauty of the picture by considering the knowledge of Christ.
The perfection of Christ’s human nature — the willing spirit
Perfection of knowledge: In general — human and divine knowledge
Christ was God. As God, He had that eternal, infinite, perfect knowledge which belongs to God. But that was as God. Had he no more than that, His human intellect would have remained the barren thing it is at the beginning of every human life. Intellectually, He would have remained an infant all through life. His intellect would have been a host to the universe forlornly surveying its empty castle to which not a single guest had come. This human faculty would have been merely an idle decoration of divinity, as grotesque as a moustache scratched on a masterpiece. For the mind of a man exists to know.
The Son of God took on human nature in all its perfection. In Him that human nature reached a climax of perfection. No one of the distinctively human potentialities remained unfulfilled. His was not a ragged, limping, decrepit human nature, but one that reached to the utmost of its perfection. He had, then, not only a divine knowledge, but also a human knowledge.
To some this human knowledge of Christ seemed superfluous. It was a tiny creek that would be swallowed up by the ocean of divine knowledge, a candle completely dimmed by the flood of sunlight. This might be true if human knowledge were a rival of divine knowledge, but it is not. Our wisdom is derived from divine knowledge; it is nothing more than a participation of that eternal and supreme Truth. Rather than being dimmed by proximity to its source, the brightness of out knowledge is increased as we get closer to the source from which we receive the light.
Human knowledge in particular
We might sum up the knowledge of Christ by saying He had all of the knowledge that can come to the human mind; after all, that is no more than saying that none of the potentialities of the human mind were unfulfilled in Christ. What can we know? We might begin by asking what we do know; but that is much too discouraging for a beginning. Pushing aside the personal consideration for an objective tabulation of the fields of human knowledge, we might check off theology, philosophy, history, the confusion of languages, the welter of sciences, politics, and so on. We would think that we had assigned an enormous field to one human mind; though, actually, we would only be walking a race horse. All of this is merely one kind of human knowledge, the acquired knowledge that is inextricably bound up with frets and worries, midnight silence and university degrees. This is what we spend our life gathering bit by bit as we abstract the universal from the singular with the he1p of our active intellect, separating the gold of the intelligible from the dross of matter.
Our possibilities, however, go far beyond this grubbing. We touch on the angelic world by infused knowledge such as Adam had, such as comes to the souls in Purgatory and to the blessed in heaven. Unfortunately, infused knowledge is the miraculous exception in this present life, otherwise books like this would be entirely unnecessary. Indeed, we even invade the sphere proper to God; the human mind does see God as He seems Himself, directly, face to face, in the beatific vision. Even this is within our power; not within the power of the principles of our nature, of course, but within the field opened up to our nature by the addition of supernatural help.
The investigation of the knowledge of Christ, then, is more than an unveiling of the beauty and perfection of Christ the man. It is a concrete statement of the heights to which human nature was exalted in Christ, a blueprint of the perfection to which every possessor of human nature is in fact ordered; for Christ the man was one of us. His knowledge included the knowledge of the blessed — the vision of God — the infused knowledge which is proper to the angels, and the acquired knowledge common to all of us in this life. In all these ways some men do know. In all these ways the God-man knew most perfectly.
It might be mentioned in passing that further investigation of the knowledge of Christ may well be a humiliating experience for those who have read the previous volumes of this series. Nearly all of the investigation will be a review, an application of the material covered in dealing with the nature of man; as such, it will no doubt offer some surprising evidence of how much we can forget.
Knowledge of the blessed
The human mind of Christ saw the essence of God directly but only as a man can see it. That is, in His vision there was nothing like the clarity of God’s own vision and its comprehensive grasp of divinity. This vision was possible to the mind of Christ only because of the supernatural help of the created light of glory, a light that pales into insignificance before the uncreated light of the mind of God. The human nature of Christ was a created thing, capable of only finite acts, as are all creatures; certainly it was quite incapable of the infinite act necessary to enfold the divine essence.
In the beatific vision, every man sees what pertains to himself, all those things to which he is tied by some bond. It was no different with Christ, except that all men pertain to Christ their Savior and their Judge. By reason of His deeply special interest in every detail of every human life, Christ sees in the divine essence all that pertains to all men; a comforting, if astounding, truth. Even with His human mind, He would see the successively infinite hopes, thoughts, desires of men, over the whole long span from the first man to the very last.
He sees all this more clearly than any saint or angel will ever see anything in the essence of God; and the reason of this is a truth that hits at the heart of human living. It is true that in this life knowledge is a serious liability, forever carrying with it the burden of leadership and the weight of responsibility for the little ones who have not an equal share of knowledge. But it is also an asset, particularly when it is mellowed by grace, for it widens a man’s world; or, rather, it widens a man’s mind so that he can admit more of the world into himself. In the vision of God, the knowledge we have so laboriously acquired plays no part. We see more or less deeply into that divine essence, not by reason of the development of our minds, but by reason of the light of glory; this vision is, after all, a supernatural thing not to be measured by natural yardsticks. This light of glory, which is the measure of our penetration of the divine essence, is given to us in exact proportion to the degree of our grace and merit. In a word, it is sanctity, not learning, that ultimately counts.
Infused knowledge: its object, act, and habit
Coming down a step from the knowledge proper to God to the knowledge proper to the angels, the infused knowledge which flows directly from God, we are in the presence of a manner of knowing that leaves us frankly envious. The learned theologians who came to examine the doctrines of Catherine of Siena must have been, unless they were very holy, just a little resentful of her superior theological knowledge; there must have been, among them, some rueful comparison between their own long, hard, tedious path to knowledge and her swiftly joyous short-cut. They gave testimony to the miraculous character of her knowledge; and miracle it was. But this is not true of the knowledge of the angels or of those who see the face of God.
For them this is not miraculous; it is the ordinary, the usual, the natural thing for the citizens of heaven. There the spirit is uppermost, it is not dependent on the body. Perhaps we can see the natural character of this type of knowledge better if we consider a blessed soul before the resurrection of the body. In what is then its present state, it has no body, that is, it enjoys a mode of existence that is purely spiritual. Along with the new mode of existence, there must be a new mode of acting, for action necessarily follows the mode in which a nature exists. Without a body, the only way for a mind to know is to receive that knowledge from God, since, obviously, the mechanism for abstracting ideas from matter — the apparatus of senses and imagination serving the active intellect — is missing.
True enough, it is hard for us to conceive of a man getting his knowledge directly, immediately from God as a normal, natural thing; as difficult, in fact, as it would be for us to conceive of wings on a cow. But that is because we forget our affinity to the angels, we forget that we, too, are spirits. We are so accustomed to looking at streets, buildings, taxicabs and buses that we never think to look up and notice there is a sky. Christ Himself, Who was not given to idle talk, insisted that in the resurrection men would be like angels.
From the point of view of its content, the infused knowledge of Christ was far superior to that of the angels. By it, He knew all a man is capable of knowing by natural reason and all those things which will be revealed by God; the angels, while their natural knowledge was complete from the first instant, enjoy only a fragmentary and gradual sharing in revealed knowledge, a kind of piece-meal munching on tid-bits from the table of God. The infused knowledge of Christ was also greater than that of the angels on the grounds of its penetration of the hearts of men and of its certitude, since Christ was so much closer to the Source of all certitude from Whom nothing is secret. Yet, in another way Christ’s infused knowledge was definitely inferior to the angels; this manner of knowing is natural to an angel, it is a little too big to be manipulated expertly by the mind of a man.
There is a certain freedom in the use of this infused knowledge which Christ, of course, enjoyed too. He could use it, as the angels do, without any reference to the phantasms which are the normal source of our ideas. On the other hand, He could, if He liked, refer it to the phantasms and go on from there to reason discursively, not because He had to, but as a boy who has learned a trick well does it over and over again, just for the fun of the thing.
Acquired knowledge: Its object
It is always hard to keep the human mind from rushing ahead on wings of fancy in matters that come close to the heart. In this matter, perhaps because of memories of childish tears of despair, of examinations that were flunked, or of the absurd, stubborn mistakes of youth, some men have been loath to concede a real acquired knowledge to Christ. A knowledge that is extracted from material things by the use of the sharp scalpel of our active intellect, seemed too bloody a thing to be worthy of Christ. Yet if we put emotion to one side and look at the problem hard-headedly, it is quite clear that this acquired knowledge cannot be denied to Christ. If His nature were perfect, and it was, then all its potentialities must have been realized, for an unrealized potentiality is a distinct imperfection. Just as Christ’s possible intellect, the faculty whose act is to know, was brought to full perfection by infused knowledge, His active intellect realized its potentialities in the work of acquired knowledge. If we deny the active intellect of Christ its proper work of abstracting the intelligible from the material, it becomes a mere decoration, a toy that is not even played with. Christ did not take any part of our human nature as lightly as all that.
If we remember that a man’s knowledge is not limited to singular things, the things directly offered to the senses, we shall save ourselves needless difficulty in our consideration of the acquired knowledge of Christ. There is no question but what the senses of Christ never came into contact with a swing band or a radio thriller; yet Christ’s acquired knowledge did extend to all the direct objects of man’s intellectual knowledge, to all the essences and laws of things. Obviously this took time, for the human mind is kept busy enough learning one thing at a time and Christ’s was a human mind.
There was then real progress, positive growth in that knowledge of Christ, not merely a manifestation of knowledge or an experimental verification of what had been known in this way all along. To deny this is really to maintain that the robe of Christ’s humanity was shabby in spots, for it would imply unrealized potentialities in the active intellect of Christ. We do not defer to the dignity of Christ as God by picking the pockets of Christ as man.
The teachers of Christ
Christ learned; but Christ was never taught either by men or by angels. Just passingly it might be noted that in this solitary fact there is reason for perpetual gratitude on the part of the human teachers of all the ages; for by it they were given protection against the absurd but very human mistake of taking seriously the superiority whose constant expression is demanded by their work. The learning of Christ is fruitful material for investigation. The human mind can find out a thing for itself or it can be taught by others; of the two, personal discovery is by far superior. After all, a pupil does not get ideas from the teacher’s mind as a load of coal is transferred from a truck into a coal-bin. He receives his ideas through the medium of words which are nothing more than the signs or symbols created by men to signify a man’s own knowledge. The creatures of the universe are also signs, but signs made by God; they are signs of the wisdom of God, not of the wisdom of man, and it is a more noble thing to be taught by God than to be taught by men. It was eminently fitting that Christ should have been independent of the teachers of men: from the very first instant of His life He was a teacher of men, not their pupil.
Perfection of power in the soul of Christ: Simply — not omnipotent
Christ was man, walking the roads of Palestine, feeling the heat of the sun and the cool of the night, often sleeping under a blanket of stars like the poorest of His contemporaries. But He was an extraordinary man, perfect in grace, in virtue, in knowledge. What could He do with this perfection; or, more properly, what in fact did He do with it?
To answer that question, we may look at Christ’s life from two angles. The one shows us failure, defeat, death on the cross; the other shows us Christ healing the sick, raising the dead, forgiving sinners, doing all things well. Unquestionably it was the inherent defects of human nature that made possible His tragic end. How great a part did the power of Christ’s human soul play in the wonders of His earthly life?
There can be no doubt of Christ’s omnipotent power as God; and there can be no less doubt about His complete lack of omnipotence as man. Christ as man, for instance, could in no way create, nor could God Himself use Christ’s human nature as an instrument in creation. What could He use it for? As an instrument it must have some proper action if it is not to be a silly mockery; and what action can an instrument have on the nothingness from which the soul is created ?
Short of omnipotence, however, Christ’s soul was all-powerful. Considered in itself and its natural powers, it could do all those things proper to a soul; those things and no more. As an instrument of divinity, united to a divine Person more Intimately than our hands are united to our bodies, it could work all the miracles conducive to the end of the Incarnation. It was only a physical, instrumental cause, yes; a cause whose power was really the power of the principal cause who was God. But it was none the less a true cause and these miraculous effects were truly the effects of Christ the man.
Relatively: To others
To Christ Himself: To His body
In the concrete, then, the humanity of Christ as the instrument of divinity could, and did, drive out devils, forgive sins, heal lepers, raise the dead. By its own power it could not add one cubit to the stature of Christ; it could not regulate His digestion, His nutrition; in fact, it was faced with the same helplessness we face when we come to the boundaries of those kingdoms which are not subject to the will of man. Yet when Christ walked on the water, when at His word the apostles let down their nets and caught a great draught of fish, when the fig tree withered at His curse, all this was the result of the humanity of Christ acting as an instrument of divinity; none of these things is subject to the power of the will of man.
To the fulfillment of His will
It is true that by its own power the soul of Christ could do all that He willed, but this was simply because Christ was too wise to will what could not be done. Another man, in an idle moment, might sit dreaming by the shore of a lake and, playing a childish game with himself, wish that he could transport himself across the lake without bothering about a boat. Christ’s will could entertain no such fantasies; but the human will of Christ did, in fact, set out across the lake without bothering about a boat, not dependent on its own power, but as an instrument of the Word of God, for in this it was capable of acts proper to omnipotence itself.
These considerations lend special significance to the prayers of Christ. When He went up into a mountain to pray before choosing His apostles, he prayed for effects which were to be produced by His human will of its own powers. But He also prayed for those things that His will was to produce as the instrument of divine power — for the resurrection of Lazarus, for the confirmation of the strength and the faith of the apostles at the last supper. This has particular importance for it brings out the fact that prayer is more than an act of humility, more than a statement of truth, more than a sharp cry for help; it is the spade by which we turn over the earth in preparation for the divine seed. Prayer is itself a cause, playing a necessary part in the government of the world.
Glancing back at what we have seen of the human nature of Christ, it begins to be clear that He took all of our human nature in a sense larger than was at first obvious. He took more than the essentials of human nature; He selected something from every state in which human nature has existed. From the state of innocence in which Adam was created He took freedom from sin; from the state of glory which is the last home of man He took the vision of the essence of God; and from the state of guilt in which we now labor He took the subjection to the penalties of sin, that is, the weakness of our flesh. It is worth noticing that while Adam, in the state of innocence, had immunity from bodily harm, this gift was passed over by Christ; He not only came to redeem us, but also to show us how to suffer and to die, knowing that it was in learning these lessons that most of our lives are spent.
The defect, of Christ’s human nature — the weakness of the flesh
That Christ took on our bodily defects — hunger, thirst, and all the rest — is of faith; it must be believed on the infallible authority of God. That He need not have done so is obvious from the infinite value of all the acts of this divine Person; any one smallest act was more than sufficient to redeem the whole human race. Why did He embrace the things from which we shrink?
Well, for one thing, it was the most fitting way to redeem men. The soul of redemption is charity, which He took on in the perfection of His soul; and the material of redemption, the material for suffering for others, is to be found only in the weakness of the flesh. Christ literally underwent all penalties while He was one with us through charity. But over and above this, the defects of the body in Christ strike a note of support and nourishment for the divine virtues of faith, hope, and charity that is hard for the dullest of men to miss Christ underlined these again and again as opening up the direct path to God; at the same time, He made them so vivid, so pleasing, so humanly appealing to our eyes as to make us forget the rough spots in the long road home.
How much easier it is for us to believe that He was truly man when we see the extreme fatigue that brought deep so quickly to Him even in a wildly tossing boat; or the helplessness of His infancy in the cave at Bethlehem. This very weakness of Christ was an emphatic stressing of the nature of the goal of our faith. Our ideal is not a physical but a spiritual strength by which we conquer the devil and human weakness. Our bout with the devil, after all, is not a wrestling match but a battle for sanctity. How much easier it is for us to hope with the example of His strength in suffering before our eyes, knowing how thoroughly He must understand, having gone through it all Himself. How much easier it is for us to love, seeing His love reach the peak of sacrifice which fulfilled His own heroic definition of love’s extent: “Greater love than this no man hath, that he give up his life for his friend.”
Defects of soul, i.e., of intellect and will
The importance of Christ’s suffering for our own uneasy lives can be gathered from the fact that His very capacity to suffer was a constant miracle in Christ; God, you know, does not waste miracles. Normally, because body and soul are such intimate neighbors, the glory of the soul redounds to the body, glorifying, spiritualizing it, as it will the bodies of the saints after the resurrection. Although Christ had this glory from the beatific vision of God, the full glory of the soul from the first instant of His life, that redundance to the body was deliberately and miraculously impeded. The enemies of Christ put Him to death? Oh no. He spoke a profound truth when He said: “I have power to lay down My life and to take it up again.” The sacrifice of Christ was voluntary in the fullest sense of the word; it was not merely submitted to but sought after, something that could have come about only because He wanted it so.
Defects of sense appetite: The possibility Let there be no mistaken conclusions drawn from Christ’s eagerness to show us how to suffer and how to die. Granted that miraculous damming of joy in the inner recesses of the soul of Christ, granted the determination of the divine and human wills of Christ to suffer these things and gladly, it is none the less true that the lash on His back seared as deeply as on the back of any criminal, the nails were driven through His hands and feet perforating them as they would ours. In other words, the sufferings of Christ were not a sham, a shadow of reality; they were real with a reality made possible by the eagerness of God’s love for us and the willingness of His Son. Christ was willing to undergo the actual infliction of all this pain; the physical acts themselves followed the inexorable laws of physical nature.
The more firmly we grasp the truth of the freedom of Christ’s sacrifice, the more deeply we penetrate the depths of God’s love for us. In this line, it will be a help to realize that Christ had no obligation whatsoever to submit to the defects of our nature. For the rest of us, there is no escaping these things; they are a punishment for the sin of nature which all men contract at birth. Even Our Lady, miraculously preserved by the Immaculate Conception, should have and would have contracted this debt of punishment if divine payment had not been anticipated; she was in fact without sin by reason of the anticipated merits of Christ. Christ’s own innocence was something quite different; it was not had by purchase but by right. He was born of the Virgin Mary by the power of God; as a consequence He could not have had the original sin which is the source of the penalties we all must pay. He was born of the line of Adam, but not of the seed of Adam; and original sin was a sin committed by the head of the house of humanity and handed down by the head of the house ever since.
It is well to understand that there was simply no point in Christ having a sinus headache or bad teeth. The defects He took on were to satisfy for the whole of human nature, defects which did not imply a contradiction to knowledge, virtue, or grace; for all three of these were necessary for the New Adam in His redemption of the human race. Such defects were death, hunger, thirst, and so on. The implications here are, of course, not flattering. Thomas makes the implications explicit statements and thereby ruins a perpetual topic of conversation; but he is not just being cruel, his point is necessary if we are to grasp some of the limitations of the defects of Christ. According to Thomas, sickness and diseases, other than those bound up with nature itself as penalties of original sin, are fruits either of our own sins, the sins of our parents, or, at the very least, are the results of weakness in the generative power of our parents. This is no compliment to a race that worships at the corner drug store; yet we confirm the truth ourselves in the now famous program of “building up resistance.” Thomas himself was sturdy, but even Thomas suffered for years from a badly ulcerated leg; he was not, you see, pointing the finger of scorn at weaker brethren, but humbly facing his own human nature.
After having seen the perfection of Christ’s knowledge which barred ignorance from His mind, and the perfection of His grace and virtue, effectively barring sin from His soul, there would seem to be little room for consideration of defects in the soul of Christ. Still, because sin plays such a major role in every human life, indeed, in the whole economy of the Incarnation, Christ’s challenge, “who shall convince me of sin,” will always remain startling to human ears. That constant surprise of men is reason enough for a keener consideration of sin relative to Christ.
It is of faith that there was no sin in Christ. Plainly, human nature cannot stand next to a divine fire and shiver; it cannot be, at the same time, full of food and hungry. Christ from the beginning had full possession of the Beatific Vision, which means that there was an intimate personal union of His human mind with the divine essence. There was, further, the personal union of His human nature with a divine personality, the union which is the very essence of the Incarnation. In Him there was an absolute fullness of grace. In this condition, human nature is not to be decoyed into sin; there is simply no rival good to furnish the material for temptation.
Quite aside from these fundamental reasons, there is the complete unbecomingness of sin in Christ. He took human nature for our redemption and instruction. Sin’s destruction of charity wipes out the very principle of one man’s satisfaction for another by wiping out the bond of union between them; in Christ’s case it would defeat the very end of the Incarnation. Moreover, a sinning Christ, which is to say an unlovely and unloving Christ, would not be one to awaken love in us. On the side of instruction, sin does nothing toward conservation of the truth of human nature, let alone the teaching of it, for it is contrary to nature. It is not help to virtue, or instruction in virtue, surely one of the great ends of the Incarnation, for it is the denial in practice of all that virtue stands for.
Not even the unpremeditated nudgings of sense appetite that make up so much of our uneasiness and worry were present in Christ; and of course there were none of those raging outbursts of passion that leave a man shaken and shamed in the knowledge of the loss of control over his own life. These inclinations to sin, were they present in Christ, would imply that He found something of desirability in the tinsel and make-up of sin even in the broad daylight of the vision of God; that there was an attractiveness in companionship with the devil to a nature personally united with the Son of God. Certainly there would be an implication of imperfection in the virtue of Christ; for as virtue grows more perfect, our control of these movements of sense appetite is proportionately perfected. These things have their roots in sin, at least in original sin; and in Christ there was no such sub-soil of evil. They were useless for the ends of the Incarnation. All the proper defects of the soul, then — ignorance, sin, and the inclination to sin — were not to be found in the soul of Christ.
The fact: Pain, sorrow, fear
However, Christ had a full share of those other defects which affect the soul through the body. All these can be summed up in one word by saying that the soul of Christ could and did suffer; for the soul of Christ was, after all, the form of His body, intimately, substantially united to it. Thus, for instance, Christ suffered exquisite pain when the crown of thorns was pressed down on His head, pain that affected His soul as it would the soul of any man. Why shouldn’t He have suffered pain? He had full and perfect faculties; He enjoyed none of the impassibility of Adam’s first days; and all a man needs for pain is a bodily injury and the consciousness of that injury.
Admiration and anger
Sorrow went deep into the soul of Christ with the knowledge of evil such as He had in Gethsemane, or from the outpost of the Cross: evil to Himself, to His mother, to His apostles, even to the enemies who were doing so much more damage to themselves than they would ever succeed in doing to Him. Christ felt fear during the long days of Nazareth, during the short, busy days of His public life, during the quiet nights with His apostles, for ahead of Him loomed loneliness, betrayal, rejection by His people, death. He wondered, too, at the faith of the centurion, and pondered hundreds of other things every day. In fact, from the point of view of the acquired knowledge of Christ, wonder and admiration must have been as constant in the life of Christ as in the joyous expedition of childhood. God was His teacher, using the creatures of the universe as the symbols of His teaching; every day was a day of wonder for the marvellously wise Christ. Nor should this seem so strange. It is only our dullness and blindness that takes the world for granted; the perpetually young who remain alert of mind keep the precious gift of wondering at the mystery of ordinary things. That Christ was angry we have on the authority of Scripture itself. His was a burning, scathing anger, yet not an anger such as blinds and binds a man’s reason; rather it was accompanied by an inner serenity whose faint shadow can be found in the saints when their contemplation does not impede work nor work prevent contemplation.
There is really no need to go into all the passions of the soul of Christ. Christ was human and the passions are an integral part of human nature. But in Christ, the passions shared fully in that divine balance that is proper to human nature in its fullest perfection; they were not, as we find them, rushing ahead of even reason’s quick step, turning to overwhelm the mind of a man, or deliberately, maliciously passing all bonds of law. Yet the passions of Christ were flesh and blood passions, for Christ was a man.
When we examine the humanity of Christ detail by detail, the conclusion in each case is so clear as to be irrefutable. Yet, assembling those details to form the whole picture, our minds are far from content. In this chapter we have seen Christ as possessing the goal of life, set facing Calvary; as holding to First Truth directly, set grossing in knowledge; as in possession of perfect happiness, yet with all the defects of body and soul compatible with His mission.
Conclusion: The splendor of the paradox:
The strength and weakness of man
The only possible answer is a frank admission of the paradox. The scholastics put it beautifully in describing Christ as both viator et comprehensor, i.e., both on the way and already arrived at the goal. We can get some little intellectual grip, though with no more than finger-tips, on this paradox by means of Thomas’ analysis of the beatific vision. Essentially it is an act of the intellect seeing the essence of God directly with the first and immediate effect of joy in the will. Its secondary effects, proceeding successively down from the will to the inferior faculties, reach to the glorification of the body. The essential act, then, is the vision of the essence of God. Integrally it will include all of its effects: joy in the will, in the inferior faculties, glory in the body. Christ was a possessor of the goal of life as far as the essential act and its first effect is concerned, i.e., He saw the essence of God and from that vision joy flooded His will. By a miraculous intervention, the secondary effects of that divine vision were impeded during His life, then, He was still “on the way” as regards the lower faculties and His body.
For us, there are several advantages in this composite picture of Christ. Christ is not only God and man, showing us both ourselves and our goal, He is a man Who was at the same time in heaven and on earth. In a sense, He is at the same time what we are and what we must strive towards; in another sense, He is what we must be even now, for while our feet touch the roads of the world our minds and hearts must always be in heaven.
The strength and weakness of God
The splendor of this paradox of the weakness and strength of Christ finds its reflection in the willing spirit and weak flesh of every man. There is indeed something splendid in a man’s undaunted approach to a bruising, uncertain battle, in the dogged courage which holds to high goals, in the sacrifices worthy of that goal made in spite of constant failure, day after day, week after week, year after year, generation after generation. Chesterton put this splendor in the mouth of the Virgin mother of God when he had her say to the beaten Alfred — and this by way of encouragement — “you have wars you hardly win and souls you hardly save.” It is the splendor of courage which shines alike in the penance of the worst of sinners and the generosity of the most sublime of saints.
That Christ, knowing human nature so well, should still have taken on that paradox was more than a re-consecration of the marringe of spirit to matter. In us, that paradox lights up life only by the intermittent sparks generated by the clash of steel. In Christ, it was of a steadier, kindlier, more substantial light. His is the warm, welcoming, beckoning beacon light of faith, hope, and charity; His faith, His hope, His love for men which are the solid grounds of our faith, our hope, our love for God.
A truth that is too hard: For men of power
This truth, too, was recognized as a hard saying and men have been refusing to tolerate it for ages, either because they do not know God or they do not know men. In our time, that ignorance has concentrated its error chiefly on the nature of man.
Some men have thought that human nature could be made the victim of the stratagems of a bully or a cynic, that it could be beaten or bought into submission. As it, having seen the prize which is no less than God Himself, anything else could be substituted for it in our hearts; or as if there were an answer to the divine question: “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” As though a beating could stop the march towards the supreme goal by experts in being beaten, by men who have never learned to quit, despite the weakness of the flesh, because they know that as long as the spirit remains willing, the fight can continue. Yet this side of human nature has been forgotten every time a persecution has been launched; the persecutors have forgotten that Christ’s summary of human nature was accurate, that the spirit does remain willing.
For men of thought
Men of thought, philosophers of optimism, have told us what great ones we are, assuring us that the flesh is no longer weak. To them, human nature is all goodness, for they are afraid we cannot bear up under the fact of sin. They would have us pretend that failure is not there We must call everything by different names so that, in a huge child’s game of pretense, we can all he happy, cheerful, and helpful. Of course, we could not be any of these things if we were forced to face the truth.
Still others, the philosophers of despair, have insisted that the spirit is no longer willing, that the flesh has prevailed, that the courage is dead, that men are beaten never to rise again. High goals have been abandoned and we must resign ourselves to being thoroughly comfortable, though miserably unhappy, rather than attempt to be supremely happy though always slightly; uncomfortable. They have lost the knowledge of the joy of trying, yet, in spite of themselves, they worship at a throne of power with a cult of success.
The Incarnation and cowards
The Incarnation is a hard truth. The paradox of willing spirit and weak flesh is a hard, humiliating truth. Certainly, the truth of the Incarnation is not a truth for cowards, for it is a truth based solidly on the truth of divine and human nature; no coward can face these truths. To face the truth of divine nature, we must face not only mercy but also justice; we must look at a goal that cannot only be won but can also be lost. To look at the truth of human nature, we must see not only its strength but also its weakness; we must consider its posibilities not only of victories but also of losses; we must face the paradox of high goals and feeble efforts. In a word, we are challenged by a call to warfare, with all the resposibilities such a crucial fight involves; and a battlefield has never been the proper place for a coward.