CHAPTER V — THE MAN AND HIS GOD
THE hurried reader of the morning paper skips quickly through the report of another amnesia victim with no more than a vague moment of compassion to mark the path his running eyes have trod. To the policeman who discovered the victim, to the doctors and nurses who cared for him, this sick man may be a source of a strange pity tinged with a little fear. Here is a stranger to the world: he does not know who he is, whence he is, where he belongs, or the goal to which he is going. He is as odd a sight as would be a solitary wave separated from the ocean but still showing all its natural characteristics. A thoughtful man would appreciate the atmosphere of mystery here and perhaps see a warning of profound truth.
The sense of mystery and fear is justified, for the victim of amnesia presents a picture in miniature of a truth universal in its application and its importance. His condition declares, in a negative way, a truth that is at the heart of everything, a truth that must be seen if we are to see the meaning, the beauty, the full perfection that is in this world of ours; the truth, namely, that nothing exists alone, that everything has its place.
The truth at the core of human life: Effects of its recognition
Perhaps we can see this more clearly in terms of our own human life. That central truth of human life finds accurate expression in the phrase “man and his God.” For that is the truth of a man’s place in the universe. If that truth is seen, then we have seen the place of God, the place of man, and the place of the world. It is a truth that, apparently separating God and man, actually ties the two together and sets both off from all else by uniting them to all else.
Effects of its obliteration
The attempt to deny this truth, to submerge it, escape from it, or despair in the face of it makes up the history of much of the unidentified misery in the depths of the human soul. On the other hand, its recognition produces the humility, the peace, and the order characteristic of the soul of a saint, or the rebellion, the war, the chaos that ravages the soul of the deliberate sinner. It is a truth that every man must know, indeed, that every man, at one time or another, does know at least in a vague, confused manner; for at one time or another the wonder of man has dawned on the mind of every man. Seeing this truth of the proper place of man, we are presented with the singular spectacle of a dependently independent being; there precisely lies the beauty and marvel of man.
Wonder of humanity: Reason for its revelation
To be seen rightly, man must be seen as possessed of a mysterious unity which cuts him off from all else as a distinct person in the universe, yet as essentially dependent on an absolutely necessary support by God. His desires are his own, whether in harmony with or in open conflict against the desires of his God upon whom he is so totally dependent. His works are his own; whether they be the wonders of human knowledge, of human love, or, outstripping the limits of nature, works of supernatural merit that reach into the very hearts and souls of others, works that endure eternally.
He may deny this truth and flaunt his rebellion in the face of God; or admit it, and protest his subjection to God in a concrete summary of all the wonders of mankind as he kneels down to pray. For, since only a master is capable of praying, prayer itself is an act of a master; and, since only a subject needs prayer, it is a protest of subjection. Prayer is man’s statement of his superiority over the material universe for prayer is his exclusive privilege; at the same time, it is his insistence on his part in the government of the universe for by it he fulfills the decrees of God.
Details of its truth: Its explanation — the image of God
There will be more than enough of beauty, more than enough of wonder in any human life to occupy the mind of a man for a lifetime if he sees man in his proper place, subject to his God, above all the rest of the material universe. If we wished to put the reason for this beauty and wonder in just one word, we could insist that man alone, of all the creatures in the material universe, is the image of God. In comparison with divinity, he is like the colored print of the Sistine Madonna; even this rough copy will bring out much of the fearful wonder of divinity to a thinking man. This image of God is a marvel and a promise; it is a glimpse of divinity seen in the shallow pool of humanity, with a solemn promise of fuller beauty in a later vision.
The wonder made more evident — the Incarnation
All of this is true of mere man seen in his proper place. But, after all, we are children. To see man in this way means that we must strain our eyes at long horizons, sweep vistas that stretch from God to the smallest things in the world. Because we are children, we easily tire of such long distances; we are easily distracted by the first bright thing that hits our eyes, each new thing makes us easily forgetful of the last thing we have seen. To bring the ends of the world together, from the speck of dust to the infinite perfection of God, to fold all the intervening detail into a tight compactness that would give us an outline of the universe, not in one volume, but in one glance, God became man. In the Incarnation, the man and his God are the material for one glance of faith. In that mystery, God and man are united so closely as to be one subject of action. There we see the divine and human nature in a constant interplay of action, desire, subjection, and prayer in the one Individual.
Knowledge of this truth in Christ (Chapter IV)
The knowledge of the truth of the divine and human nature of Christ is the Catholic child’s right, a man’s comfort, and a theologian’s delight. In the last few chapters, we have tasted of the delicately strong, finely seasoned food of the courtiers of the queen of the sciences. Some will have found it odd, too substantial, or too dainty for a steady human diet. Surely it is a food for which a taste must be cultivated. It food for the gods. Indeed, it is God’s own food.
Expression of this truth: Importance of accurate speech
Mere knowledge of the truth, however, is not enough. Being what we are, we are going to speak of the truths we know; and it is extremely important that our speech be accurate. As many a man struggling with a foreign language knows from experience, we may know the truth and speak so badly as to spread error; or we may not know the truth yet, speaking so badly, actually tell the truth, as some fortunate students have learned to their surprise in the course of an examination. A person who does not know the truth, if he but speak insistently as well as accurately, can do a very efficient job of spreading error. The fact is that we are going to speak. For men are angels surrounded by fences; men must speak, for they must have company and their only means of vaulting the separating fences are words or their equivalents.
Words, then, are precious things to a man, things to be appreciated even more than water in a desert or hope in a fight. To misuse words, to betray them, to waste them seems criminal and has certainly produced calamitous results. When the subject matter of our conversation is the Incarnation, we have placed huge, precariously balanced burdens on the shoulders of our words. The slightest misstep brings that burden crashing to earth as the shattered remains of a superb truth which we call heresy.
Rules for accurate speech of Christ
The chief difficulty in talking about the Incarnation is that both a human and a divine nature, with their distinctive properties, belong to one and the same Person. The difficulty is not serious if we are careful with words, hardly more serious, in fact, than it is to talk of a man who is both a barber and a tenor. All that is true of a barber is true of this man, and all that is true of a tenor, is also true of him; though, obviously, what is true of barbers is not necessarily true of tenors. In the case of Christ, all that is true of God and all that is true of man is true of this one Person; but, obviously, what is true of God s not true of all men. We must be very careful, in other words, not to attribute to the divine what is contradictory to it, or to attribute to the human what human nature cannot have.
Yet it is undoubtedly true that the characteristics, the properties, of both God and man are true of this person. Theologians have called this the “communication of idioms or characteristics.” It does not mean that, since the Incarnation, we can say that divinity is a biped. What belongs to humanity was not given to divinity; nor was what belongs to divinity given to humanity. But in the concrete, both humanity’s and divinity’s characteristics are true of Christ.
The key to the solution of the difficulty is in the word “concrete.” It is not John Smith’s humanity that laughs like a horse; it is John himself. He is the concrete subject of all action, of all properties; not his nature. We cannot say that a man is humanity, for man is a person; what he has of humanity, then, will be had in the concrete. In other words, the concrete term directly signifies the person; it is only obliquely that it signifies the nature by which this person has this property.
The one thoroughly universal rule of speech, then, in regard to the Incarnation is that the concrete can be said of the Person (Who is, of course, always concrete). Thus, we can say that God, i.e., this Second Person of the Trinity, is man; that this man, i.e., this concrete Person, is God. A moment’s thought will warn us that we cannot predicate the abstract of the abstract, by saying, for example, that divinity is humanity; nor can we predicate the abstract of the concrete in such expressions as “divinity is this man, God is humanity.” It is just as false to predicate the concrete of the abstract. The reason for all this is simply that in such statements, we have not preserved the identity of the person, who alone is the subject of action, of characteristics, of attributes.
Thomas had a horror of falsehood which was, no doubt, the inevitable corollary of his burning love of truth. He would not tolerate ambiguous statements relative to Christ. Expressions that, while correctly understandable in themselves, still smacked of heresy or were in heretical use, were to be firmly set aside. He would not even have names in common with heretics. He was a lover impatient of any slightest reflection on the object of his love. It was because of this that he put special emphasis on the point that there are many things which must not be attributed to Christ without definite limitations; attributes, for example, which belong to a nature exclusively or that are repugnant to the subject. To say, for example, that Christ is mere man, is the adopted son of God, while true of any other man by reason of human nature, are definitely repugnant to this Person, Christ, of whom we are speaking.
Perhaps this will be clearer if we bring it down a little further. In Christ there were three classes of properties or attributes: those He had by reason of His divine nature, such as His infinity, eternity, omnipotence; those he had by reason of His human nature, such as His capacity for suffering, dying, and so on; and, finally, others that were had by reason of the union of the two natures in this one Person, such as His role as Redeemer, Mediator, and so on. Where a doubtful expression might be misunderstood, all danger is removed by attaching to the expression the limitation which points a finger clearly at the origin of this particular attribute. It is quite accurate to say that Christ is a creature, if we add “according to His human nature.” It is true that this Person is eternal, according to His divine nature. To put it all briefly, what is true of the one nature cannot be said of the other except in so far as these two are one; and they are one only in this Person. Thus, we can say that God was made man, but we must not say that man was made God.
Of course there are difficulties to be urged against this mystery, old, old difficulties sitting like beggars by the side of the road as the centuries pass, clamoring for reason’s beneficence, but not with much hope. One such difficulty argued that because Christ had two natures, He was not one but two, i.e., He was not possessed of that sovereign unity which is characteristic of every man. The answer is so obvious as to awaken wonder that the difficulty has held to its feeble, flickering life so long. A man who has two eyes is not double, indeed, he does not even see double; for the subject, the person, who possesses these two eyes is one. Possession of two natures no more doubles Christ than the possession of two eyes doubles John Smith. In each case there is one person: Christ has two radical principles of operation as John Smith has two principles of sight.
An equally ancient objection has run head on into a striking modern illustration of its sophistry. In our time it has become possible to transfer the cornea of a human eye from one man to another, giving the second man sight. If this transferred cornea is put into my head, that does not mean that there are now two existences in me. The cornea begins to be by the same existence by which I am. So in Christ the human nature, coming to the already existing divine Person, has not an existence different from that divine Person; there are not two existences in Christ, but by one and the same existence the divine and human nature exist. Radically the answer is always the same: it is not nature but person which is the immediate subject of all predication, of all attributes. It is I who exist, not my nature; though it is by reason of my human nature that I exist in this way. This truth is not nearly so obscure as we insist upon making it. A voice coming over the radio can be made to sound high and shrill, or full, rich, and low by a mere turning of a dial. The radio does not make the sound nor hear it; it modulates the sound. Just so, nature does not make existence but rather modulates it. By reason of human nature, Christ could exist in this way, although He existed by a divine existence.
The wonder of humanity in Christ: The unity of Christ
Christ is one Person having two natures. Logically, then, He had two wills, i.e., two organs of intellectual desire. This truth is as inescapable as the fact that a man without eyes is blind. Mere bars of logic are no guarantee that the human mind will not try to escape; indeed, such is our capacity for trickery, that we even try to escape in the very name of logic. To protect us from the trickery of our own minds, this truth is bolstered by the infallible authority of God. Nevertheless, men made the escape; and by their error, were condemned to make still more errors. For error is as fertile a thing as a lie though, as Chesterton said, a lie can only be young once; which, perhaps, explains the prodigious initial activity of errors and lies. Instead of attempting to pursue the numerous offspring of an original error, let us concentrate our thought on the aging ancestor.
The desires of Christ: In general
Some men have shied away from the activity of a human will in Christ. They may have been sentimental lovers of peace who saw war in mere juxtaposition; they may have been introverts who had so long shunned the society of men in their thoughts as to become barred within themselves by fear of a clash with men. At any rate, the very idea of the human and divine wills at such close quarters sounded the din of battle and deafened them long before the battle could have started, as a person surrenders to sea-sickness while the boat is still tied up to the pier. In a desperate attempt to avert this purely imaginary but titanic struggle, they took the guns away from humanity, denied it all activity except as a purely passive instrument of divinity. The human will of Christ was to be a mere pawn moved about by the divine will.
Christ had a human will because He had a human nature. It was not a dog-eared or moth-eaten human will; it was a perfect one because Christ’s human nature was perfect. Christ, therefore, not only had the faculty of will, he had its acts for without its acts the faculty is imperfect. His will, like ours, had that natural and necessary act that deals with the end of life; He naturally and necessarily willed happiness. He had the no less natural, but entirely free, act of the will which deals with the steps to the goal, the means to the end. Yet there was no war of human and divine wills in Christ.
From the side of the faculty
That what was human in Christ did not snarl at the divine will does not argue to a defect in the human side of Christ. Human experience should long since have made it clear that submission to the divine is not an obliteration of the human; though our naivete still takes a battle with divinity as an argument for virile humanity. Saints like Dominic and Pius V went through all of life without a single mortal sin; yet it would be hard to find human lives that were more fully, more humanly lived. They were moved by God, of course; but their acts were no less humanly done. We go to Mass on Sunday, undoubtedly moved by God; but it is not God Who has hold of our arm as we are pulled out of bed.
The whole second and third volumes of this series were detailed examinations of this happiness and fullness of human life under God. Throughout all three preceding volumes we have seen the sovereignty of the human will again and again. We have seen that the divine movement is not destructive of human freedom but the cause of it, as it is the cause of the necessity of all lesser causes. There is no need to go into that again. Let one more illustration cover it: it is by reason of divine movement that a hen lays an egg, but no one maintains that God has laid the egg personally. Of course Christ had a human will; of course that human will was active. For Christ had a human nature; and a will is an integral part of a human nature, as a divine will is an integral part of a divine nature; the two need not clash, should not clash. When they do, it is the human will which has attacked its own humanity.
Walking along the same path of logic from the same premise of the human nature of Christ, we must come to His sense appetite, or His organ of sense desire. A man of today, with a smattering of one-sided psychology, might be shocked at such a notion. To him it would mean picturing Christ immersed in the confusing battle to escape neuroses, fixations, complexes, counting ten in an attempt to hold his temper, or giving his golf sticks to a caddy.
All this is an injustice to sense appetite. It is like accusing a tramp of being born on the rods of a freight train, because that is where you now find him. This was not the way sense appetite started off in man; it was not made for this, but worked its way down thus far as a tramp works his way down to the last level of homelessness. Yet a tramp is still made to live in a home; and sense appetite, whatever its perversions, is still made to obey reason. It is only in such obedience that it reaches its happy perfection, not in the wild roistering of uncontrol or the sulky silence of inactivity.
It was this healthy sense appetite that Christ had, having perfect human nature. He did look for figs, He asked for bread, and He wept at the grave of Lazarus. Christ, in other words, was what we should be in relation to our sense appetites; in Him, sense appetite was precisely what it should be in us. In actual fact, we approach that perfection of sense appetite in Christ when we are at our happiest, most human. Certainly this does not mean an obliteration of sense appetite, nor does it argue an unfair bullying of a weaker thing by a particularly strong, tough will talking out of the side of its mouth; though it is true that, in us, the will’s relation to sense appetite is not unlike a mother’s care of a child, including such unpleasant things as washing behind the ears and an occasional spanking.
From the side of the act: The free will of Christ
On the same grounds of His perfect human nature, we cannot deny Christ free will, all of it, its acts in relation to the goal, the steps to the goal, and the acts incidental to the goal. After all, there is many a good story told in heaven, even though the goal has long since been reached. Christ cannot be denied the completely free acts of His human will, the acts other than those dealing with the end, without admitting in Him imperfections unworthy of the New Adam.
Its conformity to the divine will
Yet superficial thinkers do not find it easy to concede the free will of Christ. The argument is that since Christ could not sin, He obviously was not free. The argument is, of course, absurd, as absurd as to deny the ability to drink wine to one who, for one reason or another is not capable of becoming a drunkard. Sin is an abuse of liberty; and liberty’s abuse no more enters into its definition than monstrosities enter into the definition of a man. The choice demanded by liberty is not that between acting well or acting badly, but of the various ways of acting well or, at the very least, the choice of acting or not acting. That Christ could be gloriously free though He could not sin should not be a truth particularly difficult for us, in the full richness of our human experience, to admit, for certainly we can be sure beyond all doubt that no one has ever found freedom in sin.
Superficial thought, however, is apt to be much more stubborn than superficial disease: perhaps because even an honest loss of an argument demands the bitter effort of intellectual labor. At any rate, these opponents of freedom in Christ insist that even the choice of good was denied Him. He had been commanded by His Father to undergo death, and in precisely this way; that ended the matter as far as He was concerned. Of course. But since when has a command destroyed freedom? We do not attempt to command a bench or a chair, we do not rightly command even an animal; for to command means to move by a moral, not a physical, force, by intellect and will, not by a tow-rope. It supposes freedom and depends upon it. Surely no one is more free than the saints in heaven with all their full, joyous obedience to God. It is just because they are so free, and Christ was so free, that both they and Christ could lay such strong claims to obedience. In His very obedience there is proof enough that Christ laid down His life freely.
In our lives, the effort to choose frequently digs deep furrows of responsibility to mark plainly the dividing line between the face of youth and of maturity, it turns night into day as far as sleep is concerned, and, even then, often leaves us with no results to reward all our efforts. But this hesitation and doubt is a limp put into liberty’s quick step by our ignorance and weakness; it does not follow that gawkiness is inseparable from liberty’s full stride. There is so much we do not know, that we know we do not knows that we may well be uneasy in our decisions. Christ, you will remember, was neither ignorant nor weak.
Contrariety of desires in Christ
Neither was there the civil war in the soul of Christ that so often rages in our own when our will is torn two ways by the sheer inability to pick the better thing, or when sense appetite seriously threatens, even successfully rebels against reason. The appetites and desires of Christ were in complete harmony, at quiet peace, even in such bitter moments as the agony in the Garden. The will of Christ was in complete command of His lower faculties and was, at the same time, in complete harmony with the will of God. Not that the scourging at the pillar or the agony in the Garden were a pleasure to His sense appetite. His orders were to undergo these things, not to find them a source of pleasure, and submission to reason is far from a paralysis of the senses. Just as the human will has its most proper operation, though it. be subject to the divine will, so the sense appetite has its full and proper operation in its very subjection to reason; of course it properly flees sorrow and pain, but with the limitation of that flight to the demands of reason.
So a man sits down in a dentist’s chair freely, not in an expectation of ecstasy, but for the glory of God, the sake of his health, or the beauty of his face. Sense appetite, it is clear, does not reach to the glory of anyone; it is totally uninterested in health, or beauty. Its concern is with pleasure and pain. It does its work in the dentist’s chair, protesting against the pain, urging escape from it; but, on the whole, a dentist rarely has to pursue his patients or retain them by force.
The works of Christ: Theandric operations
Men wondered at Christ, as well they might. They saw Him sink into exhausted sleep with the same relief any tired man would enjoy; yet they saw Him rise and stop the storm at sea with a word of command. Wondering, they were at the edge of the mystery of the two radical principles of action, the divine and the human nature, in Christ, each with its own proper operation. The human actions were plain enough.
Men could not see the ineffable action of divinity itself; but they could and did see (and were afraid seeing it) the divine-human action whose first cause was divine nature and whose instrumental cause was human nature — the leper cleansed at His touch, and Lazarus answering His call from the depths of four days in the grave.
If men had scrutinized the Son of Mary more keenly they would have found grounds enough for wonder in the human acts of Christ, acts that proceeded from His human nature. The ordinary man’s kingdom is a limited thing with the maintenance of order within those limits difficult enough; beyond those limits, he has no control at all. His intellect and will are his complete servants, his sense appetite is a somewhat surly help; there his rule stops. He may shout himself hoarse but his vegetative powers continue on their way as serene as a stubborn puppy; he may concentrate his will to its utmost, but a charging tank will still knock him down and crush him.
In Christ, there was that same human kingdom but with complete, whole-hearted obedience from the territory subject to a man’s control; indeed, even the outer provinces were under His sway in the sense that all that affected His body was known and consented to from the beginning. Inasmuch as His human nature was the instrument of divinity, the whole universe of action was as much His slave as was the whole universe of things, as eager to obey as the wind and waves on the sea of Galilee.
His works from the side of human nature: The works in themselves
If we are to grasp the worth of the life of Christ, we must remember well that the field of strictly human action was much wider in Christ than it is in us. Before this divine Person the whole field touched by the action of man was wide open This is important, for it is by these actions, actions under his control, that a man merits. It may be argued that there should be no question of Christ actually meriting, since He was God’s own Son; but that is to forget that Christ was also man. It would not be nearly so worthy of His dignity as man to be born with a silver spoon in His mouth as to achieve the hard-won fruit of His own labors. In the first case, a man is pampered, dependent; in the second, he makes himself. While it is true that man was made, under God, to be master, the kind of master he was made to be demands the very best that is in him.
In their effects — merit: For Christ Himself
What could the Son of God merit ? Well, obviously, as God He could merit nothing, being already in possession of all things. Even as man, it was not at all fitting that He should merit grace, knowledge, beatitude, for that would argue that at one time or another He lacked these things; as we so readily understand in our own lives, while it is a stirring thing to see a man win back to virtue by penance, it is a much more inspiring thing for him never to have been without his innocence. But Christ could, and did, merit such things as the glory of His body, things pertaining to His exterior excellence, such as His ascension, His veneration, and so on; indeed, we could sum up the merit of Christ by insisting that He merited all things that were of lesser worth than the dignity of meriting itself.
Merit for us
More important, from the angle of appreciation of the fruitfulness of Christ’s labors, are the benefits that came, not to Him, but to us, for it was for us that He came. We have a quick, though somewhat vague, view of the scope of Christ’s merit by remembering the perfection, the superabundance of His grace and realizing that the principle of all merit, in Him as in us, is sanctifying grace. Nor are we likely to dismiss the merits of Christ lightly if we keep in mind our own helplessness in meriting for others. In strict justice, we merit only for ourselves. What we merit for others is only in the name of God’s mercy, the divine friendship, and our own dispositions; all these make an affirmative answer to our prayers from God a fitting thing. Christ, in strict justice, merited such things for others as the first grace by which a man begins to live a divine life, faith, the remission of sin, virtue, perseverance, eternal life and all that pertains to it. In concrete terms, the sinner is like a hungry child staring at a bakery window; no one can take him in but Christ. Indeed, his very hunger is from Christ; without Him, the sinner would starve, not knowing his own hunger. The saint is a child hoisted on his father’s shoulders in order to see, to desire, to reach out, and possess divine gifts; no one knows better than the saint how helpless he is without Christ.
Christ Himself was not born with a silver spoon in His mouth; we can be very sure, then, that there are no spiritual playboys degenerating through idleness and ultimately slipping into heaven by reason of the labors of their ancestors. Christ merited richly, infinitely for us. These merited graces flow down from Christ, as the Head of the Mystical Body, to men who are its members. All these things are due in strict justice to the Mystical Body; but they are gratuitous to each member individually, their completion is in the individual’s own hands. Every man must make his own way to heaven; yet the journey is possible only because of the Son of Mary and His merit.
The subjection of Christ
In His grace, knowledge, virtue, desires, works, merits, Christ was perfect man. Which is only another way of saying that He was subject to God, for the perfection of man, like the perfection of all else in the universe, lies in subjection to his superior, in maintaining his own place. Lest we miss so obvious a truth in the perfection of Christ, slurring it over to protect our own pace, He put it into plain words again and again in insisting on His obedience to the Father. Like all other men, Christ’s subjection to God was not on one slim ground. His goodness as man was a trickle of water flowing from the ocean of divine goodness; His power was that of a creature, held in trust from the Creator; His will was the will of a servant in the presence of his lord. This last was really the landmark of His life. Here His example to men was overwhelmingly convincing, though men are not yet convinced. He was jealously obedient to God; He gave a positively eager subjection to all who shared in the lordship of God: to Mary and Joseph, to the Chief Priests, even to the Romans who were putting Him to death.
The Greek Fathers spoke of Christ being subject to Himself because He was both God and man. While true enough if rightly understood, the statement is dangerous because of its implication of a dual personality in Christ. We use the same type of expression in recognizing a man as master of his fear but the slave of his anger, at the same time the master and the slave of himself. Of course we are not arguing that he is two persons; rather that there are two reasons of subjection and dominion. We are speaking loosely and we know it, for strictly speaking, a master and a servant are two different persons It is much safer to be accurate; and accuracy, relative to Christ, demands that we say that according to His human nature He was subject to Himself as God.
The prayer of Christ: Its possibility
All this is merely for the sake of accuracy. The fundamental truth is the subjection of Christ, the man, to God. Nowhere is that truth given more consistent expression than in the constancy of the prayers of Christ. Christ prayed; a truth as astonishing as the tears of Christ. In fact, the more we examine the prayer of Christ, the more wonderful it seems. It should be so. It should catch our attention and hold it. For He gave us an example of how and why to pray; we need the study of it badly.
For prayer, while a thoroughly natural act, is still extremely difficult to a stiff-necked race. The very kneeling position of prayer, a position of subjection, is a symbolic statement of its difficulties. We sometimes forget that that position is also a proud statement of our ability to pray, of hope, of faith, indeed, of a rightful claim to a share in the government of the universe. The poverty and ignorance of our times is never more apparent than in our contempt for prayer. Perhaps that is why Christ left such sharply delineated pictures of His prayer: alone on a mountain in the evening; in the desert; at the grave of Lazarus; at the last supper; in the Garden; on the Cross. It is no doubt in the study of His subjection that our proud age will find itself.
That Christ could pray is evident from His possession of a human will, since prayer is no more than the elevation of that human will to God that it might be fulfilled. Prayer has seemed a child’s instrument, like the magic lamp of Aladdin or a fairy godmother; there is some truth in the conception, for we are ever children reaching beyond our own powers. But prayer is also a man’s instrument in the proudest sense of the term man; it is a tool for a man who dares to take his part in the workings of the world. For prayer is more than a child’s coaxing smile tossed charmingly at God. It is a physical cause as necessary for effects as the preparation of a field before the sowing is necessary for the harvest. In the preceding volume we saw that God gives men a part of His power in the government of the world. Our prayers are fulfilments of conditions of His divine decrees without which these effects would not be produced; by prayer, we take our responsible role in the world.
Its fittingness and necessity
It was fitting that Christ should pray. He was man; more than that, He was our teacher on the living of human life, and an integral part of that life of ours is the prayer of it. By His prayer, He showed us from Whom we came, to Whom we go, and the part of prayer in our journey. However, it was more than fitting that Christ should pray; it was necessary. Not as though He were not God, not as though He were impotent; but because He was man, with a man’s part to play in the government of the universe, with a man’s offering to make for he fulfilling of divine decrees.
There is solid comfort for men in the prayer of Christ. Take that one agonized prayer in Gethsemane. In it there is the final stamp marking His humanity as genuine; there is a nod of approval for our hurried, desperate prayers against fear, for pleasure, against sorrow, and for all the other objects of sense appetite. By His example, these are human things, humanly desired, and rightly asked for as long as in the request there is humble subjection to the eternal, far-seeing wisdom of the Father Who is guiding us home; as long, that is, as we have the trust to say “Thy will be done.”
The objects of the prayers of Christ
Praying there, prostrate on the hard, bare rock of the Garden, Christ prayed for Himself that we might learn to pray for ourselves; that we might know that the most perfect man needs help and needs it desperately; that we might learn from Whom to seek all the good that we need; that we might learn to say thanks for what we have received and for the things we still need. As far as an observer could see, the prayers of Christ, like our own, were not all answered. If the observer were wise, he would know that he could not see into the soul of a man; he would recognize that he could not hope to catch sight of the calm hope that leaves no room for bitterness in what we call an unanswered prayer. That is, he cannot see the constant chord in the melody of prayer — “Thy will be done.” With us, not knowing the divine will, our prayer is a constant act of loving, trusting faith; with Christ, knowing it full well, prayer was a complete act of obedience.
There is a profound beauty and attractiveness in a person seen at prayer, whether it be a child kneeling at night, a sinner hiding his face, or the Mother of God receiving an angel. This beauty is a matter of profound truth, not of mere sentiment. For a man at prayer reveals the wonders of his humanity as clearly as though he had drawn aside a curtain to show us man in his place. Man is above all else, for he alone is capable of prayer; he is subject to God, master of himself, a sovereign agent of divinity, the image of God looking back out of the mirror of the world at divinity.
Conclusion: Condition for grasping the wonder of man For the wonder of humanity is unseen until it is viewed in its proper place in relation to God and to the rest of the world. Nor is this peculiar to humanity; it is true of absolutely everything in the world. A human ear may be a thing of beauty until it is pinned to the dissecting table; a human head is a beautiful thing unless it be served on a platter at the command of a king. Yet in our time, it is as though we had torn the heart out of a rose and stood there wondering a little angrily what had happened to its beauty; for we have torn man out of the universe, yet wonder that he puzzles, frightens, or disgusts us.
The modern world and the wonder of man: Inevitable blindness
Each discovery about man, each “liberation” proclaimed in the name of man’s humanity, is only another sickening blow struck at a bound man. The modern scholar demands that we see beauty in a disfigured creature, inspiration in a creature devoid of hope, wisdom in a contradiction, or order in chaos, like a humorless man roaring at his own pointless joke. We simply cannot do it. Men have been forced to leave the world of beauty, of wonder, of inspiration, of incredible truths; but because they still cry out for all those things, they are allowed to proceed on an “as if” basis. The franker ones, of course, must force their eyes to continue to sicken until they are relieved to escape the light they have learned to loathe, to welcome darkness; or train their palate to savor the hush and draw back in revulsion from the bread of angels.
The remedy for blindness
It is a perverted blindness that is rather proud of itself, though it shuts men off forever from the beauty and wonder of man. Perhaps “forever” is too strong; certainly the blindness must endure as long as man will not be seen in his proper place, as long as the relation of man to God, and man to the rest of the universe, will not be faced. Perhaps it will endure as long as men refuse to look at the God-man; at Christ’s human and divine natures united in the one divine Person. For this is a miniature of the central truth of the universe; the divine tabloid compressing in one picture all the beauty that the long, wide vision of the universe can give to us.