CHAPTER III — THE TRUTH OF THE WAY
TO THE nineteenth century, natural law was a mechanical distributor of men which did its work as inexorably, as perfectly, and as justly as a sorting machine separates coins. If a man lived on the edge of starvation, that was precisely where he belonged; and, presumably, he should have been happy to find his proper place. If he were rich, he could revel in that wealth, he deserved it, his place in life was his proper one. Some men were in high positions, others in low; but all were in their proper places. It need hardly be added that this doctrine was not formulated by men on the edge of starvation. Nor were they the only ones who suffered grave injustice in the name of that doctrine; it was much too comforting for those on top, utterly despairing for those on the bottom of the social ladder.
Contrasting contacts of high and low: Patronizing contact
The two extremes of society met only in a patronizing contact of condescension. Men and women from the higher levels went slumming; whether such expeditions were merely forms of amusement or well meant expressions of real pity, they always threw the whole burden upon those receiving help. Both as gestures of mocking contempt and wholehearted pity, such contacts aroused a smouldering resentment.
When it gave rise to institutional charity, this philosophy of the natural law soon smothered resentment by completely breaking the spirit of man. The dignity of the individual man was forgotten in the exercise of duty to an obviously lower thing which left that lower thing firmly imbedded in its inferiority. Here and there, an occasional rebel would refuse to be grateful, smarting under the obvious emphasis of his defects, But on the whole, institutional charity destroyed the vulnerability of its victims, broke their spirit, robbed them of self-respect, and moved them to submit to its ministrations as though, in truth, this were the best they could expect from life, being what they were.
Yet there is another way of conferring a favor, not a patronizing but an ennobling way; a way that puts all the burden on the giver. “Give a hand up,” a Community Chest catch-word of a few years ago, is an accurate expression of this ennobling beneficence. There is a certain bending down involved as there must be in the conferring of any favor, for we must have what another lacks to minister to him; but it is not a patronizing pat on the head that serves principally to remind men of conditions that are already bitter enough. It is rather a rekindling of old fires, an awakening of great capacities, or, even, the bestowal of new capabilities.
It was in this way that the Son of God could stoop to a sick man and say: “Thy faith hath made thee whole,” emphasizing the human part in the divine miracle. He could address a sinner: “Be of good heart, thy sins are forgiven thee,” paying the divinely subtle compliment of recognizing how downcast a man’s heart is by the consciousness of his sins. This is Christ’s way, a divine way, of bestowing favors. That alone would be enough to recommend it. But it is not only a supernatural, it is a naturally wholesome way of bringing together the high and low.
Throughout all the contact of higher and lower in the world, where the divine touch is still unmarred, the contacts lift up, ennoble the lower thing; they do not press it down deeper into its inferiority. Thus when plant life and sensitive life meet in intimate contact in the animals, plant life operates on a much higher plane than when it exists alone. Animal powers in intimate contact with the rational in man, surpass the levels they reach when existing apart. In our own world of human contact, sharp brushes with our intellectua1 superiors spur our mind on to heights that surprise us; contact with sanctity shakes the greatest of sinners to the depths of their souls and lights, if only for a moment, the old spark of courage and hope for the things of God.
Men rightly resent patronizing. If they are somewhat wiser, they pity the patronizer for he is a victim of a peculiarly paralyzing blindness. When it is a question of man to man contact, the idea of stooping to men beneath us involves an element of contempt and its correlative of smug satisfaction. And contempt of men is an act of spiritual provincialism unworthy of the cosmopolitan heart of man. Christ was merciful, He was wrathful, but He was never contemptuous; for Christ was never blind.
Intimate contact of divinity in the Incarnation:
If there be any justification for patronizing, surely it is justified in God’s relations to men. For ourselves, we may reach up a little above our fellows by the accident of knowledge, of strength, of sanctity; but fundamentally we are on exactly the same level of humanity with all other men. In the Incarnation, God stooped the infinite distance between divinity and humanity. That distance would still have been infinite if it were perfect human nature, rather than a fallen nature stripped of its gift by the sin of Adam, to which He was bending. Yet God’s assumption of human nature was not a mocking expedition into the slums of creation. His kindness was not a slur on humanity; He did not break man’s spirit or rob him of his dignity. He came to enkindle old and new fires that would light up ineffable paths for the feet of every man.
Root of early errors — human nature seen from above:
Contrast of divine perfection and human limitation
Perhaps one of the roots of error about the Incarnation is to be found in the one-sided insistence on the infinite distance between the divine and the human. It is safe to say that, on the whole, human nature was looked on consistently from above at the time of the Incarnation. Both Jews and pagans had their eyes fixed on heights of divinity infinitely far above men; human nature, seen from the heights of divinity, seemed to them a tiny, even an insignificant thing. Dazzled by the divine perfection, they were unable to see its image in man; the fire of divinity was so big, they did not notice the spark of humanity. So limitless was the divine, it seemed to demand a kind of contempt for everything limited, humanity included. The idea of a union of the human and the divine seemed to men of that time like an insult to God.
There is a half-truth in that position that gives it a reasonable appearance. It would be insulting to suppose that intimate contact with humanity could add anything to God; but it is not an insult to divinity to see in that contact with humanity a gracious gesture ennobling that lower thing which is man. It is true that only to a divine mind could such generosity have occurred; but that is no reason for the human mind to refuse to have anything to do with such generosity. It is true that humanity is infinitely distant from the perfection of its Creator; but that does not mean that the innate dignity of human nature is to be forgotten or denied.
The nature most fitting for assumption by God
If God did determine to assume a created nature, surely no nature other than the human is so fitted for union with God. This is not to say that human nature has any title, any right, any natural capacity for substantial union with God. But on the grounds of fitness, everything beneath man falls short by comparison with human nature’s unique imaging of God by intellect and will, along with the tremendous possibilities of its destiny of eternal face to face vision of the Godhead. On the grounds of necessity, all natures above the human are excluded; for the act of the angels in sinning is something that cannot be undone, the redemption of the angels, consequently, is an impossibility. Man is not driven to his action; nor is his choice eternally fixed by one act. He is an image of God, but a wavering one; his nature can be united substantially with God, and it needs that union desperately.
The human side of the union: Not a person assumed
Before plunging into the details of this fitting and necessary union of God to man, it is of extreme importance that we make an exact determination of the human element of this union. It must be understood that here there was no question of God scrutinizing the Jewish population of that time in search of a life companion, or of a person of exactly the right perfection of nature that God might then rob him of his nature and destroy him. There is no question here of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity assuming a human person; there is no human person involved in this union at all.
Not a man
Something was certainly assumed by God. If a person were present in what was assumed, it would be necessary either to annihilate that person or assume him. In the first case, God would have created a person much as a child would light a match, merely for the mild amusement to be had from blowing it out. In the second case, there would have been no real union in the Incarnation, merely a conjunction of persons, human and divine; Christ, then, would be no more than a name to signify an ill assorted pair of twins. What God assumed in this union was not a human person but a human nature
This assumed human nature was not that ghostly, unreal thing that had sprung from Plato’s idealistic disgust with the material. However unhandy the materia1 side of our nature may be in a subway, however expensive it may be in a restaurant, if we are to be human we must have a body; and God assumed a human nature in the Incarnation. This human nature was not the abstract, universal nature that exists in the mind of man; divinity was not united to a human idea with a resultant fiction that would be of small comfort and less utility. Nor is this human nature as it exists in the mind of God; for that would mean an eternal wedding of the Son of God to a divine idea, which idea is in reality identical with divinity itself. This is not human nature in the specific, universal sense in which it is common to all men; in that case, Christ would be the sole possessor of human nature with such consequent absurdities as Christ taunting Himself, questioning Himself, killing Himself.
But a singular nature from the stock of Adam
Rather, the human nature taken by the Son of God was a singular human nature such as we have, a human nature taken from the line of Adam.
God could, of course, have concocted a human body from the materials of a test-tube and then have infused a newly created human soul. He might have brought forth this human nature from nothing, as He did in the beginning of things, whole and entire. Actually, He did none of these things. He took the material side of that nature from the pure womb of the Virgin, the flesh and blood of Mary; the soul, of course, must always come directly from divine hands. After all, it was not a test-tube or its ingredients that had sinned; there would be no humbling of the devil, no restoration of human self-respect and dignity in a victory won by a strange new nature coming directly from the hand of God. For the full manifestation of divine power and the ennobling victory of humanity over Satan, God had to take on fallen nature, nature weakened by sin and the penalty sin deserves, and lift it to the heights of the divine.
In Father Malachys’ Miracle, a novel that shouldn’t be allowed to grow old, the scientists of different cities were called together to explain the marvellous event that had all the world talking. According to the reports they had received, a dance hall had been whisked in an instant from the midst of a city to a rock out in the ocean, leaving a gaping hole where it had formerly nestled snugly crowded between two houses. After investigation, the scientists offered explanations which were various but exhausting. Some said that, contrary to gossip in the neighborhood, the dance hall had never existed; the story of its existence was a false rumor. Others insisted that, despite appearances, there was really no gaping hole between the two houses. While still others, disregarding the dance hall perched on a rock like a sea gull and the empty space of its former residence, pointed out that there really were no trustworthy witnesses of the whole occurrence.
The fictional verdicts are humorous, but not exaggerated, instances of a very human trick; the trick of molding the world to our way of thinking, rather than conforming our thought to the hard realities of truth. In a sense, the trick is humanly understandable. There is much less of discomfort and annoyance in filling our house with purely imaginary guests, for imaginary guests wil1 not spill real ash trays, break real dishes, or produce real disorder in the house. Solid flesh and blood guests, unfortunately, do all these things. The acceptance of truth makes us host to the world; the guests we then entertain, solid, real guests, can cause considerable havoc in the world of our dreams.
Men, faced with the living Christ, seeing Him eat, deep, grow weary, hearing Him speak, pray, weep, were faced with the indisputable truth of His humanity. It was, in more than one sense, an uncomfortable truth for it brought God too close for comfort. The sun is all right in its place, but not too close; the Roman emperor of Christ’s time was given loyalty, but no mere officer of the Roman army would look forward to a week-end with the emperor as his house guest. The high priests were held in high esteem by their people; but the people would be embarrassed, uncomfortable, uneasy with the priests in their very house. All these high and mighty things are much better at a distance. Obviously, then, the splendor of divinity was not something to have in the next room. Most likely this terror was not so much a sneaking fear of uncovering some imperfection in God, but was rather a fear of a keener realization of the responsibilities and imperfections of man.
The humility of Christ — the truth of Christ’s human nature:
Four errors and their basis
At any rate, men went about escaping the truth by substituting every possible imaginary version of it that would not disturb the comfort of men. It was said, for instance, that Christ had no body; what men saw was a phantom body. In this way God was kept at a distance; but it also meant that from the ecstasy of Mary at Bethlehem to the tears of Magdalen on Calvary, indeed to the last despairing sinner rushing to the feet of Christ, the story of Christ is a long story of deception. The followers of the God-man, then, are victims of a lie that is more monstrous for being divine.
However, the evidence to the contrary was a little bit too much even for men in love with their comfort. After all Christ did stumble under the cross. Well then, they said, let us say that Christ had a real body; but at least it was not an imperfect, earthly body such as we carry through life. It must have been a celestial thing, a body made of the superior material from which the shining stars are formed; a material that really couldn’t lose its form, a body that could not be separated from its soul.
Nevertheless, Christ did bow His head and die. Again the evidence was too much and men agreed to the reality and materiality of His body. Not all the emergency exits, however, had been tried. At least it could be claimed that He did not have a human soul; the work ordinarily done by a human soul could very well be done by the Word of God without serious inconvenience. Yet Christ’s soul grew sorrowful, sorrowful even unto death; and, unless the whole thing was a lie, that soul informed the body, became an essential part of the composite human nature.
In a last desperate stand against truth, men, agreeing to the reality of Christ’s body and soul, denied Him a human intellect and a human will. They would not concede to His soul those faculties which were responsible for man’s original rebellion against God and his degradation of himself; for that inconstant, fickle thing called human love. This would be unworthy of divinity. One wonders if they had forgotten that it is those same faculties that are the source of the heroism of the saints, the utter abandonment of all else for God, of the unearthly yearning of the human heart.
The truth of the human nature of Christ: A real material body
That all of these escapes from truth are false is of divine faith. They are all false for exactly the same reason, namely, because of that denial of humanity to Christ. They are all monstrous because they make the supreme act of divine love a living lie. If Christ had no human, material body He was not a man. All the lovable human acts of which the Gospel tells us are no more than the fantastic reports of gullible dupes of an immoral divinity. The divine Person involved here is the Word of God, the First Truth, the source of all truth; there is no room for a lie in the story of His life among men.
A human soul with all its faculties
If Christ had no soul, He was no man. That body of His was a false front, a dummy responding to mechanical tugs on its different strings to give an impression of life. And all the basis for sympathy and understanding, courage and inspiration, that has come to men from the struggles and difficulties faced by the soul of Christ is gone. If Christ had no mind or no will, the Evangelist lied when he said that Christ “wondered”; Christ was using meaningless terms when He said in the Garden “Not my will but Thine be done.” Without a mind, without a will, the flesh borne by the Son of God would be bestial flesh; for by these are we evidently above the animal world, by these we are responsible, by these we merit. So the whole farce played in Palestine is as empty as a lie deserves to be.
The authors of these errors, faced with the Incarnation of the Son of God, reacted much as a family crowded into an East Side tenement would react to the sudden discovery of genius in their midst. To them, human nature could not be assumed by God. Why, they knew all about human nature; they had seen it under all circumstances, had lived with it all their lives. In other words, their fundamental failure was that they did not appreciate the dignity of human nature; they overlooked its imaging of divinity, its direct production on the spiritual side by God, its ultimate destiny of eternal vision of the essence of God. The men of that world denied the humanity of Christ, not out of respect for divinity so much as out of disrespect for humanity.
The Son of God took to Himself true human nature, body and soul, in the very instant of the miraculous presence of the human material of that union in the womb of Mary. At that moment in the history of the universe, heaven and earth waited in hushed suspense for the answer of a very young girl. Upon her answer depended the realization of the dreams of men. Because she answered rightly, generously, unquestioningly, God was made man.
The order of assumption of human nature
Understand, there was no question of intervening time. We must not picture human nature cooling its heels waiting for the tardy arrival of the Son of God. Neither is there any question of the Son of God taking our human nature part by part, as though the soul were taken from all eternity, or as though the flesh were taken while the world waited for God to turn out a particularly perfect soul. In neither case would the Son of God be taking on a human nature. Neither must we suppose the presence of any intermediary bond between human nature and the divine Person, such as joins Siamese twins, or as frail as the grace that binds us to God. This was a direct, immediate union of the Son of God with human nature.
We can, indeed we must, speak of an order of dignity. In this sense we can say that the soul was before the body, the spiritual before the material powers of man. We can speak of an order of causality, putting the soul first because it is the life-principle of the body. But it must be well understood that all this is a manner of speaking, necessary because our minds must have order even in the instantaneous. If we are spirited from the bottom of a flight of steps to the top in an instant, we must still look back to count the steps; we are uncomfortable in a modern elevator that whirls us up to the fiftieth floor unless we have numbers to check off as we soar up. In this mystery, we can soothe the grumblings of our minds by talking about the distinctions of first and second that we inject into the mystery; but we must not lose hold of the truth that there is nothing either in human nature or in the supernatural order that could serve as a medium for this union.
The ennoblement of humanity the grace and virtue of Christ:
The divine ennoblement — the grace of union
Because we ourselves are united to God by grace, there is a persistent inclination to make grace the bond of the hypostatic union. But there is no sense in which this is true. If we take grace in the sense of a gracious act of the will of God, then grace was the cause, not the bond of this union. If by grace we mean the grace of the human soul of Christ, then grace is an effect of the hypostatic union. If grace is taken to mean the grace of the hypostatic union itself, we are stating the act of the assumption of human nature, not a bond between it and the divine Person.
If we pause for a moment in the consideration of this mystery to recover a little from our breathlessness, even that moment of rest is haunted by the thought that it is disturbing to have God so close to us. We can understand the twisting and squirming of the human mind trying to escape the grasp of that truth, for in the midst of our sins it is terrifying to realize that the nature we are degrading was joined to divinity through God’s own Son. It is hard to justify our cowardice, our fear, our discouragement when we know the authentic character of the example of human living given us by Christ, an authenticity that is divine.
There is too the flattering comfort that accompanies the role of protector so evident in men’s fear that God might humiliate Himself. It was as though they looked on God as an innocent abroad in an unsavory district; they feared He might somehow be soiled. So they moved to protect God even at the cost of truth. It is strange, seeing the clarity of the same truth in the human order, that such mistakes should have been made. Thomas, writing for beginners in composing his Summa Theologica, did not lower himself. The teacher of first graders descends to an inferior intellectual level but she does not demean herself, nor does she degrade the children she teaches. In the Incarnation, God was not dragged down; He came down. It was a gracious gesture of an infinitely generous love which rather raised God in our estimation even though it added nothing to God. The Incarnation is a graphic statement of the depths to which the love of God wil1 plunge seeking us out; it is in no sense a lowering of God.
Half truths are only occasionally dangerous; they are always worthless. If we underestimate man we have also underestimated God; with the result that we have not knowledge of either God or man. Obviously, we cannot underestimate a dinner and still properly appreciate the cook whose skill produced it. The heretics of the early Church, underestimating the nature of man, forgot the nature of God, Whose divine wisdom had produced man. It is not surprising, then, that they did not see that God’s union with human nature would be supreme generosity from God and a supreme boon to man. They missed its ennobling character for human nature; and at the same time, they did not see that it would not be a divine slumming expedition but rather an awakening of humanity to its forgotten potentialities and a creation of new capacities in human nature.
Human nature needed that ennobling badly. It had been beaten down too long. It is quite possible that a great deal of Irish pride in Irish scholarship can be traced to a sense of vindication after years of unfair accusations of ignorance. Certainly the pride of American Negroes in their sports’ champions has a long background of unjustified conviction of inferiority. A sense of failure can get into the blood and bones of a man. If he is beaten often enough, he may come to expect failure and cringe before its very threat. Human nature was in much this position before sin and the devil. It needed a taste of victory. It needed a tangible proof of its own greatness to be itself again. This taste of victory, this conviction of its own greatness ably portrayed in the life of Christ, has been at the roots of the indomitable courage of saints and sinners who have tried, with varying degrees of success, to follow the footsteps of the Master.
The obvious and substantial ennobling of human nature is found, of course, in the very hypostatic union itself. To ennoble, if it means anything, means to exalt; here human nature waa lifted up beyond the dreams of men to personal union with divinity itself. From that time on, all members of the human family have had solid reason for pride; and it is a very human trait to make the most of the slightest basis of pride. It is not only a mother or a father who speaks so proudly of “my boy” and what he has done, but brothers, sisters, and cousins removed to the third or fourth degree miss no opportunity to drag in the name of an outstanding member of the family.
The created ennoblement — grace in the human soul of Christ
However, for a full appreciation of the exaltation of humanity in the Incarnation we must look within the very soul of the man Christ. There we will find a vivid statement of the sublime heights reached by man. There we have a landmark to which our efforts can be directed, by which they can be guided. For there, by the same medium by which our own souls are perfected, a man walked the heights of perfection.
The individual grace of Christ: Its nature
In the soul of Christ there was exactly the same sanctifying grace which, in our own souls, makes us holy and pleasing to God. It had to be there if the soul of Christ were to move on a supernatural plane. It was as absolutely necessary for His soul as it is for our own. It was necessary for this most noble of men Who was to elicit the most noble of acts, to be given the supernatural principles of those actions, just as it is necessary for us; He Who was to be the cause, the source of grace to all other men, had to be given the grace He was in turn to give. This habitual or sanctifying grace was not only present in the soul of Christ, it was necessarily and inevitably present. One cannot get close to fire without feeling some warmth. One cannot stand under the spray of a fountain without getting wet. We cannot hold a cup under a stream without filling it. So the human nature of Christ, intimately, substantially united to God Himself, could not but participate in that divinity; and participation in divinity on the side of the human soul is sanctifying grace.
The consequences of grace in the soul of Christ were the same as they are in our own souls: that magnificent set of supematural virtues, the material of the third volume of this present work, the tools by which his eternal niche is carved out by a man’s own efforts. Christ could not carve the rock of eternity with the fingernails of human nature any more than we can; He too needed that supernatural help. But in Him these supernatural perfections were of a supreme degree. And quite reasonably so. Just as the condition of a baby’s lungs will give an estimate, perhaps unnecessary, of the power of the baby’s voice, or the strength of a man gives a good idea of the shattering effect his blows will have, so the sublimity of the grace of Christ is itself a statement of the perfection of the virtues which flow from it.
There is one limitation to the virtues of Christ; but it is a limitation laid down against imperfection. Christ did not have the virtues that in themselves implied some imperfection. Thus, for instance, there was no faith in Christ. For faith implies the lack of the vision of God, a vision that was had by Christ from the first instant of His conception. There was no hope in Christ, at least in the sense of its principal object, the beatific vision; Christ did not hope for this, He had it. There might, though, very well be hope in Christ in the sense of that completion of happiness to be had after the resurrection of the body.
Prophecy and the apostolic graces
In Christ, the grace of prophecy and of miracles were almost constant things, giving irrefutable testimony to the presence in Him of those apostolic graces which are given, not so much for the salvation of the one receiving, but for the salvation of others. Of course, it should have been so; for Christ was Chief of the apostles, the first Teacher of faith and the whole purpose of these graces is to make truth manifest. It was for this that He was come into the world.
Perfection of grace in Christ
A man is perfect in proportion to his approach to God; and the measure of his approach is sanctifying grace. Christ the man needed this supernatural perfection as every other man needs it; His human nature was no more capable of the supernatural of itself than ours is. He needed it and He had it, completely, fully, perfectly. If we remember that all this was the perfection of Christ the man, we can see much more of the exaltation of human nature in the Incarnation.
Rigidly, absolutely, Christ was full of grace. The phrase has been used of others and rightly so; but not in such an absolute sasse as it is of Christ. Mary was full of grace; John the Baptist was full of grace; Stephen and the apostles were full of grace. That is, each of these had all the grace necessary for the work they had to do, Mary excelling the others became of the eminence of the work for which she was destined, the inestimable work of being the Mother of God. In this same relative sense, it is quite true that all of us are full of grace; for the comforting truth of the matter is that all of us have the grace necessary to fulfil the work assigned to us by God, to live up to the obligations of our state in life.
In Christ, however, the fullness of grace was absolute; and in Him alone. No one had a greater work to do than the redemption of the whole human race, so that, in Christ, we might say the relative fullness of grace coincided with the absolute. What He had to do could be done only by God; Christ the man was God.
Lest we be swept away by the splendor of the grace of Christ, the note of the human in Christ rings out like a buoy sounding in the darknees of divinity to warn us again and again that all of this happened to Christ the man. The grace and virtues of Christ were perfections of a human soul; they were not, then, infinite, not uncreated but finite, created things. It is true that there was nothing of grace lacking to Christ; looking down the long ages to which this grace of Christ would reach as the source of grace to all others, we are not wrong in describing it loosely as infinite. Certainly any increase of it is impossible. If grace is the measure of our approach to God, how could Christ get closer to divinity? Once we have possessed the goal of our lives, increase in grace is no longer possible to ue; Christ possessed the vision of God from the first instant of His conception. The degree of glory is given in proportion to the degree of grace, once and for all; Christ possessed glory from the first moment of His life.
This supematural perfection of the soul of Christ is one of the sharpest rebukes the Incarnation brings to our age. No sane man of our time would reject the telephone as an effeminate substitute for a shouted message frsm New York to Chicago. Yet thousands of men of our time, men who pride themselves on their sanity and reasonableness, reject divine help as an insult to their self-sufficiency in living human life successfully. In the Incarnation, the most perfect of men confessed His complete need of these supernatural helps; by these helps He was perfected, and by them alone.
There is a particularly solemn note in this rebuke because of the indisputable fact that no man walks the length of his life in isolation. In injuring himself, he injures others; in perfecting himself, he perfects others. Wherever he is and whatever he does, there will be repercussions from his life in the lives of those with whom he comes into contact. The apostles, and all the saints who followed them, were right in speaking of the spiritual children they had begotten; the awful tale of the still-born spiritual children still remains to be told.
For men, this influence on the lives of others, for good or ill, necessarily remains an extrinsic thing touching no more than the outer surface of another’s life. Christ, by the very things by which He was perfected, perfected others, and perfected them intrinsically. The phrase “a second Adam,” so dear to the Fathers, is both profound and exact. Christ was indeed a second Adam; like the first, He also was a principle of men, not indeed of their physical natures but of their spiritual perfection. As in Adam the physical nature which was to be the source of all others was perfect in the very beginning; so in Christ, from Whom was to proceed the endlessly long line of the blessed, the spiritual nature which was to be the source of all perfection was itself perfect from the very beginning.
The capital grace of Christ — the grace of headship:
The source of Christ’s own perfection was the habitual grace in His soul. That same grace, as the source of the perfection of others, has been called the capital grace of Christ, the grace of His headship. It is well to undestand this dearly, for it is the final, exquisite detail in the exaltation of human nature: the grace by which Christ is the head of all men is the habitual grace of the human soul of Christ in its superabundance, as working to the perfection of others.
The headship of Christ is well worth a thorough investigation, if for no other reason, because the figure of the Mystical Body which has won such wide appreciation today depends entirely upon it. Such an investigation does not represent any real difficulty; but it is somewhat complex, perhaps because it parallels so exactly the idea of headship in both the physical and moral order on a purely natural scale. If we do no more than look at our own head, which is always conveniently handy, and its relations to the rest of our body, or at the head of the State and his relations to the rest of the body politic, we have the outstanding characteristics of the headship of Christ at our finger-tips.
In a summary way we can list these characteristics as: distinction, conformity, union of order, and continuity of the head in relation to the members. When we bring the consideration down to the concrete, it is completely obvious. Take, for instance, the details of the first characteristic, that of distinction. No man needs detailed instruction to grasp the fact that he is much more grossly insulted when his face is trampled on rather than his feet; or, to put the same thing in another way, no one of us is surprised at the twenty-one gun salute given to the head of a State, though we would be astonished, as private citizens, if the guns boomed every time we appeared in public. We insist upon a real distinction on grounds of dignity between the head and members. We know there is much more cause for worry when we see an epileptic throwing a fit on the edge of a skyscraper than there is in the antics of a tight-rope walker in the same position: for we have complete confidence in the government or direction of things when the head is in charge; none at all when it isn’t. We are quite sure that we cannot beat ideas into our brains with our fists, though we constantly expect our brains to communicate motion to our hands; we know, in other words, something of the eminent power of the head, and the lack of that command in the members.
The same detailed parallelism could be made in regard to the characterstic of conformity between head and members. But this is really not necessary. It is completely plain to us that if the distorted masks worn by primitive peoples in their rites were more than masks, we would be looking upon things of utmost horror; it takes no deep thought to see that the union of totally unrelated heads and members would be as certain a guarantee of disorder and war as the confinement of a cat and a canary in the same cage. What, for instance, would happen if the Emperor of Japan were to be installed as ruler of America tomorrow morning?
There must be a union of order between head and members if complete chaos is to be averted; after all the head is served by the hands, the different members serve one another at the behest of the head. There must be continuity between head and members, for power must flow from the head into the members; a woman might wish, vaguely, that she could take her head off at night for the sake of her hair-do, but the temptation to try it is really not serious.
All these characteristics are to be found in the headship of Christ; He is really the head. That simple statement is a vivid picture of how truly Christ is ours, of the heights to which our nature was lifted in Christ the man, of the intimacy of our life with Christ and the catastrophe of our separation from Him. We are one with Him and it is by His grace that we ourselves live.
Its extent: Christ the head of the Church, of souls and bodies, of men, of angels
All of these inspiring truths are not lessened but magnified by even a brief glance at the sweeping extent of the headship of Christ. He is the head of all the Church, for He does for the Mystical Body what the head does for the physical body. He is the first of all the members, the most perfect, the most powerful; from Him life flows into all the members. He is the head of all souls and bodies; for His humanity was the instrument of the salvation of all souls and bodies, from Him grace flows into the sons of men to make the bodies of men here and now instruments of justice, to give them glorious immortality in eternity.
He is the head of absolutely all men in this life and of some men in eternity. He is simply and absolutely head of the faithful in heaven who are united to Him in glory, and of the faithful on earth in the state of grace who are thereby united to Him in charity. In a lesser sense, He is head of the faithful who have the misfortune to be in serious sin for they are still united to Him by faith. Potentially, He is head of those who have no faith and never will have; He is potentially head of those who have not the faith but who will have it at some time in the future. In other words, He is head of all those men who have at least the possibility of union with God.
He is head of the angels; they too belong to the Mystical Body of the Church. Nearer to God, He has more of perfection, participating more perfectly in the gifts of God, and from Him the angels receive accidental grace and glory. In relation to the angels, Christ enjoys all the characteristics of His headship of men.
There are other Christs, not only in the sacramental sense of the priesthood administering directly to the souls of men as Christ did, but also in the sense of the external government of men. It is true that Christ alone is head as far as the interior influx of grace to the members of His body s concerncd; but as far as external government goes, Christ has allowed a participation in His headship, a participation limited in time, place, and power. The Pope is the Vicar of Christ, the visible head of the Church, participating in the headship of Christ.
Degradation of human nature — headship of evil:
The devil as head of the wicked
There is one exception to the headship of Christ. He is not the head of the damned in hell. These are the headless ones, a horde rather than an ordered group. They have irrevocably cut off their head. They are slaves now, victims of their stupidity in attacking the head to their own destruction. The devil is their head only in the sense of external government; for while the devil may tempt, taunt, suggest, call names like a spiteful boy, play the part of a sneak or a coward, unless a man surrender, the devil can never crash the gates of a human soul. Obviously, his headship is not to be compared to the headship of Christ with its intrinsic flow of life to the depths of a man’s soul. Yet, in a very real sense, the devil does accomplish a difficult task in leading men to destruction and degradation against every inclination of their nature, every dictate of reason, every inspiring desire of their heart.
Anti-Christ as head of the wicked
Unquestionably the devil has many subjects. He is head of the wicked, their invisible head. Later on, towards the end of the world, the wicked will have a visible head in Anti-Christ who will reach the depths of evil, with all the force of diabolic help and suggestion behind him to speed his descent and accomplish his goal of destroying men by leading them away from God.
Conclusion: The truth of human nature:
Perspectives and truth
A new step was taken by the motion picture industry when it introduced shots taken from odd angles. This was paralleled in the amateur world by the craze for candid-camera pictures. In both lines some striking results were achieved: distorted results that were comic, tragic, ridiculous, horrible, and often extremely humiliating. Behind all these results there is a really profound truth. The most familiar things can look completely strange if they are seen from a new angle; even a harmless cabbage leaf can look like a devouring monster if seen close-up through a magnifying lens. For our grasp of the truth of things depends to a great extent on the perspective from which we see them.
Perspectives of human nature: Seen from above, seen from below. seen from a horizontal plane
Thus, our human nature can be seen from below; then it looms as gigantic, imposing. Seen from above, it shrinks into humbling insignificance, dwarfed like a string of freight cars that, from a height of twelve thousand feet, look like tiny match-boxes cast down carelessly by a child. Human nature can be seen from its own level; then it appears as an inspiring and humiliating union of the lowest and highest in creation. Mary, seeing herself in this way, tasted a fearful joy at the Annunciation.
Obstacles to belief in the incarnation in ignorance of human nature
All these views are true enough if they are not taken as the whole truth. Man is gigantic, imposing compared to the level of life beneath him. Man is tiny, insignificant compared to the infinite perfection of diversity. Man on his own level is the combination of the lowest and highest in the universe; he is capable of great love, of unstinting sacrifice, but he is also capable of great sin, of complete selfishness, of calamitous failure. To take any one of these as the whole story of humanity is to fall into absurdly tragic error. Thus the naturalist today looks at man only from below and sees him as the peak of perfection; the humanitarian sees man on his own horizontal level and is bewildered by the paradox of humiliation and inspiration with no key to the solution of the mystery. Much of Protestantism has looked upon man from above and seen him only as insignificant, corrupted, utterly powerless, a fit victim for despair.
The Incarnation and humanity: Not a insult but an accolade
To be properly appreciated, human nature must be seen from all these angles, not from any one. And it must be appreciated if we are to grasp the significance of the Incarnation. The Son of God assumed a human nature If we see man only from below, we discard the idea of the necessity of the Incarnation, rejecting it as absurd. If we see man only from above, we consider the idea of the Incarnation an insult to divinity. If we see man only on the level of his own human nature, neither from above or below, we remain in ignorance of the world in which he lives, the man himself, God, and the very goal of the Incarnation.
In the early centuries of the Church, humanity was seen most consistently from above by pagans, Jews, and to some extent by Christians. To men of that time, then, there was something shocking, even insulting to divinity in the idea of the Incarnation. In our times, human nature is seen almost as consistently from below or, at best, from its own level. Now the Incarnation seems an insult to humanity. The truth lies between these two precisely because the truth is the whole view of human nature.
Not patronizing but ennobling
The Incarnation is a gracious gesture of love from divinity; and a gracious gesture of love is never unbecoming. This particular gesture is a badly needed ennobling of humanity, never a degradation or a reflection upon that humanity. In other words, God has not patronized us in the Incarnation, He has not come down to us in a sneering, humiliating way that would leave us just so much more aware of the hopelessness of our defects. Rather He has come to us, bending down indeed, not to renmid us of any bittemess in the contrast, but to rekindle old fires within us, to awaken us to a realization of our own great capacities, and to confer upon us new abilities that make our every act ring in eternity.