I. A Sort of Survey
The Dimming of Jesus
Jesus Hardly Known
Our Present Confusions
Jesus in the Classroom
be interested in Jesus
know the Gospels
be interested in his pupils
Intellect and Imagination
II. The Jesus of the Gospels
Why the Gospels?
Jesus in the Gospels
Who Was He? What Was He?
Only the Father Knows the Son
Trinity and Incarnation
The Man Jesus and the Father
The Man Jesus and the Holy Spirit
What Jesus Came to Do
To Save His People from Their
To Give Testimony to the
The Redeeming Sacrifice
Resurrection and Ascension
What Redemption Is
III. Man's Life as Jesus Sees It
Why Are We Here?
Where the Road of Life Leads
The Heaven of Jesus
The Road of Life
"I Am with You"
IV. What the World Can Do to the Faith
Some Further Reading
About twenty years ago the Conference of Teaching Nuns of Ireland
asked me to talk to them on the question "Are We Really Teaching
Religion?" The talk was published as a pamphlet bearing that title.
It was widely read, its relevance not questioned.
Then came Pope John. We are living in a different Catholic world.
Teachers are different, pupils are even more different. At the heart of
the difference is that one can no longer take for granted any special
interest in Christ. Being asked by Bishop Pursley to talk on Catechetics
to the priests of Fort Wayne diocese, I chose as title "The
Catechetics of Jesus." That talk is expanded into this present
It is not about the teaching of the Faith in general. It is concerned
solely with Jesus as the young may be helped to know him and grow in
intimacy with him. Only as he himself is known can Trinity and
Incarnation and Redemption, life here and hereafter, Church and
Sacraments, be intelligently accepted or even intelligently rejected!
It is concerned directly with teaching either in Catholic schools or
in the classes of such bodies as the Confraternity of Christian
Doctrine. I hope it may also help parents who wish to help their
children grow in wisdom and understanding, to say nothing of grace with
God and men. Teaching apart, it might be a useful refresher course for
any who have let their Redeemer fade too far into the back of the mind.
Long ago I presumed to advise a group of young men on their way to
the priesthood: "Make up your mind whether you are preaching Christ
or yourself. If it's yourself, heaven help you. For the better you do,
the worse it is." I would give the same kind of advice to teachers
I. A Sort of Survey
The general object of education is to prepare the pupils for life.
The teacher examining his conscience in moments of insomnia might ask
himself: "What responses to the truth and beauty of reality have I
developed in my pupils today? Have I mutilated any, killed any?"
The special object of religious education is to prepare the pupils
for life in Christ. For the teacher, the test is how they are responding
to Christ not only are they growing in their
knowledge of him, but what in fact does he mean to them and how
intensely does he mean it? How is the teacher to find out? Certainly no
examination can tell him. But as they enter their last year in the
primary school, he might ask them to write down their thoughts on two
questions with a month or so between: "What
difference if Jesus had not come?" "What difference did his
dying make?" As they enter their last year in high school, the same
questions could be put to them, but with an emphasis on the difference
to themselves. A profitable hour might be spent in discussing the
answers with the class.
THE DIMMING OF JESUS
Jesus Hardly Known
My own experience suggests that the results of such an experiment
might be hair-raising. Two or three years ago I asked several hundred
first- and second-year boys and girls of a Catholic high school,
"What is the point of going to Mass?" At the end of forty
minutes discussion, they could not think of anything gained by going or
lost by staying away. At a separate session I asked several hundred
third- and fourth-year students if there was any point in being a
Catholic. They could not think of any. What was specially notable in
each session was that no one mentioned Jesus till I did.
Wherever I go I find an evaporation of belief in him among the
thirteen- to thirty-year- olds, and a dimming of belief at all ages and
all levels. People who would be horrified to have their faith in Jesus
questioned do not in fact find him very interesting, do not seem to find
their minds naturally turning to him in their daily living, do not think
of death as bringing them closer to him. One can almost feel his absence
everywhere. I select three points at which it is especially hard not to
1. In all the arguments about the new Mass Latin or vernacular, vestments or
overalls, organ or guitars, church or kitchen table I have never heard Our Lord mentioned.
2. Of the accounts given of themselves by priests who have moved out
of the Church I have read more than most because I travel more. I can
hardly remember one in which he is so much as referred to yet not only to the Mass they had said
daily but to all their priestly lives he gave whatever meaning there
was. Often enough Mass and the rest have lost their meaning for them:
but it is odd that it does not occur to them to tell us how this affects
their relation with Jesus.
3. In a twenty-five column dialogue conducted by the editor of a
Catholic weekly with half a dozen graduates of Catholic colleges about
the present condition of the Church (lamentable) and the possibility of
its renewal (minimal), Our Lord was mentioned three times and dropped
immediately, he rated under half a column. In a long and brilliant
article I have just read by a black Catholic on whether there is a
future for her race within the Church, Jesus is not mentioned.
I could go on and on. But there is one piece of evidence available to
the Mass-going Catholic fifty times or so a year namely, the sermons. There are indeed
comments on the Gospel of the day, but one practically never hears a
sermon directly about Jesus himself: indeed one rarely hears anything
that could be new to any twelve-year-old in the congregation. No
contrast could be more glaring than between what the religious syllabus
says has been taught in school and what the sermons assume has been
OUR PRESENT CONFUSIONS
Till twenty years ago the Catholic teacher thought he knew who and
what Christ was. He had the theology of the Incarnation, as built up by
the definitions of Nicea, Ephesus, Chalcedon; there were the Gospels to
give the God-man's redeeming life on earth. Now he is not so sure. He
has the Scripture critics, Catholics among them, who leave him wondering
whether the Gospels can tell him anything at all about Jesus. There are
theologians, Catholics among them, questioning every word of the
standard teaching on who or what he was. Not that there is a newly
emergent Jesus, accepted by the majority of scholars, to set against the
Jesus of the centuries. Every expert makes his own choice, builds his
own Jesus, interpreting in the light of his own philosophy of life as
much of Scripture as he still finds acceptable. At present the confusion
verges on the chaotic. But there is careful study going on and brilliant
thinking inside the Church and out, the Holy Spirit has not abandoned
his people; the Second Vatican Council has emphasized the way of growth
in the light. The chaos will settle, and we shall be seeing Christ's
revelation with new clarity, at a new depth.
But it has not settled yet. What is the ordinary Catholic to do
meanwhile? Hear every point of view, then make his own decision? But if
even the specialist who does nothing else couldn't possibly read
everything, how is the plain Christian to decide? He has not the
equipment he does not know the traditional
theology, he has not the scholarship to weigh the arguments. What can he
do? He can
(a) pick some teacher far right, far left or center whose writing or
speaking appeals to
(b) forget the whole thing, stick to Mass and Communion till the
So much for the plain man. What is the Catholic teacher to do? A
chaos is suitable for writing about to special readers and lecturing
about to special audiences. It is not suitable for teaching, least of
all to beginners. It may be that for an individual teacher the chaos is
indeed settling, that he is seeing a line growing continually clearer;
but he is still feeling his way, questioning at every point, testing and
discarding, and testing again. Each teacher might, of course, decide how
much he himself is convinced of and teach that, but
(a) convictions are not particularly valuable for being his most of us are
nobody in particular
(b) other teachers will believe more or believe less, and only
(c) parents have sent their children to a Catholic class to learn
Church teaches, not what Teacher A thinks or Teacher B. If they
Private Judgment, there are Churches in which it belongs.
The Catholic Church is a teaching Church its Founder commissioned it to make
all nations its disciples, "teaching them to observe all I have
commanded you." The schools and the Confraternity of Christian
Doctrine classes are provided by her and cannot well be used to
contradict what she teaches. For there is a standard Catholic doctrine.
There are definitions, issuing from centuries of living Christ's
revelation, thinking about it and praying about it, and opening the way
to further defining. Vatican II has at once clarified and reaffirmed the
Church's teaching function. In the statement on Religious Freedom (para.
14) we read: "It is her duty authoritatively to teach the Truth
which is Christ himself and also to declare and confirm by her authority
those principles of the moral law which have their origin in human
nature itself." But in Ecumenism (para. 6) it states the principle
that "if the influence of events or the times has led to
deficiencies in conduct, in Church discipline, or even in the
formulation of doctrine (which must be carefully distinguished from the
deposit of Faith itself) these should be appropriately rectified."
Ultimately, one supposes, the Catholic teaching authority in each
area will decide what should be taught in its classes. Which does not
mean that the teachers should close their eyes and their ears to the
discussion which fills the air. They must be aware of it for their own
mental growth, they must be aware of it for the sake of their students at any rate those in college and the
seniors in high school, who also hear about it and read about it. But if
either they or their students are to gain anything from it, they must
know Jesus as the Gospels show him. With that knowledge rooted in them
and growing towards intimacy, they can proceed to a consideration of
what the Scripture scholars have to offer them, to say nothing of the
theologians and the teaching Church.
JESUS IN THE CLASSROOM
Too often Jesus is simply an item in the syllabus, to be discussed
when the syllabus reaches him, and then only till it passes on to the
next topic. The Faith is presented as a package deal Jesus in with the
rest) to be accepted whole; the trouble is that what can be accepted
whole can be rejected whole. Religion should be so taught that even if
they reject the rest, he will be seen as distinct, it will not occur to
them to reject him along with the rest as a matter of course. If they
hold on to him by so much as a fingertip, he can do things in their
As an item in the syllabus, how has he been presented? Mainly, I
fancy, as a piece in the theological diagram of Redemption, as Man
indeed, but not as that particular man; as Man with a body and soul, the
soul quasi-infinite, the body fresh-minted for him. But he was "the
fruit of David's loins," says Peter; "the seed of David
according to the flesh," says Paul. So was his Mother forty generations of ancestors back to
David, how many back to the beginning of the race? He got the body that
came to him from his ancestors, as we all do each of us, he and we, having our own
individual likes and dislikes, attractions and repulsions, things found
easy and things found difficult: he was tempted as we are, but without
sin as we are not.
Young Christians must see him, not as one of his own statues
galvanized, walking the road to Calvary majestically, but as a living
man with his own individual reactions. They should study him at least as
closely as they would study Abraham Lincoln in the history class, Hamlet
in the English class. Without that there is no relating to him, no
genuine encounter; intimacy with him is not even thinkable.
Whatever their subject, all teachers live in the certainty that every
lapse is going to be exaggerated. This is annoying, but in most subjects
it does not greatly matter: no student is going to be less devoted to
algebra or history because a teacher lost his temper too often or
pretended to know what he didn't. But every fault of the religion
teacher is charged against the Faith: many a fallen-away Catholic is
taking his revenge on some teacher of long ago. To an appalling extent
the religion teacher cannot help representing the Faith. This means that
three qualifications are essential: he must be interested in Our Lord,
must know at least the Gospels, must be interested in the minds of his
1. The teacher must be interested in Jesus. If this sounds so obvious
to you as to be not worth saying, then you were very fortunate in your
teachers. I remember a story of a teacher in a country where Scripture
had to be taught in the State schools. He happened not to believe a word
of it. Being a conscientious man, he did his best. Having to instruct
his class on the Feeding of the Five Thousand, he concentrated on the
twelve baskets of crumbs and drew the moral that Christ wanted the
school yard kept tidy.
But it is not of unbelievers I am thinking, though there are Catholic
teachers who believe little enough. I am concerned with that boredom
with religion which is spreading like a blight over the Christian world.
I get the feeling that many priests are devoting themselves to Civil
Rights (a cause admirable in itself) simply because they are bored with
God a continuance, perhaps, of their
seminary boredom with theology seen as a series of obstacles to be
hurdled on their way to ordination, of no practical importance for
A teacher will be able to introduce the young into the world of the
Faith only if he is living in it himself and rejoicing to live in it,
just as he will teach more vividly the geography of a country he has
visited and loved.
It is my conviction that a teacher who finds the Faith uninteresting
is bound in conscience to ask to be excused from teaching it.
2. The teacher must know the Gospels. Evidently he cannot make much
of the Gospels unless he knows a great deal more, both within the two
Testaments and outside them. But I concentrate here on the Gospels, on
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as men have met Jesus in them for nineteen
centuries. The teacher should know them at least as well as he would Hamlet
if he were preparing his pupils for an examination in the religion class he is preparing
them for an examination more searching, of effect more far-reaching. I
remember asking the principal of a Catholic school why she left Doctrine
to be taught by teachers who would not have been allowed to teach any
other subject of which they knew so little. She answered, "Well,
you see, the children's careers don't depend on it." (They don't,
I take a handful of examples of insufficient Gospel knowledge. There
was the preacher who said how suitable that Jesus should have entrusted
his Mother to John because John had no mother of his own whereas Matthew tells us that John's
mother was actually there on Calvary. I remember an occasion when,
commenting on Paul's words "God sent his son born of a woman,"
I remarked that Our Lady is the only person, human or divine, who could
say to God the Father, "Your Son and mine." A teacher in the
audience asked, "Couldn't the Holy Spirit?"
Errors of this sort startle. But there is another kind of defect in
reading which does not startle because it does not amount to error
actually uttered. Of sermons I have heard on the parable of the Pharisee
and the Publican I have kept no count: but I do know that in not a
single one of them was it mentioned that one of the Twelve who heard the
parable had been a publican himself.
That, you may say, is merely a failure to bring two pieces of
knowledge together, at worst a sin of omission. But it suggests that the
Gospel story is not really being "seen" by the preacher. In
this instance, of course, the point at issue is not of great importance.
Consider another. When Peter urged Jesus not to suffer and die, Jesus
said to him, "Get behind me, Satan." But in Gethsemane he
prayed to his Father that he might not drink the cup. Was he asking God
for something which he called Satanic when Peter first suggested it? The
question goes to the root of our Redemption. I have never met a lay
Catholic who had even heard it raised.
3. The teacher must be interested in his pupils, especially in their
minds. One remembers Winston Churchill's definition of a fanatic: a man
who cannot change his mind and will not change the subject. The fanatic
is profoundly interested in his theme, but not in his hearers: they are
supporters to be won, or merely an audience he simply has to have. A
teacher of this sort might know his subject thoroughly and expound it
clearly, yet be a crashing bore. The religion teacher must be wholly
aware of his hearers as taking a genuine part in a true dialogue: and
this not only in order to hold their attention, but principally because
there is no real teaching without it.
In all subjects that are going to affect the conduct of life, it is a
mere truism that teaching does not consist in the utterance of
information, however valuable. The essence of teaching is communication,
and the way of it is to effect a union of minds, in the hope that a
reality living in one mind may become a reality living in the other.
There is a real analogy here with the life-giving union of bodies. The
second person should be not simply a receiver but must respond fully,
the first not simply a conveyer but concerned with the other's response
and responsive to it. For perfection of either union there must be love:
or at least that beginning of love which includes an interest in the
other as himself, an interest in his response, a care for his sake how
he responds. Certainly the student will not take anything from a teacher
he dislikes. All this talk of union of minds may sound grandiose, but it
is the minimum, there is no effective teaching of religion without it.
It flows from this that any slackness in preparing the lesson, any want
of wholeheartedness in giving it, is a way of taking the name of God in
In Catholic schools very great difficulty arises for the teacher of
religion, in that religion has to be taught in the same building, on the
same timetable, by the same men and women, as all the other subjects. It
is a pity not only because the students will almost inevitably tend to
think of religion as one more lesson, to be dropped with all the others
when they leave school: an impression only confirmed if there are
examinations in Religious Knowledge, with marks and grades and credits,
just like all the rest. Teachers tell me that there is no way of getting
students to take seriously a subject in which there is no examination. I
can only hope they will find one. Short of that, they must find some way
of getting the students to feel that examinations in religion are at
least different from all others. For it is in everyone's nature to want
to leave school behind. St. Paul talks of Christian maturity as
"putting away the things of a child": too many Catholics list
St. Paul himself as one of the childish things to be put away.
But a profounder problem arises from the teaching of religion in
school, a problem for the teacher himself. In the religion class he has
a different role, has almost to be a different person. The authority he
brings to other classes has no meaning in this. Here he is simply an
older member of the Mystical Body given the privilege of helping younger
members (who do not appreciate the privilege!) to come to maturity in
the life of the Body. If to anyone this sounds pretentious, he has
missed the point. It is elementary.
Most teachers can't make the adjustment, most pupils can't take the
adjustment. Therefore ideally the religion teacher should not be the
same teacher as handles that particular class most of the day. With the
best teacher-relation, there can hardly fail to be individual
resentments, with students on the teacher's nerves, the teacher on
theirs. It is not easy for a teacher to go from being a tiger in the
algebra class to being a lamb in the religion class. The situation is
worse if the class is the tiger and the teacher gets the mauling. It
would be best if the religion class were taken by a teacher who had been
fraying the nerves of and having his nerves frayed by other classes during the rest of the
Where the class is being conducted by the Confraternity of Christian
Doctrine the problems are different. The teacher brings no resentment
from conflicts in other classes, but if it is held outside ordinary
school hours he may have to contend with the resentment of the students,
all of them, at having to be there at all. If it is in the school as
part of the regular timetable, then once more religion can seem to be a
school subject, to be left behind with school. Either way, the C.C.D.
teacher, unless he happens to be a schoolteacher himself, is not likely
to have the same skill in handling a pack of girls and boys.
No, it is not easy. But even if the one teacher has to teach religion
and secular subjects to the same class he must do his best to remember
that God is love. However efficiently doctrine and ritual may be
explained, if at the end of all the young do not see religion as
essentially love of God and love of man, then the school has failed
It would be wonderful if the students could say "Even Sister So
and So is kind in religion class." That may be too much to hope.
But at least Sister So and So should watch her ways more carefully when
she is helping her students to a deeper intimacy with Jesus than with
French grammar. I remember a school which, during the Second World War,
decided to have a Novena for Peace fifteen minutes before the start of
the school day. Mother Superior herself stood at the door to box the
ears of children who did not arrive on time to pray for peace.
That sort of eccentricity can be controlled. But there is one
continuing temptation for the teacher of any age or sex on any subject,
indeed for anyone in authority over anyone. I mean sarcasm. It can be
sheer cruelty like a small boy tearing the wings off
a fly or like a big man hitting a little man. As between two beings made
in the image of God it is inexcusable. In one who believes that God is
love it is sheer lunacy. There was the daily communicant father, for
instance, who came back to breakfast to pour out his sarcasm on his
children: I need hardly add that his sons are out of the Church.
Teachers may have one excuse for sarcasm not available to others, namely
that their nerves can be so frayed from the day-long contest with beasts
wilder than those Paul was up against at Ephesus: sarcasm is a safety
valve for men sometimes on the point of screaming. I know because in my
youth I taught school, sometimes barely holding on to my sanity against
the ways of cussedness open to the young. All the same, the teacher of
religion must keep reminding himself that his sarcasm is added to all
the obstacles that already stand between the student and the love of
God, and that it was he who put it there.
It follows also from the special function of the teacher as an older
member of the Mystical Body helping a younger towards maturity in
Christ, that the ordinary school punishments have no place in the
religion class. The discipline should be no more than is required to
keep the class functioning rather like that of a sensible adult
at a school picnic. If the young are daydreaming, the teacher must learn
to be more interesting than their dreams.
So far I have been assuming that the class may include a proportion
who are bored with religion but not actively hostile like the boy in a Catholic high school
where I was lecturing, who referred to the Mass as "all that
flummery at the altar." There are hostile ones too. Even more than
the bored ones they need the Faith. If they join in the questioning with
respect for the beliefs of others, realizing that the class is not a
battleground but a meeting of minds, their presence could be valuable to themselves, perhaps to the others
as they meet here in class an attitude they will constantly encounter in
the world. The teacher will still have to find a mean between welcoming
their contribution to the discussion and letting them monopolize it. If
they are violently hostile, they can make a shambles of the discussion
class. I do not pretend that I have the answer. To summarize: The rule
for teachers should be St. Paul's rule for fathers: "Don't provoke
your children to anger, lest they become discouraged." Paul says it
twice, to the Colossians (3.21) and to the Ephesians (6.4). Oddly
enough, I have never heard it mentioned in the pulpit.
I come now to a matter in which I have not enough experience I merely
suggest to those who have to make decisions in this area that five
religion classes a week are too many. By the end of high school the
students will have had over two thousand religion classes. My own notion
would be two a week. I am referring, of course, to direct verbal
teaching of Doctrine and Scripture. To the application of these to daily
life as it now is Civil Rights, for instance and to
non-verbal ways of teaching like audiovisual aids, as many hours may be
given as seem good.
In the two classes directly concerned with Doctrine and Scripture, I
suggest that in one the teacher should do his teaching, in the other the
class should discuss what he has taught. In the instruction class there
might be as much dialogue, in the discussion class as much summarization
by himself, as the teacher finds useful. The discussion might begin with
a six- or seven-minute talk by a different member of the class each
week. This would help to fill one vast gap in the formation of the
Catholic. In my fifty-year contact with religion in schools, there has
been a general improvement in what is taught. But I hardly ever meet a
Catholic who at school had been taught utterance to talk as freely and intelligently
about Christ as about politics or sport. Only if all who believe in him
can learn to talk of him like that is there any possibility of bringing
him back into a world which sees him so dimly.
The teacher who has never seen a theological or moral difficulty
himself will not be of much use. He will be a great deal worse than
useless if he throttles the thinking minds of his class with dogmatic
answers. (Mixed metaphor? It is indeed.) He will teach best the truths
with which his own mind has had to wrestle. Long ago I was asked to give
some lectures at a teachers' college. At the end the principal said to
me, "You have questioned our most fundamental principles." I
said, "Haven't you?" It was inexcusably rude of me. But there
is a moral in it for every teacher.
The Catholic teacher may have been brought up to take
"spirit" for granted "God is spirit," says
Christ. But Christ does not define spirit for us. The catechism does, of
course. But if the teacher has not gone deep into the formulas of the
catechism, he is not equipped to instruct anyone in the Faith.
For spirit is basic to every topic in the religion class. The
students do not need to be reminded that they have bodies, but spirit
they can totally overlook. The teacher must bring his whole mind to bear
on it, always thinking of ways of making the idea clearer to the
students, feeling that he could find better ways.
It involves the use of mental muscles the students are not much
called upon to use. Like most of us they do most of their thinking not
with the intellect but with the memory, the imagination, the will, the
blood, the stomach. The teacher must massage the muscles they think
with, stir them into action reluctant action at first, but with a
growing excitement in it, as their exercise brings suppleness and
competence. Even the bored or unconvinced members of the class can be
caught by the intellectual interest of the discussion, if they feel they
are really being brought into it, and not simply preached at.
By sixteen or seventeen the students should have a grasp on the
concept of spirit not only as the being which can know and love but in
its essential distinction from matter. It is simple, not complex: that
is to say it has no parts as material things have: there is no element
in a spirit which is not the whole of it. Help them to see that this
means that it has a permanent hold upon what it is, can be only itself.
They may not see this quickly. It is worth striving for. In every year
the ideas as stateable should have grown richer and clearer. Not only
that, but spirit itself will have been lived with, leading to an
intimacy with the idea of it deeper than words or concepts can express.
Spirit can become an essential element in the world they are mentally
living in, so that world and thinking alike would be thin and
impoverished without it. To minds thus matured, materialism (however
persuasively presented) would at once be seen as repulsive: it would
find all their mental habits ranged solidly against it: just as, if a
man has learned to walk, the most persuasive arguments could not get him
to go on all fours, he would find the idea repulsive, all his bodily and
mental habits would be ranged against it. And materialism, with all its
emphasis on the body, sees no future for it, dooms it to sink back into
the mindlessness of matter. For the Christian the body is an essential
element in the whole man: it will rise from death and have its own
(Many sentences in these last paragraphs are quoted from "Are We
Really Teaching Religion?" I have discussed the whole topic in more
detail in "God and the Human Mind" and in "Genesis
I have spent some time on the Discussion of Spirit, partly because of
the importance of the topic, partly as drawing attention to the
principles to be observed in the meeting of minds between teacher and
Intellect and Imagination
We have noted the difficulty with which our intellect functions. Its
principal antagonist is imagination. Imagination is our power of making
mental pictures of the material universe. What we have experienced
through our senses sights, sounds, tastes, scents,
contacts can be reproduced in the imagination,
either as they originally came through the senses or in any variety of
combinations. It is a marvellous, enriching power, life would be
impoverished without it; but it is subordinate and is limited to the
world of matter. What cannot be experienced through the senses cannot be
pictured by the imagination. But it can interfere with the intellect, in
two ways principally as censor and as substitute. It will
be useful to let the students see the difficulties we ourselves have had
in keeping imagination under control.
As censor, imagination refuses to let us accept any statement it
cannot cope with. Tell a man that his soul has no shape, size, color or
weight and he dismisses it as unimaginable. Which indeed it is. Because
spiritual reality is beyond the reach of the senses. You can see a just
man, you can see him acting justly, but justice you cannot see.
In this area the word "imaginable" has no function: the
word you want is "conceivable." If a statement does not
contradict known reality, if it contains no contradiction with itself,
then you can conceive it.
The word "unimaginable" is usually taken as final, the
notion is to be rejected. But the Christian finds all sorts of
unimaginable beliefs that he cannot just drop. At that point imagination
moves in from a different angle: it offers to help intellect to accept
the unimaginable doctrines with mental pictures from the world of
matter. For the doctrine of the Trinity it substitutes a shamrock, or a
triangle, or three drops of water poured together to form one drop.
There is a role for such analogies in clarifying God's dealings with
men, but they shed no light upon God's own being, or upon the meaning of
spirit. They do not help us to see the reality, but only to swallow the
doctrine. We must be sure that our students do not confuse the
unimaginable with the inconceivable. In that distinction, realized and
practiced, lies the way to mental maturity, a useful companion to that
commoner phenomenon bodily maturity.
P.S. on Maturity. The teacher knows that the students are immature,
knows too that they would be furious if he told them so. He might blunt
their fury and even win their partial agreement if he explains. (a) He
does not say that they are necessarily less mature than he or any other
elder, only that they are less mature than they themselves are likely to
be fifteen years from now. Maturity is not gained by staying alive for a
given number of years: maturity is the response to experience; some
older people have learnt nothing from what life has done to them and
will die barely more mature than they were born. (b) However well the
young have responded, too many things have not yet happened to them.
They must be more mature fifteen years hence; i.e., many things will
look different to them unless life will have taught them
The teacher who encourages his students to use their minds will
discover that his own is getting a wonderful workout. And this will be a
wholly enjoyable experience if he makes no pretense of omniscience and
is not embarrassed (as in other classes he might be) to admit that he
doesn't know the answer, or that a previous answer given by him was
wrong, or (most testing) that a student who differed from him was right.
II. The Jesus of the Gospels
WHY THE GOSPELS
The teacher must know the Gospels, which includes knowing why he must
know them. And by the Gospels I mean Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as men
have met Jesus in them through nineteen centuries. Only when these are
known, as I have noted, can we understand either the teaching of the
Church or the reinterpretations of the critics. He should know something
of the dates at which they were probably written and the reasons for
attaching the names of the evangelists to them. He should know, too, of
considerations to be taken into account when reading them,
considerations in which all are agreed e.g.:
(1) The order of time meant less
to the evangelists than to us. They would put an event or utterance not
necessarily when it happened or was said but along with related things
said or done at a different time logical fitness, not chronological.
(2) Hebrew idioms have constantly to be allowed for. I take two
instances: (a) numbers are frequently used not as a matter of arithmetic
but of emphasis the duty of forgiving unto 70 times 7
is a way of saying not that the 491st sin is not to be forgiven, but
that there is no limit at all; (b) overstatement is used as a device to
force attention Luke (14.26) quotes Jesus as calling
on us to "hate" father and mother. Hate was a colorful way of
saying "love less"; and so Matthew gives it (10.37): "If
you love father or mother more than me, you are not worthy of me";
and he gives the context an issue might arise in which a man
must take Jesus' side even against his family.
It is important that the teacher should be at home in each Gospel
individually. Matthew's theme is Christ's kingdom as the fulfillment of
God's plan for the Israel of the Old Testament: Mark's is "the
beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" the manhood unmistakable, the Godhead
showing through. According to Papias (who died in 130), Mark wrote down
what he had heard Peter preach about Jesus' life and work, most richly
of his personality, not much of what he actually taught, but much of
what he did (remembered in detail). Luke conceived his Gospel and the
Acts as one continuous treatment of his main theme where Matthew shows the universality
of the kingdom growing from Israel, Luke shows it growing into all
humanity. John's Gospel tells us explicitly "these things are
written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and believing you may have life in his name": humanity, divinity,
life, are John's concerns. With all this individuality, all four are
portraying the one same person.
The Gospels were not written as a beginners' course, a first
introduction to Christianity. Not only the evangelists, but Paul and the
other New Testament writers, assume that their readers have already been
instructed they were writing to develop and
enrich the teaching their readers had been given by the Church into
which they had been baptized. Scripture nowhere sets out that basic
instruction. But what a writer assumes his readers know is a constituent
element of any book. Not knowing it, today's reader lacks what the first
The Catholic believes that in the Church Christ founded, under the
guidance of the Spirit he sent, the basic teaching has been continuously
taught, and lived, and phrased at new depth. There is no question of the
Church or Scripture. They are both ways of utterance of the one God, two
ways of approach to the same reality.
There are arguments among Christians as to the Church's growth in
understanding of Christ's teaching, but as to the detail of his earthly
life, what he did and suffered, what he said, she has made no change in
the Gospels as she has had them from their first writing. Neither have
those Christian Churches or individual scholars who interpret his
Only in the Gospels do we meet the Jesus who lived and taught and
died. For all understanding of him, even to know what there is to
understand, we must go to the Gospels. A non-Gospel Christ is a mere
artifact, compounded of its inventor's principles, preferences,
experiences, insights, prejudices in fact, what its inventor would have
been if he had been Jesus.
What the Church's theologians have given on Christ must largely be
supplied by the teacher, since reading the great theologians is beyond
the young. The Gospels he can help them to read, so that they can make
their own discovery of the Gospel Jesus. But only if the teacher has
himself found it. If he hasn't, he may be reduced to persuading them
that Jesus is as interesting as such heroes political, cinematic, athletic as they already have.
Of what I have called artifacts, pseudo-Christs, there are three main
types, two of them to be found in a great deal of the teaching given to
Christians throughout the ages, the third arrived more recently.
1. For vast numbers of believers, the one fact that matters about
Jesus is that he loved his fellow-men. All other elements in his
character have faded away into loving-kindness, so that even his love is
milk-and-watered. He is gentle, meek and mild adjectives which do not suggest the
sort of man one would want in an emergency, adjectives which would have
startled those who knew him in Palestine.
2. Teachers who would not be tempted to that sort of cheapening can
go to a different extreme, seeing Jesus, in the sense we have already
glanced at, as a piece in the diagram of Redemption. It is just too
geometrical, with the Divinity and Humanity of Chalcedon's definition
little more than words which merge logically into the word Redemption.
The Chalcedon definition was not a blueprint but a brilliant thrust into
the surrounding darkness.
3. These two ways of presenting him accept a real Jesus of Nazareth
and use the Gospels at least as a starting point. But there are ways of
by-passing Jesus altogether while keeping the name Christ.
There are those for whom the question whether Jesus actually did and
said what the Gospels relate completely misses the point. What matters
is the message, the meaning. The message of a parable, the meaning, the
whole value in fact, is exactly the same whether there was or was not a
Prodigal Son, say, or a Good Samaritan: so with the Gospel Jesus. But we
are redeemed by what Jesus did, illumined by what he said. The critics
can help us to see meaning and message more clearly, so can the
theologians and the canonists: but meaning and message matter because
they are Christ's.
That way of by-passing Jesus is for the scholar, the academic man.
This next one is definitely not. The name of Christ is uttered against
the established order ecclesiastical, political or economic.
There is small sign that the Gospels have been closely studied. Christ
is too often a slogan, a name given the ideals and indignations of the
individual who uses his name.
We hear more and more of the duty of seeing Christ not in
first-century Palestine but in our fellow-men. It is a vast commitment,
to love others as we should love Christ, to serve others as we should
serve Christ. But unless we know the first-century Christ, the Christ
that actually was, what is it that we are seeing in others and calling
If Jesus himself fades into the back of men's minds, his message will
not last: its power over men has always lain in its being his: the
Gospel words live with his life, they are not just words but words
issuing from one who had compassion on the multitude, who in the agony
of his crucifixion begged God to forgive his torturers. What Jesus said
and did is basic both to an understanding of the theology that the
Church has developed and to an evaluation of the insights and
reinterpretations now pouring out from the men who devote their lives to
To repeat, the main object of religious teaching should be to help
the student, in the measure of his own personal maturing, to grow in
intimacy with Jesus himself, and in understanding of the light he sheds
on God and on human life.
JESUS IN THE GOSPELS
What I am trying to do in this small book is to show how the Gospels
may be used for this purpose. Our study of the God from whom Jesus came
forth should be based on the words the Gospels record. All the truths
which come from Jesus himself Redemption, Eternal Life, Church,
doctrine, sacraments, morals should be studied as we hear him
phrase them. This applies particularly to the living of our lives and
our duties to others. It is not enough to have worked out our own ideas
on how life, individual or social, should be lived and garnish them with
any texts in which we find him agreeing with us. This comes very close
to preaching not Christ but oneself.
Teachers will decide how to cover the ground in primary schools and
high schools. Provided it has been thoroughly covered, the same
principles can be applied more deeply and widely in college or
university. If it has not, then the same ground had better be covered
The rest of this chapter is in the nature of soundings. It is my idea
of what a study of Jesus at school level might contain. Another man
might choose differently. But he, like me, would draw his material from
the Gospels. There is nowhere else to draw it from.
I have already suggested that the character of Jesus should be
studied as the character of Hamlet would be if Shakespeare's play were
set for an examination. Has Jesus a character in this sense? The devout
believer has tended to see him, perfect in mind and perfect in body,
moving majestically on a course willed for him by his Father and charted
for him in the Old Testament, himself as a matter of course making the
one ideal response to every situation as it arose, barely reacting
individually until he finds himself in Gethsemane.
But his soul was a created soul, finite therefore, the intellect not
omniscient, the will not automatically one with the Father's, as he
showed in Gethsemane. And his body had reached him, says the New
Testament, from a long ancestry, forty generations back to David how many back to the beginning of the
human race? As we have noted, he was not simply Man. He was this
individual man, with his own human powers and limitations.
So we study him. We might begin with his way of speaking, not merely
to the multitude, sermon-like, but to individuals. Loving-kindness is
very far from being the whole picture. His speech is terse and to the
point, with no sentimentality at all. Most of what he said would not go
very well with most of the statues and paintings.
We are told that he loved "his own" (the Apostles) "to
the end" (John 13.1), that he had a special love for one of them,
that he loved the family at Bethany, Martha and Mary and Lazarus; that
he loved the Rich, Young Man who left him "sorrowing because he had
great possessions." These are all the occasions I recall. And while
we are told that he loved them, we do not hear him say so.
Only four or five people do we hear him praise: Nathanael, "an
Israelite without guile" (John 1.47); a pagan centurion (Matthew
8.11); a scribe "You are not far from the
kingdom" (Mark 12.34); Mary of Bethany "She has chosen the better
part" (Luke 10.42); John the Baptist "No man born of woman is greater
than he" (Luke 7.28).
It would be a solid gain for the student to consider in their context
all the sayings of Jesus to individuals. We have referred to "Get
thee behind me, Satan," spoken to Peter. Add to that all we are
told of his saying to the Twelve, and we are left wondering how he ever
decided to build his Church on them. When the Gentile woman begged him
to heal her daughter, he asked her if she expected him to feed the bread
of the children (the Jews) to dogs. But he did work the miracle. Come to
think of it, he praised her, too, for her faith and partly, at least, for her ready
wit (Matthew 15.28).
Then there is the power of his anger. "The harlots shall enter
the kingdom of God before you" (Matthew 21.31). "You are like
whitewashed tombs...full of dead men's bones and all filthiness"
(Matthew 23.27). Matthew gives these two in the week between Palm Sunday
and Good Friday: they did nothing to save Jesus from death. From the
beginning of his Public Life, at least, he knew the death that awaited
him; he feared it but never swerved, said and did whatever had to be
done, thus only making it more certain. Look especially at the long
attack on the Establishment in Matthew's twenty-third chapter. There is
no greater passage of invective in all literature.
What it all comes to is that his love was a mightier thing than we
have realized. The whole mixture that was himself poured into it. In it
he went to his death, praying for his enemies.
But what kind of man was he inside himself? We need to read
carefully. He challenges his critics: "Who shall convict me of
sin?" Hebrews says that he was tested like us in all things but
without sin (4.15). Surely those last three words are a surprising
postscript to be tossed off so casually. They certainly make some
difference to the likeness of Christ's testing to ours! Was he in fact
tempted as temptation is known to us? "Tempted" in Scripture
usually means "tested" not, as with us, "attracted."
Tested he certainly was; but was he in any sense attracted by, and so
forced to cope with, some pleasure forbidden because sinful? We could
know only if he told us, and he does not.
Indeed he tells us almost nothing, in words, of his own feelings.
Again and again he spoke, so very unemotionally, of the death that
awaited him. How early he knew of it, he does not say.
Very close to the end he said: "If I am lifted up, I will draw
all men to me" (John 12.32), and John comments: "He said this
to show by what death he would die." But he had used the same
phrase two years earlier at the beginning of his Public Life; very soon
after Cana, when he spoke of his being lifted up for the healing of
mankind (John 3.14). And he used it once in between. So from Cana to
Calvary he walked in the shadow of death. But until Gethsemane he only
once expresses any emotion about it, and that emotion was impatience:
"There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how I am
constrained till it be accomplished" (Luke 12.50).
He was speaking of baptism in his own blood on Calvary (as we see
from Mark 10.38), and he wanted it to happen (if only to get the strain
over?). Yet when it was actually upon him, the blood poured out of him
as sweat pours and he begged his Father to let the cup pass from him, if
that might be his Father's will. That sweat of blood was a measure of
the anguish which had caused him to say "Get behind me, Satan"
to Peter, when that impetuous person urged that he must not suffer and
die. To return to a question we have already glanced at: Was he asking
his Father for what he had called Satanic when Peter urged it on him or
is there some element we are overlooking? We must look deeper.
I think the key to understanding lies in Jesus' reference at the Last
Supper (Luke 22.37) to a verse of Isaiah which had to be fulfilled in
him and was now being fulfilled: "He was numbered among the
transgressors" (Isaiah 53.12). The whole verse reads: "He
poured out his soul to death and was numbered among the transgressors,
yet he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the guilty."
Already in the same chapter Isaiah had written: "He was wounded for
our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. Upon him was the
chastisement that made us whole, and with his scourging we are
healed." Peter sums it up for us: "On the cross his own body
bore our sins" (1 Peter 2.24).
It is Jesus' reference to Isaiah which shows us, as it had shown
Peter, that it was the weight of mankind's sins which constituted
Gethsemane's deepest agony. He was not simply asking to be spared
suffering and death (which was what Peter had urged upon him). He had
accepted to be so identified with the sinful race of men that their sins
could become his burden. We have no experience to tell us what such an
identification would mean in its actuality. But we are shown something
of what it meant to Jesus: "He began to be greatly distressed and
troubled. And he said to them, 'My soul is very sorrowful, even to
death'" (Mark 14.33-4). The cup was now at his lips. He had known
theoretically what it was to be. The reality was beyond all theorizing.
I have taken these three texts "How I am constrained till it be
accomplished," "Let this cup pass from me," "Get
thee behind me, Satan" as an example of how closely we must
weigh one part of the Gospels against another. We cannot simply race
through them at a hand-gallop. The Gospels are not easy to read. Nor is
WHO WAS HE? WHAT WAS HE?
Meeting him in the Gospels, listening to him, we are left in no doubt
that he is a man, but there are too many things said and done by him
which fall outside human limits. Students should be encouraged to note
instances of this sort. I am not thinking of the great special events the Virgin Birth (told so
matter-of-factly by Matthew and Luke that only a failure to see any
value in virginity could lead to its rejection), the Miracles, the
Foretellings, the Resurrection but what we may call his daily habit.
He is man, but manhood does not wholly explain him, does not wholly
We note, for instance, his unvarying assumption of something special
in himself, something different, something not in other men save
inasmuch as he gave it to them. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 8)
is full of this assumption. "I have come not to destroy the law and
the prophets" (startling enough to his countrymen) "but to
fulfill them" (perhaps more startling still). He goes on to develop
on no authority but his own three of the commandments on murder
and adultery and false swearing, commandments given by God through
Moses. The first reaction of his hearers must have been "Who does
he think he is?" We ourselves had better look closely at precisely
the same question.
There is the name he gave himself, "The Son of Man" never used by his followers, and
practically vanishing with him. It answered no question, merely showed
there was a question to which they must find the answer. It was a
strange name with which to claim powers almost all of which exceed man's
measure. "The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins,"
"is Lord of the Sabbath," "will be seen at the right hand
of God's power," "will come with power to execute
Only the Father Knows the Son
Phrases like these could only have added to the shocks he had given
in the Sermon on the Mount. But he was to speak of another Sonship that
was his, incomparably beyond anything the phrase Son of Man could mean.
"No one knows the Son but the Father, and no one knows the Father
but the Son, and anyone to whom the Son shall reveal him" (Matthew
11, Luke 10).
He is asserting a unique equality of interknowledge between his
Father and himself, each knowing the other as no man knows either. It
all flows from him so naturally no hint of originality, no air of
saying something that could only be explained by being explained away.
It is the kind of saying that we might have expected to find in John's
Gospel: we find it in Matthew's and Luke's.
To all who accept him Jesus is clearly Man Plus. The Plus is
differently read by different Churches and individuals, but all agree
that it lies in the uniqueness of his relation with the Father. He is
the God-man, whether those who use the phrase believe him both God and
Man, or only a man indwelt by God, possessed by God, inspired by God as
no other man ever has been or could be. For us it is the first. He is
God the Son, he is man: "God sent his son, born of a woman"
(Galatians 4.4). His double sonship of God, of Mary matters to us because, as Paul goes on
to say, in it we are redeemed, in it we receive the adoption of sons.
At every point what Christ says is the root. What the New Testament
writers made of it, what the Church has made of it, what we ourselves
are going to make of what Church and New Testament have given us, must
grow out of that root.
As I have said, the whole of this study of Christ consists in taking
soundings in the Gospels. That is what I have done with the phrases I
have been quoting. The teacher will know them all, will know those
other, in some ways profounder, phrases quoted by John's Gospel,
together with the assumptions of divinity in the Epistles out of which
the doctrine of the Incarnation has grown. And he will know the relation
between Incarnation and Trinity, the mysterious threefoldness shown to
us in Christ's revealing of the inmost life of God.
For the revelation of two selves within the One God did not end what
Christ was to show of the Inner Life of God. There was a Third self: the
Pneuma, the Breath, which we translate spirit (it might interest the
younger ones to know that we use the Greek word in pneumatic drill, to
say nothing of pneumonia). To begin to grasp what Christ Jesus is
telling us of himself (and ultimately of our own selves) we must see
something of his relation to all Three.
Trinity and Incarnation
The Catholic is not forced to claim that the whole of what the Church
teaches on Trinity and Incarnation can be found in Scripture though I'm not saying it cannot! But
God is communicating with us through both Church and Scripture and we
can safely rely on their harmony even when an occasional difficulty in
harmonizing reminds us that we are dealing with a reality without
parallel, into the understanding of which we are still growing, and for
whose full utterance human language lacks the resources. The evangelists
did not "theologize" or philosophically analyze the God-man
reality they had lived with in Jesus and recorded in the Gospels. But
the explanation of what they recorded began very soon after, and has
In crude summary we can set it out as the Church has grown with it,
using the opening of John's Gospel as the clue: "In the beginning
was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." Since
God is a spirit, the Word that is "with him" cannot be one of
our sounded words, but a word uttered in the mind, an Idea. And this
Idea, John says, was God. Idea of what? Of himself. God knowing himself
with infinite knowing power, conceives within his own being an Idea (or
Concept) of himself. The Idea is totally adequate, by which I mean that
there is nothing in the God who conceives the Idea-of-himself that is
not in the Idea-of-himself that he conceives! The Idea then is infinite,
eternal, omniscient, omnipotent; is God as the thinker is, Someone as
the thinker is, a Second Self or Person equal to the First with a received equality indeed, but
an equality wholly given. The Second Self is distinct, for a thought is
not its thinker, but is inseparable, since a thought cannot exist save
by going on being thought!
I have called this crude: but beginnings tend to be. John himself
must have wondered how much he had managed to say. After the opening
phrases he says "Son" in place of "Word." And we can
see a connection between a thinker uttering his whole being in a word
and a father uttering his whole being in a son. Yet we must always
remember that both Word and Son are metaphors drawn from human
experience: for beings who had no lungs and did not procreate angels, say other metaphors would have had to be
found. A dozen verses later, John goes back to the Word (logos in Greek,
by the way): "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we saw
his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of
grace and truth." His Gospel does not use it again.
It was the genius of St. Augustine which saw Father and Son combining
in an utterance of total love, so that the divine nature is filled with
their love, and a third self is produced, a self equal to them in all
things, since they have withheld nothing that is theirs. Jesus and the
New Testament writers call the Third One the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps what most directly affects us in the Trinity is that God's
love, like God's knowledge, is Someone, not something only.
In interpreting what the New Testament has to tell of Trinity and
Incarnation, the Church indeed the vast majority of Christians
until very recently makes use of two keywords, Person (who
one is) and Nature (what one is). In Christ there was one Person, God
the Son. He had two natures, the nature of God which was his from his
Father eternally, and the nature of man, spirit embodied or body
enspirited, conceived in Mary's womb. The one same Jesus who said
"Whatever I see my Father doing, I do in like manner" could
also say "I thirst," "My soul is sorrowful even unto
death." It sounds like two different people speaking. Yet it is the
same I, which in the first statement asserts limitless power and in the
other admits weakness. The least one can say is that one person is
operating on two levels. Did anyone but Christ ever use "I" to
express both humanity and divinity?
How is this mass of reality to be shown to the young in such a way
that they can know what is being said, grow into it, possess it vitally,
be possessed by it? "Grow into it" is the key phrase. It
cannot simply be handed to them as a set of formulas to be memorized,
then filed away in the back of the mind to be fished out when someone an examiner, perhaps, or an unbeliever
asks about it. Our Lord did not do
that to his Apostles; no one should do it to anyone.
Dogmatic definitions are not blueprints, least of all this of the one
Person and two Natures. They widen the area of light, but the light is
ringed with darkness all the same. The students must be shown the
inevitability of mystery and its splendor.
Mystery, we have noted, is the atmosphere in which all must be seen.
Seeing reality can be an exhilarating experience; really seeing it
includes seeing why we cannot see more of it. To put it in one phrase,
we cannot know God as he knows himself, we cannot know one another or
even ourselves as well as our Creator knows them and us. Yet the light
into which we can grow is life-giving.
The student should be constantly aware that mystery is inescapable:
mystery in the form of truths we cannot yet see how to reconcile with
one another, mystery in the even harder form of happenings we cannot see
how to reconcile with God's goodness the suffering of animals (which for me
is wholly dark) or the possibility of happiness for the saved in heaven
while fellow-men are suffering in hell (in which I can see a bare gleam
If we know why we cannot see, the darkness is a kind of light, and we
need not be annoyed at not being omniscient. If we accept Christ, we
know that he knows every situation better than we do, and has more love
in him than we have.
It may be hard to persuade the students that discussion of God's
inner life is relevant. As I have already said, all one may be able to
do at first is show the "structure" of the Trinity as
interesting for the mind, like Pythagoras' theorem,
A linear labyrinth towering
From its perch on the top of a square.
The Trinity may enter their minds not as true, only as a curious idea
that Christians hold. But once it is in, it may do its own work upon
One might begin with the idea everyone has of himself. Your students
will admit that the idea we have of ourselves is far from adequate, i.e.
we do not know ourselves very well: we discover this afresh each time we
do something that leaves us startled at ourself ("I didn't know I
was like that"), again when our dearest friend criticizes us. God,
simply by being God, naturally knows himself perfectly why should an infinite God want an
inadequate notion of the self he already knows perfectly? So his idea of
himself, as we have noted, lacks nothing that he has, is wholly equal to
himself, Someone as he is Someone, God as he is God. Yet not identical,
but a distinct Person, a second Self.
Get them back to their own self-idea. However much a man may admire,
even love, his idea of himself, he does not think of it as returning his
admiration, loving him back, so to speak. For his idea is only an idea,
something not Someone. But the Father's idea of himself is Someone and
can return his love. They can combine in an act of love which has in it
all that they have and are. The one Godhead, totally uttered in the
Second Person as knowledge, is totally uttered in the Third as love.
Three, each wholly God, yet but one God as a man with an idea in his mind and
love in his will is still one man, and would remain so, even if the idea
and the love grew to the point of total equality with the man himself.
Can they see it as relevant, having any bearing on their own lives? I
have one piece of evidence. In my first ten years of teaching the Faith
in the open air, I soft-pedalled the Trinity, concentrated on the one
person God. I got nowhere with the crowd. In the forty years in which I
taught the Trinity, I made the discovery that nothing gripped the
crowd's interest so tight. And this is a point on which a street-corner
speaker cannot fool himself. If a crowd is not interested, it goes away.
It is easier to hold them on the Trinity than on Civil Rights or even
the Spanish Inquisition.
To return to our special theme, the God-man. If the students are
encouraged really to think, they may carry the teacher deeper than he
had expected into the reality of Christ.
They will be interested in Christ's sinlessness, for one thing,
feeling that if he never committed a sin, then he was not completely
human. It is worth dwelling on this. Men do indeed sin: but this does
not make them more human, it diminishes them as men. Compare sins with
physical defects. All men have some, of various levels of seriousness.
But one is not more of a man for having cancer or toothache or
indigestion or weak eyes. If there were a man who had no physical
defects at all, he would be a more complete man; so would one who had no
But why was this man sinless? Was it an incapacity to find any
attraction in the forbidden, or only that he could not yield to it? Or
did the divinity of his person exercise a continuing veto? These
questions arise if the student's mind is in action, and not only his
memory. It is right that he should use his mind on them, but always with
the awareness that Jesus is not under his microscope or on his
psychiatric couch. About other people one may guess. From our experience
of life one may feel that the odds are that they will react thus or thus
for this or that reason, just as experience shows us that people
It is rather like applying to man's motives and actions the
statistical averages of life expectations and illness and accidents on
which insurance companies base their policies. But even these are only
averages, with individuals going far higher and far lower. And on a
God-man there are no statistical averages, for there has only been one.
The only authority on Christ is Christ. And on this matter of his
internal response to things men in general find attractive he has not
It is the same with his human knowledge. How much did he know of his
own divinity, which includes the question, How much could a finite mind
know? How early did he know it? What did it mean to him? His manhood was
not an appearance, adopted for better communication with men. He was
genuinely man, with a finite mind, learning as men learn therefore. The
Trinity cannot be known by a finite mind unless God reveals it. How did
Jesus' human mind know it? He does not tell us: nor does he tell us how
he knew of his own unique Sonship.
Theologians discuss his knowledge under three heads experimental, prophetic, beatific
vision. Of the third we cannot say much at the students' level it is the direct vision of God, with
neither images nor ideas, and they would not gain very much from a
discussion of how it could be translated into terms of human experience:
in any event we do not, so to speak, catch Jesus using beatific vision
in the Gospels. Experimental knowledge, the knowledge which goes with
being a man, intellect working on what reaches the mind through the
senses, we see in him all the time. And we see prophetic knowledge,
given to him (as to the prophets) directly by God with a view to the
work he had to do reading men's minds, knowing what
friends and enemies would do, knowing what God willed for himself to do.
The area of his knowledge did it include modern science, for
instance? he does not tell us: we can speculate
if we like. We can say that Einstein's relativity does not seem
specially relevant to the work he had been sent to do. But what he does
tell us is enough for a lifetime study.
THE MAN JESUS AND THE FATHER
Students might be helped towards growth in intimacy with Jesus by
considering what it must have meant to him, at whatever age his human
mind came to it, to know that he, the carpenter from Galilee, was the
Son of the Father, the Second Person of the Trinity to know it with the same sort of
intellect as ours, to respond to it with an emotional structure like
ours. The reverse question what it must have meant to God the Son
that he should be the person, the self, in a human nature is beyond our gaze (which may not stop
The one thing certain is that whatever may be the duties of a person
to the nature that is his, this was one person who could fulfil them
with total adequacy. He would, for instance, have been failing in the
highest duty if he had not uttered in prayer his manhood's adoration,
thanksgiving, petition. Students should consider all the prayers of
Jesus recorded in the Gospels. It is clear that God the Son was not
simply doing his duty to the human nature he has made his own by
expressing what it wanted expressed. He was expressing human thoughts
and emotions indeed, but they were his own.
For the relation of his will to his Father's, six texts should be
looked at specially: "My food is to do the will of him that sent me
and to accomplish his work" (John 4.34); "Father, save me from
this hour. But no. For this purpose I have come to this hour" (John
12.27); "Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me.
Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done" (Luke 22.42); "My
God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27.46);
"Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23.46);
"Though he was Son, he learned obedience by the things he
suffered" (Hebrews 5.8).
THE MAN JESUS AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
We remind ourselves that within the Godhead there was already a
relation of the Person who was to become the man Jesus to the Holy
Spirit. He proceeded from the Father, the Holy Spirit proceeded from him
and the Father. As man he was indwelt and guided by the same Spirit of
whom as God he was co-producer. His human nature needed light and
strength, beyond its own power to provide, as ours does. As man he
needed the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as we do. This indwelling he
had at every moment. But when some new and special thing had to be done
we read of the Spirit's special intervention. At the beginning of his
Public Life, the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove.
Immediately after this, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert the Greek word means
"thrust," almost "hurled." At the Last Supper, Jesus
gives as sufficient reason for his leaving the world to be with his
Father, that if he did not go the Spirit would not come (John 16.17),
which casts light upon the comment John had made that "the Spirit
could not yet be given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John
7.39). The Spirit had sent him into the desert: once he was glorified,
he would send the Spirit into the world. On the day of his Resurrection
he appeared to the Apostles, "breathed on them and said, 'Receive
the Holy Spirit.'" Leaving the world, he told them: "You shall
receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be
my witnesses...to the end of the earth" (Acts 1.8).
On Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended on them in the form of tongues
of fire, as once on Jesus in the form of a dove.
Acts is the Gospel of the Holy Spirit as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
are the Gospel of Jesus. What Jesus did for the Apostles in his life on
earth, the Spirit does for the Church. He does something else. There is
an upsurge of the Holy Spirit within the individual, issuing into
speaking in tongues unknown to him. There are signs of a return among us
of possession by the Spirit. It can only profit from a study of the Holy
Spirit in relation to the Son both in himself and in the manhood he made
WHAT JESUS CAME TO DO
Our tendency is to assume that he had come to do whatever we
ourselves see as most needed by mankind. There is a mood today in which
he is seen as a Proletarian Agitator: but from himself we hear no word
of condemnation for either the Roman occupation of his country or the
social-economic order. The poisonous root of all exploitation lies in
the heart of man. He went direct to the root.
The class should dwell on the half-dozen statements he makes of the
reason for his coming. "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the
lost" (Luke 19.10) he said that as his reason for
entering the house of Zacheus, a swindling tax-extorter. "I came
not to call the righteous but sinners" this was about another tax-extorter,
Levi, who became the Apostle Matthew. Phrases like these link with the
name Jesus "Yahweh saves" and with the reason given to Joseph
for the choice of the name, "because he will save his people from
their sins." And all the other reasons Jesus gives flow directly
out of them "to bear witness to the
truth," "that men may have life and have it more
abundantly": truth and life are the two gifts a sinful world,
muddled and devastated, needs.
To Save His People from Their Sins
There is a notion around today that in giving his two commandments of
love Jesus was abolishing all other laws, so that the only sin he really
objected to was legalism. Against this notion, glance at the list of
sins which he says "defile a man," that is make him dirty:
"evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false
witness, slander" (Matthew 15.19). The woman he saved from stoning
to death for adultery he told to "sin no more"; he said the
same to the two paralytics: he was not warning them to be less
legalistic in future. The healing of the paralytic at Capharnaum is the
only miracle that he said he was working to prove a point, namely that
he had "power on earth to forgive sins."
In bringing together a text of Deuteronomy and a text of Leviticus "Love God with your whole heart
and soul and strength," "Love your neighbor as yourself" and saying "On these two the Law
and the Prophets depend," Jesus provided the moral law with a new
rationale, a new life principle. All individual sins are ways of failing
in the one love or the other, that is what is wrong with them. And that
is why he can take sin more seriously than most of his followers do: to
the point of attaching eternal separation, from himself and so from his
Father in heaven, to a whole series of failures in love of neighbor, all
of them being acts of self-love.
To Give Testimony to the Truth
He took sin more seriously than most of us tend to. He took truth
more seriously too. "The truth will make you free." Truth is
reality as known. Not to know what is true is darkness. We are to
"walk in the light," entering into and growing in the
knowledge of God and man and human life. Every new thing known about God
is a new reason for loving him.
The utterance of religious truth in words is by many dismissed these
days as mere statement or proposition: all that matters is
"impact" what truth does to us, the vibrations
it causes in us. Impact is necessary, of course: but if we have not
studied the actual utterance, we shall not know what has hit us. And
without words we shall not be able to communicate either truths or
impact to others: it is not enough to vibrate at one another.
THE REDEEMING SACRIFICE
The week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday fills a good quarter of
the Gospels. In that week, specifically in its last few days, the world
was redeemed. How was Redemption achieved? What did it accomplish?
Externally what happened was that a majority of the seventy members
of the Jewish Sanhedrin handed over Jesus to the Roman Procurator to be
sentenced to death that the death was by crucifixion, that Jesus rose
from death; he moved among his followers for forty days, and ascended to
the right hand of the Father. As we have seen in the two years of his
Public Life, Jesus lived in the shadow of this death, in fear of it, but
never deviating from the road that led inevitably to Calvary.
Two things particularly must be considered about his slaying: the
first, who did the actual slaying; the second, what it meant i.e., What in fact did Jesus see
himself as doing or undergoing?
1. To find the Jewish people guilty of his slaying is sheerly
idiotic, shamefully idiotic. The overwhelming majority even of those
living at the time did not know it was happening. The Jews living
outside Palestine, greater in number than those inside, could have heard
of it only after it had happened. The same is true of those that lived
in Palestine Galilee and Judea unless they had come up to Jerusalem
for the Passover.
What of these last Jews actually in Jerusalem at the
time? We note that the rulers had to (1) "do it secretly for fear
of the people making a riot against his killing"; (2) induce the
pagan Romans to assume the responsibility. So it was all done at speed-
-the arrest late Thursday night, the crucifixion round midday Friday.
The pressure was put on Pilate by the Sadducees, a rich minority who
flourished by co-operating with the Roman conquerors the High Priests were Roman
appointees. In addition we hear a crowd, gathered early in the morning
before Pilate's judgment seat, shouting for his crucifixion. How many?
Not many, certainly. It could hardly have been more than the five
hundred of Jesus' followers by whom, as Paul tells us, he was seen alive
after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15.6). And that was the whole
share of the Jewish people in the crime.
2. What Jesus saw himself as doing we can easily overlook. The key to
it is in Luke's account of the Last Supper (22.37). Jesus speaks of a
Scripture which had to be fulfilled in him and was now in fact having
its fulfillment. "He was reckoned with the transgressors" a verse from the fifty: third chapter
of Isaiah. Thus directed by Jesus to that chapter, written six centuries
earlier, we find in it the scenario of his redemptive sacrifice. The
phrase quoted by Jesus as now being fulfilled in him goes on: "Yet
he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the guilty."
Think of other sentences in the same chapter: "He shall make
himself an offering for sin"; "He was wounded for our
transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the
chastisement that made us whole, and with his scourging we are
healed"; "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us
In his first Epistle Peter sums it up, "On the cross his own
body bore" (i.e., took the weight of) "our sins" (2.24).
RESURRECTION AND ASCENSION
These are not just happy sequels to the horror of Calvary. They were
the Sacrifice's necessary completion. At Calvary, Christ was not simply
a good man being executed by evil men. He was a priest, offering himself
as victim for the sinful race of men.
At the Last Supper he had changed bread into his body: "This is
my body which is given for you" (Luke 22.19). He had changed wine
into his blood: "This is my blood of the new covenant which is
poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26.28).
All the Old Testament sacrifices for sin had meant the offering to
God of a slain victim. The slaying could be done by others the Temple servants, for instance. But
the offering could be made only by the priest. So it was on Calvary. As
priest Jesus offered himself, the victim slain by others.
Calvary was the sacrifice towards which all those earlier sacrifices
were feeling. After it there would be no others. It was sacrifice in its
perfection. In the Resurrection, God showed his approval of the
offering, as never in the prefiguring, by restoring life to the Victim.
Beyond that there remained one "completion" never before
possible: God actually took to himself the Victim offered to him. What
could he have done with a roasted ox or a blood-drained goat? The
Ascension was the outward sign of that ultimate completion.
It was an oddity of Apologetic that Christians continued so long to
use the Resurrection as sufficient proof of Christ's divinity- -though
he himself had given the warning that there are those who would not
believe, even if one rose from the dead (Luke 16.31). In fact people
today will not accept the Resurrection unless (1) they already believe
in Christ's divinity; and (2) they see a meaning in his rising from the
People are suspicious that any happening outside the normal the Virgin Birth, for instance has simply been invented to make the
hero seem more wonderful. So they dismiss the fact of the Resurrection
and concentrate on the meaning that death is not an end but a
beginning. It is true, of course, that the meanings of both Virgin Birth
and Resurrection matter enormously. But if neither happened, then the
meaning does not arise; there was nothing to mean it, so to speak. One
has only buttressed a nice idea with a fairy tale.
With the death on Calvary mankind's redemption was achieved. But
Christ's redemptive activity the application of what was won on
Calvary to the race and to each member of the race continues. "Christ Jesus...at the
right hand of God intercedes for us," Paul told the Romans (8.34).
Hebrews puts this in more detail: "He holds his priesthood
permanently, so he is able for all time to call those who draw near to
God through him, since he always lives to make intercession"
(7.24). He is still priest, offering himself, once slain, now forever
living, to his Father for the sins of the world. Of itself Christ's
death does not make men holy. It made salvation possible, but each must
join Christ in making it actual for himself. What was it that he had
WHAT REDEMPTION IS
Calvary was an answer to all the ways of man's refusal to be at one
with God (hence the word "at-one-ment" which we render
unrecognizable by pronouncing it atonement).
The refusal of obedience, for instance, was balanced by
"obedience unto death, even to the death of the cross." Man's
refusal to give himself wholly to God was balanced by Christ's total
self-giving "Not as I will but as thou
wilt," "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."
Man's refusal to love neighbor as self was balanced by "Father,
forgive them, for they know not what they do."
All this happened in his human soul and body. His divinity did not
save him from suffering. And the first effect of his sacrifice happened
within himself. "He was established as Son of God in power" dynamis that is, he was established in the
existence as man which was proper to the only-begotten Son of God (Acts
10.38). It was not simply conferred upon him by his Father, he had
earned it in fear and trembling, as we must earn our share in it.
Hebrews 5.9 tells us that by his sufferings he was made perfect. In the
man Christ Jesus the self-offering cancelled all that lay between human
nature and God. And in some way this means salvation for men: "God
in giving life to Christ, gives it to us" (Ephesians 2.5).
I am not one of those who think today's young will see Christ and his
work all the clearer if they begin by spending some time on Salvation
History in the Old Testament. Christ and revelation history each shed
light on the other, but the light Christ sheds is incomparably greater.
This, I think, applies especially to Adam and Original Sin. All my
own experience shows that if we begin with Adam we get tangled up in
evolution and never reach Redemption at all. Christ's sacrifice has won
salvation for men who have never heard of Adam. What he did for us as we
now are can be stated without reference to Genesis. In the light of what
Christ did for its healing, we can consider the breach between the human
race and God at the race's origin without risk of confusion.
But if the teacher sees that his pupils read all Our Lord's Old
Testament references within context, it will be a good preparation for
the study of the Old Testament which should at some point be done.
For a great many students any talk of bulls and goats and temple
servants may seem like a kind of raving, treating the nauseating
cruelties of a long-dead ritual as if it could conceivably matter to us.
Remind them that we are trying to find what his own dying meant to
Christ. Their abolition meant something to him four times, I think, he quotes the
prophet Hosea's words "Obedience is better than sacrifice":
but they lay in the line of spiritual development which led to himself,
and through him to the Christian world of today, and in whatever may be
in wait for Christ's followers till the world ends.
But apart from that, your students will certainly ask how Jesus'
suffering could possibly have brought salvation or anything else to
anyone but himself who suffered it.
One has heard Redemption "explained" monstrously, as if
Christ had said to his Father: "All men deserve death. Would you
mind killing me instead of them?" But that was not the way of it.
It was rather as if he had said: "For doing your will, teaching
your will, speaking against evil representatives, I am to be killed.
Will you accept my death and apply it to all men's needs?" That
this request should not be pure presumption depends on his unique
personal relation with the Father.
The students will still want to know what possible connection there
is between Christ and us which would give sense to such a use of his
suffering for our healing. There is mystery here: it simply cannot be
stated geometrically. But we can glimpse it, see it in the context of
Christ's unique personality, begin to live mentally and emotionally,
grow in its light. As in so many matters, not only of religion, we can
feel more than we can say, but what we do manage to say can enrich the
We may approach this particular mystery in two stages:
1. We are in some way identified with Christ in life and death. The
identification means that what is done to us his brethren is done to
him. Jesus had said if you give or refuse food or drink "to the
least of these my brethren, you are doing it to me." When Saul, who
was to be Paul, was on his way to Damascus to continue his persecuting
of Christians, he heard a voice challenging him: "Saul, why do you
persecute me?" He asked "Who are you, Lord?" And the
answer came: "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9.5).
2. But the mystery went both ways: what had been done to him was in
some mysterious way done to us: his brethren were mysteriously involved
in what he did and suffered. Paul makes a wonderful effort to say the
unsayable to the Galatians: "With Christ I am nailed to the cross,
it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." The
identification is a reality not a fiction. We have been reborn. By birth
we enter into life, by a second birth we enter into a second life. And
none of this is mere words. Consider what Our Lord says depends on it:
"Unless one is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot
enter the kingdom of God" (John 3.5).
For the thirty or forty years before John's Gospel was published,
rebirth was seen by the Church as the whole point of redemption. From
the kind of men we are by birth we are to be reborn into the possibility
of being the kind of man Christ was. From the life of fallen man we are
reborn into the life of Christ. Listen to Paul: "Baptized in
Christ, we have put on Christ" (Galatians 3.27). "If anyone is
in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5.17). "Put on
the new nature created after the likeness of Christ" (Ephesians
It is tragic that we drown the meaning of Christ-ened in the
pronunciation christened "crissened," heaven help us.
Christening, mispronounced, is thought to mean "naming":
whereas it means being built into Christ, made members of him. Would all
godfathers and godmothers go as lightheartedly to a Christ-ening as they
so often go to a christening?
Life in Christ had been the atmosphere of life in the Church for
sixty years before John's Gospel. You find the words "in
Christ" all over the writings of Paul and the rest. John shows us
Christ emphasizing its reality. "I am the life," he said at
the Last Supper. If he had said "I have the life," we could
have said "Please give it to us": since he said "I am the
life," we can but say "Please, Lord, live in us." And
that is what he does, but with a special addition there is to be a two-way in-living, he
in us and we in him.
And living in Christ brings us into life-giving union with the
Blessed Trinity. At the Last Supper Jesus summarizes redemption: "I
in my Father, and you in me, and I in you."
This is all so different from the atmosphere in which they live their
daily lives that some of your students may mock at you for saying it rather like the haw haw of a yokel
when he is told that the sun doesn't go round the earth. (He knows it
does he has seen it.) But even the more
serious students, to say nothing of ourselves, may find no attraction in
it not enough attraction in it anyhow to
drive them to the effort, first of finding out what is being said, then
of so living in the light of it and relating their lives to it, that it
becomes their natural light.
They can, of course, decide that it is simply not for them which is like choosing to live in a
pre-Copernican world, round which the sun can in good weather be seen to
travel every twenty-four hours.
Short of thus abandoning it, they can learn it, put it away in the
mind's files, where it can be gathering dust unless something forces
them to look at it once more and find that what they had come to
remember as part of their childhood's faith is the very light in which a
grown man can richly live. Fortunately our everlasting future depends
not on what we know but what we love. But it is a pity not to realize to
what a degree love can be enriched by knowledge.
Here end our soundings into Jesus himself as we meet him in the
Gospels. How much can be taught how early must be for the teachers to
decide. At least the young should go out into college or into the world
with all of it given to them. Is this an unrealistic ideal? It is not an
ideal but a minimum, if the young are to be brought close to Christ Our
Lord. If it is unrealistic to try for it, God help us all.
III. Man's Life as Jesus Sees It
This chapter treats of the context of reality in which all must live.
Within that context each man lives out his own individual life, with a
variousness from one man to the next which would be dazzling if we dwelt
on it too long. But the reality within which all our so various lives
have to be lived is one and the same reality for all. One person differs
from another in how much he knows of the texture and shape of reality,
and differs again in how much each chooses to ignore of what he does
know because he feels he cannot cope with it to his own satisfaction, or
But the fundamental problem for everyone is what life is all about:
Why are we here, where are we supposed to be going, how are we to get
there? Above all, How do we know?
For a man to ask these questions and come to the conclusion either
that there is no way to find the answer or no answer to find is a grave
misfortune, dooming his life to ultimate meaninglessness, as he must end
in being swallowed up by the darkness from which for no special reason
he had emerged. But one who never gets round to asking them at all must
surely be mentally retarded, complacently living out his life in
The teacher should try to build these questions into the students'
mental structure, so that they never shed them but possess in them a
permanent touchstone for the testing of any idea or ideology presented
to them. I do not mean build the answers into their minds, only
themselves can do that. But answered or unanswered, there is health in
the very questions, a basis of maturity.
Observe that not only can science not answer the first question of
all; no science is even equipped to ask it why anything exists, why there isn't
nothing. Nor can any science tell us what is the point of the whole
carnival of existence. The answers can be known only on two conditions:
(1) that the universe is not simply an accident that happened to
happen but had a mind and a will at its origin God, Lord, Elohim, the names are in
(2) that the mind has communicated with us. God has communicated in
many ways, especially through the Prophets, most richly in Jesus.
Our concern as Christians is with the answer Jesus gives us. And it
is not a matter of choosing between his answer and others. There are no
others. It is his answer or nothing. Without him there is a cloud over
the origin of all things, and nothing as man's goal. For the believer in
him there is intelligence and love at man's origin, and fullness of life
in union with God as man's goal.
WHY ARE WE HERE?
Jesus accepted the superb insight or revelation uttered in Genesis,
developed in the later Old Testament, that God created all things
whatsoever by his will to create, needing no pre- existing material to
work on. The Old Testament Jews had no word for '-nothingness," but
would have rejected with horror the suggestion that anything could exist
independently of God and his all-power. Everything that exists (they had
no word for "existence" either) is held in being by his will.
In this "everything" the Old Testament came to see angels good
and bad, men living and dead, animals, plants, and non-living matter.
So indeed did Jesus. Any Christian who is embarrassed to find him
saying, "Their angels see the face of my heavenly Father
continually," or "Satan was a murderer from the
beginning," must de-barrass himself as best he can. For many a
Christian, indeed, it is just as embarrassing to find that he believes
that the dead not only survive Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive now
(Luke 20.37) but can be in contact with this world.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all have Moses and Elias talking with Jesus on
the Mountain of the Transfiguration Luke says the talk was about the death
he was to die in Jerusalem (so that concerned the dead too!).
The Old Testament's main concern is with man, especially in his
relation to the God who not only made him but made him in his own image
and likeness, made him therefore to love God and his fellow-men, made
him to till the earth, fill the earth, dominate the earth. Apart from
his will for men, the Old Testament tells little of what we may call
God's own life, least of all what we may call his inner life: With what
did he concern himself when not keeping the Jews on the right road?
As to the difference Jesus makes to our vision of God, the topic is
too vast, libraries would not cover it. As earlier, I can only take
soundings. Observe that the God of both Testaments is a personal God i.e., he knows and loves. The
Impersonal Absolute of Hindus and Greeks and any number of modern
Christians is not in Scripture: they would make nothing of a God to whom
a sparrow's death mattered. The teacher cannot do better than have his
students read what the Old Testament has to tell of God's love for men,
and God's desire to be loved by them. On all this the Old Testament is
as rich as the New.
But, as we have seen, Jesus opened the inner life of God to us as
even the Old Testament's spiritual masters had not known it. Only as we
come to grasp what he tells of the three selves within the divine
Oneness, can we see the profoundest truth about Jesus of Nazareth and
the greatest gift he brings to ourselves. For, as he shows, the purpose
of our being is to come to the fullness of our humanity in union with
Father, Son and Holy Spirit; not only that we travel the way to that undying
union in their company.
WHERE THE ROAD OF LIFE LEADS
So by the will of God we are on the road of life. But a point will
come suddenly if there is violence,
otherwise by slow wearing when the body can no longer respond to
the life-giving energies pouring into it from the soul. The body, no
longer vivified, falls away into its elements. We are dead. Is death the
Jesus says that it is not. It is the end of the road, certainly; but
not the end of life, not the end of you, of me. Listen to him: "Do
not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul"
(Matthew 10.28). The body's death does not mean death to the soul, the
psyche, the life principle in us. He reminded the Sadducees, who denied
survival, that Moses had "called the Lord the God of Abraham and
Isaac and Jacob," and that "He is not the God of the dead but
of the living" (Luke 20.38). On Calvary, Jesus says to the thief
dying alongside him, "This day you shall be with me in
Paradise" (Luke 23.43) we know where the two bodies were.
Death is a gateway through which all men must pass. To what? The
answer depends on what they have made of their individual selves- -the
selves they started off by being, the selves they have become. If they
love God and their neighbor, they go to the place Christ has "gone
to prepare," a place of everlasting joy in fullness of life. But if
self is what they have chosen, to the exclusion of God and their
fellow-men, then self is what they will get eternally, in the company of
all who have made the same bleak choice. Bleak it is. For self cannot
satisfy: there are too many needs in man that only God and other men can
meet. The self- elect have chosen final futility. Jesus makes it clear
that life is not just a game, with prizes for the winners and
consolation prizes for the losers. He gives no details of life in hell:
all the devils-and-pitchforks phantasmagoria is Dante, not Jesus. But he
uses the word "fire," and whatever he means by it, he does not
mean consolation prizes.
Men themselves make the decisive choice between love and self- love.
It is interesting that practically every instance of eternal loss Jesus
gives is of failure not in his first command, love of God, but in his
second, love of neighbor. It is the disciple whom Jesus loved who states
the principle: "If we do not love our neighbor whom we see, how
shall we love God whom we don't see?" (1 John 4.20).
A road has no purpose, life on it has no meaning, save in relation to
where it is leading. It is a kind of half-wittedness not to try to find
out where life's road leads: we'll be a long time dead, the brevity of
life is not just sermon stuff.
The materialist asserts that there is no life for us after death,
that nothing awaits us but a re-merging into the mindlessness of the
matter from which for no ultimate purpose each of us has emerged. He
cannot prove this assertion indeed he usually assumes that it
needs no proof: one has only to look: he has seen dead bodies and they
look so very dead. But what has he actually seen? Simply the destruction
of that in which, when he was alive, the owner of the body had done a
myriad observable things occupied space, walked, talked, sat,
slept, woke, spoke, ate, drank, gestured, laughed. But is that the whole
Certainly what we see a man doing is not the whole of his activity there are all the unobservable things,
and they are the governing things. There is his thinking, for instance,
and his deciding. No eye has ever seen either a thought or a decision,
no nose smelt it, no hand touched it, no palate tasted it. We may feel
that at least the ear can hear it. But the ear can hear only the sounds
in which the thought was uttered just as the eye can see the actions in
which a decision was carried out, but no eye ever saw a decision.
Certainly no one ever saw any thinking or deciding done by that which
he actually sees go into the grave or into the furnace. A materialist
may assume that there is no other element in man the element we call spirit to account for them, that the body
does the whole thing. But it is only an assumption and surely not very
probable. Thoughts, we have just noted, have none of the qualities we
associate with matter; and the gulf between thought and matter is even
wider when we consider so much of what our thoughts contain general ideas, ideals, philosophical
and mathematical systems, moral certainties.
One final point he may make against life after death: the raw
material out of which the mind produces thoughts comes to it through the
sense organs and the brain. How can it function when our sense organs
and brain have gone to dust?
You cannot simply look up a book and produce an answer. All you can
do is invite him to think along with you. How in daily life the spirit
"reads" the brain, takes over the information there gathered,
we cannot clearly see we are doing it all the time, but we
haven't a notion how. We cannot expect to see any more clearly how the
mind would function in a disembodied condition which we have not yet
experienced. But it is hard to see why it should not "read"
the material world as well as it now "reads" that piece of the
material world which is the human brain why should it not take it straight
rather than filtered?
I am not offering any of this as proof, but as a way of seeing
reality which has plenty to commend it. I don't think it answers
everything. But it shows that what can be seen happening to a dead body
does not settle the question of what has happened to the man. That in us
which does the thinking and deciding is intimately linked with the body
that goes to destruction: but is it identical with it? Above all, does
it go to destruction with it? Christ Our Lord says it does not. He tells
us that, for bliss or woe, there is survival.
But there is another way of attack on survival namely, to mock the after-life as
Christians are supposed to see it. There is Marx's friend Engels
sneering at "the tedium of personal immortality." There are
Marx's disciples sneering at the joy of the next life as cover for
capitalist exploitation in this: "Work all day, feed on hay/
There'll be pie in the sky when you die."
As against this the Christian has his own difficulties one in particular, namely that he
cannot see any joy in heaven to compensate for all the sins he must give
up in order to get there! Something inside him stirs as he hears such
jests as "The road to heaven is paved with lost opportunities of
enjoyment." He finds himself wondering, perhaps, if it might not be
possible to get an occasional weekend off from heaven's too perfect
If he be a believer of a more serious sort, harps and hosannas seem
to make an empty climax to the patternless misery and magnificence of
life. A philosophical proof that the soul is a spirit and survives will
not meet his deepest difficulties. Only what Jesus tells of the next
life will do that.
The Heaven of Jesus
The New Testament concentrates on one verb to express the activity of
heaven the verb "to see," which for
spiritual beings means primarily "to know." Christ speaks of
the angels who "see the face of my heavenly Father
continually?" (Matthew 18.10). Is this true of men too? It would
seem so: to Sadducees Jesus said of those "who attain to the
resurrection from the dead," that "they cannot die any more,
because they are equal to the angels." In any event John and Paul
leave us in no doubt. John says, "We shall see him as he is";
Paul sets it out in more detail. here below, he says, we do not look
directly at God himself, we see him as if in a mirror, "But in
heaven we shall see him face to face, we shall know him as he knows
us" (1 Corinthians 13.12).
This is what the Church has come to call the Beatific Vision, the
seeing which makes us happy. With our minds in direct contact with God
who is infinite Truth, our wills raised by that contact to a new power
of loving, ourselves united with all other beings similarly united with
God, we shall at last have reached our own maturity, individual and
social. We shall be complete human beings, no longer merely the material
out of which life is trying to hammer men and women fully human.
For the older students it may be well to look more closely at the
direct vision which is the key to what Scripture, to say nothing of the
Church, has to tell of heaven. By our natural powers as human beings, we
cannot know anything at all by direct knowledge, but always by means of
ideas or images. The mind needs a new way of knowing, a new vital
relation to reality: we get the first beginning of this precisely in our
rebirth into life in Christ. Here on earth this gives our intellect a
new relation to God in Faith, our will in Love, both in Hope. But it
reaches its full flowering in heaven. The question that matters at death
is whether we have the life in us. It is not to be thought of as a
passport to heaven, but as the condition of the direct vision of God
which is the essential of life in heaven: without it we could not live
A believer new to the doctrine may find himself saying, "Is that
all?" It sounds very noble, but not very gay. But both John and
Paul show the life in its flowering as unimaginably different from its
first green showings here on earth very much as one who had seen only
rosebushes could not imagine a rose. Paul warns us that only a fool
would try to make a fancy picture for himself of what the risen body
will be like (1 Corinthians 15); John says, "It does not yet appear
what we shall be," and this must be true of the whole of life
hereafter. The one thing certain is that heaven will surprise us.
One of man's greatest glories is his power of action: that will not
be reduced to Engels' "tedium of personal immortality," or to
any sort of stagnation however blissful! But what will the activity be?
At our present stage we cannot even be shown it in any graspable way,
any more than a nuclear physicist could explain to a primitive the
strange marks with which he is covering so much paper. The feeling we
have already referred to that it might be nice to have an occasional
weekend off from heaven is comparable to that of a small boy, revelling
in his cowboy outfit and unable to imagine what his elder brother sees
THE ROAD OF LIFE
So Jesus has told us why we are here, in two senses of
"why" by what cause, for what purpose God at our origin, God as our goal.
What has he to tell us of life on the way? Three things especially:
(1) that he will be with us on it: "I am with you all days till
the end of the world," "I am the way";
(2) that the gifts he had come to give for the travelling of the way truth, life he will continue to give, but through
men: for the preservation of both he founded his Church;
(3) that we must be born again, this being the essence of his answer.
The necessity of rebirth must have surprised his hearers almost as
much as his revelation of a Second Self within the divine Oneness. The
Old Testament knows nothing of rebirth. To men sure of their own
membership of the kingdom of God it could only be a shock to hear that
they must be born again of water and the Holy Spirit or they could not
The second birth means a second life, not annihilating the first or
taking its place, but to be lived along with it, until the two lives
grow into the harmony of total integrity. The making of that harmony is
our life-work: it is what we are here to do: in it we are making the
self which will abide eternally.
Theologians have come to speak of natural life the life we have simply by being men,
the life we are born into and super-natural life, the life in
Christ into which we are reborn. The terms can be misunderstood. But
they express a vital difference. Redemption is in them.
In the post-Gospel New Testament, the phrase "in Christ"
occurs round fifty times. He is to live in us, and we in him, he had
said at the Last Supper.
Of a two-way in-living the example best known to us is a living body
and its cells. Paul compares our life in Christ with that of a human
body and its parts, Christ himself compares it with a vine and its
branches: "He who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit."
Either way, the point is made: we are in the stream of Christ's life,
members of a body which is, mysteriously and really, his in that he is
its life-source; more closely related to one another than by any natural
family kinship. Living in him, we are indwelt by Father, Son and Holy
Spirit as he was: for the gifts he came to bring, he speaks especially
of the Holy Spirit, who within the Trinity subsists as Love.
Discuss carefully with your students the new powers which come with
the life especially Faith, Hope and Charity, by
which we are able to accept and love God and look forward to eternal
union with him; Prudence, Justice, Temperance, Fortitude, by which we
are able to handle ourselves and deal with others as God would have us.
They are spoken of as supernatural virtues, and in relation to the life
into which all are born they are without the indwelling of the Spirit,
they would be beyond our power. But it is better to think of them as
natural virtues of the indwelt man.
We must see the Sacraments as Christ at work in us for the service of
his life in us. God made man a union of matter and spirit, spirit
embodied or matter enspirited. There is a comparable union in the
Sacraments, material things bearing the Holy Spirit. Concentrate
especially on two of them: Baptism by which we are born into the new
life, the Eucharist as its daily food. Begin with what the Gospels show
of their meaning to Christ.
Baptism (from a Greek word meaning to bathe). When Jesus said,
"I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how I am constrained
until it be accomplished" (Luke 12.50), he was speaking of the
bathing in his own blood on Calvary. So he was again, when James and
John asked that they might have the places next to him in his kingdom
and he asked if they were prepared to drink the cup he must drink, be
baptized with the baptism that must be his (Mark 10.38).
The baptism of water and the Holy Spirit, he told Nicodemus, was the
way of rebirth and thus of entry into the kingdom of God (John 3). He
said, "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark
16.16); commanded his Apostles to take baptism to the ends of the earth
till the end of time (Matthew 28.18). The Apostles began their mission
by baptizing thousands on Pentecost day. But the baptism of water draws
all its effect from the baptism of blood. Paul says: "Baptized in
Christ, we have put on Christ" (Galatians 3.27); "Buried with
him in his death, rising with him" (Colossians 2.12). If the
baptism on Calvary had not happened, there would be no point in the
baptism of water. There is plenty of mockery of Baptism questioners asking sarcastically what
good you do a baby's soul by wetting its head. We might urge them to
direct their sarcasm at Jesus and Paul and John and Peter. But we must
be prepared to discuss the Sacramental Principle: the body really
matters the spirit is sacred, but so is the
body; God, having made us matter and spirit, does not treat us as if we
were not. There is no such thing as a religious area, on entering which
we must leave our body behind: and we take our body with us not because
we have no way of stripping it off and no convenient place to leave it,
but because it is as the whole man that each of us worships God.
Eucharist. When Our Lord said, "Unless you shall eat the flesh
of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in
you," many of his followers left him. There has always been a
tendency, even among Catholics, to feel that he could not have meant it.
Today the argument centers on the Real Presence, with meanings found
for "presence" which get rid of the notion that in fact we
receive his body within ours. But the phrase "Real Presence"
is not in the Gospels. What Christ said was "This is my body."
Talk of ways of being present while not being actually there, does not
touch that phrase. As against "This is my body," two ways of
getting rid of the mystery have been found: (a) to find meanings for
"body" which would make it not the body in which he lived and
moved and hung on a cross and rose into heaven (but it would be hard to
get rid of "my blood" like that); (b) to say "This is my
body" was a metaphor like "I am the door." Grammatically
this will not stand. A metaphor uses the verb to be to link a definite
individual, not with another definite individual, but with an
abstraction. "I am the door" means I am a way of entry. Jesus
did not say "I am this door." He did say "This"
(which he was holding in his hand) "is my body." It is a
mystery indeed, but it is a fact, not a metaphor.
Men have tried, without complete success, to find "how"
what he was saying could be so. Transubstantiation was a splendid
effort, raising questions of its own all the same. But darknesses as to
the way of it do not alter the fact that he said it. It is a mystery,
certainly. But if he was not uttering a mystery, he was uttering a
mystification, one which would deceive the majority of his followers for
nineteen hundred years and uttered within hours before his
Passion and Death in agony.
It is more profitable to think out why Jesus wants us to receive him
thus. And this stares us in the face. By birth we have a spiritual life
and a bodily. We have been reborn into a new life, a life which is
Christ: "I am the life," Christ said. Each life must be
nourished by its own kind of food: ideas will nourish spiritual life,
but not bodily; meat will nourish bodily life, but would leave us
mentally starved. For a life which is Christ, the obvious food can only
be Christ himself. And it is Christ we receive, God and man. By
consecration the bread becomes his body, the wine his blood. But where
either body or blood is, the whole Christ must be, for it is the Risen
Christ over whom death has no more dominion.
The Eucharist is not the food of the individual believer alone, as we
might think if we had no words save those of Christ himself. It is the
food of the whole body. St. Paul sees it so: "The bread which we
break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is
one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one
bread" (1 Corinthians 10.16,17).
Being the kind of creatures we are, we find it difficult to
keep all the elements of a mystery in our minds at once. We emphasize
now one element, now another: the mind finds either/or so much easier to
handle than both /and. We smilingly explain that this is the swing of
the pendulum. But pendulums go with clocks; pendulous minds are
deficient minds. The Eucharist is indeed food and the Mass a community
meal we are there to be nourished. There
are those by whom this element is emphasized as if it were the whole.
But the Mass is a sacrifice too, which we are there to offer. As we
have noted, Jesus' priesthood continues: in heaven he offers himself
once slain, now forever living, to his Father, interceding that what he
won for mankind on Calvary should bring all men to salvation. In the
Mass the priest, in the power of Christ and by his command, offers the
same Christ to the same heavenly Father for the same purpose. The Mass
is not another sacrifice: it is Calvary as Christ continually offers it
There never were more flat-footed phrases than "going to
Mass," "attending Mass." "I'm not going to Mass
today because I don't feel like it" is baby talk. Don't feel like
what? If you mean you don't feel like sitting in the church, with as
much pious devotion as you can force yourself to feel, while the priest
gets on with whatever he is doing at the altar, you simply are not
talking about Mass at all.
We are there to do something: not only to join with our fellows in
the worship of God though heaven knows this is plenty! but to join with Christ in offering
his sacrifice on Calvary for the salvation of sinners; and our joining
makes a difference. If that is what you don't feel like doing today, at
least you know what you are saying. It is as if a member of a beach
life-saving squad, told that a man was drowning, decided that he didn't
feel like saving life today. In the matter of the Mass, feeling is not
the point. You don't need to feel like it, you merely have to realize
the vast importance of what you are at Mass to do, and will to do it.
"Merely," I say, and wonder how I came to use such a word. How
many of us even realize that there are sinners who need saving from the
evil in themselves, and that our action in Mass can be effective for
Paul tells us (1 Timothy 2.5) that because there is one Mediator, the
man Christ Jesus, our prayers for others can be effective even for their salvation. "I
became all things to all men that I might save all," he says (1
Corinthians 9.21). And he calls on Timothy to do the same (1 Timothy
4.16). The Mediator uses men's aid in his mediating.
This matter of rebirth and of two lives to be lived by one same self
will be sheer gibberish to many of your students a double life suggests double-talk. In
my own experience, it has often been possible to get Catholics
interested in it if only as an idea, leaving it to them to see its
practicality for themselves as life goes on. But that means working hard
at presenting the idea both as it actually is and in its relation to
reality as they actually experience it.
The Catholic we have been describing with his powers to accept and love God
and look forward to eternal union with him, to handle himself and others
as God would have him does not sound like most of the
Catholics the student meets; he is only too conscious that it would be a
highly retouched portrait of himself. Go back to the two lives in him.
The second, we have noted, does not annihilate the first or take its
place. The second life, the life of Grace, does not give us a new body
or a new soul, it goes to work in the body and soul we have. Paul
reminds us that we each carry our treasures of truth and life and union
with Christ "in an earthen vessel." The vessel is ourself.
By rebirth we have the gift of Temperance, but we do not simply lose
such natural cravings as we may have lust or gluttony, for instance. We get
the gift of Fortitude; but if it is in our nature to evade difficulties,
we do not instantly rush to confront them. A naturally pessimistic man
gets the virtue of Hope without losing his tendency to pessimism, which
may bring him close to despair.
To quote myself: "Grace gives us power to act virtuously for the
love of God. But it does not remove our natural habit of acting sinfully
for the gratification of self. There is a war within us, two sets of
habits in conflict, now one on top, now the other. Every man's problem
is to bring his natural and supernatural habits into harmony." The
difficulty for all of us is that the allure of virtue is so very
By Baptism we are reborn into the life. The Eucharist is the life's
daily bread. But the life can be lost by a deliberate choice of self as
against the love we owe God and our neighbor. For this Christ
established a way of forgiveness and restoration- -a sacrament by which
the sinner receives a new in-pouring of the life he had rejected.
Penance is a sacrament which uses not a material object like bread or
water or wine or oil, but a human situation one person giving his confidence to
another as a patient gives his to his doctor. It is worth reminding the
class of the healing of the paralyzed man at Capharnaum, which as we
have noted was the only miracle Christ worked to prove a particular
point namely, that the Son of Man had
"power on earth to forgive sins" (Luke 5.24). That power is as
necessary now as then. He still exercises it through his priests (John
We must look carefully at the notion of the Sacrament of Penance as a
means of reintegrating us with the Christian community. With the
community as in-lived by Christ, the body through which he continues his
work among men, we must indeed be reintegrated. But people talk as if
our reintegration were to be not with God or with Christ but with the
men and women of whom the community on earth consists. As such it won't
do. How integrated with God or with God-made-man is that community our own parish, for instance? On the
average, is it integrated with Christ any more than we are ourselves?
For it and for us, God is the integer, and Christ the way to integration
The students should be warned that sacraments do not work
automatically against sin. They do not in themselves make sin less
attractive. Catholics sometimes feel that the way to conquer a strong
temptation is to multiply confessions and communions: when they find
themselves still sinning, they feel that the Sacraments have failed
them. But Sacraments are there for the strengthening of the life of
Grace: they do not work directly upon the bad habits we have by nature.
These can be conquered only by ourselves fighting against them, falling
maybe, rising and resuming the battle. If we make the best effort we
can, then the reborn life has its own way of operating in us. Living the
life as fully as we can, gaining light from the truths, nourished by the
Sacraments, men find the ways of action proper to the life gathering
strength. Above all, they find themselves seeing Christ closer and
So we are back to seeing, to that other of Christ's gifts, the truth,
after so long a dwelling on the life. To be nourished is one need of the
Way, that we may have the strength for the efforts and resistances it
calls for, and not simply fall by the wayside. To be illumined is the
other, that we may know what the Way is and how to walk it.
Leaving this earthly life, Jesus gave the Apostles the commission for
which he had been training them. They were to baptize we have discussed that; and they were
to teach all nations till the end of time. Teach what? Whatever he had
commanded them. One problem we have already noted: what he had given
them to give the world is nowhere set out for us. It is not in the
Gospels or in the rest of the New Testament not the whole of it, not even the
basic instruction given to the new converts. The Apostles knew what it
was, and all the teaching of the Church has grown out of that original
mass of knowledge.
Teaching, of course, does not mean learning by heart, repeating
accurately and drilling others in the repetition. The word of God was
not given to us embalmed, our only duty to keep it sacred. It is a
growing thing, whether we think of minds growing in it, or of itself
seen deeper as minds are used to see it. For it is to be lived by: and
the human mind is so made that it cannot be given truths to live by and
not think about. It had to be lived up to, it had to be prayed; coming
to Gentiles of a totally different religious tradition, it had to be
re-expounded; as the centuries went by, new situations arose, whole
civilizations indeed, to which it had to be applied: and all the time,
growth in the knowledge of man and the universe by way of history and
philosophy and science made possible a richer understanding of God: we
shall not know God here below as Jesus knew him: but we know things
about the creation and therefore about the Creator unknown to the men to
whom Jesus had to utter his teaching.
The thinking began early, the principal problem clamoring for quick
settlement being how much of the Mosaic Law was still binding. Then came
the resemblances to and differences from the Paganisms the Mystery Cults, Gnosticism and the
rest. No religion has stirred the human intellect so mightily into
action. And so tumultuously.
Tumultuously is the signature word. Minds of every degree of power
from brilliant to half-witted, of every level of character from sanctity
to lunacy (among lunatics the religious lunatic has always held the
primacy), poured their ideas into the air. Today's sky is thick with the
theorizing of the ages, coruscating with today's latest insights. How in
all this are we to know what Christ wanted us to have? No one could know
the whole of it. It needs to be checked against the truth already known,
it must be sifted and channelled that it may reach the ordinary
Christian. Otherwise it must remain a glittering chaos.
Christ gave his revelation only because he saw that men needed it: to
have left it to men to get whatever meanings they might out of it would
have been hardly sane. If the revelation was worth giving, it was worth
guarding. Jesus provided for this not by putting limits round the truths
to be taught but by guarding the teachers to whom he entrusted them.
That was his formula.
I AM WITH YOU
We had seen it in his last year among us, when he sent out the
seventy-two disciples with the almost unbelievable endorsement "He
that hears you hears me" (Luke 10.16). Almost at the end, sending
the Apostles to bring his gifts of life and truth to all nations, he
added "And lo, I am with you till time shall end." Just before
his Ascension he told the Apostles that they should be "his
witnesses...even to the end of the earth," when the Holy Spirit
should have come upon them the Spirit who, he had promised at the
Last Supper, "would lead them into all truth."
How has it worked out? Had he simply fenced round the truths, saying
This you shall teach and not beyond, it would have meant a hobbling and
inhibiting of the mind. As it is, all reality, Scripture included, lies
open to exploration. The mind may move about freely. But it is always
open to the Bishops, successors of the Apostles, or the Pope, successor
of Peter, to intervene, saying: "This is contrary to the
revelation" or "This belongs within it."
Not every official intervention is guaranteed by Christ. He chose to
build his Church of men, with defects of intelligence and defects of
will: the theologians who do the exploring can wander down strange
byways, the authorities who pronounce judgment on them can misjudge
situations as Peter did when, under pressure from Jewish converts, he
gave up eating with Gentile converts, and Paul "withstood him to
the face" (Galatians 2.11). In the daily running of the Church
there is no guarantee of infallibility. But from time to time, a score
of times may be throughout the ages, we do have an infallible
pronouncement: some element of the revelation of Christ is
"defined" by Pope or General Council that is, an interpretation is
officially given, what is offered to our Faith is stated without error.
It may seem that I am attaching too much importance to the rituals
and formulas of solemn definition. The key is in the word
"solemn": the original statement has been examined, the
Christian experience of living by it and the work of the theologians
tearing one another limb from limb all this has been weighed. Only thus
is the Church prepared to commit her Founder and herself. Christ sees to
it that his Church is not misled.
No human form of words could contain the infinite, and if it could no
human mind could extract it! No statement could end the human mind's
growth in it. John's "The word was God...and the word became
flesh" was a milestone. So was the One Person in Two Natures of the
Council of Chalcedon in 451. So are all the definitions milestones, on a road which will not
end till "we shall see him as he is."
It is the nature of definitions to be inadequate compared with the
whole reality to be uttered. Inadequate but essential: we know where we
have come from, which is a great aid to knowing where we are going. We
are not forced to start every exploration of God and his Christ as if no
one had ever explored before. The definitions map the territory already
conquered by the mind: we can move out from there into the surrounding
dark. The discovery of the meaning of revelation by living it is for all
of us. Its development by bringing the intellect to bear on it is mainly
for theologians. Between the theologians and the magisterium that is, the teaching authority of the
Church there is bound to be difference. It is
worth the ordinary Christian's while to understand why.
Today the difference is at crisis point, with theologians disciplined
by the Curia making the headlines. The whole mind of the day is against
authority as fettering to the free intellect. Magisterium, we tell
ourselves, means mastery, authority means coercion, bad words both of
them. In fact magisterium means "the right to teach,"
authority is from a Latin verb "to increase," and in teaching
means "entitlement to be believed." Coercion is not in the
meaning of either word: it is simply someone's judgment as to how truth
The creative theologian, devoting the whole of his life to his study,
thrusts excitedly on, in love with his discovery. The magisterium, with
the whole of the Church's life to consider, may be less enthusiastic
about his new idea: it has to weigh its bearing on the rest of theology
and Scripture, on the mind of the great mass of Catholics. The thinker
rages that "the Church" prefers authority to truth, the public
Looking back over the ages with hindsight to aid us, we feel
sometimes the Curia was mistaken, sometimes the thinker. In
revolutionary times the Curia may exaggerate the need of caution, at all
times the thinker may exaggerate the value of his insight. Either way no
great harm was done: truth has been delayed recognition perhaps, but not
What we are facing here is one example of a larger tension, the
tension between the spirit and the institution. Each needs the other without the spirit there is a kind of
hardening of the arteries, without the institution the gains of spirit
are tossed to the winds. Yes, each needs the other. But each feels the
other as a threat. If only the theologians and the Curia would see each
other's necessity and sympathize with each other's difficulties.
To me there is an analogy between monogamy as reconciling the
turbulence of sex with the ordered life of the family, and authority as
the only way to reconcile the free action of the intellect with the
preservation of truth. The Church prefers authority not to truth, as
some of its critics complain, but to chaos; values authority not for its
own sake but for the sake of the treasure it guards. One unhappy result
of our present troubles or maybe it is not their result but
their cause is that the truths are no longer
thought of as treasure.
They are undervalued by the type of avant garde of whom we have
already spoken, who disdains meaning and banks everything on
"impact" the positive vibrations set up in
ourselves which for him are the religious experience. But the devout
Catholic has his own way of undervaluing them. Often enough he has no
urge whatever to study them. He is delighted that the Church has all the
truth, but is not greatly interested in the truth he is so delighted
that the Church has. He is content to leave the great dogmas to the
theologians as no concern of his: which means that whatever light and
nourishment are in them are not there for him. Or he may memorize the
formulas without ever getting at the richness within, which is as if he
swallowed walnuts without breaking the shell. Either way he is
unequipped to bring Christ's great gifts of truth and life to others.
Indeed one test of the value we set on the gifts Christ wants men to
have is our attitude to the millions starving for want of them.
If we are never moved to bring them to those others, a real question
is raised as to how much they mean to ourselves. If there were a bread
famine, we should work night and day for its relief. But this famine is
only of the Bread of Life.
Christianity is what religion through the ages has been an initiation into divine mysteries.
If the teacher forgets this, there is a non-class. But however hard the
teacher tries, there is a hard shell of resistance to be broken through.
Even willing students can accept the formulas but give no further
thought to them, live much like everybody else, with more effort to live
morally and with the commanded amount of ritual practice, but Faith
reduced to obedience (in the sense of refusal to deny). One has heard
this attitude compared to that of an eccentric millionaire, who owns a
palace but chooses to live in the cellar.
IV. What the World Can Do to the Faith
And the Flesh and the Devil.
Education is a preparation for life, we remind ourselves. Religious
Education is a preparation for life with Christ. Always in the religion
teacher's mind is the threat of what life in the world is going to do to
such relation with Christ as his students may have. By the time they
leave school, he has given them, he hopes, what is in him to give about
Christ. But he must also have given them his understanding of the world
into which they and Christ are going out together. From this angle he
must study the world as he studies Christ. I am not thinking of the
direct attack, the direct objections, which will be continually hurled
at them. What I have in mind is the testing to which life as such will
subject them, the "infection of the world's slow stain."
I have spoken of what life is going to do to the students. In fact it
is already doing it: the skilled teacher can see it happening. But in
the first place the pressure of life is only beginning, and in the
second the pupil in a Catholic school can be in more continuous contact
with revealed truth than he is ever likely to be again. Out in the world
the mighty realities he has learnt about Trinity and Incarnation, Infinity and
Eternity melt away into the background with so
little to keep them vividly present to him. They are not part of the
scaled-down world in which we do our daily living husbands and wives and in-laws,
friends and enemies, people we work with and for, financial pressures,
politics, sport, pleasures and pains, emotions and appetites such a full life, so totally secular.
Almost unawares we can slip into living in the mental atmosphere of
the age, with only a tincture of Christ to add a comforting illusion of
spiritual vitality. I shall not attempt here to look in detail at the
myriad ways in which the world will be eroding whatever intimacy with
Christ the student may bring with him from school. That will be for each
teacher to distill from life as he has lived it himself and seen others
live it. I shall look at what seem to me the five main fields in which
lie dangers to the student's faith in Christ: money, sex, suffering, the
hiddenness of God, and the Church itself (for the Church, as he was
taught in school, truly is Christ's Mystical Body, but as he meets it in
daily life he can feel it a pain in the neck, and we have such very
These five have their separate ways of weakening attachment to
Christ. With money it is a kind of erosion: love of money tends to take
possession of a man, he tries serving God and money, but the service to
God can dwindle to lip-service: money exacts more than lip-service. With
sex, it begins with separation from the Sacraments. With suffering,
one's own or others', it is resentment against a God who allows
suffering to continue when surely he could stop it. With God's
hiddenness, there can be a growing question whether God is there at all.
With the Church, the failure of such of its leaders as he meets to live
up to the principles of its Founder as he sees them can make a man
question the value of their testimony to Christ.
In all five fields the religion class should prepare the students for
what the world may do to their Faith.
Paul calls love of money a root of all evil. Jesus, I think, rates it
as the worst of vices. We remember the money changers he scourged, we
remember the camel and the needle's eye! "If you serve money, you
cannot serve God" he says that twice. Can a rich man be
saved? Jesus gives the grim answer "Nothing is impossible to
God" (Matthew 19.26). The time and energy that go into making money
and keeping it occupy the mind to the neglect of its higher powers.
Jesus says, "The cares of the world and delight in riches choke the
word so that it proves unfruitful" (Matthew 13.22); that is, wealth
sterilizes. "They are stifled by the cares, riches, pleasures of
life and never reach maturity" (Luke 8.14).
I have not heard much emphasis laid on the Parable of the Rich Fool
(Luke 12) who had congratulated himself on the wealth he had
accumulated: But God said to him: "Fool, this night your soul is
required of you. And the things you have piled up, whose will they
be?" Throughout Christ's teaching nothing is clearer than the
transience of our life on earth. The earthly things we value may be
valuable or worthless, either way they will pass. But how well or ill we
have loved and served God and our neighbor will matter eternally: the
self we have become, by things well-done or ill-done, will live on
forever. This life is a road not a dwelling place.
It is possible that in these warnings about the dangers of wealth,
Jesus had in mind the Church he was founding. Had ecclesiastics taken
them to heart, the great breakaway at the Reformation might never have
happened. It is at least interesting that the first sin we find
committed in the new Church was the lie Ananias and Sapphira told about
The young will listen to you about all this, some cynically, some
receptively. But even the most receptive will find the charms of money
hard to resist as life goes on: they are so very evident, heaven so very
remote. And we who teach them will have to examine our own practice in
the matter if we are to be even half-convincing.
Sins in this area are not the worst of sins, but practically
everybody is tempted and no other sin creates so urgent and continuous a
craving. The young, boys especially, see the promise of all bliss in it
(which, as any rational older man can assure them, just ain't
necessarily so), all mastery and maturity and virility in promiscuity
(but there is no virility in a craving, no maturity in being unable to
say no, no mastery in being mastered). Christ's judgment is quite clear.
He places the misuse of sex in the list of sins which "defile a
man" i.e., render him dirty "evil thoughts, murder, adultery,
fornication..." In the Sermon on the Mount Our Lord has said
"Every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed
adultery with her in his heart." Notice that "looks at":
for he continues "If your eye cause you to sin, it would be better
to pluck it out and enter eternal life with one than be cast into hell
with two." In fornication "a man sins against his own body,
which is the temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6.18, 19).
That is Paul's translation of Christ's word "defile." In the
same chapter his list of those who "will not inherit the
kingdom" begins "fornicators, idolaters, adulterers,
homosexuals." For nineteen centuries the Teaching Church has not
deviated from the teaching that sexual union belongs inside marriage,
where alone it can serve the new life. But with the present collapse of
sex standards, it is necessary to show the young why it is right within
marriage, wrong outside.
An immediate consideration is that the very complex interrelated sex
mechanisms of men and women would simply not exist if they were not
meant to have children: their connection with generation is as obvious
as that of the lungs with breathing, or the heart with the blood's
circulation. Inside marriage not every bodily union is intended for
child-bearing, but at least it serves the children already born, serves
the whole institution of the family, by making the marriage a warmer,
more loving reality: whereas, used outside marriage, the sex mechanism
loses all connection with that child-bearing but for which human beings
would not have had it.
A profounder consideration is that bodily union is the only human
action which will produce living beings, made in God's image, destined
for everlasting life. Procreation is pro-creation, deputy creation, a
share in God's creative action. It is not only that by it men and women
co-operate with God, but that without their co-operation he will bring
no more human beings into existence. It is a sacred act, and must not be
used in ways he has forbidden. The students may very well laugh at the
notion that the act is sacred: but the idea may abide with them and some
day bear its own fruit.
A popular line at the moment is that sexual union before marriage or
outside it is the highest expression of love. It certainly is not. Love
always has as its main meaning the service of the other. In copulation
there is too much self-love for love's perfection: the self is too often
reduced to a bodily craving, the other to a convenience for the relief
of the craving. The Scottish poet Robert Burns, himself pretty much
given to free-love, says:
It hardens all within
And petrifies the feeling.
There is a sex paradox which is worth thinking over. To sex is
entrusted the continuance of the race sex being the most turbulent of man's
powers, whereas the new life needs the utmost security. In the marriage
of one to one lies the answer to the problem sex love at its most intense, the
child brought to maturity. Sex at its most intense? It would be truer to
say that only in the total giving of one to one is sexual union even
possible. For sexual union is not the union of bodies, it is the union
of two selves expressed in the union of bodies both bringing to the act the whole of
their lives, emotions, cares, in a total surrender each to the other.
Those who have never made that surrender have never had sexual union,
but in the union of bodies remain to the end uncleanly virginal.
All this can be discussed with the older students, who will hardly
need encouragement to speak their feelings freely. They are at a
difficult age at least the boys are, for whom alone
I can speak. They must be helped to find some kind of middle ground
between carnality lightheartedly indulged at one end, despair over
failure at the other. I have known cases where masturbation, treated too
ferociously in the confessional, has meant cutting off from the
Sacraments and ultimately from the Faith. At least they can be reminded
of Christ's love for sinners, of the seventy-times-seven of his measure
of forgiveness, and of the words he could still find for sinners in the
depth of his own agony the spirit is willing and the flesh is
The objection sounds so wholly unanswerable: If God cannot prevent
suffering, he is not all-powerful. If he will not, he is not all-loving.
Like all epigrams, it gets its neatness by leaving out too much. It has
to be looked at more closely.
Begin by asking what causes suffering, since this is what God is
blamed for not dealing with. Suffering comes either from our own
collision with the laws of reality or from the effect of the wrong other
There have to be laws, or the universe would not function at all.
Without the law of gravity, we should be swept off the earth's surface;
without fire's power to burn, civilization could barely have begun.
Given our combination of ignorance and folly, selfishness and the rest,
we are certain to find ourselves colliding with one or other of
reality's laws a man falling out of an airplane will
find the law of gravity working against him, a man who falls into the
fire will get burnt. Our lungs may be unable to handle air properly for
service of the body; a baby may be born with a damaged brain or venereal
disease because of some earlier breach of reality's laws which the
breaker of the law may not have known about.
The "collision" may be in the mind craving for something one cannot have,
a woman perhaps. A man may be unable to have her because she dies
(physical law) or she can't stand the sight of him (psychological law)
or she has a husband (moral law). In face of the moral law one may think
one is free; after all, the man could take her if she is willing: but he
would only have turned from one wrong relation with reality (wanting
what he shouldn't have) to another (taking what he shouldn't have). He
may have eased his own craving, but has the mass of suffering been
reduced or only shifted.? to the woman's husband perhaps, or to
her children; in any event, to society as a whole whose well-being
depends upon a stable family life.
Clearly you could hardly have God abolish laws if the same physical causes could not
normally be relied on to produce the same effects, nothing could
function at all, nor without rules for the handling of ourselves and
other people, could society continue: one might alter the rules, but
that would merely mean different rules to collide with!
The only other course is to have God intervene every time the action
of any law would hurt anybody. Miracles, of course, do happen. But they
cannot become the rule. If life were run by myriads of special
interventions, then we could not handle our own lives but must just let
ourselves be handled. If every time the strong attacked the weak God
intervened, then criminals and victims alike would be toy pieces on a
chessboard. Maturity for the individual and the race lies in learning to
co-operate with the reality of the universe, and in learning to cope
with the evil in others and in oneself.
So far I have merely looked at the great mass of human suffering
which arises from collision with the way reality is. There are, of
course, natural catastrophes with which collision cannot be avoided tidal waves, earthquakes, volcanic
eruptions. The thing we can be sure of is the loving intelligence behind
the universe- -no one will suffer permanently for what is not his own
fault. There is always a next life. The child dying after a month of
agony will be as sure as Paul was, while still suffering, that there is
no comparison between the agony and the joy.
The unbeliever is maddened by our bringing in of heaven and the love
of God, as if we had produced an ace from up our sleeve. But we cannot
be expected to "justify" God's running of the universe without
reference to what he himself tells us he means to do hereafter.
The Old Testament does not answer today's universal question: How do
we know there is a God? It hardly seems to have occurred to the Old
Testament writers: one wonders if they had ever met an intelligent
atheist. It must be considered in class, not only because the students
have already been faced with it and in the world into which they go from
school they will never be allowed to forget it, still more because under
the pressure of life God may become less and less real.
There is no doubt that in the last couple of centuries Apologetic,
the proving of God's existence by reason alone, was overdone. Only
recently does it seem to have redawned on our elders and betters that to
show God as what he is (which includes what difference his existence
makes to us), is more likely to win men's acceptance than to show him as
the conclusion of an argument.
But of course the reaction went too far. From too many schools
Apologetic vanished, leaving the students tongue-tied and helpless
before the materialist. Even if Apologetic were only defensive, it would
be important: there is a lot to be said for not losing arguments. For
the believer to be flattened in every discussion is not only
discouraging for himself but bad for the unbeliever too he will not have heard the
"case" for God, and will go gaily on looking for more
believers to flatten. There is no need to lose the argument. Indeed
there should not be an argument. Simply try for a meeting of minds with
the unbeliever, you and he each saying what he holds about the origins
of the universe.
Even quite young children can see that if something happens, then
either somebody meant it or nobody did. If nobody did, it is an
accident. There's no point in asking what an accident means, accidents
are things that just happen. No point either in asking its purpose. The
whole point of an accident is that there is no point. It is simply a
mess that happened to happen. A mess the universe certainly isn't, so
magnificent is its order, and so incredible the interlocking of its
parts over so many trillions of light years, so many trillions beyond
trillions of miles, all functioning at speeds beyond imagination. Anyone
who can believe it all simply happened that way can believe anything. Or
rather he can say he can.
For the more sophisticated we may find what caused the universe a
more acceptable starting point than who meant it. State the best known
of the Christian lines of thought, the so-called argument from
contingency not as an argument but as the way you
see it. In daily experience nothing comes into existence without a
cause. But if this were universally so, if everything whatever had to
depend for existence on something else having happened, then the process
could never have got going at all what something else is there outside
of everything? Do not expect everyone to grasp this at first telling. It
has to be lived with. But with patience the teacher can help the class
to face the question: If everything whatsoever had to receive existence,
where would existence come from, what source could existence have? A
universe with nothing in it but receivers of existence is unthinkable.
The Christian (not only he, of course) sees the source of existence
in a being that simply exists, exists in its own right, dependent upon
no other thing, having all its reason for existence within itself. This
being we call God. It must have a rich fullness of existence, for there
can be nothing in the universe life, power, mind, knowledge, will,
love that does not derive from it.
Therefore the word "it" is misleading, these are the
attributes not of something, but of Someone. We call that Someone God.
Put all this to the other man, not as a proof, but as the way you see
it. Ask him to compare it with his own idea of a universe which simply
happens to be there for no reason at all, whether in what it is or
external to it. Either way, something beyond our understanding is at the
origin of the universe. Even if he thinks his view no more of a mystery
than ours, he cannot deny that ours at least sheds light on what
follows, his sheds none. Our view that intelligence and will are at its
origin explains more of the complex interrelatedness of our universe
than his notion that it was produced by mindless atoms bashing about
through billions of years.
The teacher should not embark on this line of statement unless he
sees it so himself: if he does, he must be constantly thinking out ways
of saying it more clearly. Nor must he be impatient with students who
just cannot see it. I have met people whose faith in God and love of God
I envy, who cannot see it; their minds seem not to be built that way.
Clearly as I see it myself, it does not happen to be my way of coming
to the certainty that God exists. Before I ever heard it, I believed in
him. I had had close on twenty years of knowing Christ in his Scriptures
and in his Church. His certainties had become mine proved right when I lived up to them,
proved right when I went my own way against them. His God is my God. All
the same I am grateful for those who showed me reason's case for God's
existence. It shed new light upon God as creator, and upon man as created by him out of nothing and
held in existence solely by his will.
The Church as we meet it can be a trial to the Faith, especially to
the faith of one not rightly or deeply grounded in it. Ecclesiastics
from highest to lowest can strike us as arrogant, power-loving,
money-loving. To take a single instance: in place after place we see the
rich sought out and honored by the Church authorities as never by
Christ. All this is true, but to be shaken in Faith by it means not to
have understood what Christ had in mind when he entrusted his gifts of
Truth and Life to the Apostles. By that choice of his, healing is
brought to us through men who themselves need it; we are helped in the
saving of our souls by men who have no guarantee that they will save
their own; we ask absolution in confession from men who themselves ask
absolution in confession. For us and for them, Jesus is the whole point.
To complain that ecclesiastics are defective in intelligence or
idealism is naive. It was Jesus- decision to work upon humanity from
within it, not some special humanity made for this purpose, but humanity
as it actually is: and his working in it is as real as the humanity in
which he works. Just after the Transfiguration and just before giving
the Apostles the commission to teach all nations till the end of time,
he cried out to a group of them: "How long can I bear with
you!" He had said that even when they had done all that was
commanded, they should still see themselves as "unprofitable
servants" (Luke 17.10). Earlier in that same chapter he had said:
"Scandals are sure to come, but woe to him by whom they come."
My own feeling is that students should be prepared in school for the
unattractive elements they are liable to meet in the Church. It is for
schools to decide how much should be taught and at what age. In my own
teaching of unbelievers in parks and on street corners, I never talk
about the Papacy without telling of some of our less admirable popes. So
my hearers understand why I insist that nothing a pope could do or say
would make me think of leaving the Church. I entered it by baptism in
Christ (not in the Pope), I remain in it in order to be in Christ's
companionship (not the Pope's), a member of his Body (not the Pope's).
If a given pope behaved badly, I should sympathize with Christ, whose
work among men the pope's ill-behavior was damaging (which is an unhappy
reminder of how often our own behavior has dimmed the face of Christ for
those who know us). Meanwhile, whether I agree or disagree with Papal or
Conciliar policy, I know that in the Church I have the possibility of
union with Christ, and so with Father, Son and Holy Spirit and
ultimately with my fellow-men, to the very limit of my own willingness.
Some Further Reading
Christ in the Classroom has concentrated on Christ Our Lord.
But to know him we must study both the God from whom he came and the New
Humanity which comes from him. The author has written about both in the
Theology and Sanity: a survey of Catholic Theology not a Summa, a summula perhaps.
Society and Sanity: God and Man being what they are, how
should life, individual and social, be lived?
God and the Human Mind: God's self-revealing and what men have
made of it.
To Know Christ Jesus
What Difference Does Jesus Make?
Genesis Regained: Creation and Fall related to
(1) the myths of Egypt and the Middle East,
(2) modern evolutionary theories,
(3) man's present condition.
The following passages from these books may shed light on Christ
in the Classroom:
Mystery GTHM 18-39
Spirit GTHM 40-63
Intellect and Imagination T&S 12-18, 24, 36-9, 49-53
Scripture and Church GTHM 89-133
The Man Christ Jesus WDDJM 17-53, 75-93, T&S 166-220
God the Son WDDJM 212-220, 231-241
Trinity GTHM 200-294
Redemption WDDJM 197-220
Redeeming Sacrifice WDDJM 166-196
Two Lives T&S 330-63
Mystical Body T&S 266-268, WDDJM 217-220
Fallenness of Man GR 73-141
Sex S&S 107-163
Suffering T&S 373-384
God's Hiddenness WDDJM 134-156
Church on Earth T&S 260-265, 343-346
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication
Sheed, Francis Joseph, 1897
Christ in the classroom.
1. Jesus Christ Person and offices.
2. Christian life Catholic authors.
3. Religious education.
BT202.S47 1973 232
Nihil Obstat: James A. O'Donohoe
Imprimatur: + Humberto S. Medeiros
Archbishop of Boston
Date: January 26, 1973
Copyright 1973 by Sheed & Ward, Inc.