Paradoxes of Catholicism by Robert Hugh Benson


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Page 2

Even the very marvels of that Life he seeks to explain by the marvellous
humanity of its hero. He can imagine, as one such inquirer has said, how
the magic of His presence was so great--the magic of His simple yet
perfect humanity--that the blind opened their eyes to see the beauty of
His face and the deaf their ears to hear Him.

Yet, as he reads further, he begins to meet his problems. If this Man
were man only, however perfect and sublime, how is it that His sanctity
appears to run by other lines than those of other saints? Other perfect
men as they approached perfection were most conscious of imperfection;
other saints as they were nearer God lamented their distance from Him;
other teachers of the spiritual life pointed always away from themselves
and their shortcomings to that Eternal Law to which they too aspired.
Yet with this Man all seems reversed. He, as He stood before the world,
called on men to imitate Him; not, as other leaders have done, to avoid
His sins: this Man, so far from pointing forward and up, pointed to
Himself as the Way to the Father; so far from adoring a Truth to which
He strove, named Himself its very incarnation; so far from describing a
Life to which He too one day hoped to rise, bade His hearers look on
Himself Who was their Life; so far from deploring to His friends the
sins under which He laboured, challenged His enemies to find within Him
any sin at all. There is an extraordinary Self-consciousness in Him that
has in it nothing of "self" as usually understood.

Then it may be, at last, that our inquirer approaches the Gospel with a
new assumption. He has been wrong, he thinks, in his interpretation that
such a Life as this was human at all. "_Never man spake like this
man_." He echoes from the Gospel, "_What manner of man is this that even
the winds and the sea obey Him_? How, after all," he asks himself,
"could a man be born without a human father, how rise again from the
dead upon the third day?" Or, "How even could such marvels be related at
all of one who was no more than other men?"

So once more he begins. Here, he tells himself, is the old fairy story
come true; here is a God come down to dwell among men; here is the
solution of all his problems. And once more he finds himself bewildered.
For how can God be weary by the wayside, labour in a shop, and die upon
a cross? How can the Eternal Word be silent for thirty years? How can
the Infinite lie in a manger? How can the Source of Life be subject to

He turns in despair, flinging himself from theory to theory--turns to
the words of Christ Himself, and the perplexity deepens with every
utterance. If Christ be man, how can He say, _My Father and I are one_?
If Christ be God, how can He proclaim that _His Father is greater than
He_? If Christ be Man, how can He say, _Before Abraham was, I am_? If
Christ be God, how can He name Himself _the Son of Man_.

(ii) Turn to the spiritual teaching of Jesus Christ, and once more
problem follows problem, and paradox, paradox.

Here is He Who came to soothe men's sorrows and to give rest to the
weary, He Who offers a sweet yoke and a light burden, telling them that
no man can be His disciple who will not take up the heaviest of all
burdens and follow Him uphill. Here is one, the Physician of souls and
bodies, Who _went about doing good_, Who set the example of activity in
God's service, pronouncing the silent passivity of Mary as the better
part that shall not be taken away from her. Here at one moment He turns
with the light of battle in His eyes, bidding His friends who have not
swords to _sell their cloaks and buy them_; and at another bids those
swords to be sheathed, since _His Kingdom is not of this world_. Here is
the Peacemaker, at one time pronouncing His benediction on those who
make peace, and at another crying that He _came to bring not peace but a
sword_. Here is He Who names as _blessed those that mourn_ bidding His
disciples to _rejoice and be exceeding glad_. Was there ever such a
Paradox, such perplexity, and such problems? In His Person and His
teaching alike there seems no rest and no solution--_What think ye of
Christ? Whose Son is He_?

II. (i) The Catholic teaching alone, of course, offers a key to these
questions; yet it is a key that is itself, like all keys, as complicated
as the wards which it alone can unlock. Heretic after heretic has sought
for simplification, and heretic after heretic has therefore come to
confusion. Christ is God, cried the Docetic; therefore cut out from the
Gospels all that speaks of the reality of His Manhood! God cannot bleed
and suffer and die; God cannot weary; God cannot feel the sorrows of
man. Christ is Man, cries the modern critic; therefore tear out from the
Gospels His Virgin Birth and His Resurrection! For none but a Catholic
can receive the Gospels as they were written; none but a man who
believes that Christ is both God and Man, who is content to believe that
and to bow before the Paradox of paradoxes that we call the Incarnation,
to accept the blinding mystery that Infinite and Finite Natures were
united in one Person, that the Eternal expresses Himself in Time, and
that the Uncreated Creator united to Himself Creation--none but a
Catholic, in a word, can meet, without exception, the mysterious
phenomena of Christ's Life.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Fri 28th Feb 2020, 13:08