WE are being taught by modern physics that ‘cosmic astronomy’ and ‘atomic astronomy’ complete and explain one another. Each atom, with its electrons revolving round the central proton, is as truly a solar system as the most majestic of the stars with its planetary train. Its minute radiations and disturbances of the
ether are the same on another scale as the radiations of Betel Geuse or Arcturus. Each of these imperfect human glimpses into an inconceivable reality witnesses to the same august and fundamental design.
It is perhaps in some such way as this that we may begin to think of that which we call incarnational religion; as disclosing, at our own level and within our small planetary compass, the character and purpose of the Incomprehensible God. It is a ‘Cape of Good Hope’ jutting manward, in Otto’s powerful metaphor, from that vast uncharted continent of the divine ‘which, as it recedes, is lost to view in the tenebrae eternae.' (1) Because we are so nicely adjusted to our own narrow bit of the cosmic scale our own rhythm of time and sense of place the milky way and the electron, the speed of light and age of stars, each seem to us equally foreign and equally marvellous. Thus it is only within the tiny strip that is our own that we can ever hope to establish a relation with Reality. We are parochial little creatures: God must meet us in our parish if He is ever to meet us at all. If we are to ‘behold His glory,’ know and love Him, He must somehow enter with His imperishable loveliness the short life-cycle of ordinary men. We cannot escape our own limitations, and go to Him beyond the spheres.
Thus the very facts of theism seem to require some revelation or self-imparting of the Ultimate in terms that we are able to understand. For since man, when spiritually awake, craves for God, but cannot know Him in His spaceless reality; then the satisfaction of that craving must be given to us here. It must come as 'a light into the world.’ Only by adapting His self-disclosure to the rhythm and pace of our history, could God reveal to
(1) Cf. The Idea of the Holy, p. 208.
man the character and presence of His Eternity. The Christian formula, which declares that His creative Word ‘was made flesh and dwelt among us' simply expresses this loving revelation of the Infinite in terms of the finite; and asserts that it took place, under natural and human limitations, at the very heart of history itself.
It is true that our human intuition at its highest can and does discover and deeply feel God over against us and beyond us: as the eternal and utterly superhuman Spirit of spirits, demanding our adoration and awe. This absolute sense is indeed the foundation of all mystical and philosophic religion. But if the Supernatural, the Ultimate, is ever to exert not merely its daunting and fascinating, but also its winning, redeeming and transfiguring power upon our half-real and indetermined human nature, it must be found, known and loved here: at our own level, in our own way, by means of the phenomenal and particular. The full religious outlook and true religious growth seem always to need a loving contemplation both of that transcendent Reality, and of its humble and condensed expression in space and time Amor Patris et Filii. This felt need of a free movement of the Unlimited to its little and limited creatures—God Himself coming the whole way to man—is the foundation of all historical and sacramental religion. It has been expressed once for all in a phrase that is a poem: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.’(2) The utter distinction in kind between the Supernatural and natural, which is felt more and more strongly by all great spiritual souls, requires such a bridging of the gap, a willed and truly ‘loving' entrance of the Supernatural into nature, if it is ever to reach and transfigure the hearts of men.
(2) John iii. 16.
Now that which we mean by personality represents the highest form of existence which men have discovered yet: the only one which does bridge the gap between the natural and spiritual worlds. Personality is supremely that product of the time-world which stretches beyond time, and has already a certain capacity for eternal things: and its development and enrichment seem to be the very object of the disciplines and tensions of our life. For a ‘person’ in the full sense is a true spiritual organism capable of love and of creativity; possessing wholeness, suppleness, freedom of response on all levels, yet stretching backwards towards that mystery of Being where life inheres in God. Along this live wire, then, we might surely expect that God’s fullest and most searching self-disclosure would be made to us. Christianity contends that of all the categories known to us, personality alone, because of this implicit creativity and freedom, this tendency to wholeness and perfection, lies in the direction of God; therefore only through this strange and fluid complex, so humbly conditioned and fettered by the physical, and yet so unconditioned in its possible range, could the Transcendent Other conceivably penetrate and reveal Itself with our human world.
Moreover, such a revelation of the Perfect—if the uniqueness of the Divine is not to be impaired for us by such a humble, here-and-now encounter—must be made supremely (though not exclusively) at one single point in the time-process, and in one unique person. The tendency of history, to throw up within the stream of succession great personalities in whom universals are embodied, will here provide a means for the emergence of the Eternal in terms of human life: a particular revelation in history, of the Absolute lying beyond history.
Not out of his bliss
Springs the stress felt
Nor first from heaven (and few know this)
Swings the stroke dealt
Stroke and a stress that stars and storms deliver,
That guilt is hushed by, hearts are flushed by and melt—
But it rides time like riding a river
(And here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss). (3)
Thus our theism, if it is to be effective, must have the character of revelation; and further, this revelation must be made in history, and through man to men. That which theology means by incarnation is surely just this intense and concentrated disclosure of the essence of Reality in personal terms, this exhibition of God by means of human nature; an exhibition which is also an act, so that here God is not only demonstrated but given. St. John in his deep meditations saw the uttered Word or Thought of the Eternal, which is Himself, achieve complete expression once in human terms: ‘and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.’ And since within the Absolute Godhead, Being Thought and Act are one, as the doctrine of the Trinity tries to tell us, this means an actual disclosure of God Himself, Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine fully immanent within the historic scene. Speaking thus, of course, we do but choose from among the most powerful and mysterious attributes of human nature—Love, Thought, Will—signs which point beyond themselves to the infinitely mysterious and powerful processes of God. For since, as St. Thomas reminds us, we call Him personal only by analogy; even in this His most intimate approach to us, we must ever be on our guard against equating the image with the fact.
Yet as in the wonderful poetry of Apocalyptic, when the whole natural order in its splendour and apparent
(3) Gerard Hopkins: The Wreck of the Deutschland.
stability shakes and seems to crumble before the astonished eyes of men, it is in personality that the Transcendent is at last gathered up and revealed: so too in the most profound experience of the soul. ‘Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven’ such a tiny thing, over against the majesty and tragedy of the material universe, so small and creaturely an embodiment of the unsearchable mysteries of the Real. And the same lesson is driven home by that lovely sequence of Masses with which the Catholic Church ushers in Christmas Day. As the faithful draw nearer and nearer to the full Divine manifestation, so they draw nearer and nearer to the simplest human things. Where Plato declared ‘the true order of going’ to be a mounting up by means of the beauties of earth, step by step towards the unearthly and celestial Beauty; the Christian Church strong in her possession of the Divine paradox compels her children to take the opposite route. She declares the true movement of the religious consciousness to be inwards, not outwards. It moves from the abstract and adoring sense of God Transcendent to the homely discovery of His revelation right down in history, in humblest surroundings and most simple and concrete ways: bringing the adoring soul from the utmost confines of thought—la forma universal di questo nodo—to kneel before a poor person’s baby born under the most unfortunate circumstances.
Thus at midnight, the Introit of the first Mass declares the ineffable generation of the Eternal Word, and the Collect gives thanks for ‘the shining forth of the “mysterious divine light from the bosom of Eternity.’ At dawn, the second Mass brings the worshipper a little nearer to earthly needs and limitations—‘To-day hath a light shined upon us; for the Lord is born unto us!’ But when Christmas Day is fully come the note changes;
and all the emphasis falls upon the realistic, human, homely side—‘Unto us a Child is born. Sing unto the Lord a new song !’ (4) So we have here a gradual condensation and a final self-revelation of the Infinite in ever more homely, conditioned, and natural ways; and in the Christmas Preface the object of all this is summed up in a single wonderful phrase:
‘Quia per incarnati Verbi mysterium, nova mentis nostrae oculis lux tuae claritatis infulsit: ut dum visibiliter Deura. Cognoscimus, per hunc in invisibilium amorem rapiamur.’ (5)
And if we ask how the Infinite God was made visible; the answer is, that this was not done with any mechanical completeness, but through a living, growing, human personality—that Christ, as the great Berulle boldly declared, is ‘Himself the primitive sacrament'. In its poetic elaborations of history—and these began almost at once—Christian genius has not failed to emphasize the paradox of the Unlimited thus revealed within humblest limitations.
'O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum jacentem in praesepio.’ (6)
A carpenter’s baby. Thirty years of obscure village life. A young man, of whose secret growth nothing is revealed to us, coming with the crowd to be baptized by a religious revivalist. A refusal of all self-regarding or spectacular use of that immense spiritual power and effortless authority which the records so plainly reveal.
Unlimited compassion especially extended to the most sinful, blundering, sickly, and unattractive among men. A self-oblivion so perfect that we do not even notice it.
(4) Missale Romanum: In Nativitate Domini.
(6) Breviarium Romanum: In Nativitate Domini: ad Matutinum.
A balanced life of fellowship and lonely prayer. A genial love of, and yet a perfect detachment from, all human and natural things. Unflinching acceptance of a path that pointed to suffering, humiliation, failure and death. At last, a condemned fanatic agonizing between two thieves. These were the chief external incidents which marked the full expression of the Supernatural in terms of human personality. Yet within this sequence of transitory acts all sensitive spirits felt and still feel the eternal state, the interior life of Christ hidden in God, of which these ‘mysteries’ are the sacramental expressions in space and time. Each scene in its own manner makes a sudden rift, and discloses a new tract of the supernatural world; and this with an even greater and more humbling splendour, with each advance of the seeing soul.
And indeed it is above all when we see a human spirit, knowing its own power, choose the path of sacrifice instead of the path of ambition: when we see human courage and generosity blazing out on heroic levels in the shadow of death; the human agony and utter self-surrender of Gethsemane, the accepted desolation of the Cross, that we recognize a love and holiness which point beyond the world. There we discern that mysterious identity of Revealer and Revealed, that complete appropriation of personality to the manifestation of God, which it is the special province of the Fourth Evangelist to emphasize. (7)
Thus, says Berulle most justly, ‘God the Incomprehensible makes Himself comprehended in our humanity: God the Ineffable makes His voice audible in an incarnate Word: God the Invisible shows Himself in the flesh which He has united to the very nature of Eternity: and God, terrible in the blaze of His splendour, makes Himself felt in His sweetness, kindness and humanity.’ (8)
(7) E.g. John xiv. 20; xvi. 27; xvii. 21, 23.
(8) Berulle: Oeuvres, p. 218.
MEN have learned in various ways, and we still learn, to recognize this self-expression of the Perfect in the terms of a life-process. Fusing as it does two orders of existence, it is in itself a very difficult recognition for human minds to make: nor can any one soul hope to do so with completeness. Some by re-entering history, and there finding the person and the deeds of Jesus; some by the study and practice of His teachings; some, through a sense of the continuing presence of His exalted Spirit, are led to that adoration which only the Supernatural can evoke. Along all these routes historical, ethical and mystical God comes ‘in Christ’ to the human soul. Yet all lead back to one real human figure, appearing at a given moment of history on a particular spot of this planet. Through this point passed, as through a prism, the ‘shining radiance of the Father’; to spread and to become the light of men.
The strangeness, the uniqueness of impression which the Gospels manage to convey to us, abides in this natural yet supernatural quality; in the portrait which they give of a fully human nature, yet a human nature that, the more we contemplate it, seems to be filled with, and reach back into, something else. ‘For Jesus lives within and through nature the life of Supernature: and this with a completeness in which our childish efforts, sacrifices and heroisms are wholly explained and fulfilled. We are brought into the presence of a Spirit for whom Reality Itself is the Living Father; and who exhibits within history, yet with no escape from the most dread incidents of existence, the tranquil majesty and power of the Invisible God. The human mind has circled about this historic point, has fled from it and returned to it, has
found new meanings and new explanations for it; but has never, once touched, been able to escape the sense that somehow the Supernatural, the Absolute, is here revealed in terms of human nature, and that its recognition ‘saves' the children of men. This felt and actual presence in history of something given from beyond history, yet in perfect union with every level of terrestrial life, is that which Christology and incarnational philosophy have been struggling for two thousand years to express.
It is essential to such a philosophy, and indeed to any realistic view of human nature, that the revelation should be regarded as given rather than achieved. So immense, so unexpected an opening up of the superhuman could only be effected by somewhat in itself superhuman: God alone could thus disclose God. Thus along the path of experience we again reach the conviction, if not the logical demonstration, of the truth of the Johannine ‘I and the Father are one.’ Here the whole personality does really body forth, express, reveal in its heroic energy, its strange deep gentleness, its fortitude and love, the supernatural and eternal Reality. Studying the earliest biographers and interpreters of Jesus, we find that it was neither His moral transcendence nor His special doctrine which struck them most. It was rather the growing certitude that something was here genuinely present in and with humanity, which was yet ‘other’ than humanity. From the beginning, the Christian claim that Christ is ‘fully human and fully Divine’ meant and means the effort to formulate the deeply felt conviction that His person and life do not simply manifest the fullest possibilities of human nature evolving from within. In Him, we feel, we see beyond the world ‘Jesus from the ground suspires’ does not express all that the Incarnation means for us.
The prominence given in the record of Christian origins to the Virgin Birth, Transfiguration, and Ascension is not adequately explained by a reference to the human love of the marvellous, and its tendency to confuse the abnormal with the spiritual. All such episodes seem to point to a deep conviction, that in the great moments of our spiritual history something more than the normal process of life is in question ; a higher term, beyond man’s limited idea of causation, intervenes and does or may profoundly modify what we choose to call the ‘natural’ scheme of things. Thus in Christian history some means had to be found of expressing the truth, that the factor which gave and gives this history its special worth came from beyond the visible world; in other words, was ‘supernatural’. Here, along the path traced by the successive and contingent, the absolute value of the universe is brought right into human life. And, as a matter of fact, the unconditional abandonment of those doctrines which safeguard these conceptions quickly reduces Christianity to the humanitarian level ; and in so doing deprives it of its attracting and transfiguring power. Such a statement need involve no final decision as to which of these episodes represents spiritual, and which historical fact. But it does mean an appreciation of distance which separates the great New Testament writers, with their convinced transcendentalism and profound consciousness of God’s direct action upon and through human life, from a merely ethical view of the demands and gifts of the Gospel.
Thus it makes an absolute difference to our view of the universe, whether Christ represents for us the supreme religious Object, or the supreme religious Subject. That is to say, whether ‘the lonely Man on the Cross’ is simply one who personifies and experiences man’s greatest
intuition of and surrender to God; or, whether the Absolute God is here, under temporal conditions and in intimate union with human personality, making His greatest revelation to man through man. Certainly for the Christian the Cross must be the supreme meeting place of both these movements; and thus, in a measure, represents both God’s movement to man and man’s response. But we have not really progressed beyond an implicit immanentism, unless the objective view predominates; and the historic sacrifice is perceived as bringing to us a revelation of the inmost quality of the universe, the stuff of Eternal Life. If then the Christian theist be asked. ‘What think ye of Christ?’ perhaps he is allowed to answer ‘The perfect embodiment of the Unchanging and Eternal in terms of changeful human life; God’s self-revelation within history, as indeed wholly other than ourselves and yet not wholly unlike ourselves.’ The centrality of Jesus for the history of man abides in this fact: that in Him the life of succession is reinterpreted in the terms of the Eternal Kingdom of God.
It is true that this revelation of the Supernatural, the ‘good news’ of the true relation between man and God, first appears to Jesus Himself as made not primarily through His person but through His message and ‘bringing in' of the Kingdom. He seems most often to conceive His office as that of a proclaimer ; and the Kingdom is felt to be something proximate, about to break through from that Perfect which He realizes so keenly, to the imperfect towards which he leans with such pitying and comprehending love. It is not merely an ethic, but an utterly new life lived in relation with the Holy Reality; a life made possible by the fact that this Holy Reality has a relation of protective self-giving and fatherly love towards the souls of men. ‘Fear not, little flock; for it is
your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ (9)
In and through His own person Jesus reveals to human beings the closeness and dependence of their relationship to this immanent yet personal God; and requires His followers to put first that Kingdom in order that the whole of life may be ruled by its reality. It is His clear vision of the overwhelming claim and worth of this supernal treasure, this Pearl for which no price can be too great, which inspires the note of severity, of totality, in His demands. This severity, which often shocks the amiable and uninitiated, at once seems obvious to every awakened spirit. Whatever it may cost the natural creature, the supernatural call when heard must be obeyed.
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.’ (10)
'Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.’ (11)
At first the little company left behind continue to be dominated by this Apocalyptic hope in the here-and-now coming of the Kingdom. They inevitably translate the supernatural revelation into sensible and historical terms: and suppose the new life they experience to be a foretaste of some cataclysmic change within the world. Hence the Parousia. But after a time they begin to realize that Jesus is Himself both the revelation and the redeemer. ‘In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.' By His appearance in the time-world, history is already transformed and given ultimate meaning; and by a sharing in His Spirit man already lives the supernatural life. This delighted sense of spiritually awakened
(9) Luke xii. 32.
(10) Matthew xvi. 24, 35.
(11) Luke xiv. 33.
souls, that in the person of Christ something was given to them which they had never had before, is reflected in the names which they so quickly gave Him; and which generations of Christians have accepted and used again, as telling at least something of the joy and wonder with which they recognize a living Revealer who is one with the Reality which He reveals. The compound Jesus-Christ, already found in St. Paul’s earliest letters, expresses this sense of identity between the historic arid transcendent, this natural yet supernatural quality. The name Son, applied by Jesus to Himself, describes by human analogy His own consciousness of a mysterious identity with the Ultimate; as the phrase 'I and the Father are one’ gives in six words the very essence of the Christian revelation.(12)
Indeed the figure of Christ stands so exactly on the confines between divine and human so fully radiating God, while remaining so completely man ‘of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting’ that men have never been able to decide in which category to place Him. Meditation seems more and more to show us the relation of history and eternity, our natural and supernatural environment, brought to a point in His person. The serial changes of man and the steadfast abidingness of God seem to co-exist in Him; and every act and word of His earthly life has, like His parables, a double reference. It shows us the perfect living-out of the life of nature, so that men have been quite satisfied to find in Him the supreme ethical teacher and model of human relationships; yet in and with this the achievement of something utterly beyond Nature that state of soul and consequent transfiguration of existence, which He calls the Kingdom of God, and into which He brings His saints.
(12) On the significance of the primitive names of Jesus, see Vacher Burch: Jesus Christ and His Revelation.
The brooding study of the Gospels brings us into gradual familiarity with a life so utterly supernatural that it could afford to take up and transform the least impressive elements of the natural. There is an entire avoidance here of spiritual loftiness; a deliberate condemnation of the aloof attitude of the pious. It is perhaps the homeliness and absence of fastidiousness, flashing out again and again in our fragmentary biographies of Jesus, which most truly guarantee His spiritual transcendence. These witness to a spirit so deeply rooted beyond the contingent as to flower in completest beauty in and through the contingent; bringing ‘eternity interpreted by love' from the lonely mountain to the lakeside and the dinner-table, and giving it with the same gesture of peaceful generosity to the prostitute, the paralytic, the faithful, disciples, the little children and the curious crowd.
Jesus could move without disharmony from the Mountain of Transfiguration to the house of Simon the Leper; could redeem the most squalid sinner by the heart-breaking device of all-pitying love. He asked for the purity of heart which alone can look upon Reality; yet behold without disgust the poor little animal sins of our halfmade human nature, and in the most solemn hour of self-imparting, could kneel and wash His followers’ dusty feet. ‘He riseth from supper and laid aside his garments ; and took a towel and girded himself,’ says the Fourth Evangelist surely here, if ever, recording a vividly remembered event. (13) That was a real washing, not a ritual pretence. So too the first Eucharist was a real eating, and Gethsemane, in which this most human and most holy day was ended, witnessed a real and bitter agony: the piercing anguish in which the creature’s utter self-abandonment to the Eternal purpose must be faced and
(13) John xiii. 4.
fulfilled. Did the rest of the Gospel perish, this series of events alone would be enough to give us the secret of the Supernatural disclosed through man to men.
This genius for the ordinary—this sacramental and transfiguring use of common life—which colours all the words and deeds of Jesus, was so deeply stamped upon the memories of His followers that it has triumphed over all their natural instinct for the impressive and abnormal; and has given to us, not a Hierophant of the Mysteries, but a patient Sower of the seed, a Shepherd, Healer, Comrade, loved and loving Master: a Maker of yokes on which the feeble staggering human creature can carry the balanced burden of physical and spiritual existence. Above all in the Resurrection narratives, where the human love of the sensational, even the bizarre, might surely be expected to assert itself, we are kept in closest touch with common things. The entrancing loveliness of the story abides almost wholly in its insistence on the power of the natural and ordinary to convey the supernatural Presence, by the lake, in the garden, or the quiet room: yet equally on the awed sense of ‘otherness’, the unworldly reality of that which is thus conveyed and ‘recognized in the breaking of bread’. Moreover the fragments of our Lord’s teaching preserved by the Synoptics unite in emphasizing this stern and homely insistence on the realities of life, as the material offered to men in which to find the presence and fulfil the generous will of God. They make plain His vivid love of the living and the simple, His hatred alike of the fantasies and the formalities which come so easily to the pious, and blur their contact with facts.(14)
The word ‘teaching' so constantly and inevitably applied to the great discourses and declarations of Christ,
(14) Cf. Among many passages, Matthew xii. 1-13; xxv. 31-46; Luke xi 37-44.
often obscures the very fact which it is supposed to describe. For ‘teaching’, where it is effective, is not an instruction but an exhibition and imparting of the teacher’s own relation with reality. Thus Socrates is a classic example of the genuine teacher. Plainly the value of the teaching will be graded according to the extent and the richness of that spiritual reality to which the teacher is thus able to respond; the degree in which he can make the ways of God manifest to men. The teaching of Jesus is the absolute example of this irradiation of the particular by the universal light. It does not give a code, and seldom prescribes exact solutions for specific problems; but it interprets the whole of natural and human life in supernatural regard.
Over against the spiritual Kingdom, Jesus perceived men and women to be still spiritual babies; and held that a recognition of their inherent childishness and capacity for growth and chance took away the poison of their sins, tumbles and mistakes. He declared the powerful and vivid presence of the Supernatural, of God; continuously creating and cherishing, with an equal and fatherly love, the whole pageant of life. Not ‘spiritual men' alone, but the immature, sinful, sick, stupid and selfinterested; and not men alone, but the sparrows and the lilies of the field. The discovery of this Reality was the secret of the Kingdom; the hidden treasure that completely enriched the finder; the leaven that transformed the whole of the meal. He taught with the authority of perfect knowledge not only this instant dependence of the whole material scene upon the spaceless Love of God, but the demand made on every awakened soul for co-operation with it; using the talent, digging the vineyard, feeding and cherishing all who were in need. Already this Reality was fully present to man in every
appeal and opportunity of self-forgetting love, from the homely cup of cold water to the heroic sacrifice of life: and every movement of the human soul towards it, every petition and faithful quest, every loving desire for communion all asking, seeking, and knocking at the closed door of Reality would meet with generous and selfgiving response.
But as we learn most of humanity, not by listening to moral teachings, but by the living out of our mostly vague and insignificant lives; so we learn most about God, not by listening even to the deep and gentle teachings of Jesus, but by the contemplation of the uniquely significant and supernatural life in which His personality reveals itself. It is true that the stage is narrow and the drama is brief. But each incident, as we gaze, is found more and more to body forth intense and inexhaustible meaning; whilst arising, with no straining of the situation, out of the common stuff of life. The shifting process of creation, the unescapable curve of human experience its emergence, growth, maturity and death is ever in the foreground. Yet now this same process is charged with supernature. It is ‘fully human and fully divine,’ and at every point eternalized.
In the Gospels we are made to feel always dimly, and sometimes acutely this eternalization of the temporal; the sweet and solemn presence of that ‘holiness’ which is more than and beyond beauty, but is yet of the same order as beauty. We saw that by the adding of beauty and strangeness to history we arrive at Romance. By the adding of holiness to history we arrive at that which Otto calls ‘divination’—an embodiment of the supernatural—‘incarnation’. (15)
The great work of art illuminates and unifies a wide tract of ex-
(15) Cf. The Idea of the Holy, caps. 18-20.
perience, by exhibiting its values; and in so doing conveys to us God, confers on us a measure of the creative point of view. So does this supreme triumph of human personality illuminate and harmonize the whole range and meaning of human life ; and in so doing reveals God. The consummate personality of Jesus, in all the rich fullness of His sense of reality, His inclusive hold on the rugged and the tender, His energy and His peace, stands over against our jangled human character, as a Beethoven sonata stands over against the jangled world of sound. See how every now and then, in this apparently human history, the Transcendent, the utterly unearthly, is glimpsed through Him; and the ‘creature' recoils in awe. ‘They were amazed’, say the Evangelists again and again. ‘No man durst ask him anything'. ‘Verily, this man was the son of God!’ says the Roman officer, watching that strange criminal die. Our blundering credal formulae, with their instinctive clinging hold upon the human—yet their sense that the human category at its highest here somehow becomes inadequate to the facts—manage little more than the constant reassertion of the paradox which has baffled, and yet enslaved, the Christian world. ‘Perfect God’; the Divine Word breaking through into Its creation, the utterance in human language of Reality. ‘Perfect Man’; the pattern of humanity, King of Saints. These completing opposites are here fused in one figure; perfectly historic, yet transcending the time-stream within which it emerged.
HERE then, by a living-in towards all the homeliest aspects of earth, man obtains his deepest initiation into Reality; and so his most complete liberation from the drag of earth. We miss the whole meaning of the
story if we try to wash out this supernatural colour. Then, the most perfect portrait of the Inviolate Rose ever woven into the strange brocade of history becomes nothing more than an unusually attractive combination of the warp and weft of human life.
Yet the chain of history is not broken by the emergence of the life of Jesus; for that life emerges within the thick mesh of a complex human society, at the meeting place of Roman, Hellenic, and Semitic culture. It touches homes and shops and fishing boats; fields, vineyards, villages. It is jostled by mixed crowds of Roman soldiers, Jewish peasants, priests, pietists and excise-men, traders, brigands, harlots, Hellenistic converts Europe and Asia mixed together. Moreover, it is linked up with the whole prophetic trend of Hebrew religion, and reuses much of its material. Jewish history, which alone regards itself as the story of the dealings of the Infinite with one small tribe of men, is the scene within which this ‘saving event’ is prepared. Jesus is so deeply felt to be conditioned by that history, that St. Stephen, in whom the Church Catholic first comes to consciousness, can only thus present Him; (16) whilst His biographers insist that He must have been born ‘in the city of David' and that He died with the words of traditional Hebrew poetry on His lips. The Christian Church, grounding her Divine Office on the Psalter, acknowledges this continuity; deliberately immersing the consciousness of her children in the poetic atmosphere into which Jesus was born, and from which He took the clothing of His revelation.
Nevertheless this Life, on one side so profoundly historic, manifests in a degree untouched by any other historic life the controlling presence of something transcending history; and, in its unfolding and its conse-
(16) Acts vii.
quences, the constant double operation of tradition and of novelty. It is a truism that the fact of something utterly new entering the human world was the dominant impression made- upon the early converts. This sense of novelty, of a wonderful freshness, colours the first records of the Church the new way, the new song, the new covenant, all summed up in the great Pauline saying: ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.' The conviction of an emergence in human terms of the Eternal and the Perfect so unlikely an invention for the monotheistic Jew to entertain crops up perpetually. We are given, says St. Peter, ‘an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away’(17)—something ‘foreordained before the foundation of the world, but manifest in these last times’ (18) and inconsequence human beings are now being ‘called out of darkness into his marvellous light’ (19)—a calling of which the first faint whisperings began far back in geologic time, when the semi-human creature looked with awe at the mountain and the storm. ‘Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.’ (20) So the religious genius who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews tries to tell us in allusive, but yet more striking language, what he thinks the life of Jesus really means:
‘God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son . . . the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person.” (21)
Or, as Dr. Moffatt translates it, ‘reflecting God’s bright glory and stamped with God’s own character.’ Could the emergence of the Eternal within the historic series be more clearly expressed?
(17) I Peter i. 4.
(18) I Peter i. 20.
(19) I Peter ii. 9.
(20) I John ii. 8.
(21) Hebrews i. 1, 3.
Thus when human thought, warmed by human love, first got to work on the facts which were found to transfigure human life wherever received; the forced conclusion of the matter was, that here something other than the development of history was involved. Here, by all sensitive spirits, the moulding influence of the Transcendent is vividly experienced; the Supernatural reaches man, and man’s world, as never before, along the path of human personality. And if this be the true way of seeing things; then, in the bold language of St. Catherine of Siena, philosophy itself can afford to regard the person of Jesus as a ‘Bridge’ between God and man, whereby ‘the earth of humanity is joined to the greatness of the Deity.’
‘So the height of the divinity, humbled to the earth, and joined with your humanity, made the Bridge and reformed the road. Why was this done? In order that man might come to his true happiness with the angels. And observe that it is not enough, in order that you should have life, that My Son should have made you this Bridge, unless you walk thereon.’ (22)
There is here presented to the emergent human soul in its present close union with the physical, a Something also in closest union with the physical on which its childish appetite for Reality can feed, its instinct of adoration be spent. Christian worship, though it has to a point its parallels in other incarnational religions, is in this respect alone in its austere beauty, completeness, and life-changing power. The soothing cults which invite us to ‘get in tune with the Infinite’; the various devotional ways of escape from the fret of the ordinary, successive, and imperfect these disclose their shallowness and implicit egoism when measured against its declarations and demands. For the Christian theist is
(22) Divine Dialogue, cap. 22.
called upon to transfigure the ordinary, successive, and imperfect; not to escape from it. He must follow the lonely path of Jesus; press on, ahead of the racial level and in constant conflict with the racial urge towards self-seeking, and eternalize each moment of succession by relating it to God. He is asked to love, and learn from, the darkest incidents and hardest demands of existence, not only its joyous and expansive stretches; to set up the Cross in the very heart of personality. For the real supernatural life requires a seizing, not a shirking of the most homely: and a using of it as the material of the most heroic.
Such is the ‘following of Christ’; one of the strangest of human phenomena, which has been going on steadily for two thousand years in defiance of all those human instincts of self-preservation, self-assertion and acquisitiveness which are supposed to be most beneficial to the race. It always means the same thing, that which religion calls the ‘Way of the Cross’: the bringing in of happiness, security, fresh union of man with God, the doing of redeeming work, at one’s own cost and commonly under stern conditions of self-renunciation. Wherever this ‘gospel’ has been preached—this ‘good news’ that man can do saving work for man—there, all the noblest of souls have responded with zest and delight. The overwhelming conviction which blossomed in the soul of Jesus, that sacrifice, the gesture of complete self-giving, is the deepest secret of life and the only gateway of the supernatural world: this has ever since been the real motive power of the saints. They have found here the strange presence of a rescuing power, in conflict with the downward trend of animal impulse and the evil deformation of nature; a power using as its tools the dedicated lives of men. Hence that close alliance of suffering and
sanctity, which the cheaper type of Christian optimist finds so difficult to explain.
I find her constant and, dare I say intrusive, practice of negatively characterising various manifestations of non-Christian and especially "popular" mysticism more than somewhat off-putting.
My own position is that inasfar as she might be correct in what she says the principal consequent need is bridge building, not bridge burning.
I am reading her work in a different spiritual climate, admittedly, when the New Age has more or less claimed the territory for itself, together with the marketing revenues, when suffering is largely the prerogative of the third world and those who have been sexually abused, and the Church proper is to some extent the home of perceived impropriety.
But she does go on, and on.
Here that ‘groaning and travailing' of creation which St. Paul so vividly realized, and which has worried his easy-going interpreters ever since, is perceived as a fundamental truth. So even were this the only gift of the Gospel, here Jesus of Nazareth transfigured our whole view of the meaning and nature of man and his relation with Reality. For He made Love the universal of personality, the absolute of soul; and in doing this, made that same principle of Love the only category under which men could think truly about God.
'Love ! Thou art Absolute sole Lord
Of Life, and Death’
And the witness to this conception—so trite, that we forget its real meaning and wash it down into easy sentimentality; yet so unthinkable an issue from the universe of the determinist—is not Eros but the Cross.
Christianity does not stand alone among the great religions in declaring, and satisfying, the need for such a ‘Bridge’; though it states, and meets, the requirements of man’s situation with a special completeness. Those requirements are also felt outside the Christian system, wherever the attraction of God, the thirst for union with Him, are deeply experienced. Thus in the Bhakti Marga of Hinduism we have a ‘way of love and personal devotion' which is directed to that aspect of the Absolute God personified in Vishnu or his human incarnations Ram and Krishna. Here human personality again becomes in some sort a bridge between the transcendent God and the desirous soul. For this cult,
see immediately above - DCW
with all its emotional excesses, yet gives an objective related to the time-stream, through which the religious sense can find
and feel at its own level that which lies beyond Time; and so balance the arid abstractions of pure Brahma-worship. And it is noticeable that the language in which the hungry soul here tells its craving and its satisfaction, comes nearer than anything else in religious literature to the temper of Christocentric devotion.
‘Dark, dark the far Unknown and closed the Way
To thought and speech; silent the Scriptures; yea,
No word the Vedas say.
Not thus the Manifest. How fair ! how near!
Gone is our thirst if only He appear
He, to the heart so dear!’ (23)
‘This day is dear to me above all other days, for to-day the Beloved Lord is a guest in my house ;
My chamber and my courtyard are beautiful with His presence.
My longings sing His Name, and they are become lost in His great beauty:
I wash His feet, and I look upon His Face; and I lay before Him as an offering my body, my mind, and all that I have.
What a day of gladness is that day in which my Beloved, who is my treasure, comes to my house!
All evils fly from my heart when I see my Lord’. (24)
‘My food I’ll get in serving Thee,
Thy thoughts shall be as eyes to me.
I’ll live and breathe to sine: Thy praise,
From this time onward all my days;
Thy feet I choose, the world resign,
For Thou, from this day on, art mine
Brother beloved, and King divine I’ (25)
Buddhism too has been forced by the same intuition, and same implicit need, to abandon its first negative emphasis on mere liberation; and meet the deep-seated longing of man’s soul for personal love and leadership, incentive to sacrifice, redeeming work. Thus it gives to us the strange and noble spectacle of the Buddha preaching happiness through escape from the ‘wheel of
(23) Psalms of Maratha Saints. Translated by J. Nichol, p. 51.
(24) Kabir’s Poems: Song LXXXVIII.
(25) Tilah. Translated from the Marathi by N. Macnichol.
things’; yet, in his avatar as Buddha-saviour, refusing Nirvana that he may return to the world and save the souls of men- 'non necessitate sed caritate trahente'. In the figure of the Bodhisattva the great religious painters of China have managed to convey just that mysterious union of power, profound peace, and ineffable tenderness which the Christian contemplative well understands. Surely we must give, in a limited sense, the value of incarnation to such a conception as this; embodying as it does man’s deep intuition of redeeming love as a constituent of Reality. (26) It is not the same thing, but it looks the same way; acknowledges the same creaturely need and divine desire.
So we shall not limit the redemptive action of the supernatural within the human sphere to one supreme historic figure; nor shall we attach it exclusively to that experience of communion with a continuing Presence, which the religious consciousness identifies with the Exalted Christ. Not even will we limit it by that consecration of things and persons which radiates from this focal centre; and is manifested to us in the power of the sacraments, and in the redeeming energy of the saints. But we shall mean that whole movement of Spirit Creative and Complete towarcj spirit created and incomplete, that willing self-revelation of the Spaceless God in space and time, of which so far as this planet is concerned the perfect case is seen in Bethlehem and Calvary: ‘the condition, the work, and the mystery wherein God reigns, and whereby He reigns, in His creatures’. (27)
(26) According to the doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism, the Bodhisattva is one who has reached and deliberately renounces ‘arhatship’ or liberation from the wheel of life; and returns to earth in order to strive for the redemption of all living things. He is dedicated to the saving of souls, the destruction of passions, the knowledge and teaching of truth, the leading of others in the Way: and exhibits the supernatural virtues of charity, moral perfection, patience, devotedness, contemplation, wisdom.
Cf. W. M. McGovern: Introduction to Mahayana Buddhism, p. 101.
(27) Berulle: Oeuvres, p. 990.
IT is perhaps because of this felt need of mediation, of material given to us in history for the recognition of God, that Christianity has never been satisfied with an account of the Incarnation which limits it to a point of historic time. For the deepest and truest Christian feeling, that embodiment of the Infinite, that sublime interweaving of the temporal and eternal, continues and is continuously experienced; both at its centre and in its sacramental and spiritual extensions. Mysterious, even irrational as we may choose to think it, the spiritual vigour of all great Christians seems ever to spring from $his intimately felt here-and-now relationship with a personal and redeeming Presence, that yet carries with it something of the unsearchable splendours of the Ultimate. From St. Paul onwards, the ‘transition from God the void to God the companion' (28) is made by them ‘in Christ’: and in this discovery they are truly victorious over succession, and experience under living symbols the ever new impact of the supernatural world. Moreover, it is along this same path of continuous incarnation that we reach the conception of the Church as the visible garment of the Supernatural: the Body, in and by which the Spirit of Christ indwells history, and by perpetual self-disclosures within the temporal series draws souls into the supernatural life. Other great faiths, in proportion to their efficacy, have been compelled, as we have seen, to provide a bridge of the same kind: for life and renovating power seem always to go, not with a theism of the impersonal and abstractive type, but with the cultus by which a sense of incarnate revelation and of close personal communion is expressed.
(28) A. N. Whitehead: Religion in the Making, p. 16.
The Presence is noumenal and outside time; though the human creature always apprehends it mixed with phenomena, and within the temporal series. But a constant return to this burning heart of spiritual experience, now in one way and now in another however difficult it may be to give it its right place in theology is one of the most certain and most strange facts of Christian history. So with the charismatic religion of the Apostolic age, facing a hostile and incredulous world with a courage born of the conviction which is expressed in the last words of St. Matthew and St. Mark and rising in St. Paul to a height of assurance at which ‘all things are possible' since love and courage, poetry and faith, are one. So with the beautiful mediaeval cult of the Holy Name, which gathered up all that was most fervent and intimate in the religion of its period, and finds classic expression in the pages of the Imitatio (29) and in the ever freshly living phrases of the Rosy Sequence: Jesu dulcis memoria. It is plainly from within the same circle of secret and intense experience that the great English teachers of the spiritual life are speaking, when they say:
'We should covet to feel aye the lively inspiration of grace made by the ghostly presence of Jhesu in our soul, if that we might; and for to have Him aye in our sight with reverence, and aye feel the sweetness of His love by a wonderful homeliness of His presence. This should be our life and our feeling in grace, after the measure of His gift in whom all grace is, to some more and to some less; for His presence is felt in divers manner-wise as He vouchsafe. And in this we should live, and work what longeth to us for to work on ; for without this we should not be able to live. For right as the soul is the life of the body, right so Jhesu is life of the soul by His gracious presence. . . . How that presence is felt, it may better be known by experience than by any writing; for it is the life and the love, the might and the light, the joy and the rest of a chosen soul. And therefore he that hath soothfastly once felt it, he may not forbear it without pain; he may not undesire it, it is so good in itself and so comfortable. What is more
(29) Cf. Especially Book II, caps. 7 and 8.
comfortable to a soul here than for to be drawn out through grace from the vile noye of worldly business and filth of desires, and from vain affection of all creatures into rest and softness of ghostly love; privily perceiving the gracious presence of Jhesu, feelably fed with savour of His unseeable blessed face? Soothly nothing, me thinketh. Nothing may make the soul of a lover full merry, but the gracious presence of Jhesu as He can show Him to a clean soul.’ (30)
‘Christ alone did all the works that belong to our salvation and none but He; and right so He alone doeth now the last end: that is to say, He dwelleth here with us, and ruleth us and governeth us in this living, and bringeth us to His bliss. . . . For Himself is nearest and meekest, highest and lowest, and doeth all.’ (31)
Precisely the same type of feeling and conviction marked the Evangelical revival of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This is the source of its regenerative and saving power, of the energy and confidence with which such heroic spirits as Wesley, Brainerd, Martyn and Livingstone carried through their astonishing works. It brought back into Christian literature as in the hymns of Charles Wesley the same intimately realistic note. Moreover, the continuity of tradition was complete. Wesley journeyed through England with the Imitatio in his saddle-bag. Livingstone, alone in Africa, transcribes the Jesu dulcis memoria in his diary ‘because I love it so.’ It is not very easy to charge either of these great men of action with the mawkish sentimentality which such a devotion is often supposed to involve. We seem rather to be faced with a concrete kind of religious experience, appropriate to the creaturely status of man, and unequalled in its influence upon his behavior and character.
So in the present day, the two directions in which religion shows signs of a restored vitality—the rediscovery of the historical Jesus, and the development of
(32) Walter Hilton: The Scale of Perfection, Bk. II, cap. 41.
(33) Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love, cap. lxxx.
Eucharistic devotion—are complementary expressions of the same incarnational trend; and seem to lead, where faithfully followed, to a spiritual experience of the same type. And again it is not to the feverish imaginings of the congenitally pious or the emotional derelicts, but toconvictions wrought slowly in the souls of scholars and men of action, that we must go for the most impressive examples of this. I select three from among the most personal and unconventional Christian writings which the present century has produced. The first is the great passage with which that intrepid critic Dr. Schweitzer concludes his revolutionary study of the historic Christ.
‘The very strangeness and unconditionedness in which He stands before us makes it easier for individuals to find their own personal standpoint in regard to Him. . . . The names in which men expressed their recognition of Him as such, Messiah,, Son of Man, Son of God, have become for us historical parables. We can find no designation which expresses what He is for us.
‘He comes to us as One unknown, without a name; as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me I” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands and to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.’ (34)
These words, as is well known, their author has worked out in terms of complete self-renunciation and heroic labour as a medical missionary in the African forest.
Put beside them those of a critic and scholar of another type, whose independent study and meditation has brought him to the same point.
‘That our intellects cannot conceive the nature of an objective presence which is not physical, and that a “spiritual body” remains for our minds a contradiction in terms, is only evidence that our minds are still inadequate to reality. The spiritual
(34) Schweitzer: The Quest of the Historical Jesus, pp. 399, 401.
body of Jesus exists and is immortal. Some make their lifegiving contact with it through the Eucharist; for others that contact is impossible. But they, through the effort of making the earthly life of Jesus real to themselves, find their souls possessed by love and veneration for the Prince of men. A fount of living water is unsealed in them. And it may be that this, and this alone, is the great Christian experience, ultimate and eternal, though our ways to it must be our own.’ (35)
Last, I take a passage in which Dr. Grenfell, the heroic doctor-missionary of Labrador, describes the sources of his power:
‘Christ means to me a living personality to-day who moves about in this world, and who gives us strength and power as we endure by seeing Him Who is invisible only to our fallible and finite human eyes; just as any other good comrade helps one to be brave and do the right thing. Faith was essential for that conviction fifty years ago. To-day with telephones and radios and X-ray, and our knowledge of matter as only energy, and now with television within our grasp, there is not the slightest difficulty in seeing how reasonable that faith is. “The body of His glorification” passed through closed doors, so the Apostles said—well, why should I be able to see it any more than I can see an ultra-violet or an ultra-red ray or molecule, an atom, an electron or a proton? All that those old fellows claimed was that “now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face' (36)
What do we find in all these testimonies taken almost at random from the crowded literature of Christian realism, and representing a wide variety of temperament and even of belief? Surely we find a recognizable identity of experience; an experience which again does not differ in essentials from that which the Catholic Christian means by the Real Presence or the Sacred Heart. These various souls, approaching from different angles one point, have discovered that adherence to the Holy, self-offered at this point in union with man, does actually change the world for man; raises him to a new and intimate relationship with the beloved Reality, and ‘gives eternal
(35) J. Middleton Murry: Life of Jesus, p. 316.
(36) Wilfred Grenfell: What Christ Means to Me, p. 93.
life’. (37) And if in these different ways men have been able to lay hold on that same living Reality, healed in the same way the breach between eternity and time, experienced the same communion in suffering and in service, been flooded by the same tide of tender feeling, loyalty and breathless awe then does it very much matter whether we do or do not manage to determine the exact proportion in which the human dramatic faculty (itself God-given) and the direct self-giving of the Holy co-operate to produce this result?
That result seems to be unlike anything else in the whole range of man’s spiritual and emotional life. On the one hand it is distinct in kind from the metaphysical passion for God. On the other it is wholly different from our attachments to our fellow beings, even to those fellow beings whom we most love and revere. Drawing emotional and volitional material from both these great sources of supply it makes of them, as the primitive Christians saw clearly, a fresh creation—‘if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature’. Christian thought has wavered in its identification and description of this experience. Already in the New Testament the line between ‘Spirit’ and ‘Christ’ grows very thin; and this especially in St. Paul, whose religious range extends, without any apparent dislocation, from a conversion which he identifies as the direct work of the risen Jesus, to a sense of indwelling Spirit which hardly depends on historic incarnation at all, and is nearer the Johannine concept of the Paraclete. But however explained and described, the experience is there. It transfigures, enobles and delights all who receive it with simplicity; and honest study of the peculiar phase of religious feeling which it represents, at least forces us to view with suspicion some
(37) John xvii, 2-8.
of the more dogmatic conclusions of ‘religious' psychology, and consider with respect the persistent and successful use by devotional souls of this intuitive pathway to Reality.
It is true that psychologists have found it easy, or think they have found it easy, to analyse the Christian’s ‘sense of a presence’ and attendant feeling of confidence and power, and expose the disconcerting nature of its constituents. Certainly in the religious complex as elsewhere, phantasy is never wholly absent; and may easily gain control of an uncritical mind. The clergyman in The Veil of the Temple whose litany led up to the fervent petition: ‘Hands of Mary, which drip with myrrh, fondle us!’ (38) represents a type of piety that few would desire to save from the clutches of the analyst. But it is not primarily the ‘sense of a presence’ in its merely consoling and compensatory aspects, with which we are now concerned. It is rather the more substantial claim to a genuine contact with supernatural sources of life, given by means of this concession to our human limitations; a contract resulting in total re-direction of impulse, vigorous and costly self-discipline, and consequent enhancement of power.
Once more, as in the historic incarnation, we seem to be confronted with a special self-expression of the Infinite God, in terms of a transcendent personality. We may allow that the human tendency to dramatize, personify its material, does play a part in an experience which must always remain among the most sacred mysteries of the spiritual life. We may admit the probable influence in various degrees first of ‘projection’—the externalizing of our secret longings, intuitions and beliefs—next of ‘regression’, the tendency to retreat from the difficulties of life
(38) W. H. Mallock: The Veil of the Temple, p. 137.
and take refuge in a childlike attitude of dependence; (39) and last of the law of apperception, inevitably and ceaselessly combining each fresh precept with the content of the mind, and interpreting the present by the past. That is to say, the form taken by this, as by all our other experiences, will be governed by history, temperament, religious environment and cultural level. But that is a crude imitation of true criticism which cannot here discern a substance, in spite of the bewildering multiplicity of lowly accidents with which it is given, and the sense-conditioned mind by which it is received.
One instance among many will serve to illustrate these propositions. I deliberately choose an example which many persons will regard as extreme; the religious insights and symbolic constructions which are brought together in the popular Catholic cultus of the Sacred Heart. This is perhaps the most misunderstood of all modern devotions, alike by those who love it and those who are repelled by it. The unfortunate and high-coloured imagery which is familiar to all of us, and too much of the pious literature which it has inspired, now obscure the noble aims and profound intuitions of those by whom it was first proposed to the Christian mind. For the great spiritual teachers of the seventeenth century, the heart was not merely the seat of affection, but rather the vivid focal point of personality. It was there that they sought the true nature and meaning of man. Thus, by the Sacred Heart, they meant the very character of God and life-principle of the Incarnate: Christus totus, the divine plenitude of life, love and intelligence, ceaselessly self-given to men. This was a conception far exceeding the apparent content of that symbol of yearning affection and compassion which pictures and statues,
(39) On the place of these factors in religious experience, see W. Brown: Mind and Personality, cap. xx.
crudely and insistently suggest to the imagination.
‘The Sacred Heart’, said the Blessed John Eudes, one of the founders of this devotion, 'is the Holy Spirit’: that energetic divine love which links the Infinite Being of God and His creative self-expression, and in Christ becomes the supernatural principle of an action both human and divine.(40) Surely in this we have a description of the same substantial experience as that which the Cambridge Platonist was struggling to express in his own manner from the opposite edge of the theological fold:
‘He is a quickening spirit, all spirit and life. His human nature is now all spirit, and by having the Godhead, hath the Fountain of Spirit and Life in itself.’ (41)
Here then, under symbols which the superior often find distressing, a little homely door is opened to man which yet leads out to the Eternal Spaces; and the contemplative mind is led from the visible divine action, to its origin in the invisible divine love, and from that love to the ‘sacred heart' which is the Uncreated Centre of all love and all life. We here pass from ‘special mysteries’ which mediate the Supernatural, to the very Foundation of all mysteries; from act, to principle of action. Nevertheless we observe that, true to the principle of incarnation, this sublime conception finds its expression under the intimate human symbol of a heart burning with love for man; and offers to the simplest human feeling something that it can understand—a devotion which might even be called quasi-physical, yet is boundless in its metaphysical reach. Thus once more a bridge is made from the transitory to the Eternal; and the boundless self-giving of the Infinite is brought by the path of humanity to men.
(40) Cf. H. Bremond: Histoire Litteraire du Sentiment Religieux en France, vol. iii, pt. 3, caps, ii and iii.
(41) Peter Sterry: A Discourse of the Freedom of the Will, p. 131.