Holloway on - The Character of Christ
Before the personality of Christ, as that word means character, the pen of man is powerless. Here is the revelation of the total which is God. Let every man seek and ponder for himself; now, we can only treat of Christ as a personality in generalities. The private understanding and personal appreciation of Christ as an individual, this will be more or less, richer or poorer, upon so many factors, most of them subjective. A man must come to know Christ from the life of the Christian Church within herself, from the reading of the Scriptures, from personal prayer, and from the countless facets of the Christian tradition. Every man’s appreciation and personal joy in Christ is his own property, and much of it could never be transmitted to another. If in human things a man cannot communicate to another his personal love of intimate friends, of husband or wife, of children, much less can he share with another the love which consummates the desire of the inmost searching of his soul; every man must approach the Master by himself. However, there are many things in the life and personality of Jesus Christ which are common for us all, attainable in some degree by all, though the detail which lies behind the generalities, as a rich countryside lies within the dim line of a far horizon, are to be found alone by each man seeking alone.
Christ is the image of the invisible God
We find revealed to us in the personality of Christ the perfect mirror of the Godhead, the more obviously in matters which regard the relationship between God and mankind. We find in Him a tender love for men which is inexhaustible, and which was not exhausted even to the death of the cross. A love profound and merciful beyond our crude comprehending, a love so far beyond human mercies, and human carefulness, that confidence in Him, is prompted within every man, however degraded, who is sick of heart, and would desire to return back again to his own true centre. For this love of God for men in Christ, being begotten before time and space, transcends all human categories; for His delight was to be with the sons of men, as his prophet tells concerning the predestination of Christ for men, before the uncreated Word became the Word of wisdom en-fleshed for men:
“The Lord created me in the beginning of his work,
the first of His acts of old:
ages ago I was set up,
at the first, from the beginning of the earth;
when there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped;
before the hills I was brought forth,
before He had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
When He established the heavens, I was there,
when He drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when He made firm the skies above, and established the fountains of the deep;
when He assigned to the sea its limit,
that the waters might not transgress His command;
when He marked out the foundations of the earth:
then I was beside Him as a master craftsman,
and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in His inhabited world
and delighting in the sons of men.
And now, my sons, listen to me:
happy are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction, and be wise, and do not neglect it.
Happy is the man who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
For he who finds me finds life,
and obtains favour with the Lord.
But he who misses me injures himself.
All who hate me love death.”
(Prov. 8:22-36 Cf Heb. 2:10-18)
This is the love of God for men, in Christ, out of which there shines the fruition intended for the human soul in its final and beatific union with God. It is a love, made human and visible in Christ, which tells us all with a perfection of manner and a certainty that goes beyond all speech and all gratitude to express. Unless God himself had spoken to us with infallible assurance, who would have known, or have dared to believe he knew, what things God has laid up for men who love Him? The things which are revealed to us in Christ are things so great, that of all this it is his very Incarnation which is to man the most assured pledge of the truth of them.
He gave them power to become children of God
Only because of Christ could we believe that every man was our brother. Only because of Christ would we labour with gentleness against arrogance, with sweetness before pompous ignorance, with forgiveness before subtle persecution and animal hatreds. Not from dialectical materialism would we believe these things, not from the grim apparatus of that mechanism of biology, applied to man, which lumbers to new stations over the bodies of its own rejected and slaughtered leaders.
Apart from Jesus Christ we have no reasonable motive to believe in universal brotherhood, “social goodness”, loyalty or love. A materialist may hold all these things when he is still very young, but when he has come to learn the involuntary selfishness, the conscious and unconscious jealousy, the silly arrogance, the stupidities of heart born of unremitted power, when he has come to know all the sordidness and the disappointments which lie within human life, not from the pressure of economic systems, but which impregnate the blood, the bones, the marrow of men, then only God can save him from despair, if he has still the tenderness left to despair. When a man is thrown back upon himself in the end, deserted by his fellows in the mad rush to serve self, then only God can save a man from despair of man; only God and Him crucified.
In Christ a man can believe that we are members one of another, conjoined and compacted in the bond of a common brotherhood. In Christ we can love another man, forgive his faults, bear the burden of his grossness, and pray that he hear ours. In Christ we can forgive, because we can be humble. In Christ we can love, for pity of the handicap of sin which weighs upon our natures; for hope of reform and healing, even in this state of wounded nature, from the medicine that men may find in Christ.
In Christ we can lean upon God, and not upon our helpless hopeless selves, in prayer; and in painful endeavour to purify a nature run wanton from its earliest youth. Because of Christ, in the humble recognition of mutual weakness among all men, a man can love his brethren, and discipline that love lest lust should supervene. He can forgive but yet retain the truth, and know sin and folly in his brother even while he pardons; he can cherish, too, but still see with honest eye the blemishes that blot the personality even of the finest men that breathe.
Growth into mature manhood after the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ
In Christ, and because of Christ, his rock of sure standing, and only perfect joy, a man can do all this and more. Without Christ there is no humbleness, and without humility the fallen, foolish soul of man revolts against the stench of human lusts, for power, wealth, women, and, among the bold, for even a messiah’s crown. Such a man will hate his own self in the secret void of his own heart. He will rage even more with hatred and contempt against any other who in the same name of his own arrogant pride, shall stand against him, or distantly threaten anything whatsoever that he covets for his own. All systems of human self-sufficiency whether materialist or idealist must lead to a regime of fear. There is no tenderness in the jungle, no mercy there or forgiveness, and why should it be otherwise among men? Only in Christ can a man be a man, for in Christ alone he will discover the searching truth, the acceptance of which can cure only if it sears. He that will save his life for himself shall lose it; and he that shall lose his own self for Christ, shall therein find his life, and save it.
This way of truth is often hard, painful, and exacting. It is not an easy thing to reform one’s personality upon the likeness of Christ’s. This way of the truth offers as its prize a rose of purest delight, the restful joy of interior wisdom and sweetness in God; it is the prize of a man in this life also, but for its plucking it costs the smarting hand of painful endeavour, for it blossoms above thorns. In the life of men of deep intelligence and deep hearts, there comes a time when, without the knowledge of God and the hope for man which stands revealed to men in Christ, they break their hearts, because they have plumbed the inevitable unreliability of themselves and of other men. They find no resting place for their spirit, neither in themselves nor in men, and they do not find because there is none to be found there. Left to himself a man will discover sooner or later that there is no bedrock to human personality within the human person, there are only sands of varying consistencies, but there is a storm which can shift them all.
If then there is no motive in men, why a man should suffer fools with gladness? He must either retire into the slummy shack of his own heart and live in the rut of the cynic, or else strive with the rest with the weapons of the rest; be hard, ruthless, cruel, and shrug it off as the way of life. When all else fails him, if he has power, and dares to use it, there is the final weapon of individual or mass murder as an instrument of personal power.
Such a breakdown must always occur, because the controlling centre of human life is not in man at all, and certainly not in matter which is less than he. If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. The centre of control for man, the directing intellect and the inspiring love rests in God alone, in the Intellect which is uniquely authoritative, balanced, and wise, in the Good which is lasting, deep, tender, and merciful. This is to say that the control and direction of human destiny is Christ alone, because Christ is the name of the Word which the Intellect of God speaks to men.
The love of Christ compels us – transformation of individuals and society
When a man sets out to attain some end in view, whether because he loves it, or because he considers it to be plain stark duty for him, if the means are painful, and the way is long he must have a compelling motive. A powerful motive is not enough; a man must be certain, there needs to be a “must” at the back of his mind, a “should” is not sufficient to motivate him. In the order of man’s destiny towards God also, the more because of sin, there will arise in the human mind numberless complex difficulties, hesitations, and new doubts. The need for a complete and a compelling authority is obvious, if man is to be the recipient of his adequate determination to his true happiness at all times and throughout all increase of natural knowledge. The unique status of Christ, and the unique truth of the religion given to the world by Christ, should therefore stand out with a surer truth in these days, and with all-
compelling certainty as the only beacon of mankind.
The governing laws of a man’s life go out beyond the nature of man, beyond instinct, and beyond animal behaviourism. If men fail to realise this, if they fail to look for a governing centre, of an intellectual nature, beyond themselves and certainly beyond matter, then there will inevitably follow first the ruin of private lives, and then the ruin of whole societies as the majority of the individuals which compose them fail and cease to have anything to offer by which civilisations can be supported. To last a long time is not the only test of human success or failure; not quantity, but quality is the test of the vitality of men and of cultures. A humdrum and selfish personality, one of those lives which seem to span the gulf between men and vegetables, may drag on to a great old age, and yet such a man has never lived at all in any sense worthy of human existence.
Civilisations too, such as those of the ancient East, may stand for centuries upon the souls and bodies of men who are dead; for men die not only in the body, but in their souls, in which they die of the slavery of the spirit, the unresisting obsequiousness which can accept anything at all from a powerful tyrant, because mind, heart, and self-respect have been stifled from birth. After long ages perhaps someone will successfully rebel, and resistance will come sooner, very much sooner, if some whisper of a doctrine which defends the personality of men is breathed among the masses. But whatever the perils, or the hopes of men, does not every crisis, every doubt, every tyranny point the one inescapable need for men to know, and for societies to cherish, the firm truth, the stable laws, the correct paths of happiness for the human personality? There simply and without qualification must be an answer to these vital human needs, and the answer must repose in an Intellect which is sure, firm, and final.
Personal relation to Jesus Christ
The coming of Christ gives mankind this essential of human life with a sweetness and an ease which opens soul and body to the wisdom of God as a flower turns towards the sun and opens blossoming. We learn from a man, through the senses of a man; we love a personality which is embodied in the tangible nature of a man, we speak to the Absolute Being in human accents, and are sure of understanding, of graciousness and of love. We learn in our perfect manner, and while we learn naturally and with ease we have behind our lesson the authority of God’s own and personal word.
When the hot and harassed mother and housewife pauses in her cleaning to glance up at the picture of Jesus Christ in her living room, and to exclaim inwardly, “O Sacred Heart of Jesus, rule you my home”, what else does she do than go to God? She must, if she is to go perfectly as spirit and matter united in one nature and in one personality. How could she go thus to God, or how could any of us, with that perfection which lifts both soul and body sweetly to God in one, and sanctifies our lives through all the welter of work- a-day routines, unless she, and we all of us with her, unlettered and learned alike, could find Him as God, and yet as God attainable by man, through the medium of human sense?
Let a man read the New Testament for himself and consider the parables and similes under which Christ presents His understanding to us, and our relation to Him. Let him notice the tenderness which breathes through all the sayings of Christ. It is not a small thing to have learned, or a small delight to have appreciated that God is to be approached with love, and with self-abandoning trust rather than with awe and submission. Is it a small thing for a man to have learned that, in the relations of men with the Divine, “perfect love casts out fear” (I Jn 4:18)? A man must come at last, over the years of his life, to know and to love Christ as a person. He must, if he will be a perfect Christian, cease to serve from motives of duty, which contain an element of fear and imperfection, and learn to love with the perfection of love which casts out fear. So great and so perfect an act of friendship as the intimate love of God surpasses our power to discuss in this place. It requires that a man should know God truly as God is, and love him with a perfect sincerity, the basis of which is complete humility. It demands that he should read, listen, ponder, and contemplate, so that in the full environment of that Catholic and Christian tradition which contains the fullness of Christ’s revelation, a man may grow day by day in the maturity of the goodness and happiness which for men is life, and life more abundant. As for the experience of the sweetness of the love of God, the writings of the saints are full of it, but every man must earn it for himself, and when he has earned it, he will taste it and prove it for himself.