Part II, Chapter I
The Incarnation and the mission of the Holy Ghost
The loftiest of the ancient philosophers confessed the incompetence of reason to determine spiritual truth, and looked forward, with an instinct of prophetic anticipation, to the advent of a god who might remove uncertainty by the word of divine authority (Plato in Epinomide). It is time for Protestants to ask themselves whether they are any better off that Plato was. For them, a God has come – and gone. The Divine Word walks the earth no more; and for the ascertaining of truth it is as if he had never descended from heaven. Christianity has furnished many new and glorious ideas, so novel indeed and so beautiful that men call it a revelation. But when we come to sift the meaning of this expression, it only signifies that a new domain of speculation has been thrown open, in which the human intellect may wander up and down, and admire – and doubt. The relation of truth to reason, the appeal to which it makes to the mind, is the same now as before. The reception of what are called Christian doctrines is simply the assent of the understanding to propositions the truth of which appears probable (As Chillingworth has not only admitted, but endeavored to prove).
Men have what they call faith. But it is evident that this belief is only a number of opinions, more or less strong, and differing from any other intellectual judgments only in this, that they are of such a nature as to excite emotion, suggest comfort, and inspire hope. The very hope thus awakened in the mind is of a sort which shows the character of the belief from which it springs; for it is a looking anxiously forward – I am speaking, be it remembered, of protestants – to a future state, in which present doubt shall be exchanged for knowledge, and the mists of uncertainty be dissolved in the effulgence of light. This is in effect precisely what Plato did. ‘And exactly what St. Paul did,’ you quickly exclaim. Ah, dear friend, how clearly, if you could only see it, this very appeal of yours shows how utterly you have failed to comprehend the nature of Catholic faith! You quote St. Paul as if he had said, ‘Now I doubt, but then shall I know.’ St. Paul was a Catholic, and he spoke as a Catholic. And his words were: “NOW I KNOW” – I know now, and I shall know then; the assurance is the same, the measure of cognition alone is different; “now I know in part, but then I shall know even as I am known.”
If the Lord Jesus Christ were to come back to us, in the glory of his majesty, how quickly would we cease our dogmatizing, and hush our disputings. With one accord we would exclaim, ‘the Messsias is come, and he will teach us all things.’ Dear friend, he is here now; he is here today in the midst of us, radiant with the irresistible tokens of divinity, addressing us in awful tones of authority; in the person of his Church he comes and lays his hand upon you, and says, “I that speak unto thee am he.”
This is not a fiction of speech. It is no bold metaphor. The Church is the voice of God, speaking to the world now as it spoke eighteen hundred years ago. The God whose possible coming was dimly conceived by the intuition of the Greek philosopher has actually come. And has the meaning of that advent ever shown in upon your mind? Have you ever apprehended, have you even begun to apprehend, the appalling fact of he Incarnation? The infinite, eternal God brought himself within bounds; he took upon him a reasonable soul and human flesh; he suffered death as a sacrifice for the sins of the world; he created a Church, and built it upon a rock, and said, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it;” he chose his representatives, an in words of omnipotence he invested them with their awful commission; to one of them he gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven; to all of them he said: “whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed in heaven;” he breathed upon them, saying, “receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained;” he pronounced upon them those sentences of unutterable import: “as the Father hath sent me, even so send I you:” “he that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me:” “all power is given to me in heaven and in earth: go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”
Saturday, May 02, 2009
The Church Considered as a Divine Creation
Excerpted from The Invitation Heeded, (Pg. 109ff) by James Kent Stone (also here).