Fighting for the Divinity of Christ | From "The Christian Victory," Chapter XIII of The Battleground: Syria and the Seed Plot of Religion | Hilaire Belloc
This military effort to save our civilisation, its frontier of the Euphrates, its bastion of the Syrian hills, its centre and capital in Constantinople, was going on side by side during these three centuries with what was essentially, though not superficially, an even more important struggle for religious unity against heresies. That struggle began with full violence in the very midst of Constantine's glory and his re-establishment of authority. It continued not only to the coming of Islam, but throughout the generations uninterruptedly. What we have to follow in these last three hundred years of Christian domination over the East and over Christian Syria is a spiritual war which has indeed no end, but which, in this field of the Orient, and for that space of time, A.D. 300-600, is the key to all our comprehension of it.
It is a great misfortune to history that just at the moment when detailed historical study began, some two and a half centuries ago, there also began that gradual but increasingly rapid decay in religion which made it more and more difficult for those who would write history to understand the vital importance of doctrine.
Almost every force has been called in to explain this and that in the past-except the force of doctrine: dogma. Race has been appealed to; economic circumstance; military circumstance (certainly more important than the other two) has been appealed to, and the chief rôle has been given (by those who understand and value a decisive victory) to the fact that men were what they were because of this and that battle.
All these forces have their place in the story of change, but until quite lately the supreme factor of religious conflict has not been understood. It has puzzled and it has irritated, so that commonly it has been dismissed. Yet supreme it is.
The central thing in the business of Europe is the Doctrine of the Incarnation: the affirmation that God had appeared among men, and the denial thereof. From the first public announcement of that affirmation about A.D. 29-33, it has been the main issue dividing all men of the Graeco-Roman world, moulding and unmoulding our society.
Constantine had established his peace, he had founded his new city, he was prepared (from A.D. 325) to administer vigorously and with justice a united, orderly, permanently established society, when he found himself at the outset confronted by a storm within that world which took him by surprise, puzzled, and exasperated him. The magnitude of it he at last perceived, though he could not understand why it should be so great--and by the time he died it was the main issue in the world over which his successors were called to rule.
This storm had arisen on the fundamental question of Our Lord's Divinity.
Let there be no error; the question is fundamental not only to that time but to our own. It remains the root question for those who ridicule the doctrine, for those who are indifferent to it, and for those who would defend it. With Jesus Christ as God incarnate there is one view of the world. With Jesus Christ as a Prophet, a model, or a myth, there is another: and the one view is mortal enemy to the other. The meat of the one is poison to the other.
The point in that early day was this:
There had been presented before the world by this new thing, the Christian Church--this Ecclesia, this new society which had permeated and at last transmuted our civilisation--a compact set of doctrine and morals and a whole way of living dependent on those doctrines and morals.
There had arisen in Syria and spread throughout the civilised world, even into the East (where it was being persecuted and would ultimately be crushed), all over the West from the Euphrates to the Atlantic (where it had triumphed), a Christian society into which men became compact. It took some time to amalgamate the millions of the Greco-Roman world into that body. For two lifetimes at least after Constantine there remained recalcitrant exceptions; but anyhow, the New Thing had, by 325, won.
It had changed the values of human action, and the nature of social life. Despair, which the old pagan civilisation universally admitted, from which it turned away its eyes by following pleasure on the one hand, however shameful, or honour on the other, however sterile; despair, Epicurean or Stoic, was, by the Christian hope, denied its empire. Not only was man immortal, as the wisest of men had long known, not only was he possessed of human dignity, as all the pagan world well knew, not only were slave or freeman, millionaire or pauper, equal in essence; but men (said this new authority, the Church) are destined to Beatitude.
Then, again, there had been a setting right of balance between vice and virtue; the old virtues were re-established by the new authority; decent living, and the family, and all that the simpler, traditional heathens well knew to be right. The sexual perversions into which the heathen world had fallen were denounced by the Ecclesia as horrible and insufferable; so also were denounced the excesses of cruel revenge. All these evils continued to be indulged, no doubt, but not accepted. This new authority denounced them and the conscience of mankind responded to it.
With this revolution went the new conception of holiness. Holiness there had always been, of shrines and of great souls; but now by this new authority holiness was a direct personal attachment to the Divine, which all might attain in communion with the Divine Man. Attached to Him as examples, great influences, and models, were His famous proclaimers, the Apostles, and that Holy Mother by whose consent He had been brought into the world, and whereby His Humanity was attached to His Divine Origin.
His Divine Origin? That was the crux. All this new message, this good news, the Evangel, was not of value nor could rootedly endure save as a supernatural revelation. Its impact upon the world had come through One walking and teaching in Syria, Who had said that He spoke with the authority of the Supreme God, by Whom He was sent, Whom He knew, Who knew Him, to Whom He would return and with Whom He was bound up in some mysterious relationship, as of a Father to a Son; and what was more by a unity of relationship which made each inseparable from the other.
This affirmation was of the essence of the new authority. The Christian ethic is a burden to man's common reason and appetite. It cannot hold unless it is accepted as proclaimed by God, man's Creator and Judge. It did not repose upon the charm or sweetness or what not of the things said by its Founder--for all that charm, sweetness and the rest might be self-delusion--but upon the claim of the source whence those things proceeded. Jesus Christ had called Himself Divine: His followers repeated insistently and triumphantly that enormous claim.
Divine. But in what manner Divine? Not as a prophet conveying a message: Israel also had proclaimed God through prophets, and those prophets had conveyed their message--but this was something new. This was the Divine apparent on earth. God had in some way appeared among men--at least, so this Man said--and said it of Himself. If that affirmation were the illusion of megalomania or the exaggeration of His followers, the message lost its value: for that message depended upon His credibility: He, who laid claim to Divinity. If that claim to Divinity were abandoned by posterity He was a liar or a madman and the message was lost: also it was too hard to bear. The hope was lost, the new triumphant but most difficult morals, the restoration--that is, the Salvation--of the world was lost. All that.
But God was One, or God could not be God. Now, the new highly organised triumphant society proclaimed that this Divine Teacher was Himself also God. He was Man, He was what our modern jargon calls "an historical personality", as common sense will say, a Being like ourselves with a body and the frailties and limitations of a body. He had been born as men are born, He had suffered as men suffer, He had even died in great agony, still claiming that He did so for the Redemption of the world.
To so extraordinary a claim the Church maintained that He had given substance and proof by His Resurrection from the dead, and that this Resurrection had been followed by His own solemn command to announce His claim to all nations. But if He was indeed God, were there then two gods? The Divine Unity was essential to the conception of Divinity; Israel had known that by Revelation and the pagan world had come to know it too by sheer reason. How could this mere man be God? Yet if He were not in some way God the whole message failed. It was not sufficient in itself, without supreme authority, to change, to revivify, to re-establish mankind. The Sacrifice of Calvary would be no full sacrifice, the new link proclaimed, the Incarnation, by which alone there was now full fellowship between the Creator and the creature, was snapped-and yet how could that link, the full Divinity of the Founder, be reasonably maintained?
That was the essential issue; the reconciliation between the two apparently irreconcilable propositions--that Our Lord was God, and yet that God was One.
It was successively attempted in many ways: by saying that Our Lord was indeed God Himself, but only apparently Man--as though a phantasm; by saying that the Godhead came into Him during His predication and used a human body for its purpose-and so on. The solution which became suddenly fashionable just before Constantine achieved full power took the name of Arianism.
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The Battleground: Syria and Palestine, the Seed Plot of Religion
In this religious-biblical oriented history, Belloc provides a full and fair treatment of the ancient Jews and other Middle Eastern cultures and their impact in history, and in todays world. He affirms a special divine design in the story of Syria and particularly of Israel, reaching a climax in the event of the Crucifixion of Christ. His famous motto, "Europe is the Faith, the Faith is Europe" has been interpreted as a form of religious ethnocentrism. But he was making the point that what we regard as the greatest cultural, political and artistic achievements of Western civilization stem from the old creed. Without the one, the other would not exist.
"This book needs a brief apology. The writer has not only taken for granted that there is a God, but also design in the Universe and in the story of Mankind.
"He has affirmed a special design in the story of Syria and particularly of Israel, reaching a climax at the Crucifixion. He even seems to imply the Divinity of His Saviour.
"All this must sound so unusual today that it may be thought an affectation, deliberately assumed to startle and offend. Such a feeling will be enhanced by the discovery that he takes the Gospel of St. John to have been written by St. John and even allows some historical value to the Old Testament.
"The sole excuse he offers for his extravagance is that the present generation is tolerant of novel ideas, and that therefore he may hope for indulgence."
-- Hilaire Belloc, from the Preface
HIlaire Belloc (1870-1953) was a prolific writer, controversialist, and historian who was born in France and became a naturalised British subject in 1902. He wrote on a wide range of topics, including Church history, politics, theological controversies, and current events. He was also the author of works of poetry and fiction. Among his most beloved and famous works is The Path to Rome, which describes his pilgrimage from central France to Rome.
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