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Text on one page: Few Medium Many
PARADOXES OF CATHOLICISM

BY ROBERT HUGH BENSON


_These sermons (which the following pages contain in a much abbreviated
form) were delivered, partly in England in various places and at various
times, partly in New York in the Lent of 1912, and finally, as a
complete course, in the church of S. Silvestro-in-Capite, in Rome, in
the Lent of 1913. Some of the ideas presented in this book have already
been set out in a former volume entitled "Christ in the Church" and a
few in the meditations upon the Seven Words, in another volume, but in
altogether other connexions. The author thought it better, therefore, to
risk repetition rather than incoherency in the present set of
considerations. It is hoped that the repetitions are comparatively few.

Italics have been used for all quotations, whether verbal or
substantial, from Holy Scripture and other literature_.

ROBERT HUGH BENSON
HARE STREET HOUSE, BUNTINGFORD
EASTER, 1913




CONTENTS


INTRODUCTORY
(i) JESUS CHRIST, GOD AND MAN
(ii) THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, DIVINE AND HUMAN

I PEACE AND WAR

II WEALTH AND POVERTY

III SANCTITY AND SIN

IV JOY AND SORROW

V LOVE OF GOD AND LOVE OF MAN

VI FAITH AND REASON

VII AUTHORITY AND LIBERTY

VIII CORPORATENESS AND INDIVIDUALISM

IX MEEKNESS AND VIOLENCE

X THE SEVEN WORDS

XI LIFE AND DEATH




PARADOXES OF CATHOLICISM




INTRODUCTORY

(i) JESUS CHRIST, GOD AND MAN


_I and My Father are one_.--JOHN X. 30.

_My Father is greater than I_.--JOHN XIV. 20.


The mysteries of the Church, a materialistic scientist once announced to
an astonished world, are child's play compared with the mysteries of
nature.[1] He was completely wrong, of course, yet there was every
excuse for his mistake. For, as he himself tells us in effect, he found
everywhere in that created nature which he knew so well, anomaly piled
on anomaly and paradox on paradox, and he knew no more of theology than
its simpler and more explicit statements.

[Footnote 1: Professor Huxley.]

We can be certain therefore--we who understand that the mysteries of
nature are, after all, within the limited circle of created life, while
the mysteries of grace run up into the supreme Mystery of the eternal
and uncreated Life of God--we can be certain that, if nature is
mysterious and paradoxical, grace will be incalculably more mysterious.
For every paradox in the world of matter, in whose environment our
bodies are confined, we shall find a hundred in that atmosphere of
spirit in which our spirits breathe and move--those spirits of ours
which, themselves, paradoxically enough, are forced to energize under
material limitations.

We need look no further, then, to find these mysteries than to that tiny
mirror of the Supernatural which we call our self, to that little thread
of experience which we name the "spiritual life." How is it, for
example, that while in one mood our religion is the lamp of our shadowy
existence, in another it is the single dark spot upon a world of
pleasure--in one mood the single thing that makes life worth living at
all, and in another the one obstacle to our contentment? What are those
sorrowful and joyful mysteries of human life, mutually contradictory yet
together resultant (as in the Rosary itself) in others that are
glorious? Turn to that master passion that underlies these
mysteries--the passion that is called love--and see if there be anything
more inexplicable than such an explanation. What is this passion, then,
that turns joy to sorrow and sorrow to joy--this motive that drives a
man to lose his life that he may save it, that turns bitter to sweet and
makes the cross but a light yoke after all, that causes him to find his
centre outside his own circle, and to please himself best by depriving
himself of pleasure? What is that power that so often fills us with
delights before we have begun to labour, and rewards our labour with
the darkness of dereliction?

I. If our interior life, then, is full of paradox and apparent
contradiction--and there is no soul that has made any progress that does
not find it so--we should naturally expect that the Divine Life of Jesus
Christ on earth, which is the central Objective Light of the World
reflected in ourselves, should be full of yet more amazing anomalies.
Let us examine the records of that Life and see if it be not so. And let
us for that purpose begin by imagining such an examination to be made by
an inquirer who has never received the Christian tradition.

(i) He begins to read, of course, with the assumption that this Life is
as others and this Man as other men; and as he reads he finds a hundred
corroborations of the theory. Here is one, born of a woman, hungry and
thirsty by the wayside, increasing in wisdom; one who works in a
carpenter's shop; rejoices and sorrows; one who has friends and enemies;
who is forsaken by the one and insulted by the other--who passes, in
fact, through all those experiences of human life to which mankind is
subject--one who dies like other men and is laid in a grave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(ii) Turn now again to the mysteries of our own limited life and, as in
a far-off phantom parallel, we begin to understand.

For we too, in our measure, have a double nature.



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Keywords: inquirer, passion, friends, sorrow, labour, teaching, spiritual, sorrows, begins, mysterious
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