Thursday, March 25, 2010

GKC on the Incarnation

Today is the great celebration of the turning point of history. We call it the Annunciation, but it is really the feast of the Incarnation, the day when God the Son took on human nature when Mary said those most wonderful words: "Be it done unto me according to thy word".

Oh, for a mole of terabytes, to attempt to begin to write of this great mystery we celebrate! If only I could give you a glimpse of the light which pours forth today from the conjoined disciplines of computing and biology, glittering in those wonderful ancient words about Abraham and Moses and Isaias - indeed, and Virgil too. [See e.g. GKC's The Everlasting Man] It is the Conception of the Pontifex, the Bridge-builder, Who unites our fallen humanity to our Creator, but also restores the disparate branches of the Kingdom of Wisdom [see Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth] - the Conception of Him "in Whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge!" [See Col 2:3] And how the solidity of the dogma of the Monogenes, the Unigenitus (the Only-Begotten) which we affirm each Sunday in the Nicean Creed - the solidity upon which all Science and Engineering is founded. [See e.g. Jaki's The Savior of Science] Ah, there is so much, and perhaps some day I may be permitted to write on it - but not here, and not now. Rather I will give you a choice selection from Uncle Gilbert, as we begin the Master Novena of Months, and count down as the Romans did to the feast of Christmas,the birthday of Jesus, true God and true Man.

--Dr. Thursday

We talk of the Faith turning the world upside down. There is a deep and rather indescribable sense, in which it turns the world inside out. Among the wild abstractions of mathematics there is an idea which cannot present itself to the imagination in any image, however monstrous; which is a purely logical necessity. It is a process by which the sphere is turned inside out, the centre becoming the circumference and the circumference the centre. Something like that is among the paradoxes of Christianity, which are so puzzling to those True Christians who can only understand the platitudes of Christianity. Christianity was like that impossible mathematical figure. Christianity was a whirlwind which was the inversion of a whirlpool. There was in the heart of it some mysterious centrifugal force by which the heart passed outwards to the extreme limit of the limbs. It was not always safe to look for the centre in the centre; certainly not to look for the life in the root. This paradox is suggested in many dark sayings in the New Testament; about the lightning shining from the east unto the west, or the children of the kingdom being cast out. They seem to suggest a remote ring of light running like a halo round the horizon; even in the day when all is darkest at the centre; and the Abomination of Desolation is sitting in the Holy of Holies.

This mystery is a fact even of history and geography. In any case, it is plain that even the home of Christ was only the place where He was homeless. It is also true in a more strange fashion of the whole secular history and destiny of that devoted place. The scene of the Incarnation seems to have become almost sealed and consecrated to the denial of the Incarnation. Before the coming of Christ, it was ruled by those Jews whose high monotheism eventually hardened and narrowed into a violent refusal of the Incarnation. After the coming of Christ it was ruled by those Moslems, who also interpreted monotheism mainly as the denial of the Incarnation; even after the Incarnation. But even between the Mosaic and Moslem systems, which emphasized a disembodied divinity before and after Christ, there was a multitude of mystical developments, tending in the same direction and thriving especially in the same neighbourhood. We too often forget that the Monophysite who came before the Moslem had fundamentally much the same mood as the Moslem. Heresies thronged through all the cities of the Near East, through all the roads trodden by the Apostles, all loudly denying the doctrine of the double nature of Christ; which was the essential paradox of the Incarnation.

Most people know that the Monophysites were the very opposite of the Modernists. Whereas the most recent heretics are humanitarians, and would simplify the God-man by saying He was only Man, the most ancient heretics simplified Him by saying He was only God. But these mystics had in their hearts the same horror as the Moslems: the horror of God abasing Himself by becoming human. They were, so to speak, the anti-humanitarians. They were willing to believe that a god had somehow shown himself to the world like a ghost; but not that he had been made out of the mere mud of the world like a man. And the odd thing is that these cries of horror, at the very possibility of such a blasphemy happening, were most wild and shrill round the very place where it had happened.

It would be inhuman not to pity the poor Modernist or Humanitarian or Higher Critic, who set out so confidently to find the real origins of Christianity in the original country of Christ. He naturally felt that the nearer he came to the stones of Jerusalem or the grass of Galilee, the more simple the story would appear; that in the place where Jesus had lived a human life, He would admittedly appear most human; that among the actual natural surroundings would be found the most natural explanation. If the critic had been approaching any of the common kings or heroes of history, it probably would have been true; that to find them in their homes would be to find them when they had laid aside the crown and sword, and the terrible postures of history. As the critic was approaching the perplexing Carpenter of Nazareth, it was not in the least true. There was no purely human tradition of any purely human Jesus. In so far as there was any tradition at all, lingering in the fights and factions of Greek and Judaic religion, it was the tradition of a purely divine Jesus. It was a tradition furiously upheld by all those traditionalists who wished to represent Him as wholly and solely divine. Only the orthodoxy of the Catholic and Apostolic Church declared that He was in the least human. And above all, for this is the point of the paradox, the Catholic Church proclaimed that original humanity more and more loudly, as it passed away from its original human habitation. As the Church marched westward she bore with her, with ever-increasing exultation and certitude, the human corporeal thing that had been made flesh in Bethlehem; and left behind a ghost for the Gnostics and a god like a gilded idol for the Greek heretics, and for the Moslems only the fading shadow of a prophet.

It may be repeated that the emphasis on this truth, if not the truth itself, actually grew stronger as the Church marched westward, from Antioch to Rome and from Rome to the ends of the earth. And there is really a certain confirmation of this view; in the fact that the mere expression of the truth, apart from the truth itself, gathered new forms of power and beauty, as its long travels took it not only far from Jerusalem, but even far from Rome. The ends of the earth shall praise Him; and some of them had powers and methods of praise that were not known even to the more civilized centre. It is true that this was only a matter of clothing the Incarnation in garments; as the Incarnation was itself a matter of clothing the incredible in flesh. But it is interesting to note that the original human nature, which the Modernists seek in its Oriental birthplace, and the Monophysites most indignantly denied in the neighbourhood of that birthplace, unfolds itself in physical imagery most fully in the extreme occidental outposts that recognize the leadership of Rome. The Higher Critics took a frigid pleasure in referring to their human Christ only as Jesus of Nazareth; but they could not find Him in Nazareth. They could find little or nothing in Nazareth or twenty other holy places of the East, but the flattened faces of the Greek icons or the faceless ornament of the Moslem script. In so far as He was remembered, or at least in so far as He was imagined, as a human personality and a Man moving among men, He was seen moving as in a hundred pictures, under Italian skies or against Flemish landscapes, a new Incarnation in colour and clay and pigments; which did not take place till He reached the coloured regions of the sunset. This contrast is true, to some extent, even where the Eastern tradition is orthodox and not merely 'Orthodox.' The tendency was always to make the image a sort of diagram of divinity; even when it was not the dark inhuman diagram of the Monophysites and the Manichees. Even the true theologians were theologians; they defended rather than described the Humanity. Western Christendom, the new empire made entirely by Rome, discovered this Humanistic development. It made the first portraits, if not the first pictures of Christ.
[GKC Christendom in Dublin 84-91]

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