« AnteriorContinuar »
cident for the origins, as they say, of Christianity, their intention being quite openly to parcel it out among its predecessors, Jewish, Greek, for that matter Hindu and Chinese, as if to say: "You see, your Jesus at bottom was not only a man, but a poor specimen of a man, since he said nothing that the human race did not know by heart before his day.”
One might ask these deniers of miracles how they explain the miracle of a syncretism of old traditions which has grown about the memory of an obscure plagiarist, an immense movement of men, of thoughts, of institutions, so strong, overwhelmingly strong, as to change the face of the earth for centuries. But this question, and many others, we will not put to them, at least for the present.
In short, when in looking for light we pass from the bad taste of the devotional compilers to the writers who monopolize “historic truth” we fall from pietistic boredom into sterile confusion. The pious writers are unable to lead men to Christ, and the "historians” lose Him in controversy. And neither one nor the other tempt men to read. They may differ from each other in matters of faith, but they resemble each other in the uncouthness of their style. And unctuous rhetoric is as distasteful to cultivated minds, even superficially acquainted with the divine idyll and divine tragedy of the Gospels, as is the coldheartedness of learned writers. So true is all this that even today, after the passage of so many years, after so many changes of taste and opinion, the only life of Jesus which is read by many lay readers is that of the apostate priest, Renan, a book which all true Christians dislike for its dilettante attitude, insulting even in praise, and which every real historian distrusts because of its compromises and its insufficient scholarship. But although this book of Renan's seems written by a skeptical romancer, wedded to philology, or by a Semitic scholar suffering from literary nostalgia, it has the merits of being really "written,” that is, of getting itself read, even by those who are neither believers nor specialists.
To make itself readily read is not the only value nor the greatest which a book can have, and the writer who contents himself with that alone and who thinks of nothing else shows that vanity rather than ardor is his motive-power. But let us admit that to be readable is a merit and not a small merit for a book, especially when it is not intended as a tool for study, but when it aims at the mark called, “moving the emotions," or to give it its real name, when its aim is to transform human beings."
The author of the present book finds—and if he is mistaken he will be very glad to be convinced by any one who sees more clearly than he-that in the thousands of books which tell the story of Jesus, there is not one which seeks, instead of dogmatic proofs and learned discussions, to give food fit for the soul, for the needs of men of our time.
The book we need is a living book, to make Christ more living, to set Christ the Ever-Living with loving vividness before the eyes of living men, to make us feel Him as actually and eternally present in our lives. We need a book which would show Him in all His living and present greatness-perennial and yet belonging intimately to us moderns—to those who have scorned and refused Him, to those who do not love Him because they have never seen His true face; which would show how much there is of supernatural and symbolic in the human, obscure, simple and humble beginning of His life, and how much familiar humanity, how much simple-hearted plainness shines out when He becomes a Heavenly Deliverer at the end of His life, when He becomes a martyr and rises again divinely from the dead. We need a book which would show in that tragic epic, written by both Heaven and earth, the many teachings suited to us, suited to our time and to our life, which can be found there, not only in what Christ said, but in the very succession of events which begin in the stable at Bethlehem and end in the cloud over Bethany. A book written by a layman for the laymen who are not Christians or who are only superficially Christians, a book without the affectations of professional piety and without the insipidity of scientific literature, called "scientific” only because it perpetually fears to make the slightest affirmation. A book, in short, written by a modern writer who respects and understands his art, and knows how to hold the attention even of the hostile.
The author of this book does not pretend to have written such a book; but at least he has tried as far as his capacities can take him, to draw near to that ideal.
Let him state at once with sincere humility that he has not written a "scientific history.” In the first place because he could not; in any case because he would not, even if he had possessed all the necessary learning. He warns the reader, among other things, that this book was written (almost all of it) in the country, in a distant and sparsely settled countryside with very few books at hand, with no advice from friends or revision from masters. It will, therefore, never be cited by higher criticism or by those who scrutinize original sources with a microscope; but that is of little importance compared to the possibility of its doing a little good to a few souls, even to one alone. For as he has explained, the author wishes this book to be another coming of Christ and not another burial.
The author bases his book on the Gospels; as much, let it be understood, on the synoptic Gospels as on the fourth. He confesses that he has no interest in the endless dissertations and disputes over the authority of the four Gospels, over their dates and interpolations, over their mutual relationship, and over their probabilities and sources. We have no older nor no other documents, contemporaneous, Jewish or Pagan, which would permit us to correct them or to deny them. He who goes into all this minute investigation can destroy many doctrines, but he cannot advance the true knowledge of Christ by a single step. Christ is in the Gospels, in the apostolic tradition, and in the Church. Outside of that is darkness and silence. He who accepts the four Gospels must accept them wholly, entire, syllable by syllable,—or else reject them from the first to the last and say, “We know nothing.” To attempt in these texts to differentiate what is sure from what is probable, what is historic from what is legendary, what is original from what has been added, the primitive from the dogmatic is a hopeless undertaking, which almost always ends in defeat, in the despair of the readers, who in the midst of this hubbub of contradictory systems, changing from one decade to another, end by understanding nothing and by letting it all drop. The most famous New Testament authorities agree on only one thing, that the Church was able to select in the great mass of primitive literature the oldest Gospels thought up to that time to be the most reliable. No more need be asked.
In addition to the Gospels, the author of this book has had before his eyes "the Logia and the Agrapha,” which seemed to have the most evangelical flavor, and also some apocryphal texts used with judgment. And finally nine or ten modern books which he had at hand.
It seems to him as well as he can judge, that he has departed sometimes from ordinary ideas and that he has painted a Christ who has not always the perfunctory features of the ordinary holy picture, but he is not sure of this nor does he value any new thing which may be in this book, written more in the hope of having it a good book than of having it a beautiful book. It is rather more likely that he has repeated things already said by others, of which he in his ignorance has never heard. In these matters, the subject, which is truth, is unchangeable and there can be nothing new except the manner of presenting it in a form more efficacious because it may be more easily grasped.
Just as he has tried to avoid the thorns of erudite criticism on the one hand, he has no pretensions, on the other, of going too deeply into the mysteries of theology. He has approached Jesus with the simple-heartedness of longing and of love, just as during His life-time He was approached by the fishermen of Capernaum, who were, fortunately for them, even more ignorant than the author. Holding loyally to the words of the orthodox Gospels and to the dogmas of the Catholic Church, he has tried to represent those dogmas and those words in unusual ways, in a style violent with contrasts and with foreshortening, colored with crude and vividly felt words, to see if he could startle modern souls used to highly colored error, into seeing the truth.
The author claims the right to take to himself the words of St. Paul: “To them that are without law, I became as without law that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the Gospel's sake.”
The author has tried to present not only the Hebrew world, but the world of antiquity, hoping to show how new and how great Christ was compared to those who preceded Him. He has not always followed the chronological order of events, because it better suited his aims, which are not (as he has said) entirely historical, to gather together certain groups of thoughts and facts and to throw a stronger light on them instead of leaving them to be scattered here and there in the course of the narrative.
In order not to give a pedantic look to the book he has suppressed all references to quotations and has used no foot-notes. He did not wish to seem what he is not, a learned bibliographer, and he did not wish to have his work smell, however faintly, of the oil of the lamp of erudition. Those who understand these things will recognize the un-named authorities, and the solutions which the author has chosen when confronted with certain problems of concordance. The others, those who are only trying to see how Christ appeared to one of them, would be wearied by the apparatus of textual learning and by dissertations at the bottom of the pages. One word only must be said here in connection with the sinning woman weeping at Jesus' feet: although it is generally understood from the Gospel story that there were two different scenes and two different women, the author for artistic purposes has allowed himself to treat them as one, and he asks a pardon for this which he hopes will be easily granted since there is no question of dogma involved.
He must warn the reader that he refrained from developing the episodes where the Virgin Mother appears, in order not to lengthen too greatly a book already long, and especially because of the difficulty of showing by passing allusions all the rich wealth of religious beauty which is in the figure of Mary. Another volume would be necessary for that, and the writer is