23 AUGUST 1890, Page 18


"WHO AND WHAT IS CHRIST ?"* THIS is an extremely able little essay, marked, however, by the peremptoriness and hardness, not to say scornfulness which dogmatic Roman Catholics no less than dogmatic Protestants, so often impress very unnecessarily,—and, as we think, very unfortunately,—on their propagandist writings. We are well inclined, indeed, to believe that this age has been somewhat too much disposed to compassionate the spirit of doubt. The Poet-Laureate's words,—

" There lives more faith in honest doubt, Believe me, than in half the creeds,"

had more practical wisdom in them when they were first written than they have now, chiefly because Tennyson's own sympathy with "honest doubt" made it fashionable to express extravagant sympathy with doubt of all kinds, whether it were honest or melodramatic. Still, no one can study honestly the attitude of the many thinkers who see all the higher and more impressive aspects of Christianity, and who yet find great stumbling-blocks in their path when they come to ask themselves whether they really and heartily accept it, without recognising far more clearly than the evidently very able author of this little tract does, the difficulties there are to be surmounted by those who are ready to discern the divine aspect of Christianity, and only need,—or, at all events, only think that they need,—a little clearer evidence on the historic side in its favour. Now, Father Roh admits no difficulties, and treats the most unwilling of unbelievers as either weak-minded or in- sincere. He writes, for instance, as if the different accounts which we get of Christ's resurrection in each of the four Gospels and St. Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians, were so abso- lutely confirmatory of each other in all the details as to leave the hesitating mind without so much as an excuse for not re- garding them all as sustaining the historical character of the narrative ; whereas the truth is, that while the main fact is, we believe, more than sufficiently attested, there is hardly a detail in which they entirely agree, and these discrepancies very naturally affect some minds much more than they affect others. Again, Father Roh ignores the difficulties which any modern inquirer must feel in reference to the various cases of demoniacs, the difficulty, we mean, derived from the fact that in not a few cases the phenomena described suggest rather epilepsy, or some physical mischief in the brain, than any mental alienation, and that even where mental alienation is certainly visible, very few physiologists, devout though they be, would now admit the explanation of " possession " by an alien spirit as one which naturally interprets the facts. We mention these obstacles in the way of faith, not because we have the least idea that they are adequate justifications for unbelief, but because we do think that in the minds of a great many unbelievers who have been brought up under the influence of what is called" modern thought," they are very real excuses for unbelief, and adequate grounds for hesitation. And it is clearly mischievous to attack as wilful or almost imbecile doubters, those who must be fully conscious of the-injustice of such an attack, and who often from their hearts yearn to believe in Christ, though as yet they cannot. Father Roh treats unbelievers a great deal too much from the scornful point of view. Our Lord called the Pharisees "fools and blind," but he did not

• Who ad What is Christ ? By F. Roh, S.J. Translated from the fifth German Edition. St. Anselm's Society, 6 Agar Street, Strand.

call St. Thomas a fool and blind ; he only gently reproached him for not having had a heart that could a little anticipate the intellectual evidence which his mind required.

With this deduction from our approval of its tone, we can recommend this little essay to our readers as one of real ability. Father Roh understands the true turning-points of the issue between the materialists and the Christians, and touches them with great acuteness and skill. For example, how admirable is this remark on the nature of miracles, point- ing out as it does that that which is genuinely a miracle for one form of existence, is absolutely natural to another; so that our Lord's hint, that what is impossible with man may be not only possible with God, but of the very essence of the nature of a divine being, is made to touch on the very secret of miracles :—

"If a block of stone, a genuine block of stone, were at once to put forth genuine leaves, blossoms and fruit, that would certainly astonish you. But you are not at all astonished that a tree does so. If, however, a tree in your garden were to lift its roots out of the earth and walk about, you would certainly shake your head at this. But you are not at all surprised that your dog walks about with you. If a monkey wrote a big book to prove that his ancestors had been men and learned professors, and were now to intimate that he intended shortly taking his degree at this or the other university, you would doubtless open your eyes. You, however, are as little astonished as I am, when certain men write whole volumes only to asseverate that they are unable to find any essential difference between themselves and monkeys, especially the largest ones. You recognise accordingly a relative super- naturalism between the different kingdoms of nature. What is quite natural for the plant is supernatural for the stone ; what exceeds the plant's nature may be perfectly suitable to the animal's, and a man can quite naturally effect much that is totally beyond the powers of all inferior beings. Is man then the pinnacle of Being, the highest existence ? If there is a God, does it not belong to His nature that He should be able to do much which transcends all powers of created nature ? To deny the possibility of miracles means accordingly nothing else than to deny the existence of God, and that is not quite overpoweringly scientific. If, however, there is a God, then real miracles are possible, and if the Bible tells us of miracles, it is not therefore a book of fables ; and thus the whole of rationalism and mytho- logism is left baseless, floating in mid-air. Or will you, like the King in the French couplet, forbid the Almighty to work miracles?"

And the following passage, too, shows great moral depth in the critic, in spite of his often rather hard and scornful tone towards unbelief:— "But if any man will not acknowledge the miracles of Christ and consequently His Godhead, will he explain to us how the world came to worship a crucified Jew as its God, to set its hopes on Him alone, and to accept the religion of the Cross and live and die for it ? If that has taken place without miracles, then it is an infinitely greater miracle than all others together. The moral miracles of Christianity cannot be denied—why is it sought to deny the physical ones ? Is it because these latter are more difficult to perform ? Does God find less resistance in the free and perverse will of man than in irresponsible soulless nature ? As the corporeal world is only a shadow of the spiritual one, so the physical miracles are only a shadow of the moral ones, and considering human nature as it is at present, moral miracles can only be explained by previous physical ones."

Again, no one could put with more force than Father Roh the really unanswerable argument for the resurrection of Christ, that on the testimony of all the Evangelists themselves, nothing short of it could have renewed the courage of the Disciples, and raised it from utter collapse to the height of confidence and assurance :—

" Christ had promised His Resurrection. But so far as we know Christ, we must suppose He was aware that He could keep and would keep His word, otherwise He would have destroyed His reputation and His whole enterprise by such a purely gratuitous promise. In spite of that promise, however, it was only with the greatest pains that His disciples could be brought to believe in the real Resurrection. The first news of it was considered by them to be mad talk. When Christ appeared in their midst they thought they saw a spirit. It was only after they had touched Him, spoken with Him, and seen Him eat, that they believed. Afterwards they all testified of this to Thomas, who was absent, and he did not believe them. He wished to convince himself of Christ's personal identity by touching His Wounds. Christ appeared thus to His followers during forty days, speaking of His Kingdom, sometimes at night, sometimes by daytime, sometimes in enclosed places, sometimes in the open fields, sometimes to individual persons, sometimes to all the Apostles together, or to large crowds, as many as five hundred persons at once, as is testified by St. Paul. The Apostle John could thus say : That which we have heard, -which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our bands have handled, we bear witness and declare unto you.' In establishing any fact it is impossible to act more circumspectly and critically than the Apostles and first disciples did. Perhaps they had an interest in deceiving themselves and others? We know the duties which were Imposed

on them and their followers by the Resurrection of Christ, we know their life, their sufferings, their cruel end. If we do not believe witnesses who seal their testimony with their death, whom then shall we believe ? It was only the risen Christ Who could gather together again the scattered disciples; only His Resurrec- tion could induce them to do more for Him after His Death than before it ; it is only by His Resurrection that we can explain the resumption, fulfilment, and permanence for eighteen hundred years of His work. Had Christ remained in the grave, then His whole enterprise would have remained buried with Him for ever."

The passage which we like least in this very masterly little treatise is the passage (pp. 18 and 19) about the Atonement, —the assumption that every sin, because it is a sin against an infinite being, is of an infinite character and requires some infinite expiation. We should say that the finiteness or infiniteness of the sin depends, not on the nature of the being against whom it is committed, but on the nature of the being by whom it is committed. A finite being may surely commit as grievous a sin against another finite being as any he can commit against God,—nay, supposing him to have been brought up, as millions have been brought up, in complete ignorance of God, the very greatest sins he can commit are sins against a finite being like himself. All that class of arguments which assume ihat an infinite expiation is needed for human sins on the ground that every sin is in itself of an infinite character, seem to us grounded on words which convey little meaning to the mind of man, and which do not represent anything of substance at all. Surely sin is bad enough, whether we call it finite or infinite. Finite or infinite, it leaves a sense of undying responsibility and re- morse as deep as the nature which commits it, and nothing can make it deeper. If the mind of man ought to be called in any sense infinite, then his sin is in that sense infinite also. If it is in every sense finite, then his sin also is finite. But whether finite or infinite, it is irreparable, and cleaves the nature with a feeling of despair which it takes God's own love and a divine sacrifice to heal,—and that is all with which we are properly concerned. To speak as if the magnitude and depth of sin depended on the nature of the Being against whose righteousness and holiness it is a transgression, makes it depend on that of which the sinner may be entirely unconscious,—a purely impossible supposition. But this is the only part of Father Roh's theology with which we have any fault to find. The little essay, though too harsh in tone, is full of power, and is condensed in expression as very few books in these watery times are condensed.