Tuesday, December 27, 2011
But this sibyl, whether she is the Erythræan, or, as some rather believe, the Cumæan, in her whole poem, of which this is a very small portion, not only has nothing that can relate to the worship of the false or feigned gods, but rather speaks against them and their worshippers in such a way that we might even think she ought to be reckoned among those who belong to the city of God.... 

 City of God, Book XVIII: Chapter 23, St. Augustine of Hippo

Last week, the snow had at long last fallen on Warszawa, an event that all of us living here had blessed. The very existence of the snowflake--that marvellous miracle of a thing both compacted in a solid state yet expanded in mass--is a sign of the wild generosity of God's indefatigable love. As man grows colder and more steeped in sin, the grace He lets fall on us does not contract into itself, but explodes in the kind of wild abandon that only the maddest love stoops to.

Earlier this month however, indeed all through dusky Advent, we have been blessed with rain. Many have been the eventides when we could lift up our faces to the chill, falling mist and cry out in ecstasy: 'Rorate cæli desuper, et nubes pluant justum!' And that blessed damp put me in mind of a certain prophetess who, though not in the books of Holy Writ, is counted blessed by Tradition:

 Judgment shall moisten the earth with the sweat of its standard,
 Ever enduring, behold the King shall come through the ages,
    Sent to be here in the flesh, and Judge at the last of the world...

Did he who penned the blessed hymn draw inspiration from the prophecy of the Erythræan Sybil? How uncanny is both their mention of the dew, which lay so long of the grass this month, before silvering into frost.

When blessed Simeon took the Christ Child in his arms, he lifted up his face and cried: 

Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared in the sight of every people: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. Luke II: 29-32

There are so many ways to read, 'in the sight of every people', but when one contemplates the Gentile forerunners of the Messiah, one cannot help but think that here the priest was at least in part acknowledging the universal preparation the world had received for the coming of its Saviour.

Such a catholic expectation in the world is for many proof of this anticipation's validity. Yet, the objection of the naysayer assails this bastion as it does all others. The gauntlet hurled here is that the universal wish recorded of so many peoples was merely one of wishful thinking. The Messiah was just the name given by Hebrews to a man who would draw humanity from the miserable depths into which it had fallen, and the certainty that he would be in part a god was a necessary conjecture for the remedy of such a sad state. Concerning the details so eerily resembling the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ, this pat dismissal is often proferred:

The Christ idea is older than the story of Jesus, and the latter was edited and re-edited until it incorporated all the features of the former and so met the requirements of the age. 

Virgil's Prophecy on the Saviour's Birth, Chapter I: The Christ-Ideal and the Golden Age, Paul Carus  (32)

Now such an assertion carries the burden of proof, but the creativity of modern historians does not often never restrict its assertions to those based on positive evidence when it may opine scenarios that confirm the bias of the thinker. As to believers, it is not the inclination of a lover to merely ignore accusations hurled against the beloved, but to eviscerate them. And a true member of Christ's Church is--first and last--His lover.

The first kink in Carus's armour in particular is his inconsistency. On the one hand, he says that the true story of Christ (to which he is somehow privy) has been schewed. Yet, earlier in his work, he not only objected to Christian appropriation of pagan Messianic prophecies, but Judaic ones as well with the claim: 'The Christian interpretation has been superimposed and does violence to the message.' (ibid., 1) Which has been altered then? The prophecy or the fulfillment? On the one hand, the scholar finds the Gospel revelations of Christ's life compelling enough to uphold the catholic Messiah's mantle, and on the other hand he doesn't. 

However, the above point is merely a barb slung against this work in particular, and not the larger argument. Any skeptic may choose one position (violence has been done to the prophecies in applying the Gospels) or the other (violence has been done to the Gospels in applying them to the prophecies) and remain internally consistent.

Carus's first real argument is that rampant warring and weak economies were spread far enough over the ancient world to create a universal longing for a strong leader to save mankind from himself. No inspiration from the Holy Spirit would be required to instill such a wish in the hearts of man. Certain aspects of this Saviour, e.g., that he be divine in some way or even subjected to adversity follow reasonably enough from that. Thus, these aspects of Virgil's Fourth Eclogue, the Sybil's prophecy, or the many fore-tellings of the Old Testament are not sufficient to convince one of their credibility or even to link them to the tale of Jesus Christ.

A fellow student of mine once said in school that if he were to prophesy and give as a token to the people the following sign for his veracity: 'Tomorrow the sun shall rise!' then even the most gullible zealot would lift an eyebrow. For a cult to spring from the seed of prophecy, there must be some sign to indicate that it has been fulfilled. For a cult to achieve the immense success accorded to the might Roman Catholic Church, this sign or signs must have been above reproach in the eyes of many--fierce and dynamic and able to possess the hearts of the fierce and dynamic.

Yet, Carus (and many with him) contest that the Faith which brought forth all the martyrs, crusaders, poets, thinkers, and artists who have etched the mark of Christ into the face of the world forever, need not have come from a very earth-shattering force. This Church was going to happen at that particular phase in history, and it need not have been a Christian one:

Christianity, or a religion such as Christianity, would have originated even if Jesus had never existed...in all essentials, in doctrine as well as in moral ideas, we would have had the same religion. (27)

The ability of a modern to thinker to form such bold projections is staggering. By what rational means could anyone justify saying that the church founded by a Buddha or a 'Brahman Avatar' or a madman from Mecca would be exactly the same in its identity, even down to its moral code? Where is the positive proof of this? Alas, Carus has shown himself again to be rather creative, but not exactly reasonable.

So having erected chimerical, alternate Vaticans alongside the real one, using nothing but the sand of conjecture and imagination, Carus proceeds to dismiss the evidence he does have: human nature and the testimony of the first Christians.

He posits that Jesus of Nazareth was honoured with the laurels of the Christ, where emperors and warriors failed miserably, because he appealed to the sick in His poor life and death, as well as to fanatics like Saul of Tarsus. Human nature would take issue with the first point. The downtrodden do not habitually idolize their fellow downtrodden members simply for sharing their lot. They  either pity them or take advantage of them. Nor do the oppressed do not fall in line with revolutionaries until they are desperate, and if their revolution fails, with the leaders hung ignominiously on gibbets, the effect would be disillusionment, not encouragement.

It would be surprising then that a man who merely comforted the sick and the weak with words should become the leader of the religion 'of women and slaves' unless He had worked miracles amongst them, had indeed cured the blind, sick and, lame brought unto Him. Do Carus, et al., submit that this is a later appendage to the Gospels? How on earth could Jesus Christ have gained enough prominence to be considered for the Messianic role without these signs?

As to the manipulation of zealots who seized upon Christ's story, the moderns here must here accuse them of being deliberately disingenuous. Carus attempts to dismiss without defaming St. Paul in saying that he was honestly self-deluded:

Paul's converion consisted simply in the idea that came upon him like a flash of lightning, that all of his conceptions of Christ could be applied to Jesus, that the majesty of his divine nature was well set forth in his deepest humiliation, his death on the cross... (25)

Carus is ungenerous to St. Luke, in completely dismissing not only the miracle of St. Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus, but also the evangelist's account of St. Paul's beliefs and characters before his conversion, namely that he had persecuted the faithful, and had even held the coats of St. Stephen's murderers.

Secondly, Carus does great injustice to St. Paul's own account of how he came to believe and to the rationality of every Christian alive. While we have come to adore and even to be sentimental about the kenosis of the Christ--His low birth and dolorous passion--we have not forgotten that it is a paradox:

But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness: But unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 
(I Corinthians I: 23-25)

In the sweet, loving depictions of the Nativity, devoted Christians do not forget the difficulties of Our Lady in trying to keep Jesus clean and comfortable in a barn, or the humiliation of St. Joseph in that he could not find a decent place to stay for the two precious ones in his charge. It must have been disconcerting, too, when a band of rough men, perhaps reaking a bit of sheep and spirits, came hammering on the stable door wanting to see the precious Babe.

Compare this with the infant that Virgil himself had in mind, or the emperor that former Magi worshipped. Even Buddha was an earthly prince, and if he was harried, his dignity was never violated. No, in purely human eyes, the life of Jesus Christ, King of the Jews, was as a much a joke as the inscription on the cross.

Then why has Christ conquered in death? And why, even in the tide of materialism and competing idols, does Christmas reign as the most prominent feast of the year? To understand this, one must see not with carnal eyes, but with the eyes of the spirit, like those of the far-sighted Erythræan.

It must be obvious to the faithful that the Virgin had such vision, as she revealed to Venerable Mary of Agreda. In the latter's transcription, The Mystical City of God, Our Lady, on entering the cave of Bethlehem, at once perceived that the hard stones on which she would deliver the Christ reflected the hearts of the city's inhabitants that had not opened to her and St. Joseph, and that the greater the deprivation of this moment, the more glorious favours it would procure throughout the history of mankind. Already our intercessor, she set about cleansing the stable to make it as ready for Our Lord as she could. St. Joseph immediately followed her example.

Later, he took his rest at the entrance of the stable, having gained at last spiritual consolation in the face of their worldly discomfort, while for the Virgin, the veil of this world was brushed aside and she beheld Divinity. Grasping the Incarnation with an understanding beyond our own comprehension, she gave birth with no violence done to her body or virginity. She beheld the first transfiguration of the Lord, and great were the affectionate sentiments that passed betwixt herself and her infant Son, many formerly echoed in the Canticle of Canticles by Solomon. With this intense love, Hope at last came into the world.

Because man is free, because he walks by Faith and not by sight, there will always be room for doubt. The limbs of every skeptical argument may be hacked off, but the trunk shall always remain, ready to generate more. While on this feast we exult in the univeral anticipation of the Messiah, and it but waxes our admiration for the wisdom of God in His predestination of events, this will not silence those who do not wish to believe. Ultimately, the only certainty shall be for those who do not merely hear the prophets' words, but gaze at the horizon to which they gesture. No one shall realized the coming of Christ as the fulfillment of the Erythræan's words, until they see Christ through her eyes.

   ...O God, the believing and faithless alike shall behold You
   Uplifted with saints, when at last the ages are ended...



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Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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