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BOOK II. - Girolamo Savonarola, The Triumph of the Cross 
The Triumph of the Cross, trans. from the Italian, edited, with an Introduction by the Very Rev. Father John Procter, S.T.L. With a frontispiece portrait of the author (London: Sands & Co., 1901).
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METHOD OBSERVED THROUGHOUT THIS BOOK.
In our last Book we treated of those things which human reason is capable of grasping. It is our intention to discuss, in this Book, those things which exceed reason, and to prove the truth of the Faith, both by natural means, and by the supernatural deeds of Christ. Since present occurrences carry more weight than past events, our first argument shall be founded on the deeds of Christians within the Church. We speak not of bad Christians, who are cut off from the body of Christ, but of such as are Christians in deed, as well as in name. We will next examine the works which Christ wrought in times past, and which are known to all the world. And, since He Himself by His words, “I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly” (St. John x. 10), shows that His chief work lies in the perfection of Christian life, we will demonstrate the truth of the Faith of Christ: first, by arguments founded on the Christian life; secondly, by others based on the cause of this life; and thirdly, by those drawn from the effects of this life. This chain of reasoning will embrace almost everything which is at present taking place within the Church militant.
SOME TRUE RELIGION EXISTS IN THE WORLD.
In order to connect what has already been laid down with what still remains to be said, it is necessary to acknowledge the existence on earth of some true religion, or form of Divine worship. Religion, or worship, signifies the due honour paid to God, as to the universal Principle, Ruler, and End of all things. Every effect turns naturally to its cause; submits itself to its cause, in order to become like to it; and, in a certain sense, invokes the protection of its cause. By acting thus, the effect is paying honour and worship to its cause. Now, as man is the effect of God, there must be in his nature an instinct prompting him to turn to God, to become subject to Him, to resemble Him, and to invoke Him, in order from Him to obtain beatitude. As no natural inclination is given us in vain, these promptings must spring from religion; and they are proofs that some true form of Divine worship exists in the world.
This fact is, again, proved on another count. Man is possessed of reason and of free will. Now, as reason is fallible on many points, especially in Divine matters, it follows that, if God had not revealed some true form of worship, we should have gone astray, as did the heathen before the advent of Christ, and should never have attained beatitude. Thus, our natural instinct would have misled us, and the Providence of God would have failed us, in a matter most closely pertaining to our salvation.
It is clear that a natural tendency to religion is innate in the heart of man, from the fact that some form, though frequently an erroneous form, of Divine worship has existed through all generations. If, then, there be no possibility of satisfying this natural inclination, God has provided better for the needs of irrational creatures than for those of man.
It is the property of a cause to infuse its goodness and perfection into its effect, in order that this effect may, as far as is possible, resemble the cause. God, who is the Supreme Good and the First Cause of all things, desires, more earnestly than does any other cause, to infuse His goodness into man in order to bring him to beatitude; and, as the perfection of man consists in that interior homage whereby he subjects himself to God, it is clear, that God cannot have made this interior homage impossible, and that, in other words, some true religion exists in the world.
RELIGION IS BOTH INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR.
God can be honoured by man, both in body and in spirit; and, therefore, religion must be both interior and exterior. Interior worship is paid to God by means of the understanding and the will; and exterior homage by means of ceremonies and sacrifices.
Interior religion, then, strictly speaking, signifies uprightness of heart before God, and perfection of life. For, as every effect honours its cause chiefly by its perfection, man cannot pay to God a greater homage than that of a perfect life. This, therefore, constitutes the truth and completeness of Divine worship, even as the perfection of a work gives glory to the worker.
And, as we pay homage to God, not only in order to honour Him, but also in order to receive beatitude from Him; and as a good life is a more sure way of attaining to beatitude than are sacrifices and ceremonies, it is evident that perfection of life is a more true religion than any exterior form of worship. God is not a body, but Pure Act: therefore man renders to Him more perfect worship by purity of heart, than by external actions, for “God is a Spirit, and they that adore Him, must adore Him in spirit and in truth” (St. John iv. 24).
NO BETTER LIFE CAN BE FOUND THAN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.
As true religion consists in the perfection of human life; and as no better life than the Christian life can be conceived, it follows that there can be no better religion than the Christian religion. This assertion is easily proved. Animal life is more perfect than vegetative life; and among the different degrees of animal life, that one is the highest which is the most largely endowed with sensible feeling. If, further, it be the case that intellectual cognition be superior to sensible feeling, it is certain that the life of man is more perfect than that of animals. Among men are likewise found degrees, not of life but of perfection; for, as man is rational, those men are the most perfect who live the most nearly according to reason; for he who lives not according to reason resembles a beast rather than a man. Again, among those who live according to reason, there are divers degrees of perfection. For, as the end of the life of reason is the contemplation of Divine things, so the more perfectly a man abstracts himself from earthly things, and devotes himself to the contemplation of that which is Divine, the more perfect will be his life. Since the Christian life consists in separating ourselves, not only from temporal things, but also from self-love, and in drawing, by love and contemplation, near to God, so as to become like to Him, and, so far as possible, to be made one with Him, it is clear that nothing better than the Christian life can exist.
As we have already said, the more perfectly a man follows the dictates of reason, the more perfect will be his life. It is evident, therefore, that the Christian life does nothing and permits nothing, not even the least thing, which is contrary to reason; but that it submits in all things to the Divine Law.
A virtuous life tends to the contemplation of heavenly things, and finds its end in this contemplation. Great purity of heart is requisite for the attainment of this end. Consequently, as no life so purifies us, and renders us so apt for contemplation, as does the Christian life, it follows, that nothing better can be found on earth than Christianity.
THE END PRESENTED TO US BY THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION IS THE BEST WHICH CAN POSSIBLY BE CONCEIVED.
In order to show that there can be no life better than the Christian life, we shall first prove that the end set in view by the Christian religion is the best possible end, and the one most in accordance with reason, and that the means furnished by Christianity for the attainment of that end are those best adapted to that purpose.
It is self-evident that the end held out to us by the Christian religion is the best possible end, seeing that it is God, and the vision and fruition of God; and this vision and fruition is not such as may be gained by means of creatures, but that wherein God is beheld “face to face”. Many reasons can be adduced to prove that this clear vision of God is the end of our human life. First, as we have already proved, man’s beatitude cannot be attained in this life; therefore, if he be not created in vain, it must be attainable in the next. But if, in the next life, his happiness were to consist in knowing and contemplating God by means of creatures, it would not be complete happiness, for his heart would not be at rest; and happiness consists in the quiescence or satisfaction of all desires. This tranquillity would be incomplete, whether his knowledge of creatures were perfect or imperfect. If he knew creatures imperfectly, his heart would not be at rest, because he would desire that this knowledge should be perfect. For we know, by daily experience, that we desire distinct and particular cognition of the things which we know only in a general and confused manner. Were his knowledge of creatures perfect, he would still desire to know that on which they depend. For it is natural to us when we see an effect to wish to know its cause; and the more perfectly we know the effect the more intensely do we wish to know its cause, just as the heavier an object is, with the greater energy does it gravitate to its centre. Hence, as man becomes happier and more perfect in proportion to his knowledge of Divine things; and, as his desire of this knowledge increases proportionately to his progress therein, it is certain that his wish for this knowledge will never cease until he attains his Last End. This End can be nought but God. For, as we know by experience, our hearts can never be satisfied by any finite thing. Our intellect is superior to everything finite, because there is nothing superior to its capacity; and our ability to understand increases in proportion to our knowledge. Hence, as everything which is inferior to God is finite; and, as our intellect is capable of knowing infinite things, it is true to say that no creature can fill even one-tenth part of our heart. It becomes, therefore, not merely reasonable, but even necessary, to acknowledge that the happiness of man consists in the vision of God, who alone is greater than the human heart.
Every natural movement, as all philosophers will admit, tends to some end, in which, when it is attained, the thing which is moved finds rest. Now God, who is the term of human desire, is the satisfaction of the human heart, leaving nought else to be desired. And this because everything else, being finite, will bear no comparison to Him who is infinite; and, also, because all perfection of creatures is to be found in its fullest excellence in Him who is their Cause. Thus, when the soul of man possesses God it possesses all things; for the intellect which knows Him, will know creatures far more perfectly; and, although the excessive intensity of things sensible weakens the sense perceiving them, the excess of that which is intelligible, far from injuring the understanding, perfects it.
But we must remember that, as God is infinite, and is outside the realm of creation, our intellect cannot, by virtue of its natural light, attain to the vision of Him; because nothing can act beyond the limits of its nature. Nevertheless, our understanding, which is capable of rising to infinite things, may, by the Divine Power, be enabled to behold that which is naturally invisible to it. Thus the beatitude of man consists in the vision of God, and he is enabled to enjoy it by means of a supernatural light, which is called “the light of glory”. It is plain then, that no more reasonable or better end could be devised, as the term of human life, than the end set before us by the Christian religion.
A CHRISTIAN LIFE IS THE BEST POSSIBLE MEANS FOR ATTAINING TO HAPPINESS.
If the vision of God be the end of human life, God, who has made nothing in vain, must have given us some means of attaining to it. For, just as it would be useless for us to possess the power of motion, had we not limbs wherewith to move, so would it be futile to be created for an end, if we have no means of reaching it. The Christian religion teaches, that the means whereby we are to attain to the vision of God are, purity of heart, and grace, together with all the virtues supernaturally infused into the soul.
We shall see how true and how reasonable this doctrine is, if we remember that a means must be proportioned to its end. Now, as the end of man is the supernatural vision of God, the Supreme Object of intelligence, there is needed, in order to attain to it, perfect purity of heart, consisting in a complete aversion of the mind and heart from the love of corporeal things, together with a conversion to things incorporeal and Divine. This purity of heart is far more explicitly enjoined by the Christian religion than by any philosopher. Christianity has included all that philosophy has taught on the subject; at the same time defining more clearly what is meant by this purity of heart, and showing that mere natural virtue, such as is inculcated by philosophers, is not sufficient for the attainment of an end infinitely superior to nature. Christianity teaches that the purity of heart which springs from temperament, imagination, natural religion, from the influence of the heavenly bodies, or from any other created thing, will not suffice to bring us to the vision of God. Our purity must be the fruit of Divine grace. A fuller explanation of the subject may be found in the treatise on The Simplicity of Christian Life,1 in which it is shown that purity of heart, and the perfect Christian life, is not the result of natural love, nor is it the creation of the imagination nor even of reason; that it is not influenced by the heavenly bodies nor by any spiritual creatures; but that it comes from the grace of God, supernaturally infused into the soul. We need not repeat all that is written in that book, about the most perfect means for attaining the perfection of the Christian life. Suffice it to say, that the life of a true Christian, which embraces the highest form of a holy life, both natural and supernatural, is most conducive to perfect happiness.
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A MOST SURE MEANS OF ATTAINING TO BEATITUDE.
If, as has been proved, there be in the world some true religion, consisting mainly in uprightness of life; and if the Christian religion surpasses every other; we must acknowledge Christianity to be true, not only in its interior spirit, but also in its exterior forms. For there must be some true external worship which corresponds, in all things, with interior religion. Therefore, if Christians live according to the teaching of their Faith, paying due homage to God, both in order to honour Him and to attain to beatitude, we cannot doubt that they will thus arrive at their Last End.
If, again, it pertains to Divine Providence to bring things to their End by fitting means, and if there are no better means than the Christian religion whereby man may attain to beatitude, who can doubt that the Christian religion conducts man to the eternal enjoyment of the beatific vision?
Further, if God be just—and we must confess that He is; and if He exercise Providence over human things, He will not suffer those who have obeyed His commandments and professed the Christian religion to fail in the attainment of their end. He must bring either some men to beatitude, or none. If none are to attain to beatitude, creation is in vain. Some men, therefore, must be saved, and among them God will not pass over true Christians, who are of all men the best fitted and prepared for beatitude. If Christians do not attain to the fruition of their End, we must needs confess that none others can hope to do so; that all we have hitherto taught and proved is false; and that all men are living in disorder and confusion. For where there is no last end there can be no order in life. It would follow likewise, that man lives by chance, more miserably than the animals. This would only be one of many similar absurdities which would inevitably follow, were we to deny the value of Christianity.
It must be acknowledged, then, that the teaching of the Christian religion about the end of man, and the means necessary for its attainment, is most reasonable; and we must confess this religion to be true.
THE FAITH OF CHRIST IS TRUE, BECAUSE IT CAUSES MEN TO LEAD A PERFECT LIFE.
In proving Christianity to be true, we have hitherto made use of arguments founded on the good life of true Christians. We will now proceed to examine the causes of this virtuous life. One of the chief causes is, as the Scripture teaches, the belief in Christ informed by charity: “The justice of God, by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all, and upon all them that believe in Him” (Rom. iii. 22). “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. xi. 6). By faith informed by charity, we mean that, loving Christ crucified above all things, we believe Him to be truly God and truly Man, One with the Father and the Holy Ghost, and distinct from them only in Person.
Universal experience demonstrates the truth of what we say. For in the present day it is evident to all, and still more was it so in days gone by, that, as soon as a man grasps the Faith of Christ and becomes inflamed with His love, he begins to lead a Christian life, and makes progress in perfection, in proportion to his increase of faith and charity; and at the same time he is confirmed in those virtues, in proportion to his advance in perfection. On the other hand, they who lead bad lives are deficient in faith; and they that lack faith lead bad lives. As this is a truth admitting no denial, we will investigate it, and, by inquiring into the causes of such wonderful effects, will deduce proofs of the truth of the Christian religion.
First. Since all perfection depends upon its cause, no effect can be more perfect than its cause. Therefore, if all the truth and uprightness of the Christian life depends upon the Faith of Christ, as upon its cause, it is impossible that the Faith of Christ should not be true. And if this faith be true, we must, with Christians, confess that Christ is God, and that His religion is the true religion revealed by God.
Again. It is impossible that falsehood and evil should be the cause of truth and goodness; for evil, in so far as it is evil, and falsehood, in so far as it is falsehood, are nothingness. If, then, the Faith of Christ were false, His love would be vain and evil. Now, a life so perfect as is the Christian life could not spring from falsehood and iniquity. Therefore, the Christian religion must be true.
Furthermore. If this religion be untrue it is the most stupid falsehood that can possibly be conceived; for to say (were it not true) that a crucified man is God would be the extreme of folly. Now, as the Christian life is a perfect life, it cannot spring from untruth; for all rightly ordered life proceeds from correctness of understanding, and all error in human conduct springs from some mistake on the part of the intellect.
It must also be remembered that capacity for improvement in any nature is proportioned to the good disposition already existing therein. Now, as the perfection of our intellect is truth, and as purity of heart is the disposition which enables him to become steadfast in truth, the more a man is purged from earthly affections the better he will know the truth, the more closely he will embrace it, and the further he will banish falsehood from his soul. If this be true, surely Christians, since their lives are purer than those of other men, would be the first to know if their religion were false. We see, however, that far from rejecting their faith, Christians cling more closely to it in proportion as they increase in perfection, and that their increase in perfection is proportioned to their steadfastness in their faith. Therefore, their faith cannot be false.
Again, as God is the First Cause moving all things, both spiritual and corporal, it is certain that it is He who must move the human understanding, and that, apart from Him, no truth can be known. But who can doubt that God will inspire to know the truth those who are prepared for its reception, rather than those who are not thus disposed, and especially when the truth concerns eternal salvation? Since then true Christians are better prepared than are any other men to embrace the truth, we cannot doubt that, if the Faith of Christ were false, they would be enlightened by God to reject it. To think otherwise, would be to doubt the providence and goodness of God.
The end regulates the means used to attain it, and he that errs as to his end, will err also as to the means which he uses. Christians do not err as to the means which they adopt for attaining to beatitude, and therefore they do not err as to their end. Now, as all Christians profess that Christ is their End, and that they strive to be made like to Him in this life in order to enjoy Him in the next, it cannot be erroneous to teach that Christ is God, and is the End of human life.
Again, God proceeds in all things in a certain order, and in His wisdom governs inferior things by those that are superior to them. And since the cause is always more perfect than the effect, He has ordained noblest causes for the noblest effects. As there is not in the world a more noble effect than the Christian life, it follows that the cause from which it springs must be the noblest possible. Since the Christian life is an effect of the Faith of Christ, we must acknowledge that that Faith, far from being a fable, is the noble cause of a noble effect.
All secondary causes are instruments of a primary cause. Therefore Christ, the Man who was crucified, is the instrument whereby God chooses to produce that wonderful effect—the Christian life. Had Christ, in spite of His assertions, not been God, His pride and mendacity would have been unparalleled; and God would have used a bad instrument to produce a most perfect effect—a course quite out of keeping with His wisdom.
The more closely an effect resembles its cause, the more perfect does it become. We become more holy and more Divine in proportion as we walk in the footsteps of Christ and become like to Him. This is a clear proof that Christ is true God, and the Cause of man.
Causes are known by their effects, and one of the best arguments in favour of the Christian religion is the reflection that, whereas heathen philosophers have laboured for years to establish rules of conduct, they have gained but few disciples, of whom even the most virtuous have never attained to that standard of living which has been so quickly reached by innumerable Christians of both sexes and of every race and condition. No one who reflects on this fact can fail to see that there is no comparison between the efficacy of the heathen philosophy and of the Christian Faith, which is able to render the proud, avaricious, and luxurious, humble, benevolent and chaste. Every one, consequently, must acknowledge that Christ, as God, is the Principal Cause of human perfection, and, as Man, is its Means and Instrumental Cause.
THE DOCTRINES TAUGHT BY CHRISTIANITY ARE TRUE, AND COME FROM GOD.
The reading, hearing, and study of Holy Scripture is both a cause of our Christian life, and the substance and foundation of our religion, of which the object is the truth of the Faith. Having examined the arguments founded on the Faith of Christ, we now proceed to investigate those drawn from Holy Writ.
We know that there can be no certain truth or knowledge about future things which may or may not happen. Even philosophers, who were truly wise, admitted this. These can be known to God alone, and to man only when God reveals them to him. Man could not know them, unless it pleased God to make them known. Now Holy Scripture, in almost every portion, but especially in the Old Testament, has foretold things which should come to pass, and which depended on man’s free will. These prophecies concern not only general, but also particular things; and they relate to events which were to occur, not only in one year or in ten, but in a hundred or a thousand, or three or four thousand years; they were to happen not only to the Jews and to Christ and His Church, but were to concern also the Assyrians, the Chaldeans, the Persians, the Medes, the Greeks, the Romans, and other lesser kingdoms.1 Now many of the events foretold by the Prophets have come to pass; and the fact of their fulfilment inspires us with confidence that any that have not yet been accomplished will eventually be verified. We must, therefore, acknowledge the Holy Scriptures to be, not a work of human ingenuity, but the revelation of God’s Providence towards us.
God alone has prescience of the future. Therefore, no man, be he ever so diligent or wise, can order the wars and doings of kings and princes, and the names and places, and divers actions and circumstances of men in such a way that they shall foreshadow things to come. The reason is simple. God has the ordering of things which are to come; they are subject to Him. They are beyond the power and knowledge of man. The Old Testament foretells the New Testament, and the things which Christ has done and suffered, both in His Person and in His Church. Therefore, we have good reason to believe that both the Old Testament and the New are the Word of God.
It is not reasonable to say that Christians have interpreted the prophecies of Scripture according to their desires. For, taking into account the differences of times and circumstances, of language and of authors, the extraordinary uniformity which exists between the Old and the New Testaments would not be possible, were they not the work of one Mind, which knows all that has taken place at all times. Neither can this uniformity be ascribed to chance, since there is no discord or want of harmony between the two Testaments, but perfect agreement between them, even in the smallest particulars; so that what is obscure in one passage is explained in another; and the Scripture interprets itself. Although those who have not studied the Bible may be ignorant of this fact, the truth of what I say will be acknowledged by all who examine Holy Scripture with faith, humility and purity of heart.
It is on account of this harmony between the Old and New Testaments, that the Bible possesses the dignity of an allegorical meaning. But, observe, that by an allegorical, we do not mean a fabulous, interpretation—such as we find in the poets—for we interpret parables also, and their interpretation is not called an allegorical, but literal and parabolic meaning. We do not intend by the words of the fable or parable to express what is signified by the words themselves, but rather what we understand by the meaning underlying those words. An allegory requires, first, that the words should narrate, not a fiction, but some fact that has really occurred; secondly, that this fact should prefigure some future event; thirdly, that the fact narrated should have taken place not only on account of its intrinsic importance, but also as a forecast of some future occurrence. As no one but God can compose such allegories, and as the Holy Scriptures are full of them, it is clear that only God can be their Author.
The language and style of the Bible are so peculiar, that none of our most learned and eloquent Doctors have ever been able to imitate it; nor has it been copied by any other writer. The Prophets, although they lived at different times and wrote with varying degrees of elegance, have all retained the same mode of expression, which has not been imitated by any other author, and is, in fact, inimitable. This is a clear proof that the Holy Scriptures are a Divine and not a human work.
A further confirmation of what we say may be perceived, if we observe the effects which proceed from the Scriptures; for the virtue of a cause is known by its effect. Now, as upon earth there is no more sublime effect than the Christian life, and as the Bible is a most powerful instrumental cause and foundation of this life, it is manifest that it can only proceed from the First Cause of the Christian life, viz., God. Long experience teaches us that human science avails but little in the formation of virtuous habits; for, before Christianity was preached, the whole world was wrapped in the darkness of ignorance and sin; but from the time the Apostles taught the truth, mankind has been enlightened and initiated into many heavenly secrets.
And even in our own days, we see how the teaching of the Holy Scripture has more efficacy than has any other doctrine, in enlightening and consoling men, and in inclining them to live virtuously. For the preachers who discourse only on philosophical subjects, and pay great attention to oratorical effect, produce scarcely any fruit among their Christian hearers. Whereas our forefathers, who in past times confined themselves to the simple preaching of the Holy Scriptures, were able to fill their hearers with Divine love, enabling them to rejoice in affliction and even in martyrdom. I speak also from personal experience. For, when at one time (in order to demonstrate the profundity of Holy Scripture to sciolists, proud of their intelligence) I was wont to discourse on subtle points of philosophy, I found that the people who heard me were inattentive. But as soon as I devoted myself to the exposition of the Bible, I beheld all eyes riveted upon me, and my audience so intent upon my words, that they might have been carved out of stone. I found, likewise, that when I set aside theological questions, and confined myself to explaining Holy Scripture, my hearers received much more light, and my preaching bore more fruit, in the conversion of men to Christ and to a perfect life. For Holy Scripture contains that marvellous doctrine, which, more surely than a two-edged sword, pierces men’s hearts with love, which has adorned the world with virtue, and has overthrown idolatry, superstition, and numberless errors. This proves that it can proceed from none but God.
The more completely the human intellect is purified, the more capable it becomes of apprehending the truth. Now, as there is no purity of life so perfect as that produced by Christianity, Christian doctors, of whom there are many, would (were the Bible not the work of God) on account of their learning and their holiness, be the first to discern the fact. So far, however, from denying the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church have left many volumes extolling the teaching of Holy Writ, and have written and preached that it is unlawful to alter one iota of the sacred text. Some of them have, in defence of the Divine origin of the Bible, even shed their blood. If these men had not had some certainty that the Scriptures were the work of God, they would, most assuredly, not have sacrificed their lives in such a cause.
Again, truth can never disagree with truth; truth must be in harmony with truth; but it is invariably at war with falsehood. Now, as every science agrees with Holy Scripture, it is evident that it must contain, not falsehood, but truth. The leaders of thought, in every branch of science, have proved that no true science is repugnant to Holy Scripture. Therefore, Christians are not forbidden to study any science, save divination and such like pernicious superstitions, which are derided by all true scientists. This harmony between science and the Bible is a proof of the truth of the latter. Were the Scriptures false, they would infallibly contradict science; whereas the Doctors of the Church show that the Bible and science agree; and they are able to explain any apparent discrepancy between them.
Further. The more truth is impugned, the more, if it have a defender, it becomes clear to the human intellect, which has a natural tendency to truth as to its own perfection. Christianity has been always opposed, both by philosophers and by temporal sovereigns, and has invariably proved itself invincible. This, again, is a strong proof of its truth; for, had it been false, it must, inevitably, have succumbed to persecution.
THE TRUTH OF THE FAITH PROVED BY ARGUMENTS FOUNDED ON THE PRAYER AND CONTEMPLATION OF CHRISTIANS.
Faith, and meditation on the Holy Scriptures are not only the cause, but also the nourishment and perfection, of the Christian life. Experience, both past and present, shows that Christians given to continual prayer, acquire great perfection in a short space of time, and find such delight in spiritual things, that everything else seems worthless to them. This is the case not with a few learned men only, but with many also of the uneducated. In fact, this is the experience of all, both men and women of every degree, who exercise themselves in prayer. On this fact we intend to found an argument for the truth of our faith,
First. Since God is Pure Act, Supreme Truth, and Infinite Light, it follows that the nearer man approaches to Him (in spirit not in body), the more he will partake of the Divine purity, truth and light. Now, as the Christian life is more pure and perfect than any other, it must be nearer to God than any other life; and Christians approach most closely to Him when they are engaged in the exercise of prayer and contemplation, which renders the soul peculiarly capable of receiving the Divine purity, truth, and light. Since, then, it is by prayer and contemplation, that Christians are confirmed in their Faith in Christ Crucified, and fired with love of Him, it is undeniable that the Faith is Divine truth and light.
Again. Our understanding is naturally inclined to delight in truth, to desire it, and to shun falsehood; and the more a natural inclination is purified, the more vehement it becomes. Prayer purifies the understanding more efficaciously than does any other mental act; and therefore, if in time of prayer, the soul be more drawn to embrace the Faith of Christ than at any other time, this is a proof that the Faith is truth and not falsehood.
Further. Christians, when they pray, make their supplications to God for the sake of Christ Crucified, and through His merits; and nevertheless they ask for great things. Even should this assertion be disbelieved, it cannot, at least, be denied that the chief prayer of a Christian is for grace to live a Christian life, and for joy and peace of soul. Now, if Christ were not the One whom they think Him to be, God would surely enlighten them to see the truth. Or, if they preferred to remain obstinately in error, their prayers would not be, as they now are, heard for the sake of Christ.
Again. No cause prevents matter from receiving a form; and no natural motor prevents a thing from tending to its end. As beatitude is the end to be attained by a good life and by prayer, and as man cannot move himself to pray and to live virtuously, but must be inspired thereto by God, who inspires Christians to so perfect a life, and to such sublimity of prayer, and confirms them in Faith, it is manifest that Faith is the means by which we are to attain to beatitude, and that this Faith must proceed from God.
Every cause listens, if we may so speak, to the prayer of its effect, and by this prayer we mean the desire of the effect for its perfection, which, if its dispositions be ordered aright, it will seek to obtain from its cause. We see in the natural order, that when matter is duly prepared, the cause does not delay in giving it form; and this proceeds from the goodness of the cause, for the characteristic of good is to communicate itself. Hence, as God is Supreme Goodness, He exceeds all causes in listening to the prayer of His effects, when they are disposed to receive His influx. Now, the Christian life, especially as exhibited in the act of prayer and contemplation, is the best possible preparation for being heard by God; and the prayers of Christians are, most surely, not made in vain. There is nothing which Christians more earnestly implore of God than to be enlightened as to the truth. Thus David, in the name of all, prays, saying, “Enlighten mine eyes, O Lord, that I may never sleep in death” (Ps. xii. 4). And therefore we must believe that true Christians are enlightened as to the truth which pertains to salvation. The more they pray, the more confirmed do they become in their faith in Christ. Thus, we have good grounds for believing this faith to be true, and not false.
A further argument is, that if Christ be not God, it would be blasphemy to believe and to confess that He is God—One with the Father and the Holy Ghost—and to pray through His merits. How could the Divine Goodness leave in such blindness Christians, the best of mankind, always ready to extirpate any error which may dishonour the Divine Majesty? It is absurd to say that God leaves them in their misbelief, because they obstinately persevere in it. For, were this the case, why should He hear their blasphemous prayers? Why, on the contrary, should He not punish them severely?
If, again, the Faith of Christ be false, could there be a more absurd superstition than to adore a crucified man as God? Our understanding naturally loves truth and abhors falsehood; how then could it be possible, that innumerable Christians, amongst them men of vast genius and great learning, could so delight in the contemplation and love of Christ Crucified, as for His sake, not only willingly to bear, but even eagerly to desire, hunger and thirst, labours, threats, opprobrium, scourges, imprisonment, and even death? Truly the finger of God is here.
PROOFS OF THE TRUTH OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION FOUNDED ON ITS EXTERNAL FORMS OF WORSHIP.
Our arguments for the truth of Christianity have hitherto been drawn from the interior aspect of that religion. We will now proceed to proofs based on its Sacraments, ceremonies, and other external rites. We will, instead of considering them individually, which would be a lengthy task, group all the ceremonies and Sacraments of the Church under the one which is chief and most venerable, viz., the Sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist. We know by experience, and since the first days of Christianity it has been proved, that the reverent observance of this exterior worship is the cause, the nourishment, and the perfection of the Christian life; that they who frequent the Sacraments devoutly become more holy day by day; and that they who treat them with irreverent familiarity become more hardened than other men in sin. We see this fact exemplified in priests, who, day and night, administer the Sacraments, and perform the ceremonies of the Church. For, those who do so devoutly, are most holy men, so completely purified from earthly affection, and so closely united to God, that, for love of Him, they fear not to expose their lives.
Those, on the other hand, who perform their sacred duties irreligiously, are worse than any other men; for, besides being guilty of pride, avarice, envy, and other sins, they are in the most hopeless state possible, for they are incorrigible; and the admonitions, reprimands and good examples, which cause others to amend, are for them only an incitement to scorn, hatred, and worse sin. We cannot, therefore, deny that the same Sacraments produce contrary effects in different men. We must now investigate the cause of this phenomenon. It is in no wise repugnant to philosophy, that contrary effects should, by reason of contrary disposition of matter, spring from the same cause. For, we see how the rays of the sun harden the earth, and melt ice, cause a well-planted tree to bear flower and fruit, and wither another whose roots have not struck deeply. The two effects of which we have been speaking, viz., the good effect produced by the Sacraments on good priests and religious, and the bad effect produced on those that are bad, cannot spring from a false or empty cause. For, if the externals of religion did not depend on God, and were not the instruments of Divine virtue and truth, they could not produce an effect so excellent as to give birth to the Christian life, and to nourish and perfect it. For as this life is wholly spiritual and Divine, it cannot proceed from any physical power. Who is there that believes that baptism with water, anointing with chrism, smoke of incense, oblation of bread and wine upon the altar, and other rites and ceremonies of the same description, could of themselves, without any other power, suffice to render a soul perfect? Surely if these things were human inventions, or deceits of the devil, they could not produce holy lives.
But, perhaps you will say, the Christian life is not produced by this external worship, but by the exercise of virtues, and by the credulity of men, who, believing these exterior ceremonies to be Divine, do by means of them lead a good life, and thus make progress in virtue. Why is it, then, we would answer, that other men who practise virtue without the Sacraments, never attain to the same degree of holiness, as these good priests? Surely, if external worship were false and useless, those who abstained from it would become all the better, not being contaminated by error; and priests who despised these rites and ceremonies, and made a jest of them, would be the best of men. Daily experience, however, shows us, that facts are quite otherwise.
Again, it stands to reason that as God is the Supreme Truth, man, the more closely he draws nigh to God, partakes more fully of His light and truth; and the more he becomes involved in error and falsehood, the further he recedes from God. But we know that those who devoutly frequent the Sacraments, and make use of the ceremonies of the Church, become so united to God, that manifest signs of the presence of the Divine light appear in their countenance, and many are rapt in ecstasy, and their faces are then so transfigured, that they appear to all men attractive and venerable. And although such phenomena were more common in past times than at present, these marvels are still often to be seen in our own days, amongst both men and women, learned and ignorant. Whence come these ecstasies, and this holy contemplation, this fervour of spirit, and these tears which accompany exterior worship? In truth, if these external ceremonies are not ordained by God, they are full of absurdities and fallacies; for they are all typical of things spiritual and Divine; and our churches, sacraments, altars, priestly vestments, sacred psalmody, and ceremonies all typify falsehoods, especially concerning Christ, of whom they are a figure, and they amount to nothing save useless lies. But if these exterior rites are a mere mockery, good men would not take such delight in them, nor by their means draw so near to God. For, as we have said, in proportion as men are involved in error, they recede from God. Hence, we must conclude that the ritual of the Church is full of grace and truth. The wonderful ceremonial of the Church, again, and the symbolical signification of her rites wherein there is nothing trivial, nothing irrational—but everything, even the most minute detail, is typical of some mystery—proves, that these rites are not a human invention, but a Divine ordinance. It is not our intention here to enlarge upon the meaning of the ecclesiastical ceremonies, as this subject will be briefly handled in the next Book. If, however, any one wishes to know more of these mysteries without further delay, he will find them explained in the Christian doctrine; and he will see that there is no less harmony and order in the ceremonies of the Church than in the operations of nature. And, unless he be thoroughly perverse, he will be forced to acknowledge, that our worship is the outcome, not of a human, but of a Divine Spirit.
THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY EVIDENCED BY ITS EFFECTS ON THE INTERIOR LIFE OF CHRISTIANS.
We have, to the best of our poor ability, proved the truth of the Faith by arguments founded on the internal and external causes of the Christian life. We will next proceed to demonstrate its truth by its effects on this life. Its chief interior effect is peace and joy of spirit, and liberty of soul. We see this effect exemplified in the Saints of former times (when there was more fervour than at present). They enjoyed a serenity and peace of mind which enabled them, not only to remain unshaken in the midst of affliction, but even to rejoice at martyrdom.
Now, as this joy in the midst of tribulation increases in them in proportion as they draw nearer to Christ, we see that peace of soul can only be attained by union with God, the last end and only satisfaction of the human heart, in whom alone we can find rest. Those who are closely united to Him have such firm hope of enjoying happiness after this life, that they make no account of the good things of this world, and fear neither persecution nor loss of life, but eagerly look forward to death, as the passage to eternal bliss. And God, though He is everywhere, dwells specially in such souls as these, by His grace and love, and by the gift of contemplation. He sustains them by His presence, delivering them from all fear, and giving them such liberty of spirit, that they are neither cast down by adversity, nor uplifted by prosperity.
This peace, joy, and freedom of soul cannot proceed from any natural human power, weakened as we are by sensuality and ignorance. It must be a supernatural gift of God, causing us to lift our eyes to the Divine light and the beatitude promised to us.
We can prove that this peace of soul is caused by union with God, if we reason in the following manner. The soul is one, and all its powers spring from it. If, then, the soul be fixed on the operation of one power, it cannot attend to the operation of another; just as in intense contemplation the operations of the senses are suspended, and in great physical pain or enjoyment the understanding is no longer exercised. Hence, humanly speaking, it would be quite impossible that, in the midst of intense bodily torture, the intellect should enjoy peace and happiness. And, yet, we behold this phenomenon in innumerable martyrs, of both sexes, and of every rank of life. Of course the sages of this world will adduce examples of a few individuals, who, although not Christians, have experienced the same ecstacy in the midst of sufferings. But the Christians in whom this miracle has been wrought are innumerable, and the least child who is a true Christian is superior to all the heathen saints, whose erroneous judgment and perverted affections are conspicuous in their writings. Thus, this power of rejoicing in the midst of suffering, is not natural; it is a supernatural gift of God. This again is a proof of the veracity of Christianity. For were the Faith of Christ (which is the cause of these wonderful effects), proved to be false, it would not come from God, and Christians would thus be left to their natural weakness, and involved in many errors.
The more virtuously a man lives, the more clearly he discerns the truth, and the better he loves good and hates evil and falsehood. If, then, the religion of Christ were not true, Christians would live in error, and their persistence in adoring Christ as God would be criminal. But experience shows us that Christians are confirmed in their faith, and enjoy peace, and joy, and liberty of soul in proportion to their virtue. This would certainly not be the case were Christianity a falsehood.
The truth of our Faith is also confirmed by the example of the many religious of both sexes, who in these days, as well as in past times, have from desire of perfection left friends and kinsfolk, riches, pleasure, and even their own will, and have retired into a cloister in some far-off land, where, submitting to strangers, they have promised to observe poverty, to possess nothing save with the permission of their superior, to preserve chastity of soul and body, to fast and watch as much as their weakness will permit, and to practise obedience to all commands. Thus, they renounce worldly possessions, earthly happiness and their own will; and yet they live as joyfully, and take as much delight in praising God, as if they had all that earth can give. With one consent they acknowledge that all their peace and joy of soul is based on the Faith in Jesus Crucified. And we cannot repute them as fools, since among them are not only ignorant persons, but men renowned for learning, prudence, and judgment, who would, were their Faith false, speedily recognise their error. Hence, we must reckon that the cause of this wonderful effect is the religion of Christ, which is not false but true.
As these religious, being in a state of life wherein a high degree of perfection is attainable, make every effort to advance in perfection, it follows that they are more fitted than are other men to receive heavenly illumination. Were the faith false, it would not be possible for its falsehood to be disguised during so many centuries, and among so many worthy men; nor could these men confirm their religion every hour in their hearts, by their words, their works, and their innumerable writings; nor, being in the greatest subjection, live in such spiritual liberty and joy.
Again. Every cause does, as far as possible, direct its effect to its end, especially when the effect is disposed to receive the influx of its cause. Hence, God, being supremely good, conducts all things to their end, unless they are hindered, by their unfitness, from attaining to it. Now, as no better disposition for attaining to beatitude can be found than the life of religious, it follows that they must be guided by God to beatitude, and that their peace and joy are a participation of beatitude. As this aptitude for beatitude springs from the Faith of Christ, and increases in proportion to the growth of that Faith, it is clear that the Faith cannot be false, or God would be fostering errors and spurious joy in the souls of well-disposed men, and would thus be leading them astray.
All joy again is based on love, which is that first act of the appetite and will, on which all other acts depend. Now, as the happiness of religious is not centred on worldly goods, which they have relinquished, and as they unanimously acknowledge that the well-spring of their joy is the Faith of Christ and the hope of another life, they cannot be living in error. For, the uprightness of their life would cause them to perceive their mistake; and thus would banish their peace of mind. But we see that they experience quite contrary effects, which prove that the Faith of Christ is true.
THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY MANIFESTED BY ITS VISIBLE EFFECTS ON THE LIVES OF CHRISTIANS.
Another signal effect of the Christian religion is to be perceived in the exterior of those who profess it; for their countenance and manner constrain men to reverence them and hold them in honour. The fiercest men have become gentle, at the sight of devout Christians clad in lowly guise. Attila, the ferocious King of the Huns, beholding Saint Leo, the Pope, in the city of Ravenna, and hearing his words, abandoned the invasion of Italy. Totila, the savage King of the Goths, could not confront the poor and humble monk, St. Benedict; but, prostrating himself upon the ground, would only rise at the Saint’s behest. Theodosius, the Emperor, after the slaughter of the inhabitants of Thessalonica, was by St. Ambrose banished from the temple of God, and, not daring to disobey, humbled himself and did penance. Time would fail me were I to make mention of all the examples that I can recall; but it is not necessary to enlarge upon what is so clear. Even in our own time we have seen arrogant sinners, smitten with compunction at the sight of holy men; and this compunction has led them to an entire reformation of life.
Now the cause of this effect is supernatural grace, with the infusion of all virtues. For we know how the soul can, by means of the imagination, alter the whole countenance. Thus angry feelings express themselves openly on the face: we grow pale with fear, red with shame; joy makes the eye sparkle, etc. For, as the understanding makes use of those corporeal organs, the senses; the thoughts of the understanding (when they are very intense) often stamp themselves upon the body, especially on the eyes and countenance. Thus a haughty mind can be recognised by the arrogance of a man’s looks; cruelty by his rolling eye; light-mindedness by restless limbs. Nay, sometimes sin can infect the very air and the bodies of others—as we see in the case of malignant old women, who can bewitch little children. Good and bad habits, when they are deeply rooted in the soul, cannot be so completely disguised that they never appear in the face. As we know that every effect expresses its cause, the beautiful and venerable aspect of perfect Christians can proceed from nothing, save from the beauty of their soul, which is, of itself, most efficacious in the conversion of sinners. Even though a man be uneducated, if he leads a holy life, he will have more influence with his fellows than an eloquent and learned philosopher, or than miracles, either reported or witnessed. We see how attentively an audience will listen to the words of a learned preacher, without making any change in their lives; yet, although his eloquence may be much praised, it will remain barren if his life corresponds not to his words. In the same way, both in past days and in our own time, many miracles have been wrought, and crowds of men and women have flocked to see them; but they have produced but little fruit in the reformation of their lives.
A perfect Christian life, on the contrary, will convert to God numberless souls, not only among the poor and simple, but among the learned, and will fill them with compunction. Indeed many have been so strongly influenced by the holiness of life exhibited by perfect Christians, that they have left the world and retired into a cloister. There must, then, be some intrinsic power in those who lead holy lives, which enables them to produce such marvellous effects. I say intrinsic, for this power is not exterior, since the body does not, strictly speaking, act upon the spirit; and therefore the exterior of a perfect Christian could not have power to change the will and the understanding of other men. The chief virtue of a perfect Christian, and that which produces both his good life and his exterior beauty, is his Faith in, and love of Christ Crucified. And the more this Faith and love increase, the more beautiful and venerable does his exterior aspect become.
Truth is stronger than falsehood. Now there is, as we have already said, no more efficacious means of inducing men to lead a good life, than the example of a good Christian. For, the example of virtuous heathens led very few to heathen perfection; whereas those who have been converted by the example of Christianity are innumerable. Hence the root and essence of the Christian religion cannot be false or futile; otherwise it would produce less effect on the lives of men than does philosophy. This, as we know, is not the case.
God is the primary Cause of motion, without which nothing moves; and, as He does all things wisely, He produces the noblest effects from the noblest causes. Therefore, as the Christian life is a most noble effect, it springs from most noble causes, of which one is the good example exhibited by this life. One begets the other, as man begets man, and animals beget animals. Therefore we must acknowledge, that the example of a good life is a most noble cause and instrument, used by God to lead men to true virtue, and that, as this virtue is Faith informed by charity, Faith also must be true.
THE TRUTH OF THE FAITH DEMONSTRATED BY THE WONDERFUL WORKS OF CHRIST, ESPECIALLY THOSE WHICH PERTAIN TO HIS POWER.
We have, by the assistance of God, proved the truth of Faith by the effects daily visible in the Church of Christ. In further confirmation of our proofs, we can bring forward further arguments, based on the works which Christ wrought in past times, and which were patent to the whole world. As philosophers investigate the natural causes of the things which they see, we will place before our eyes the Triumph of the Cross, described before. And, as philosophers, seeing the greatness and wonderful order and perfection of the Universe, believe God to be the most powerful, the wisest and most perfect Cause of causes, and Prime Mover of all things, we, likewise, from the marvels described in the Triumph of the Cross, desire to show that Christ Crucified has surpassed, in power and wisdom and goodness, all those that have been honoured and adored as gods, and has done incomparably greater and more wonderful things than they have wrought; so that He, most surely, is “a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Ps. xciv. 3).
Let us then begin by considering His power, and by placing before our eyes the Triumph of the Cross. Let us argue in this wise. Either Christ is the True God and the First Cause of all things, or He is not. If He be God, it follows that Christianity is true; and there is no need for further discussion. If He be not God, He must have been the proudest man, and the greatest liar that ever lived. He must also have been exceedingly foolish. For it would have been, indeed, the height of folly for a man, unaided by wealth or worldly power, ignorant of philosophy and of rhetoric, to attempt, merely by virtue of his death, to fight against the Divine Majesty, and to usurp to himself the honour due to It; or to strive to induce learned and powerful men to join a new religion which should change the whole face of the earth, should acknowledge him as God, and should inspire his followers with such fervent love for him, that for his sake they should be ready to lay down life itself. Could any absurdity equal such aspirations as these? If, then, Jesus of Nazareth were not true God, He would be a most foolish and sacrilegious seducer. How could such a man have been able to supersede the Law of Moses, and to struggle successfully against men of authority and learning, against the powers of heaven and hell, nay, against God Himself? Why, O Jews, did not your God take vengeance on Him? For what reason, ye Gentiles, have your deities not overthrown Him? How has it come to pass that a poor and lowly man, put to death by Crucifixion, has accomplished such mighty deeds? What God, I speak not of men, can be compared with Christ?
Again, consider how foolish it is to draw a comparison between Jesus Christ and Apollonius, Pythagoras, Socrates, Cæsar, or any emperor; since none of them has either proclaimed himself God, or done any deed which can be compared to the works of Christ. Mahomet, who never called himself God, attracted a barbarous people to himself by force of arms and by sensual indulgence; he spoke admiringly of Christ, but himself never proposed anything to his followers, above the force of human nature. Jesus Christ did not act thus. His commands to men are most arduous and most difficult to obey; since He would have them believe in a God, One in Nature, Three in Person. His followers must confess that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are true God, Simple Substance, and that He is very God, the Son of God, One with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and true Man, the Son of the Virgin Mary, who must be reverenced as the true Mother of God. Furthermore, Christians are bound to confess that the Cross, which used to be an instrument of punishment, is a powerful sign of our salvation, and that a little bread and wine is changed, by virtue of certain words pronounced over it, into the Body and Blood of Christ, the heavenly food of our souls, and as such has to be adored. We must also believe that no one can enter into the Kingdom of God unless he receive the baptism which confers heavenly grace. And we must hold, with inviolable firmness, every point taught by Scripture, however difficult it may be to human understanding.
Neither is Faith sufficient for salvation. We must also love invisible things so much as to despise such as are visible, and to be ready to suffer persecution, and even death itself, rather than offend God in anything. Christ does not promise us in this world riches, or honour, or dignity, but rather poverty, persecution, scourges, exile, prison, and death. He reserves for us hereafter happiness unspeakable, a share in the glory of the angels, the resurrection of the body, and joy which “eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive” (1 Cor. ii. 9). And although the things which our Lord sets before us are most difficult to human nature, innumerable Christians, of all times and conditions of life, have accepted His teaching, and adhered to it so closely, that they have preferred to die rather than to deny it.
Let us, then, place before our eyes Christ living in poverty, the reputed son of a carpenter; and let us question Him as to His thoughts. He will reply: I, poor though I be and an exile on earth, propose to lay down laws for the whole human race, and so to change the face of the world, that, although I shall be crucified, men shall adore Me as true God, One with the Father and the Holy Ghost. And it is My will that the cross and nails and thorny crown, and all the other instruments of My Passion, shall be honoured and held in veneration as most precious treasures. Likewise men shall believe that a little bread and wine is changed into My Body and Blood, and shall adore It as God. They shall confess that the water of baptism cleanses from sin, and that oil and chrism sanctify, and that My doctrine, of which it is not lawful to change one jot or tittle, surpasses all other teaching. My Virgin Mother also shall be honoured and loved throughout the whole world, and My Apostles, who were fishermen, shall be so revered, that men shall honour their very bones and ashes. If any poor man were to speak thus, should we not deride him as a madman?
But, if, in spite of your ridicule, He should say further: It is My will, not only that men should believe these things, but should on their account live in holiness, and should for the sake of invisible things spurn such as are visible, suffering for love of Me poverty, hunger, thirst, labour, torture and death—would you not think that He had lost His senses? And were He to add: I shall accomplish all these things against the will of the whole world, and shall overcome kings and princes, the powers of hell, and the machinations of men—would you not think Him completely mad?
But what would be your opinion of Him, if, when you asked Him with what weapons He proposed to achieve these victories, He should reply: My only arms will be the tongue, used not in rhetorical or philosophical eloquence, but in simplicity of preaching; and I know that by means of this preaching many will be converted to Me, and will for My name endure suffering and death; and the blood of My faithful will become the seed of the Church. And so great will be the power of My doctrine that Peter the fisherman and his successors will become heads of the proud city of Rome, and the chiefs of the world; and emperors will humbly stoop to kiss their feet. And good and learned men shall, in every language, compose innumerable books filled with My praises, and in defence of My doctrine. And when my priests shall, with great reverence and solemnity, pronounce My word, all people shall listen to it, standing with bared heads. And none shall prevail against Me, but My religion shall endure for ever. Would you not have treated such words as foolish dreams? And, surely, when we consider how all these prophecies have been fulfilled, shall we not see that they could not possibly have been accomplished by one poor man, nor by all men, nor by all natural or supernatural power, but only by the infinite power of God? Beholding these things, can we possibly doubt that they are the work of God, and that the Faith of Christ is true? What conjuror, what philosopher, what powerful king has ever performed the like? Can Mahomet, can the heathen gods be compared to Christ, before whose coming none of these things were accomplished, or even imagined? Neither can we say that these marvels happened by chance, for they had been foretold years before their accomplishment by the Prophets and Sybils, whose books are known to the whole world. This is another argument in favour of the truth of Christianity.
In the course of nature some causes invariably produce their effect; others do so nearly always; and others are indifferent as to whether they produce their effect or not. Again, some arguments, i.e., those called demonstrative, infallibly constrain the understanding to accept a proposition; others almost always incline the understanding to receive it; and others sometimes appeal to the mind, and at other times produce no effect upon it. Demonstration abounds in mathematical science, though there is very little of it in natural science, and still less in moral science which treats of sublime and Divine things. For our understanding is so weak, that it does not really know the nature of things; and, therefore, it is with difficulty convinced with regard to things which are not manifest. If, then, it be difficult to persuade the understanding to embrace moral and Divine things, how much harder must it not be to incline it to virtue and contemplation, seeing how the flesh ever rebels against the spirit? But it is, above all things, difficult to incline the intellect to perseverance in good works. In philosophical schools we see many systems under many founders; but few sincerely love what they learn or teach. For, very few who know what really are good works, are, as a consequence, by their knowledge of them, attracted to persevere in their performance. If, then, the greatest philosophers, with all their learning and eloquence, have scarcely succeeded in persuading a few men to believe things dictated by reason—such as, for instance, God’s providence over human affairs and the duty of practising virtue and avoiding vice—how much less able would they have been to induce men to believe things above natural reason, and, above all, to love good works? But the disciples of Christ, unknown fishermen, were able, by their simple preaching, to persuade the world to accept the truths of faith and to love these truths so ardently, and to pursue good works so unflaggingly, that in comparison with them they esteemed all earthly things as dust and ashes, and refused to deny their faith either for promises or threats, or even for death itself. Surely, if Christianity were false, the Apostles could not more easily have persuaded men to accept it, than philosophers had induced them to embrace systems which appealed to natural reason. And the words of the poor fishermen would not alone have sufficed to convert the world, but those words must needs have been confirmed by miracles. And who but God could have enabled them to work their miracles, which surpassed all the powers of human nature? But, supposing that the Apostles worked no miracles at all, surely the wonder of wonders would be that a crucified man should be able, by means of twelve poor fishermen, to persuade, by words alone, the entire world to embrace His doctrine. Therefore, whether the spread of Christianity be due to miracles or not, we cannot deny that the power of Christ has been beyond any natural power. And, since the First Cause is that which is more powerful than other causes, so the true God must be He that is more mighty than any other god. Therefore, Jesus Christ, whose Faith has been victorious over all other forms of religion, must be the true God, and His teaching must be the true religion.
THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY SHOWN BY ARGUMENTS BASED ON THE WISDOM OF CHRIST.
The property of wisdom is a capacity to subordinate things to their end. Thus, that artist is considered a master who can dispose the circumstances of his art towards the end which he wishes to attain; and it is to the architect, and not to the builders, that the credit of an edifice is due. But artists, seeing that they only work towards some particular end, are relatively, not absolutely, wise. He alone who labours for the last end of human life, and who directs all his activities towards the attainment of that end, is endowed with absolute wisdom. Now, as Jesus of Nazareth has pointed out the true end of human life, and the true means of attaining thereto, and has done so with a clearness and a force exercised by no other man, He alone can be called truly and pre-eminently wise.
Again. As power to beget children is a sign of perfect virility, so power to teach is a mark of perfect wisdom. And, surely, never has teacher arisen whose doctrine is more sublime, or more useful, than is that of Christ; and never has one taught with ease and power comparable to His. The systems of philosophers are obscure, and mingled with many errors; and the teachers themselves are uncertain on many points, such as Divine Providence, the end of human life, and the things which pertain to salvation. But our Saviour, Jesus Christ, has enlightened even women and children, to understand clearly many things incomprehensible to philosophers, and has enabled them to hold His doctrine with a firmness invincible even by death.
Further. As the power of an agent is known by the extent and duration of his work, the wisdom of a teacher is recognised by the number of ignorant sinners whom he converts, and the speed wherewith their conversion is effected. For it is no great sign of power to attract those who are naturally and habitually well disposed; but only great wisdom can instruct, in a short time, men of mean understanding, and women and children, and can reform notorious sinners. Christ alone has succeeded in effecting these wonders throughout the whole world. Therefore, He alone is endowed with incomparable wisdom.
Again. It is no great thing to produce natural effects by natural causes. For example, it does not surprise us if a conflagration be caused by fire, but it would be marvellous were it produced by water. Hence, it is only supreme and infinite power that can act on natural objects, either without instruments or with such as are diametrically opposed to the effect produced; or that can operate on all natural objects with the same instrument. Thus it is nothing very wonderful that philosophers should have been able to teach by means of ordinary methods; but only Supreme Power could have taught by means of that which, in the world, is accounted foolishness. Now Christ, by means of the folly and the ignominy of the Cross, has imparted to men sublime wisdom, true wisdom, which can only be acquired by the teaching of the Cross, wisdom, compared to which all human learning is foolishness. Therefore, the wisdom of Christ must itself be pre-eminent.
If wisdom mean the science of Divine things, the wisdom of Christ must exceed all other wisdom. For, as we see by comparing Christian doctrine with philosophical systems, no one has treated of Divine things so fully, or so sublimely, as Christ has done. Theology has purged philosophy, and made it perfect, and has diffused so widely the knowledge of the Divine, that Christians, even the least educated, easily understand points which are stumbling-blocks to philosophers. And, further, the preaching of the Apostles has illuminated the world to see its errors. Since this dawn of the light of Christ, philosophers and poets, ashamed of their false gods and fables, have tried to disguise their superstitions under a cloak of allegory.
Again. It is only great wisdom that can understand sublime and intricate matters. Christ has taught and easily defended, most subtle doctrine. How, then, shall we hesitate to declare His wisdom incomparable? His doctrine has not only stood the test of argument, but likewise that of cruel persecution, under which philosophers would have denied their first principles. For as their philosophy proceeded from natural reason, they would have had neither strength nor wisdom to uphold it. But the teaching of Christ, being supernatural, is likewise, of necessity, invincible. Christianity is either false or true. If it be true, discussion is at an end. If it be false, Christ must still be acknowledged to have been the wisest of men, seeing that He was able to persuade men to accept doctrines, difficult and unpalatable, and to adhere to them so firmly, that no human reason or power has been able to uproot them from the world. Nevertheless, in all that Christ has taught there is nothing repugnant to philosophy or to science. On the contrary, Christianity culls truth from all systems, even from paganism. If Christ had not been Wisdom Itself, He could never have founded so wise a religion as is this. If His doctrine had been false, it would not be defensible by science. For philosophers find it sufficiently difficult to defend even truth against their opponents. Even were we obliged to acknowledge Christianity to be a falsehood, we should still be constrained to recognise the extraordinary sagacity of its Founder, who by means of subtle fallacies has been able to lead His disciples to sublime perfection of life. But, seeing that there can be no harmony between virtue and deceit, and no agreement between truth and falsehood, we are driven to confess that Christ is truly wise, with a wisdom surpassing that of men. His wisdom is attested by the many who have extolled it, not only by their words and writing, but by their works, and by the shedding of their blood.
Finally. The greatest power of wise men appears, chiefly, in the fact, that they require but a short time in which to lead their pupils to the perfection of knowledge. But as no one has given such clear proofs of this power as Christ has manifested, it is evident that He alone is wise above all men. Every science is either rational or real. By rational science we understand logic, rhetoric and poetry; and the end aimed at by these branches of rational science is to teach us to weave together arguments, chains of reasoning, and exhortations, which will convert men to agree with our opinions. Now, Christ instructed the Apostles in rational science to such good purpose, that, by their preaching, they exercised more influence in the world, than had ever been achieved by any human power or learning. Real science is either practical and moral, or speculative. Christ has taught practical and moral science so effectually, that Christians need no philosophy but His. Speculative science may be concerned with Divine things, and in the teaching of Christ is contained such fulness of Divine knowledge that, beside it, all human wisdom is stultified. Or, on the other hand, it may teach the knowledge of numbers and of figures, as do arithmetic and geometry; but as this knowledge is in no wise necessary to salvation, the teaching of Christ disregards it, except for purposes of allegory. Thirdly, speculative science may treat of sensible things, in order, by means of them, to lead men to speculation on intelligible things. The teaching of Christ exhibits most perfectly this speculative science, seeing that His preaching abounds in the use of visible things, as images or mirrors of such as are invisible. Thus we see that Christ only is supremely wise, since He only has been able, easily, to lead men to the fulness of knowledge.
Again. The pleasures of the mind are far greater than those of the senses; but the greatest of all intellectual enjoyments is the contemplation of Supreme Truth. Therefore, since wisdom consists in the cognition and contemplation of this Truth, he must be wisest who most delights in it. Now, never has the contemplation of Truth been so ardently loved, and so strenuously sought after, as in these days, when, for its sake, men abandon every earthly joy, and, living like disembodied spirits, heed not the things of the flesh, and are disturbed at no tribulation. Thus do they prove that Christ, their Teacher, is wise beyond all human wisdom, and beyond all the wisdom of heathen deities, yea, that He is the very Wisdom of the Eternal God.
THE TRUTH OF CHRIST’S TEACHING IS PROVED BY HIS GOODNESS.
We have shown that Jesus of Nazareth surpasses, in wisdom and in power, all men and all heathen deities. Hence, if we believe in the existence of any god, He only can be that God. It will next be our duty to prove His Divinity by arguments founded on His goodness, and to show that Jesus Christ is the Supreme Good and the End of human life. And we must premise that all human operations, i.e., such as proceed from free will, are effected for some end; for appetite always tends to that which either is good, or appears to be good. It cannot tend to two things as to its ultimate end; for it is so fully satisfied by its last end, that it can desire nothing which is not ordered thereto. Now, as men, though not all of the same opinion or endowed with the same degree of knowledge, are yet all of the same nature, they must all tend to the same end, which is happiness; although, from their difference of condition, they do not all place their happiness in the same thing. If, then, we can prove that Christ is the Last End, to which all nature tends, it will be clear that He must be the very Truth, the First Cause, the Supreme Good, and in fact the true God.
In order to make this argument more clear, we must remember, that, when one thing tends naturally to another as to its end, it will be hindered in the attainment of this end, if it be joined by another thing of a contrary nature. Thus, if a heavy thing move towards its centre, it will be impeded in its course if it be joined to a light thing whose tendency it is to go upwards. Thus birds, whose bodies are heavy, are nevertheless raised aloft by their wings; whereas, a merely heavy thing moves swiftly towards its centre. Now, as man is composed of a corporeal and a spiritual nature, it happens, that, while his spiritual nature tends to true beatitude, his senses disturb and trouble him in the pursuit of his end; and, although they cannot force him to evil, they often incline him to inordinate desires. From these molestations, and from the weakness of his understanding, arise the divers human conceptions of happiness. If we would learn, by means of man’s natural desire, in what his beatitude consists, we must not consider the desires and inclinations of such as live like beasts, but of such as live according to reason. Just as, if we want to see whether heavy things move downwards or upwards, we must not choose birds as a test; but must select something completely heavy. We may learn what is the Last End of man by examining the desires of such as have purified themselves from the defilement of the senses, and who live according to reason. And as no life is so pure and so reasonable as the Christian life, we can, from the desires common to Christians, learn what is the Last End of man. Now, as Christians unite in an intense love for Christ Crucified, as the Last End of human life, it follows that we cannot reasonably hold that any but Christ can be the Last End of man.
Again. Man’s last end is his ultimate perfection; and the more perfect he becomes, the nearer does he approach to his end. Now, nothing causes man to become so perfect in life and in contemplation, as does Jesus Christ Crucified; and they who least resemble Him and are the most remote from Him, are the worst and most imperfect of men. He, therefore, must be the Last End of human life.
Further. The desire of the last end is natural to everything, and is ineradicable. When, therefore, men, who are purged from vice desire something, they love it so much that all other things appear to them as nought in comparison with the object of their desire. They would rather die than relinquish their pursuit of it. Now, as the life of true Christians is a pure life, and as they desire Christ Crucified with so steadfast a desire that they would sacrifice life itself rather than lose His love, and would most gladly die for His sake, it is manifest that Christ is the Supreme Truth and the Last End of human life. Our argument is further strengthened by the fact, that nothing is so steadfastly desired as He. For when men love other things, they love them not more than themselves, but for their own satisfaction; and would rather abandon them than die for their sake.
We see, likewise, how all things of the same species incline naturally to the same end; as all heavy things tend towards their centre. Therefore, Christ must be the Last End of human life, since nothing has been pursued by men with the same ardour and constancy, that they have shown in following Him. This is the reason why Christians are so closely united together; for we see that they love Jesus Christ above all things. For His sake they likewise love each other, of whatsoever race and country they may be; and the more their faith in Christ increases, the stronger grows their brotherly love. This could not be the case were their faith not true. For fallacy and error cause, not harmony, but discord.
Again. The soul enjoys greater happiness in proportion as, by love and contemplation, it draws nearer to its last end. But the happiness enjoyed by Christians far surpasses all pleasures of understanding and sense. This truth is proved by the invincible constancy of the martyrs, who went to death rejoicing and exulting; by the numberless monks and hermits who, relinquishing all things, and living in the practice of the greatest austerity, have yet enjoyed incomparable happiness; and by the numerous philosophers who have found such delight in the study of Holy Scripture, that, in order to devote themselves to it, they have abandoned every other branch of learning. Hence we see that the joy which souls find in Christ exceeds all other happiness. If, then, felicity be synonymous with proximity to our last end, Christ, in whom all happiness is found, must be the Last End of human life.
In order to comprehend, collectively, all the properties of our Last End we reason thus. As all things of the same species tend naturally to the same end, be it proximate or ultimate, it follows that men, who are all of the same species, must be fitted for some one thing which is the common end of human life. Now, all men agree in professing that they tend towards a last end; but they differ as to that wherein their last end is to be found. But since the happiness of mankind consists in the act of understanding, it is natural to conclude that this last end is to be found in that thing, towards which they who live the most rationally and whose affections are the most purified do uniformly incline; that to which they steadfastly adhere, loving it better than themselves; delighting in it; drawing from it sanctity of ways and brightness of heavenly life; and being raised by its influence so far above this world, that, in comparison with their end, they repute all earthly things as worthless. Now, as all these wonderful effects have never been produced in man by any, save by Christ Crucified, He must be the Last End of human life.
But why do we insist on so self-evident a truth knowing, as we do, that it is the property of Good to communicate itself, and that the graces and blessings diffused by Christ over mankind are absolutely unequalled? His coming has purged the world from error, filled it with sanctity and virtue, and communicated to all His followers happiness which no earthly thing could give. His supreme goodness is further shown by the promptitude and liberality wherewith He not only forgives sinners, but so enriches them with His gifts, that where sin did abound, grace has much more abounded, and they who return to Him from their sins are enabled to lead a virtuous life and enjoy their pristine peace and happiness, whereas they who forsake Him lose all tranquillity of mind. What further proof do we require that Christ is the Supreme Good, and the Last End of man?
THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY IS PROVED BY THE POWER, WISDOM, AND GOODNESS OF CHRIST, CONSIDERED COLLECTIVELY.
We may sum up in a few words what has been already said about the power, the wisdom, and the goodness of Christ. Had Christ not been God, He would have been the most proud and the most foolish of men. And if (as some hold) the assertion of His Divinity was not made by Himself but by His disciples, how can a religion of such goodness, wisdom, and power, be the outcome of such a falsehood? If Christ be not God, who is God? God preserves and governs all inferior things by the requisite means; and, as no means are so suitable for the attainment of a virtuous life as the Faith and love of our Saviour Jesus Christ, we must either acknowledge that He is the true means whereby we attain beatitude, or must hold, with fatalists, that things happen by chance; and we must end in denying the existence of God.
Again. If there be any true religion in the world; and if no religion be supported by such arguments and undeniable proofs as is the Christian religion; where, save in Christianity, are we to seek the true religion?
Further. No religion has endured the constant and cruel persecution inflicted on Christianity. Other religions, or rather superstitions, have never roused in the world the hatred excited by the Faith of Christ. Yet, in spite of this fact, other religions which persecuted Christianity, have died out, of themselves, without being persecuted. Christianity has only flourished, and waxed stronger, by means of its conflicts. How do we account for this fact, if Christianity be untrue?
We must remember, likewise, that they who have persecuted Christians have been, not good and upright men, but men of infamous life. Is not this a further proof of the truth of our religion?
Again. No religion has made converts under the same conditions as those in which men have accepted the Faith of Christ. For those who have become Christians have done so, not in hopes of gaining riches, or honour, or pleasure, but with the expectation of having to bear poverty and shame, torture and death. If these men had not been enlightened by true light, could they have acted thus?
This collection of arguments, surely, ought to convince all men of the truth of Christianity. For, although the intellect may not be persuaded by one proof, nor by two, nor by three, a series of proofs carries as much weight as does a chain of mathematical demonstrations, or the sight of a dead man raised to life.
If, then, Christianity be true, all other religions must be false; for none can be saved except by Faith. This condition for salvation is a most reasonable one; for our beatitude is to consist in the vision and fruition of God, to which none can attain, save by the supernatural gift of Faith, without which, as St. Paul says, “it is impossible to please God” (Heb. xi. 6). Neither have they any ground for excuse or complaint who live in distant lands, where Christianity is unknown. For, as all men are endowed with reason, which leads to the knowledge of God, and as God further manifests Himself in the natural order of Creation, it follows that if any one live according to reason, and turn to God for help (as nature teaches every effect to turn to its cause), Almighty God, the Supreme Good who is never wanting to any necessity of, even His irrational, creatures, will still less fail man in matters pertaining to salvation. He will rather enlighten him, either by interior inspiration, as He enlightened Job; or by the ministry of angels, as He instructed Cornelius the Centurion; or by preaching, as He taught the Eunuch of Candace, by means of Philip the Apostle.
[1 ]De Simplicitate Vitæ Christianæ. This little work consists of five short treatises, or, as the author calls them, “Books”. It is from the pen of Savonarola himself. It was first published in Italian at Florence in the year 1496, and afterwards, in Latin, at Venice, and at the Ascension Press in Paris. As the title suggests, it treats of certain practical and simple rules, which help souls to attain to the perfection of the Christian life. I do not know of any existing English translation of this booklet.—Editor,
[1 ] The author, probably, had in his mind the dream of Nabuchadonosor, interpreted by the prophet Daniel (Dan. ii.).—Editor.