JMC : The Christian Mind / by Dom Anscar Vonier, O.S.B.

Chapter I.
Christian Theology and Christian Mind.

THE doctrines concerning Christ's sacred Person stand out before the Christian intellect as a clearly defined and fullgrown body of dogmas.

This body of dogmas has reached maturity long ago, and unlike man's bodily frame, it keeps its freshness and health and vigour and youthfulness unimpaired as the world grows older.

The doctrines respecting Christ's Person are commonly designated under the term Christology.

It may be said that Christology as a series of doctrines reached its perfection at the end of the eighth century of the Christian era. By that time the universal councils of the Church had made it clear for all times, what are the true elements that enter into the composition of that wonderful Personality, Jesus Christ.

Later councils, as, for instance, the council of Trent, have defined many doctrines concerning Christ's share in the work of man's salvation, but they did not add anything to our knowledge of the mystery of Christ's Person, considered in Himself.

The great Doctors of the Church, and foremost amongst them St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas, have made it their task to explain to the thinking Christian intellect the meaning and the far reaching bearing of the great Church definitions in this matter of the God Incarnate.

Taken together with the pronouncements of the Church the explanations furnished by the great divines in their theological treatises form a body of thought of the supremest intellectual order, independently of their value as Christian dogmas.

The doctrines of Christology are truths of the highest order, and no intellect could busy itself with them without reaching a high mental perfection, besides having the merit of the obedience of faith.

The God Incarnate, however, is essentially and intrinsically the life of individual souls. It is His most constant and solemn assertion that He is life, man's life.

The life of the Christian therefore has a function that is all its own, namely to express and translate into actuality Christ, the Son of God; for the Son of God could not be man's life, unless man's life had it for one of its organic functions to give expression to the Son of God.

To be the Son of God, and to be the life of man, is the most adequate definition of Our Lord's role Christology, or the theology of the Incarnation, is primarily concerned with the wondrous fact that Christ is the Son of God.

It is chiefly theoretical in nature. As I said a moment ago, it is a marvellous system of doctrines that has reached maturity, and I might say, finality, long ago.

But Christ's other role, that of being the life of man, is still to a great extent an unexplored field of immense spiritual possibilities, at least for individual souls. It is simply impossible to tell to what extent individual souls may find Christ to be their life. The past exhibits some very glorious patterns of Christ as the life of man. The future may have in store other and no less surprising manifestations of the same life.

When I say here that Christ's role as the life of man is an unexplored field of spiritual possibilities, I owe my reader a word of explanation.

There are, of course, the clearly defined doctrines of the influence and action of mankind's Redeemer on mankind.

The Church has pronounced on all matters that are pertinent to the general question of man's salvation and sanctification through Christ. Such doctrines are really part of our general Christology: they share its maturity and its finality.

But when all doctrines concerning our Lord, both in Himself and in His action on souls, have been enumerated, there still remains another realm of supernatural realities that invites exploration.

The question is this: how does a man behave, to whom the Incarnation and all that it implies has become a living fact, and in whom the Son of God is an actual and pulsating life?

How does such a man feel, how does he act, what does he dare, what view does he take of man in life and death ? What sort of mind has he, what sort of heart, what sort of character?

And more generally, how far is the Incarnation capable of producing a specific character, a specific mind, in the people who believe it all literally, without any reservations? Is there, or can there be, here on earth, a race of men and women whose characters, whose minds, are not only modified, but are actually created by sincere and living belief in the Son of God, so that a great dramatist could place them in some heroic play, as he could be quite certain of the workings of such characters?

In one word, putting it more learnedly, is there, or can there be, a psychology of the Incarnation in men and women as truly as there is the psychology of nationality and race and heredity and environment, and what are the elements of such a psychology ?

Put in this wise the matter becomes clearly distinguished from the more generic question as to Christ's share in man's redemption. It is distinction between principles and character. The great truths of Catholic Christology are the principles. What we are trying to find out now, is the sort of character such principles are able to produce, and do produce in reality.

Or again it is a distinction between theory and life. To hold the doctrines of the Incarnation in their entirety may still be considered as theory, but to live such theories and such doctrines is evidently quite a different matter. It constitutes a new spiritual phenomenon of endless freshness and variability, of which a man who otherwise admits every one of the articles of the Christian creed may be devoid.

The present book is an analytical study of the specific spiritual character produced in man by the principle of traditional Christology. It is a study of Christian character, as opposed to Christian theology. By Christian I mean here the Christ-thing, in its own specific nature. (It is a pity that there is no adjective derived from the word Christ, so as to enable us to express easily and promptly the ideas that contain attributes which are meant for the Son of God in Person. The word Christian hardly means Christ in adjective form.)

When I speak of character, psychology, and life as opposed to doctrine, dogma, and theology, the opposition is, of course, not an opposition of contrariety, as character is caused by doctrine, and though it be something distinct, yet it bears the stamp of doctrine.

It has occurred to me that the expression "Christian Mind" would be an appropriate enough title for a book whose object it is to analyse and to describe the kind of psychology bred in man through a practical assimilation of the wondrous truths of the Incarnation. Mind is something between mere intellect and conduct. It is both a view and a behaviour. It is something more than character, as it implies a relish and a keenness for wide views, a thing not necessarily contained in character.

Mind again has a practical side which does not belong to mere intellect, or to speculative thought, and is more intimately part of our individual life than abstract truths, or doctrines held by our faith.

So all things considered, I think that my title "The Christian Mind" is not a misnomer for the matter I have to treat.

I might have called the book "Christian Psychology", were it not for the circumstance that the term savours too much of a technicality.

The matter of the book brings its own division. On the one hand we may consider the Christian mind from the point of view of a mere possibility, that is to say from the study of the truths of the Incarnation, and we may tell at once what sort of mind could be bred in man if he made such doctrine his own, if he followed them up in life logically and fearlessly. Then we may take a Christian mind from the realm of actuality, a man who has lived Christ thoroughly and boldly, and whose whole mind, thus transformed, has been revealed to his fellow Christians.

We have such a man in the person of St. Paul. So a considerable portion of the book amounts really to a character-study of St. Paul. For a long time it had been my intention to call the book "The Christ of St. Paul", but the more general title under which the book goes forth now will enable me to give my studies a scope even wider than the mind of St. Paul. Even St. Paul did not express in his life the totality of Christ.

It is not my intention, however, to divide the book ostensibly into two sections, though its matter be twofold, conjectural and actual. But the book will be a blending both of spiritual possibilities, such as the Incarnation may produce, and of the spiritual actualities, such as it did produce in Paul of Tarsus.

<< ======= >>