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

Chapter VI.
A Short Criticism of the Mental Attitude of Christians.

As Christianity implies everything that is good and true, a man may be a sincere professor of the Christian faith without actually exhibiting in his life that special mental attitude, the Christian Mind, which is the object of this book.

It is, of course, obvious that no one has a right to call himself a Christian unless he believes sincerely that all his spiritual hopes are based on the Incarnation.

But it is quite possible for any of us to hold such a faith, to lead good and godly lives, and yet to remain mentally outside the mystery of the living Christ, to go through life without ever having experienced the truth of maxims like the following.

"For to me, to live is Christ: and to die is gain" (Phil. i. 21).

It is so very easy even for the faithful Christian to order his life merely according to the rules of that general Christian mentality which is the opposition of materialism and infidelity, including always at least a theoretical acceptance of the Redemption in Christ.

It is perhaps more difficult for the Catholic not to enter at least a few steps into the mystery of the Son of God, as the Catholic is bound to make use of the Sacraments, which are the most palpable way of being in touch with the Risen Son of God.

It might seem difficult that a man who receives with faith and devoutness the Bread of Life, should not go beyond a merely theoretical acceptance of the life in Christ, for spiritual purposes. Yet it must be confessed that even for a Catholic, with the habitual use of the Sacraments, the Christian Mind is many times conspicuous by its absence.

For him the Sacraments are essentially helps towards moral goodness; and so they are, though they are something vastly greater. By far the greatest quantity of Christian literature is based not on the specific, but on the general Christian mind. If we are within reach of a library in which "spiritual books" abound we can easily verify this assertion.

Let us take for instance the virtue of temperance, in its classical meaning of purity of life.

From Tertullian, through Cassian, through St. Thomas Aquinas and Rodriguez, down to Father Maturin in our own days, the virtue is described in terms mostly philosophical, terms which any man who is not a Nietzschen, must accept. Now and then Christ's example is pressed into service. But the exhortations to temperance are such that no sensible pagan can jeer at them. Every possible philosophic system, with any claim to intellectual respectability, is ransacked and quoted in support of the virtue. It is indeed a most complete economy in nova et vetera.

Against this very general view of the virtue of temperance we have St. Paul's own experience and statement of it,

"Let us walk honestly as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh on its concupiscences" (Rom. xiii. 13. 14).

The Christian temperance in opposition to pagan profligacy is made clear to us in one magnificent phrase: "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ."

Far be it from me to say that the Fathers and preachers of all times ignored such a view of Christian temperance, or that they never made allusion to it. The preacher and the writer through the very nature of their profession go after diffusion of thought. But the prophet who speaks God's own words discards diffusion, and utters truth in its highest and most concentrated form.

Virtue is rendered amiable to us from a thousand different points of view, in the written and spoken word of all centuries.

But when every thing has been said, when every facet of man's mind has been irradiated by the beauty of temperance, there is still a higher concept, a milder light, a statement of the truth that makes all other statements appear as mere childish prattle: "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ."

Every other point of Christian life could be made the object of similar study.

The whole of Catholic morality has been cast into the mould of Aristotelian philosophy by the great monk and thinker St. Thomas Aquinas. The Greek genius and the mediaeval friar meet and make friends. And it is only men who have never taken the trouble of studying the great Summa, in the Prima Secundae and Secunda Secundae, who could dare to accuse St. Thomas of having fettered the principles of Christian ethics, of having curtailed the liberties of the children of God.

The ethics of St. Thomas are the most liberal, the most generous, the most practical ethics in the world. Yet in all their beauty and generosity, they are no more than an adumbration of the heavenly born ethics of the Incarnation, thus described by St. Paul in his own person:

"According to the justice that is in the Law, (I was) conversing without blame. But the things that were gain to me, the same I have counted loss for Christ. Furthermore I count all things to be but loss, for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ: And may be found in him not having my justice, which is of the Law, but that which is of the faith of Christ Jesus, which is of God, justice in faith. That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death. If by any means I may attain to the resurrection which is from the dead" (Phil. iii. 6-16).

The services of the general Christian mind are incalculable. They give satisfaction to man's reasoning powers. They produce a kind of mental wellbeing, that comes from the fulness of truth. To neglect the general Christian mind would be the greatest error: it would imply a kind of contempt of one of the laws of spiritual life, the law of the liberty of the children of God. At the same time there could be no greater danger for the Christian cause than an attempt to express Christian life only in philosophical, legal, or even canonical terms, and to consider such expressions as exhaustive of the subject.

The fellowship of Christ's passion and resurrection will always defy definition. It is something higher than thought and law.

The general Christian mind and the special Christian Mind are not two opposites; on the contrary they complete each other.

"Do not think that I come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (St. Matt. V. 17).

No man ever saw the things of Christ more clearly since the days of St. Paul than did St. Francis of Assisi.

In the possession of the Son of God all other things of mind were as nothing to him. In that great love of the Son of God he gathered together his disciples. But even Francis very soon learned that he could not dispense with the less living elements of canon law and ecclesiastical authority.

The stern Roman canonists did him great service in protecting the fervour which he had brought into the world from becoming unruly.

At a later period St. Teresa of Avila, whose mind was full of the Son of God, if ever human mind was, professed her indebtedness and her admiration for the unemotional scholastic theologians who gave her the assurance that her intuitions of divine things were in perfect conformity with the reasoned theories of Catholic philosophy and theology.

On the other hand, to live merely by reasoned systems of spirituality, however perfect, would be the greatest disaster to the Church. It would mean law without love, power without meekness, authority without the softening influence of paternity, intellectual keenness without humility, zeal for God without knowledge of God's true character.

A spiritual life that is not a reproduction of the life of Christ will sooner or later become a dangerous mistake, all the more dangerous as it is so brilliant.

Happy are we, if we live at a period of Christian history when the mystical knowledge and love of the Son of God go hand in hand with sound thinking and wise government.

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