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

Chapter VII.
St. Paul's Mind.

The specific Christian Mind is essentially mystical, in the modern sense of the word: that is to say, it is the possession and intuition of a great spiritual fact, whose reality is greater than anything the mind can acquire by its own reasoning powers.

It is a reality that is overwhelmingly present; it transcends classifications and definitions, though containing them implicitly.

St. Paul is the greatest mystic of all times, because he apprehended Christ's personality so mightily, and read all things in Him so clearly and directly.

All the minor realities of human life are to him law. But when there comes the newly found reality of life, Christ, law disappears, Christ alone remains, and all life, big and small, he reads now in terms of Christ.

Before expounding the more positive elements of the Christian Mind, I intend stating its more critical aspect by following St. Paul in his wonderful analysis of the respective values of the law and the living Christ.

We are all familiar with the well worn antithesis that opposes the old law to the new law.

We hear it constantly said that the old law was a state of servitude, whilst the new law is a state of superabundant grace.

The antithesis is a true rendering of spiritual facts, and above all, it has the consecration of Ecclesiastical usage. But I doubt whether St. Paul would have liked it as a theological phrase. Certainly it does not come from him.

It is against St. Paul's genius to think of the new era that came with Christ as a law, however pure and lofty, and nowhere do we find him stating this opposition between the old law and the new law.

For him the law is simply abrogated, it is dead, as dead as the dead Christ on the cross, with this difference however, that the dead Christ rose again, whilst the law is not meant to rise. It is dead and buried and condemned, for ever.

The new state of things is not a law, not a system, it is the living God Himself, it is the risen Christ.

The antithesis ol St. Paul is not between the old law and the new law, but between law and grace, between law and Christ.

"You are not under the law, but under grace" (Rom. vi. 14).

"You also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ: that you may belong to another, who is risen again from the dead" (Rom. vii. 4).

It is true that once or twice the Apostle uses the term law in connexion with the new dispensation.

"The law of the spirit of life, in Christ Jesus, hath delivered me from the law of sin and death" (Rom. viii. 2).

"Bear ye one another's burdens: and so you shall fulfil the law of Christ" (Gal. vi. 2).

In both these instances the term law has an almost ironical meaning, as it denotes things that are essentially not matters for a law. So it may be asserted safely that the common antithesis between the old law and the new law is by no means a Pauline idea, as for him the Incarnation and its grace could never be encompassed within legal concepts, even of the loftiest order.

Christ the Son of the living God stands before Paul as the essence of Christian sanctity.

The concept of Christ Himself being all law and all religion, may be rightly called St. Paul's central spiritual fact.

In order to establish it firmly, the Apostle wrote more on this subject than on any other.

He lays a regular siege to the Jewish as well as to the heathen mind that he may convince it of the all important truth that the Son of God, made man, and crucified for man, has become man's spiritual life.

The Epistle to the Romans, the one to the Galatians, large sections of the Epistles to the Corinthians, the Colossians, and the Philippians, would be incomprehensible if we did not read them in the light of that great Pauline idea, that Christ Himself is spiritual life.

Before proceeding, let me put more clearly the practical distinction embodied in St. Paul's view of Christ's role in man's higher life.

One might consider spiritual life as a thing perfect in itself, for whose realisation and attainment every sort of supernatural help is given us, the greatest help being the Incarnation, and all that it involves. Or one might, on the other hand, consider the Incarnate God as possessing all finality, and spiritual life being a road to Him, He Himself, in His own Person, being the goal.

The first view makes of spiritual life the end and of the Incarnation a means towards that end. The second view, on the contrary, makes the Incarnation, or the Incarnate God, the aim, and spiritual life, or the practice of all justice, the means towards finding Him.

It is evident that the two views differ profoundly, and must in practice affect deeply the soul's movements.

St. Paul will not rest content until he has destroyed in our minds the last vestige that gives any finality to anything, however holy, outside Christ.

St, Paul has the unsparing anger of the man with generous disposition, who has had his soul cramped for a long time by a spiritual system of inferior merit, that had been given to him as the highest perfection, and whose defects he had cherished in his former enthusiasm as much as its good points.

He has found out his mistake: he sees now how crushed he had been, and there are no bounds to his indignation.

The inferior system that had made his soul an unconscious slave, was the law, the old law of Moses. It had kept him and his people from Christ. His denunciations of that law now are as strong as they are varied in character.

His mind finds endless stratagems to break down that intellectual wall which kept men from immediate and personal contact with the Son of the living God, and a short description of the main line of attack on that pernicious practical error will be, I trust, as useful to the reader as it is interesting.

The objection might be made, at this stage, that St. Paul's rancours and indignations were directed indeed against the law of Moses, with its material burdens, and that we are not justified in reading into his utterances that higher and much more subtle distinction between Christ's Person and general spiritual life, a distinction described a moment ago. But let me give at once the assurance that this higher substitution of the living Son of God for a system of spirituality is contained in St. Paul's main idea.

The law of Moses represented to the mind of St. Paul the whole system of justice and spirituality known to man up to the glorious advent of Life itself.

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