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

Chapter X.
The Central Attitude of the Christian Mind.

Spiritual tendencies are often represented as being either centripetal, or centrifugal. This division, taken from natural science, is an easily understood simile.

Centripetal tendencies are movements of the mind towards the centre of all things, God; centrifugal tendencies are the opposite: they are the tendencies that are destructive of the harmony and unity in things spiritual. It goes without saying that the Christian Mind is radically centripetal: all its tendencies and aspirations are towards God, and they make for harmony and unity.

The obedience of the Christian Mind is at bottom nothing else than this blissful convergence of all its powers towards the eternal centre of all light and truth, God.

But there is something more in the Christian Mind than this centripetal tendency. The Christian Mind not only tends towards the great centre, God, but it is central, not only centripetal.

It occupies a central position from the very start. It is in Christ in a most excellent way, and from that great centre, Christ, it looks at all things.

"The peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. iv. 7).

As God is in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, so, on a finite and analogous scale, the perfectly educated mind in the things of the Incarnation is in Christ, as in its natural centre, looking at the world from that sublime height, and bringing all things into convergent lines in virtue of that central position.

It is quite evident that the early Christian Mind was thus centred in Christ.

To the faithful of the first Christian period there only was one great object for mental contemplation, the Son of God in His power and glory.

They looked at the world in general, and at mankind in particular, through the Son of God, I might almost say, from the height of Christ's glory. To them mankind was practically an indifferent thing, incapable of arousing interest. Their interest was centred on Christ, and His grace; the propagation of that grace, the preaching of the name of Christ, for its own sake, because it is the greatest of all names, such were their aspirations.

Their missionary zeal was more love of Christ, than love of mankind. They knew nothing about mankind, they only dreaded its dark enmities. But they knew much about Christ, and they basked in the sunshine of His love. They were .sure of Him. In fact He was their only security, their true harbour of refuge.

In Him alone they dared to approach the world. If their preaching was successful, it was Christ's power operating through them.

If their mission failed, it was Christ's judgment on an unworthy world. As for themselves, neither failure nor success could alter their sense of spiritual possession.

They possessed Christ, and in Him they possessed Heaven and earth, whatever the attitude of their fellow-men.

That such was practically the primitive Christian attitude of mind, and above all of the attitude of St. Paul, can be proved by innumerable references.

In order to understand such an attitude more clearly, let us compare it with another attitude of mind, extremely common in our days amongst those who have the missionary spirit.

In our time, most people look at mankind first. It is their paramount interest. They love it, and pity it for its own sake. In consequence, if they are fervent Christians, they are anxious to see as many men and women converted to Christ as possible.

If believers are few, they feel as if they belonged spiritually to a small world only. There is a general sentiment of disappointment in their life.

If on the contrary, believers are many, their heart is dilated with the satisfaction of being the children of a great Kingdom.

Their first and leading thought is the conversion of mankind, not the coming of Christ.

Humanity, its evolution and its progress are the fetishes of modern non-Christian thought.

Everywhere we find the religion of humanity pushing back the worship of the Son of God.

It is the sort of religion that becomes easily popular, as it has all the external signs of love and philanthropy. In a certain way, this idea of the predominant value of humanity has affected Christian thought.

Mankind is the most assertive thing for the minds of many believers, and the conditions of salvation for mankind as a whole are more absorbing and perplexing problems to them than they were to other generations of Christians.

As in many other instances of subordinate truths, the minor truth is a helpful and salutary attitude of the mind, so long as it is regulated by the greater truth.

Taken away from the control of the vaster verity, the lesser truth easily becomes an aberration, a mental disturbance. So in this matter of the relative importance of mankind and Christ.

To love mankind is a good thing; to love it outside Christ gives it at once a disproportionate place in the mind. To give to mankind any other place but a subordinate one, would be a great mental disorder in those who believe in the Son of God: for them the one Son of God made man is an infinitely vaster thing than the whole aggregate of men, past, present, and future.

The great questions for the Christian Mind are all the questions that have the Son of God directly for their object.

What is He in Himself, and what are His dealings with the children of men?

This is what I call the central attitude of the Christian Mind.

Nowhere in the Gospels do we hear Christ giving utterance to a hope that mankind as such, as the human race, will ever be conquered by His grace in this world, will ever believe in Him and love Him.

On the contrary, He solemnly describes Himself as being accessible only to certain preordained classes of people.

"At that time Jesus answered and said: I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones. Yea, Father: for so hath it seemed good in thy sight.

All things are delivered to me by my Father. And no one knoweth the Son, but the Father: neither doth any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal him" (St. Matt. xi. 25-27).

Of universal and uncontested conquest of mankind to the obedience of His faith, there is never any hope in the mind and on the lips of Christ.

On the contrary. His forebodings are of the gloomiest. "Will not God revenge his elect who cry to him day and night: and will he have patience in their regard? I say to you that he will quickly revenge them. But yet the Son of man when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth" (St. Luke xviii. 7 8).

With constant utterance as to the universality of His power, our Lord couples assertions not less emphatic as to the limited number of His followers, and the restricted success of the Gospel.

His disciples are bidden to look upon mankind generally as upon a hostile, savage power.

"Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and simple as doves. But beware of men" (St. Matt. x. 16, 17).

On the other hand, they are bidden to meet the world covered with their faith in the Son of God, as with armour. To go out to the world in their own name, and in their own wisdom, would be suicidal to them.

"But when they shall deliver you up, take no thought how or what to speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what to speak. For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you" (St. Matt. x. 19 20).

Nothing would be easier than to accumulate quotations from St. Paul showing how he possessed that central attitude of mind, how to him Apostolic activity was essentially a glorification of Christ, and how he practically ignored all things outside Christ.

"What have I to do to judge them that are without? . . . . . For them that are without, God will judge" (i. Cor. v. 12 13).

"Without" here means outside Christ's faith.

There is in St. Paul a marked love for the predestination view of things, taking the word here in its true orthodox sense.

He knows Christ and those that are in Christ; he is full of activity, travels all over the world to convert to Christ those that are predestined to Christ's grace, whose election has made them already to be Christ's potentially.

Outside that Christ circle, he has no real interest. Whatever is beyond it, he leaves to the judgment of God, it is no concern of his. The spiritual destinies of that "without " are not even a problem to his mind. It is no part of his world.

That such is the attitude of St Paul's mind is beyond doubt. Christ and the things of Christ are essentially life, a practical activity of the heart and the mind.

Outside Christ, nothing is practical, nothing is feasible or possible in the spiritual order of things So there is practically for St. Paul's mind only one sphere of things, the sphere of which Christ is the centre.

Now and then it would seem as if the great Apostle were concerned with the questions of more universal salvation, in a less concentric frame of mind.

In the second chapter to the Romans he alludes to the possibility of spiritual justification for the Gentiles to whom no Revelation has been granted, and who "shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them" (Rom. ii. 15).

In i. Tim. ii, 3 4 . . he says of "God our Saviour" that "He will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth". Again in i. Tim. iv, 10 God is said to be "the Saviour of all men, especially of the faithful".

Better known still are St. Paul's pathetic utterances concerning the salvation of the Jewish people who had not believed in Christ.

"Brethren, the will of my heart, indeed, and my prayer to God is, for them unto salvation" (Rom. X. i).

But in all these utterances St. Paul's mind never leaves its centre.

The salvation which God has in store for us all, the prayer of St. Paul, the judgment over the heathen who has not known the Law, it is all in Christ.

The heathen's conscience will be his accuser or defender "in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel" (Rom. ii. 16).

In the Gospel of St. John this divine "centralness" is most evident.

"All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men" (St. John iii. 4).

All through St. John's Gospel we find the exclusiveness of the infinite stated most emphatically. Christ is infinite life, yet it is an infinitude to which only a few have access, which practically touches only a chosen number.

The failure of Christ's mission with regard to individuals is one of the facts most insisted upon in St. John's Gospel.

"Remember my word that I said to you: The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also" (St. John xv. 20).

But with all this failure, the great life, the great kingdom of God is in no way damaged, or circumscribed.

It is all fulness from the very beginning, and those that believe are beyond the reach of disappointment. "That which my Father hath given me, is greater than all: and no one can snatch them out of the hand of my Father" (St. John x. 29).

Even then, when St. Paul uses expressions that might at first sight denote more universal aspirations, his universalisms never go outside Christ, it is St. Paul's dream to present every man perfect, not simply without qualifications, but in Christ Jesus, in Whom also he labours, as if He were the proper field of his activities, and as if all his movements were contained within His infinitude of grace. "To whom (i. e. the Saints) God would make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ, in you the hope of glory. Whom we preach, admonishing every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus, wherein also I labour, striving according to his working which he worketh in me in power", Col. i. 27-30).

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