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

Chapter XV.
Christ the Judge of the Living and the Dead.

The role of Judge has been attributed to God at all stages of religious faith. Not only does man expect fair dealing for himself on the part of God, but he considers Divinity as holding the office of judge over mankind, rewarding the good, punishing the wicked, and redressing the balance of good and evil in His own good time. The idea pervades the writings of the Old Testament.

"Far be it from thee to do this thing and to slay the just with the wicked, and for the just to be in like case as the wicked, this is not beseeming thee: thou who judgest all the earth will not make this judgment" (Gen. xviii. 25). Thus spoke Abraham to Jehovah, as he walked with the Lord on the way to Sodom, and as he prayed that the guilty city might be spared for the sake of fifty just men if perchance such a number could be found there.

"The just shall rejoice when he shall see revenge: he shall wash his hands in the blood of the sinner. And man shall say: If indeed there be fruit to the just: there is indeed a God that judgeth them on the earth" (Ps. lvii. 11 12).

Belief in the great day of Judgment at the end of the world is one of the most constant themes of inspiration for the teachers and seers of Israel.

"Then shall the just stand with great constancy against those that have afflicted them, and taken away their labours" (Wisdom v. i).

The whole of the fifth chapter of the Book of Wisdom could be quoted as an illustration of the Jewish belief in the great final judgment with its glories and its horrors. As for the prophets, one might fill a book with their utterances about the judgment to come.

"Wherefore expect me, saith the Lord, in the day of my resurrection that is to come, for my judgment is to assemble the Gentiles, and together the kingdoms: and to pour upon them my indignation and all my fierce anger: for with the fire of my jealousy shall all the earth be devoured" (Soph. iii. 8).

No doubt "the day of darkness and of gloominess, the day of clouds and whirlwinds" (Joel ii. 2), in the mind of the seer is not always the last day of the world: it is some definite time in which God gathers up the crimes of men as in a bundle, and throws them into the furnace of His anger, without bringing mankind as a whole to His bar. Yet the idea of a universal retribution and settlement of accounts at the end of mankind's history is so forcibly stated by the prophets that the point needs no further elaboration here.

The concept then of God as the great Judge, and also the concept of the universal judgment at the end of the world, could in no wise be called a specifically Christian concept, flowing from the central doctrine of the Incarnation.

Christ found the doctrine well established, and He lent it the weight of His authority. The end of the world with its concomitant judgment was an idea familiar to the people that thronged to hear Him. He gave it greater splendour and luminousness through the clearness of His statements, and the definiteness of the parables in which He embodied the teaching.

The parable of the wheat and cockle, where "the harvest is the end of the world and the reapers are the Angels", presupposes in the minds of the listeners a high degree of faith in the last Day, besides its being a statement of the great truth in words of matchless effectiveness.

"Even therefore as cockle is gathered up and burnt with fire: so shall it be at the end of the world" (St. Matt. xiii. 40).

Yet in this matter of God's role as Judge Christ has done something more than throw additional light and brilliancy on a subject already believed in. Though the doctrine in its broader terms is not specifically an outcome of the Incarnation, our Lord appropriated it in a way He has not followed in other matters.

He Himself is the great central figure of that doctrine, He Himself is the Judge, the Judgment Day will be essentially His own Day.

He will come in glory with the Angels, and mankind will be brought to Him. His followers and friends will sit with Him, as His assessors, and the dividing between the good and the wicked will be done entirely on Incarnation lines, if I may use the expression.

The good are those that gave Him to eat when He was hungry, gave Him to drink when He was thirsty, visited Him when He was in prison. The wicked owe their reprobation to the neglect of those offices towards Him. For St. Paul as well as for the other writers of the New Testament, the great day spoken of by the prophets of old has a new significance, not only a new splendour.

It is the day of the Lord. The world's condemnation is merely part of it. The great fact of that day is the triumphant manifestation of Christ.

I am thus justified, I think, in placing the doctrine of the Judgment amongst the specifically Christian doctrines, because it is so inseparably united with Christ's person, so completely identified with Him, that the doctrine, and the idea of Judgment such as we find it at the end of the Old Testament, differs as much from the concept of Judgment at the end of the New Testament as the graces of the ordinary Providence differ from the graces of the Incarnation. Here we have more than an elevation of a pre-existing idea; we have a complete transformation of it.

Judgment will be done as was the belief of Patriarchs and Prophets, but it will be judgment by a "man", as St. Paul puts it in his discourse to the Areopagus.

"And God indeed having winked at the times of this ignorance, now declareth unto men that all should everywhere do penance. Because he hath appointed a day wherein he will judge the world in equity by the man whom he hath appointed; giving faith to all by raising him up from the dead" (Acts xvii, 30 31).

This transference of the divine judicial function to the Son of God quâ man, is solemnly announced by Christ Himself.

For "neither doth the Father judge any man: but hath given all judgment to the Son" (St. John v. 22). It belongs properly to a dogmatic treaty on the Incarnation to explain this handing over to the Son of the function of judge. It is part of the mystery of the elevation of Christ's human nature through the Hypostatic Union, as explained in the third chapter of this book. But without any deeper investigations into that glorious truth of Christ's exaltation quâ man, such words as are here quoted ought to suffice to establish the contention thus put forward, that the general doctrine of God's judicial power has been profoundly modified and affected by the Incarnation.

The deepest modification of the pre-existing belief is of course the fact that it will be Christ in the glory of His manhood who will execute all judgment. It will be His mighty voice as man, that will open up the graves, and call all generations to His judgment seat,

"Amen, amen, I say unto you that the hour Cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.

For as the Father hath life in himself, so he hath given to the Son also to have life in himself:

And he hath given him power to do judgment, because he is the Son of man.

Wonder not at this: for the hour cometh, wherein all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God" (St. John v. 25-28).

But there is more than this wonderful handing over to Christ of the divine prerogative. The great judgment at the end of time is essentially a justification and glorification of Christ, Who has been the most reviled and the most illtreated of all that ever lived on this earth. Such is Christ's own bold confession at the moment of His greatest humiliation, when He stood as a captured malefactor before the high-priest.

"And the high-priest rising up, said to him: Answereth thou nothing to the things which these witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest said to him: I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us if thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith to him: Thou hast said it. Nevertheless I say to you, hereafter you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of the power of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high-priest rent his garments, saying: he hath blasphemed, what further need have we of witnesses.? Behold, now you have heard the blasphemy: What think you? But they answering said: he is guilty of death" (St. Matt. xxvi. 62-66).

His apparition in the glory of a judge will raise an immense wail in mankind, a wail of regret and despair, because they have so obstinately discarded Him.

"Behold, he cometh with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also that pierced him. And all the tribes of the earth shall bewail themselves because of him. Even so. Amen" (Apoc. i. 7).

In the second place, mankind will be judged in reference to Christ's presence here on earth, either in His own Person, or in the person of His followers. My reader will easily forgive me if I quote the whole passage from St. Matthew's Gospel, where the Son of God declares so emphatically that personal element in His judgment to come, praising and condemning mankind according to their attitude towards Himself in His human needs.

"And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the Angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty. And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink: I was a stranger and you took me in: naked, and you covered me, sick and you visited me: I was in prison and you came to me.

Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee: thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked and covered thee?

Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee? And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink.

I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me. Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee.? Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.

And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting" (St. Matt. xxv. 31 to end of chapter).

It could hardly be asserted with any degree of accuracy that Christ speaks of the judgment of such people only as knew His law and Gospel, and not of the generality of men. The words of the Gospel are as comprehensive and general as they could possibly be. Every human creature seems to be included in the great tableau.

St. Paul, in the second chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, speaks expressly of God's judgments over Jew and Gentile irrespective of the actual and positive knowledge of the Gospel. Yet he too makes of the judgment of such people a thing intimately connected with Christ and His Gospel.

"For when the Gentiles who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these having not the law, are a law to themselves: Who shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them and their thoughts between themselves accusing or also defend one another. In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus according to my gospel" (Rom. ii. 14-16).

No doubt a more perfect comprehension of the truth of the Incarnation by which God assumed human nature, would remove all intellectual difficulties, and would show to us how justly and fitly mankind's sins against itself are sins against Christ's humanity.

As a third element in the new doctrine of the judgment, such as it is through the Incarnation, I ought to mention Christ's part in destroying the power of Antichrist.

"And then that wicked one shall be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall kill with the spirit of his mouth; and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming, him, whose coming is according to the working of satan, in all power and signs, and lying wonders, and in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish; because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying" (ii. Thess. ii. 8-11).

From the preceding passages, and other texts more or less explicit, but all tending towards the same presentment of the end of human history, it is evident that the last great spiritual crisis of mankind will be an almost victorious opposition to the spirit of Christ in its essentials, an opposition embodied in a man, Antichrist, who will succeed temporarily in supplanting Christ's maxims with diametrically opposed maxims. The name Antichrist ought to be taken in its strict significance as an essential and reasoned opposition to Christ in His own characteristic and specific traits.

Now the coming of Christ in the power of judge is not only a destruction of that hater of Christ, but an actual single combat of the two Christs, the true one, and the false one. St. Paul's expression, "whom the Lord Jesus shall kill with the spirit of his mouth", implies more than a destruction of Antichrist's person and empire. It points to a vehemence of action on the part of the Son of God against that wicked man, to which there is no parallel in the Scriptures. The mystery of the last Judgment has become, through the Incarnation, a triumphant struggle where the God Incarnate shows His invincible superiority over a fiendish and horrible incarnation of the spirit of error.

There is, lastly, a fourth very profound modification of the universal doctrine of the judgment to be found in the constant promise of Christ, and the constant teaching of the Apostle that Christ's elect will judge the world with Him.

"And Jesus said to them: Amen I say to you, that you, who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the seat of his majesty, you also shall sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (St. Matt. xix. 28).

St. Paul's sarcastic advice to the Corinthians is a good instance of his practical application not daily life of the glorious philosophy of the Incarnation. They were having paltry litigations before secular judges, but he bids them to make of the mentally unfit among them their arbitrators in temporal matters, since every Christian ought to be fit for the much higher role of judging the world of spirits and men with Christ.

"Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to be judged before the unjust, and not before the saints? Know you not that the saints shall judge this world? And if the world shall be judged by you, arc you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know you not that we shall judge angels? how much more the things of this world ? If therefore you have judgment of things pertaining to this world, set them to judge, who are the most despised in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so that there is not among you any one wise man, that is able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before unbelievers" (i. Cor. vi. 1-6).

This assessorial privilege of the elect is more than a share in the common triumph of Christ and His Gospel. It is part of their mystical union with Him, a union first hidden, as Christ is hidden, then revealed, as Christ is revealed.

"For you are dead: and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life; then you also shall appear with him in glory" (Col. iii. 3 4).

The triumph of the saints on the last day was an idea dear to the Jewish mind.

"The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds. They shall judge nations and rule over people, and their Lord shall reign for ever" (Wisdom iii. 7 8).

But the personal glorification of Christ Himself, and in His members is a specifically Christian presentment of the last Judgment.

"When he shall come to be glorified in his Saints, and to be made wonderful in all them who have believed: because our testimony was believed upon you in that day" (ii. Thess. i. 10).

I think I have given the leading points that make of the faith in the Judgment an entirely new thing through the Incarnation. It is our duty as Christians to bring our thoughts into conformity with these glorious alterations of a belief, which is as old as the world, and which belongs even to the natural man. Preachers are neglecting their grace in a very grievous way, if they present the Judgment day otherwise than as a personal triumph of the Son of God, and His elect.

A keen sense of justice belongs to the Christian, more than to any other man, but it is a thirsting for equity which is personified in Christ, the Judge of the living and the dead.

The most monstrous injustice, as well as the most cunning falsehood will be brought to light and literally exposed to universal execration by the Son of God. "Therefore fear them not. For nothing is covered that shall not be revealed: nor hid, that shall not be known" (St. Matt. x. 26).

He Himself has suffered so much from the injustice and hypocrisies of man, that we feel intuitively that in Him we have a fellow-sufferer when our sense of justice is offended and exposed like a raw wound to the brutalities of the world. St. Paul shows how we ought to make a practical use of this wonderful outcome of the Incarnation. Misunderstood and misjudged by his own converts, the remembrance of Christ's judicial role enables him to rise superior to that great affliction of mind.

"But to me it is a very small thing to be judged by you, or by man's day: but neither do I judge my own self. For I am not conscious to myself of anything, yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me, is the Lord. Therefore judge not before the time; until the Lord come, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise from God" (i. Cor. iv. 3-6).

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