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

Chapter XVI.
Putting On Christ.

In that section of this book which deals with St. Paul's argumentations in favour of the living Christ, as opposed to the dead law, a good deal has been said already concerning the position of the whole ethical order under the Incarnation, But as a clear and firm grasp of this subject is of paramount importance for the formation and cultivation in us of the Christian mind, I intend writing a separate chapter on this very subject. It will be the natural place for the development of many points of view which otherwise could not be brought under one heading.

All up and down St. Paul's letters there are expressions of intense vividness and practicality, all of them deeply original and almost unexpected, so boldly do they cut across our ordinary mode of thinking. They are the voice of the Christian Mind, and though they seem to lack cohesion, they all proceed from the same principle, the identification of Christ with the general ethical order, through the Incarnation.

I am conscious here of one difficulty, a difficulty that haunts me through all my labours in writing this book. It is so difficult to avoid generalities when treating of ethical matters and their transformations through the Incarnation. Ethics are a comprehensive science with classifications and divisions down to the species specialissima.

Ethics comprise man's moral development in his own subjective self, in his relations with other men, with institutions like the family, the state, and even with mankind as a whole. Even man's duties towards God are part of natural ethics, such as they have been systematised for us by the Greek philosophers.

The Christian school of thought has done little original work in this matter of ethics, as the keen intellects of the Greeks had almost completed the work for all generations to come.

Our philosophers and theologians however have done glorious work in systematising the rules and laws of the supernatural life of grace, and also in working out the harmonies between the natural ethics and the supernatural grace.

But this very completeness of the ethical system as we possess it now, precludes apparently the possibility of finding in the Apostolic writings statements enough in order to enable us to work out to its last details that transformation of all things ethical in Christ. Thus, for instance, can we expect to find in St. Paul a statement of the virtue of courage in battle which is one of the elements of natural ethics, in terms of the Incarnation, in the manner in which he stated purity in terms of the Incarnation, when he tells us that our bodies are the members of Christ?

It is not my contention, I confess, that we can find the whole ethical order thus restated explicitly by the New Testament writer. Yet something of every class of ethical duties has been thus restated in the New Testament, as occasion arose. And there can be no doubt that the whole ethical order might have been thus restated, down to the species specialissima of moral virtues.

Everything that is good and true, is good and true in Christ. What has been done explicitly by the Apostolic writers is a guidance to us in those matters which they have had no opportunity to touch upon. Thus, to come back on the example mentioned above, human courage in fighting in a legitimate war, neither St. Paul nor any of the other writers seem to have had opportunities of inculcating it to the disciples of Christ. Yet when one bears in mind how St. Paul treated kindred subjects, such as purity of body and conjugal fidelity, things he states boldly in terms of the Incarnation, one could easily foretell what words he might have used in the other case, had it occurred.

The Christian soldier would have been bidden to be brave in Christ, because Christ also was brave when He fought the powers of evil. It is in this matter of the transformation of the ordinary duties of life in Christ that there is so much scope for our Christian Mind, without any peril of twisting the graces of the Incarnation to purposes that are merely arbitrary.

It is the scope of this chapter to class together and show in their due proportions those casual statements that lift the duties of life from the ethical plane to the plane of the Incarnation, and also to point out further possible applications of the same principle. But there is an important consideration which finds its natural place here, and which is helpful in understanding St. Paul's mental attitude.

It is a well known psychological phenomenon that man's sense of intimate relationship with Divinity (excuse this rather pagan term) is not necessarily the same thing as a keen moral sense. Many religions full of faith and of the worship of the Divinity are practically severed from all ethical obligations; man is not expected to be true, and pure, and just, because he is religious, and worships God or gods. The old pagan religions were non-ethical, if they were not anti-ethical. A section of the Jewish people in the days of Christ, whilst still keenly religious, were strongly non-ethical. The same phenomenon has been quite striking at various periods of the history of Christian nations. But the man who made it into a theological system was Martin Luther. For him a keen sense of man's friendship with God and His Christ was not only compatible both in theory and practice with a non-ethical state of man, but that very friendship was made the excuse for discarding all ethics as superfluous.

This is called technically antinomianism, which may be defined as the doctrine that, in the Gospel dispensation, the ethical law is of no obligation.

St. Paul had a double task to fulfil. On the one hand, he had to preach to the world man's freedom in Christ: on the other hand, he had to insist on man's ethical obligations. He makes the two things one by considering all ethical obligations as functions of our life in Christ. His blows from the shoulder on the law of Moses, or rather on its abusive applications, might easily have led to antinomianism; St. Peter signalises the danger.

"And account the long-suffering of our Lord, salvation; as also our most dear brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, hath written to you: As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction" (ii. Pet. iii. 15 16).

But St. Paul himself is fully aware of the possible abuse of a most divine privilege. He foresees the tendency of making the liberty in Christ a cloak for malice. "For you, brethren, have been called unto liberty: only make not liberty an occasion to the flesh, but by charity of the spirit serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Gal. v. 13 14).

But more powerful than such cautionings are the deeper principles on which St. Paul bases the identity of life in Christ with the whole ethical order.

A Christian through his baptism has become so completely one with Christ, that moral transgression has become a thing of the past; it is simply incompatible with his new character. If the Christian sins grievously, it is as if Christ died again.

It is this absolute incompatibility between the Christian's spiritual character and transgressions of the moral law which is the central thought of so much that St. Paul writes, chiefly in his epistle to the Romans.

"For in that he died to sin, he died once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God: So do you also reckon that you are dead to sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, so as to obey the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of iniquity unto sin; but present yourselves to God as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of justice unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under the law, but under grace.

What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are whom you obey, whether it be of sin, unto death, or of obedience, unto justice. But thanks be to God, that you were the servants of sin, but have obeyed from the heart, unto that form of doctrine, into which you have been delivered. Being then free from sin we have been made servants of justice" (Rom. vi. 10-18).

Such a doctrine, far from weakening the ethical order, gives it a divine basis, and though it does not give man impeccability, it opens out to him the prospects of a sinlessness that is a participation in Christ's sinlessness. A more complete identification of the ethical order and Christ could not be imagined. That such texts could have been made use of by the German reformer in order to establish his antinominian views, is the most impertinent of all the perversions of the Scriptures.

Where the refined mind of St. Paul sees deep natural incompatibility between the Christian's regenerated soul and sin, the coarse intellect of the German heresiarch sees a complete emancipation from all moral ties.

Far from there being even a vestige of antinomianism in St. Paul's theology, there is in his teaching a distinct belief in a relative sinlessness in the Christian, in virtue of his regeneration in Christ, not the Lutheran sinlessness that comes from man's incapacity of doing any good, a shifting and a denying of all responsibility, but a positive sinlessness made of spiritual strength caused by the abundance of our grace in Christ,

"And they that are Christ's have crucified their flesh with the vices and concupiscences" (Gal. v. 24).

St. Paul speaks of a great spiritual possibility, of a thing accessible to man in virtue of the Incarnation. Rejecting on the one hand a mere system of laws, an ethical order grounded on no lifegiving person, the great thinker and Apostle has before his eyes more than an ethical order of a higher rank, more even than an ethical order based on the will of Christ: he contemplates as an ordinary Christian privilege the happy state of such absolute identification with Christ that the breaking of the moral order does not exist practically. Such no doubt was St. Paul's own position and such is the condition of thousands of Christ's chosen ones, at all periods of the Church's history. Thus this profound principle, so emphatically enunciated by the Apostle, of incompatibility between sin and the regenerate state of the Christian, is the highest elevation and transformation of the ethical order through the Incarnation. With such a principle to start from, the daily tasks of human life ought to assume in our eyes the golden brilliancy of the light of the Hypostatic Union as they did with St, Paul himself, as I shall show now, quoting from many parts of his letters.

The texts have no other logical nexus amongst themselves than the fact of being varied applications of the one and the same fundamental thought.

The Christian's duties and attitudes towards his fellow Christian have been expressed by St. Paul in Incarnation terms more frequently and more poignantly than any other forms of moral obligations, as was to be expected.

The noble expression in visceribus Iesu Christi, in the bowels of Jesus Christ, is of Pauline origin,

"For God is my witness, how I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ" (Phil, i, 8).

To love in the bowels of Christ, is more than to love for the sake of Christ, it is even more than to enter into the sentiments of the Son of God. It is a community of feeling towards the fellow Christian between Paul and Christ so intimate as to be best expressed through the bold metaphor of the identity of the organs of love, a metaphor quite unthinkable outside that supernatural order which is based on the Incarnation. Is there an erotic poet that ever dared to employ such language? Yet with the God Incarnate we feel instinctively that such language is not only permissible, but that it alone expresses adequately a high truth, our love for our fellow Christian.

Man's elevation through the Incarnation is to be for ever the pattern to us how to treat, how to receive our brethren.

"Wherefore receive one another, as Christ also hath received you unto the honour of God" (Rom. XV. 7).

Which of us could ever exhaust the practical meaning of such a recommendation, based on such a truth? We are bidden to look on men as Christ has looked on them, and we are to make our elevation in the Incarnation the measure of the honour we pay our brother.

All divisions amongst Christians are condemned for ever by this piercing cry of St. Paul's heart.

"Divisus est Christus -- Is Christ divided?" (i. Cor. i. 13.)

All undue prevalence of merely human considerations, human personalities are made for ever ridiculous by that other drastic apostrophy:

"Numquid Paulus crucifixus est pro vobis, aut in nomine Pauli baptizati estis? Was Paul then crucified for you? or were you baptised in the name of Paul?" (i. Cor. i. 13.)

If Christians understood what they owe to Christ, how totally they belong to Christ, how their whole spiritual glory is Christ's own life in them, they would shun all divisions, all vaingloryings as an insult, nay, as a manual outrage done to Christ.

In virtue of this great appropriation by the Son of God of the individual Christian, the last thing we ought to do is to judge our brother, or to interfere with his legitimate liberties.

"Who art thou that judgeth another man's servant? To his own lord he standeth or falleth. And he shall stand: for God is able to make him stand. For one judgeth between day and day: and another judgeth every day: let every man abound in his own sense. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord. And he that eateth, eateth to the Lord: for he giveth thanks to God. And he that eateth not, to the Lord eateth not, and giveth thanks to God. For none of us liveth to himself; and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord. Therefore, whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Rom. xiv. 4-9).

It is all very glorious doctrine, the highest application of the highest principles of the Incarnation: yet the occasion for propounding it was anything but a deep crisis, it was merely the minor difficulty that had arisen, whether Christians might be allowed to eat the meat that came from the pagan sacrifices and was being retailed in the city shops. St. Paul declares that the Christian is free to do in this matter as he pleases. His liberty is intangible. Yet as a mere precaution of charity, it is better not to eat of that meat, if thereby a weak brother is scandalised, for it is a grievous thing to sadden one for whom Christ died.

"For if, because of thy meat, thy brother be grieved, thou walkest not according to charity. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died" (Rom. xiv. 15).

"And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ hath died?" (i Cor. xviii. 2.)

Look at thy brother, remember that the Son of God died for him. You will be slow to make use even of a right, if by so doing you are in danger of hurting him. After all is not Christ there with His own grand example, not pleasing Himself even in good things.

"Now we that are stronger, ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves. Let every one of you please his neighbour unto good, to edification. For Christ did not please himself, but, as it is written: The reproaches of them that reproached thee, fell upon me" (Rom. XV. 1-3).

But these concessions to the dictates of charity in no wise impair the radical privilege of Christian liberty. Liberty is one of the concepts which can bear being worked out to any extent on Incarnation lines.

"For he that is called in the Lord, being a bondman, is the freeman, of the Lord. Likewise he that is called, being free, is the bondman of Christ. You are bought with a price: be not made the bondslaves of men" (i. Cor. vii. 22 23).

Even the subjection we owe to our teachers in the faith is no domination over our minds and hearts. In the truest sense, the whole spiritual organisation of the Church is for the sake of the governed. Christ alone truly owns us.

"Let no man therefore glory in men. For all things are yours, whether it be Paul, or Apollo, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things to come, for all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's" (i. Cor. iii. 21-23).

That same Christ is man's head and ornament.

"But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God" (i Cor. xi. 3).

Expressions like this, which at first sight seem so casual, for it is a question of behaviour at prayer, give us the measure of St. Paul's faith as to the applicability of the Incarnation to every, even the smallest, human problem.

There is a question of collecting alms for the poorer brethren. Out comes this high note with its triumphant ring: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich he became poor, for your sakes; that through his poverty you might be rich" (ii. Cor. viii. 9).

St. Paul defends himself against the charge of unstability of promise and purpose, a grave charge against an Apostle. He thinks at once of Christ, as personifying the stability of God's promises.

"Whereas then I was thus minded, did I use lightness? Or, the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that there should be with me It is, and It is not? But God is faithful, for our preaching which was to you, was not It is, and It is not. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, by me, and Sylvanus, and Timothy, was not, It is, and It is not, but It is, was in him. For all the promises of God are in him, It is; therefore also by him, amen to God, unto our glory" (ii. Cor. i. 17-20).

In order to express his successes and failures in the Apostolate he uses the bold metaphor of a smell, the proverbial smell against which one fights in vain. He, Paul is the odour of Christ.

"Now thanks be to God, Who always maketh us to triumph in Christ Jesus, and manifesteth the odour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are the good odour of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish. To the one indeed the odour of death unto death: but to the others the odour of life unto life. And for these things who is so sufficient?" (ii. Cor. ii. 14-17)

Hospitality is made a divine thing because the guest is received and treated as Christ Himself.

"And you know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the Gospel to you heretofore: and your temptation in my flesh. You despised not, nor rejected: but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus" (Gal. iv. 13 14).

Gratitude for kindness received counts on the riches of Christ as a repayment.

"But I have all, and abound: I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the things you sent, an odour of sweetness, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And may my God supply all your want, according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil. iv. 18 19).

The relation between master and slave is put on the same lofty and humanising basis.

"Servants, be obedient to them that are your lords according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the simplicity of your heart as to Christ: Not serving to the eye, as it were pleasing men, but, as the servant of Christ doing the will of God from the heart. With a good will serving as to the Lord, and not to men. Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man shall do, the same shall he receive from the Lord, whether he be bond or free" (Eph. vi. 5-10).

The most difficult of all human problems, that of marriage, is enunciated by St. Paul in such language that it is doubtful whether there is any other passage in his letter superior in spiritual beauty to this statement of the most vexed of social questions.

Nowhere does the Apostle give us a deeper insight into the meaning of the Incarnation than when he treats of the duties of man and wife.

"Being subject one to another, in the fear of the Lord. Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord: because the husband is the head of the wife: as Christ is the head of the Church. He is the Saviour of his body. Therefore as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered himself up for it: that he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life: that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. So also taught men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the Church" (Eph. V. 21-29).

Purity and temperance, the most elementary virtues of the reformed man, become in the mind of St. Paul something infinitely more than mere cleanliness of life. They are actually part of that divine cleanliness of Christ's own body. The daring of the Apostle's language makes us easily forget its unsparing directness.

"Meat for the belly, and the belly for the meats; but God shall destroy both it and them: but the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. Now God hath raised up the Lord, and will raise us up also by his power. Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. Or know you not, that he who is joined to a harlot, is made one body? For they shall be, saith he, two in one flesh. But he who is joined to the Lord, is one spirit" (i. Cor. vi. 13-17).

It is in connection with cleanliness of life St. Paul uses the beautiful phrase I have taken for the title of this chapter. "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ". The Apostle considers the Son of God in the matchless whiteness of His body and soul, and covers himself with it as with a spotless garment.

"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 in its concupiscences" (Rom. xiii. 13 14).

His own body is for ever stamped with the virginity and purity of Christ's body. "From henceforth let no man be troublesome to me; for I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus in my body" (Gal. vi. 17).

Warning the Ephesians against the rampant lubricities of their pagan surroundings he clinches the matter with this simple phrase. "But you have not so learned Christ" (Eph. iv. 20).

Unworldliness and other-worldliness become, under St. Paul's pen, most positive spiritual realities, Christ crucified and Christ glorified, are to him unworldliness and other-worldliness, and wherever we may go, nowhere shall we find anything comparable to the matchless powers of expression which the Incarnation mystery gives to St. Paul in order to speak his own contempt of the world. Many a man of genius has tried to say hard things against our vulgar world. But their words are mere human spitefulness.

The Christian mind has a triumphant coigne of vantage from which it looks down upon the world, without degrading itself with any sort of spite.

"With Christ I am nailed to the cross. And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. And that I live now in the flesh: I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself for me" (Gal. ii. 19 20).

His courage in battling with his manifold enemies comes from the same source.

"Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh" (ii. Cor. iv. 10-11).

Men of the stamp of St. Paul keenly feel their usefulness. They know that whilst they have strength and life they are profitable to many. Death to such men is a kind of disappointment, as it puts an end to their activities. But here again the mystery of Christ provides the highest philosophy. "For God hath not appointed us unto wrath, but unto the purchasing of salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ. Who died for us; that, whether we watch or sleep, we may live together with him. For which cause comfort one another; and edify one another, as you also do" (i. Thess. v. 9-11).

For to me, to live is Christ:, and to die is gain.

And if to live in the flesh, this is to me the fruit of labour, and what I shall choose I know not.

But I am straightened between two: having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ, a thing by far the better. But to abide still in the flesh, is needful for you" (Phil. i. 21-24).

I consider that this more than philosophical indifference to life and death is one of the choicest traits of the Christian Mind, and it would be ridiculous of any man who is not a believer in the Incarnation to try and copy such an attitude.

Activities here on earth are expressed in terms of Christ.

"My little children, of whom I am in labour again, until Christ be formed in you" (Gal. iv. 19).

Our sufferings are sufferings in Christ, our consolations are consolations in Christ. "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so also by Christ doth our comfort abound" (ii. Cor. i. 5),

But then even when we rest our rest from labour is something divine. "But we are confident, and have a goodwill to be absent rather from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (ii. Cor. v. 8).

Such then are some of the practical applications of the treasures of the Incarnation to the problems of life and death. The brilliant galaxy of thoughts assembled in this chapter, and coming from all parts of the Pauline letters, have a strictly practical bearing as the reader is fully aware by this time, I feel certain. One thing is clear. We have to inform our lives with the Incarnation not merely by way of imitation, but by taking it as a vital element of activity and courage. We have nothing of our own. "For see your vocation, brethren, that there are not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble" (i. Cor. i. 26).

But let no man be disheartened over such destitution. We Christians have an immense advantage to start life with. "But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and redemption" (i. Cor. i. 30).

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