Thursday, November 30, 2006

"The Riddles of the Gospel" (The Everlasting Man, Part II, Ch. 2)

I'm going to breeze through these last chapters a little more quickly than with "The God in the Cave." Otherwise it'll take me another year to finish the book! It's a shame, though, because there's so much wonderful "stuff" here, but it can't be summed up easily.

Relatively speaking, it is the Gospel that has the mysticism and the Church that has the rationalism. As I should put it, of course, it is the Gospel that is the riddle and the Church that is the answer. But whatever be the answer, the Gospel as it stands is almost a book of riddles.
On the whole, he tries to show us the story of the Gospel from the outside - as if someone had never read it before. He looks at all kinds of assumptions and accusations people make regarding the Gospels and shows quite convincingly that the Gospels can't be pinned down to such narrow views. This is not the stuff of platitudes, or madness or writings that are only relevant to people of that time.

Whatever else is true, it is emphatically not true that the ideas of Jesus of Nazareth were suitable to his time, but are no longer suitable to our time. Exactly how suitable they were to his time is perhaps suggested in the end of the story.
(I love his understated style here.)

He never used a phrase that made his philosophy depend even upon the very existence of the social order in which he lived. He spoke as one conscious that everything was ephemeral, including the things that Aristotle thought eternal. By that time the Roman Empire had come to be merely the orbis terrarum, another name for the world. But he never made his morality dependent on the existence of the Roman Empire or even on the existence of the world. 'Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away.'

The truth is that when critics have spoken of the local limitations of the Galilean, it has always been a case of the local limitations of the critics. He did undoubtedly believe in certain things that one particular modern sect of materialists do not believe. But they were not things particularly peculiar to his time. It would be nearer the truth to say that the denial of them is quite particular to our time.
One last zinger from this chapter...

Now each of these explanations in itself seems to me singularly inadequate; but taken together they do suggest something of the very mystery which they miss. There must surely have been something not only mysterious but many-sided about Christ if so many smaller Christs can be carved out of him. If the Christian Scientist is satisfied with him as a spiritual healer and the Christian Socialist is satisfied with him as a social reformer, so satisfied that they do not even expect him to be anything else, it looks as if he really covered rather more ground than they could be expected to expect.

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