[The following three chapters dealing with the internal and the external evidence from the New Testament (especially the gospels) are from Now I See by Catholic convert Arnold Lunn, a work of apologetics published in 1933.]
NEVER MAN SPAKE
I HAVE SOMETIMES toyed with the idea of a romance on the lines of Butler’s Erewhon. My scene would be laid in Nodnol, the capital of Atlantis, which did not, as legend asserts, vanish beneath the sea, but which still exists cut off from the world.
The first link with the outside world is provided by the wreck of a small tramp steamer which drifts on to the shore of Atlantis. The few survivors include the pious captain, who contrives to bring ashore a Bible which has accompanied him on all his voyages.
The captain is entertained by Professor Cyjod, who holds the Chair of Literature at the University of Nodnol, and who is a recognised leader of the Nodnolian intelligentsia. Professor Cyjod does not like clergymen, and, like most of the intelligentsia, he is convinced that the established religion of Atlantis is on its deathbed. Like all great men, he has his hobby, and his particular hobby consists in collecting the more absurd utterances of the lamas of Nodnol and making them into a scrap-book of lama nonsense.
The Professor learns English from the pious captain and begins to read the Bible. He is captivated by the beauty of the Gospels, and foresees with pleasure the literary sensation which will be provoked by his translation of the Gospels into the language of Atlantis. Moreover, he notes with pleasure that the Gospels provide a powerful stick with which to beat the lamas of the established religion of his country. He foresees many happy hours elaborating comparisons between the beauty of Christianity and the shoddy dreariness of the faith of his fathers. Needless to say he has no intention of suggesting that Christianity is true, for his position as a leader of the intelligentsia would be destroyed at once if he showed overt sympathy with any form of religion. But he foresees correctly that he will be encouraged by the plaudits of his disciples if he proves that, as superstitions go, Christianity is infinitely superior to the established religion of the country.
In due course his translation of the Gospels is published and creates a literary sensation of the first magnitude. Literary critics are affected by conflicting emotions; envy that Professor Cyjod should have forestalled them and the consequent desire to minimise the importance of his discovery, fear that they should fail to anticipate and exploit the literary fashion of the moment. For to be unfashionable is to be forgotten, and the literary critics unite in a chorus of praise of the literary beauties of Christianity. “This beautiful superstition” is the title of a two-column article by Professor Cyjod’s eminent rival in the leading literary review.
Christianity becomes the rage. No cocktail party in the Nodnolian equivalent of Bloomsbury is complete without a Bible. “ ‘Consider the lilies of the field.’ Oh, my dear, how too divine.” “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.” This is a popular quotation, for if “loving much” is a qualification for forgiveness, every member of the Nodnolian intelligentsia feels capable of passing this test with flying colours.
I have often felt a real sympathy for our own intelligentsia. Vague allusions to the supreme beauty of eastern religions are common enough in their writings. Both Mr. Joad and Professor Haldane, in our controversies, have drawn my attention to the spiritual values of Hinduism, that refined creed which prescribes for the faithful a diet of cow-dung, which hands over little girls of five to become the official prostitutes of the temple priests, and which fills its temples with phallic designs exhibiting all forms of vice, natural and unnatural. But I sympathise with the intelligentsia, for every attempt to compare other religions with Christianity only serves to make more manifest the unique glory of the Faith.
It is difficult to imagine the impact which the Gospels would make upon the mind of a man who was reading them for the first time. How would you react, reader, if you stumbled by chance on the story of the Christ-child born in a manger “because there was no room for them in the inn”? What other religion has had the audacity to begin with God in a stable? Try to read the story of the woman taken in adultery as if you were reading it for the first time, then turn to the no less wonderful tale of the woman who was a sinner, the woman who washed Christ’s feet with her tears. Then read the parable of the Prodigal Son, and you will find it difficult not to echo the exclamation of men for whom custom had not staled the infinite variety of Christ’s words, “Never man spake like this man.”
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” Has any poet of this world ever said anything lovelier? Indeed, the word poet is too weak for Christ, but perhaps that fine Anglo-Saxon word songsmith, which has disappeared from our language, might without irreverence be applied to one who on the anvil of eternal truth struck out songs whose music has filled the centuries with enchanted melody.
Read the story of the Crucifixion as if you were reading it for the first time. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Has human passion ever found so divine expression? “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Is there anything like that in human tragedies before or since? Does Sophocles strike this note? Does Shakespeare?
And mark how loveliness is married to sorrow even in the closing movement of the final act. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings even when those feet are climbing the mount of Calvary. “Father, forgive them. . . . To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise. . . . Then said he to the disciple, Behold thy mother. . . .” Can these sayings be matched in all the masterpieces of men?
Read the story of Christ’s appearance before Pilate. How immeasurably this story would have lost had Pilate been shown, as a writer of fiction would probably have shown him, as a callous and unimaginative procurator only too ready to hand over a troublesome fanatic to his troublesome foes. How the story gains when we begin to understand the impact of Jesus on his judge, on a man very like you and me, a man who had felt the magic of Jesus as so many who disown him have felt it, but who had not the courage to fall down and worship.
Pilate’s distaste for the rôle which had been assigned to him is obvious from the first. I see him as a Roman, characteristic of his age, an age which had lost its faith in the gods, but which was still susceptible to superstition. Pilate reflected, as so many moderns reflect, “there may be something in it after all.” He had nothing but contempt for the fanaticism of the Jews, and he faces, with Roman disdain, the angry priests who are demanding death for a man of whose immeasurable superiority he is uneasily aware. He explores every avenue for compromise. He is superstitious, for superstition flourishes in a time of religious decay, and he is sorely troubled by his wife’s dreams. “Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.” Surely authentic history speaks in that verse.
As for poor Pilate, he becomes more hot and bothered as the hours pass. Desperately he tries to escape. He offers the angry crowd the ultimate choice, Jesus or Barabbas, and they choose Barabbas. Still Pilate persists, but his courage fails when he hears that terrible cry, “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.”
Pilate “took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.”
Do you think that a simple Jew could have invented this touch?
Pilate gives in, but not without one last kick. The Jews have beaten him, but Pilate is determined to spoil their triumph. Let Jesus hang on the cross, but let the cross fling a Roman taunt to the Jews whom the Romans despise. With his own hands Pilate writes, “Jesus of Nazareth The King of the Jews,” and this insult to all Judea is nailed to the cross. “There hangs your king,” says Pilate in effect. Back stream the angry priests, but Pilate has had enough. There is a vivid French phrase which expresses that exasperated fed-upness which differs in kind and not only in degree from ordinary boredom—J’en ai soupé. Pilate en a soupé, and he silences the Jews with a remark which men have quoted ever since to express unyielding finality. With the words, “What I have written I have written,” he makes his exit from the stage.
Pilate stands as a type, for all time, of those who reject Christ’s claims but profess to admire Christ’s character. Christ has been patronised and praised in one book after another from the pens of wistful agnostics. Writers such as Matthew Arnold, Renan and Middleton Murry say, as Pilate said, “I find no fault in him.” They all assume, as Pilate assumed, that they are “innocent of the blood of this just person,” and, like Pilate, continue to ask, “What is truth?” in the presence of living truth. It is Catholic doctrine that Christ is crucified afresh by those who reject him. Those who repudiate Christ, whether they reject him with honest and uncompromising hostility or with patronising condescension, share the guilt of Pilate. For every man is faced by the choice of Pilate, there is no via media between worship and crucifixion.
The attention of one who was reading the Gospel for the first time would be focussed so intensely on the central figure that he would find it difficult to spare a thought for the lesser miracle of the biographers. Who were these men? What were these men?
That they were not creative artists, finished masters of the written word, this is certain. Nothing could be more certain. The effect which they produce is due to the theme, not to the artistry with which that theme is presented. It would make too great a demand on our credulity to credit the artlessness with which the tale is told, artlessness which has its own literary appeal, to conscious art. The Evangelists make all the mistakes that a conscientious beginner, tutored by modern handbooks on the writer’s craft, would avoid. They spoil some of their most effective scenes by the failure to bring down the curtain. Their scenes often fade into another by awkward transitions. The stories often begin and end abruptly. They report the most bewildering sayings without the least attempt to explain them, thus violating a canon of sound fiction which ordains that every problem raised should have its solution, and that characters should run strictly true to type. But the aim of the Evangelists is not artistic fiction, but history. They are ambitious to report what Christ said and what Christ did, and these unsolved conundrums fall into place as the recollections of men who were often mystified by their Master. The Gospels are full of loose ends, of incidents which remain unexplained. Indeed, the cheerful casualness with which the Evangelists leave unsolved even those problems to which they could supply an answer, proves how far their treatment is removed from the treatment of a modern biographer or modern novelist. Consider, for instance, the last scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. The disciples have forsaken Christ, and the darkness is lit only by the torches of the guard. One young man still continues to follow the soldiers, and the guard turns on his heel with an angry exclamation—so one reconstructs the scene—as if his nerves had been frayed by vague rumours that the populace might attempt a rising in support of Jesus. The guard lay hold of the young man. The linen cloth wound round his naked body comes away in their hands, and the naked man escapes into the darkness. The modern biographer, if he recorded this strange incident, would speculate on the identity of the young man, would, at least, attempt to explain his singularly inadequate wardrobe. If tradition be true, St. Mark had good reason to know the answer to this riddle. St. Mark was the young man in question, but he throws no beam of light across the darkness into which the young man has fled.
If the Evangelists make many mistakes which a conscientious beginner would avoid, it is no less true that they avoid most of the mistakes which a beginner would make. The surest sign of immaturity in a young writer is a certain weakness for labels. He wishes to convince you, we will suppose, that his hero, Sir Harry Tremayne, was famous for his caustic wit. So he labels him. Instead of allowing us to infer from witty dialogue that Sir Harry is a wit, he tediously insists that his bon mots were quoted from one end of Mayfair to another. The experienced writer avoids labels. He does his best to convince you with his dialogue, and allows us to infer wit from the remarks which he reports. He does not tell us that his hero is brave, but he shows his hero proving his courage in action.
One of the first facts about the Gospels which strikes anybody who has ever tried to write, is the remarkable absence of labels. The Evangelists do not try to describe Christ, they show Christ in action and report what Christ said. Seldom do they add a comment of their own, as if they realised that although a biographer might try to interpret a human subject, biographers of Christ would do well to confine themselves to what Clough calls “the mere it was.”
Interpretations of Christ from those who did not know him in the flesh may be forgiven, for it is a natural instinct which makes the Christian seek to expand the meaning of Christ’s words, and to illustrate them in relation to modern problems. But the men who were fortunate enough to walk with Christ were too modest to believe that their readers would be interested to learn what they felt or what they thought. Their sole concern was to provide the world with an authentic record of what Christ said and what Christ did. Their theme was so tremendous that they dared not intrude their own poor comments into the divine tragedy. To quote Francis Thompson with due alteration, they feared
“To mar immortal melodies
With broken stammer of the Earth.”
Men who have passed through supreme experiences are drained of emotion. Words are poor things to describe what they felt, so they content themselves with reporting what they saw and what they heard. Thomas Herbert, who accompanied his royal master, Charles I, to the scaffold, has left a record of those last hours as moving as it is simple. On the way to the scaffold Charles handed Herbert his watch, “which Mr. Herbert keeps accordingly.” Nothing more. What more is there to say? Is it really necessary to add that Herbert never looked at this watch without a poignant memory of the master he had loved so dearly, and served so faithfully. “Which Mr. Herbert keeps accordingly,” tells us all that we need to know.
The iron objectivity of the Gospels is more impressive, for their theme is infinitely more tragic than the execution of a king. Read the story of the crucifixion and remember that familiarity with the subject inclines us to forget that it hurts to be crucified. How easily this record might have degenerated into sentimentalism. To quote only one incident, it must have been difficult to resist the temptation to describe what the mother of Jesus felt during those long hours when she watched the slow agony of her son. Yet how pitiably inadequate any words must be to express so terrible a grief. “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother and his mother’s sister.” Nothing more, and for nineteen centuries Christians have been trying to find words to translate and art to represent what his mother and his mother’s sister felt.
The engraver’s knife moves across the plate. A few sharp lines, and the picture has taken shape. No dry point burr softens the hard outline which emerges.
“And they crucified him. . . . and sitting down they watched him there. . . . I thirst. . . . and straightway one of them ran and took a sponge. . . . but when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs. . . .”
Those who believe that religion should never degenerate into sentimentalism or emotion into emotionalism will find support in this conviction in the bleak poignancy of the crucifixion story.
That the Gospels are the work of eye-witnesses is indicated not only by the things which they record, but by the things which they do not record. The Gospels are full of homely details which an eye-witness would have recorded, and are full of gaps which a fiction writer would have filled in. Read the most perfect short story in literature, the story of the woman taken in adultery. The great masters of the short story might have invented that sublime touch, “Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground,” but they would not have been content to leave us ignorant of what Christ wrote. It is contrary to the canons of fiction to arouse the reader’s expectation without easing his curiosity. Had Tolstoy invented this touch, Christ would have written something very telling in the dust, something very telling indeed, but nothing half so telling as the silence of St. John.
Reticence is the keynote of the Gospels. The Evangelists record unadorned fact. They never point a moral or adorn the tale. They give us Christ’s word of condemnation, and leave it at that. “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” Christ said that, and down it goes in the record, but St. Mark makes no comment. Deus locutus causa finita. Man need not endorse the verdict of God.
They add no words to condemn when they record the betrayal, and no words to condone when they report the denial. Every word tells, but every word records a relevant fact. “He then having received the sop went immediately out: And it was night.” Twelve words enough to tell us what the twelve felt. The door opens. The shadowed figure shows up against the stars, and Judas passes out into the darkness. And it was night.
They are no less reticent when they describe the denial. St. Mark is supposed to have written at St. Peter’s dictation (Petro narrante et illo scribente). He tells the story of the denial without wasting a word. The chapter ends with a verse as simple as it is tragic. “And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.”
He wept. That is all, and that is enough.
It is possible that St. Peter’s defection was not unrelated to his sudden attack on the Chief Priest’s servant. He had cut off Malchus’s ear, and escaped into the darkness. Only one person appeared to have guessed his identity, a servant of the High Priest and a kinsman of the luckless Malchus. He certainly had his suspicions. “Did not I see thee in the garden with him?” It was this question, according to St. John, which provoked Peter’s second denial. It was, perhaps, the presence of Malchus’s kinsman which was responsible for the first denial. If this be so, it is easy to understand St. Peter’s failure of nerve. A homicidal attack on the servant of the Chief Priest was an offence which was probably punishable by death. St. Peter could hardly be expected to hand himself over to the officers of justice by confession. This much might be urged in St. Peter’s defence, but not by St. Peter.
The old Apostle dictates the story to St. Mark, and he neither defends nor reproaches himself. Why should he? Is it really necessary for him to insist that he should not have denied his master? Would anything be gained by a pen picture or a psychological analysis of his subsequent remorse?
The fisherman who had followed Christ was not concerned with the impression which his story might produce on the reader. He did not measure life by the verdict of men. He was not therefore tempted either to explain his defection, or to impress upon the reader the sincerity of his remorse. He who had foreseen his weakness had also foreseen his strength. He who had foretold the denial had also foretold the cross outside the walls of Rome on which the chief of the Apostles was to reaffirm his faith.
“Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Verily, Verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkest whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.”
SCISSORS AND PASTE
THE INTERNAL evidence, as I have tried to show, strongly suggests that the four Gospels are the work of eye-witnesses or of men who recorded what eye-witnesses had told them. The external evidence for this view is as near coercive as evidence can be.
It would be foolish to attempt to summarise that evidence, which is necessarily technical, in one brief chapter. I have no space to devote many chapters to this theme. I therefore refer the reader to the leading books on this subject. If he wishes to begin with a short and easy book, I recommend The Living Christ and the Four Gospels, by R. W. Dale, which may not be completely up to date, but which gives an outline of the main arguments. A more solid work, a work of profound scholarship, is The Introduction to the New Testament by Professor Salmon. My own edition is dated 1904. The most recent research has modified very few of Salmon’s conclusions, and has certainly strengthened the main arguments.
An excellent modern defence of the traditional authorship of the Fourth Gospel will be found in The Son of Zebedee, by the Rev. H. P. V. Nunn.
The New Testament in the Twentieth Century, by the Rev. Maurice Jones, B.D. (1914) is a well-balanced survey of the problem.
The books that I have recommended are all by Protestants. Non-Catholics open any works by Catholics with the conviction that the Catholics are defending a thesis rather than helping to discover the facts. This absurd bias deprives many non-Catholics of the pleasure which they would derive from Catholic works on this problem, but at the outset of these researches it is best that the enquirer should study this problem from works of Protestant scholarship.
If the reader approaches this problem with no a priori prejudice he will, I am sure, arrive at the orthodox conclusion. If it were not for a violent bias against the supernatural, the traditional authorship of the Gospels would not be questioned.
Professor Salmon reminds us that an attempt was made to prove that the first six books of the Annals of Tacitus were forged in the fifteenth century. There is only one allusion to those books prior to the fifteenth century, a doubtful allusion three hundred years later than Tacitus. Again, the theory that some of Horace’s odes were written in the Dark Ages by monks is no more silly than some of the theories which have been advanced by some of the German critics of the Gospels.
In recent years there has been a great reaction towards traditional views. Harnack, at one time an advanced radical of critical outlook, created a sensation by informing the astonished world of German scholarship that the chronological framework within which tradition had arranged the original documents was correct in all essential points.
Again, few instructed modern critics would dispute the verdict of Sir William Ramsay, who regards the Acts of the Apostles as “the work of a historian of first rank, who commands excellent means of knowledge, either through personal acquaintance, or through access to original documents, and who brings to his treatment of his subject genius, literary style and historical insight into human character and movement of events.”
Sir William Ramsay’s verdict is the more impressive because he is a converted witness. He went to Asia Minor convinced that The Acts was a second-century document. He devoted years to studying the inscriptions in Asia Minor, with the result that he came to the conclusion that the “Travel Document” which is a large part of The Acts was the most reliable authority on the state of the Roman Empire in the first century.
Mr. Joad had good reason to regret his deadly admission, which he made in our correspondence, that the Gospels are probably the work of eye-witnesses, for once this admission is made, it is impossible for a rational critic to deny the miracles, excepting by an appeal to negative faith in the impossibility of the miraculous. Strauss was clear-headed enough to realise that if the Gospels were admitted to be wirklich geschichtliche Urkunden, miracles could not be explained away. He exposed to some very keen criticism the attempts of his predecessors to write non-historical lives of Jesus on the assumption that the Gospels were the work of honest but credulous eyewitnesses.
Since Strauss’s day it has become increasingly difficult to deny the traditional view so far as the authorship of the synoptic Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles is concerned.
Indeed, many critics of Christianity tacitly concede the substantial accuracy of the Gospel record by basing their anti-Christian case on isolated texts. Mr. Joad, for instance, accuses those Christians who would be prepared to fight for their country of gross inconsistency, and he bases this charge on certain words of Christ. The complete sceptic is, of course, entitled, though he himself rejects the Gospels as completely spurious, to attack Christians for inconsistency on the ground that they do not practise what they profess to believe that Jesus preached. But Mr. Joad does not regard the Gospels as spurious, for he expresses the greatest admiration for Christ, and his admiration is based on the records of Christ’s teachings in the Gospels, records which Mr. Joad is constantly quoting to establish his own view of Christ’s character as against the traditional view.
Nothing is more difficult than to report conversation accurately. Indeed, Boswell is one of the few people in history who have reported with accuracy the ipsissima verba of his hero. In a police court a witness who was accepted as a reliable witness of a conversation would certainly be believed if he reported some striking incident.
It is therefore difficult to understand why the hostile critics of the Gospels assume that the Evangelists were more accurate than Boswell when they report words which the Christian may find some slight difficulty in explaining, and less accurate than an hysterical girl frightened by a ghost when they report incidents which the rationalist is anxious to explain away.
Mr. Joad evaded this point. “I do not think,” I wrote to Joad, “that you can logically quote any text against me until you have explained on what principle you accept certain texts and reject others. Your cheerful theory that any text which suits your preconceived theories must be, and that any text which does not suit them cannot possibly be, authentic, does more credit to your heart than to your head.”
To this Mr. Joad made no reply. Now I claim that it is impossible for a rationalist to use scissors and paste on the Gospels. It is impossible, as Strauss clearly saw, to accept the view that the Gospels are the work of eye-witnesses and to reject the miracles. “If you ever read the apocryphal gospels,” I wrote to Mr. Joad, “you will be impressed by the ‘obvious and palpable’—to use your favourite words—unverisimilitude of the miracles attributed to Jesus. Instinctively one realises that the stories have been invented. No touch suggests the eye-witness; we are in the land of magic unashamed. Now re-read the Gospels and note how the miraculous element is woven into the very texture of moving human stories, stories which suggest the eye-witness. The Jesus of the Gospels is not a mere wonder-worker, a magician. Christ’s miracles were ‘incidental, and issued from a pity that knew that it had power to heal men’s sickness and to supply their physical needs, and could not refrain from using it. But they were rather concealed than advertised.’ (Bishop Gore.) Note how often these miracles give occasion, as Bishop Gore points out, for sayings and gestures of Christ which bear the unmistakable touch of authenticity. “ ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath day to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?’ Surely you hear the authentic voice of Jesus in those words and if you do, how can you refuse credence to the setting of these words, the man with a withered hand which was healed?”
In the next chapter I shall discuss the evidence for the greatest of all miracles, the miracle of the Resurrection, and I shall conclude this chapter by asking the reader to read the story of the blind man as recorded in the ninth chapter of St. John.
This story is full of natural touches, incidents and remarks which develop naturally out of what proceeds. Every character is true to type. The blind man and his parents, Jews, act and talk just as we might expect them to act and talk.
The story opens with Jesus passing by. He sees a man who has been blind from his birth. The disciples ask the sort of question which no modern would ask, and which every Jew would have asked. “Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither,” says Jesus, the man was born blind “that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”
Jesus restores the blind man’s sight. When the blind man meets those who had known him he creates a sensation. Their first reaction is, naturally enough, to deny the fact. This cannot be the man whom they have known. It must be somebody who strikingly resembles their blind friend. They cross-examine him. He replies in effect, I am the man that was born blind. They ask how his sight was restored, and he tells them. “A man that is called Jesus” performed this miracle. This is all that the man who was born blind is prepared to admit for the moment. He is a cautious person, and refuses to go one step beyond the facts that he cannot deny. “Where is he?” ask the neighbours. “I do not know,” replies the man who had been born blind.
The neighbours are not satisfied. They bring him before the Pharisees and he repeats his story. The Pharisees are divided. “Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.” “What sayest thou?” they ask, turning to the man who had been healed. “He is a prophet,” is the reply.
But the situation is taking an uncomfortable turn from the point of view of the Pharisees. In desperation they fall back on the first theory advanced by the neighbours. Perhaps, after all, the man is an impostor. So they send for his parents.
The parents cannot deny the identity of their own son. “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind.” None the less the parents are thoroughly frightened. The Pharisees can be very vindictive. The parents decline all responsibility, and attempt to shift the onus on to their son. “By what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself. These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews.”
So once again the man that was blind is summoned before the Pharisees. “Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.”
By this time their victim is getting angry, and with anger comes courage. In reply to the question, “What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes?” he answers, “I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again?” He replies much as a modern witness would reply, “Must I really go on repeating myself indefinitely? This is getting tiresome.”
Temper rises on both sides. “Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.”
The man that had been blind is provoked by their attack into an uncompromising defence of the man who had restored his sight. “Why herein,” he answers with a touch of irony, “is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes. Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.”
The Pharisees have had enough. “Thou wast altogether born in sin, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.”
And the man who had been born blind goes out and wanders away. And then suddenly he meets the man who had restored his sight. Jesus said to him, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.”
How subtly St. John describes the different stages in this slow hesitating advance from agnosticism to faith.
“Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not. . . . If this man were not of God, he could do nothing. . . . Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.”
Nothing could be more natural, nothing could be more revealing.
Surely the candid reader must admit that we have here a human document, every word of which rings true.
FEW SCEPTICS would dispute the patent fact that the disciples of Jesus collapsed when he was arrested. Men do not readily confess to cowardice, and the story that the disciples twice fell asleep when they should have been keeping watch, and “all forsook him and fled” when Jesus was arrested, is not the sort of thing which the Evangelists would be expected to invent. “If evidence were needed,” as Mr. Morrison remarks, in his notable book, Who Moved the Stone?, “of the high standard of veracity prevailing in the Early Church, we have it here in its most convincing form.”
Seven weeks later we find these timid, broken men risking imprisonment, persecution and death in the name of one whom they had forsaken in despair. How can we explain this psychological revolution?
There is only one explanation which fits the facts—the explanation given by St. Peter: “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses.”
It is impossible to attribute such appearances after the crucifixion to collective hallucination.
People who mistake a polysyllabic and quasi-scientific phrase for an explanation may perhaps accept “collective hallucination” as the clue to this problem. But the scientist will ask whether there is any objective evidence of collective hallucination on this scale. Alienists, who should know, are sceptical on this subject. Normal people under abnormal conditions and abnormal people under normal conditions suffer from isolated hallucinations, but there is no record in science of normal people, not once but several times, and not under abnormal but under normal conditions, being collectively affected by the same persistent hallucinations.
I can speak with some personal experience on this point. Many years ago my friend, Claude Elliott, who is now Headmaster of Eton, and I devoted a long and dreadful day to the exploration of a Pyrenean peak on which a friend of ours had been killed. We were very tired, for we had left London at short notice, and had started our search the night of our arrival in the Pyrenees. Every time we turned a corner we expected to find our friend. Before long we began to see and to hear things; to see his body stretched out on the rocks, and to hear other members of the party shouting that they had found him. A vulture hovering near the cliff, as vultures will hover for days before attacking a dead body, provided a macabre touch which reinforced the illusion. These hallucinations were amazingly vivid while they lasted, but they never lasted for more than a second or two before reality broke in. I know of no case in which a hallucination affecting normal people has lasted for hours at a time.
Also note this difference. We were expecting to find our friend, and we mistook rocks for the friend whom we were expecting to find. The disciples were not expecting to see Christ. And on two occasions Christ was not recognised by those to whom he appeared.
In the case of Christ’s appearances to the apostles there was no background of exhaustion, strain or terror. After a hard day’s work in the open air the disciples meet together for the evening meal, and Christ appears among them. The “hallucination” breaks bread, eats a bit of broiled fish and distributes the remains among them. An odd kind of “hallucination.”
I do not know of any case of a sane man being gradually hallucinated against the steady resistance of a strong negative conviction. St. Thomas insisted on experimental proof before he would believe; he yielded gradually to the evidence of stubborn fact.
The alleged discrepancies in the accounts given in the Gospels of the appearances of the risen Christ present no difficulty.
“The usual characteristic of human testimony,” writes Paley, “is substantial truth under circumstantial variety. That is what the daily experience of the courts of justice teaches us.” And Paley mentions the fact that whereas Clarendon tells us that the Marquis of Argyll was condemned and hanged on the Tuesday, other contemporary historians assure us that he was condemned on the Saturday and beheaded, not hanged on a Tuesday. Yet nobody would deny the fact that his execution took place.
It was the appearance of Christ which transformed the apostles; no other explanation is adequate to explain the transformation of these men from a broken and dispirited group into the triumphant missionaries who returned to Jerusalem. Had their faith been corroded by the least suspicion that the appearances of Christ were not objective, they would certainly have elected to preach the Gospel in the comparative seclusion of Galilee; they would never have dared to return to Jerusalem, the headquarters of the powerful party which had engineered the crucifixion, and of the Roman procurator who sent Christ to the Cross. They knew that imprisonment and death awaited them, and yet these men who had fled at the approach of danger launched their crusade in the very stronghold of the enemy. There is a mistaken impression that our ancestors objected less than we do to death and to pain. Subconsciously we are inclined to believe that the apostles and martyrs were men who did not understand the meaning of fear. But St. Mark makes it clear that the disciples were not naturally heroic men; their conduct in Gethsemane was, on the contrary, base and cowardly. Nothing but a conviction, overpowering in its force, nothing but a conviction coercive in its evidence of objective reality, could have wrought this amazing transformation. “Somehow the rugged fisherman Peter,” writes Mr. Morrison in that excellent book, Who Moved the Stone?, “and his brother Andrew, the characteristically doubting Thomas, the seasoned and not too sensitive tax-gatherer, Matthew, the rather dull Philip, intensely loyal but a little slow of apprehension, do not fit easily into the conditions required for an absolutely unshakable, collective hallucination. And if it is not both collective and unshakable, it is of no use to us. The terrors and the persecutions which these men ultimately had to face, and did face unflinchingly, do not admit of a half-hearted adhesion secretly honeycombed with doubt. The belief has to be unconditional and of adamantine strength to satisfy the conditions. Sooner or later, too, if the belief was to spread, it had to bite its way into the corporate consciousness by convincing argument and attempted proof.”
The heterogeneous collection of Galilean peasants invaded Jerusalem, “the most keenly intellectual centre of Judea,” and pitted their faith against “the ablest dialecticians of the day, and in the face of every impediment which a brilliant and highly organized camarilla could devise.” And they won. Within twenty years they had threatened the peace of the Roman Empire.
Mr. Morrison, I might remark, began as an agnostic with a great knowledge of Jewish history and of the Jewish background. He sat down before the problem of the Resurrection and determined to find a naturalistic solution. He was beaten in his attempt, and forced back after prolonged study on the fact that Christ rose again from the dead, the only possible solution which he could accept without doing violence to intellectual honesty.
It is always tempting to take the past for granted, but when we think of the triumph of Christianity we must remember the contempt which the Roman felt for the Jew, and the disdain with which an educated Roman would sweep aside the grotesque creed which had discovered God in a common criminal executed by a Roman procurator. This point is well brought out in Anatole France’s story.
“’Je ris,’ dit Lamia, ‘d’une idée plaisante qui, je ne sais comment, m’a traversé la tête. Je songeais qu’un jour le Jupite des Juifs pourrait venir à Rome. Crains, Pontius, que le Jupite des Juifs ne débarque un jour à Ostie.’ A l’idée qu’un dieu pouvait venir de Judée un rapide sourire glissa sur le visage sévère du procurateur.”
If the disciples of a Mahdi, executed by a British Court Martial, believed that he had risen from the dead and succeeded in converting the British Empire to their creed, if the new gospel were preached in St. Paul’s, and if strange African ceremonies replaced High Mass at Westminster Cathedral—if some such religious cataclysm as this took place, it would be no more amazing than the capture of Rome by the disciples of the Galilean. “We cannot,” as Mr. Morrison remarks, “insist upon the strict reign of causality in the physical world, and deny it in the psychological. The phenomenon which here confronts us is one of the biggest dislodgments of events in the world’s history, and it can only really be accounted for by an initial impact of colossal drive and power.”
And he who attributes the transformation of the disciples to a subjective illusion has still to explain the objective fact that the tomb was empty on Easter Sunday.
In the most primitive accounts of the trial there is as Mr. Morrison points out, the assertion that the whole case against Jesus turned upon a sentence containing the words “in three days.” There is every reason to believe that the Priests did, as St. Matthew tells us, take precautions against the disciples faking a resurrection by stealing the body from the tomb. And there is every reason to accept the recorded fact that the Priests sealed the sepulchre and placed a guard.
How did the body of Jesus escape from the tomb? The theory that Jesus did not die on the Cross and recovered in the tomb still leaves unexplained his exit from a closely guarded sepulchre. And it is impossible, as Strauss points out, that a man crippled by that terrible ordeal, even if he could have survived at all, “could have given to the disciples the impression that he was a conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life; an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry.”
Even more grotesque is the suggestion that Joseph of Arimathea removed the body. No motive has ever been suggested for such an action, and once again you are faced by the difficulty of evading the guard and by the further difficulty that the new tomb of Jesus would probably have become a shrine, and would certainly have killed stone dead the story of the Resurrection.
The disciples returned to Jerusalem and preached the Resurrection. Clearly if the tomb had not been empty, the Priests would have triumphantly produced the body. And it was only because the disciples knew that no writ of habeas corpus could be served on one who had ascended into Heaven that they were able to prosecute their campaign with complete confidence and triumphant success.
In all the literature of the period there is no suggestion that the emptiness of the tomb was disputed. The only controversy which is recorded turns on the question as to whether the disciples had stolen the body. The vacancy of the tomb was common ground to the Christians and to their enemies.
There are, therefore, only two explanations which we need to consider. First, the orthodox explanation, that Christ rose from the dead, and secondly, the explanation advanced by the Pharisees that the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb.
If the disciples had stolen the body, they would have had the best of reasons for knowing that Jesus had not fulfilled his promise to rise from the dead, and that he had died the death of a deluded fanatic upon the Cross. Knowing this, as they must have done, why should they have formed a conspiracy to impose upon the world a new religion in which they themselves did not believe? Is it conceivable that these twelve men would have persisted to the end in maintaining an elaborate conspiracy of falsehood? Surely one or other would have broken away from so foolish and so pointless a conspiracy. For what had they to gain by this deceit? They were cutting themselves off from their countrymen, their friends and their relations; they were inviting persecution and martyrdom—for what? For a lie which they knew to be a lie. Is it conceivable that conscious deceit could have supplied the dynamics for a mission which transformed the world? Is it conceivable that men should have faced death with radiant courage in their efforts to propagate a doctrine which they knew to be false?
“I readily believe,” writes Pascal, “those stories whose writers get their throats cut.”
Click HERE to reach
the associated topic for this webpage.
For more topics click HERE.