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The Divine Attributes Retreat
The Attributes of God
The True Divinity of Jesus Christ
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
We have been meditating on the divine attributes and so far have seen no less than a dozen mysteries of our faith about God, beginning with the fact that there is only one true God and concluding on the fact that God is present and active in the world which he made.
At this point of the retreat we make a transition. We continue reflecting on God and his divine attributes but we shall now consider God and his perfections as he revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ. There are several good reasons for making what we call the transition, from reflecting on God as God to meditating on God become Man.
One reason: that is why God became Man so that he, the invisible Maker of heaven and earth, might make himself visible in the historical person and words and actions of Jesus Christ.
Another reason: our humanity is the bridge by which we cross from our own fallen human nature to the following of the infinite God.
Moreover, while we know that God can be partially known from reason and still further and much more deeply known from revelation, yet until God became Man in the person of Christ, truths about God, mysteries of God, what had been hidden from the foundation of the world, for the first time ever were made manifest to mankind. Thus on the most fundamental level of who God is until Christ came into the world the Holy Trinity was not revealed.
Moreover, God not only became Man, God is now incarnate and alive, and God will remain God become man for all eternity. The Incarnation did indeed take place in time, but the Incarnation was made for the endless reaches of eternity. This means that if we really wish to know who is God, we must look to Jesus Christ in whom dwells the fullness of the divinity.
The New Testament gives witness to the true divinity of Christ. We must recognize the New Testament as true authentic history, that the person, events and words recorded in the Gospels and reflected on by Sts. Paul, John, Peter and Jude are factually true. When Peter says in one of his letters: "What we are telling you really took place; we really saw it, we really heard it," he meant it. This is so true that if the Gospels are not accepted as factual history than neither can anything of comparable antiquity be accepted as factual history. No historian in his right mind would doubt the basic factual historical evidence that is narrated by Pliny or Livy or Caesar - roughly contemporaries of Christ.
We have John's Gospel, which is the most uncompromising, telling us about Christ being God. We have manuscripts from 120 AD, fifteen whole chapters of the twenty-one chapters of John's Gospel. John died about 100 AD. The earliest manuscripts we have of Caesar, Pliny, Livy are twelve hundred years after the events they describe. The skeptics are dumb! Either that or they are hypocrites. In other words we have the most solid grounds of reason and history for affirming what we find so openly and unqualifyingly affirmed about Christ's divinity in the New Testament.
What do the Gospels tell us about the divinity of Jesus Christ? Everything you would want to know and more than most people expect. In the Gospels Jesus knows himself to be sublime over all creatures: angels and human beings. In the Gospels Jesus professes himself to be that which the prophets of the Old Testament said of Yahweh, thus claiming to be equal to God. In the Gospels Jesus imposes obligations on his followers. Either Christ was the greatest charlatan of all history or he was what he claimed to be. He made humanly impossible demands on his followers. No religious leader in history before or in history ever since, no Buddha, no Muhammad would dare to say to their followers: "Now you men, one woman, one wife until death." Muhammad settled for four wives, and he was really improving the morality of pre-Islamic Arabia.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus is conscious of his having almighty power. "All power," he said, in heaven and on earth is given to me." In the Gospels Jesus testifies that he existed with God the Father before the creation of the world. If that is not an affirmation of one's divinity then words have lost their meaning. In the Gospels Jesus states that as the Son of God he is identical with God the Father. "The Father and I," he said, "are one." And he meant one. The Greeks had a word for one which means only one and Christ used that word: complete, total identity.
In the Gospels Jesus identified himself by the same divine name that Yahweh used when Moses asked him: "What is your name?" The Lord said: "Go to the Israelites and tell them the one who spoke to you is the one who is. My name is I AM." I AM; I never was; I don't even say I will be; I AM. I am the Me who cannot not be. And Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, I AM."
Having made such superhuman and super-rational claims, how did Jesus prove that his claims to divinity were true? He worked miracles. Miracles are the indispensable condition for accepting Christ's claim to being God rationally. People will believe whatever they want to believe. But you don't believe that a man walked, and talked, and ate, and drank, and slept, and got tired, you don't believe that man is God unless that man proves what he claims to be. And he did. He performed miracles that only God can perform.
But then to make absolutely sure, he won a small number of followers during his public ministry and before his death on Calvary, and no doubt his raising Lazarus from the dead strengthened the faith of some of Christ's followers but not all. Once he raised Lazarus from the dead his enemies said: "This is too much; this man must die." No one, no one, not even God can force anyone to believe, no one. Pride blinds the mind as nothing else. A proud mind will not even believe God. So many, the majority of Christ's contemporaries who saw him and lived with him did not believe. How did Christ, therefore, make sure that those who would come after them would believe? He raised himself by his own power from the dead.
The witness of the Church. How did the Church from the very beginning understand Christ's claims to being divine? From apostolic times the Church has believed that Jesus, the son of Mary, is the Son of the living God, true God and true Man, living God and living Man. We read this in the Acts. Peter, shortly after Pentecost, in John's company, suddenly healed a paralytic. People are astounded. Peter says, "It is by the power of Jesus Christ, the author of life whom you killed." How mad can man be? God the creator, the author of life takes on human flesh, lives among men; and then the proud, envious, jealous leaders of the Jews so far from believing that he was the author of life, which he claimed to be, they stupidly thought they were putting the author of life to death.
Faith in Christ's divinity, therefore, was the fundamental truth of Christianity, for which tens of thousands of martyrs died in the early Church. Not a single Pope for the first three hundred years died a natural death; they were all martyred. All the other Councils of the Church were convened to defend the divinity of Christ which was being doubted, denied, opposed by the subtlest minds that the Roman Empire had, and by the subtlest minds of those who having been Christians, having believed in Christ's divinity, abandoned the faith.
Years ago, as a Scholastic, I made a wonderful retreat under the great Father Daniel Lord. Here is one story he gave us. Remember the famine in Russia shortly after the Communists took over? About ten million people they starved to death for refusing to cooperate with the communist dictators. The farmers thought they could resist the government by not following what the Communists told them to do and turn over most of the produce to the State. The government said, "We'll show you." I repeat, a conservative estimate, ten million died of starvation.
During that whole famine, which by then the whole world knew about, food kept pouring in from all over the world to save those who could still be saved from dying the agony of starvation. The most effective and the most generous work of saving millions from starvation was that of the Holy Father, Pope Pius XI, mobilizing the Catholic world. By that time no one had any doubt that the Communists were enemies of the Catholic Church. The Pope told the Catholic world: "The government hates the Church, but we love the Russian people."
The priest put in charge of the papal relief mission from starvation in Russia was a Jesuit, Father Edmund Walsh, the founder of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He spent several years in Russia administering the food, shipfuls of food to keep the Russians from starving. He returned back to the States after the famine was under control. on his way back to the United States, Walsh was told to stop in Rome and was told to spend some time in private audience with Pope Pius XI. Father Walsh describes (he never put it in writing) the conversation that he had with Pius XI far into the night in the Vatican rooms of the Holy Father. By that time the persecution of the Church had reached a high level: Russia, Spain, Mexico.
Finally the Holy Father stopped in the conversation and speaking to Father Walsh, he asked him: "Father Walsh, tell me, who do you think over the centuries of the Church's history, who in your estimation have been the worst persecutors of the Church?" Walsh realized the Pope didn't want him (Walsh) to answer. The Pope wanted to answer his own question. "I'll tell you," says the Pope. "The worst enemies of the Church, her worst persecutors were unfaithful bishops, priests and religious." As long as I live I will never forget that quotation which Father Walsh personally gave to Father Lord.
This is why we must make absolutely sure that our faith is unqualified. Faith in what? Faith in the divinity of Christ. Because once that faith weakens among Catholics - be he bishop, priest or religious - then anything goes. And the worst enemies of the Church over the centuries have been former believers who having abandoned the faith which the Church gave them, turned on the Church and became her worst opponents.
Our whole spiritual life takes its meaning and receives it life from our faith in Christ's divinity. Christ, we believe, is at once our God who reveals to us how much God loves us and is our God who shows us how we should live on earth so that we might return to the God by whom and for whom we were made.
Lord Jesus, with Thomas I adore you, my Lord and my God. Teach me to know you better so that I might love you more and serve you more faithfully now in time, so that I might possess you and be possessed by you, my God, for all eternity. Amen.
Transcription of the retreat given in December, 1988
Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica
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