Taken From Bethlehem
BY Frederick William Faber, D. D.
Priest of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri
Tan Books & Publishers
Bethlehem: The Bosom of the Eternal Father, Part 2
What a wonderful permission to us is the permission to love God! What then shall we say, when we consider that we ourselves are to be admitted to the sight and enjoyment of this life of God? It is the very end for which we were created. Nay, more: we ourselves have been in some sense, as we shall see presently, part of that Divine life. We have been known and loved, up in those regions of eternity, in those boundless tracts of uncreated being, before the birth of time; and it is our very destination to enter into the joy of that exulting life, to see God as He is, and to live in endless companionship with Him. It is our incredible bliss to be allowed to add one spark more to the glory, the outward glory, of that blessed majesty. We can be one flash of lightning more round the immensity of His throne, one additional coruscation in the intolerable radiance of the merciful crown which He vouchsafes to wear. Infinitely little as we are, we are—-and it is our joy of joys to be so—a fresh exercise to Him of His sovereignty. We are large enough to catch the light of His justice, and be another place for it to shine upon. His mercy can beautifully reflect itself even in the shallows of our tiny souls. We can lie upon the shore of that exulting life, and shine and glow and murmur while its bright waters wash over us forever. Oh, beautiful destiny of men! how happy is our present, our future how much happier! How happy is our worship! how happy even the very fear with which we work out a salvation so magnificent and so Divine!
Such was the creature less life which the Eternal Word lived in the Bosom of the Father, creatureless yet not creatureless. The Babe of Bethlehem was that Eternal Person, and in some sense He was eternally the Babe of Bethlehem. From the first, His predestined Humanity entered into that Divine life, or lay visibly upon its surface. In the Fountain of the Godhead, as in a most pellucid mirror, there was an eternal view of creatures,—creatures which should one day be, creatures perhaps of endlessly successive creations, and creatures which were possible to infinite power and inexhaustible wisdom, which yet should never actually be. The knowledge of creatures, and especially the knowledge of His Own Sacred Humanity, was part of that knowledge by which the Word was eternally produced. With this eternal view of creatures, it seems a mystery that the actual creation was so long delayed; and yet eternity is not time, and there was no delay. But creation is not eternal; and thus, had the creation of the Angels and of matter taken place millions of ages earlier than it did, in our manner of speaking, it would truly have been no earlier; or had it been only last year, it would truly have been no later. 1 In both cases there would simply have been an immeasurable and unsuccessive eternity before it. Some speak as if God humbled Himself out of the sublimity of His Divine life, in order to create. Yet this can be but a figure of speech. There can be no humility in God. God could only touch lowliness through the assumption of a created nature. Rightly considered, it is more honorable even to the Divine self-sufficing life of God to say, what is the truth, that creation was worthy of Him, both the act of creating and the actual creation. In God, what is free is lower than what is necessary; and creation was a free act outside Himself, not a necessary act inside Himself, like the Generation of the Son or the Procession of the Spirit. He was not by His Own nature bound to create, nor, when He created, was He bound to do so after one fashion rather than another, or with one degree of perfection rather than another. Thus the glorious tracts of world-peopled space, and all the sun-illumined beauty of the little world which we inhabit, are nothing more than marvellous monuments of the liberty of God visibly outspread before our eyes. It is part of our own exultation in being creatures, that we are in ourselves such a mass of evidences of the wonderful and attractive things which there are in God.
What then was the first aspect of creation in the Divine mind, if we may use the word “first,” of that which was eternal? There may at least be a priority of order, even though there be no priority of time. There is precedence in decrees, even where there is not succession. The first aspect of creation, as it lay in the mind of God, was a created nature assumed to His Own uncreated nature in a Divine Person. In other words, the first sight in creation was the Babe of Bethlehem. The first step outside of God, the first standing-point in creation, is the created nature assumed to a Divine Person. Through this, as it were, lay the passage from the Creator to creatures. This was the point of union, the junction between the finite and the Infinite, the creature blending unconfusedly with the Creator. This first-born creature, this Sacred Humanity, was not only the primal creature, but it was also the cause of all other creatures whatsoever. It was the central creature as well as the first. All others group themselves around it, and are in relations with it, and draw their significance from it, and moreover are modelled upon it. Its predestination is the fountain of all other predestinations. The whole meaning of creation, equally with the destinies of each individual creature, is bound up with this created Nature assumed to a Divine Person. It is the head of creations, angelic, human, or whatsoever other creation there may ever be. Its position is universal; for it couples all creations on to God.
But by which of the Three Divine Persons was this created Nature to be assumed? By the Second Person, the Word, Who had been living everlastingly in the Bosom of the Father the life we have been attempting to describe. There were doubtless many reasons why it should be the Second rather than the First or Third Persons, which are beyond our comprehension or suspicion. We probably get but a glance at any Divine work, and there is radiance enough to blind us in the single glance; yet even so it is no measure of the resplendent light of uncreated wisdom which is in the least of the doings of the Most High. There are nevertheless certain conveniences, as theologians have named them, certain congruities and fitnesses, in the assumption of a created nature by the Son rather than by the Father or the Holy Ghost, which we may reverently consider, and which disclose to us some. what more of the adorable life of God.
There is a special connection between the Word and creatures, independent of the fact of His having assumed a created nature, and which seems to be part of the reason why He—not the other Two Persons—should have been the One to assume it. As the Word, He is the utterance of the Father, the expression of Him, the image of Him. Creation is in a finite and created way what He is infinitely and uncreatedly. Creation is a Divine word, an utterance, an expression, an image of God, faint, feeble, far-off, external, mutable, free; while the Word is the image of God within God, consubstantial, eternal, immutable, and necessary. We venture to think it most probable that all creatures have some distinct relations to the different Persons of the Holy Trinity, and that the Trinity of God, as well as His Unity, is impressed on His creation. Nevertheless, quite apart from this idea, there is a special connection between the Son and creatures, as between the inward and the outward Word of God. So that His assumption of a created nature was the congruous way in which creation expressed itself. It was the inward Word becoming outward. It was the eternal generation followed by the temporal generation. If we might dare to use such an expression, the assumption of a created nature by the Word was the way in which the creatureless God vouchsafed to get at creation. He was as it were necessitated to speak one Word; and that Word, because necessary, could not be otherwise than coeternal and cosubstantial with Himself. In His love He freely spoke a second word, which was creation, and that Word, because free, was finite and temporary. It was by His first Word that He spoke His second Word. For creation is more than an echo of the eternal generation of the Son, in the reality of that created nature which the Son has stooped to wear. Thus there is a congruity in the Son’s assumption of a created nature which there would not have been, at least in our indistinct vision of Divine things, in a similar assumption by the Father or the Holy Ghost.
But there is a second congruity, which may be evolved out of the first. He is not the Word only; He is the Son also. In His relation of Son we discern another fitness for His assumption of a created nature. He is the Son of God by nature, and rational creatures were to be the sons of God by adoption, through their justification. It was the end of their creation that they were to be admitted to share in His filiation. The communication of His Sonship was to be their way into glory. As God appeared as if He entered into creation through the Person of the Son, so through the same Person does creation find its way to rest in God. Hence it was fitting that the Second Person should be the One to assume a created nature, in order that He might not only be the Son of God in His Divine nature, but also the Son of God in His created nature. This second sonship 2 He obtained through His created nature, through which also He comes to be the Head of all God’s adopted sons, the Sonship of His created nature being the model and the cause and the means of their adoption; though its own Sonship is natural and not adopted. This is a congruity founded upon His being the Son as well as the Word.
If we are right in thus imagining that we discern these two fitnesses in the Person of the Son for the assumption of a created nature, when, which neither man nor Angel could have assumed, it was to be that a Divine Person should assume a created nature, we may also venture to behold what looks like an incongruity in such an assumption taking place by the Father or the Holy Ghost. By virtue of the assumed nature, the Divine Person assuming it must become the Son of God. 3 God’s movement toward creation is a movement of paternity; creation corresponds to that movement of God by a filial worship and obedience. If a Creator, Who is not also the Father of His creatures, is conceivable, the dispensation it would betoken would be so entirely different from that under which the actual creation finds itself, that the hypothesis would displace all our ideas, and we could hardly arrange matters in an imaginary world of this sort without doing some dishonor to those perfections of God which the bare act of creation would imply. We take for granted, therefore, speaking of what we know and see, and according to the analogy of present things, that in virtue of His assumed nature the Person assuming would become in the most sublime manner the actual Son of God, by nature rather than by adoption. Now, there would be a manifest incongruity, to our weak eyes at least, in the Father becoming also the Son, even by means of a created nature. 4 A temporal generation does not seem suitable to that Divine Person, Whose distinct perfection is His innascibility. There would appear a sort of violence in the Unbegotten Father being also the Babe of Bethlehem. So also in the case of the Holy Ghost, the assumption of a created nature and a temporal generation would not be in harmony with the method of His proceeding from the Father and the Son, which is not a Generation, but a Procession of another sort. It has not the similitude of a Sonship, even though the Person proceeding is consubstantial with those from Whom, as from one principle, He eternally proceeds. He is fruitful within the Godhead; for He is the Breath, the Fire, the Love, the Jubilee of the Divine life. He is fruitful outside; for He is the Giver of gifts, and the Gift given, the unction and outpouring of the Holy Trinity upon creation. Marvellous both within and without the Godhead is His adorable fecundity; but it is of a different sort from that of the Father and the Son. He produces no Fourth Person in the Godhead. Now, as there is something incongruous in the First Person, as the Unbegotten Fountain of Godhead, from Whom all paternity in Heaven and earth is named, assuming a created nature and becoming the adopted Son of God, so also is there something unsuitable in the same assumption by the Third Person, Who is unproducing, and who returns back upon the Father and the Son, the adorable Limit of the Godhead. It seems as if it would not be at the limit, but in the centre, that God would open on creation. At least all this is what seems to us, now that we know things as they actually are. May God forgive us, if we have thought too boldly! It is such a delight to speak of Him, that we are sometimes beguiled onward we hardly know how far.
All this has no concern with the prevision of sin and the fall of man. Indeed, it would be equally consistent with the assumption of an angelic nature by the Person assuming. For we have spoken hitherto of the assumption of a created nature by one of the Three Divine Persons in connection with the mystery of creation generally. The created nature, which He chose, remains for future consideration. But if, for the moment, we take for granted His choice of a human nature, and add to it the further consideration of the fall, we come in sight of a fresh congruity in the assumption of the created nature by the Second Person rather than the First or Third. Adam fell in the lawless search after science. His sin was a traitorous attempt to force the Divine wisdom to give up the secrets which it chose to conceal. He endeavored to force his way through the beautiful marvels of God’s Own creation into the counsels of God. He made a disloyal use of his science to increase that science in spite of God. He leagued with the mighty fallen intelligence of God’s enemy, in order to learn what God had forbidden him to know. Now, the Word is the substantial wisdom of the Father. It is by the Father’s knowledge of Himself that the Word is produced. So, when in the prevision of sin the Incarnation took its remedial form, it was most suitable that He, who is the substantial wisdom of the Father, should be the Person to assume that nature, which now needed redeeming because it had fallen, and fallen in the unlawful and disobedient pursuit of Divine knowledge.
But, although it was the Person of the Son, and not the Person of the Father or the Holy Spirit, which assumed a created nature, we must bear in mind that that assumption was the work of the whole Trinity. It was not more the work of the Person assuming, than it was of the Two Persons not assuming. Every work, which God does outside Himself, is the work of all the Three Persons equally, even when there is something special in the mission and operation of the different Persons. This is hard to understand, but to believe it is an undoubted necessity of the Catholic faith. It is equally of faith with the doctrine that it was the Son, and not the Father or the Holy Ghost, Who assumed a created nature. It seems hard to say that the Incarnation is not more the work of the Second Person than it is of the First or the Third; yet we must cling most jealously to this faith, or we shall throw all Divine truth into hopeless confusion. The Holy Trinity acts as One God, even when creatures may come into special relations with One of the Divine Persons. The doctrine of mission is not at variance with the unity and coequality in the Godhead. Neither must we listen to some of the older theologians, who held that the Father and the Holy Ghost are in the Sacred Humanity of the Word merely by essence, presence, and power, as they are in all creatures. On the contrary, the Other Divine Persons are very specially in the Sacred Humanity, by a most intimate connection and concomitance, though not by the intrinsic force of the Incarnation, just as the Soul and Divinity of our Lord are in the Blessed Sacrament by concomitance, and not by the force of the words of consecration. The very fact that the Divine Essence dwells in a peculiar way in the Sacred Humanity involves a peculiar indwelling of the Father and the Holy Ghost, because the Divine Essence is one. Nevertheless we may have special feelings, not feelings of comparison or of preference or of distinction, yet special feelings toward the One Person Who was actually incarnate; and we may base our devotions on such feelings, without any fear of deflecting from the analogy of the faith. Piety must of necessity have its special feelings toward Each of the Three Divine Persons, which feelings flow from their personal distinctions; and in the same way their missions to creatures, and the absence of all mission in the Father, are the ground for similar and still more special feelings. Still more shall we feel this, when we remember what has been already said, that the Second Person was incarnate precisely because He was the Second Person. This is difficult doctrine. It would even be dry, if doctrine could be dry. But we must bear with a few difficulties at first. They will make what follows easier, and they will illuminate many beauties, which except by their light we should either never see, or see only as a confused and dazzling indistinctness.
Thus the predestined created nature of the World lay everlastingly in the vast Bosom of the Father. It was a human nature eternally chosen with a distinct and significant predilection. It was the first creature. It is He Who in His assumed nature we call Jesus. All Angels, men, animals, and matter were made because of Him and for Him simply. He is the sole reason of the existence of every created thing, the sole interpretation of them all, the sole rule and measure of every external work of God. It is in the light of this predestination of Jesus that we must regard all life, all science, all history, all the grandeurs of Angels, all the destinies of men, all the beautiful geography of this variegated planet-garden, all the problematical possibilities of world-crowded space. Our own little tiny life, our own petty orbit, like the walk of an insect on a leaf, lies in the soft radiance of the predestination of Jesus, as in a beautifying sunset, and has a sweet meaning there, and is well-nigh infinitely dear to God, Who clothes it with an importance to Himself which it is the hardest of all mysteries to understand, because it is the most incredible of loves.
Last of all, there was a time at which this eternal counsel of God was to take effect, and to become actual, as we creatures speak, actual outside His Own Divine mind. Why the Babe of Bethlehem was to come, and came, when He did, and not before, why so early, and why so late, it is beyond our power to say. Many reverent and lawful guesses have been made; but we pass them al over, as plainly below the majesty of the occasion, and the sublimity of the decree which they profess to explain. But God’s love of His creatures so often condescends to wear the look of impatience, that we are not surprised when theologians tell us, after our own human way of speaking, that the Word impatiently anticipated His time through the attraction of the purity of Mary. Oh, how like God always, patient for so long, and then seemingly so impatient and sudden at the last! But is it not always so with grace? There is a kind of suddenness in its most deliberate operations, which recommends itself only to a spiritual discernment. It is thus conversions come. It is thus vocations ripen. God is always taking us unawares when He means love, while justice on the other hand, gives long notice and makes noisy preparations, as if it magnified itself by its inseparable accompaniments of mercy.
The occupation of God has been from all eternity what it is now, and will ever be, His Own blessed Self. He is bounded as it were by that blissful infinity. His life turns upon it. His magnificence consists in it. His necessary actions rise within it, and perpetuate themselves there for evermore. He dwells in Himself, and is His Own eternity. But when we think of Him as from all eternity our Creator, in design even when not yet in fact, it comes to us almost unconsciously to picture Him to ourselves as greatly occupied in choosing. From this point of view, choice seems almost His principal occupation. He is electing, distinguishing, preferring. 5 Even when in our own thoughts we give the amplest room to His foresight, we cannot obliterate the view of His choosing, electing, and preferring. We cannot even bring ourselves to think that He was bound to create the best kind of world, or to do the best with it when created. We cannot bring the shadow of necessity near God, when we look at Him at work outside Himself. His blissful necessities lie within the Most Holy Trinity. Outside of Himself all is uncontrollable freedom, the freedom of a boundless wisdom which is also boundless power, of an infinite justice which is indistinguishable from infinite love. In like manner, when we meditate on the life of the Word Who was to assume a created nature, we conceive of Him as making choice of many things, as He lay in the Bosom of the Father. He lived a life of elections; and everyone of his elections most nearly and affectionately concerns ourselves, while it is also based on nothing less than His Own infinite perfections; and all these elections are eternal.
His first choice was of His nature. Countless possible rational natures lay before Him in the clear landscape of His wisdom. They must all have had attractions and congruities, inasmuch as they were the ideas of His Own Divine mind. He had to choose amongst them, and to found His choice on reasons of infinite beauty and unerring wisdom. We dare not attribute a causeless predilection to God, though His predilections may be unaccountable to us. Especially He had to compare, only that comparison implies too much of a process for infinite wisdom, the natures of Angels and of men, and perhaps other existing rational natures also. How much depended upon this choice! The whole history of creation will simply flow out of it. The reasons seem on the side of His assuming an angelic nature. It is higher, and therefore nearer to him. It is much more magnificent, and therefore more suitable to him. It is purely spiritual, and we may conceive a Divine Person to abhor the contact of matter. The Church expressly thanks Him for not abhorring the virginal bosom of His sinless Mother. If we look at His compassion, we shall remember that the Angels had fallen no less than man, and that the human race could be stopped with Adam and Eve, whereas one-third of the multitudinous Angels had already fallen, or were actually falling, into the abyss, in the sure prevision of the Most High. The Angels also love Him better than men. They seem to love Him more in fact, as well as to have greater powers of loving Him. Yet it is He, Who in the flesh seemed to love John more than Peter, though Peter loved Him more than John. He chose human nature for His assumption, rather than angelical, and He chose it with the unerring choice of God. A thousand sciences lay deep within that choice; and it is only the knowledge of the character of God, which that choice has given us, that enables us to conjecture any ground for the choice, while in our estimation all the reasons would else have seemed against it. There was an extremity of condescension in His choice of a human nature, which better satisfies the Divine perfections. 6 By the lowness of His descent He gained more of what he could not have as God; and it appears as if no additional degree of humiliation was of little consequence in His sight. He got deeper down into His Own creation by this choice, and came nearer to the edge of that nothingness which is as it were the antipodes of God. If we could conceive of a moment in which that choice was not yet made, but in which it was at the very point of being made, how should we not feel our own destinies trembling in the balance! All that makes this life endurable to us, all that mellows the past or gilds the future, the whole vista of the endless life before us,—-all this, and much more about us that we know not of, was involved in that eternal choice of the nature to be assumed by the Person of the Eternal Word. That choice is the rudder which is still at this moment steering both our time and our eternity. Happy are we, beyond all Angels, to be of the family whose nature was chosen for Himself by the Eternal Word. This is one of those happinesses which make real unhappiness so impossible.
When we enumerate all these choices of the Word in the Father’s Bosom, we do not forget that, as they were eternal, they were also unsuccessive. But as we must name them in some order, we arrange them as they would come according to our notions of things. His nature chosen, and that nature human, His next choice would be of His blessed Soul. Perhaps no two souls of men are alike. The products of grace in each soul are as various as the productions of the different soils of earth. The variety of the Saints is one of the most glorious varieties on earth. Thus countless beautiful souls, radiant in their vast capabilities of supernatural holiness, exulting in the range and completeness of their natural powers, arrayed in spiritual beauty of the most enticing purity, hung before His eye, like shining orbs, in the dark abyss of nothingness. Of all possible souls He had His choice; and He had to choose on which could bear to dwell in the furnace of the Hypostatic Union, could light up all Heaven, in lieu of sun and moon, by its created sanctity, and could hold an ocean of grace which was only not absolutely illimitable. With what joy must not such a choice have been accompanied! With what unspeakable complacency must He not have rested not only in the wisdom of His choice, but also in the precious object of it!
He chose likewise the Body in which He was to be incarnate. The pure Flesh and the precious Blood, which were to be assumed by a Divine Person, and then remain forever in worshipful union with Him, were worthy objects of His eternal choice. He chose such a temperament of Body as should be able to endure the floods of glory He would pour into it. He chose one whose extreme sensitiveness might almost aid, rather than impede, tile delicate operations of His magnificent Soul. He chose one whose beautiful texture caused it to be hereafter such an instrument of suffering as has never existed elsewhere amid all the immense capabilities of created life. His future human lineaments were of His Own designing. It was a joy to Him from all eternity to read the loveliness of their varying expression. His bright eye was a new eloquence which spoke to Him even in that profound Divine life of eternity. The accents of His voice were even then a perpetual soundless music in His ear. His likeness to His Mother was one of His eternal joys. Thus did the heavenly Artist portray from all eternity, upon the darkness of the uncreated waste, that beauty of form and feature which was to ravish Angels and men with an exceeding and unchanging Love. Was He not Himself delighted with His work?
He chose His Mother also. When we reflect upon the joy which it is to ourselves to think of Mary, to brood upon her supernatural loveliness, and to study the greatness of her gifts and tile surpassing purity of her virtues, we shall get such faint idea, as lies within our compass, of the unspeakable gladness which it must have been to the Word to have chosen Mary, and to have created her through that very choice. He must choose a Mother who shall be worthy of being the Mother of God, a Mother suitable to that tremendous mystery of the Hypostatic Union, a Mother fitted to minister that marvellous Body out of her own heart’s blood, and to be herself for months the tabernacle of that most heavenly Soul. All God’s works are in proportion. When He appoints to an office, His appointment is marked by extreme fitness. He elevates nature to the level of His Own purposes. He enables it to compass the most supernatural destinies by fulfilling it with the most incredible graces. There was no accident about His choice of Mary. She was not merely the holiest of living women on earth at the time when He resolved to come. She was not a mere tool, an instrument for the passing necessity of the hour, to be used, and flung aside, and lie indistinguishable in the crowd, when her use was gone. This is not God’s way. He does not deal thus with the least of His elect. His whole revelation of Himself renders such a supposition as impossible as it would be profane. There is nothing accidental or of mere ornament in the works of the Most High. His operations have no excrescences, no extrinsic appendages. God does not use His creatures. They enter into His purposes, and are an integral part of them; and every part of a Divine work is one of that work’s perfections. This is a characteristic of Divine working, that every thing about it is a special perfection. Mary thus lies high up in the very fountain-head of creation. She was the choice of God Himself, and He chose her to be His Mother. She was the gate by which the Creator entered into His Own creation. She ministered to Him in a way and for an end unlike those of any other creature whatsoever. What then must have been her beauty, what her holiness, what her privileges, what her exaltation! To depreciate them is to depreciate the wisdom and the goodness of God. When we have said that Mary was the Word’s eternal choice, we have said that which already involves all the doctrine of the Church about her, and all the homage of Christians to her. When we consider the Word’s desire to assume a created nature, when we ponder His choice of a human nature, when we reflect on His further choice of His Soul and Body, and add to all these considerations the remembrance of His immense love, we can see how His goodness would exult in the choice of His Mother, whom to love exceedingly was to become one of His chiefest graces, one of the greatest of all His human perfections. All possible creatures were before Him, out of which to choose the creature that was to come nearest Him, the creature that was to love Him, and to have a natural right to love Him, best of all, and the creature whom duty as well as preference was to bind Him to love with the intensest love. Then, out of all He chose Mary. What more can be said? She fulfilled His idea, or rather she did not so much suit His idea, but she was herself the idea, and His idea of her was the cause of her creation. The whole theology of Mary lies in this eternal and efficacious choice of her in the Bosom of the Father.
The Word’s next choice was of the place where He and His Mother were to dwell, that part of the material creation which was to be the scene of His assumption of a created nature, and of a nature itself partially material. It does not seem as if our ignorance could obtain so much as a glimpse of any of the reasons which lay embedded in His choice of earth. The advancement of science only dishonors old guesses, without apparently leading the way to new ones. The more unimportant and uncentral we learn ourselves to be physically in the huge creation round us, and the more lost we are in the fabulous probabilities of sidereal space, the less can we discern what it was which guided the Creator’s predilection this way. We know not why He chose for man’s abode our solar system rather than any other solar system, or why He chose a satellite instead of a central body, a planet rather than a sun, or why of the planets of this system He chose the third one, which is neither eminent in size or in position. There seems no physical propriety, no material symmetry, in His choice. The reasons therefore must be of a sublimer kind, and lie deep in the wisdom of the Word unfathomable to us. God deals with His creatures in a very individual way. He tells us what concerns ourselves, as far as it concerns us and when it becomes practical to us. He is at no pains to explain Himself, or to reveal systems. He speaks to us according to our real wants. He is a teacher of law rather than of science. He is a Father Whom we must trust rather than a potentate with Whom we must keep up a diplomatic understanding. His reasons for choosing earth as the theatre of the Incarnation lie at one side of our road to Heaven, and off the road, and therefore are not told us. There was doubtless deep and blissful wisdom in the choice. We may lawfully love the particular world which is our home, seeing that He loved it so Himself and crowned it with this eternal choice. Material proprieties are not the measures of Divine decisions; and that is a thought which holds many thoughts in these days of ours.
But there was another choice of His which leads our ignorance into still more hopeless depths of helplessness. In the Bosom of the Father the Word chose His eternal companions, the elect among Angels and men. We know that all Angels and all men were created for Him, and to be His companions. We know that He desires the eternal companionship of them all. We shrink with righteous horror from supposing that the permission of evil was granted simply that He might take occasion by it to ruin everlastingly multitudes of creatures, whom it is of faith that He loved intensely. We cannot tell why the two creations of Angels and of men should have been created in a sinless liberty, which needed not this permission to its freedom. We are absolutely certain from what He has revealed of Himself that there were reasons in infinite goodness that it should be so, and that the freedom, by which Angels and men merit and sin, was suitable to His eternal designs of creative love. We know also that the permission of evil was not necessary to the exhibition of His justice, because His justice is more wonderfully illustrated in the exaltation of Mary than in the condemnation of sinners. We know, furthermore, that His choice of His elect in no wise interfered with the liberty of anyone of them, and yet, incomprehensible mystery! that it was truly an efficacious choice. “Whom He foreknew, He also predestinated.” This is the nearest approach which He himself allows us to the solution of this mystery. It was not a choice only, it was a foreknowledge also; and it was not a foreknowledge only, it was a choice also. He himself will not allow us to contemplate this mystery otherwise than in the sweet confidence which the theological virtue of hope imparts to us, that we ourselves were among the number of those elect whose correspondence to His grace and participation in His glory gladdened His eye from all eternity. Meanwhile this is one of the darkest parts of that marvellous life of elections which He led before the beginnings of actual creation. We can trust Him for it. No one can be astonished at getting out of His depth in God. We shall not have a just idea of the life of the Word in the Bosom of the Father if we keep out of sight His wonderful jubilee in the choice of His elect, and we fearlessly adore a joy which we know must have rested on an absolutely boundless love; for the justice of an all-holy love is a justice which even those who suffer from it cannot reasonably gainsay.
He chose also the glory which His Sacred Humanity was to enjoy. He chose that dignity and splendor of His Body which He should merit for it Himself in His Three-and-Thirty Years, from the first instant of His Conception to the moment of His Death; and He looked with complacency on the glory and blessedness which was thus to be enjoyed by that Flesh which He should take from Mary, and with which He should feed the generations of men in the realities of the Blessed Sacrament. We may conceive that, when He foresaw His Passion, He felt an increased tenderness, to speak thus foolishly of eternal things, for that Body which was to be the instrument of those terrific sufferings whereby He should redeem the world. He chose also that exaltation of His Holy Name, which He also merited Himself, and which represents the whole history of His Church, and the wonders of His Saints, and the supernatural chronicles of religious orders. He chose, too, among the things which He Himself should merit, the magnificence of His judicial power by which He should judge the world in His Human Nature rather than His Divine, and by which He began from the first moment of His Conception to judge every soul of man that passed from this life to another. He exulted in the immensity of glory which His Sacred Humanity should give to the adorable justice of God by the exercise of His judicial power alone. He foresaw His judgment of His sinless Mother, and rejoiced unspeakably in the wise righteousness with which He apportioned to her merits their wonderful rewards. He foresaw His judgment of St. Joseph, whom but a moment before He had assisted to die with filial solicitude, and the thought was dear to Him of the words which should confirm to His glorious foster-father the intensity of his peace in limbus for a while, and the admirable splendor of that throne in Heaven which he should enjoy. He looked over the gigantic ocean of human actions and merits, and His justice exulted royally in beholding not one trivial kindness, not one single cup of cold water, forgotten or unrewarded, or rewarded otherwise than with a Divine munificence, in all that astonishing multitude of things which He should have to judge. It was the Sacred Humanity scattering the largesse of the Divine justice profusely over all creation. His spotless holiness too found matter for true and solemn jubilation in those other awards of severity, awards slowly made, yet without reluctance when the measure of slighted mercy is filled up, whereby the majesty of an offended God is vindicated with a rigor which only the unrequited love of a Creator can display.
He chose also to be indebted to His Own merits for the mysterious reunion of His Body, Blood, and Soul in the glorious mystery of the Resurrection, the nearest approach which merit could make toward the Hypostatic Union, unless perchance He merited the extension of that Union to those fresh additions to His Body which age and growth and food added to it. He chose also the countless graces which He should merit for the children of men, and what He should merit also for the world of Angels. How many sciences were opened to His view, how many abysses of rapturous contemplation outstretched before Him, in this one matter of His merits, His election of them, their kind, their number, their value, their beauty, their operation, both for Himself and others! One little section of this fair world of choices were enough to fill a created spirit with bliss for all eternity.
Yet all these glories, which His Sacred Humanity merited for Itself, were as nothing to those which belonged to It in right of the Hypostatic Union, the unmerited fountain of all its surpassing splendors. The glories which His Divine Filiation conferred upon His Humanity were the objects of an eternal choice, in which we may reverently conceive the Word to have exulted with a still more marvellous delight. The glory of His Soul lay beyond the reach even of His far-stretching merits. Vasquez went so far as to teach that, even by the absolute power of God, He could not have merited the glory of His Soul,—in which opinion we might venture to differ from Him. Nevertheless, most true it is that in the Bosom of the Father the Word chose the beatific glory of His Soul, the immensity of its infused science, the magnificence of its habitual grace, the grace of headship, His royalty, His priesthood, and the boundless supremacy of His spiritual power, as seven wide and deep and resplendent creations lying within the compass of His Human Soul, and lying outside the influence of His Own amazing merits. All these glories He chose with ineffable exultation, and He exulted the more in choosing that they should flow from His Divine Sonship, and not from His merits. It was His choice that the Hypostatic Union should endow His Sacred Humanity, not merely with the capabilities of meriting immense glories, but directly and of itself with those splendors which should be its greatest and most wonderful magnificences. We have but got to think for a moment of the glory of His Soul, of its science, and its grace, in order to see what almost illimitable fields of jubilant contemplation lay before the Word in the Bosom of His Father, merely respecting the created nature which it was decreed He should assume. There was a heaven of Divine joys in the multitude of manifold choices which lay before Him, and to which His Own decrees with beautiful compulsion drew Him.
It is twice said of Heaven, first by a prophet and then by an Apostle, that its joys are absolutely inconceivable by the mind of man, and that these joys have been prepared by God for those who love Him, “prepared,” as if God had taken pains about them and spent time over them, in order to make them a gift worthy of His magnificence. Yet, from what theology teaches us, how marvellous is the picture which we can make to ourselves of the joys of Heaven, to what sublime heights faith elevates our imaginations, how grand are the conceptions which we can form of that glorious home even now in the darkness of our exile! Nevertheless, as Scripture tells us, the reality of its grandeur it has never entered into our minds to conceive! The joys of men on earth are almost as countless as their souls. The joys of the Angels are above our comprehension; but they far outstrip those of men both in multitude and in magnificence. We can imagine hosts of delights arising from intellectual enjoyment, or again from our affections, or again from the supernatural tastes which our souls acquire through grace. We can multiply these into fabulous sums. We can magnify them into gigantic forms by the thought of God, His power, His wisdom, and His love. We can conceive of them all as blessedly fixed in a secure eternity, and our own natures unspeakably widened and deepened for new capacities of joy. But beyond all this there lies a world of heavenly joys which we do not suspect, because it is not in our power to conceive their kinds or their methods of operation. Who can dream what will come of seeing God as He is? Now, all this multitude of joys rose up at the choice of the Word in the Bosom of the Father. There was not one which He did not devise, and create, and stamp with the deepest impress of His love. He set them aside for each spirit of Angel and soul of man which should enter into His joy. He proportioned them with an exuberant liberality, which was also at the same time an unerring justice. He made them special to each spirit and soul that should enjoy them. He counted their infinity, weighed their ecstatic thrills, and measured to each spirit the measure of the light of glory which should strengthen him to bear such impetuous excess of joy; and the whole was to Him a work of the most unutterable gladness and Divine complacency. He chose, too, that fresh outpoured sunshine over immortal Souls in Heaven, which should be cast by His Sacred Humanity in the pleasures of the glorified senses after the resurrection of the body. He saw Heaven suddenly flushed with a new verdure, and its gardens blossoming with the translucent bodies of His elect, as if they were multiplied images of Himself, voiceless echoes of light to the light that streams from the Lamb Himself.
One choice more, and we will close our list of the thrice three choices of die Word. The vision of sin lay before Him. He saw it all, as we can never see it, in its intensely horrible nature, in the breadth of its empire, in its radical opposition to God, in the tremendously fearful doom wherewith the Divine justice would ultimately suffocate it. It lay before Him, but His tranquillity was unmoved. Not a breath of disturbance passed even over the surface of His blessedness. Not one of His decrees was turned aside. They all flowed on in their immutable channels of eternal love. But a new choice arose before Him. The sphere of His justice was widened, while the objects of His love were multiplied. He added to the choices He had already made of His Soul and Body. He chose now the power of suffering, the capability of feeling sorrow, the vibrations of sensible fear, the infirmity of wonder, the emotions of human anger. He chose poverty, and shame, and death, and the Cross. Over the bright and glorious destiny of the Mother of the impassible Humanity, in which He would have come, He drew a mysterious cloud of impenetrable dolors, and the great Queen of Heaven was magnified beneath its shadows. He marked out for Himself a pathway of Blood to the hearts of His sinful creatures,—those at least who bore the same nature which He Himself had elected to assume. The elder family of Angels He passed over in their fall, but not in disregard. They fell into the gulf of His justice, and were drawn in and swallowed up forever. Now Bethlehem and Calvary lay before the Word as objects of intense desire, and of what we have dared to call Divine impatience. But there was no stir in the Bosom of the Father. The pulses of the Divine Life were not quickened for a moment. Nothing was precipitated. The decrees went on with irresistible slowness, like the huge glowing lava-streams down the flanks of Etna,—only that these were creative, prolific, fertilizing, streams of wisdom and of love. Still every moment was the Son eternally generated of the Father. Still every moment was the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. Not a sound was heard. Not a sight was seen. There was no time to lapse by uncounted. There was no vacancy, no void, no hollow, which might one day be the room of space. There was only the unfixed yet immovable Life, to which neither past nor future reach. There was the Blessed God.
Such were the occupations of the Word in the Bosom of the Father, such was the life of that Person to Whom our special attention is drawn, because He was the Person Who was to assume a created nature. It was, so far as that assumption was concerned, a life of choices, and each choice was as much the choice of the Father and the Holy Ghost as it was of the Word Himself. Such was His everlasting life in the Bosom of the Father, creatureless, and yet not without creatures, only distinguishable to us in its outermost edges where the decrees of creation shine upon its waters. It was a creature less life, because creatures were not yet in actual existence. It was a life with creatures, because they were in reality eternal in the Divine Mind. To us it is as if we were gifted with preternatural sight, and could look up an endless vista, broad at its opening as the breadth of the all-but boundless creation, and rising up in flights of marvellous gigantic steps onward and upward, narrowing and narrowing to a point, with the decrees of God like marble statues standing in speechless rows on either hand, and the eternal splendors shining white on their colossal figures, until the vista enters into God, and the beautiful simplicity of immense creation lies visibly in the predestination of Jesus, and flows out from the central fountain of the Undivided Trinity, an emanation of the Divine Life in infinite separation from it. Then actual creation comes, and still God lies in His eternal Sabbath, even while He works. Time and the world lapse by, and far off is the tranquillity of God.
What can ever equal in magnificence the first outward burst of the Omnipotent, when the Angels broke forth out of nothing in cataracts of light, more numerous than the sands of the sea, each of them huge worlds of fire, with the intellectual effulgence of their majestic spirits beaming far and wide in transcending loveliness! We are blinded by the very thought. The eyes of our mind ache, as with lightning, while we picture to ourselves this first thunder-storm which broke forth at an instant from the feet of the inaccessible throne of God. At the selfsame moment, out of nothing rose the ponderous universe of matter, far outspread fields of the gauze-like breath of an immeasurable heat, and the scarce-visible tissue of simplest elements, perhaps of one element only, but of a myriad myriad forms, wheeling off and condensing into numberless huge worlds, all chained together by the filaments of an invisible attraction. There was a magnificence even in chaos which fed the glory of the Creator.
Then perhaps came the vast geological epochs, revolving cycles of ages unnumbered, because there was none but God to number them. Marvellous floras covered our own earth like a gorgeous tapestry. Wonderful faunas filled the seas with life and took possession of the continents. All the while God was tranquil, and time and the world lapsed by. The days of Adam came and went, md the strangeness of antediluvian life. The flood came and did its stern work; and the pastoral plains of Mesopotamia were studded with the tents of the patriarchs, until God’s love lit upon the hills and dells of Syria. The exodus of the chosen people from the typical Egypt, the wilderness, the kingdom, the captivity, the wide-spread heathendom, and the Immaculate Conception, succeeded one another, as we speak, but in truth lay all present at once to the eye of God, and his same tranquil life went on. The Incarnation was realized in Nazareth and made manifest in Bethlehem. The beautiful ages of the Catholic Church began, and came to an end in the Valley of Judgment. Each individual soul layout before God clear and separate, in an orbit of its own, until all met in conjunction in the same Valley of Judgment. Then—we shall speak thus hereafter, when all is past, and it is even now passing quietly—this family of creation was gathered home into the Bosom of the Father, by the Word Who ever dwelt there, and by means of His Incarnation.
All this went by, and there was the same tranquil life of God, unchanged, unchangeable. Yet God was not inactive. Language cannot express to us in its reality the over-fulness of God’s concurrence with every thing, or the thrilling omnipotence of his penetrative activity. The mystery is how He can so concur, so interpenetrate and underlie all matter and all spirit, and yet forever be by Himself, in unutterable and adorable unconfusion with created things. Thus all this life in the Bosom of the Father, so far as it regarded outward things, was from eternity steadily advancing to the assumption of a created nature by an Uncreated Person. All that is outside of God therefore bears exclusively on this. There is no exception. Yet the tranquil eternal life within that Bosom went on as ever. And now—-we speak as we must one day speak—the mighty populous heavens lie with their worshipping crowds at the very feet of God. The activity of Heaven far transcends the feeble agitations of earth. Its power, with Jesus and Mary and the Angels and the souls, is fearfully majestic to think upon. Its sciences are like the sciences of God. Its loves are like the procession of the Holy Ghost. The realities of its doings, and its energies, and its discoveries, and its contemplations, and its beauties, are simply unimaginable by us who know only the feverish intermittent indolence of mortal civilization. Its very created infirmities are hidden, almost healed, by the near shadow of the Uncreated. Yet that tranquil life in the Bosom of the Father is unchanged. As it was in the creatureless eternity, so is it now. Every moment is the Son eternally generated of the Father. Every moment is the Holy Ghost proceeding from the Father and the Son. Everywhere there is the Blessed God, tranquil and self-sufficing, unchanging and unchangeable; and we, it is the only change, happy we, are lying in the lap of His eternity!
But between those two points, between the eternity before creation and the eternity after the judgment shall have fixed the endless lot of this family of the Incarnation, there is the point to each of us which is our present, and in which we are arduously working our way home to our Heavenly Father. Our past and our future are both in our today. How is our today by the side of the Bosom of the Eternal Father, and of the Divine Life going on therein? Let us revive our faith, and the world will at once drop down below us, and the chains of a thousand petty interests fall from us. There is no liberty of spirit except when we are breathing the air of God. Let us mount up on high, and look at the earth as it lies beneath us. There are creatures born and dying every moment, the one have to be started on their destinies which are unending, the others to be seen through that last conflict in which all the threads of life are to be gathered up, and the doom to be not merely according to the past life, but according to the dispositions of that dread Today. There is all the turmoil of a resonant world rising up toward the throne of God. The thunders of the imprisoned fires of Hell reach his ears. There are the high winds and storms of the enormous atmosphere, and below it the uneasiness of the throbbing feverish volcanoes, and the perpetual, tremulous, elastic shiverings of the crust of the earth. Above, there is the dazzling velocity of stupendous revolving orbs in mute unechoing space, the wild rushing of comets which law is spurring on at such headstrong speed, and here and there among the countless worlds the crash of some catastrophe which is part of the uniformity of their system. God has to be busy with all this. Then down in the forests of seaweed on the pavement of the ocean, under the bark and among the leaves of the forest of the land, amid the thick, viewless insect-life of the populous air, he is busy also, minutely occupied, incessantly occupied, personally occupied with every individual form of life. Yet at this moment there is no stir over the pellucid abysses of His shoreless life. His Bosom is all tranquil as before. The Father, calm and dread and beautiful, Whose freshness eternity cannot age, is in repose and majesty. The Son is still issuing forth in His Bosom, noiselessly begotten in the ravishing splendors of an Eternal Generation. The Holy Spirit is still the actually proceeding Jubilee of Both, out-flowing, distinct, eternal, the same One Life.
But at this hour, somewhere in creation, that Bosom is laid bare to spirits and to souls, so that they can see It as It is. This is a change from the old uncreatured life; but the change is altogether outside the Unchangeable. There is no time, no lapse, no succession, there. There are no measurable epochs in that unadvancing, stationary, self-sufficing, indescribably blissful Life. Progress is the radical infirmity of creatures. Yet the creature time has surrounded the Eternal and Uncreated with its sweet growths and secular harvests in rings of created beauty and supernatural holiness. He is showing them the Vision of Himself, localized somewhere. Radiant fringes of Saints and Angels are stirring in His light, as if they were the edges of his royal robes, and prostrate multitudes lie like a golden pavement, thrilling with light, around his throne. But are we sure the change is all outside? The faith will not allow us to doubt of it. Then is it most true that faith is more than sight. For it looks as if there was a change inside.. Far down, amid the central lightnings of the Godhead, those lightnings which feed instead of blighting the spirits and souls of creatures, it is as if there was a human Babe, not an adopted foundling Whom His mercy has taken up in its necessity, but His Own eternal idea, realized in time, the cause of all creation whatsoever, the cause of all that makes up our present life today, except the evil which may hang about us like a clinging mist. That Babe is the Causal-Idea of all things. The spirits of the souls see Him there, and worship Him with the thunders of ecstatic song. Yet still the Divine Life goes on, with its unsuccessive, endless, unbeginning pulsations. Still is the Son being begotten, still is the Spirit proceeding, still is the Father the Unbegotten Fountain of the Godhead.
Lonely, with leagues between, Angels and souls far off, as earth counts farness, nearest to the Throne sits a Virgin-Mother, a creature who once was nothingness, and who would fall back into nothingness this hour if God did not fulfill, sustain, uphold her with all His might and main, as it were, by His essence, presence, power, grace, and glory. The Babe in the Bosom of the Father is the likeness of that created Mother, and is ever looking out at her, as if her Bosom might tempt Him from that Bosom of the Father. She is ever looking at Him, as she taught St. John to look at Him, “in the Beginning,” in the Bosom of the Father. This is Mary’s fixed view of her Child. This is John’s fixed view of his dear Master. He lay in that dread Bosom in idea from all eternity. He lies there at this hour with His Incarnation realized. It is the Babe of Bethlehem,—Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today, and the same forever!
1. The reader must bear in mind that it is the received doctrine of the Church that spirit and matter were created simultaneously, that many theologians call it temerarious to teach the opposite doctrine since the Lateran Council (in capite Firmiter).
2. Constat in Christo esse triplicem filiationem, aliam, qua, ut homo, refertur ad Virginem, et est filius Virginis: aliam sanctification is naturalis divinæ, qua, ut homo, retertur ad Deum, ut commune toti Trinitati, quae est denominatio proveniens a natura et entitate divina: et tertiam, qua, ut Deus, refertur ad Patrem primam Personam Trinitatis, et qua Christus, ut homo, nequit referri, net esse Filius. Hurtado, xvii.. diff. iii. But see Siuri. De Novissimis. Tract xxxvi. cap. ii. sect. 33. and Bernal’s theory of a third kind of filiation, filiatio propria, qui modus filiationis medius est inter filiationem naturalem et adoptivam. Bernal. De Incarn., disp. lxv. sect. 4. This is to escape Suarez’s two orders of natural filiation.
3. Si humanitas Christi unita fuisset hypostatice Patri aut Spiritui Sancto, et non Fillo. Christus ut homo esset codem modo filius naturalis Dei, quia codem modo esset natura conjunctus Deo, et habens jus ad vitam aeternam. Hurtado, De Incarn. disp. xvii. diff. iii.
4. Durandus and some others taught that Christ as man is the adopted Son of God, but St. Thomas, with Vasquez, Suarez and others, will not allow of this being taught. The reception of the Council of Frankfort seems to put it beyond doubt. Indeed, there is a consent of the great theologians against even saying that the Humanity was adopted by God.
5. Mary of Agreda says our Lord revealed to her that He never exercised the act of choice but once, and that was when He chose suffering. Perhaps He refrained His Human Nature from it as from something belonging peculiarly to God. What a grand spiritual life might be based on this one thought!
6. See B. Sacrament, Book. I. sect. 1.