The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Imperative Demand.
The Sermons of Eugene Bersier
III. REGEM HABEMUS.
Having considered how our Lord Jesus Christ supports his claim to universal kingship in these four aspects--the manner in which he teaches the intellect, in which he judges the conscience, in which he claims to be the master of hearts, and in the exercise of the supernatural power which he claimed to possess--M. Bersier proceeds to consider how these pretensions have been supported by history:--
Is it not evident, he says, that the more magnificent the dream, the more miserable must be the awakening?
Let us then interrogate history, and ask of it what testimony it has to render to the royalty of Jesus. We have seen that the claim of Jesus Christ is to a royalty, moral and religious. It would be absurd, then--is it not so?--to inquire if this royalty is exercised in the order political, or in the order purely intellectual, and to repeat the old sarcasms of the Romans upon a king who let himself be crucified, or the ancient pleasantries upon that religion of the ignorant which gathers its votaries amongst cobblers, fishers, and journeymen.
This royalty, being of the moral order, can exercise itself only as it respects human liberty. It will impose itself, then, neither by brutal force nor by phenomena which would produce upon the senses an irresistible and fatal impression, nor by a scientific demonstration which would strike only a small minority of minds, and would subjugate them by mathematical evidence which would have in it nothing of moral force. If the Church, forgetting this principle, would fain realise this kingdom of Christ by the arm of the flesh, she would be doing despite to the expressed will of her Chief.
Therefore, we must expect to see this royalty accepted or combated in turn, blessed or cursed. And this is, in fact, what Jesus Christ most plainly announced. Often did he speak to his disciples of the future which awaited them. I defy any one to find in these words of his any optimistic hope, any promise of success, immediate or universal. The impression left on the mind is, rather, somber; not more sombre, alas! than that produced by the history of the Church during these eighteen hundred years. There shall be struggles, says the Master, there shall be persecutions and defections, there shall be, always, bitter hatred against the truth. Events still follow this monotonous course; there are wars and rumours of war now as in all time. But, the grain of mustard shall become a great tree, and the people shall seek refuge in its shade; but, the Gospel shall be preached to every nation under heaven.
Two things, then, are clearly announced: opposition and progress, persecution and victory, or, more exactly, success even by means of defeat; as on the day of Calvary, so, until the end, I know that this divine plan astonishes us: we cannot conceive how God, all-powerful and all-good, consents to these long adjournments, to these momentary recoils of his cause, to these apparent defeats. Were we in his place we should ordain, without doubt, the immediate triumph of justice and the splendid manifestation of truth. God has not willed it. It has pleased him that religious truth should submit to all the laws which regulate human things; and that, even as on the day of its incarnation in the holy humanity of Christ, it was contradicted by the pharisees and scribes, denied by its own disciples, railed upon by Herod and Pilate, delivered to the buffetings and spittings of the Pretorium;--even so, in its incarnation during eighteen centuries in the bosom of our corrupt humanity, it has pleased Him that the truth should be held in vessels of clay, transmitted from men to men, imperfectly translated in their imperfect languages, travestied, calumniated, often persecuted, liable to suffer from the infirmities of its disciples, compromised by their errors, served by their devotion, by their knowledge, or their energy, propagated by their discoveries, by the art of printing, by the triumphs of steam, by the diffusion of light and liberty; then, all at once, arrested, perhaps for long, by some common accident, by causes fatal in appearance, which deprive it of its most valiant apostles, and leave it without defence. Such appears to me in history the kingdom of Jesus Christ, divine in its origin, human in its destiny, subject to all the vicissitudes of things here below, and marching across its momentary defeat towards its assured triumph.
We do not ask, then, if the cause of Christ is a cause always popular and always victorious. In advance, the Gospel before us, we tell you that that is impossible. But we ask, in the first place, if his spiritual kingdom is real, and for an answer to this question we shall appeal first to those who accept it, afterwards to those who reject, whether because they hate it, or because they misunderstand it.
Let us first hear those who accept it. "He is the King!" Here is the canticle which is chanted by the Christian Church everywhere under the heavens, and the singers are all those who have bent under the gentle and pacific yoke of Jesus Christ. At this day, at this hour, we may hear it on the lips of millions of adorers of all ages and of every nation. These say it in the naif glow of their young enthusiasm, those myriads of children that generation leads to the feet of Him who has said, "Let them come unto me;" others, with the strong affirmation of a conviction, powerful and rational; those, with the repentant cry of the sinner who mourns over his sins of the past, others, in the tears of an unspeakable sorrow which have cleared their vision to perceive the apparition of the Sovereign Consoler. This kingdom,--the sons of Shem were the first to salute it; then, Greece perceived its moral beauty; Rome submitted to its ascendency; and when races, haughty and savage, poured forth from the forests of Germany and the steppes of the antique Orient, they, in turn, bowed themselves before the Crucified;--as those Goths of the yellow locks, ancestors of the Anglo-Saxon races, whom Chrysostom saw adoring the Christ in a basilicon of Constantinople, and of whom he said, with prophetic instinct, that they should one day carry the flambeau of the Gospel which the Greeks had let fall from unworthy hands.
Thus, from age to age, Christianity extends its limits. To-day, there is not a believer, who, looking at Africa on the map of the world, land long accursed, and whose sands have drunk in human blood by torrents--even as those old empires of China and the Indies,--does not say, "One day, these people shall be subdued to Christ Jesus."
Now, in the midst of so many races, so dissimilar in aspect, in language, in temperament, in genius, Jesus Christ has known how to create an empire, founded alone on that which there is in man of most intimate and most profound--as many of those who hear me would attest, were it necessary, who attribute to his name the greatest emotions of their interior life, and the decisions which have many times saved them. What empire can be compared to his? As the flow which, at each tide, brings the ocean to all the shores of the world, even so does adoration carry to the feet of Christ the homage of those hearts whose Master he is, and even of those others, so carried away by the current of passing events that they do not allow to escape from their lips the avowal that none among the children of men is beloved as he.
It will be said, no doubt, that in this concert there are discordant voices, and that the kingdom has been from the first combated with furious resistance. I do not forget it, and, instantly, I recall the fact that Christ has foretold as much. Always, let us remember, truth can be recognised by two signs: by the love which it inspires and by the hatred which it excites. There are maledictions which do it a more magnificent homage than adoration itself. When all the voluptuousness, all the infamies, all the cruelties of ancient Rome united themselves agains the new-born Church in her virginal robes, pouring out upon her the fierceness of their wrath, these voices attest, after their manner, even as the Christians in their canticles, that Christ is a king of love, of justice, and of holiness! Do you not understand? Would you have a Nero salute Christ otherwise than by his hatred? and that, as so many other Caesars of his kind, he should mingle in his atrocities and his massacres the invocation of the holy God? Is it not enough, is it not too much, that the Church should have had as protector a Constantine, a Charles IX., a Philip II.?
You will answer, I know, and I say it myself, that the question does not stand thus in our days, and that it would be iniquitous to rank all those who turn themselves to-day from Jesus Christ amongst those who follow the inspiration of their pride and of their corrupt heart. You point me to men of eminent intellect who have openly broken with Christianity, and who seek security in the inspirations of their conscience for the rule of their conduct and the direction of their life. I recognise these facts, convinced beforehand that I am not permitted to call evil that which is good, and that I am required to salute integrity of life wherever I may meet with it, whether--which I have often seen--it ally itself to superstitious ideas which I condemn, or, on the other hand, to the negations which desolate me.
Yes, it is only too true that under the flag of Jesus Christ march men whose life is for the Church a subject of humiliation and of scandal, and that amongst those who attack it we meet adversaries to whom we cannot refuse our respect. It is eighteen centuries since the Master predicted that the tares should mingle with the wheat in the field until the harvest, and that it does not pertain to his disciples to separate them. This fact saddens me, but it presents no difficulties to my faith, and I will tell you very sincerely why.
Submission to Jesus Christ implies two things--faith in his person and obedience to his will; these two elements united form the Christian life; the more strict their union, the more intense is this life. But history shows us that this union is rare. There are epochs, long epochs, when the conservation of the faith, the unity of the faith, its orthodoxy, has been the dominant and often exclusive idea of the Church, where Christian life was all but dried up, and become more and more exterior, intellectual, dead. Recall Byzantium, where discussions, as subtle as they were furious, on the divine essence, mingled themselves with the refined pleasures of a corrupt court. Recall the epoch of the Merovingians, when assassinations and poisonings multiplied, whilst upon the basilicon were to be read these triumphant words: Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperet. Recall Italy in the fifteenth century, the court of Valois in the sixteenth, and the old age of Louis XIV. The exterior edifice stands, imposing, majestic, but moral rottenness secretly consumes the foundations until the hour when it falls with a sound of tempest.
Inevitably these excesses call forth others; otherwise humanity would be humanity no longer. When the hour of emancipation sounds, men scorn, curse, that teaching, those dogmas, in whose name so many iniquities have been committed. And in order to refute them the better, what do they? They oppose to them principles of justice, of equity, of love, of mercy, forgetting only one thing--that these principles are the very foundation of
the Gospel as set forth by Jesus Christ. Yes, it is Jesus Christ whom they oppose to Jesus Christ. On the one hand are those who do this with the skill of enemies knowing well how to choose their arms; as Voltaire, of whom it has been said with truth that, in shaking the dry tree of Christianity, he shook down fruits which the believers forgot to gather. Others know nothing of Christ; they have never been able to perceive him through the dark thicket of their ignorance or of invincible hindrances; but even in fighting against him they submit, without knowing him, to the ascendency of his spirit and his precepts, and while Christians in name give to Jesus Christ their faith without giving him their life, these unbelievers in name serve him in their life even while they refuse to him their faith. "Is Christ divided?" said Saint Paul. Alas! history shows us too much of this cruel division; on the one side, those who believe without doing; on the other, those who do, without believing. And, when we think of these last, must we not recall that sublime scene of the parable of the Last Judgment? "Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry? when saw we thee a stranger, sick, and in prison, and went unto thee? And the King shall answer them, Verily, I say unto you, insomuch as ye have done these things to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done them unto me" (Matt. XXV. 37-40). Who shall say, who can say, what is the number in the world to-day of these unconscious servants of the unknown Christ?
Thus, then, above all in this much troubled age, do I discern the influence of Jesus Christ. Oh! I know that on all hands the Church is battered by tempest shocks which should cause her to flounder. From above descend the high glaciers of incredulous science; from below ascend the cries of wrath, hatred, blasphemy, of the multitudes exasperated by secular sufferings; and I recollect, as I hear the tumult of voices, the sweet word of the Master, "Whosoever shall blaspheme against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him," and this prayer, supreme expression of the infinite clemency, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
But, when, alarmed by these clamours on every hand, believers come to us and say that the reign of Christ is coming to an end, I am tempted to answer them, "O men of little faith, weep no more for the Christ, for he remains, but weep for
yourselves and for that blind race which denies Him who is able to save."
No! his reign is not finished, and in this twilight, which, according to you, heralds the darkness, we salute the aurora of a day of which the renewed Church shall see the splendour. Would you have proof of it? Interrogate these men whose menaces alarm you, ask them what is their programme of the future for the amelioration of human society, and you will see that the most generous and the most practical of their ideas are merely plagiarised from this Gospel of which they will no more, from this Gospel of which the practical realisation, far from being achieved, has, we must say it, to the humiliation of Christians, only commenced.
What do they demand? Liberty? Listen to the Gospel: "The kings of the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them, but it is not so among you." Justice? Listen to the Gospel: "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be satisfied." Equality? Listen to the Gospel: "You are all brothers." The independence of the religious conscience? Listen to the Gospel: "Call no one on earth your father, for you have only one Father, even God." The liberation of civil society from all spiritual domination? Listen to the Gospel: "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things which are God's." The destruction of all slavery, the protection of the young and the feeble, the freer participation of all in every right, the destruction of misery and of ignorance, the practical realisation of the great law of solidarity? Can the Gospel be hostile to these, when it was the first to proclaim them? What demand they more? The end of national rivalries and of wars, the reign of peace? Where has this reign been depicted with such magnificence as in that book which, under Tiberius and under Nero, affirmed that the heritage and the possession of the earth should be to those who seek and who will peace? Say not then that you have got beyond the Gospel while it presents itself before you as the resplendent pharos of the future. Say we to ourselves, we Christians, that we make a miserable travesty of it. We bow the head because we know this to be true; but the shame at least should not fall upon Him whom we name our King.
I know that there is yet more in this Gospel. There are
those religious truths of which you believe that man may hence forth pass them by; there is the affirmation of that existence of a God, creator, legislator, and judge; there is the proclamation of our moral responsibility, of our culpability, and of the necessity for us to repent and to believe; there is the divine promise of a pardon which is an act of grace; there is the assurance of the love, profound, infinite, of Him whom we call our Father; there is the certitude of his incessant action in the history of the world, and in the most humble of our destinies; there is, lastly, the life eternal, with all which the word contains of consolation for hearts like ours, whose terrestrial felicity is at the mercy of a moment's experience, which may have, to-morrow perhaps, to place their dearest treasure under planks of oak. These religious truths, which we call doctrines, Christianity has strictly united to the moral truths which men pretend to-day to separate from them. In her profound knowledge of humanity she has seen that these proceed from those. This is in fact the desire to suppress religion for the better conservation of the moral life; it is, as it were, to level the gigantic Alps by way of shortening the descent of the deep waters which take their rise therein, as if it were not from the deep glaciers accumulated at their summits that the Rhone and the Rhine are fed.
Ah, well! It remains to be seen if they are able to level the doctrines of religion which are the Alps of the human soul; if it possible for them to extinguish the great light which the Gospel has projected on our destinies, and if the generation which follows us will indeed inscribe on the portals of the twentieth century these words, in which Saint Paul summed up the condition of the pagan world of his times, "Without God, without hope." None can say how far will descend the intoxication of atheism which, to-day, troubles so many spirits; but for its honour I affirm that humanity will not be able to remain in these depths profound; and when she would mount towards the light she must needs seize, not the trembling hand of a simple child of men, but the all-powerful hand of Him who has resolved the mysteries of sin, of sorrow, and of death, and who since eighteen centuries ago, has said to men, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; none cometh to God but by me."
For us, Christians, who have found in the Christ the King of our souls, let us muster more resolutely than ever under his banner; and since God calls us to serve him in the religious liberty so valiantly vindicated by our fathers, since, in the order of religious revelation, as in the order of grace, as in the order of the Church, we have only one master, Christ--we swear to remain faithful to Him until the hour of death, which, thanks to him, proclaims for us the entry into the life eternal.
Three centuries ago, the greatest hero of the French Reformation, Gaspard de Coligny, defended the little town of Saint-Quentin against the formidable invasion of the Spaniards. The imprudence of Valois had delivered to foreigners the frontiers of France . . . Saint-Quentin had only ramparts in ruins; fever and famine decimated its defenders; the terrified population spoke of surrender, treason lurked in corners. One day, the enemy shot over the walls of the town an arrow bearing a strip of parchment with an inscription which promised the inhabitants, if they would surrender, to accord them their lives and their goods. For all response, a Spanish officer tells us, Coligny took a strip of parchment and wrote thereon these simple words, Regem habemus; then he fixed it to a spear, which he threw into the camp of the enemy. Regem habemus. We have a king. This was for him the heroic expression of his faith in his country, which his loyal soul incarnated in his king, even though that king were Henry II., the husband of Catherine de Medicis, the father of that Charles IX. who became the assassin of the great Huguenot captain.
And we, Christians, enclosed within this ancient citadel of the Church, attacked on all sides to-day, without, our ramparts too often falling into decay, within, too many cowardly counsels and sinister rumours which announce approaching defeat, we, in our turn say Regem habemus. We have a King! a King of righteousness and of truth, who shall yet vanquish the world, and to whom belong the empire and the glory for ever. Amen!
Typed July 2013