Taken From BETHLEHEM
Frederick William Faber, D. D.
PRIEST OF THE ORATORY OF ST. PHILIP NERI
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS
Bethlehem: The Infant God, Part 1
THERE is no poem in the world like a man's life, the life of any man, however little it may be marked with what we call adventure. For real life---even the most commonplace---is strong-featured, if we look at it attentively. No poet would so dare to mingle sweetness and strangeness, simplicity and peculiarity, sublimity and pathos, as real life mingles them together. The characters of the poet either stand out from the common lot of men as exceptional cases, or else lose distinguishable individuality altogether. But a man's real life is at once a bolder and a simpler thing than the creation of the poet. It is like a grand Heavenly recitative which Providence itself pronounces, as the years go on, with a sort of eloquent dramatic silence, from one point of view inventive as the improviser, from another merely interpreting the waywardness of a man's own will. True, however, it is, that the very barrenest life of man that ever was lived is, if we take the inward and the outward together, a truly Divine poem, to which he who listens becomes wise. Each single human life in the world amounts to nothing less than a private revelation of God, a revelation which would be enough for the whole world, if an inspired pen recorded it. But When a man is living in a state of grace, and is giving himself up to God and leading an interior life, then his secret biography becomes still more wonderful, because it is more consciously supernatural. Most inward-living men have some special attraction of grace, some Divine mold in which their spiritual lives are cast, a mold which God uses not for classes, but for individuals. Each man stands in a relation to God which is peculiar to himself. He shares it with no other man. He has had more graces or fewer, larger or smaller, of a different character, and blending differently with the varying circumstances of his outward life. These external circumstances are never the same to any two men, as far as we can see. The alternations of bright and dark are differently distributed to each, so that each outward life forms a different amalgamation with grace from any other outward life. The very geography of a man's life changes his grace. If God allows the Angels to behold the multiform lives of men in a clear light from His point of view, the world must be to them almost like a second beatific vision; such a glorious and bold revelation must it be to them of the inaccessible character of the Creator.
A spiritual man may be defined to be one who has received a second life from God, a life which he lives privately with God, and which is itself a kind of Divine law to his outward life, standing in the relation of supremacy to it, and at the same time leaving free play to circumstances. This second life is heavenly. Its vitality is from Heaven. Its powers are Heavenly. It is conversant with heavenly things, and deals with earthly things only to transmute them into Heavenly things by the alchemy of grace. In nothing is this individual attraction of grace more observable than in a man's devotions; and, because of the relation in which devotion stands to virtue, in nothing is it more important. With some men it is the same all through life; with others it changes with the seasons and circumstances of life. Sometimes a man sees it plainly himself; at other times others can see it, while it remains invisible to himself; sometimes it is hidden altogether, yet not necessarily absent because it is hidden. In some souls it is so strong that it molds their entire life; with others it is so weak that their devotion seems to have no rule beyond that seemingly external rule, which is more mysterious and excellent than men believe, the Calendar of the Church.
Some men, for instance, have a sovereign attraction to the mysteries of the Incarnation, but without a special drawing to any one of them. Some are drawn to portions of our Lord's life, as the Infancy, the Passion, or the Ministry, while others fix upon some one of the subordinate mysteries contained in one of those portions, as St. Charles Borromeo fixed upon the Agony in the Garden and worked that one mystery out in the grandeur of his heroic life. The spiritual life of some is more at home in the mysteries of the Incarnation as expressed in Mary, than in the same mysteries as expressed by Jesus, or rather it is their bent to find Jesus in Mary, where more or less all must find Him who love our Lord's Own ways and follows His Divine leading. The devotion of some is to the Sacraments, and thereby they reach an amazing, and very distinctive, sanctity. Some have their spiritual hearing so haunted that all life long they hear the souls in Purgatory forever bleating in their ears, like the strayed lambs crying aloud far up among the stony mountains. The devotion of some is fed by the pageants and functions of the Church, while other souls fare better in a quiet catacomb, with St. Philip, or on the hill-top, with St. John of the Cross, or under the nightly canopy of stars, with St. Ignatius.
But there is one devotion
in particular, with which we are at
concerned; devotion to the Attributes of God. All believers worship
and therefore all believers worship those Divine perfections which we
to exist in Him in some supereminent way. But a special devotion to the
Divine Perfections is something in addition to this worship. All
worship our Blessed Lord as God and Man; yet some have a special
to Him in the Blessed Sacrament, some in His Infancy, others in His
while the devotion of others is to the Incarnation in general. Thus it
is with devotion to the Attributes of God. Some are altogether, without
this devotion, the absence of which in no way impairs their worship of
God. But just as some devout souls live in the Passion, without any
special attraction toward the Infancy than is implied by holding the
so some souls live among the Attributes of God by a sort of daring
and this dwelling place of their devotion is to them what Calvary, or
or the Tabernacle, are to others. Some also have a special attraction
one Attribute rather than to the rest. Sister Benigne Gojos was drawn
to honor the Divine Justice, Father Condren the Divine Sanctity; and
mentions a Spanish lady whose peculiar devotion was
to the Divine Patience. We know that there can in reality be no such
things as separate Attributes in God, because He is a Simple Act, and
therefore His Own Attributes. But these perfections are the ways in
He invites us to regard Him. [Absolutely speaking the Divine Attributes
are not distinct from the Divine Essence, but here we mean a
by way of man's intellect.] They are different sides of His character,
different aspects of His majesty, and therefore appeal differently to
souls, and appear to work different works of grace within us. Hence it
is that They become the subjects of a special devotion, or of several
But this devotion to the Attributes of God stands in a very particular relation to devotions to the Incarnation. If we were to suppose that devotion to the Incarnation was one kind of devotion to God, and devotion to the Divine Attributes another, and that we were free to pass the one by and to adopt the other, we should fall into the most deadly error which could beset the spiritual life. Our Lord is the appointed way to God. The Incarnation lies all round Him, and faith has no access to the Throne except over that region, whether they who traverse it have explicit knowledge of its true significance or not. Neither again is devotion to the Incarnation a stage through which we can pass and then have done with it. It is no scaffolding whereby we mount to the higher devotions to the Divine Attributes or the Holy Trinity, which may be dispensed with when the contemplative soul has climbed those fortunate heights. For our Incarnate Lord is the life as well as the way. We cannot dispense with His Sacred Humanity either in time or in eternity. It is our abiding life. Neither, last of all, can we separate devotion to the Divine Attributes from devotion to the Incarnation; for our Lord, once more, is the truth as well as the way and the life: and the truth is one and indivisible. We cannot sunder what God has joined. It is just those souls, who have laid the strongest hold upon the mysteries of the Incarnation, that are most likely to be distinguished for special devotion to the Attributes of God. When the Blessed Paul of the Cross fixed the Passion and the Attributes of God as the two subjects of meditation for his order of nuns, he implied that there was in mystical theology an occult connection between the two devotions. So in like manner our reading of the lives of the Saints must often have brought before us the fact that souls, immersed in the spirit of the Sacred Infancy, seem to imbibe a special fitness for an eagle-like contemplation of the fastenesses of the Divine Nature. The infantine simplicity of soul, which comes from Bethlehem, claims kindred with that heavenly sublimity of spirit, which hovers almost unalarmed around the mountain tops of God. Thus, to express shortly what seems to contain the chief truth of the matter, there are some souls whose chief devotion to the Incarnation consists in a devotion to our Lord's Divinity in each and all of His mysteries, or in some particular favorite mysteries. It is thus through the Incarnation that they approach the Divine Perfections, and in the Divine Perfections that they most realize the inexpressible sweetness of the Incarnation.
Any special drawing in devotion is a great gift from God. It is one of the most powerful of all the secret influences of the spiritual life. It is therefore of great importance to a man not to mistake or overlook such a Heavenly attraction. Such a mistake is like a man's missing his vocation. Every man, doubtless, has a vocation: so every spiritual man has a devotional attraction, or a succession of them. For a spiritual man is one who dwells inwardly in the supernatural world, amid God's mysteries and revealed grandeurs. He is not a mere tourist who is struck by the sublime or the picturesque of theology, and admires the scenery as a whole, and has not such a familiarity with it as to enable him to break it up into separate landscapes, nor time to brood tranquilly over any of them so as to have a rational predilection for them. He dwells in the world of theology. He is like one whose fixed abode is in grand scenery. He sees it in the morning light and in the sunset's glow. He knows how it looks when the misty calm of summer noon is wafting fragrance over wood and water . He is familiar with it in the vicissitudes of storm and calm. When the distant mountains are hidden by summer's impenetrable rampart of green leaves before his window, he feels that they are there, and that winter's leafless woods will let them in upon his sight. He knows how the faces of the mountains change, according as the light strikes them in the front or from behind, and how a stranger, who has seen them in the morning, would in the evening, spite of all landmarks, be doubtful of their identity. He cannot help having preferences. Predilections are almost a necessity to him. Or at least he must honor, like a true poet, each coming season with an admiration which seems, if it only seems, to do injustice to the season that is past, like the souls who in devotion follow the Calendar of the Church, and honor most the feast under whose shadow they are sitting. So it must be to those to whom the supernatural world is a genuine home. Their life is a life of loves, and therefore of predilections also.
All spiritual souls are thus haunted souls. They see sights which others do not see, and hear sounds which others do not hear. This haunting is to them their own secret prophecy of Heaven. It would be sad to miss so choice a grace by inattention, sadder still to follow a fantastic delusion of earth instead of the Heavenly reality. The soul cannot hear God unless it listens for Him; and listening is the devoutest attitude of a wise and loving soul. Yet they who listen hear many sounds which others do not hear, many sounds for which they themselves are never listening. There are false sounds on earth, which have a trick of Heaven in them. They are like the phantom-bells that ring for vespers, as from viewless convents, in the wilderness of Zin. Yet the Bedouin deems that, with his practiced ear, he can discern their thin tolling from the real sounds of the sandy solitude. The avoiding of delusion is not the whole of safety in the spiritual life. When a man turns his entire life into a cautious self defense against imposture, he is leading perhaps the falsest life a man can lead. There is more danger in missing a grace from God, than in mistaking an earthly beckoning for a Divine. For in the last case, purity of intention soon rectifies the error, while in the other, the loss is for the most part irretrievable. Even in the natural life, and in the spiritual life much more, they are the most unfortunate of men, who linger behind their lot. They are like those who loiter behind the desert caravan. Straightway, as Marco Polo tells us, a shadowy voice calls them by their name, and allures them to one side of the route. They follow, and still it calls, and when they have wandered from the path, a mocking silence follows, more terrible than the deceiving voice. The wind of evening has lifted the light sands, and quietly effaced the marks of feet and camel-hoofs upon the wilderness, as the breeze ruffles out the wakes of ships on the yielding deep, and smoothes the water by its ruffling. They have missed their vocation. It is no use their living now. They might as well lie down and die. Such are they who in the spiritual life linger behind their grace. They, of all men, are the most haunted by delusions, and have the least discernment by which to tell them from realities. A soul that has let grace outstrip it will never see its caravan again. It may die with God; for God is in the wilderness; but faint indeed is the chance of its not dying in the wilderness. Let each man look well to see if he has not within himself a leading from God; and if he has, let him know that it is his one saving thing to follow it.In the kingdom of grace, the law, which has the fewest exceptions, is the one which rules that supernatural things shall graft themselves on natural stocks. Hence it is that a man's devotional attraction is for the most part congenial to his natural turn of mind. Now, it is with spiritual men as it is with poets. Some delight in quiet, modest scenes, in woodland bowers, in tinkling brooks, in rivers that lapse so quietly with their brims on the level of the meadows that the sedge scarce twinkles in the stream, in cottages jasmine-mantled, in kine knee-deep in the cool shallow, in village spires scarce over-topping a coronal of ancient elms, in the fragrance of the bee-laden limes, and in all those evening sights and sounds which tell of weary labor set free and wending to its home, which is an allegory that bears a thousand gentle interpretations. Others delight in the misty plain, in the forest solitude, in the distant horizon of the steppe, in the solemnity of the over-clouded fen, in vast outspread scenes of moonlit sea, or in the silence of deserted cities and neglected ruins. These are the images which recur in their works again and again, as if those aspects of nature were the entire expressions of their minds. There are some whose imagery is all from the tangled lives of men, and the many-sided aspects of human actions, poets who have no still life within their souls, except when they reach the in tensest depths of passions, which at such depths are gestureless and mute. They can clothe in marvelous beauty the objects whose daily commonness most dishonors them. The streets of the city become beautiful in their word-pictures, and the trampling of a multitude makes music in their verse, while the familiar thoughts and things of their own day impart a livingness to their souls, full of nerve and of significance, yet dignified and beautified by the excellence of their art. There are others who like to live in echoing thunderstorms, among the rifted crags of the hollow mountains, who go far out of the sound of suffering humanity, and are dwellers with the eagles. The stun of the thundering avalanche, the black, mountainous, and shipless seas bursting on the iron-bound coast, the cloud-pageanty of magnificently appalling storms, the sobbing and moaning of the winds in purple unsunny glens, the overwhelming silence of the central desert, the creaking of the huge cordillera as the earthquake stretches its stiff limbs upon the rack, the unwitnessed volcanoes that wave their red torches over the silent ghastly whiteness of the creatureless south pole, as if they were earth's fiery banners hung out in space as she races onward, the terrific regions of tumultuous mountain tops with misty breaks between the ridges where humble sequestered vales might be, shapeless waving forms and throbbing silences, shadows in the gigantic gloom of unsunny caves, immense precipices that sleep forever in shadows of their own even when the brightest sun is shining---these are images, expressed or unexpressed, which overcast the works of such minds, and are their genius, their inspiration, their native grandeur. It is in a world of these dread forms that their minds breathe most freely, or rather they breathe freely nowhere else but there. It is to these last that we may compare the souls whose attraction in the spiritual life is to the Divine Perfections. Majestic deserts as they are to the bounded intelligence of man, yet some souls find better nurture there than in the verdant pastures lower down. The eagle chooses his dwelling with as faultless an instinct as the nightingale deep hidden in its bush, or the robin trilling its winter song upon the window sill. We must not call such souls ambitious. They have been lured thither by wiles of grace as gentle and as gradual, as those who have been drawn to the crib of Bethlehem. They are humble, and therefore they are not deluded. Is it not the men of the loftiest conceptions who for the most part have the humblest minds?
It is to such souls that this portion of our presentation on the Christ Child is especially, though by no means exclusively, addressed. The deepest and most profitable devotion to the Incarnation is that which never loses sight, for a single moment, of our blessed Lord's Divinity; and the richest as well as the safest devotion to the Divine Perfections is that which contemplates them in connection with the mysteries of the Incarnation. Our present object, therefore, is to furnish the materials for such devotion in especial connection with the mysteries of the Sacred Infancy, though for a while we must seem to be going away far from them.There are almost as many points of view from which we may contemplate the Attributes of God, as there are individual souls in the Church. Yet there is a similarity of method even among these differences. Some fix their attentions and affection on the Attributes which assert all possible positive perfection, beauty, and goodness of the Most High; and it is plain that the height of this devotion will depend very much upon the height of our own conceptions, although the practice of it will infallibly elevate and ennoble those conceptions in the end. Others, on the contrary, magnify God by their negations. In other words, they fix their loving and admiring look on those Attributes which deny of Him all such imperfection, limitation, partial possession, and mixed sovereignty as seem to us essential to every thing else in the world but God. On the whole, there is more truth to be attained, a nearer approach to a worthy idea of God, by this negative method than by the positive; for it leaves us what the positive runs the risk of not leaving us, that vague and indefinite magnificence which must cling to our idea of God when we have done our utmost to comprehend Him. There are others again who use these negations as if they were rather affirmations, that is, as affirming of God an excellence not in the limited degree or imperfect kind in which possible creatures may possess it, but in a supereminent, supersubstantial, superessential manner, to use their own style of speaking. But this method will be found in reality to be nothing more than a union of the other two. At one time devotion will fix itself on God as He is visible in His works. Some souls will remain all their lives long chiefly conversant with those Attributes which shine forth most manifestly in the mysteries of Creation and Redemption; and other souls will remain for weeks, months, or even years in this contemplation. There are some again whose love allures them rather to lose themselves in the glad thoughts of that inward life which God is leading, and ever has been leading, in His own blessed and sufficient Self. To some the Divine Attributes lie always in the light of the Most Holy Trinity, and they can read God best by the splendor cast upon Him by the Eternal Generation of the Son or the Unbeginning Procession of the Spirit. To others, again, the treasures of the Godhead are unlocked by a series of shocks or sweet surprises, as is the case when we allow the mystery of the Incarnation to unfold for us the hidden recesses of the Godhead. Thus the littleness of the Babe of Bethlehem, touched in our hearts by the faith in His Divinity, sends us by a kind of impulse far into the understanding of His infinity. The shame of Calvary lets us deeper down into His essential glory than we should else have had the momentum to penetrate; for the abysses of God are waters in which it is hard for nature to sink. Of itself it only floats like driftwood on the surface. The thirst and fatigue of Jesus at the well of Jacob throw a light around him as Creator which has a startling clearness and compels an instantaneous worship of speechless tears. This is the characteristic of devotion to the Divine Perfections through the Incarnation, that it impels us by these shocks deeper into the hiding places of the Immense Majesty than we should otherwise have been able to go. It is then of this last sort of devotion to the Attributes of God that we shall have chiefly to speak in this section. We must, however, bear in mind that the more excellent our devotion to these Attributes becomes, also the more vague, indefinite, obscure, and shadowy becomes our view of God's sublimity. It is not with this devotion as with some others. Here we always purchase clearness at the expense of height and depth and breadth. We contract the dimensions of God and diminish Him, nay, not seldom we must also reverse His image, in order to see Him clearly. Hence, therefore, this devotion, to become a devotion of predilection, implies in the soul abundant gifts of faith and of tranquillity---two graces so congenial that they seldom lie far apart. We must have a great gift of faith; because then we feel the less painfully poor nature's hungry gnawings to see and to understand. We must also possess tranquillity of spirit, dove-like brooding souls, else the vast outspread magnificence will only wink before us like lightning, showing nothing when it lightens, but only dazzling us with its after-darkness. We shall discern nothing in it. We shall never accustom ourselves to it as a light to read by. We shall see it double, or divided or restless, or colored, by straining at it unquietly. A soul truly versed in this devotion to the Divine Perfections is one who has learned to see in Divine darkness, in a holy night, better than in terrestrial day, and to whom the indefinite has become more defined than the definite. Distance is necessary to vision. A man whose spiritual life is in this glorious devotion is one who, like many men physically, sees things far off better than things which are near, and who has removed God further off from him by the magnificence of his conceptions of Him rather than brought him nearer by the familiarity of his contemplation, and who now sees Him better in the immensity of that distance and in the confusion of that light in which to unpracticed eyes He is simply invisible altogether. He who looks with quiet patience into any unoccupied spot of blue in the midnight Heavens will soon people it for himself with stars. So are they who look for God.
Now, it is a characteristic of devotion to the Divine Perfections through the Incarnation that the Incarnation supplies us with a number of legitimate and not delusive images, and even with measures of distance, which, as it were, bring the infinite within our compass by breaking it up into many infinities. Yet it is at the same time a characteristic of such a devotion that these images and measures of distance, being themselves Divine things, do not in any way impair that vagueness, indefiniteness, and obscurity which are absolutely essential to true ideas about God. This is another of its recommendations. We have seen already how by its shocks and surprises it enables us to penetrate further into each of the Divine Attributes than we should otherwise have done. We now see also that it brings this sublime devotion to God's Perfections within the reach of many more souls than could otherwise have practiced it, inasmuch as they could not have existed without the nutriment of images, or without the resting places of those measures of distance which the union of our Lord's Human Nature with His Divine supplies to us in every mystery, and back to which we can always retreat without in reality losing any ground we may have gained. The entire world of devotion to the Incarnation has perhaps never yet been explored. Almost every age of the Church develops some new treasures in it, discovers gold in unsuspected places, and even widens the horizon so as to enlarge the view. Perhaps the least of Divine mysteries must of necessity be unfathomable, simply because it is Divine. This much, at any rate, may be said, that no one has gained even a comparative perfection in his devotion to the Incarnation who has not applied it to the purposes of discovery in God, of observations on his Attributes, of anticipation of that Blissful Vision in which eternal life consists.
But, while out of the seven methods [See Note below] of devotion to the Divine Attributes enumerated above we couple the last with the Incarnation in a special manner, we must not suppose that the other six are in reality independent of that life-giving and God-revealing mystery, or can be detached from it. All that can be said is that it is less prominent in them. Let us then begin by occupying ourselves with a method of using all these six methods, either separately or collectively, which will be found exceedingly congenial to the mystery of the Incarnation, and, if original in form, guilty, we may hope, of no other originality. It is this. God is especially Life. The Life of God is His Blessedness. It is Himself. To have life in Himself is the unshared prerogative of God. The Son drew it eternally from the Father's fountain. The Holy Ghost rejoiced in the eternal possession of it from the one fountain of the Father and the Son. Not so much as a shadow of this excellence rests upon any created thing or person. It is a height in God too high to cast any shade over creation which lies in its littleness close under His feet. From the more or less unconscious feeling of this characteristic of Life in God's incommunicable grandeur it has come to pass that it is not an uncommon form for devotion to the Incarnation to adopt, that of throwing itself upon the various lives, which our Lord is supposed to have lived. When we cast the mysteries of the Incarnation together into great groups and masses, we make His life threefold, Joyful, Suffering, and Glorious. The most complete form is that which distinguishes eight lives in Him, his Unborn Life, Infant Life, Hidden Life, Public Life, Suffering Life, Risen Life, Ascended Life, and Sacramental Life. Into these molds devotion to the Incarnation pours itself, and comes out in forms and shapes of the most surpassing beauty. Some of us get so used to these life-molds that we transfer them to our devotion to the Attributes of God, and, besides their facility from habit, we find many unexpected conveniences and congruities in them of exceeding value, whilst they not only help to keep the Incarnation continually before us, but lead us to find our actual devotion to the Divine Perfections in the depths of the Incarnation---thus landing us, though starting from different points, at the seventh method of devotion to the Divine Attributes of which we have already spoken. It is difficult to make this clear to anyone who has not practiced it, while to one who has, it has already made itself so plain that it does not need an explanation.
There are two peculiar advantages of this method of devotion to the Perfections of God. The first is, that it does not confine us in any single contemplation to the use of only one of the seven methods enumerated above. We can use them all, separately or collectively. We may pass from one to the other with the rapidity of thought, playing upon them as musicians play upon the keys, or we may glance at them in their unity and completeness. We may weave, unweave, interweave, our thoughts of them as we please, at once gaining variety for our contemplation without any damage to its simplicity, and also emancipating ourselves from the trammels of too much formality and legislation, which are less applicable to this devotion than to any other, and which most men have already outlived when they have reached this stage in the cycle of prayer---outlived at least so far as the amount of it is concerned which once was needful, and so far as the minute subjection to it is concerned, which, at the outset of prayer, is often the best part of the prayer itself as well as of the systematic legislation. The other advantage is that its forms singularly fall in with and minister to correct theology, in a manner which turns out to be of no slight consequence as we advance in devotion to the Divine Attributes. We look at God as living so many different lives, though there is neither time, space, succession, nor mutation in Him. When we are thinking of one of his lives, or, to describe the process more accurately, gazing at it, we put aside altogether the other countless lives which He is at that eternally-present moment contemporaneously living. It is not that we forget them; for they are always lying half consciously in the background, and influencing us by keeping us indefinite, which is what we require. But we purposely put them aside, and look at that life of God as if it was His whole life, that is, as if it were God Himself. Thus, by degrees, we get well into ourselves as our standing idea of God that He is what He is, that He is the infinite things which He is, that His perfections are not perfections of His, but are Himself. To say of God that "He has," is to be thinking of creation and outward things; to say of God that "He is," is to be thinking of Himself. Thus the simplicity of God comes to be the foundation of all our devotions to His Attributes from the beginning, and not merely the ultimate idea reached, and often uneasily as well as imperfectly reached, after many trials and failures, imperfectly, that is, even with reference to our capabilities of reaching so sovereign an idea.
When we are contemplating our Blessed Lord's Public Life, we do not advert to His Infant Life. The one idea would interfere with the other, unless we were purposely passing from one to the other in order to bring out contrasts or similitudes. When we are with Him on Calvary, we know that Easter lies in front of us, ready to dawn, but we shut ourselves up purposely, lest some streak of that dawn should surprise us, and we gaze upon our Lord in His depths of agony, as if they were His whole mission, as if He had always been there and always would be there, as if all His mysteries were states and permanences, which in a very high sense they are. Our prayer would be speculation or controversy, rather than meditation, if we dealt otherwise with it. So do we deal with these lives of God, which we put before ourselves as the objects of our contemplation. Moreover, that which lies at the bottom of all the eight lives of Jesus, not only giving them their unity, but also the vitality, significance, and tenderness by which they elicit and exercise our devotion, is our faith in His Divinity, which is always working indistinctly in the mysteries of the Incarnation, even when we perceive it least or are even willfully prescinding from it. His Divinity, the Divinity of the Word, occupies the same position with regard to all these eight various lives, which the Simplicity of the Divine Nature occupies with regard to the perhaps eighteen lives in which our prayer may be used to look at God. So that, from the point of view of this peculiar method here advocated, the analogies between the devotion to the Divine Attributes and the devotion to the Incarnation are most singular and most important.
Finally, we connect these
lives of God with the Incarnation in
direct and obvious manner, by which also we gain for all the first six
methods of devotion to the Attributes what seemed at first sight the
privilege of the seventh, namely, those sweet shocks of surprise which
carry us so deeply into God. In other words, we reduce our first six
into our Seventh, without deducting from anyone of them that which is
special and characteristic about themselves. For when we have
these lives of God, or any number of them, we fall back in a sort of
of spirit upon the Babe in His manger, or the Carpenter-Boy at
or the Man upon the Cross, and behold Him at that moment awfully and
living all those lives in the fleshy recesses of a Sacred Human Heart,
or, in another way, the Sacred Human Heart living them in God.
When a finite mind occupies itself upon an object which is vast and simply infinite, as God is, its observations will almost present the appearance of its having itself created the object in the contemplation of which it has been engaged. The variety of men's views of God will equal the variety of minds which take views of Him at all. We seem to make our own God, because we see but a part of Him. The character of our own mind imprints itself so strongly on our conceptions of Him, that it really looks as if we had but projected Him from our own thoughts and then called Him God. Every thing is true of God which may be honorably said of Him. Apparent contradictories will be found true of one Who is infinite. But in truth all this appearance of unreality thrown over our conceptions of God is but the tribute of our ignorance and blindness to His unimaginable infinity. Thus the life of God will divide itself differently to different minds. Things in God, which appear to one mind to lie apart from each other, to another mind will seem identical. All that is absolutely necessary is that all divisions, whatever they may be, should be understood to be faulty divisions. If they were not acknowledgedly such, they would lead to falsehood, and not to truth. They must all contain each other, repeat each other, and be at once complete and incomplete each of them in itself. We must be aware that this is the case throughout, just as much as we must be aware of our Lord's Divinity while we are musing on the mysteries of His Humanity. God stands so full in His own light that, when we look at Him in front, He is invisible. We must throw His own light upon Himself by changing our position, first here and then there. He does not move. He is in omnipresent repose forever. But we catch glimpses of Him by the aid of our own mutabilities. Not one of these lights is true, not one of them false. For practical purposes they are all true. They only become false when they claim to be an adequate illumination of God. Some of these lights we gain by looking at God as an external immensity, which is the loosest and least accurate view of Him there is, yet the one commonest to most minds. Others, and of deeper import, we obtain by looking at God as enclosing us, as a tree sometimes encloses a stone, as if we were within God, as we might be inside a temple, or inside the ocean, yet uncommingled with it. Then we do not so much look at Him as an external immensity. We are in contact with Him. We only stand straight, because we are built up in Him, walled up on all sides against our own tendency to struggle and melt back into our original nothingness. This is more nearly our true position than the other. We are all built up in God, and can only act toward each other through Him and in Him. This is a terrifying view of life to those who do not love. Pantheists break down the partitions, and make us dissolve into the Divine life, so that we ourselves are part of God, and, if a part of Him, then, God being God, in some sense the whole of Him. This is but the poetic form of atheism. But our best and deepest lights, the fewest in number because the observations are so hard to take, are gained from our looking at God as inside ourselves, with our littleness compassing His infinity, so that we are all likenesses of Mary during the nine months she carried Jesus in her bosom. These lights are very rare; but they are so much nearer the truth that they are worth almost any number of the rest.Venturing then to look at God's eternity as we look at our Lord's Three-and-Thirty Years, it seems as if we might view Him leading eighteen different lives, different lives which are yet but one adorable life, that has neither past nor future, but an eternal present---neither movement nor inequality, but an everlasting equable tranquillity. Much worship comes out of few thoughts, where God is concerned. His magnificence in our conceptions is not in the richness of detail, but in the vastness of solitary grandeurs set in immense spaces, like the constellations of the Southern seas. Thus we may adore His secret life out of sight of all His creatures, hidden from the first, hidden now, forever hidden. We may worship His secret life as it is disclosed to those who see the Vision in Heaven, the object of our own yearnings and perpetual patient discontent with self. We may worship, it is the one business of our lives, His secret life as far as it is shown to faith. We may contemplate with perplexed wonder the life of God as it is affected both by the existence of His creatures, and their worship. He has a life in the material world, a life in the moral world, a life in the intellectual world, a life in the spiritual world of grace, a life in the world of glory. God has also a public life in external government, which is His life as King. He has a life in punishing; for His vindictive justice is one of His incessant grandeurs. He has a life in rewarding, in which He manifests His inner treasures by the copious outpouring of them upon His creatures. He has a different life in each of His different creations. He has a life in the fortunes of humanity, considering our whole race as one, and He has another life in each individual soul of man. He has a life which is imitable, and which is disclosed to us in order to be imitated, and a life which is visible but perplexing to our finite views, and so not imitable, and finally an unimaginable life. These are the lives of God with which our prayer may reverently and fruitfully employ itself. We know that He has many more lives than these, and that many more will strike other minds. We know that He is living all these lives at once, and that He cannot live any of them separately. We know that He is complete in each one of them, and self-sufficient, and infinitely adorable. We know that of Him in each of these lives we may predicate all conceivable positive perfection, and deny of Him all conceivable possible infirmity. We know also that the beautiful transitory darkness, which He sometimes deigns to throw over our breathless souls, is a better and a nearer thing to Him than all these lights of ours---better than words, for it is simply indescribable---nearer than thought, for thought dies in worship then. But when He withholds that gift, which we must not ask, when He does not come down Himself, and proclaim silence in our souls, and press us to Him in the dark, then is it by these other, or like modes, of conceiving of Our ever-blessed Maker and Father, that He himself mercifully invites, nay, even lovingly provokes, the daring littleness of Our prayer to compete with His magnificence.
There are three imaginary epochs in all the lives of God, according to the view which the creatures of any of His creations take of Him. There is the eternity before creation at all. There is the time which is the duration of our own particular creation. There is the subsequent eternity, which, whether occupied with other creations or not, is only occupied with us as being our home attained and our beatitude fulfilled. From our point of view all these epochs have strongly-marked characteristics of their own. The eternity before creation is distinguished by the blissful self-companioned solitude of the Most Holy Trinity. The act of Creation, and its prolonged continuity in the Preservation of creatures, appear to confer upon God Attributes which He could not have had except as Creator, or at least to bring into action beautiful depths of His Nature which, so in our ignorance it seems to us, could have had no functions in His own inward life of Three Persons. The eternity after the Doom, whether occupied with fresh creations or not, to us represents God as joyously reposing upon the immense family of glorified creatures whom He has introduced into His Own home. Now, some of the lives of God, which we contemplate in our prayer, belong to one or other of these epochs, while others belong to two of them at once, and others abide unchanged during all the three. But we take no count of this in our contemplations. It is essential to us that each life of God should seem His whole life while we are gazing upon it. We are not musing on the history of God, but on God. We must have Him therefore before us as the eternally and immutably present God. There are other times when we may venture to look at God's eternity, as if it were a successive biography; and deep thoughts of adoration will flow in upon us as we so regard it. But it does not belong to that peculiar method of devotion to the Divine Attributes with which we are now concerned.
When we contemplate the secret life of God, which is out of sight---space, which to our conceptions at least is practically boundless; for what will that thing be like which confines upon us, yet lies outside its boundary?---space, although populous with possible creations, dwindles to a point, becomes too insignificant to be taken into account, and does not affect the life of God. His own life as God is something vaster than His occupation as Creator, and it is upon that invisible life that we fix our eyes, and worship. There is a joy so limitless that it fills the infinite nature of the Three Divine Persons, which in no way flows from creatures, nor is it in any degree influenced by them. In this indescribable, self-sufficing beatitude resides this secret life of God, which He is living at each point of space, in each point of time, and far away beyond all space, and unbeginningly and unendingly before and after all time. We gaze upon it, and see nothing, and are satisfied. The very shapeless thought of it is happiness to our love. We have no figures to express it by, no analogies by which we can bring it home to ourselves, no comparisons the use of which would not seem to us an irreverent license of the imagination. We know that such an adorable life exists, and the mere knowledge bathes our souls in joy. We are out upon it ourselves, and it is a deep sea, without features, landmarks, or constellations. There is no compass to point, to vary, or to dip; for it is itself---that deep, horizonless, glad ocean, it is itself the ever-present home of the Eternal.
Then, again, the
boundless waters of that sea suddenly of
change the scene. They come nigh to a lovely coast, studded beautifully
with the spirits of Angels and the souls of men, who gaze in silent or
vocal rapture upon that many-featured deep, which rolls without
before them. One while it is a halcyon calm, such a calm as creatures
not know, and its peacefulness tingles through their spirits. There is
a brooding beauty over the waves which would destroy life by the
ecstasy which it produces, were not the immortality of the fortunate
immensely fortified by God Himself. Then again come storms of such
grandeur as to turn their whole capacious lives of glory into pure
loud, and swelling, and glorious, sounding along the eternal shore.
are mornings there, dawning upon new sights seen far off in God, like
things coming into view from inexhaustible eternities which lie far
still, and out of which fresh splendors may be traveling toward the
perpetually. There are noons also, hushed, deep, entrancing, which
to make visible, or sensible, or intelligible, the stationariness of
Then come evenings of such restful loveliness, that the spirit is
in the contentedness of their uncreated beauty, and loses itself in a
of unutterable satisfaction on the bosom of God. It is these evenings
make eternity a home. There is no night there, but there is the
spirit of nocturnal beauty, at once brightly, softly, starrily shading
the depths of
the Incomprehensible, and by shading them enabling the eye to see far
down into their glancing and mysterious caverns. But there is no
succession of these visions. All are at once. One does not paint out
the other. The storms do not break up the calms, nor the calms assuage