Frederick William Faber, D. D.


Bethlehem: The Infant God, Part 2

It is dawn, and noon, and evening-light always on that exulting sea. It is the life of God disclosed in abiding vision to the loyal and the pure.

There is, again, the secret life of God, as it is shown to faith. It is no mere boundless presence to which we strain our imaginations, no mere exquisitely piercing essence which we vainly endeavor by the eloquent exaggerations of language to express. God bids faith unveil no little of His hidden life even to us distracted wanderers amidst the excessive occupations and uncongenial weariness of life. One while as the exulting Trinity of Persons, another while as the infinitely blissful Unity of Essence, God manifests Himself to us with immutable variety. Ever before us we behold the Unbegotten Father, out of Whose pacific fountains all God head is rapturously flowing; evermore magnifying and adorning His Own primacy by the coequality of the Spirit and the Son; evermore seated on His awful throne with a peace and a stability which it almost oppresses created spirit to contemplate; lone yet not alone, in a peculiar grandeur which is the more solitary because it is equally and rightfully shared with His Word and with His Love; a Person to Whose supremacy there is no corresponding subordination; hidden in the blaze of the incomprehensible love wherewith the Spirit and the Son environ Him; the home of the Divinity where no mission reaches; the Person furthest in Name from creatures, yet with the most creature-like relations of the Three; a Father in Whom all sweet fatherhoods have been eternally combined, out of Whom comes the indulgence of all justice, and the omnipotence of all forbearance; unspeakably compassionate yet unspeakably immutable, infinitely tender yet infinitely imperturbable; a Person so inaccessible and yet so incredibly familiar that it is hard to think of Him without tears of love. Ever before us we behold the Eternally-Begotten Son, in His unbeginning beginnings, in His never-ending ends, issuing forth from the Father in blinding abysses of light; glowing from out the ineffably refulgent sanctuaries of uncreated life; always being begotten, always the very actual, instantaneous, coequal, coeternal image of the mighty Father, and Whose Generation is a glory and a loveliness enough of its Own self to fascinate numberless creations with its beauty and its splendor, and to overwhelm them in an intolerable excess of unending jubilation. Ever before us we behold the Eternally-Proceeding Spirit, in his Procession at once beginning and yet being perfect for evermore; flashing before us like a sea of light from out the blazing ocean of the Father and the Son, in an uspeakable orderly tumult of uncreated gladness; jubilant exceedingly with speechless cries and silent music and all the unvocal clangor of unutterable triumph, whose beauty is as that of fire, with banners flying and golden chariots mutely rolling along its everlasting march, as if the vast Godhead were blissfully unfolding itself in its Own unimaginable sunshine. Yet ever before us also we behold, likest of all things to the Vision of the Blest, the fixed, immutable, simple, self-sufficient, featureless Unity of Essence, upon Whose formless lineaments is written unchangeable, unbeginning, unfinishing repose; one point of indefinite whiteness; a splendor which stirs not and does not flash; far-withdrawn yet everywhere, all-embracing yet separate as a sanctuary, whose adorable monotony, seen at one glance, yet brooking, unmoved and unscintillating, the searching gaze of all creations, is of its Own sole Self light, and nourishment, and rest, and jubilee, and immortality, to the believing soul.

There is the life of God, again, as it is affected by the existence of His creatures, and their worship. How could He be just, if He had no subjects to whom out of the plenitude of His power He had made concessions and given rights, or with whom in the condescensions of His familiarity He had made covenants and had entered into engagements? How could the Father be merciful to the Son, or the Father and the Son to the Holy Ghost? How can there be compassion for the Coequal? Yet how sweetly God triumphs in His mercy, as if---dare we say it?---He were proud of that most gorgeous Attribute! But in some sense is it not to us He owes the possession of this Attribute, over which He broods with such complacency? Oh, in how many ways, ways we should never have dreamed of, had He not revealed them, ways still unrevealed and so undreamed-of still, does He allow creatures to enter into His deep tranquil life, and as it were to make currents on its surface! What an endless field of contemplation there is here! We may not roam in its wide pastures now, or we shall lose sight of Bethlehem; but how adorable the while is that dread immutability, into which such changes are ever flowing, and ceasing to be changes when it has silently engulfed them!

What are all sciences but sparkles of the life God leads in the world of nature and of matter? Every phenomenon is a transparency in the many-colored mantle in which He has arrayed His immensity. Every law is but a fraction of His will, and therefore a partial revelation of Himself. Yet the sciences are many, and each science has many kingdoms, and each of those kingdoms many provinces, and each province its subdivisions and departments; and the mightiest intellect, in the activities of a long life, is unequal to the exhaustion of one of these departments. Discovery advances with gigantic strides, and at each step rather destroys all limits to our conjectures of our ignorance, than widens the horizon of our knowledge; while at each step it is always adding to the bulk of those beautiful revelations of God, which are the treasures as well as the records of the sciences. The symmetry of each whole science is another kind of Divine revelation, and the connection of the sciences another, and the unity of all collective sciences yet another and more magnificent. God has a life in the wayward uniformities of each wild flower in the fields, in the inexplicable instinct of each variety of animal and insect, in the quivering orbits of rolling worlds, in the stately stepping of the clouds which march to the music of the upper winds, in every sight and sound and fragrance and taste of nature. All comes, not merely came at the first, but comes now, forever comes out of the mind of God, and is a disclosure to us of His life, holding undisclosed in every atom more mysteries of that life than the countless ones which it discloses.
The material world is as when we look through the pellucid sea and behold the many-colored pebbles, catching the sunlight and glinting at the bottom, and the fairy-like gardens of the ocean flora, and the radiant fauna feeding or basking or making beautiful war amidst those submarine groves and rosy shades, and the gauze-like medusae floating, like the bells out of which the musical sea-murmur is ever ringing as the restless water swings. But the moral world, the world of wills and crimes and virtues, is as when the sun is overcast, and the blue sky is an inky gray, and the rude wind ruffles the waves, and the subaqueous revelation is withdrawn, Yet even there, too, is an order, and a legitimate recurrence of phenomena, and a beautiful harmony of cycles, and an imposing majesty of law, all full of revelations of that stormy life of unattainted peace which God lives in the wills of men, a life sometimes awfully incrusted with human crime and worthlessness, like the life of unknown brightness which the diamond leads in its unviolated mine. This, too, is a life of God which we often ponder; and the past lives of every one of us must have written volumes of it in our thoughts, with hardly one sentence in them all which would not feed a hundred controversies, but which for us have done something better in feeding our devotion.
From the right point of view, what is the whole of the intellectual world but one enormous realm of inspiration, a singular gifted creation of power and beauty, of eloquence and song, with the life of God deep hidden in its thought-mines, nay, with millions of Divine lives flung off in the shining spray of its cataracts of glorious words? In each felicity of the human understanding there is a life of God, in the glow of each discovery a thrill of His eternal jubilee, The philosopher's chains of cogent reasoning, the historian's just and faithful eye, and the benignity of his appreciation, the creations of the poet, with his glory-nurtured mind and grandeur-haunted imagination, the articulate speaking of the artist's pencil:. the chisel of the sculptor filling the dead marble with looks and voices which speak an intelligible eloquence for ages, an eloquence whose silence all nations listen to and understand, the almost creative breath of the Christian statesman's sympathetic science, who is all artists in himself, and whose divine occupation reflects a sort of divinity on his mind, the fanciful fabrics of fiction-writers that hang for a few moments across the sky like the gay arches of the rainbow, or like the transient prismatic belts round the waists of the fluent waterfalls, the new life which the fruitful formality of diligent induction is everywhere calling up, making the old new, and the barren to be the mother of many children,----what are all these but inspirations, pieces of Divine life which lose their bloom in our hot hands, plastic things from Heaven taking endless shapes, yet never altogether losing the ancestral look and air of their Divinity? Wild world of intellect! even amidst its life of riotous beauty and degenerating truth God lives a life solemn, holy, calm, and nigher to the surface than His life mostly lies.

In the world of grace the pulses of the Divine life are almost visible. Each actual grace is an impulse of the Divine will proceeding out of the depths of an illimitable mercy, an exquisite justice, and an infinite intelligence. And who shall number each day's actual graces on the earth? Each additional degree of sanctifying grace is a still more wondrous mystery; for it is a distinct communication of the Divine nature. Yet the drops of a rain shower which covered a square league would scarce equal the number of these additions of grace which souls on earth receive in the course of one solar day. The extraordinary graces of the Saints are all different revelations of God. Each Saint is a gospel of himself, notably different from all other living gospels, yet harmonizing almost to miracle with them all. Each conversion---and there are thousands daily---is a Divine work of art, standing by itself, each in its own way being a heavenly masterpiece. Every Christian death-bed is a world, a complete world, of graces, interferences, compensations, lights, struggles, victories, supernatural gestures, and the action of grand spiritual laws. Each death-bed, explained to us as a God could explain it, would be in itself an entire science of God, a summa of the most delicate theology. The varieties of grace in the individual soul are so many infinities of the one infinite life of God. The world of grace is truly the theatre of his visible miracles. God is marvellous, says Scripture, in His Saints.

In the world of glory, too, there is another life of God. There is one life of Him as He is seen in the Vision; and to that we have already alluded. But there is another life of Him as He lives in the glory and blessedness of those who are admitted to gaze upon that Vision. The varieties of grace seem to come the nearest of all created things we know of to being strictly innumerable. But we may well believe that the varieties of glory, which we hardly know at all, far out-number those of grace. If God has a life in each wild flower, what a beautiful immortal life must He not have in each discriminating shade of glory! Look over that huge empire of the angelic legions, and over the multitude of human souls which the Holy Ghost Himself calls countless, sum up the variety of their powers, and the serene capacity of their faculties, and their almost fathomless affections, all filled full to overflowing with indescribable beatitude, and what a life of God, what a manifold tranquillity and work of all His blissful Attributes are there! That vast world is a lake which images the mountains of the Beatific Vision which surround it, and, by imaging it, changes it, and makes it, as it were, a second created Beatific Vision, another life of the blessed God.

God has a life also in His government. Upon what strange principles, as we count them, does His providence frequently proceed! His justice is not as our justice, nor His kindness as our kindness. He has other measures. Sometimes how swift His justice is, sometimes how slow! sometimes how proportionate His retributions look, and sometimes how disproportionate they seem! How swiftly He flies to His end, and then another while by what circuitous routes and stealthy feet, as if they were shod with moss, does He circumvent His end! Why does He claim here, and then concede there? What must the Divine logic be like, when to finite apprehensions it is so often necessitated to look illogical? How He drives His creatures like sheep, and again how He caresses them, as if He were their nurse! He makes Himself poor that He may have the pleasure of begging from them, and then opens Heaven and rains down incredible happiness upon them. On this side there is punishment almost preceding the offence, and on the other a tortoise-footed vengeance pacing after a guilty nation for centuries and purposely failing to come up with it. There are few things out of Heaven which teach us so much of God as His style of government.

His life in punishment is wide enough to be a life of itself, apart from the other functions of His government; and the same also may be said of His life in rewarding. In both He is an unknown God, Whom we never come to know, and yet practically always know. Both in punishing and rewarding He always takes us by surprise, because His processes are always unexpected. What act of God is more like a law of natural development than that which consigns the finally impenitent soul to its hopeless doom? Yet can we believe that ever soul yet has heard that sentence at his judgment-seat but it has been horribly taken by surprise? Must it not also require a special concurrence of Omnipotence to hinder the glad soul from breaking, and so spilling its immortal life, during the first moment which follows the judicial decree of its everlasting bliss? There is science enough to be inferred from Hell to construct a very faithful and adorable image of God. As He rewards, so He punishes, yet with differences. As He punishes, so He rewards, yet with differences also. The punishments of Purgatory, are they not a Bible in themselves? The punishments of earth! if we think of them, what are our thoughts but either adoration or unbelief?

How differently God has dealt with His creation of men from what He did with his creation of Angels! yet the two were one family of Jesus. So God may have----may have them now or may have them in time to come----millions of creations; and it is plain that His life in everyone of them will be different. As these differences of creations, though not beyond the possibility of being conceived, are in fact beyond our conceptions, so also must the differences be of those mysterious, half-hidden and half-disclosed lives which God may lead in them. Again, it is manifest that humanity, the whole human race of all times and climes, is a unit, and has a progressive history and a very significant destiny of its own, apart from the separate fortunes of the individuals who compose it, the living atoms so dear to God as we each of us know ourselves to be. Now, God must have some life of glory in this humanity as a whole; for Heaven transfers to itself none of the history of earth, but only earth's biographies. Empires cast no shadows over the population of the courts above, neither do nationalities erect partitions there. The discoveries of the scientific few are obliterated there by the instantaneous superior intuition of the Baptised child. The mightiest revolutions of earth, the grand streams of its ethnography, the fertile consequences of its physical geography, the stupendous developments of its civilization, the immense catastrophes of its historical ruins, are no further represented in Heaven than as they told for or against the salvation of this or that particular soul, who now because of them, or in spite of them, is safely housed in its Father's home. Yet humanity has its significance as a unit, and finds it in some mysterious life of most hidden glory which God lives beneath its vicissitudes and its destiny. The life of God in the individual soul is still more intimate and intelligible. Who does not know how true this is? The moment our past becomes plain to us we see that it has been full of God. There is nothing of which we are more sure than that we have never been left to ourselves, never left to live this life of ours alone. In every thing we have been two, not one. Hence it is that there is no such thing as unhappiness in life except when through a mistake we feel or fancy ourselves alone. Moreover, what a life of wonders our life has been such a scriptural thing, when we come to consider it, so like the lives of the patriarchs of old, God with us and we not afraid, the commonest events being under another aspect Divine interpositions, all our sorrows judgments, all our joys the comings of Angels, as if each of us were Isaac or Jacob, Samuel or David! When our outward life has all been uneventful smoothness, our inward life has often been a romance of almost thrilling interest, full of situations too bold for a dramatist's invention. Surely God cannot have been to others as He has been to us! they cannot have had such boyhoods, such minute, secret buildings up of mind and soul! We have a feeling that about our own lives there has all along been a marked purpose, a Divine specialty. Yet, in truth, how many millions of such tender and equally special biographies is the most dear and blessed God living in men's souls throughout all years and all generations! We are not singular among men: it is God's love which is singular in each of us.

God also lives a visible life which is imitable, and which is intended to be imitated. We cannot conceive of any creation which should not, even unconsciously, copy its Creator. All created life must in its measure imitate the Uncreated Life out of which it sprung. The very habits of animals, and the blind evolutions of matter, are in some sense imitations of God. The fern, that is forever trembling in the breath of the waterfall, in its growing follows some pattern in the mind of God. Much more then is it so in the moral world. The character of God is the one foundation of all morality. The principles of morality are immutable, because He is immutable, the beauty of Whose holiness they faithfully though faintly represent. God is our model. The Incarnation even has not given us another standard. It has but made visible, with an application to creatures, the ways and fashions, the characteristics and propensities,---if we may venture on such terms,----of the Invisible God. To watch God, and do as He does, startling as it sounds, is the rule of holiness. We are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect,---not as perfect as He is, but perfect with the same kind of perfection.

But God has also another life, which is visible, but not imitable. We feel that while He is our rule in some things, in others He is simply the object of our timid worship. This life of His is not merely admirable, as being above us, but it is perplexing, as being apparently contrary to His Own character. Eternal punishment is no model for unforgivingness. The adorable look of waywardness, which there is in God sometimes, is one of His inscrutable terrors, before which we cower and weep silent tears: it is not a justification for any unequability of ours. The courtesy of a sovereign is a different thing from that of a subject. The immensity of God's sovereignty is visible upon His lineaments in the most familiar condescensions of His love. Even His forgiveness is sometimes rough, because of the sublimity of His justice.

Then, last of all, there is a life of God which is simply unimaginable, and this brings us back almost to the first life of Him we mentioned,---His secret life out of sight. It would be natural, in speaking of God, to end where we began. But this unimaginable life is something more than hidden. It is the infinite residue of all that is unknown about God. It is the life in which His nameless Attributes, those unrevealed perfections of which theology can take no cognizance, come into play. It is all the possible life of God, beyond what is known, beyond what is conjectured, beyond what is probable. It is the Divine line ill its deepest depths, self-poised, self-centred, self-glorifying, unrevealable to any possible creature, uncomprehended even by the Human Soul of the Incarnate Word. We can make no picture of it to ourselves, because it is based on no ideas. If we think of it, a mist falls on us through which loom forms without outlines, proportions without shape, splendors without color. Only to know that there is such a life as that, is a new kneeling-place for our worship, a new home for the soul. As we see on earth by the light of the unrisen day, so our souls see fresh worship, fresh fear, fresh love, in the light of this dawn, which is not only now unbroken, but which shall never break at all on any possible created mountain-top.

We have but glanced at these various lives of God, in order to illustrate the kind of materials which they furnish for contemplation. The division of them is perfectly arbitrary. They might be divided differently, and yet with equal truth; or they might be multiplied almost indefinitely. We find in all of them the attributes of God under somewhat varying aspects; so that if our devotion is resting at the time on anyone particular Attribute rather than the others, we may fix our gaze upon it as it is manifested in any of these lives. Above all, we must discern in every one of them an undistracted love of ourselves, a love not averted, suspended, weakened, or less minute for one moment, but as if it were the exclusive and full occupation which engrosses the vast being of God. In certain wide perplexing fields of view it occasionally seems to us as if some of the many threads of government might be falling out of God's hand, or as if some pressing business of the world might have to wait until other more pressing business had been attended to; and even the appearance of this, for all we know it to be impossible, will make us tremble. Nay, we sometimes unsuspectingly act on what we intellectually know to be an unworthy thought of God. It is therefore of great importance to us, unless when we are under strong impulses in prayer, to remember God's remembrance of ourselves; for whatever excites our confidence in Him at the same time quickens our own sense of responsibility toward Him. Lastly, we may apply all these lives to any of the mysteries of the Incarnation, and especially, because of the obvious contrasts they furnish, to the mysteries of the Sacred Infancy. In whatever situation the gospel narrative, the necessity of the case, or our own tender imagination, may place the Holy Child at Bethlehem, in Egypt, or at Nazareth, He was at that moment leading all these lives. Not one of them was obscured in Him for an instant. There was not one of them which He was not always embracing with the fulness of Divine self-consciousness. Moreover, the affinity between some of these lives and some of those mysteries will give rise to many most touching meditations, which will show us new truths, or old truths in a new light, and at the same time inflame our hearts with new love, and therefore with more abounding reverence.
But in all devotions to the Incarnation it is necessary, together with our love and worship of our Blessed Lord's Divinity, to join also a love and worship of His Person. It is not enough to remember that He is God. We must remember also that He is the Word, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. The Babe of Bethlehem in His Mother's lap is living all those Divine lives as God, yet not as the Unbegotten Father or the Proceeding Spirit, but as the Eternally-begotten Son. It is the Word Who is incarnate, because there is a fittingness in Him for such a mystery. It is the Second Person Who is a Babe at Bethlehem, and to Whom therefore the Father and the Holy Ghost stand now in new and peculiar relations. It is the Second Person Incarnate Who is one of the earthly Trinity, and therefore gives the character of the Father and the Holy Ghost to be borne by Joseph and Mary. It is the eternally, invisibly, silently spoken Word of the Father, Who is now in time visibly and audibly outspoken to men. It is by one Person of the Three, rather than by the other Two, that creation is brought into such transcendent union with its Creator. The particularities, which theology instructs us to ascribe to the Son, are deeply marked upon the Incarnation. By virtue of them the Incarnation of the Son is a different mystery from what the Incarnation of the Father or the Holy Spirit would have been. It would not perhaps be affirming too much to say that there is not a single mystery of the Three-and-Thirty Years which does not owe some of its features to our Blessed Lord's Person, that is, to the fact of His having been not the First or the Third Person, but the Second Person, of the Holy Trinity. Thus in all our devotions to the Incarnation, as we must never separate His Human Nature from His Divine, so also we must not separate His Divine Nature from his Divine Person. Four elements compose all the mysteries of Jesus,---His Body, His Soul, His Divine Nature, and His Divine Person. The different position of these four elements, or rather the different lights cast upon them by the events of His human life, are the causes of the differences in the mysteries. Distinct meditation therefore on our Lord's Person, and a distinct adoration of it, cannot be too strongly urged on those who wish to profit to the uttermost by the rich food which the Incarnation ministers to the soul in prayer. On the whole, the distinction is often not sufficiently kept in mind. Hence arise vague ideas of our Lord's Divinity, as if it was even hardly so definite a thing as a nature, much less in a Divine Person; and the consequences are a confused generality in devotion, which often hinders the development of reverence, and also a missing altogether of the delicacy, and refinements and spiritual subtleties in the Incarnation, which are of themselves such marvellous disclosures of the Divine magnificence.

We may now proceed to consider that other and simpler method of devotion to the Divine Attributes, which is so directly connected with the mysteries of our Lord that it may almost rather be considered a branch of devotion to the Incarnation, seeing that no devotion to the Sacred Humanity is complete without it. It consists, as has been said, of the contrasts and surprises which arise from the Divine Perfections being brought into contact with any of the mysteries of the Three-and-Thirty Years, or of the Blessed Sacrament, which is the prolongation of the Three-and-Thirty Years up to the Doom, or beyond it, if there be any ground for the opinions in favor of an eternal reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in Heaven. It furnishes us, therefore, with endless, yet very similar, meditations, founded on the model of what we have already supposed was Mary's first act of worship in the midnight cave. The extreme similarity of the meditations is, however, accompanied by that invariable freshness and sensation of unworn novelty which always go along with the great thought of boundless Godhead.

Let us take an imaginary scene in which to contemplate the Divinity of the Babe of Bethlehem. Let us hasten into the wilderness, where there are the fewest real images of creatures to distract us, and those of the most placid kind, and in themselves, as well as because of their fewness, full of thoughts which lead to God. Thither we can summon all the creatures of the universe to adorn and illustrate the glorious Attributes of the Infant God. Our Lady and St. Joseph are in the very heart of the desert on their flight into Egypt, weary, yet less anxious now that Palestine is left so far behind. It is in itself an astonishing mystery, the Creator flying from His Own creatures, and in such helpless guise. Two creatures only are with Him, to wait upon His created nature; and those two are of such exceeding holiness as to be the wonders of creation not only till the end of time, but forever. We will suppose a pair of thin-foliaged acacia trees islanded as it were in the desert scene, a well between them, with a merge of faint verdure, and some of the gray aromatic desert plants creeping over it, and all around nothing but a shining extent of tawny sand, outspread like an interminable lion's skin. Mary lays the Child gently on the dry sand under such shade as the acacia affords, near to the edge of the well, while the sun is sloping to its setting, so near that the risen moon is momentarily filling with distinctive light. Let us draw near in spirit to adore.

As we gaze upon Him, we are struck by His likeness to His Mother. That likeness is one of His veils,----also, well considered, one of His disclosures too, disclosing the reality of His Mother's grandeur, disclosing also that Divinity which she resembles, in whose image man was originally created, and no man such an image of it as He, because all others were but images of His created nature, images of God through Him. So that even the Human Face of Jesus was unspeakably Divine.

What can be more weak and helpless than that little weary Child, in Whose first months this hard pilgrimage to Egypt was to be endured? Yet both that weakness and that weariness are full of mysteries. In His weakness faith sees His omnipotence. That little One is boundless, boundless as an unimaginable sea; and what awful might does not such immensity suppose? We are obliged to call His power by the name of power, because we have no other word to express that sovereignty which our highest ideas of power dishonor rather than rightly estimate. It is something which can reach strange, nameless heights beyond the region of any intelligible miracles. It implies unthinkable depths and possibilities of facile, gigantic, indefinable energy, all lying as it were coiled tip in that handful of human life, that tiny burden of swaddling-clothes upon the sand. He is weary because He has been carried all day, poor, uncomplaining Babe, hunted by men as if He were some beautiful wild beast of the wilderness whom they were eager to slay for the loveliness of His spoils. He has been for hours helpless and cramped in the bandages that swathed Him, and His limbs ache with the monotonous posture. Yet not the less, rather all the more, we recognise Him as the strong, unfatigued Creator, Who built the mountains, anchored the seas, lighted the volcanoes, and is at that moment making the crust of the great and ever-quaking earth undulate like a poplar in the wind or an uncut hayfield in the breath of the sunrise. He it is Who sent the swift stars on their rushing courses, and built the ponderous worlds out of an ever-fluent web of weightless elements, and is now undistractedly attending to all those things as He lies upon the sand. It is He----to take but one instance from nature's least important provinces---Who is at that moment thoughtfully, considerately, specially, proportionately ministering to every atom of phosphoric life in all the transitory, heaving, moon-sparkling hollows of the liquid sea.

Sleep comes over Him, as He lies upon the sand. What a wonder also is His sleep! He is the Unbeginning Eternal. He was an eternity old before creation began, and has never known vicissitude. Yet to His creature's eyes He has had a grand everlasting life of portentous changes, which yet stir not His adorable immutability. To Him what a mysterious mutation is the shadowy spell of sleep, which takes the light of His eyes captive so swiftly and so stealthily, His infantine weakness succumbing to its approach! He has shut His eyes to the sunset, and is in the dark. Yet there is no night to Him. We know Him best as unapproachable light. Were God,---do not look up to Heaven, but on that little Slumberer beneath the acacia branches,---were God to close His eyes in sleep one instant, all created life would perish utterly. All matter and spirit would rush together, and cease to be, and time and space be buried in the instantaneous universal grave of things. Yet look how closely the eyelids are drawn down, how regularly the bosom lifts itself in little heavings, how more and more the audible the deeper breathings are! God is really asleep.

He wakes and weeps. He wakes, the intermission of Whose vigilance is impossible. He weeps, Who is illimitable, uncreated joy. All pleasures that we can think or name, or think further than we can name, vast, deep, rich, unutterable, steadfast, ungrowing, are in Him, or rather He is a gladness beyond them all. In truth, the very perfections of all conceivable joys would be imperfections in His joy, and detractions from His blessedness. Look at the little bird sipping from the huge sheet of an American lake, then back to its nest in the silver fir. So will countless Angels and men be eternally drinking vast torrents of joy on the merest brink of that Babe's being, and He be no more drained, and no more affected by it,---nay, less so, because in reality not at all,---than gigantic Lake Superior, whence the little singing-bird took one sip and flew away. Is it the bands which are around Him that hurt Him, and make Him stoop to the facile tears which are the law of childhood? Infancy is truly a prisoner in the incommodious swaddling-clothes of those lands, but in that Prisoner on the sand we recognise and worship the Immense. It is He who is the everlasting freedom of the world. He, Who is there circumscribed within a given number of inches, in reality is at that instant expatiating beyond the clouds, and the sunsets, and the great stars, and the frightening vastness of the heavy circling systems, and finds no term, comes to no limit, overflowing all possibilities of space in the grandeur of His simplicity. When we have filled with Him all the worldless abysses that we can imagine, we are then no nearer to an external edge of that Babe's life than we were before. But are His tears always silent tears, or does He, like other children, utter cries, cries of piteous eloquence, inarticulate appeals to a mother's love which somehow finds the right interpretations for them? If it were so, how His puling cry would thrill our inmost soul, a thousand times more than the Archangel's trumpet in the night of doom! From out of the complaining treble of that cry faith would disembarrass the Voice of the Everlasting, the Voice which Scripture compares to the sound of many waters: yet, like the noises of the dumb, His cry is without language. He is without words, Who is the Father's Word. He seems to know no language, of some one sound of whose inward music all languages are but a fragmentary, yet what a ravishing revelation, a revelation which cannot now gather itself up or back into the oneness which it has forgotten! All language is but one strain, escaped to earth, from that silent jubilee of the creatureless majesty of God, in those old inconceivable epochs, which were not epochs, because there was no time.

Look at His poverty, Whose every circumstance claims tenderest pity and devoutest tears. We see it in the faces and the garb of Mary and of Joseph, and in the barrenness of provision which is around, beneath the tent of the open sky. Yet in that Child of poverty we adore the majesty before Whom the heavenly hierarchies are at that instant prostrate, and tremble, even though they comprehend it not in its fulness. His riches are inexhaustible and incalculable. He is the plenitude of creation, out of Whom millions of new hungering and thirsting creations could draw their manifold gleaming wealth and make no impression on the fullness. His treasures are not only indescribable in their degree, but unimaginable in kind, with infinities which are not suited to our wants, or to any expenditure of creatures, but belong, if we may so speak, to the transcendental seeming needs of the illimitable intelligence and holiness of God, to those adorable necessities of the Divine Life out of which inevitably proceed the Eternal Generation of the Son and the Eternal Procession of the Spirit.

In the Child vouchsafing to be eager at His Mother's breast, we adore, as the hymn of the Church suggests to us, the God Who feeds the world, and all its creatures, with unforgetting providence. The beasts in their desert lairs, the birds of the untrodden woods, the fishes of the sea, the populous insects beneath the barks of trees or under the stones of the fields,---all these, together with sinners in their palaces and the homeless poor in the rich men's streets, are being fed by Him. He is catering for them even at that very hour, feeding Mary and Joseph themselves by that desert well, and managing, with all the strange varieties of climate and season, the provisioning of the million-peopled earth, with all its attendant arrangements of meteorology and chemistry. In those two sciences, infants now, but promising some day to be giants, the Babe could have told us secrets which would startle the wisest scholars of the present generation and revolutionize all the science of the world.

As the breaths of wind pass momentarily over the evening waters, dimpling them with smiles of light, so the unaccountable smiles of childhood light themselves in the infant face, and pass away; The Babe on the sand also smiles; and His smile is the expression of His innumerable perfections in the marvellous unity of a human countenance. Smiles reveal character: so His reveals the character of the All-holy. It is the smile of Him Who is perhaps at that moment judging a soul, and saving it by His mercy. It is the smile of Him Who sees Hell, and is keeping it in order, feeding its fires, and by His momentary judgments adding to its desolate population in the glory of His justice. It is a smile in which we may catch, like the glow of sunset on tower or tree, the reflection of that grand worship in Heaven, which He there beholds Who is still there, having come on earth without ever leaving the Bosom of the Father, and which He not only beholds but is actually receiving. There is a wondering look, too, in His little eyes, when He smiles. Yet what wonder can He have? To Him belong the knowledge and the sight of all hearts. His glances illuminate all secrets. His eye without effort takes in at one gaze all the realms of space and all the kingdoms of spiritual intelligence. To it lie open at that moment all the hordes of thoughts of each Angel or soul that ever was or will be, whether expressed in conversation, treasured up in books, or embedded in the unuttered silentness of profoundest cogitation. Must not His look of wonder be part of the dissembling of His lowliness, when His consciousness is at that moment dwelling in the light of all possible science, counting every sand in the wide wilderness, and noting the movements and biography of every errant fish in the vast seas, down even to each light-flash that glances from their silver scales? He sees Calvary also, and the dread monotony of the changeful Passion, and us with our sins, and Himself, and the Father, and the Holy Ghost, and wonders not, though in His beautiful sincere deceit He wears that wondering look of human infancy.

What separate claims also to our worship has every feature of His countenance! The lips which Mary with timid frequency will dare to kiss, they are the very lips which are one day to pronounce our last irrevocable doom. They will perhaps speak words in Heaven, like the grave minute-bells of eternity, each of which will surpass the revelations of earth, and will feed our souls with tingling wisdom and divinely impassioned love. Those lips are rosy now in the freshness of their childhood; but they have one day to be white, withered, parched, and blood-mottled on the Cross. But to speak not of separate features, but of His whole beauty, it is not so much a disguise, as a tempering down, of His uncreated loveliness, a sheathing of His Godhead incomparably compassionate and wonderful. It is like Himself, like His Own love, nearest to a revelation of what He is. We all long to see the Father. Ages ago, Philip, the Apostle, told his Master so in the name of all of us. Why is it that the Father so draws us, so pulls at the strings of our hearts, as if we must see Him, or be homeless and holily repining till we have seen Him? Look at the Child upon the sand. He is the veritable beauty of the Father, the beauty the Father sees in Himself, all of it, a complete as well as a faithful representation of it. Moreover, the Father's love of Him, that beautiful coequal Word, and the beautiful Word's love of Him, not return of love, but contemporary, unbeginning love, are, or is, (what shall we say?) the beautiful, jubilant, ever-proceeding Spirit. If we sin-maimed creatures, who have barely crawled out of our evil into the sunshine of God's compassion, can see all this in His childish beauty on the sands, what did Mary see?

But the sun is setting fast. Now the orb has sunk, sending a quivering effulgence of gold and crimson from its low level on the horizon over the unbroken smoothness of the stony sands. Mary and Joseph fall on their knees to pray, as if the pulses of light rang golden bells up in Heaven to tell them it was compline time. It is not to the Heaven above they look, nor to the ever-present Invisible, Whose presence men acknowledge by shrouding their faces with their hands; but, like believers who steady themselves in prayer by fixing their eyes upon the tabernacle, they look and pray to that Almighty Child Whom Mary has laid for a moment on the sand.

Who can doubt the subject of their contemplations? Verbum caro factum est: the Word was made flesh! It is the joy of joys to the whole earth. It is the mystery within whose precincts other mysteries dwell in light. It is the making visible of the invisible queen of all mysteries, the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Of all other mysteries but that, the Incarnation is itself the chief. Creation ranges itself beneath its banners. It was therefor. the Divinity of the Word Which Mary and Joseph were adoring. The more that visible circumstances seemed to put forward emphatically and prominently our Lord's Humanity the more did they provoke faith in His Divinity. But the Mother and the Foster-father did not approach that mystery as we have done. We have had to feel our way to it, to persuade ourselves of it by as it were touching it, and making sure of it palpably, by means of geography, scenery, and the measures of time and space which science gives us, limiting even while enlarging our conceptions. They saw it in a simpler way, by higher processes of the soul, as became the grandeur of their holiness and the privilege of their vicinity to God. Still it was faith in His Divinity, which was the soul of their communing with him. The actual practical faith, that our Lord is God, is something higher and sweeter than meditations on the mystery of the Incarnation, or on His Divine Perfections. It is our very life as His redeemed and pardoned creatures. It is the basis of all devotion, as it is the ground of all holiness. Without this faith, and the holy fear and reverence which spring from it, devotions to the Sacred Humanity have little better than an artistic beauty. The deeper we go into this doctrine, the more real seems the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament, the more lofty the majesty of Mary. But the Sacred Infancy is the especial field in which this faith should expatiate. Comparisons are seldom true in sacred things; else we might almost say that Bethlehem is more a devotion of our Lord's Divinity even than Calvary; and yet it is His Divinity which is the soul of each mystery of the Passion. The vision of the Holy Child to the Venerable Margaret of Beaune, with the words Verbum caro factum est written on the palm of His hand in letters of gold, is a kind of symbol of what our devotion to the Sacred Infancy ought to be. We should desire that our Lord would do for us spiritually what He did for St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi materially, on whose heart those same words were engraven. He Himself told St. Gertrude that every time a Christian bowed reverently when they were uttered, He offered for him to the Eternal Father all the fruits of His Sacred Humanity; and on one occasion---by Divine suggestion, if I remember rightly---Margaret of Beaune spent several hours simply repeating these potent words, in order to impetrate from the Eternal Father mercy for blasphemers. With a like spirit the Church bids us sink upon our knee as we daily pronounce these words in the last Gospel at the altar.

In these days we must take great heed to our faith in our Lord's Divinity. Heresy one while neglects our Blessed Lord's Humanity, and another while His Divinity. In our own times it is the fashion of men to develop, as they phrase it, the human features in Christ. They talk, in the empty, pedantic grandiloquence of the day, of exhibiting and producing the human element of Jesus. Thus to an unbelieving people religion has neither facts nor doctrines in the strict sense of those words, but only symbols and views. In astronomy men delight in making the dubious nebula resolve itself into the lucid separateness of individual stars; but in theology they reverse this process. There they are fain to superinduce vagueness over what has once been clear, so as to make theology a shapeless nebular light, about which they can theorize and conjecture as they please, finding in its huge spiral convolutions or the lineaments of its ragged edges such fantastic likenesses as made the men of old give their names to the constellations. Now, whence this love of vagueness in the matter of religion, joined with such a craving for definiteness in all other departments of human knowledge, but from a desire to evade the yoke of faith without the inconvenient boldness of publicly rejecting it? On our part, therefore, the spirit of reparation must be always on the watch to bring its tender succors to the rescue of our Lord's honor at the point of attack, wherever that may be. So now, while the faith keeps us in an equable and intelligent entireness about our belief, reparation will lovingly devote itself to a more than usually fervent worship of the Eternal Word.

But in the desert of Mary, Joseph, and the Babe, we almost need to be forgiven even this momentary glance at an evil world. The swift twilight passes. The night-wind sighs heavily over the wilderness. All but the wild beasts and the houseless poor are in their homes. But tonight the Creator Himself is one of the houseless poor. He is without a home, the hollow of Whose hand is all creation's home. He is without shelter, Whose heart is the one eternal shelter of all angelic Spirits and of all human souls. He is homeless Who is as it were Himself the home of that Eternal Father, Whose Bosom is in return His Own eternal home.



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