Excerpts from THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
Fr. Frederick W. Faber, D.D.
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1958
TAN Books and Publishers
Book I: The Greatest Work of God
FOUR GREAT WORKS OF GOD: CREATION, INCARNATION, JUSTIFICATION AND GLORIFICATION
BUT we have a great deal to do yet with the works of God. So far we have only ascertained the canons of perfection by which to compare the works of God one with another; and furthermore that all these canons are fulfilled in the Blessed Sacrament. We must now examine more at length the great works of God and get some idea of the peculiar excellence and characteristic mystery of each of them, and then compare the Blessed Sacrament with them. The result will be to show it has the particular excellencies of all of them, transcending each of them in their own line, and reserving to itself an eminence and beauty of its own beside. Let us take a glance at these great works of God.
There is hardly any mystery the consideration of which is more fruitful in the soul and understanding than that of creation; and yet it hardly gets its fair share of thought from the generality of Christians. In theology it throws immense light upon the Divine attributes, sin, grace, redemption, the sacraments, and similar questions. Much is obscure until reflection on this mystery of creation has illuminated several of the most interesting regions of scholastic theology. In controversy, especially in these days, its importance can hardly be exaggerated. We have been used, and with inevitable force and justice, to repel the arguments of heretics against the doctrine of the Blessed Sacrament, by driving them to defend the mystery of the Incarnation, which they profess to believe, inasmuch as all the objections to the Blessed Sacrament lie equally against the Incarnation. So now, in argument with deists, we may defend the Incarnation against them by showing that the fact of creation is open to just the same objections as the dogma of the Incarnation. Even in devotional theology, meditation on the mystery of creation is of great consequence. In its light many of our Blessed Lord's mysteries give up deeper meanings to us. Our Lady's place in the Catholic system is more easily understood, and her surpassing supereminence more readily acknowledged. Besides that creation is itself a most deep, touching and prolific subject for meditation, as the fountain of all the other mysteries outside God Himself.
How long may we not gaze with a far from useless wonder on that inexplicable interruption of the blissful self-sufficing life of God, and of the never-beginning ages of eternity! God was, and God only was. Yet not solitary, for the Three Divine Persons loved each with an incommunicable love: ever was the Father the fountain of the Godhead, ever was the Son begotten, ever was the Holy Ghost proceeding from Them Both. As it was at creation's dawn, so had it always been, so is it at this hour, so will it ever be immutably. He had nothing to gain from creatures. His majesty was incapable of greater lustre. His essential glory could not admit of increase. His happiness could be as little augmented by the obedience of His creatures as it could be ruffled by their rebellion. He foresaw evil. Nevertheless He created. In the mind of God, the Lamb of Calvary was slain before the foundations of the world were laid. What was it that God could want? Want! there can be no such word when the Most High is in question. Yet because language is so poor and weak I must dare to say that God did want something, or condescended to seem to want something, which it was the object of creation to supply. His power was illimitable; so that nothing was needed there. He had no justice; but then He needed none, and could have none, in our sense of justice, when He Himself, and He only, was. Life, joy, majesty, glory, wisdom, eternity, creation could touch none of these either for good or evil. But mercy, there was no mercy in God; there could be none, that is, in our sense of mercy, because there were no creatures on whom to exercise His mercy. The Father could not show mercy to His co-equal Son and Spirit, nor They to their Consubstantial Spring and Fountain. Creation then (I am using bold words, which will express a truth even though, like all words about God, they fall short and are inexact), creation gave God a. new attribute, the attribute of mercy. His love wanted freedom; it wanted to overthrow, or seemed to want, or stooped to seem as if it wanted. Inside Himself the Eternal Generation of the Son was a necessary act, not a free one; and so likewise was the Procession of the Holy Ghost; but the love of the Most Holy Trinity (again you must bear with my words) overflowed, or outflowed, and the result was creation. For a moment does not this seem to lift the veil, and give us a glimpse into the depths of the adorable life of God? Blessed be His most Holy and dread Name, and blessed be His condescension in the mystery of Creation! We need say nothing of the surpassing beauty or of the varied magnificence of creation. We need not even try to fathom that other incomparable mystery that God created out of nothing, matter out of nothing, spirit out of nothing. He is creating deathless souls out of nothing every minute of the day and night, and everyone of those souls by itself is more wonderful and important than the whole of the material world. We need do nothing more than walk on the brink of creation, and look over into the depths of that foregoing eternity when the Three in One alone was, ever blessed and glorious, and muse on the mere fact of the interruption of that eternity by creation, and we shall see how excellent and Divine a mystery it is, so full of God, so radiant with His innumerable perfections, and all lying in the golden light of the Sun of justice who was not yet to rise for thousands of long expectant years. That mystery is our Mother, for out of it are we come ourselves, nay, the creation of our own souls but a few years ago was a portion of its perpetual continuity.
What a revelation of beauty is the mystery of the Incarnation! The highest angelical intelligence could not have conceived it, without a revelation from God, and Scripture pictures the Angels to us as ever bending over and looking into this mystery, to feed their love, their wisdom and their adoration, out of its depths of glory and of sweetness. The Scotist school of theologians teach that the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity would have been incarnate even if Adam had never sinned, and that the Incarnation was already involved in the very fact of Creation. For if God created creatures in order to raise them towards Himself, He would unite Himself to them in the closest possible way; and that way it now appears is by the Hypostatic Union, the assumption of a created nature to an Uncreated Person. They maintain that Jesus and His Mother were decreed prior to all other creatures, and that all other creatures were decreed simply because of them, and on the model of them; for that He is the First-born of the Predestinate and the Exemplar of the Elect. On this hypothesis Mary would have naturally come into the world by an Immaculate Conception, which would not then have been her singular prerogative. Jesus would have taken of her a glorious and impassible Humanity, and His "delights would have been among the children of men." 3 Sin and the fall gave to the Incarnation its remedial character, with the passible humanity, the mysteries of the thirty-three years, and all the pathetic circumstances of our redemption. The Thomist School of theologians hold, though not unanimously, that if Adam had not sinned, our Lord would not have been incarnate, and that His coming was simply remedial, an outpouring of God's mercy to hinder the utter desolation which Adam's fall must otherwise inevitably cause. Suarez endeavours, but with very limited success, to fuse the two opinions into one system. Without venturing to decide at present, nor until I come to treat professedly on the Incarnation, between these two great schools of theology, I may say that there are many things to recommend the Scotist opinion. So far as the forgiveness of sin is concerned, God could have absolved us from it short of the Incarnation; and even the mercifulness of the remedial character of that mystery is if anything more forcibly and touchingly brought forward in the Scotist view: as if sin, so far from hindering this great mercy, only gave fresh pathos and new tenderness to a gift we might have expected it would have frustrated altogether. The mystery of Creation becomes more intelligible and more wonderful on this view of the Incarnation. The arrangement of the Divine Decrees seems more orderly and more consonant to what God has been pleased to tell us of Himself; and the devout opinion that our Blessed Lady was not included in the decree of sin, and the now, blessed be God! necessary and definite article of the Catholic faith, that 4 she was immaculately conceived, flow from it as simple consequences. But whether we look at the Incarnation as a double mystery with the Scotists, or as a single mystery with the Thomists, what a boundless field of holy contemplation does it not open out to us! The incomparable wisdom of the inventions of God's mercy; the way in which creation is taken up to the Creator, the depth to which He penetrated to gather up to His majesty the farthest outlying reasonable nature, the manner in which He accomplished it by the union of two natures in one Person, the unutterable wonders of a weak, tired, insulted, suffering, dying God,-----well may the Angels desire to look into these things; and if it were not that the will of God is their will, they would envy us their younger brethren, because our dear nature, not their lofty and resplendent one, has been set down for ever at the Right Hand of the Majesty on High.
As the great work of the Incarnation seems to flow out of Creation, and to be the crowning and fulfilling of it, so does the work of Justification proceed from the Incarnation, or hang: from it as its Divine and glorious fruit or pendant. The Justification of a sinner is surely one of the most beautiful works of God, and deserves our most loving contemplation. Looking at it simply as the transit from a state of sin to a state of sanctifying grace, without any consideration of the dispositions remotely or proximately comprehended in it, it is full of wonder and of the peculiar character of the Divine operations. Whether it be conferred on the unconscious infant in the momentary ablution of Baptism, or on the adult sinner by the grace of Contrition, or again by the grace of Attrition united to the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance, it is the work of a single instant. The first moment of the life of grace is the last moment of the life of sin, nay rather it is itself the death of sin. Nothing comes between. Neither does God use the instrumentality of Angel or Saint, but He Himself immediately communicates that grace to His creature's soul, and the creature is justified not merely by an act of the Divine will but by an unspeakable communication of the Divine nature. It is a greater work than the creation, for many reasons. First of all, it implies the Incarnation as well. Then Creation is simply out; if nothing; whereas justification is accomplished on a previously reluctant matter, the corrupt will of man. He, says St. Austin, who made you without you, will not justify you without you. Creation again is ordained for a natural good, justification for a supernatural one. To quote St. Austin again, It is a greater thing, to justify the impious than to create heaven and earth. The good of a single grace, says St. Thomas, is greater than the natural good of the whole universe, and the Church in her collect teaches us that God manifests His omnipotence chiefly in sparing and showing mercy.
Let us take a case to make it clear. A man goes forth from his house into the streets of London in a state of mortal sin. The weight of God's wrath and the curse of the Blood of Christ are heavy on his soul. To the Angels he is a sight of unutterable loathing and disgust, if his state is known to them. He would not dare to have his sins whispered in the crowd, for the contempt even of his fellow sinners would crush him to the earth. He is the slave of the dark demon, in a bondage more foul, more degrading, more tyrannical, more abject, than the horrors of African slavery can show. In his breast, though he hardly knows it, he has the beginnings of Hell, and the germs of everlasting hatred of Almighty God. Cain, savage and gloomy and restless, wandering curse-goaded over the unpeopled earth, was not worse off than he, perhaps better. 5 In the street he meets a funeral, or he comes across a priest by whose demeanor he perceives that he has got the Blessed Sacrament with him. Thoughts crowd into his mind. Faith is awake and on the watch. Grace disposes him for grace. The veil falls from sin; and he turns from the hideous vision with shame, with detestation, with humility. The eye of his soul glances to his crucified Redeemer. Fear has led the way for hope, and hope has the heart to resolve, and faith tells him that his resolution will be accepted, and he loves-----how can he help loving Him. Who will accept so poor a resolution? There is a pressure on his soul. It is less than the sting of a bee, even if it hurts at all. Yet it was the pressure of the Creator, omnipotent, immense, all-holy and incomprehensible, on his living soul. The unseen Hand was laid on him only for a moment. He has not passed half a dozen shop-fronts, and the work is done. He is contrite. Hell is vanquished. All the Angels of Heaven are in a stir of joy. His soul is beautiful. God is yearning over it with love and with ineffable desire. It needs only one cold touch of death, and an eternity of glory lies with all its vast and spacious realms of Vision before him. Neither is he simply as the dropping off of sin's chains had left him; but as if from some secret depths of God's creation, there come back to him, a bright and goodly multitude, the merits of years of grace which had gone from him when he sinned, and he is clothed in such a nuptial garment of spiritual beauty as would blind the natural eye with its imperial magnificence, and to which all the many-coloured pageants of the world are but as dismal, misty, mournful shadows. And yet this work, so beautiful, so wonderful, so altogether worthy of the Divine Perfections, is not done once! only, or now and then, or periodically, or to make an epoch in the world's history; it is being accomplished in a thousand confessionals this day and at this hour, and in churches, in hospitals, in prisons, on shipboard, on the scaffold, in the streets and fields of daily labour, close to the mower or the reaper or the gardener or the vine-dresser, who dreams not that God is in his neighbourhood, so busy and at so stupendous a work. For to turn a child of Satan into a Son of God is so tremendous a work that St. Peter Chrysologus says of it, that the Angels are astonished, Heaven marvels, earth trembles, flesh cannot bear it, ears cannot take it in, the mind cannot reach it, the whole creation is too weak to endure its magnitude, and is short of intellect to esteem it rightly, and is afraid of believing it, because it is so much.
It would take too long to examine as it deserves that other magnificent work of God, Glorification, which flows from Justification. It is, of course, inferior to the mystery of the Incarnation, because as St. Bonaventure says, it is better that Christ should be incarnate than that a man should be glorified. But although it implies justification and follows from it, it has three excellencies of its own, by which it surpasses that mystery. It is superior to it in what it produces; for justification produces grace begun, whereas glorification produces grace consummated. It is superior to it, because it is constant and indefectible, whereas grace is of uncertain tenure, and as a matter of fact is very often lost. Again, justification always admits of growth and of further perfection, whereas glorification is a fixed state and a definite crown of immortal perfection, according to those words of the apostle, When that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. Some earlier theologians, answered by St. Bonaventure, even ventured to give this mystery the palm over that of the Incarnation, as if this were principal, and that accessory. There are, as it were, in this mystery of Glorification, three abysses in which we may behold God working. First of all there is the Beatific Vision itself, the unclouded, intuitive, invariable, direct and simple view of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity, a vision so great, a privilege so beatific that no substance is within the limits of possible creation, to which that vision would be connatural. Catholic theology is full to overflowing of deep, various, sublime and most interesting questions connected with this Vision, breeding in us tenderest love of God and a most intelligent reverence for His glorious Majesty. Yet when the human mind, led by the Church, and assisted by the Holy Ghost, has gone to its uttermost limits, it is just of the abysses of that Vision that the words are true, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor man's heart conceived, what God has prepared for those that love Him. A second depth, which we may go on questioning while our souls fatten on the spiritual nourishment which these grand truths impart, is the "light of glory" as it is called, or that mysterious medium by which alone the created intellect can intuitively see God, and of which Scripture speaks when it says, In Thy light shall we see light. But what manner of light? exclaims St. Austin in the book of Soliloquies, Light immense, light incorporeal, incorruptible, incomprehensible, unfailing, inextinguishable, inaccessible, uncreated, truthful, divine, light which enlightens the eyes of the Angels, and gladdens the youth of the Saints, which is the light of lights and fountain of life, the light which is Thyself, O Lord my God: for Thou art the light in whose light we shall see light, Thee shall we see in Thyself, in the splendour of Thy countenance. when we shall behold Thee face to face. Whether the light of glory be an habitual quality. or an impressed species. or an actual concurrence of God, whether with the Thomists we hold it to dispose the under- standing to receive the Beatific Vision, or deny with the Scotists that it is anything more than an efficiently concurrent cause. it is not for us to examine in this place. No one can study the question in theology without his mind being lifted far above earthly things and his heart burning within him with increased desire of his heavenly country. A third depth of beauty, and of light opened out to us in this mystery of. Glorification embraces the effects of the Beatific Vision on our understanding and will, the things which we behold and know in the Word, and the gifts of our glorified bodies, and the spiritual senses developed in us by the resurrection of the just. We never can know the fulness of this mystery until we actually enjoy it; but Scripture and Catholic theology teach us enough to see that it is one of the most admirable and divine works of God.
3. Prov. viii.
4. Defined in the Basilica of St. Peter by the Sovereign Pontiff, Pius IX, December 8, 1854. Blessed be the mercy of the Most High Who cast our lot upon these days, and kept us alive to see this triumph of our Mother's honour!
5. S. Chrysostom thinks that Cain repented, and was pardoned.