The Birth of God
God the Son had two births, one for each of His natures, and yet in a sense the two births are one. That the eternal Generation of the Son of God entails His temporal Nativity, and thus His Passion and death on the Cross, is a mystery. God is born in eternal light, and yet He is born into darkness and cold obscurity. He is infinite joy, and yet He appears in the world uttering cries of sorrow for sinners. He is one with the Father, and yet He will be abandoned by the Father in the place deserved by men on Calvary. What mortal mind could conceive of such a mysterious union of seemingly opposite perfections?
God is beyond the world even as a presence within it. God manifests His divinity most eminently in His self-abandonment for the love of creatures, a prerogative that is His and His alone. When a man attempts to do the same, he is guilty of idolatry. Whereas religion is an expression of reason, so reason can prove the falsity of the worship of contingent things. However, between a correct judgment about the world and the apprehension of God’s essence, there is an infinite abyss.
What kind of Redeemer did God teach the Jews to expect? What were they actually expecting? There can be no doubt that the prophets knew Our Lord. They knew the Blessed Trinity, because they possessed His life within their own souls. They knew the Incarnation and preached Him to His people.
The ancient world had wise men who nevertheless lacked this supernatural wisdom, and it also had those who having been given the true faith then tried to pervert it. These latter necessarily grew up near the Tabernacle of the Lord, the fount of wisdom: corruptio optimi pessima. So by the appointed time for the birth of Our Lord, the Jews expected, not a Son to come into the world in the name of His Father, but a man to come in his own name. Certainly they expected a man capable of self-abandonment, that is, of love of neighbor; but for whose sake?
Consider the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Our Lord fed five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, then hid Himself from the thousands who wanted to take Him by force and make Him king. In feeding them, He had loved them. However, His message was not “do what thou wilt.” It was not “love thyself as I have loved thee.” He had not come to preach the divinity of men. Redeemed humanity was not to exist for its own sake, so Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, Who is redeemed humanity, did not come in His own name. Therefore when His followers wanted to incite a revolution and put Him on the throne just to fill their bellies, He disappeared.
God put the promise of the Redeemer on the lips of many pagan sages. We know the prophecy of the Sibyls, of Baalam, and Vergil’s messianic Eclogue. We know of the Egyptian priest Hermes' prophetic lament in the Asclepius. We know that Gautama foretold a coming world-teacher, and that the savage kingdoms of America recognized the first Catholic missionaries in their own prophecies.
It is equally true, however, that the pagans could not name the true God, and that the wisest of them refused even to try. The Athenians erected an altar to an unknown God, Who Saint Paul finally preached to them when he arrived there. Laozi declared that the Way that can be named is not the eternal Way; but that was before Jesus said, “I am the way.” The Buddha observed that all of the so-called gods of India could yet suffer, but he was not an atheist. Rather than set himself up as a prophet against these idols, he insisted that he was only a fallible man. He refused to pretend to bind his followers to a Truth that he did not possess. To stand on these assertions, in a time and place when it was customary to give the guru the same reverence and submission that was due to God, was an astonishing display of humility. However, for whose sake had he so humbled himself? In the end, no Buddhist can say.
Our Lord did not overturn natural religion; He did not abolish that which was in accord with reason. On the contrary, He fulfilled not only the law and the prophets but a fortiori all merely natural wisdom as well. To the extent that a man living in a heathen land grows in the love and service of God, he abandons the idolatrous cults of the state and the theater, and he becomes an esoterist, consumed by the quest for union with the eternal metaphysical reality. To the extent that the esoteric doctrines of the world religions have a transcendent unity, that unity is Christ. However, while esoterism clears the way for the worship of God, its various strains contain only vestiges of the primordial plenary wisdom transmitted to the first Adam; and the mystics who keep them are as fallible as anyone.
In the modern setting, a philosopher could be scandalized by the humility of Christ’s teachings set next to the sublimity of the metaphysical discourses of the pagan masters. While scholasticism could cure this illusion, there is a further point to be observed. The secret teachings of Christ are not like the secret teachings of men. The living God does not require His creature to have a stupendous intellect in order that He make Himself understood. For compared with God, who has any intellect at all? Rather, God will communicate the secrets of His Sacred Heart to those who draw near to It.
A pagan mystic can know God as His effect, and his nondualism is the nondualism of cause and effect, such as that in fire the fire and flame are one. This is only a shadow of the privileged status of a Catholic in the state of sanctifying grace, who can truly contemplate God not merely as His effect but even as His adopted child. God confides in His adopted sons and tells them of His longings and His ineffable love for them. On the part of the child, the ongoing interior conversation that every man has, in his case ceases to be a conversation with himself, and becomes a constant conversation with God. He gradually vanishes to himself. He wishes to be forgotten, to die even within himself, and for only God to remain. God is thus born a third time, now in the soul of the faithful Christian. The life of God in the human soul, if he cooperates with it, nourishes it, and protects it, will eventually bear fruit in the eternal Beatific Vision, for which all men long and all mystics quest. In the meantime, the presence of God in the soul makes it truly holy, giving rise to the same love and compassion that He bears toward His creatures. Therefore he loves his neighbors with God’s own love. “A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
The esoteric is “sacred.” It is set aside for those called to it; it is not to be intimated frivolously, to those who are unprepared for it. To those without understanding, the esoteric cannot truly be exposed, only profaned. The attempted exposal of the so-called secret teachings of the ancient masters in the New Age and Theosophical movements of today has demonstrated the disastrous effects of such “exoterism.” The nonduality of the soul in God has been misunderstood — deliberately so, insofar as that is the inclination of fallen man — as a declaration of the divinity of man. The nothingness of the self has been vitiated as casus belli against objective human nature.
But worst of all, these incomplete expressions of perennial truth, half-preserved down the ages by forgotten men who died awaiting the fulfillment of their wisdom in Christ, are now presented as more or less equivalent alternatives to that fulfillment. And that which is truly sacred, that which comes directly from God and forever unites the soul to Him, has been the most deeply profaned.
Initially the revolt was against true philosophy and the monkish barbarity of its doctors' eloquence. I dare say that this revolt was led by men who loved the poetry of Vergil more than the Psalms.
The captain having been captured, the exoterists then went to work on the general. Luther led the assault on theology. If the humanists said, “All men are wise owing to their grammar,” then the Protestants said, “Every Christian is a Church owing to his faith.”
Finally, the barbarians breached the gates; and once inside, they laid waste directly to the supernatural life of grace itself. They did this by axing the tree of life right at the root and stock, the theological virtue of Faith itself. This was modernism, the synthesis of all heresies, an attack from within the bosom of the Church, like the Trojan Horse. Its false teaching: not merely that every Christian is a Church, but that every man is a Christ!
Now the true Christ really is hidden away, as if in a common manger somewhere, covered over by His enemies, lost as it were amid a world of impostors. Yet He is still here among us. Any man who sincerely loves the truth He will draw to Himself. However, the way to Him is beset by many perils. God will test His disciple’s heart for purity even before He comes into it. The esoteric doctrines of the past are incomplete and ambiguous. They allow the freedom either to convert to Christ or to reject Him. All seekers of truth must eventually come to the cradle of Bethlehem. Perhaps in spite of their sophistication, like the Magi, they cannot receive the manifestation of God until they genuflect before the little infant Jesus and offer Him their most precious gifts: yea, their gold and other treasures, but more, their wisdom. For the price of true wisdom is to seem foolish, to kneel before a poor baby born into poverty. The birth of God is the death of the self, and the darkness does not comprehend the light. They return to their pagan homes changed forever, now dead to the world. As T.S. Eliot wrote:
A cold coming we had of it, Just the worst time of the year For a journey, and such a long journey: The ways deep and the weather sharp, The very dead of winter.' And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory, Lying down in the melting snow. There were times we regretted The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces, And the silken girls bringing sherbet. Then the camel men cursing and grumbling and running away, and wanting their liquor and women, And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters, And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly And the villages dirty and charging high prices: A hard time we had of it. At the end we preferred to travel all night, Sleeping in snatches, With the voices singing in our ears, saying That this was all folly. Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley, Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation; With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness, And three trees on the low sky, And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow. Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel, Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver, And feet kicking the empty wine-skins. But there was no information, and so we continued And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory. All this was a long time ago, I remember, And I would do it again, but set down This set down This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death. We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, With an alien people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.