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THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST
Christ Jesus, very Man and very God. The Christian belief concerning the Natures and Person of Jesus Christ is that He is "God the Son made man for us." He has, therefore, two natures that of God and that of man. Is this the creed of Robert Browning? Undoubtedly it is. If from the many passages in the poet's works in which he speaks of our Blessed Lord we take this one or that, it is possible to urge that Browning is not speaking in his own person, but dramatically through his characters, and it is undeniable that this or that particular quotation may not express the poet's religious belief. But if we go through his whole works, and note down all the references to the Person and work of Jesus Christ, it is, I think, impossible to come to any other conclusion than that Browning was a believer in the divinity of our Lord. In Pauline, which, as I have explained, was the poet's first work, he addresses our Lord in the most impassioned and devout terms—
"O thou pale form! . . .
Oft have I stood by thee
Have I been keeping lonely watch with thee
Or leaning on thy bosom, proudly less,
Or dying with thee on the lonely cross,
In The Ring and the Book, which was published when the poet was fifty-six, we have
LOVE COMPLETES THE IDEA OF GOD his mature utterances, and in the character of the Pope it is impossible to doubt that Browning speaks his own thought, just as he does in Rabbi Ben Ezra. The Pope, communing with God, reflects that the Infinite chose this one earth out of all the multitude of peopled worlds for stage and scene of His transcendent act, beside which even creation is but a puny exercise of power. This story of the redemption of man by Jesus Christ he loves with his heart, and finds it not contrary to his reason. The conception of God as only all-powerful and all-wise is "an isoscele deficient in the base."
"What lacks, then, of perfection fit for God
Limitless is the power, boundless the intelligence, let love be unlimited in its self-sacrifice
"Then is the tale true, and God shows complete," the Pope says. Beyond the tale of this transcendent love he reaches into the dark, feels what he cannot see, and still faith stands. Whether the Incarnation be a fact, absolute independent truth, and not merely truth reverberate made to pass into the mind of man, the same truth in a new form, "what matter so intelligence be filled?" He is not perplexed by the difficulties raised by
1 The Ring and the Book: "The Pope," ll. 1395-70.
VERY MAN AND VERY GOD
critics concerning the transmission of the gospel story, nor with the riddles set to solve. The very difficulties of the narrative are but as those of life; we must march over obstacles we compel to give way before us; the moral sense grows but by exercise; there would be no progress in the world did solid, bare truth always confront us. The unceasing criticism of the Sacred Narrative keeps the life and work of the Lord Jesus ever before the minds of men; the efforts to destroy the faith serve but to make it stronger and grow more vigorously, just as grass by cutting and rolling becomes rich and compact. In the exquisitely beautiful poem Christmas Eve is a description of the midnight mass at St. Peter's at Rome, in which Christ is represented as
"He who trod,
Very man and very God,
This earth in weakness, shame, and pain;"
dying on the cross, but to come again "the One God, All in all, King of kings, Lord of lords."
In the companion poem, Easter Day, Christ is addressed as "Thou Love of God!" Christ speaks of Himself as the One who created man and underwent death in his stead in flesh like his. Christ demands to know why this is doubted. Is it upon the ground that in the
THE ALL-GREAT THE ALL-LOVING
story too much love had been found? could God love so?
"Believe in Me,
Who lived and died, yet essentially
Again, in the powerful and remarkable poem An Epistle of Karshish, the Arab physician, who, travelling through Palestine soon after the death of our Lord, has heard the story of Jesus and how He raised Lazarus from the dead, and writes it all as a medical case for the benefit of his old teacher, exclaims
"The very God! think, Abib; dost thou think?
Can he imagine the Creator in human form, with a beating, loving heart like a man's, with sympathizing face like the human face, with love heaven-sent, with God's own self to love, crying to him
"And thou must love Me, who have died for thee. So said Lazarus did the One who raised him from the tomb say to him. Then in the beautiful and touching poem A Death in the Desertwhich describes the last scenes in the life of the aged disciple John, whom Jesus loved; who lay on His breast at the last paschal supper; who stood by the cross; who saw the awful vision of 1 Christmas Eve.
THE SOLUTION OF ALL QUESTIONS
Patmos; and who now lies dying in a cave, hiding from the bloody hands of the persecutors of the followers of Christ-we have the testimony of the beloved disciple to the truth as it is in Jesus set down for us by a poet who must have believed and loved the story, to have given it to us in words that burn with the love of Christ, and which are redolent of the odour of Christian sanctity. If Browning were not a believer in the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity when he wrote this exquisite poem, or if he were merely uttering dramatically words such as St. John might have spoken, then the poet must forfeit his claim to be considered what he has always been held to be a religious teacher with a definite message to his age. The beloved disciple, as he presses his finger on the leaden plate on which is traced the text, "I am the Resurrection and the Life," declares that "the love that tops the might" is "the Christ in God."
"I say the acknowledgment of God in Christ
In the poem entitled Saul1 we have perhaps the noblest of all Mr. Browning's religious poems. It is a Messianic oratorio in words. David is shown to us charming away the melancholy of Saul by his music and prophecy. In a 1 Dramatic Lyrics.