Contemplating Christ in the Perfection of His Person
by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
“If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother; he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God whom he seeth not?” (John 4:20).
I dare say that most of us have meditated, though no doubt insufficiently, on the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and through our contemplation we have acquired a sense of what He is like. Imagine, however, the indelible impression that would result were we to have the unmerited grace and inestimable joy of seeing our Savior face to face!
That beatific encounter might recall the sentiments our souls derive from viewing the most sublime sacred images that are the treasures of Christendom. Yet the reality would surely far surpass the God-given talent of the most inspired artist to capture with his brush or of the most gifted sculptor to immortalize with his chisel.
Let us contemplate Christ without literary embellishment or melodramatics. Let us consider the lines of His face, the expression of His eyes, the resonance of His voice, the elegance of His bearing, in sum, everything that could give us a better idea of His Person. In short, let us use our divine gift of reason to guide our inner vision with the light of truth so that we need not grope in the dark.
We shall begin by reflecting on this insight of
Accordingly, we shall analyze man and from our research draw a few principles that will convey something of the adorable Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In the process, we will see how our assessment corresponds with Holy Scripture. Thus our meditation is of a philosophical order tested by the Divine Word–a proper and logical approach to our mission.
The make-up of man
To analyze man’s moral and psychological physiognomy, we must take into account his manner of thinking, his moral quality, and his daily life. Reflecting on a man from these perspectives, we will be able to form an idea of his person.
To determine a man’s mode of thought, we must consider his profession, since men generally exercise a profession suited to their mentality. Indeed, the relationship between a man and his profession is akin to marriage.
Before a man embarks on a career, he has the basic aptitude and qualities it requires. Later, through practicing his profession, these skills are developed and refined.Thus a soldier, a diplomat, a doctor, and a priest, in discharging the duties demanded by their calling, acquire characteristics that distinguish them from others of different vocations. By reflecting the characteristics of his profession, the practitioner becomes exceptional, so distinct, in fact, that by discovering his profession we can determine his cast of mind.
King to Victim
During His life in this world, Our Lord exercised aspects of all
professions fit for man–from the highest to the lowest. To even begin to
appreciate the perfection of His Person, we would have to imagine the archetype
of every licit profession known to man. Consider Christ as king. In biblical
days, a king held the highest office. Had not
Because His life was one of constant and unremitting struggle, Our Lord was also a warrior, a man of battle. Not only did Jesus defeat and drive out demons, He forcefully confronted the human allies of the Prince of Darkness. Even after He was betrayed into the hands of His adversaries, He humiliated them when, on being asked if He was Jesus of Nazareth, He answered simply, “Ego sum.” With these two words Christ cast His antagonists to the ground. What a magnificent warrior: hurling His enemies on their faces with but a simple affirmation!
Our Lord personified the fulfillment of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. He was Priest and Pontiff par excellence. The priests of the Old Testament prefigured His priesthood, and every priest thereafter would share His priesthood as an alter Christus. On Holy Thursday, Christ was the Priest and Victim of the first Mass, which prefigured His sacrificial offering on the altar of the cross.
Diplomat to servant
Our Lord was a perfect diplomat during His public life. Consider how intelligently He thwarted the machinations of the Sanhedrin: here avoiding confrontation with circumspect and artful speech, there mastering it with impeccably judicious rejoinders. Recall the Gospel account of how they sought to trap Jesus by asking Him whether it was lawful for the Jews to pay taxes to the Romans. Christ not only avoided giving His opinion on an issue He chose not to address but dumfounded His enemies with His reply.
And what lawyer could approach the divine Advocate? Reflect for a moment on His goodness and mercy in defending the souls of sinners, understanding attenuating circumstances and the points whereby a person’s defense should be made. No one ever took up the cause of the accused, of sinners, of the poor–of anyone in need of a lawyer–as did Our Lord.
Consider Christ as one who works with his hands, as does a manual
laborer. Unthinkable? Have we forgotten the carpenter shop in
Christ was a servant, though few kings have washed the feet of their subjects. “But I am in the midst of you, as he that serveth” (Luke ), Our Lord declared, showing how we should live as His disciples.
In sum, were we to list every licit human endeavor, we would find that, in some manner, Christ exercised each with perfection beyond our comprehension. Few men achieve perfection in their chosen profession, rare geniuses in more than one, but only the God-Man in all.
Pattern of all peoples
As the perfection and pattern of the human race, Our Lord embodies all the gifts with which His Father has endowed all the peoples of the earth–the French with their precision, clarity, and spirit; the Germans with their vigor, profundity, and sense of the sublime; the Italians with their gift of theology, subtlety, and diplomacy.
Experience teaches us that God has blessed each people with gifts particular to themselves, and to the degree they embody the spirit characteristic of their culture, they do not reflect that which distinguishes another. One who possesses the delicate and light spirit of the French, for example, is not apt to display simultaneously the vigorous and combative spirit that marks the German.
Our Lord, as we have noted, is the exception to the rule, since as Ruler and Model of mankind, He unites in Himself the gifts and characteristics of every people. Thus at the same time He exemplifies the charm of the French and the strength of the German to an unimaginable degree. And so it is with the best of every race, of every culture, and of every land.
Moved by the Messias
By reflecting on the fact that Our Lord in His Person reconciles all professions and all peoples, we should get some idea of how His contemporaries must have been struck by His superiority, so clearly recorded in Holy Scripture.
Those who followed Christ were rapt in wonder at the outpouring of His resplendently divine gifts. So moved were the multitudes following Jesus that they forgot themselves in His presence. Recall the Gospel account of how the crowds that followed Our Lord into the desert were so satiated by His presence that they neglected to bring anything to eat. Of course, in His infinite goodness–and power–Christ fed the thousands with but a handful of loaves and fishes.
This could not have transpired in a merely natural way. Since Our Lord was the God-Man, above the intellectual perfection of His human nature was the union that His human nature had with the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. From this union flowed a cascade of utterly radiant supernatural gifts.
In Jesus’ presence, people sensed something mysterious and entirely beyond their understanding, which they came to realize was His divinity. They saw at last what Saint Peter professed in reply to His question “But whom do you say that I am?”—“Thou art Christ the Son of the Living God” (Matt. -17).
Perfection of primordial lights
According to Catholic theology, for the same reason that each one of us feels withing himself a tendency towards a specific sin—usually referred to as capital sin—in he contrary sense, each soul is called to reflect a specific aspect of God by especially shining in the practice of a specific virtue. This has been referred to as the person’s “primordial light.” Thus we may conjecture that as one advances in sanctity, his primordial light becomes more evident. Were we to correspond faithfully to every grace that Christ gives, His light would radiate through our poor selves.
One person tends to be charitable, another loyal, another obedient, and yet another serious and responsible. One is inspired by all that is pure and sublime, another by the severe and austere. One has such a love for our Blessed Mother that he cannot hear her name mentioned without feeling every string of his heart stir. Another is particularly touched by all that surrounds the birth of the Child Jesus, yet another by Our Lord’s Passion. All souls are called to practice all virtues, but a particular virtue shines before each in a primordial, a first light.
Imagine Saint Louis Gonzaga, the personification of purity, and emulate
his angelic chastity. Consider
As every virtue reflects its divine Author,
Man of Sorrows
Just as a fruit exudes its sweetest nectar and displays its most beautiful color when it is ripe, so does Our Lord express His full grandeur in suffering.
In suffering, we see human misery most clearly. Crushed by suffering, man groans, moans, cries, flees, weeps, protests, revolts, and is humbled. Suffering horrifies man, and he is terrified by its prospect, but a man who accepts and even embraces his suffering with courage, acquires a quality of soul that others will never attain.
When I look at faces that bear no evidence of having suffered, I say to myself, “Poor soul, he thinks he he’s lived so many years, but, in truth, he hasn’t lived a single day!” The days of a man’s life should be counted not by the days he has lived, but by the days he has suffered. Suffering tempers the soul of man like fire tempers steel. Only a man who has truly suffered has truly lived.
There are many kinds of suffering. The suffering of a crusader who battles the infidel is not the same as that of the king who sends him into combat. The suffering of a sick child differs from that of the mother who cares for him. Different crosses temper different souls.
Jesus did not endure only one form of suffering. He was the Man of Sorrows. Reflecting on His life, we see that He suffered every sorrow a man could possibly suffer. His soul shone brilliantly with all the facets of the jewel of life that is suffering.
Harmonizer of contrasts
As with the gifts of all the peoples of the earth, Our Lord possessed attributes that were in themselves irreconcilable. He was at the same time the most triumphant Man and the most defeated, the most glorified and the most reviled, the most beloved and the most hated.
In His Person Christ harmonized professions, peoples, and attributes that could not be reconciled in a mere mortal. These harmonic contrasts met perfectly in Him because of the fullness of His humanity and His human sanctity but, above all, because of the unfathomable, divine influx of graces that were His as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
Having drawn from our meditation on man’s gifts a faint idea of the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we find that He is the perfect and sublime synthesis of all gifts. And that is precisely why our idea of His Person is so inadequate. Christ’s perfection is beyond our present comprehension. “Now we see as through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face” (1 Cor. ).
Answer to envy
As I note in my book Revolution and Counter-Revolution, beginning around the fourteenth century, a negative and pernicious premise has been fostered by which all who are superior necessarily despise those who are below them. In this light, those who are not great should fear those who are. How can we combat this erroneous view?
Perhaps, in the course of our reflection the thought arose: “This is all well and good, but how could I hope to approach such a Person? One look from His eyes and I would feel like sinking into the ground. Much less would I dare to talk to Him. I would be struck dumb. What could I say that could possibly interest Him? After all, how would the philosophical reflections of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, and the sermons of Saint John Chrysostom, “the golden mouth,” sound in the ears of One who knows everything and has heard all?
Surely when our dear Saint Peter said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinner” (Luke 6:8), he shared our apprehension. He felt so unworthy of Christ’s presence that he wished to vanish from His sight.
Yet, Our Lord affectionately appreciates everything that is virtuous, no matter how small, as a reflection of His Father’s perfect goodness. Thus Christ is the rebuttal to Satan’s lie that the great must despise the small. Our Lord hates evil, but all that is good, however modest, is a tiny spark and expression of the divine and therefore delights Him.
We love that which is great and that which is small precisely because one is great and the other small. We see a majestic eagle in lofty flight: “How magnificent! How beautiful.” We spy a tiny hummingbird hovering over a flower: “How delicate. What a jewel!” Would an eagle the size of a hummingbird delight us? Or a hummingbird the size of an eagle inspire us?
Confidence of sinners
It is true that Our Lord hates sin unconditionally and uncompromisingly. Since He is Virtue itself, He necessarily abhors every taint of evil. Were this not the case, He would not be worthy of our adoration, but while God hates sin, He loves any residue of virtue in the sinner and longs for his repentance and conversion. If Our Lord loves every form and measure of virtue, He loves even that which is but a shadow of virtue. Should He find a seedling of virtue threatened by the weeds of vice amid which it is sprouting, He will nurture and cultivate this fragile flower.
When a soul is in a state of mortal sin, it is dead in the sense that it no longer produces good works. And yet it is the sinner’s faith that moves his heart to repentance and to seek God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance. This faith is a true faith that the sinner has only because God sustains it. Otherwise he would have lost it, and his heart would have hardened and died.
Does God not love the faith that resides in the sinner’s soul? Did He not implant it? Does He not sustain it? Though this faith were the only bond joining the sinner to Christ’s Mystical Body, could Our Lord Jesus Christ, as Head of His Church, despise His own member?
Thus we may understand why great sinners have approached their Redeemer with confidence. Saint Mary Magdalene washed Jesus’ feet with perfume and dried them with her hair. From his cross, the good thief Saint Dismas begged his crucified Savior to remember him when he came into His kingdom.
Their confidence was emboldened because Our Lord is Truth and Goodness, and when the the least vestige of truth and goodness comes in contact with Him it expands and is fulfilled. It is attracted to Him rather than repelled. Fear gives way to faith. It is capital that we understand this aspect of Our Lord.
Fear of the just
But how is it, you may ask, that Our Lord can inspire fear–at times even
in the good? On
It is because God is unfathomable, and while His existence can be known by reason, His nature cannot be fully comprehended by our unaided intellect. Were we to he behold Him without divine assistance, we would disintegrate.
Man’s eyes were made for the light of the sun. Without light we cannot see, but if we were to stare at the sun without protection, its rays would blind the very eyes they enable to see. Man himself was created to know, love, and serve God. The light of His Holy Spirit enkindles our primordial light and illumines our way. But were we to look on God’s face without His divine protection, we would surely die. Hence Moses’ encounter with God in the form of a burning bush (cf. Exod. 33:20).
Our Lord did not manifest His qualities all at once during His earthly life. He revealed them little by little until after His crucifixion, His redemptive mission accomplished. Through His resurrection He manifested His unmistakable Divinity for all to see.
Alpha and Omega
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 110:10) but it is not the end. The fact that we yet live in this vale of tears and have not been consigned to the unquenchable flames of hell is reason enough to approach our Blessed Redeemer with complete confidence. Our continued presence in this world is a sign that He sees in us the seed of a good He loves, even if its fruit is far less sweet than we imagine.
May the light of Christ, born in our souls at Baptism, enlighten our path in the growing darkness of a world that has lost its way and lead us–like Dismas, our brother–safely home to Paradise.
May-June 1998 . The text of this article was adapted from a talk given by Prof.
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira to members of the Brazilian TFP in September of 1971