CHAPTER III The process by which the road of humility leads to the attainment of Truth. The three degrees of Truth. The teaching of Christ about these. Discussion of the difficulty involved in the statement that He learned compassion through suffering. I have stated, as well as I can do so, the blessings to be gained by passing upwards through the degrees of humility. I will now, to the best of my ability, explain the process by which these lead to the promised prize the attainment of truth. But as the recognition of truth is gradual, I will, if I can do so, indicate its three degrees, in order to make it more clear to which of these the twelfth degree of humility leads. (1) We (2) seek for truth in ourselves; in our neighbours, and in its essential nature. We find it first in ourselves by severe self scrutiny, then in our neighbours by compassionate indulgence, and, finally, in its essential nature by that direct vision which belongs to the pure in heart. Observe both the number and the sequence. To begin with, let Him who is the Truth teach you that you must search for truth in those around you before you look for it in its intrinsic purity. You will afterwards learn why you must search for it in yourself before you do so in your neighbours. Thus in the enumeration of the Beatitudes in His Sermon He placed 'the merciful' before 'the pure in heart'. For the merciful quickly discover truth in their neighbours when they extend their sympathy to them, and so kindly identify them- selves with them that they feel their good and evil characteristics as if they were their own. 1. The highest degree of humility -- in which the eyes are kept steadily downward must be reached before the search for truth in its lowest degree -- knowledge of ourselves -- can be commenced.
2. The first main division of this part of the treatise begins here and this should really be the commencement of a new chapter. But for convenience of reference, I have here, followed the Benedictine division. They are weak with those that are weak, with those who are offended they burn. They have made it their habit to rejoice with them that rejoice and weep with them that weep. (1) When their spiritual vision has been made clear and acute by this brotherly love, they delight to gaze on truth for its own sake, and in their affection for it they are indulgent towards errors which are not their own. But how can those who, so far from thus associating themselves with their brethren, insult them in their sorrow and deride them in their joy, possibly discern truth in their neighbours, seeing that they cannot enter into the feelings of others about things of which they have no personal experience? Well, indeed, does the common saying fit them 'a healthy man has no idea of the feelings of one who is ill, nor does a well-fed man realize what a hungry man suffers.' A sick man feels for the sick and a hungry man for the hungry, with familiarity the greater as his own condition approaches theirs. For as pure truth can be' discerned only by one whose heart is pure, so can the sorrow of a brother be most truly felt by one whose heart is sad. But if your heart is to be saddened by the sorrows of others, you must recognize your own evil state, which you may see reproduced in your neighbour, and may thus know how to help him. 1. Rom. xii. 15. And in this you have the example of our Saviour, who was willing to suffer that He might know how to sympathize, to accept sorrow that He might thus learn to pity. For, as it is written of Him, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered, (1) so may He have suffered that He might learn compassion. This, however, does not mean that He, whose compassion was eternal in its origin and its duration, had not hitherto known pity, but that what He knew in His nature in an eternal, He learned by experience in a temporal, sphere. But you may find it difficult to accept my statement that Christ who is the Divine wisdom 'learned compassion', as though it were possible for Him through whom all things were made, ever to have been ignorant of anything ; especially in view of the fact that the passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews which I have adduced in support of my argument, may be understood in a different sense, which would not involve us in this difficulty. For, on this interpretation, the words 'He learned' would refer, not to His own Person, but to His body which is the Church. In that case the meaning of the sentence, And He learned obedience by the things that He suffered would be that He learned obedience in His body through what He personally suffered. 1. Heb. v. 8. For what was the meaning of that death, that cross, those insults, spittings and stripes, all of which Christ who is our head endured, unless that they afford to us who are His body, convincing evidence of His Obedience? For Christ, saith Paul, became obedient to his Father, even unto death. (1) And what was the need for such obedience? Let the Apostle Peter give the answer: Christ suffered for us leaving to you an example that you should follow his steps, (2) that is that you shall imitate His obedience. So from His sufferings we learn how much we who are mere men, must be prepared to endure for the sake of obedience, in the exercise of which He, who is also God, did not hesitate to die. And this, you may say, is the sense in which it is not unreasonable to allege that Christ learned obedience or compassion, or anything else during His earthly life, although you at the same time believe that it was not possible for Him to acquire while on earth any knowledge which He did not previously possess in His divine Person. Thus He might Himself both learn and teach pity and obedience, since the head and the body is one Christ. 1. Phil. ii.
2. 1 Pet. ii. 21. I do not deny that this verse may reasonably be thus understood. But the former interpretation seems to be supported by another passage in the same Epistle, in which it is said For nowhere doth he take hold of the angels, but of the seed of Abraham he taketh hold, wherefore it behoved him in all things to be like unto his brethren, that he might become merciful. (1) I think that these words have so close a reference to His Person, that they cannot be altogether applicable to His body. It is at any, rate said of the word of God that He 'took', that is He incorporated into His own personality, not 'angels' but 'the seed of Abraham.' For the passage reads not 'the word was made an angel' but the Word was made flesh, (2) and that from the flesh of Abraham, in accordance with the promise made to him. Whereupon, that is by reason of this assumption of the seed, he ought in all things to be like unto his brethren, that is to say, it was right and necessary that He should be, as we are, susceptible to suffering and should share with us every kind of misfortune with the exception of sin. If you ask 'Wherefore this necessity?' the answer is that He may become merciful. And, you may say, why may not this be properly understood as referring to His body? But listen to the words which so closely follow these. For in that wherein he himself hath suffered and been tempted; he is able to succour them also that are tempted. (3) 1. Heb. ii. 16 sqq.
2. John i. 14. 3. Heb. ii. 18. And for these words I can see no better meaning than that He was pleased thus to suffer and to be tempted and to associate Himself with all human misery except sin which is what being 'like unto his brethren in all things' means. in order that He might learn by personal experience to pity and to feel for those who similarly suffer and are tempted. I do not say that this experience added to His knowledge, but that it brought Him closer to us, so that the weak sons of Adam whom He has not disdained to make His own and to call His brethren, need not hesitate to bring their infirmities to Him, who, recognizing what He has Himself endured, as God is able and as their neighbour is desirous to provide the remedy. For this reason Isaiah calls Him a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity, (1) and the Apostle says, We have not a High Priest who cannot have compassion on our infirmities. (2) And to show how He can have such compassion the writer adds, but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin. For surely the blessed God, while in that form in which He thought it not robbery to be equal with God, was beyond doubt incapable of suffering before He had emptied Himself,' and taken the form of a slave; and as He had no experience of sorrow or of subjection, He had no opportunity of practising either compassion or obedience. 1. Is. liii. 3. 2. Heb. iv. 15. He had indeed a natural but not an experimental knowledge of these. Yet as He not only laid aside His own dignity, but was made a little lower than the angels, who by favour not by nature are incapable of suffering, He took a form in which it was possible for Him to suffer and to submit, which, as has been stated, He could not have done in that form which was His own. Thus by suffering He learned compassion and by subjection obedience. This experience, however, led, as I have pointed out, to an increase, not of wisdom on His part, but of confidence on ours, since by the knowledge thus painfully acquired He from whom we had been so widely separated was brought nearer to us. For when would we dare to approach Him while He was incapable of suffering? But now the Apostle advises and exhorts us to go with confidence to the throne of grace (1) whereon is He whom we surely recognize as the one of whom it is elsewhere written that He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows, 2 and of whose power to sympathize with us in what He has himself endured we can entertain no doubt. So there appears to be no contradiction on the one hand, in saying that, as there is nothing of which Christ was ever unaware, His knowledge could have no commencement, and, on the other hand, in maintaining that while in His Divine nature. 1. Heb. iv. 16.
2. Is. liii. 4. He knew compassion from all eternity, in another capacity He learned it under bodily and temporal conditions. And note the similar language which our Lord used when in reply to a question from His disciples He pleaded ignorance of the date of the Last Day. For how could He in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (1) be unaware of that day? How could He, for whom ignorance of any sort was clearly impossible say that He did not know? Could He possibly desire to conceal by a subterfuge information which He could not profitably disclose? God forbid the thought! For neither could He who is Wisdom be unaware of anything, nor could He who is Truth be capable of falsehood. But in His desire to discourage the useless curiosity of the disciples, He pleaded ignorance of the matter about which they asked Him -- not indeed without qualification but in a way in which He could truthfully disclaim such knowledge. For although by His Divine insight -- ranging over all things past, present and future, He had that day clearly before Him, it was still true that He was unaware of it by the exercise of any bodily sense. 1. Col. ii. 3. Had it been otherwise He would already have slain Antichrist with the breath of His mouth, would have heard with His bodily ears the shout of the archangel and the sound of the trumpet at whose call the dead are to rise, and would have surveyed with His bodily eyes the sheep and the goats who are then to be separated from each other. But with the intention of making it clear that it was only in the sphere of that intelligence which He possessed in His human capacity that he. asserted His ignorance of that day, He was careful in His answer not to say 'I do not know' but 'The Son of Man himself doth not know.' (1) Now what is this title of 'Son of Man' but the one which He assumed on taking on Himself our nature? By its use here, He means it to be understood that when He says that He is ignorant of anything, He is speaking not as God, but as man. When on the other hand He refers to His own Godhead, He usually says not 'the Son' or 'the Son of Man' but 'I' or 'We' as in the passage verily verily I say unto you, before Abraham was made, I am. (2) 1. This is the misquotation of Mark xiii. 32, which St. Bernard acknowledges in his 'correction' (above p. 1).
2. John viii. 58. He there speaks of Himself as 'I' not as the 'Son of Man'. There can be no doubt that He then referred to that existence which was His before Abraham, and which never had a beginning -- not to what He became after the time of Abraham and by descent from him. And when He elsewhere asks His disciples what men think of Him, He says Whom do men say not 'that I am' but that the Son of Man is? (1) But when He afterwards asks the same disciples what they themselves felt about Him, He says, But whom do you say not 'that the Son of Man is,' but that I am? So when He asks the opinion of worldly persons about His bodily nature He uses the term 'Son of Man,' but when He questions His spiritual followers about His God-head, He significantly says not 'the Son of Man' but 'me'. And that Peter understood what He meant by putting the question in this form is apparent from his reply, for he says Thou art, not 'Jesus the son of a Virgin,' but Christ the Son of God. Had he made the former reply he would have said what is no less true. But shrewdly gathering from the wording of the question the meaning of Him who put it, he gave a suitable and sufficient answer by saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. (2) 1. Matt. xvi. 13, 16.
2. St. Bernard expresses himself more fully on this point in his treatise 'On Consideration', Bk. V, c. is. Sect. 20, 'I say that in Christ the Word, the human soul and body are without confusion of the essences one Person, and I further maintain that the human and divine remain numerically distinct without prejudice to the unity of person. Nor would I deny that this unity is of the same class as that unity whereby soul and body are one man.' Now from this you may see that Christ has two natures, albeit in one Person, one in which He has always existed, the other in which He had a beginning, and that while in that nature which is eternal He always knew everything, in that which is temporal He found out many things in the course of time. Why then do you find it difficult to admit that as there, was a time when His bodily existence began, so may His knowledge of the ills of the flesh -- at all events that sort of knowledge which bodily weakness conveys -- have had a beginning? Our first parents would no doubt have been better and wiser had they not possessed knowledge of this sort, since they could acquire it only through folly and misfortune. But God, their Creator, seeking what had been lost, in His mercy followed up His own handiwork. He Himself mercifully descended to the level from which they had miserably fallen, and was willing Himself to endure what they deservedly suffered through their disobedience to Him -- and this not from a curiosity like theirs, but from marvellous love, His purpose being not to remain in misery with the unfortunate, but to become merciful and so to deliver them from their misery. When I say that he became merciful I refer not to that compassion which had been His in His eternal condition of bliss, but to that which He acquired through the medium of misfortune, while He bore our nature. Moreover, He completed in the latter the work of love which He had commenced in the former state. He could undoubtedly have made it complete in the former alone, but without the latter it would not have been effectual for us. Both forms were essential, but the latter more closely concerns ourselves. How indescribable is the method of His goodness. Could we ever have understood that marvellous mercy unless previous suffering had given it shape? Could we have discerned His sympathy, of which we had no knowledge, if He had had no previous suffering and had remained insusceptible to pain? Yet had He not possessed that compassion which knows no misfortune, He would never have attained that whose mother is misfortune. If He had not attained this He could not have drawn it to Himself. If He had not so drawn it, He could not have brought it out. And whence did He bring it out if not from the pit of misery and mire of dregs? (1) Yet He did not abandon that earlier compassion, but added to it the later. He did not alter He augmented it, as it is written, Men and beasts thou wilt preserve, O God, O how hast thou multiplied thy mercy, O God. (2) 1. Ps. xl. 2 (xxxix. 3, Vulg.) 2. Ps. xxxvi. 6, 7 (xxxv. 7, 8, Vulg.).