Contemplating the Adorable Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
I will venture a guess and say that most of us have meditated upon Our Lord Jesus Christ, and through our contemplation we have acquired a sense of what He is like. However, imagine the resulting indelible impression were we to have the unmerited grace and inestimable joy of seeing our Savior face to face!That beatific encounter might recall the sentiments derived from viewing the most sublime sacred images of Christendom. Yet the reality would surely far surpass the God-given talent of the most inspired artists to capture with their brushes or of the most gifted sculptors to immortalize with their chisels and hammers.
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, and the elegance of His bearing. In short, let us use our divine gift of reason to guide our inner vision with the light of truth so we need not grope in the dark.
We shall begin by reflecting on this insight of Saint John: “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?” (1 John 4:20) The premise that underlies this question is that man was created not only to know, love and serve God but to help his fellow man do the same. Since man is made in God’s image, it follows that by studying man we should come to better understand our Creator. Of course, Christ is not merely a man. Being the God-Man, He is principally God. Nevertheless, He is a man in the full sense of the word and by studying man we can come to a better understanding of Christ, and as Our Lord reminds us, “[H]e that seeth me, seeth the Father also” (John 14:9). Thus our meditation is of a philosophical order tested by the Word—a proper and logical approach to our mission.
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. Consider Christ as king. As prince of the house of David and heir to the throne of Israel, Jesus possessed the nobility and grandeur proper to His status. As He entered Jerusalem in triumph that first Palm Sunday, it did not lessen His majesty that He rode on a donkey’s back. To the contrary, the Gospels recount how enthusiastically the people acclaimed Him.
Because His life was one of constant and unremitting struggle, Our Lord was also a warrior. Not only did Jesus defeat and drive out demons, He confronted forcefully the human allies of the Prince of Darkness. Even after He was betrayed, He humiliated His adversaries. When asked if He was Jesus of Nazareth, He answered simply, “Ego sum.” With these two words Christ cast His enemies upon their faces with this simple affirmation!
Our Lord personified the fulfillment of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. He was Priest and Pontiff. 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 that 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 Sanhedrin’s machinations by avoiding confrontation with artful speech and impeccably judicious rejoinders. Recall the Gospel’s account of how the Sanhedrin 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 but dumbfounded His enemies with His reply (Luke 20:22–36).
Consider Christ as a manual laborer. Unthinkable? Have we forgotten the carpenter shop in Nazareth where Jesus worked under the watchful eye of Saint Joseph?
Christ was a servant, though few kings have washed the feet of their subjects. “[B]ut I am in the midst of you, as he that serveth” (Luke 22:27), Our Lord declared, showing how we should live as His disciples.
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 people of the earth: precision, clarity, spirit, vigor, profundity, sense of the sublime, subtlety and diplomacy. Experience teaches us that God has blessed people with gifts particular to themselves, and to the degree people embody the characteristic of their culture, they do not reflect that which distinguishes another.
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 person. Thus at the same time He exemplifies charm and strength to an unimaginable degree, and so it is with the best of every culture and of every land.
Moved by the Messias
By reflecting 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. Those who followed Christ were awed 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’s 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 multitude with a handful of loaves and fishes (John 6:1–11). Furthermore, in Jesus’ presence, people sensed something mysterious and entirely beyond their understanding. They saw at last what Saint Peter professed in reply to His question, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).
Perfection of Primordial Lights
According to Catholic theology, each soul is called to reflect a specific aspect of God by the practice of a specific virtue. This has been referred to as the person’s “primordial light.” Thus it can be said that as we advance in sanctity, our primordial light becomes more evident. Were we to correspond faithfully to every grace that Christ gives, His light would radiate through us. All souls are called to practice all virtues, but a particular virtue shines before each in a primordial light.
Meditate on Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, the personification of purity, and emulate his angelic chastity. Consider Saint Louis IX, king of France, the embodiment of honor, with uprightness and sincerity written in each line of his noble face. Reflect on Saint Vincent de Paul, an emissary of divine charity, who walked the back streets of Paris rescuing abandoned babies and carrying them in the huge pockets of his cassock to their new homes. Recall Saint Francis of Assisi, who courted poverty throughout his life. Think of Saint John the Baptist, who embodied the rigors of God’s call to repentance and penance.
As every virtue reflects its divine Author, Saint Thomas Aquinas concludes that Christ is the perfect expression of all the primordial lights that were, are and will be. To that we may add that every saint is nothing more than a small spark of Our Lord’s perfection, an inestimable honor indeed.
Man of Sorrows
Just as a fruit displays its most beautiful color when it is ripe, so does Our Lord express His full grandeur in suffering, for in suffering we see human misery most clearly. Crushed by suffering, a man groans, moans, cries, flees, weeps, protests and revolts. In the end, a man 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 others will never attain, because suffering tempers a man’s soul like fire tempers steel. Only a man who has truly suffered has truly lived.
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 a life that is suffering.
Harmonizer of Contrasts
As with the gifts of the earth, Our Lord possessed irreconcilable attributes. He was at the same time the most triumphant and the most defeated, the most glorified and the most reviled, the most beloved and the most hated.
Christ harmonized professions, people and attributes that could not be reconciled in a mere mortal. These harmonic contrasts blended 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 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. “We see now through a glass in an obscure manner: but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).
Answer to Sin; Confidence of Sinners
As I noted in my book Revolution and Counter-Revolution, a negative and pernicious premise in the fourteenth century stated those who are superior necessarily despise those who are below them. In fact, Saint Peter begged of Christ, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” (Luke 5:8) because he felt so unworthy of His presence that he wished to vanish from His sight. How can we combat this erroneous view?
We defeat this premise thusly—for Our Lord appreciates affectionately everything that is virtuous, no matter how small, as a reflection of His Father’s perfect goodness, for 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 that delights Him. Since He is Virtue itself, He necessarily abhors every taint of evil. He loves any sign of virtue in the sinner and longs for the sinner’s repentance and conversion. If Our Lord loves every form and measure of virtue, He loves even the shadow of virtue. Should He find a seedling of virtue surrounded by the weeds of vice, He will nurture and cultivate this fragile sprout.
When a soul is in a state of mortal sin, it is dead because 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 the sinner has only because God sustains it. Otherwise the sinner would have lost it, and his heart would have hardened and died.
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 smallest 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? 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 behold Him without divine assistance, we would disintegrate. Without the sun we cannot see, but if we were to stare at it without protection, its rays would blind us. 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 upon God’s face without His divine protection, we would surely die. Hence Moses’ encounter with God in the form of a burning bush (Exod. 3:2–4).
Our Lord did not manifest His qualities all at once during His earthly life. He revealed them little by little until after His crucifixion, and through His resurrection He manifested His unmistakable divinity for all to see.
Alpha and Omega
“[T]he fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 110:10), but it is not its 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, light our path in the growing darkness of a world that has lost its way and lead us safely home to Paradise.
The preceding article is taken from an informal lecture Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira gave in 1971. It has been translated and adapted for publication without his revision. –Ed.