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Christ, Lunatic or God?

If reason alone were all we had to establish the existence and essence of God, we might feel curiously dissatisfied. If God is a Supreme Spirit, omnipotent and of total benevolence, the origin and end of us all, why does He not speak and re-assure us? The Christian claim is that, in fact, God has spoken to mankind first in the prophets of the Old Testament and last of all through His Son made man.

The historical existence of Christ is what we are now concerned with and also with His claim to be the Son of God.

The historical existence of Chris and of His followers, the Christians is beyond dispute.

About the year 116 A.D. a Roman historian named Tacitus wrote as follows in his ANNALS apropos of the great fire of Rome in 64 A.D.: "A persistent rumor associated Nero with the starting of this fire. To combat this he decided to provide culprits and inflicted the most atrocious tortures upon that sect known as Christians, detested by the people for their practices. Their name is derived from one Christ, Who was condemned to be crucified by the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. This pernicious sect, formerly proscribed, has established itself not only throughout Judea where it originated, but in the very City itself." This witness is a pagan and hostile. He is writing less than a hundred years since the governorship of Pontius Pilate.

Another historian of about the same rime, called Suetonius, wrote the LIVES OF THE CAESARS. He refers to a persecution of Jews in Rome in the year 50 A.D. which led to their banishment under the Emperor Claudius, who, he writes, "expelled the Jews from Rome because under the influence of Christ they had become a permanent source of disorder." (This persecution is referred to in a Christian document called THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES. This work was written round about the year 60 A.D. and it recounts how in Corinth the Apostle Paul encountered a Jewish family who had been expelled from Rome.)

Yet another pagan document of considerable importance mentions Christ. In 111 or 112 A.D. a letter was sent from the Imperial Legate of Bythynia and Pontus (Asian provinces on the Black Sea) to the Emperor Trajan. The writer was called Pliny the Younger and he asked the Emperor for a directive in the treatment of Christians. The Christians he said, met together, sang hymns to Christ and pledged themselves to avoid lying, stealing and adultery. Two had been closely questioned by him and they seemed harmless enough to the state. Nevertheless pagan priests were complaining that their temples were deserted and traders resented that there was no sale for sacrificial animals.

In the year 125 A.D. the Emperor Hadrian wrote to a proconsul in Asia directing that accusers of Christians must appear in person to substantiate charges.

As the Christians grew in numbers and importance there appeared an anti-Christian writer in the second century, called Celsus. His attacks were violent and he was answered by a Christian thinker, the great Origen. At no point in the works of Celsus do we come across the flat statement: Christ never existed. Celsus wrote as if all the historical facts claimed about Christ were true.

After the persecution of Nero in 64 A.D. the Christians went underground, quite literally, taking up their services in the burial places of Rome known as catacombs. Inscriptions of Christ, symbols of Him have been dated back to this time on the walls of the catacombs.

In brief-literary and archaeological sources make it impossible to deny the historical existence of thee man Whom Christians claim to be God.

The four Christian documents

about the life and teaching of Christ are the Gospels. It is now commonly accepted by the vast majority of scholars that they are historically valid and accurate. Various editions are continually being discovered, indicating that the text now used was in use substantially in very early Christian times. The most celebrated relic is a fragment of Chapter 18 of the Gospel of St. John, called the Rylands Papyrus because it is kept in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, England. All authorities agree in dating this fragment to 130 A.D. a mere thirty years from the date at which the original Gospel was composed.

The four Gospels are biographies of Christ. No other biographies in the world have had to face such intense and sustained critical examination; and no other biographies have been so jealously guarded in their integrity by those who have copied them and later printed them in their 1900 years of history. Yet no one has proved that they are faked.

The light of modern scholarship has established that these documents were written by four men vastly differing in temperament and aim. Three of them, Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote for the first generation of Christians when the words and deeds of Christ were enshrined in the memory of the followers and disciples of Christ. The accounts all have accidental differences indicating that their composition was individual and not collective, but substantially the resemblances between them are so striking that one feels that here is history at first hand. Though primarily the Gospels were not written as historical documents, the findings of modern archaeology confirm the rare instances when exact chronology is given. Thus in the 3rd Chapter of St. Luke the preaching of John the Baptist is pinpointed "In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being Governor of Judea and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip being tetrarch of Iturea and of the region of Trachonitis and Lysanus, the tetrarch of Abilene." Every name mentioned here is known from other sources and inscriptions, as belonging to the period and time Luke is pin-pointing.

When John writes (Chapter 5, verse 2) of how Christ cured a paralyzed man in Jerusalem by a "pool with five porches," archaeologists discover in our time the foundations of a rectangular pool with galleries on four sides and a division across the center of the pool dividing it into two basins with five porches.

Christ claimed to be God

According to the Gospels, and to the earliest writings by the first Christians about the central character of the Gospels, Christ was a man who claimed to be God, and to speak with authority on what man must believe and do in order to be united with God.

He belonged to a tiny and obscure province of the Roman Empire as far removed from the importance of living as a small tribe today in central South America. His public life was only three short years. He died ignominiously crucified on a Cross by the Roman authorities. His followers claimed that He rose from the dead. And by human standards that should have been the end of the affair-a public execution and the growth of a myth. Within less than 300 years, however, the religion that He preached and His followers after Him had become the official religion of the Western World, and a little later it dominated all of Europe. This spread was combatted in the beginning by the whole organization of the Roman Empire. Despite wave upon wave of persecution this religion rose from the ruins like a phoenix; and upon it is built today our constitution and our democracy, while those who are hostile to it comprise the Communist world. And the vast majority of those who are indifferent to the message still show unconscious acceptance of it every time they date a letter and write down the year of our Lord. All history for the Western world falls into two divisions-the years before and the years after Christ. By Him the Western world still sets its clocks.

In the Gospels Christ is seen as a teacher and as a worker of miracles. The purity and excellence of His moral teaching are such that even the Moslems who do not believe He is God, honor Him as a prophet. He claims to do miracles by the power of God, so that the teaching that He gives must stand or fall, in the sense that the perfection of His moral teaching disappears if it is based on a lie.

This is particularly true of the key miracle-namely His prophecy that He would rise from the dead and its fulfillment. This miracle was the divine guarantee on His entire life, for if He rose from the dead by the power of God and at the same time was falsely claiming to be the Son of God, then God was a partner to deceit.

It has been truly said that Christ was either a lunatic or was the Son of God He claimed to be. Jewish and Gentile history, incidentally, are full of characters who claimed to be the Messias sent by God and in every case they appear as mad. Attempts have been made to prove that Christ was mad. But they convince no one. All through the Gospels the wonderful and absolutely sane personality of Christ appears, far more balanced than those who accused Him to Pilate and those who put Him to death. The mob hysteria which shouted for His blood swirls about the victim Who is Himself unmoved. Pilate is swayed in the end by fear of Caesar; the leaders of the people are consumed by blood lust and ferocity; the crowd round the Cross insults and reviles Him; and in the middle of it all at the height of His sufferings. He forgives them and prays for them.

The Gospels here are marvels of objective reporting. What was said and done is recorded without comment or opinion. The centurion in charge of the detail officially declares that the prisoner is dead. Assurance is made doubly sure by the stroke of a lance into the dead man's side. Pilate is informed, expresses surprise that it is over so quickly and gives permission for the body to be buried. The Scribes and Pharisees secure permission for a guard of soldiers to watch the tomb lest the body be stolen, and claim be made that He had arisen. And there the matter should have ended, a nine days' wonder with the usual ending.

Witnesses of the Resurrection The Gospels record then that those who went to the tomb on the third day, Sunday, found the tomb empty. Subsequently Christ appears in different times and different places. He is seen by so many witnesses that a few weeks later Peter can face a crowd in Jerusalem and claim that the man they put to death is the Son of God because he can produce witnesses that He has been seen. The tomb is empty; Christ has re-appeared; what have they to say to that? And there is nothing said against it. The city knew about the empty tomb, and there were crowds of witnesses to attest His re-appearance.

After the Gospels come the ACTS OF THE APOSTLES which record the growth of the Christian Church in the first few years after Christ has departed from earth. Its growth is seen in Palestine and in Asia Minor, Malta and Rome. In Athens, Paul is scorned because he preaches Christ crucified and risen; to Jewish communities the Risen Christ is a scandal because of the hideous mode of His dying. In Ephesus there is a revolt at the preaching of Christ by Paul.

Yet despite opposition, incredulity, and persecution, the growth went on and as it did so, slowly the worst abuses of the Western world begin to go. Marriage and the family gain a new dignity; the individual is seen in his proper worth, a new perspective comes into history, and at long last the human caravan knows its destination.

The Roman Empire at last breaks down only for the Huns and the Goths to be conquered by the faith of their victims. A new Europe slowly takes shape in the Dark Ages and the time comes at the Renaissance for Columbus to discover the New World and bring to America the faith of the old. In all that time and from that time to this the four small books that are the Gospels have spoken to each man that has read them in a language he can understand. They are more the basis of American culture than all the laws of the splendor that was Rome and all the writings of the glory that was Greece. They and the Christ they tell of are so much pare of us that we end by forgetting thee we are what they have made us.

For all men of good will to whom creation speaks as a wonderful work of God, for all honest men who feel within themselves the experience of emptiness and of hunger for truth and justice for all men who search for a meaning in life and a destiny to pursue, for all of those and to all of them Christ offers Himself as the way, the truth and the life which begin and end with God.

To the individual and to the nation is offered the liberty of the sons of God, a liberty which is enshrined in the Constitution and should be in the heart of every citizen, that this nation under God shall have a new birch of freedom.

"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowsest? or who hath screeched the line upon it? Upon what are the bases grounded? or who laid the cornerstone thereof, when the morning sears sang together, and all the sons of God made a joyful melody? Who shue up the sea with doors . . . And I said: Hitherto thou shale come, and shale go no further, and here thou shalt break thy swelling waves. Didst thou since thy birch command the morning, and shew the dawning of the day the place? . . . Where is the way where light dwelleth, and where is the place of darkness... Didst thou know then that thou shouldst be born? and didst thou know the number of thy days?...Dost thou know the order of heaven, and canst thou set down the reason thereof on the earth? ... Who can declare the order of the heavens, or who can make the harmony of heaven to sleep?"

Courtesy of Catholic Information Network (CIN)
 

 

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