Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh, Who redeemed man by His Death on the Cross, and Whose Divine mission is continued by the ministry of the Church. Without considering the numberless theological questions connected with Jesus Christ, we shall in the present article merely furnish a brief sketch of His life as it appears in the light of historical documents, premising, however, an explanation of the two words which compose the Sacred Name.
I. THE SACRED NAME
The word Jesus is the Latin form of the Greek ‘Ina-00s, which in turn is the transliteration of the Hebrew Jeshua, or Joshua, or again Jehoshua, meaning “Jehovah is salvation”. Though the name in one form or another occurs frequently inthe Old Testament, it was not borne by a person of prominence between the time of Josue, the son of Nun, and Josue, the high-priest in the days of Zorobabel. It was also the name of the author of Ecclesiasticus, of one of Christ’s ancestors mentioned in the genealogy found in the Third Gospel (Luke, iii, 29), and of one of St. Paul’s companions (Col., iv, 11). During the Hellenizing period, Jason, a purely Greek analogon of Jesus, appears to have been adopted by many (I Mach., viii, 17; xii, 16; xiv, 22; II Mach., i, 7; ii, 24; iv, 7-26; v, 5-10; Acts, xvii, 5-9; Rom., xvi, 21). The Greek name is connected with the verb iasthai, to heal; it is therefore not surprising that some of the Greek Fathers allied the word Jesus with the same root (Euseb., “Dem. Ev.”, IV; cf. Acts, ix, 34; x, 38). Though about the time of Christ the name Jesus appears to have been fairly common (Jos., “Ant.”, XV, ix, 2; XVII, xiii, 1; XX, ix, 1; “Bel. Jud.”, III, ix, 7; IV, 9; VI, v, 5; “Vit.”, 22), it was imposed on our Lord by God‘s express order (Luke, i, 31; Matt., i, 21), to foreshow that the Child was destined to “save his people from their sins”. Philo (“De Mut. Nom.”, 21, ed. Pfeiffer, IV, 374) is, therefore, right when he explains iesous as meaning soteria kuriou; Eusebius (Dem. Ev., IV, ad fin.; P.G., XXII, 333) gives the meaning theou soterion; while St. Cyril of Jerusalem interprets the word as equivalent to soter (Cat., x, 13; P.G., XXXIII, 677). This last writer, however, appears to agree with Clement of Alexandria in considering the word iesous as of Greek origin (Paedag., III, xii; P.G., VIII, 677); St. Chrysostom emphasizes again the Hebrew derivation of the word and its meaning soter (Horn. ii, 2), thus agreeing with the exegesis of the angel speaking to St. Joseph (Matt., i, 21).
The word Christ, christos, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah, means “anointed”. According to the Old Law, priests (Ex., xxix, 29; Lev., 3), kings (I Kings, x, 1; xxiv, 7), and prophets (Is., lxi, 1) were supposed to be anointed for their respective offices; now, the Christ, or the Messias, combined this threefold dignity in His Person. It is not surprising, therefore, that for centuries the Jews had referred to their expected Deliverer as “the Anointed”; perhaps this designation alludes to Is., Ixi, 1, and Dan., ix, 24-26, or even to Ps., ii, 2; xix, 7; xliv, 8. Thus the term Christ or Messias was a title rather than a proper name: “Non proprium nomen est, sed nuncupatio potestatis et regni”, says Lactantius (Inst. Div., IV, vii). The Evangelists recognize the same truth; excepting Matt., i, 1, 18; Mark, i, 1; John, i, 17; xvii, 3; ix, 22; Mark, ix, 40; Luke, ii, 11; xxiii, 2, the word Christ is always preceded by the article. Only after the Resurrection did the title gradually pass into a proper name, and the expression Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus became only one designation. But at this stage the Greeks and Romans understood little or nothing about the real import of the word anointed; to them it did not convey any sacred conception. Hence they substituted Chrestus, or “excellent”, for Christus, or “anointed”, and Chrestians instead of “Christians”. There may be an allusion to this practice in I Pet., ii, 3; oti chrestos o kurios., which is rendered “that the Lord is sweet”. Justin Martyr (Apol., I, 4), Clement of Alexandria (Strom., II, iv, 18), Tertullian (Adv. Gentes, II), and Lactantius (Inst. Div., IV, vii, 5), as well as St. Jerome (In Gal., V, 22), are acquainted with the pagan substitution of Chrestus for Christus, and are careful to explain the new term in a favorable sense. The pagans made little or no effort to learn anything accurate about Christ and the Christians; Suetonius, for instance, ascribes the expulsion of the Jews from Rome under Claudius to the constant instigation of sedition by Chrestus, whom he conceives as acting in Rome the part of a leader of insurgents.
The use of the definite article before the word Christ and its gradual development into a proper name show that the Christians identified the bearer with the promised Messias of the Jews. He combined in His person the offices of prophet (John, vi, 14; Matt., xiii, 57; Luke, xiii, 33; xxiv, 19), of king (Luke, xxiii, 2; Acts, xvii, 7; I Cor., xv, 24; Apoc., xv, 3), and of priest (Heb., ii, 17; etc.); he fulfilled all the Messianic predictions in a fuller and a higher sense than had been given them by the teachers of the Synagogue.
The historical documents referring to Christ’s life and work may be divided into three classes: pagan sources, Jewish sources, and Christian sources. We shall study the three groups in succession.
A. Pagan Sources
The non-Christian sources for the historical truth of the Gospels are both few and polluted by hatred and prejudice. A number of reasons have been advanced for this condition of the pagan sources: The field of the Gospel history was remote Galilee; the Jews were noted as a superstitious race, if we may believe Horace (Credat Judceus Apella, I, Sat., v, 100); the God of the Jews was unknown and unintelligible to most pagans of that period; the Jews in whose midst Christianity had taken its origin were dispersed among, and hated by, all the pagan nations; the Christian religion itself was often confounded with one of the many sects that had sprung up in Judaism, and which could not excite the interest of the pagan spectator. It is at least certain that neither Jews nor Gentiles suspected in the least the paramount importance of the religion the rise of which they witnessed among them. These considerations will account for the rarity and the asperity with which Christian events are mentioned by pagan authors. But though Gentile writers do not give us any information about Christ and the early stages of Christianity which we do not possess in the Gospels, and though their statements are made with unconcealed hatred and contempt, still they unwittingly prove the historical value of the facts related by the Evangelists.
We need not delay over a writing entitled the “Acts of Pilate”, which must have existed in the second century (Justin, “Apol.”, I, 35), and must have been used in the pagan schools to warn boys against the belief of the Christians (Euseb., “Hist. Eccl.”, I, ix; IX, v); nor need we inquire into the question whether there ever existed any authentic census tables of Quirinus. We possess at least the testimony of Tacitus (A.D. 54-119) for the statements that the Founder of the Christian religion, a deadly superstition in the eyes of the Roman, had been put to death by the procurator Pontius Pilate under the reign of Tiberius; that His religion, though suppressed for a time, broke forth again not only throughout Judea where it had originated, but even in Rome, the conflux of all the streams of wickedness and shamelessness; furthermore, that Nero had diverted from himself the suspicion of the burning of Rome by charging the Christians with the crime; that these latter were not guilty of incendiarism, though they deserved their fate on account of their universal misanthropy. Tacitus, moreover, describes some of the horrible torments to which Nero subjected the Christians (Ann., XV, xliv). The Roman writer confounds the Christians with the Jews, considering them as an especially abject Jewish sect; how little he investigated the historical truth of even the Jewish records may be inferred from the credulity with which he accepted the absurd legends and calumnies about the origin of the Hebrew people (Hist., V, in, iv).
Another Roman writer who shows his acquaintance with Christ and the Christians is Suetonius (A.D. 75-160). It has been already noted that Suetonius considered Christ (Chrestus) as a Roman insurgent who stirred up seditions under the reign of Claudius (A.D. 41-54): “Judos, impulsore Chresto, assidue tumultuantes [Claudius] Roma expulit” (Claud., xxv). In his life of Nero he appears to regard that emperor as apublic benefactor on account of his severe treatment of the Christians: “Multa sub eo et animadversa severe, et coercita, nec minus institute… afflicti Christiani, genus hominum superstitionis novae et maleficae” (Nero, xvi). The Roman writer does not understand that the Jewish troubles arose from the Jewish antagonism to the Messianic character of Jesus Christ and to the rights of the Christian Church.
Of greater importance is the letter of Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan (about A.D. 61-115), in which the Governor of Bithynia consults his imperial majesty as to how to deal with the Christians living within his jurisdiction. On the one hand, their lives were confessedly innocent; no crime could be proved against them excepting their Christian belief, which appeared to the Roman as an extravagant and per-verse superstition. On the other hand, the Christians could not be shaken in their allegiance to Christ, Whom they celebrated as their God in their early morning meetings (Ep., X, 97, 98). Christianity here appears no longer as a religion of criminals, as it does in the texts of Tacitus and Suetonius; Pliny acknowledges the high moral principles of the Christians, admires their constancy in the Faith (pervicacia et inflexibilis obstinatio), which he appears to trace back to their worship of Christ (carmenque Christo, quasi Deo, dicere).
The remaining pagan witnesses are of less importance: In the second century Lucian sneered at Christ and the Christians, as he scoffed at the pagan gods. He alludes to Christ’s death on the Cross, to His miracles, to the mutual love prevailing among the Christians (“Philopseudes”, nn. 13, 16; “De Morte Pereg.”). There are also alleged allusions to Christ in Numenius (Origen, “Contra Cels.”, IV, 51), to His parables in Galerius, to the earthquake at the Crucifixion in Phlegon (Origen, “Contra Cels.”, II, 14). Before the end of the second century, the Alyos FiX770s’js of Celsus, as quoted by Origen (Contra eels., passim), testifies that at that time the facts related in the Gospels were generally accepted as historically true. However scanty the pagan sources of the life of Christ may be, they bear at least testimony to His existence, to His miracles, His parables, His claim to Divine worship, His death on the Cross, and to the more striking characteristics of His religion.
The reader may find it instructive to consult the following works on the views of pagan writers concerning Jewish and early Christian conditions: Meier, “Judaica, seu veterum scriptorum profanorum de rebus Judaicis fragmenta”, Jena, 1832; Schmitthenner, “De rebus Judaicis quaecunque quae prodiderunt ethnici scriptores Graeci et Latini”, 1844; Goldschmidt, “De Judaeorum apud Romanos conditione”, 1866; Scheuffgen, “Uncle Romanorum opiniones de Judaeis conflatae sint”, Bedburg Program, 1870; Gill, “Notices of the Jews and their Country by the Classic Writers of Antiquity”, 1872; Geiger, “Quid de Judaeorum moribus atque institutis scriptoribus Romanis persuasum fuerit”, 1872; de Colonia, “La religion chretienne autorisee par les temoignages des anciens auteurs patens”, 1750; Addison, “Essay on the Truth of the Christian Religion“.
B. Jewish Sources
Philo, who died after A.D. 40, is mainly important for the light he throws on certain modes of thought and phraseology found again in some of the Apostles. Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., II, iv) indeed preserves a legend that Philo had met St. Peter in Rome during his mission to the Emperor Caius; moreover, that in his work on the contemplative life he describes the life of the Christian Church in Alexandria founded by St. Mark, rather than that of the Essenes and Therapeutae. But it is hardly probable that Philo had heard enough of Christ and His followers to give an historical foundation to the foregoing legends.
The earliest non-Christian writer who refers to Christ is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus; born A.D. 37, he was a contemporary of the Apostles, and died in Rome A.D. 94. Two passages in his “Antiquities” which confirm two facts of the inspired Christian records are not disputed. In the one he reports the murder of “John called Baptist” by Herod (Ant., XVIII, v, 2), describing also John’s character and work; in the other (Ant., XX, ix, 1) he disapproves of the sentence pronounced by the high-priest Ananus against James, brother of Jesus Who was called Christ”. It is antecedently probable that a writer so well informed as Josephus, must have been well acquainted too with the doctrine and the history of Jesus Christ. Seeing, also, that he records events of minor importance in the history of the Jews, it would be surprising if he were to keep silence about Jesus Christ. Consideration for the priests and Pharisees did not prevent him from mentioning the judicial murders of John the Baptist and the Apostle James; his Endeavor to find the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies in Vespasian did not induce him to pass in silence over several Jewish sects, though their tenets appear to be inconsistent with the Vespasian claims. One naturally expects, therefore, a notice about Jesus Christ in Josephus.
Ant., XVIII, iii, 3, seems to satisfy this expectation:—”About this time”, it reads, “appeared Jesus, a wise man (if indeed it is right to call Him man; for He was a worker of astonishing deeds, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with joy), and He drew to Himself many Jews (and many also of the Greeks. This was the Christ). And when Pilate, at the denunciation of those that are foremost among us, had condemned Him to the cross, those who had first loved Him did not abandon Him. (For He appeared to them alive again on the third day, the holy prophets having foretold this and countless other marvels about Him.) The tribe of Christians named after Him did not cease to this day.”
A testimony so important as the foregoing could not escape the work of the critics. Their conclusions may be reduced to three headings: First, there are those who consider the whole passage as spurious. To this class belong: Eichstadt, “Flaviani de Jesu Christo testimonii ad Bev-rla, quo jure nuper defensa sit quaest. I—VI”, 1813-41; “Quiestionibus sex super Flaviano de Jesu Christo testimonio auctarium I-IV”, 1841-45; Lewitz, “Quaestionum Flavianarum specimen”, 1835; Reuss in “Nouvelle Revue de Theologie”, 1859, 312 sqq.; Gerlach, “Das angebliche Zeugniss von Christo in den Schriften des Fl. Josephus”, 1863; Hohne, “Ueber das angebliche Zeugniss des Josephus”, 1871; Schürer, “Geschichte des judischen Volkes”, I, Leipzig, 1901, 544-49; Farrar, art. “Jesus Christ” in “Encyclopaedia Britannica”, 9th ed. The principal reasons for this view appear to be the following; Josephus could not represent Jesus Christ as a simple moralist, and on the other hand he could not emphasize the Messianic prophecies and expectations with-out offending the Roman susceptibilities; again, the above cited passage from Josephus is said to be unknown to Origen and the earlier patristic writers; its very place in the Josephan text is uncertain, since Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., II, vi) must have found it before the notices concerning Pilate, while it now stands after them. But the spuriousness of the disputed Josephan passage does not imply the historian’s ignorance of the facts connected with Jesus Christ. Josephus’s report of his own juvenile precocity before the Jewish teachers (Vit., 2) reminds one of the story of Christ’s stay in the Temple at the age of twelve; the description of his shipwreck on his journey to Rome (Vit., 3) recalls St. Paul’s shipwreck as told in the Acts; finally his arbitrary introduction of a deceit practiced by the priests of Isis on a Roman lady, after the chapter containing his supposed allusion to Jesus, shows a disposition to explain away the virgin birth of Jesus and to prepare the falsehoods embodied in the later Jewish writings.
A second class of critics do not regard the whole of Josephus’s testimony concerning Christ as spurious, but they maintain the interpolation of parts included in parenthesis. To this class belong such scholars as Gieseler, “Kirchengeschichte”, I, I, 81 sqq.; Hase, “Leben Jesu”, n. 9; Ewald, “Geschichte des Volkes Israel”, V, 181-86; Paret in Herzog, “Realencyk.”, VII, 27-29; Heinichen, “Eusebii scripts histories”, III, 2nd ed., 623 sqq.; Muller, “Christus bei Josephus Fl.”, Innsbruck, 1895; Reinach, “Josephe sur Jesus” in “Revue des Etudes juives”, 1897, 1-18; “Revue biblique”, 1898, 150-52. The reasons assigned for this opinion may be reduced to the following two: Josephus must have mentioned Jesus, but he cannot have recognized Him as the Christ; hence part of our present Josephan text must be genuine, part must be interpolated. Again the same conclusion follows from the f act that Origen knew a Josephan text about Jesus, but was not acquainted with our present reading; for, according to the great Alexandrian doctor, Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Messias (“In Matth.”, xiii, 55; “Contra Cels.”, I, 47). Whatever force these two arguments have is lost by the fact that Josephus did not write for the Jews but for the Romans; consequently, when he says, “This was the Christ”, he does not necessarily imply that Jesus was the Messias expected by the Jews, but that Jesus was the Christ considered by the Romans as the founder of the Christian religion.
The third class of scholars believe that the whole passage concerning Jesus, as it is found today in Josephus, is genuine. Among the authors belonging to this class we may mention: Bretschneider, “Capita theologise Judaeorum dogmatic ae e Flavii Josephi scriptis collects”, 1812, 59-66; Bohmert, “Ueber des Flavius Josephus Zeugniss von Christo”, 1823; Schodel, “Flavius Josephus de Jesu Christo testatus”, 1840; Mayaud, “Le temoignage de Josephe”, Strasburg, 1858; Langen in “Tiibinger theol. Quartalschrift”, 1865, i; Danko, “Historia revelationis divinae N. T.”, I, 1867, 308-14; Daubuz, “Pro testimonio Fl. Josephi de Jesu Christo”, London, 1706; “Studien and Kritiken”, 1856, 840; Kneller, “Fl. Josephus fiber Jesus Christus” in “Stimmen aus Maria-Laach“, 1897, 1-19, 161-74. The main arguments for the genuineness of the Josephan passage are the following: First, all codices or manuscripts of Josephus’s work contain the text in question; to maintain the spuriousness of the text, we must suppose that all the copies of Josephus were in the hands of Christians, and were changed in the same way. Second, it is true that neither Tertullian nor St. Justin makes use of Josephus’s passage concerning Jesus; but this silence is probably due to the contempt with which the contemporary Jews regarded Josephus, and to the relatively little authority he had among the Roman readers. Writers of the age of Tertullian and Justin could appeal to living witnesses of the Apostolic tradition. Third, Eusebius (“Hist. Eccl.”, I, xi; cf. “Dem. Ev.”, III, v), Sozomen (Hist. Eccl., I, i), Niceph. (Hist. Eccl., I, 39), Isidore of Pelusium (Ep. IV, 225), St. Jerome (Catal. script. eccles., xiii), Ambrose, Cassiodorus, etc., appeal to the testimony of Josephus; there must have been no doubt as to its authenticity at the time of these illustrious writers. Fourth, the complete silence of Josephus as to Jesus would have been a more eloquent testimony than we possess in his present text; this latter contains no statement incompatible with its Josephan authorship: the Roman reader needed the information that Jesus was the Christ, or the founder of the Christian religion; the wonderful works of Jesus and His Resurrection from the dead were so incessantly urged by the Christians that without these attributes the Josephan Jesus would hardly have been acknowledged as the founder of Christianity. All this does not necessarily imply that Josephus regarded Jesus as the Jewish Messias; but, even if he had been convinced of His Messiahship, it does not follow that he would have become a Christian. A number of possible subterfuges might have supplied the Jewish historian with apparently sufficient reasons for not embracing Christianity.
The historical character of Jesus Christ is also attested by the hostile Jewish literature of the subsequent centuries. His birth is ascribed to an illicit (“Acta Pilati” in Thilo, “Codex apocryph. N. T.”, I, 526; cf. Justin, “Apol.”, I, 35), or even an adulterous, union of His parents (Origen, “Contra Cels.”, I, 28, 32) . The father’s name is Panthera, a common soldier (Gemara “Sanhedrin“, viii; “Schabbath”, xii; cf. Eisenmenger, “Entdecktes Judenthum”, I, 109; Schottgen, “Horne Hebraicae”, II, 696; Buxtorf, “Lex. Chald.”, Basle, 1639, 1459; Huldreich, “Sepher toledhoth yeshfua’ hannaceri”, Leyden, 1705). The last work in its final edition did not appear before the thirteenth century, so that it could give the Panthera-myth in its most advanced form. Rosch is of opinion (Studien and Kritiken, 1873, 85) that the myth did not begin before the end of the first century. The later Jewish writings show traces of acquaintance with the murder of the Holy Innocents (Wagenseil, “Confut. Libr. Toldoth”, 15; Eisenmenger, op. cit., I, 116; Schottgen, op. cit., II, 667), with the flight into Egypt (cf. Josephus, “Ant.”, XIII, xiii), with the stay of Jesus in the Temple at the age of twelve (Schottgen, op. cit., II, 696), with the call of the disciples (“Sanhedrin“, 43a; Wagenseil, op. cit., 17; Schottgen, loc. cit., 713), with His miracles (Origen, “Contra Cels., II, 48; Wagenseil, op. cit., 150; Gemara “Sanhedrin” fol. 17; “Schabbath”, fol. 104b; Wagenseil, op. cit., 6, 7, 17), with His claim to be God (Origen, “Contra Cels.”, I, 28; cf. Eisenmenger, op. cit., I, 152; Schottgen, loc. cit., 699) with His betrayal by Judas and His death (Origen, `Contra Cels.”, II, 9, 45, 68, 70; Buxtorf, op. cit., 1458; Lightfoot, “Hor. Heb.”, 458, 490, 498; Eisenmenger, loc. cit., 185; Schottgen, loc. cit., 699-700; cf. “Sanhedrin“, vi, vii). Celsus (Origen, “Contra Cels.”, II, 55) tries to throw doubt on the Resurrection, while Toldoth (cf. Wagenseil, 19) repeats the Jewish fiction that the body of Jesus had been stolen from the Sepulcher.
C. Christian Sources
Among the Christian sources of the life of Jesus we need hardly mention the so-called Agrapha and Apocrypha (see Agrapha and Apocrypha). For whether the Agrapha contain Logia of Jesus, or refer to incidents in His life, they are either highly uncertain or present only variations of the Gospel story. The chief value of the Apocrypha consists in their showing the infinite superiority of the Inspired Writings by contrasting the coarse and erroneous productions of the human mind with the simple and sublime truths written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
Among the Sacred Books of the New Testament, it is especially the four Gospels and the four great Epistles of St. Paul that are of the highest importance for the construction of the life of Jesus. The four great Pauline Epistles (Rom., Gal., I and II Cor.) can hardly be overestimated by the student of Christ’s life; they have at times been called the “fifth gospel”; their authenticity has never been assailed by serious critics; their testimony is also earlier than that of the Gospels, at least most of the Gospels; it is the more valuable because it is incidental and undesigned; it is the testimony of a highly intellectual and cultured writer, who had been the greatest enemy of Jesus, who writes within twenty-five years of the events which he relates. At the same time, these four great Epistles bear witness to all the most important facts in the life of Christ: His Davidic descent, His poverty, His Messiahship, His moral teaching, His preaching of the kingdom of God, His calling of the apostles, His miraculous power, His claims to be God, His betrayal, His institution of the Holy Eucharist, His passion, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, His repeated appearances (Rom., i, 3, 4; v, 11; viii, 2, 3, 32; ix, 5; xv, 8; Gal., ii, 17; iii, 13; iv, 4; v, 21; I Cor., vi, 9; vii, 10; xi, 25; xv, passim; II Cor., iii, 17; iv, 4; xii, 12; xiii, 4; etc.).
However important the four great Epistles may be, the Gospels are still more so. Not that any one of them offers a complete biography of Jesus, but they account for the origin of Christianity by the life of its Founder. Questions like the authenticity of the Gospels, the relation between the Synoptic Gospels and the Fourth, the Synoptic problem, must be studied in the articles referring to these respective subjects.
What has been said proves not merely the existence of Jesus Christ, but also the historicity of the main incidents of His life. In the following paragraphs we shall Endeavor to establish their absolute and relative chronology, i.e. we shall show first how certain facts connected with the history of Jesus Christ fit in with the course of universal history, and secondly how the rest of the life of Jesus must be arranged according to the inter-relation of its single elements.
A. Absolute Chronology
The incidents whose absolute chronology may be determined with more or less probability are the year of Christ’s nativity, of the beginning of His public life, and of His death. As we cannot fully examine the data entering into these several problems, the reader ought to compare what has been said on these points in the article Biblical Chronology.
(1) The Nativity
St. Matthew (ii, 1) tells us that Jesus was born “in the days of king Herod“. Josephus (Ant., XVII, viii, 1) informs us that Herod died after ruling thirty-four years de facto, thirty-seven years de jure. Now Herod was made rightful King of Judea A. U. C. 714, while he began his actual rule after taking Jerusalem A. U. C. 717. As the Jews reckoned their years from Nisan to Nisan, and counted fractional parts for entire years, the above data will place the death of Herod in A. U. C. 749, 750, or 751. Again, Josephus tells us that an eclipse of the moon occurred not long before Herod‘s death; such an eclipse occurred from 12 to March 13, A. U. C. 750, so that Herod must have died before the Passover of that year which fell on April 12 (Josephus, “Ant.”, XVII, vi, 4; viii, 4). As Herod killed the children up to two years old, in order to destroy the new-born King of the Jews, we are led to believe that Jesus may have been born A .U. C. 747, 748, or 749. The enrolment under Cyrinus mentioned by St. Luke in connection with the nativity of Jesus Christ, and the remarkable astronomical conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in Pisces, in the spring of A. U. C. 748, will not lead us to any more definite result.
(2) Beginning of the Public Ministry
The date of the beginning of Christ’s ministry may be calculated from three different data found respectively in Luke, iii, 23; Josephus, “Bel. Jud.”, I, xxi, 1; or “Ant.”, XV, ii, 1; and Luke, iii, 1. The first of these passages reads: “And Jesus himself was beginning about the age of thirty years.” The phrase “was beginning” does not qualify the following expression “about the age of thirty years,” but rather indicates the commencement of the public life. As we have found that the birth of Jesus falls within the period 747-749 A. U. C., His public life must begin about 777-779 A. U. C. Second, when, shortly before the first Pasch of His public life, Jesus had cast the buyers and sellers out of the Temple, the Jews said: “Six and forty years was this temple in building” (John, ii, 20). Now, according to the testimony of Josephus (loc. cit.), the building of the Temple began in the fifteenth year of Herod‘s actual reign or in the eighteenth of his reign de jure, i.e. 732 A. u. c.; hence, adding the forty-six years of actual building, the Pasch of Christ’s first year of public life must have fallen in 778 A. u. c. Third, the Gospel of St. Luke (iii, 1) assigns the beginning of St. John the Baptist’s mission to the “fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cwsar”. Augustus, the predecessor of Tiberius, died August 19, 767 A. u. c., so that the fifteenth year of Tiberius‘s independent reign is 782 A. U. C.; but then Tiberius began to be the associate of Augustus in A. u. c. 764, so that the fifteenth year reckoned from this date falls in A. u. c. 778. Jesus Christ’s public life began a few months later, i.e. about A. U. C. 779.
(3) The Year of the Death of Christ
According to the Evangelists, Jesus suffered under the high-priest Caiphas (A. U. C. 772-90, or A.D. 18-36), during the governorship of Pontius Pilate (A. U. C. 780-90). But this leaves the time rather indefinite. Tradition, the patristic testimonies for which have been collected by Patrizi (De Evangeliis), places the death of Jesus in the fifteenth (or sixteenth) year of Tiberius, in the consulship of the Gemini, forty-two years before the destruction of Jerusalem, and twelve years before the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles. We have already seen that the fifteenth year of Tiberius is either 778 or 782, according to its computation from the beginning of Tiberius‘s associate or sole reign; the consul-ship of the Gemini (Fufius and Rubellius) fell in A. U. C. 782; the forty-second year before the destruction of Jerusalem is A.D. 29, or again A. U. C. 782; twelve years before the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles brings us to the same year, A.D. 29, or A.U.C. 782, since the conversion of Cornelius, which marks the opening of the Gentile missions, fell probably in A.D. 40 or 41.
(4) Jesus died on Friday the fifteenth day of Nisan
That Jesus died on Friday is clearly stated by Mark (xv, 42), Luke (xxiii, 54), and John (xix, 31). The few writers who assign another day for Christ’s death are practically lost in the multitude of authorities who place it on Friday. What is more, they do not even agree among themselves: Epiphanius, e.g., places the Crucifixion on Tuesday; Lactantius, on Saturday; Westcott, on Thursday; Cassiodorus and Gregory of Tours, not on Friday. The first three Evangelists are equally clear about the date of the Crucifixion. They place the Last Supper on the fourteenth day of Nisan, as may be seen from Matt., xxvi, 17-20; Mark, xiv, 12-17; Luke, xxii, 7-14. Nor can there be any doubt about St. John’s agreement with the Synoptic Evangelists on the question of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. The Supper was held “before the festival day of the pasch” (John, xiii, 1), i.e. on 14 Nisan, since the sacrificial day was computed according to the Roman method (Jovino, 123 sqq., 139 sqq.). Again, some disciples thought that Judas left the supper table because Jesus had said to him: “Buy those things which we have need of for the festival day: or that he should give something to the poor” (John, xiii, 29). If the Supper had been held on 13 Nisan this belief of the disciples can hardly be understood, since Judas might have made his purchases and distributed his alms on 14 Nisan; there would have been no need for his rushing into the city in the middle of the night. On the day of Christ’s Crucifixion the Jews “went not into the hall, that they might not be defiled, but that they might eat the pasch” (John, xviii, 28). The pasch which the Jews wished to eat could not have been the paschal lamb, which was eaten on 14 Nisan, for the pollution contracted by entering the hall would have ceased at sundown, so that it would not have prevented them from sharing in the paschal supper. The pasch which the Jews had in view must have been the sacrificial offerings (Chagighah), which were called also pasch and were eaten on 15 Nisan. Hence this passage places the death of Jesus Christ on the fifteenth day of Nisan. Again, Jesus is said to have suffered and died on the”parasceve of the pasch”, or simply on the “parasceve” (John, xix, 14, 31); as “parasceve” meant Friday, the expression “parasceve of the pasch” denotes the Friday on which the pasch happened to fall, not the day before the pasch. Finally, the day following the parasceve on which Jesus died is called “a great sabbath day” (John, xix, 31), either to denote its occurrence in the paschal week or to distinguish it from the preceding pasch, or day of minor rest.
B. Relative Chronology
No student of the life of Jesus will question the chronological order of its principal divisions: infancy, hidden life, public life, passion, glory. But the order of events in the single divisions is not always clear beyond dispute.
(1) The Infancy of Jesus
The history of the infancy, for instance, is recorded only in the First Gospel and in the Third. Each Evangelist contents himself with five pictures: St. Matthew describes the birth of Jesus, the adoration of the Magi, the flight into Egypt, the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, and the return to Nazareth. St. Luke gives a sketch of the birth, of the adoration of the shepherds, of the circumcision, of the purification of the Virgin, and of the return to Nazareth. The two Evangelists agree in the first and the last of these two series of incidents (moreover, all scholars place the birth, the adoration of the shepherds, and the circumcision before the Magi), but how are we to arrange the intervening three events related by St. Matthew with the order of St. Luke? We indicate a few of the many ways in which the chronological sequence of these facts has been arranged.
The birth, the adoration of the shepherds, the circumcision, the adoration of the Magi, the flight into Egypt, the slaughter of the Innocents, the purification, the return to Nazareth. This order implies that either the purification was delayed beyond the fortieth day, which seems to contradict Luke, ii, 22 sqq., or that Jesus was born shortly before Herod‘s death, so that the Holy Family could return from Egypt within forty days after the birth of Jesus. Tradition does not seem to favor this speedy return.
The birth, the adoration of the shepherds, the circumcision, the adoration of the Magi, the purification, the flight into Egypt, the slaughter of the Innocents, the return to Nazareth. According to this order the Magi either arrived a few days before the purification or they came on January 6; but in neither case can we understand why the Holy Family should have offered the sacrifice of the poor, after receiving the offerings of the Magi. Moreover, the first Evangelist intimates that the angel appeared to St. Joseph soon after the departure of the Magi, and it is not at all probable that Herod should have waited long before inquiring concerning the whereabouts of the new-born king. The difficulties are not overcome by placing the adoration of the Magi on the day before the purification; it would be more unlikely in that case that the Holy Family should offer the sacrifice of the poor.
As Luke, ii, 39, appears to exclude the possibility of placing the adoration of the Magi between the presentation and the return to Nazareth, there are interpreters who have located the advent of the wise men, the flight into Egypt, the slaughter of the Innocents, and the return from Egypt after the events as told in St. Luke. They agree in the opinion that the Holy Family returned to Nazareth after the purification, and then left Nazareth in order to make their home in Bethlehem. Eusebius, Epiphanius, and some other ancient writers are willing to place the adoration of the Magi about two years after Christ’s birth; Papebroch and his followers allow about a year and thirteen days between the birth and the advent of the Magi; while Patrizi agrees with those who fix the advent of the Magi at about two weeks after the purification. The text of Matt., ii, 1, 2, hardly permits an interval of more than a year between the purification and the coming of the wise men; Patrizi’s opinion appears to satisfy all the data furnished by the Gospels, while it does not contradict the particulars added by tradition.
(2) The Hidden Life of Jesus
It was in the seclusion of Nazareth that Jesus spent the greatest part of His earthly life. The inspired records are very reticent about this period: Luke, ii, 40-52; Mark, vi, 3; John, vi, 42; vii, 15, are about the only passages which refer to the hidden life. Some of them give us a general view of Christ’s life: “The child grew, and waxed strong, full of wisdom; and the grace of God was in him” is the brief summary of the years following the return of the Holy Family after the ceremonial purification in the Temple. “Jesus advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men”, and He “was subject to them” form the inspired outline of Christ’s life in Nazareth after He had attained the age of twelve. “When he was twelve years old” Jesus accompanied His parents to Jerusalem, “according to the custom of the feast”; “When they returned, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem; and his parents knew it not.” “After three days, they found him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions.” It was on this occasion that Jesus spoke the only words that have come down from the period of His hidden life: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know, that I must be about my Father’s business [or, “in my father’s house “]? “The Jews tell us that Jesus had not passed through the training of the Rabbinic schools: “How doth this man know letters, having never learned?” The same question is asked by the people of Nazareth, who add, “Is not this the carpenter?” St. Justin is authority for the statement that Jesus specially made “ploughs and yokes” (Contra Tryph., 88). Though it is not certain that at the time of Jesus elementary schools existed in the Jewish villages, it may be inferred from the Gospels that Jesus knew how to read (Luke, iv, 16) and write (John, viii, 6). At an early age He must have learned the so-called Shema (Deut., vi, 4), and the Hallel, or Pss. cxiii-cxviii (Hebr.); He must have been familiar with the other parts of the Scriptures too, especially the Psalms and the Prophetic Books, as He constantly refers to them in His public life. It is also asserted that Palestine at the time of Jesus Christ was practically bilingual, so that Christ must have spoken Aramaic and Greek; the indications that He was acquainted with Hebrew and Latin are rather slight. The public teaching of Jesus shows that He was a close observer of the sights and sounds of nature, and of the habits of all classes of men. For these are the usual sources of His illustrations. To conclude, the hidden life of Jesus extending through thirty years is far different from what one should have expected in the case of a Person Who is adored by His followers as their God and revered as their Savior; this is an indirect proof for the credibility of the Gospel story.
(3) The Public Life of Jesus
The chronology of the public life offers a number of problems to the interpreter; we shall touch upon only two, the duration of the public life, and the successive journeys it contains.
(a) Duration of the Public Life.—There are two extreme views as to the length of the ministry of Jesus: St. Irenaius (Contra Hair., II, xxii, 3-6) appears to suggest a period of fifteen years; the prophetic phrases, “the year of recompenses”, and “the year of my redemption” (Is., xxxiv, 8; lxiii, 4), appear to have induced Clement of Alexandria, Julius Africanus, Philastrius, Hilarion, and two or three other patristic writers to allow only one year for the public life. This latter opinion has found advocates among certain recent students: von Soden, for instance, defends it in Cheyne’s “Encyclopaedia Biblica”. But the text of the Gospels demands a more extensive duration. St. John’s Gospel distinctly mentions three distinct paschs in the history of Christ’s ministry (ii, 13; vi, 4; xi, 55). The first of these occurs shortly after the baptism of Jesus, the last coincides with His Passion, so that at least two years must have intervened between the two events to give us the necessary room for the passover mentioned in vi, 4. Westcott and Hort omit the expression “the pasch” in vi, 4, to compress the ministry of Jesus within the space of one year; but all the manuscripts, the versions, and nearly all the Fathers testify for the reading ‘hn de eggusto pascha, eeorteton ioudaion: “Now the pasch, the festival day of the Jews, was near at hand.” Thus far then everything tends to favor the view of those patristic writers and more recent commentators who extend the period of Christ’s ministry a little over two years.
But a comparison of St. John’s Gospel with the Synoptic Evangelists seems to introduce another pasch, indicated in the Fourth Gospel, into Christ’s public life. John, iv, 45, relates the return of Jesus into Galilee after the first pasch of His public life spent in Jerusalem, and the same event is told by Mark, i, 14, and Luke, iv, 14. Again, the pasch mentioned in John, vi, 4, has its parallel in the “green grass” of Mark, vi, 39, and in the multiplication of loaves as told in Luke, ix, 12 sqq. But the plucking of ears mentioned in Mark, ii, 23, and Luke, vi, 1, implies another paschal season intervening between those expressly mentioned in John, ii, 13, and vi, 4. This shows that the public life of Jesus must have extended over four paschs, so that it must have lasted three years and a few months. Though the Fourth Gospel does not indicate this fourth pasch as clearly as the other three, it is not wholly silent on the question. The “festival day of the Jews” mentioned in John, v, 1, has been identified with the Feast of Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Expiation, the Feast of the New Moon, the Feast of Purim, the Feast of Dedication, by various commentators; others openly confess that they cannot determine to which of the Jewish feasts this festival day refers. Nearly all difficulties will disappear if the festival day be regarded as the pasch, as both the text (eorte) and John, iv, 35 seem to demand (cf. Dublin Review, XXIII, 351 sqq.).
(b) Journeys of Jesus during His Public Life.—The journeys Jesus made during His public life may be grouped under nine heads: the first six were mainly performed in Galilee and had Capharnaum for their central point; the last three bring Jesus into Judea without any pronounced central point. We cannot enter into the disputed questions connected with the single incidents of the various groups.
(i) First Journey.—December, A. u. c. 778-Spring, 779. (Cf. John, i, ii; Matt., iii, iv; Mark, i; Luke, iii, iv.) Jesus abandons His hidden life in Nazareth, and goes to Bethania across the Jordan, where He is baptized by John and receives the Baptist’s first testimony to His Divine mission. He then withdraws into the desert of Judea, where He fasts for forty days and is tempted by the devil. After this He dwells in the neighborhood of the Baptist’s ministry, and receives the latter’s second and third testimony; here too He wins His first disciples, with whom He journeys to the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee, where He performs His first public miracle. Finally He transfers His residence, so far as there can be question of a residence in His public life, to Capharnaum, one of the principal thoroughfares of commerce and travel in Galilee.
(ii) Second Journey.—Passover, A. U. C. 779-about Pentecost, 780. (Cf. John, ii-v; Mark, i-iii; Luke, iv-vii; Matt., iv-ix.) Jesus goes from Capharnaum to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover; here He expels the buyers and sellers from the Temple, and is questioned by the Jewish authorities. Many believed in Jesus, and Nicodemus came to converse with Him during the night. After the festival days He remained in Judea till about the following December, during which period He received the fourth testimony from John who was baptizing at Ennon (A. V. Aenon). When the Baptist had been imprisoned in Machaerus, Jesus returned to Galilee by way of Samaria where He met the Samaritan woman at Jacob‘s well near Sichar; He delayed two days in this place, and many believed in Him. Soon after His return into Galilee we find Jesus again in Cana, where He heard the prayer of the ruler who pleaded for the recovery of his dying son in Capharnaum. The rejection of Jesus by the people of Nazareth, whether at this time as St. Luke intimates, or at a later period, as St. Mark seems to demand, or again both now and about eight months later, is an exegetical problem we cannot solve here. At any rate, shortly afterwards Jesus is most actively engaged in Capharnaum in teaching and healing the sick, restoring among others Peter’s mother-in-law and a demoniac. On this occasion he called Peter and Andrew, James and John. Then followed a missionary tour through Galilee during which Jesus cured a leper; soon He again taught in Capharnaum, and was surrounded by such a multitude that a man sick of the palsy had to be let down through the roof in order to reach the Sacred Presence. After calling Matthew to the Apostleship, He went to Jerusalem for the second pasch occurring during His public life, and it was on this occasion that He healed the man who had been sick for thirty-eight years near the pool at Jerusalem. The charge of violating the Sabbath and Christ’s answer were the natural effects of the miracle. The same charge is repeated shortly after the pasch; Jesus had returned to Galilee, and the disciples plucked some ripe ears in the corn fields. The question became more acute in the immediate future; Jesus had returned to Capharnaum, and there healed on the Sabbath day a man who had a withered hand. The Pharisees now make common cause with the Herodians in order to “destroy him”. Jesus withdraws first to the Sea of Galilee, where He teaches and performs numerous miracles; then retires to the Mountain of Beatitudes, where He prays during the night, chooses His Twelve Apostles in the morning, and preaches the Sermon on the Mount. He is brought back to Capharnaum by the prayers of the centurion who asks and obtains the cure of his servant.
(iii) Third Journey.—About Pentecost, A. U. C. 780-Autumn, 780. (Cf. Luke, vii, viii; Mark, iii, iv; Matt., iv, viii, ix, xii, xiii.) Jesus makes another missionary tour through Galilee; He resuscitates the son of the widow at Naim, and shortly afterwards receives the messengers sent by John from his prison in Machaerus. Then follows the scene of the merciful reception of the sinful woman who anoints the feet of the Lord while He rests at table in Magdala or perhaps in Capharnaum; for the rest of His missionary tour Jesus is followed by a band of pious women who minister to the wants of the Apostles. After returning to Capharnaum, Jesus expels the mute devil, is charged by the Pharisees with casting out devils by the prince of devils, and encounters the remonstrances of His kinsmen. Withdrawing to the sea, He preaches what may be called the “Lake Sermon”, consisting of seven parables.
(iv) Fourth Journey.—Autumn, A.U.C. 780-about Passover, 781. (Cf. Luke, viii, ix; Mark, iv-vi; Matt., viii, ix, x, xiii, xiv.) After a laborious day of ministry in the city of Capharnaum and on the lake, Jesus with His Apostles crosses the waters. As a great storm overtakes them, the frightened Apostles awaken their sleeping Master, Who commands the winds and the waves. Towards morning they meet in the country of the Gerasens, on the east shore of the lake, two demoniacs. Jesus expels the evil spirits, but allows them to enter into a herd of swine. The beasts destroy themselves in the waters of the lake, and the frightened inhabitants beg Jesus not to remain among them. After returning to Capharnaum He heals the woman who had touched the hem of His garment, resuscitates the daughter of Jairus, and gives sight to two blind men. The Second Gospel places here Christ’s last visit to and rejection by the people of Nazareth. Then follows the ministry of the Apostles who are sent two by two, while Jesus Himself makes another missionary tour through Galilee. It seems to have been the martyrdom of John the Baptist that occasioned the return of the Apostles and their gathering around the Master in Capharnaum. But, however depressing this event may have been, it did not damp the enthusiasm of the Apostles over their success.
(v) Fifth Journey.—Spring, A. U. C. 781. (Cf. John, vi; Luke, ix; Mark, vi; and Matt., xiv. Jesus invites the Apostles, tired out from their missionary labors, to rest awhile. They cross the northern part of the Sea of Galilee, but, instead of finding the desired solitude, they are met by multitudes of people who had preceded them by land or by boat, and who were eager for instruction. Jesus taught them throughout the day, and towards evening did not wish to dismiss them hungry. On the other hand, there were only five loaves and two fishes at the disposal of Jesus; after His blessing, these scanty supplies satisfied the hunger of five thousand men, besides women and children, and the remnants filled twelve baskets of fragments. Jesus sent the Apostles back to their boats, and escaped from the enthusiastic multitudes, who wished to make Him king, into the mountain where He prayed till far into the night. Meanwhile the Apostles were facing a contrary wind till the fourth watch in the morning, when they saw Jesus walking upon the waters. The Apostles first fear, and then recognize Jesus; Peter walks upon the water as long as his confidence lasts; the storm ceases when Jesus has entered the boat. The next day brings Jesus and His Apostles to Capharnaum, where He speaks to the assembly about the Bread of Life and promises the Holy Eucharist, with the result that some of His followers leave Him, while the faith of His true disciples is strengthened.
(vi) Sixth Journey.—About May, A. U. C. 781-September, 781. (Cf. Lk., ix; Mk., vii-ix; Matt., viv-xviii; John, vii. It may be owing to the enmity stirred up against Jesus by His Eucharistic discourse in Capharnaum that He began now a more extensive missionary tour than He had made in the preceding years of His public life. Passing through the country of Genesar, He expressed His disapproval of the Pharisaic practices of legal purity. Within the borders of Tyre and Sidon He exorcized the daughter of the Syrophenician woman. From here Jesus traveled first towards the north, then towards the east, then southeastward through the northern part of Decapolis, probably along the foot of the Lebanon, till He came to the eastern part of Galilee. While in Decapolis Jesus healed a deaf-mute, employing a ceremonial more elaborate than He had used at any of His previous miracles; in the eastern part of Galilee, probably not far from Dalmanutha and Magedan, He fed four thousand men, besides children and women, with seven loaves and a few little fishes, the remaining fragments filling seven baskets. The multitudes had listened for three days to the teaching of Jesus previously to the miracle. In spite of the many cures performed by Jesus, during this journey, on the blind, the dumb, the lame, the maimed, and on many others, the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Him for a sign from heaven, tempting Him. He promised them the sign of Jonas the Prophet. After Jesus and the Apostles had crossed the lake, He warned them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees; then they passed through Bethsaida Julias where Jesus gave sight to a blind man. Next we find JESUS in the Confines of Caesarea Philippi, where Peter professes his faith in Christ, the Son of the living God, and in his turn receives from Jesus the promise of the power of the keys. Jesus here predicts His Passion, and about a week later is transfigured before Peter, James, and John, probably on the top of Mt. Thabor. On descending from the mountain, Jesus exorcizes the mute devil whom His disciples had not been able to expel. Bending his way towards Capharnaum, Jesus predicts His Passion for the second time, and in the city pays the tribute-money for Himself and Peter. This occasions the discussion as to the greater in the kingdom of heaven, and the allied discourses. Finally, Jesus ref uses His brethren’s invitation to go publicly to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem.
(vii) Seventh Journey.—September, A. U. C. 781-December, 781. (Cf. Luke, ix-xiii; Mark, x; Matt., vi, vii, viii, x, xi, xii, xxiv; John, vii-x.) Jesus now “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem“, and, as the Samaritans refused Him hospitality, He had to take the road east of the Jordan. While still in Galilee, He refused the discipleship of several half-hearted candidates, and about the same time He sent other seventy-two disciples, two by two, before His face into every city and place whither He Himself was to come. Probably in the lower part of Peraea, the seventy-two returned with joy, rejoicing in the miraculous power that had been exercised by them. It must have been in the vicinity of Jericho that Jesus answered the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” by the parable of the Good Samaritan. Next Jesus was received in the hospitable home of Mary and Martha, where He declares Mary to have chosen the better part. From Bethania Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, where He became involved in discussions with the Jews. The Scribes and Pharisees endeavored to catch Him in the sentence which they asked Him to pronounce in the case of the woman taken in adultery. When Jesus had avoided this snare, He continued His discussions with the hostile Jews. Their enmity was intensified because Jesus restored sight to a blind man on the Sabbath day. Jesus appears to have ended His stay in Jerusalem with the beautiful discourse on the Good Shepherd. A little later He teaches His Apostles the Our Father, probably somewhere on Mt. Olivet. On a subsequent missionary tour through Judea and Peraea He heals the dumb and blind demoniac, defends Himself against the charges of the Pharisees, and reproves their hypocrisy. On the same journey Jesus warned against hypocrisy, covetousness, worldly care; He exhorted to watchfulness, patience under contradictions, and to penance. About this time, too, He healed the woman who had the spirit of infirmity.
(viii) Eighth Journey.—December, A. U. C. 781-February, 782. (Cf. Luke, xiii-xvii; John, x, xi.) The Feast of Dedication brought Jesus again to Jerusalem, and occasioned another discussion with the Jews. This is followed by another missionary tour through Peraaa, during which Jesus explained a number of important points of doctrine: the number of the elect, the choice of one’s place at table, the guests to be invited, the parable of the great supper, resoluteness in the service of God, the parables of the hundred sheep, the lost groat, and the prodigal son, of the unjust steward, of Dives and Lazarus, of the unmerciful servant, besides the duty of fraternal correction, and the efficacy of faith. During this period, too, the Pharisees attempted to frighten Jesus with the menace of Herod‘s persecution; on His part, Jesus healed a man who had the dropsy, on a Sabbath day, while at table in the house of a certain prince of the Pharisees. Finally, Mary and Martha send messengers to Jesus, asking Him to come and cure their brother Lazarus; Jesus went after two days, and resuscitated His friend who had been several days in the grave. The Jews are exasperated over this miracle, and they decree that Jesus must die for the people. Hence He withdrew “into a country near the desert, unto a city that is called Ephrem”.
(ix) Ninth Journey.—February, A. U. C. 782-Passover, 782. (Cf. Luke, xvii-xxii; Mk., x, xiv; Matt., xixxxvi; John, xi, xii.) This last journey took Jesus from Ephrem northward through Samaria, then eastward along the border of Galilee into Perm, then southward through Peraea, westward across the Jordan, through Jericho, Bethania on Mt. Olivet, Bethphage, and finally to Jerusalem. While in the most northern part of the journey, He cured ten lepers; a little later, He answered the questions raised by the Pharisees concerning the kingdom of God. Then He urged the need of incessant prayer by proposing the parable of the unjust judge; here too belong the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, the discourse on marriage, on the attitude of the Church towards children, on the right use of riches as illustrated by the story of the rich young ruler, and the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. After beginning His route towards Jerusalem, He predicted His Passion for the third time; James and John betray their ambition, but they are taught the true standard of greatness in the Church. At Jericho Jesus heals two blind men, and receives the repentance of Zacheus the publican; here He proposed also the parable of the pounds entrusted to the servants by their master. Six days before the pasch we find Jesus at Bethania on Mt. Olivet, as the guest of Simon the leper; Mary anoints His feet, and the disciples at the instigation of Judas are indignant at this seeming waste of ointment. A great multitude assembles at Bethania, not to see Jesus only but also Lazarus; hence the chief priests think of killing Lazarus too. On the following day Jesus solemnly entered Jerusalem and was received by the Hosanna cries of all classes of people. In the afternoon He met a delegation of Gentiles in the court of the Temple. On Monday Jesus curses the barren fig tree, and during the morning He drives the buyers and sellers from the Temple. On Tuesday the wonder of the disciples at the sudden withering of the fig tree provokes their Master’s instruction on the efficacy of faith. Jesus answers the enemies’ question as to His authority; then He proposes the parable of the two sons, of the wicked husbandmen, and of the marriage feast. Next follows a triple snare: the politicians ask whether it is lawful to pay tribute to Caesar; the scoffers inquire whose wife a woman, who has had several lawful husbands, will be after the resurrection; the Jewish theologians propose the question: Which is the first commandment, the great commandment in the law? Then Jesus proposes His last question to the Jews: “What think you of Christ? whose son is he?” This is followed by the eightfold woe against the Scribes and Pharisees, and by the denunciation of Jerusalem. The last words of Christ in the Temple were expressions of praise for the poor widow who had made an offering of two mites in spite of her poverty. Jesus ended this day by uttering the prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, His second coming, and the future judgment; these predictions are interrupted by the parable of the ten virgins, and of the talents. On Wednesday Jesus again predicted His Passion; probably it was on the same day that Judas made his final agreement with the Jews to betray Jesus.
(4) The Passion of Jesus
The history of Christ’s Passion comprises three parts: the preparation for the Passion, the trial of Jesus, and His death.
(a) Preparation for the Passion.—Jesus prepares His disciples for the Passion, He prepares Himself for the ordeal, and His enemies prepare themselves for the destruction of Jesus.
(i) Preparation of the Apostles.—Jesus prepares His Apostles for the Passion by the eating of the paschal lamb, the institution of the Holy Eucharist, the concomitant ceremonies, and His lengthy discourses held during and after the Last Supper. Special mention should be made of the prediction of the, Passion, and of the betrayal by one of the Apostles and the denial by another. Peter, James, and John are prepared in a more particular manner by witnessing the sorrow of Jesus on Mt. Olivet.
(ii) Preparation of Jesus.—Jesus must have found an indirect preparation for His Passion in all He did and said to strengthen His Apostles. But the preparation that was peculiarly His own consisted in His prayer in the grotto of His Agony where the angel came to strengthen Him. The sleep of His favored Apostles during the hours of His bitter struggle must have prepared Him too for the complete abandonment He was soon to experience.
(iii) Preparation of the Enemies.—Judas leaves the Master during the Last Supper. The chief priests and Pharisees hastily collect a detachment of the Roman cohort stationed in the castle of Antonia, of the Jewish temple-watch, and of the officials of the Temple. To these are added a number of the servants and dependants of the high-priest, and a miscellaneous multitude of fanatics with lanterns and torches, with swords and clubs, who were to follow the leadership of Judas. They took Christ, bound Him, and led Him to the high-priest’s house.
(b) Trial of Jesus.—Jesus was tried first before an ecclesiastical and then before a civil tribunal.
(i) Before the Ecclesiastical Court.—The ecclesiastical trial includes Christ’s appearance before Annas, before Caiphas, and again before Caiphas, who appears to have acted in each case as head of the Sanhedrin. The Jewish court found Jesus guilty of blasphemy, and condemned Him to death, though its proceedings were illegal from more than one point of view. During the trial took place Peter’s triple denial of Jesus; Jesus is insulted and mocked, especially between the second and third session; and after His final condemnation Judas despaired and met his tragic death.
(ii) Before the Civil Court.—The civil trial, too, comprised three sessions, the first before Pilate, the second before Herod, and the third again before Pilate. Jesus is not charged with blasphemy before the court of Pilate, but with stirring up the people, forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and claiming to be Christ the king. Pilate ignores the first two charges; the third he finds harmless when he sees that Jesus does not claim royalty in the Roman sense of the word. But in order not to incur the odium of the Jewish leaders, the Roman governor sends his prisoner to Herod. As Jesus did not humor the curiosity of Herod, He was mocked and set at naught by the Tetrarch of Galilee and his court, and sent back to Pilate. The Roman procurator declares the prisoner innocent for the second time, but, instead of setting Him free, gives the people the alternative to choose either Jesus or Barabbas for their paschal freedman. Pilate pronounced Jesus innocent for the third time with the more solemn ceremony of washing his hands; he had recourse to a third scheme of ridding himself of the burden of pronouncing an unjust sentence against his prisoner. He had the prisoner scourged, thus annihilating, as far as human means could do so, any hope that Jesus could ever attain to the royal dignity. But even this device miscarried, and Pilate allowed his political ambition to prevail over his sense of evident justice; he condemned Jesus to be crucified.
(c) Death of Jesus.—Jesus carried His Cross to the place of execution. Simon of Cyrene is forced to assist Him in bearing the heavy burden. On the way Jesus addresses His last words to the weeping women who sympathized with His suffering. He is nailed to the Cross, His garments are divided, and an inscription is placed over His head. While His enemies mock Him, He pronounces the well-known “Seven Words”. Of the two robbers crucified with Jesus, one was converted, the other died impenitent. The sun was darkened, and Jesus surrendered His soul into the hands of His Father. The veil of the Temple was rent in two, the earth quaked, the rocks were riven, and many bodies of the saints that had slept arose and appeared to many. The Roman centurion testified that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. The Heart of Jesus was pierced so as to make sure of His death. The Sacred Body was taken from the Cross by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, and was buried in the new Sepulcher of Joseph, and the Sabbath drew near.
(5) The Glory of Jesus
After the burial of Jesus, the Holy Women returned and prepared spices and ointments. The next day, the chief priests and Pharisees made the Sepulcher secure with guards, sealing the stone. When the Sabbath was passed, the Holy Women brought sweet spices that they might anoint Jesus. But Jesus rose early the first day of the week, and there was a great earthquake, and an angel descended from heaven, and rolled back the stone. The guards were struck with terror, and became as dead men. On arriving at the Sepulcher the Holy Women found the grave empty; Mary Magdalen ran to tell the Apostles Peter and John, while the other women were told by an angel that the Lord had risen from the dead. Peter and John hasten to the Sepulcher, and find everything as Magdalen has reported. Magdalen too returns, and, while weeping at the Sepulcher, is approached by the risen Savior Who appears to her and speaks with her. On the same day Jesus appeared to the other Holy Women, to Peter, to the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, and to all the Apostles excepting Thomas. A week later He appeared to all the Apostles, Thomas included; later still He appeared in Galilee near the Lake of Genesareth to seven disciples, on a mountain in Galilee to a multitude of disciples, to James, and finally to His disciples on Mount Olivet whence He ascended into heaven. But these apparitions do not exhaust the record of the Gospels, according to which Jesus showed Himself alive after His Passion by many proofs, for forty days appearing to the disciples and speaking of the kingdom of God.
IV. THE CHARACTER OF JESUS
The surpassing eminence of the character of Jesus has been acknowledged by men of the most varied type: Kant testifies to His ideal perfection; Hegel sees in Him the union of the human and the Divine; the most advanced skeptics do Him homage; Spinoza speaks of Him as the truest symbol of heavenly wisdom; the beauty and grandeur of His life overawe Voltaire; Napoleon I, at St. Helena, felt convinced that “Between him [Jesus] and whoever else in the world there is no possible term of comparison” (Montholon, “Recit de la Captivite de l’Empereur Napoleon”). Rousseau testifies: “If the life and death of Socrates are those of a sage, the life and death of Jesus are those of a god.” Strauss acknowledges: “He is the highest object we can possibly imagine with respect to religion, the being without whose presence in the mind perfect piety is impossible.” To Renan “The Christ of the Gospels is the most beautiful incarnation of God in the most beautiful of forms. His beauty is eternal; his reign will never end.” John Stuart Mill spoke of Jesus as “a man charged with a special, express, and unique commission from God to lead mankind to truth and virtue”. Not that the views of the foregoing witnesses are of any great importance for the theological student of the life of Jesus; but they show at least the impression made on the most different classes of men by the history of Christ. In the following paragraphs we shall consider the character of Jesus as manifested first in His relation to men, then in His relation to God.
A. Jesus in His Relation to Men
In His relation to men Jesus manifested certain qualities which were perceived by all, being subject to the light of reason; ut other qualities were reserved for those who viewed Him in the light of faith. Both deserve a brief study.
(1) In the Light of Reason
There is no trust-worthy tradition concerning the bodily appearance of Jesus, but this is not needed in order to obtain a picture of His character. It is true that at first sight the conduct of Jesus is so many-sided that His character seems to elude all description. Command and sympathy, power and charm, authority and affection, cheerfulness and gravity, are some of the qualities that make the task of analysis impossible. The make-up of the Gospels does not facilitate the work. At first they appear to us a bewildering forest of dogmatic statements and moral principles; there is no system, no method, everything is occasional, everything fragmentary. The Gospels are neither a manual of dogma nor a treatise on casuistry, though they are the fountain of both. No wonder then that various investigators have arrived at entirely different conclusions in their study of Jesus. Some call Him a fanatic, others make Him a socialist, others again an anarchist, while many call Him a dreamer, a mystic, an Essene. But in this variety of views there are two main concepts under which the others may be summarized: Some consider Jesus an ascetic, others an aesthete; some emphasize His suffering, others His joyfulness; some identify Him with ecclesiasticism, others with humanism; some recognize in Him the prophetic picture of the Old Testament and the monastic of the New, others see in Him only gladness and poetry. There may be solid ground for both views; but they do not exhaust the character of Jesus. Both are only by-products which really existed in Jesus, but were not primarily intended; they were only enjoyed and suffered in passing, while Jesus strove to attain an end wholly different from either joy or sorrow.
Strength.—Considering the life of Jesus in the light of reason, His strength, His poise, and His grace are His most characteristic qualities. His strength shows itself in His manner of life, His decision, His authority. In His rugged, nomadic, homeless life there is no room for weakness or sentimentality. Indecision is rejected by Jesus on several occasions: “No man can serve two masters”; “He that is not with me, is against me”; “Seek first the kingdom of God“, these are some of the statements expressing Christ’s attitude to indecision of will. Of Himself He said: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me”; “I seek not my own will, but the will of him that sent me.” The authority of the Master does not allow its power to be questioned; He calls to men in their boats, in their tax-booths, in their homes, “Follow me”, and they look up into His face and obey. St. Matthew testifies, “The multitude glorified God that gave such power to men”; St. Mark adds, “the kingdom of God comes in power”; St. Luke says, “His speech was with power”; St. John writes, “Thou hast given him power over all flesh”; the Book of the Acts reads, “God anointed him . with power”; St. Paul too is impressed with “the power of our Lord Jesus”. In His teaching Jesus does not argue, or prove, or threaten, like the Pharisees, but He speaks like one having authority. Nowhere is Jesus merely a long-faced ascetic or a joyous comrade, we find Him every-where to be a leader of men, whose principles are built on a rock.
Poise.—It may be said that the strength of Christ’s character gives rise to another quality which we may call poise. Reason is like the sails of the boat, the will is its rudder, and the feelings are the waves thrown upon either side of the ship as it passes through the waters. The will-power of Jesus is strong enough to keep a perfect equilibrium between His feelings and His reason; His body is the perfect instrument in the performance of His duty; His emotions are wholly subservient to the Will of His Father; it is the call of complying with His higher duties that prevents His austerity from becoming excessive. There is therefore a perfect balance or equilibrium in Jesus between the life of His body, of His mind, and of His emotions. His character is so rounded off that, at first sight, there remains nothing which could make it characteristic. This poise in the character of Jesus produces a simplicity which pervades every one of His actions. As the old Roman roads led straight ahead in spite of mountains and valleys, ascents and declivities, so does the life of Jesus flow quietly onward in accordance with the call of duty, in spite of pleasure or pain, honor or ignominy. Another trait in Jesus which may be considered as flowing from the poise of His character is His unalterable peace, a peace which may be ruffled but cannot be destroyed either by His inward feelings or outward encounters. And these personal qualities in Jesus are reflected in His teaching. He establishes an equilibrium between the righteousness of the Old Testament and the justice of the New, between the love and life of the former and those of the latter. He lops off indeed the Pharisaic conventionalism and externalism, but they were merely degenerated outgrowths; He urges the law of love, but shows that it embraces the whole Law and the Prophets; He promises life, but it consists not so much in our possession as in our capacity to use our possession. Nor can it be urged that the poise of Christ’s teaching is destroyed by His three paradoxes of self-sacrifice, of service, and of idealism. The law of self-sacrifice inculcates that we shall find life by losing it; but the law of biological organisms, of physiological tissues, of intellectual achievements, and of economic processes shows that self-sacrifice is self-realization in the end. The second paradox is that of service: “Whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister: and he that will be first among you, shall be your servant.” But in the industrial and artistic world, too, the greatest men are those who have done most service. Thirdly, the idealism of Jesus is expressed in such words as “The life is more than the meat”, and “Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.” But even our realistic age must grant that the reality of the law is its ideals, and again, that the world of the idealist is impossible only for the weak, while the strong character creates the world after which he strives. The character of Jesus therefore is the embodiment of both strength and poise. It thus verifies the definition given by such an involved writer as Emerson: “Character is centrality, the impossibility of being displaced or overset. . The natural measure of this power is the resistance of circumstances.”
Grace.—But if there were not a third essential element entering into the character of Jesus, it might not be attractive after all. Even saints are at times bad neighbors; we may like them, but sometimes we like them only at a distance. The character of Christ carries with it the trait of grace, doing away with all harshness and want of amiability. Grace is the unconstrained expression of the self-forgetting and kindly mind. It is a beautiful way of doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, and therefore opens all hearts to its possessor. Sympathy is the widest channel through which grace flows, and the abundance of the stream testifies to the reserve of grace. Now Jesus sympathizes with all classes, with the rich and the poor, the learned and the ignorant, the happy and the sad; He moves with the same sense of familiarity among all classes of society. For the self-righteous Pharisees He has only the words, “Woe to you, hypocrites”; He warns His disciples, “Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Plato and Aristotle are utterly unlike Jesus; they may speak of natural virtue, but we never find children in their arms. Jesus treats the publicans as His friends; He encourages the most tentative beginnings of moral growth. He chooses common fishermen for the cornerstones of His kingdom, and by His kindliness trains them to become the light of the world and the salt of the earth; He bends down to St. Peter whose character was a heap of sand rather than a solid foundation, but He graciously forms Peter into the rock upon which to build His Church. After two of the Apostles had fallen, Jesus was gracious to both, though He saved only one, while the other destroyed himself. Women in need are not excluded from the general graciousness of Jesus: He receives the homage of the sinful woman, He restores the son of the widow at Nairn, He consoles the sorrowing sisters Martha and Mary, He cures the mother-in-law of St. Peter and restores the health of numerous other women, He accepts the ministry of the holy women of Galilee, He has words of sympathy for the women of Jerusalem who bewailed His sufferings, He was subject to His mother till He reached man’s estate, and when dying on the Cross commended her to the care of His beloved disciple. The grace of the Master is also evident in the form of His teaching: He lays under contribution the simple phases of nature, the hen with her chickens, the gnat in the cup, the camel in the narrow street, the fig tree and its fruit, the fishermen sorting their catch. He meets with the lightest touch, approaching sometimes the play of humor and sometimes the thrust of irony, the simple doubts of His disciples, the selfish questions of His hearers, and the subtlest snares of His enemies. He feels no need of thrift in His doctrine; He lavishes His teaching and His benefits on the few as abundantly as on the vastest multitudes. He flings out His parables into the world that those who have ears may hear. There is a prodigality in this manifestation of Christ’s grace that can only be symbolized, but not equaled, by the waste of seed in the realm of nature.
(2) In the Light of Faith
In the light of faith the life of Jesus is an uninterrupted series of acts of love for man. It was love that impelled the Son of God to take on human nature, though He did so with the full consent of His Father: “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son” (John, iii, 16). For thirty years Jesus shows His love by a life of poverty, labor, and hardship in the fulfillment of the duties of a common tradesman. When His public ministry began, He simply spent Himself for the good of His neighbor, “doing good, and healing all that were oppressed by the devil” (Acts, x, 38). He shows a boundless compassion for all the infirmities of the body; He uses His miraculous power to heal the sick, to free the possessed, to resuscitate the dead. The moral weaknesses of man move His heart still more effectively; the woman at Jacob‘s well, Matthew the publican, Mary Magdalen the public sinner, Zacheus the unjust administrator, are only a few instances of sinners who received encouragement from the lips of Jesus. He is ready with forgiveness for all; the parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates His love for the sinner. In His work of teaching He is at the service of the poorest outcast of Galilee as well as of the theological celebrities of Jerusalem. His bitterest enemies are not excluded from the manifestations of His love; even while He is being crucified He prays for their pardon. The Scribes and Pharisees are treated severely, only because they stand in the way of His love. “Come to me, all you that labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you” (Matt., xi, 28) is the message of His heart to poor suffering humanity. After laying down the rule, “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John, xv, 13), He surpasses as it were His own standard by dying for His enemies. Fulfilling the unconscious prophecy of the godless high-priest, “It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people” (John, xi, 50), He freely meets His sufferings which He could have easily avoided (Matt., xxvi, 53), undergoes the greatest insults and ignominies, passes through the most severe bodily pains, and sheds His blood for men “unto remission of sins” (Matt., xxvi, 28). But the love of Jesus embraced not only the spiritual welfare of men, it extended also to their temporal happiness: “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt., vi, 33).
B. Jesus in His Relation to God
Prescinding from the theological discussions which are usually treated in the theses “De Verbo Incarnato”, we may consider the relations of Jesus to God under the headings of His sanctity and His Divinity.
(1) Sanctity of Jesus
From a negative point of view, the sanctity of Jesus consists in His unspotted sinlessness. He can defy His enemies by asking, “Which of you shall convince me of sin?” (John, viii, 46). Even the evil spirits are forced to acknowledge Him as the Holy One of God (Mark, i, 24; Luke, iv, 34). His enemies charge Him with being a Samaritan, and having a devil (John, viii, 48), with being a sinner (John, ix, 24), a blasphemer (Matt., xxvi, 65), a violator of the Sabbath (John, ix, 16), a malefactor (John, xviii, 30), a disturber of the peace (Luke, xxiii, 5), a seducer (Matt., xxvii, 63). But Pilate finds and declares Jesus innocent, and, when pressed by the enemies of Jesus to condemn Him, he washes his hands and exclaims before the assembled people, “I am innocent of the blood of this just man’ (Matt., xxvii, 24). The Jewish authorities practically admit that they cannot prove any wrong against Jesus; they only insist, “We have a law; and according to the law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God” (John, xix, 7). The final charge urged against Christ by His bitterest enemies was His claim to be the Son of God.
The positive side of the sanctity of Jesus is well attested by His constant zeal in the service of God. At the age of twelve He asks His mother, “Did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business?” He urges on His hearers the true adoration in spirit and in truth (John, iv, 23) required by His Father. Repeatedly He declares His entire dependence on His Father (John, v, 20, 30; etc.); He is faithful to the Will of His Father (John, viii, 29); He tells His disciples, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me” (John iv, 34). Even the hardest sacrifices do not prevent Jesus from complying with His Father’s Will: “My Father, if this chalice may not pass away, but I must drink it, thy will be done” (Matt., xxvi, 42). Jesus honors His Father (John, viii, 49), is consumed with zeal for the house of His Father (John, ii, 17), and proclaims at the end of His life, “I have glorified thee on the earth” (John, xvii, 4). He prays almost incessantly to His Father (Mark, i, 35; vi, 46; etc.), and teaches His Apostles the Our Father (Matt., vi, 9). He always thanks His Father for His bounties (Matt., xi, 25; etc.), and in brief behaves throughout as only a most loving son can behave towards his beloved father. During His Passion one of His most intense sorrows is His feeling of abandonment by His Father (Mark, xv, 34), and at the point of death He joyfully surrenders His Soul into the hands of His Father (Luke, xxiii, 46).
(2) Divinity of Jesus
The Divinity of Jesus is proved by some writers by an appeal to prophecy and miracle. But, though Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament to the letter, He Himself appears to appeal to them mainly in proof of His Divine mission; He shows the Jews that He fulfils in His Person and His work all that had been foretold of the Messias. The prophecies uttered by Jesus Himself differ from the predictions of the Old Testament in that Jesus does not speak in the name of the Lord, like the seers of old, but in His own name. If it could be strictly proved that they were made in virtue of His own knowledge of the future, and of His own power to dispose of the current of events, the prophecies would prove His Divinity; as it is they prove at least that Jesus is a messenger of God, a friend of God, inspired by God. This is not the place to discuss the historical and philosophical truth of the miracles of Jesus, but we know that Jesus appeals to His works as bearing witness to the general truth of His mission (John, x, 25, 33, 38), and also for the verity of some particular claims (Matt., ix, 6; Mark, ii, 10, 11; etc.). They show, therefore, at least that Jesus is a Divine legate and that His teaching is infallibly true.
Did Jesus teach that He is God? He certainly claimed to be the Messias (John, iv, 26), to fulfill the Messianic descriptions of the Old Testament (Matt., xi, 3-5; Luke, vii, 22-23; iv, 18-21), to be denoted by the current Messianic names, “king of Israel” (Luke, xix, 38; etc.), “Son of David” (Matt., ix, 27; etc.), “Son of man” (passim), “he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matt., xxi, 9; etc.). Moreover, Jesus claims to be greater than Abraham (John, viii, 53, 56), than Moses (Matt., xix, 8-9), than Solomon and Jonas (Matt., xii, 41-42); He habitually claims to be sent by God (John, v, 36, 37, 43; etc.), calls God His father (Luke, ii, 49; etc.), and He willingly accepts the titles “Master” and “Lord” (John, xiii, 13, 14). He forgives sin in answer to the observation that God alone can forgive sin (Mark, ii, 7;10; Luke, v, 21, 24; etc.). He acts as the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt., xii, 8; etc.), and tells St. Peter that as “Son” He is free from the duty of paying temple-tribute (Matt., xvii, 24, 25). From the beginning of His ministry he allows Nathanael to call Him “Son of God” (John, i, 49); the Apostles (Matt., xiv, 33) and Martha (John, xi, 27) give Him the same title. Twice He approves of Peter who calls Him “the Christ, the Son of God” (John, vi, 70), “Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt., xvi, 16). Four distinct times does He proclaim Himself the Son of God: to the man born blind (John, ix, 35-37); to the Jews in the Temple (John, x, 30, 36); before the two assemblies of the Jewish Sanhedrin on the night before His death (Matt., xxvi, 63-64; Mark, xiv, 61-62; Luke, xxii, 70). He does not manifest His Divine Sonship before Satan (Matt., iv, 3, 6) or before the Jews who are deriding Him (Matt., xxvii, 40). Jesus does not wish to teach the evil spirit the mystery of His Divinity; to the Jews He gives a greater sign than they are asking for. Jesus, therefore, applies to Himself, and allows others to apply to Him, the title “Son of God” in its full meaning. If there had been a misunderstanding He would have corrected it, even as Paul and Barnabas corrected those who took them for gods (Acts, xiv, 12-14).
Nor can it be said that the title “Son of God” denotes a merely adoptive sonship. The foregoing texts do not admit of such an interpretation. St. Peter, for instance, places his Master above John the Baptist, Elias, and the Prophets (Matt., xvi, 13-17). Again, the Angel Gabriel declares that the Child to be born will be “the Son of the most High” and “Son of God” (Luke, i, 32, 35), in such a way that He will be without an earthly father. Mere adoption presupposes the existence of the child to be adopted; but St. Joseph is warned that “That which is conceived in her [Mary], is of the Holy Ghost” (Matt., i, 20); now one’s being conceived by the operation of another implies one’s natural relation of sonship to him. Moreover, the Divine Sonship claimed by Jesus is such that He and the Father are one (John, x, 30, 36); a merely adopted sonship does not constitute a physical unity between the son and his adoptive father. Finally if Jesus had claimed only an adoptive sonship, He would have deceived His judges; they could not have condemned Him for claiming a prerogative common to all pious Israelites. Harnack (Wesen des Christentums, 81) contends that the Divine Sonship claimed by Jesus is an intellectual relation to the Father, springing from special knowledge of God. This knowledge constitutes “the sphere of the Divine Son-ship”, and is implied in the words of Matt., xi, 27: “No one knoweth the Son, but the Father: neither doth any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal him.” But if the Divine Sonship of Christ is a mere intellectual relation, and if Christ is God in a most figurative sense, the Paternity of the Father and the Divinity of the Son will be reduced to a figure of speech. (See Theology. subtitle Christology.)
A. J. MAAS