Rod of Jesse – Author’s Blog

August 9, 2011

The Sanity of Santayana

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Ernest Werner @ 8:34 am

Among those few distinguished minds in the century now past who found an approach to our question (and did not simply despise it) we place our Spanish-American philosopher. His book on the Gospels, as I imply, is notable for its freedom, its sympathy, its sanity and its truth. He takes these old documents at face value without a serious care over whether this or that incident may have happened as written. He is unconcerned to deny the miracles of Christ, for instance, and he will understand the ‘moral’ truth of the thing which is thus ‘dramatically’ expressed. Not to say by these words, which are favorites of his, that the Gospels are high drama: they are sometimes effective in a liturgical setting, especially when handled by an understanding pastor, but overall, except possibly the Fourth Gospel, they are very miscellaneously composed.
Santayana well understood that it was the aim of no Evangelist to record the mere facts. Jesus and Judas at a fruit-stand, for example, Judas with his money bags haggling over the price of a bunch of figs — what is this to us? There is nothing of the journalist in the Evangelist. Not a word in the Gospels describes the face of Jesus except to say once that it shone like the sun, or once again that he looked around him with anger, nor is anything told of his manner except for the action expressed, which is half miraculous and half verbal. So we find in these old writings only the Idea of Christ as a man (the one being told of) in whom the purposes of God are being carried out. Not to say that Jesus is presented as a god. Only in the latest portions of the Gospels is the nearness of God to Christ suggestive of a divine Presence.
Santayana works, in the first place, with what we have. This is realism, is it not? And he finds in the Gospels as we have them (and not as we might like to have them) a spirit wisely attuned to the tragic character of life and which gives us their abiding value. This is focussed supremely in the figure and fate of Jesus. To understand the Gospel, as his treatment implies, is to understand the Idea of Christ, which he interprets with the aid of the later doctors of the church who had understood the deeper mystery of the figure of Jesus.

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