Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

The Divine Romance: God's Quest For Man

by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen


The purpose of this address given by Rev. Fulton J. Sheen on March 30, 1930 is to discuss the overflow of God's Justice, which is God's Mercy.

Larger Work

The Divine Romance


34 - 43

Publisher & Date

Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, Indiana, 1943

Love is naturally expansive; but Divine Love is creative. Love told the secret of Its goodness to nothingness, and that was creation. Love made something like unto Its own image and likeness, and that was man. Love was prodigal of Its gifts, and that was the elevation of man to the adoptive sonship of God. Love must always run risks of not being loved in return, for love is free. The human heart refused to return that love in the only way in which love can ever be shown, namely by confidence and trust in a moment of trial. Man thus lost the gifts of God, darkened his intellect, weakened his will, and brought the first or original sin into the world — for sin is ultimately a refusal to love.

The refusal of man to love the best, created the most difficult problem in the whole history of humanity, namely the problem of restoring man to the favor of Divine Love. In short, the problem was this: Man had sinned; but his sin was not merely a rebellion against another man, but a revolt against the Infinite Love of God. Therefore his sin was infinite. But, it may be asked, since man is finite, how can he commit an infinite crime? The answer to that question is that an offense, an injury, or a sin, is always to be measured by the one sinned against. It would be, for example, a far greater offense to insult the mayor of your own city than a citizen of your own city, and it would be a greater offense to commit a crime against the governor of your State than against the mayor. In like manner, it would be a still greater offense to commit a felony against the President of the United States than against the governor of any State. In other words, sin is measured by the one sinned against. Man sinned against God. God is Infinite. Therefore, man's offense is infinite.

Such is one side of the problem. The other side is this: Every infraction or violation of a law demands reparation or atonement. We need only go into the hospitals to see there that every violation of a law of nature has its day of reckoning; we need only go into our asylums to see there that nature itself takes revenge on excesses, and squares her accounts with sin. A Judge seems to be sitting there in judgment executing sentence upon those who would violate nature's commands. In a still higher sphere, parents who love their children demand reparation for their faults, and judges who love society impose sentences in atonement for crime; for a justice, which sees evil and does not punish it, is not justice. But since God is Infinite Love, He might pardon man and forget the injury; but pardon without compensation would eclipse the Justice, which is the nature of God. Without setting any limits to the Mercy of God, I could understand His forgiveness better if His mercy were preceded by a satisfaction for sin; for one can never be merciful unless he is just. Mercy is the overflow of justice.

But assuming that man ought to give satisfaction, could he adequately satisfy for his sins? No, because the only satisfaction or reparation or atonement, which man had to offer was finite. At this point it may be asked, why cannot man give an infinite recompense for his sin? If he can commit an infinite crime, why can he not make an infinite retribution? The answer is that while injury is in the one injured, honor or reparation is in the one honoring or repairing. If a citizen of the Soviet State, a Minister of Finance of France, a Senator of a South American Republic, and the King of Great Britain, came to call on the President of our country, they would not all render him equal honor. Honor would be in the one honoring, and he who held the highest office would render the greatest tribute. Now I have said that man owes honor and reparation to God; but since man is finite, it follows that the honor, which he will render to God will also be finite. And there is the problem of the Incarnation!

Man, who is finite, owes an infinite debt. But how can a man who owes a million pay the debt with a cent? How can the human atone to the Divine? How can Justice and Mercy be reconciled? If satisfaction is ever to be made for the fall of man, the finite and the Infinite, the human and the Divine, God and man, must in some way be linked together. It would not do for God to come down to earth and suffer as God alone, for then He would not have anything in common with man; and the sin is not God's, but man's. It would not do for man alone to suffer or atone, for the merit of his sufferings would be only finite. If the satisfaction would be complete, two conditions would have to be fulfilled: First, man would have to be man to act as man and to atone for man. Second, man would have to be God in order that his sufferings would have an infinite value. But in order that the finite and the Infinite would not be acting as two distinct personalities, and in order that infinite merit would result from man's suffering, God and man in some way would have to become one, or in other words, there would have to be a God-man. If Justice and Mercy were to be reconciled there would have to be an Incarnation, which means God assuming a human nature in such a way that He would be true God and true man. There would have to be a union of God and man, built upon somewhat the same lines as the union of spirit and matter in man. Man has a double nature, the nature of the body, which is material, the nature of the soul, which is spiritual — and yet he is only one person. The Incarnation of God would imply some such union of two natures in the unity of a person, but quite naturally a far more perfect one.

Let me try to make this clear by an example. On the desk before me is a pencil. That pencil represents human nature; of itself the pencil cannot write. My hand now goes down to the pencil, takes it up, moves it across a paper, and immediately the pencil is endowed with a power which before it had not. If after I had written you should ask me who wrote the lines, I would not say my fingers wrote them, nor would I say my pencil wrote them, but I would say, I wrote them. In other words, we attribute the actions of various natures to a person and the one thing that characterizes the person is not action, not nature, not direction, but responsibility. That is why I do not say my stomach is hungry, but I am hungry; not my eyes see, but I see. Actions belong to a person.

Now let the pencil represent poor human nature, of itself unable to pay an infinite debt to God. Imagine now a Divine Person with a Divine Nature coming down to that human nature, taking it up and becoming united with it in a far more perfect way than my hand is united with the pencil. If such an act of condescension would ever happen, the action of the human nature and the action of the Divine Nature would not be attributed to either nature alone, as the action of the pencil would not be attributed to the nature of the pencil or to the nature of the hand alone — it would be attributed to the person. But if the person were one of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity, namely, the Second Person, the Eternal Son of God, it would follow that every thought, every word, every sigh, every tear of the human nature of that Person, would be the very thought, very word, very sigh, and very tear, of God. Then Justice and Mercy could be reconciled. God would be just in demanding infinite satisfaction; God would be merciful in making that possible by coming down to earth and being found in the habit and the form of man.

What I have just imagined for you is what has actually taken place. Love tends to become like the one loved; in fact, it even wishes to become one with the one loved. God loved unworthy man. He willed to become one with him and that was the Incarnation. One night there went out over the stillness of an evening breeze, out over the white chalk hills of Bethlehem, a cry, a gentle cry. The sea did not hear the cry, for the sea was filled with its own voice. The earth did not hear the cry, for the earth slept. The great men of the earth did not hear the cry, for they could not understand how a Child could be greater than a man. The kings of the earth did not hear the cry, for they could not fathom how a King could be born in a stable. There were only two classes of men who heard the cry that night: Shepherds and Wise Men. Shepherds: Those who know they know nothing. Wise Men: Those who know they do not know everything. Shepherds: Poor simple men who knew only how to tend their flocks; who perhaps could not tell who was the Governor of Judea; who perhaps did not know a single line of Virgil, though there was not a Roman who could not quote from him. On the other hand, there were the Wise Men: not Kings, but teachers of Kings; men who knew how to read the stars and tell the story of their movements; men who were constantly bent on discovery. Both of these heard the cry. The Shepherds found their Shepherd, and the Wise Men discovered Wisdom. And the Shepherd and the Wisdom was a Babe in a crib.

From that day to this there have been only two classes of people who have heard the cry of Christ and who have found Christ: The very simple and the very learned. The very simple: Good souls who perhaps know only how to tell their beads. And the very wise minds like Pascal, Aquinas, Bonaventure, or Mercier. But never the man with one book; never the man who thinks he knows. Only the simple and only the wise find Christ because both are humble; both acknowledge either ignorance or the limitations of human knowledge, which is humility. In order to enter the cave, one must stoop; and the stoop is the stoop of humility. Those who possess that kind of humility can enter the cave. There they will find what these two groups found: A Babe outstretched on a bed of straw. So great was the majesty seated on the brow of the Child, so great was the dignity of the Babe, so powerful was the light of those eyes that shone like two celestial suns that they could not help but cry out: "Emmanuel . . . God with us." God revealed Himself to man again. He who is born without a mother in Heaven is born without a father on earth. He who made His mother is born of His mother. He who made all flesh is born of flesh. "The bird that built the nest is hatched therein." Maker of the sun, under the sun. Moulder of the earth, on the earth. Ineffably Wise, a little Infant. Filling the world, lying in a manger. Ruling the stars, suckling a breast. The mirth of Heaven weeps. God becomes man. Creator, a creature. Rich, become poor. Divinity, incarnate. Majesty, subjugated. Liberty, captive. Eternity, time. Master, a servant. Truth, accused. Judge, judged. Justice, condemned. Lord, scourged. Power, bound with ropes. King, crowned with thorns. Salvation, wounded. Life, dead. "The Eternal Word is dumb." Marvel of marvels! Union of unions! Three mysterious unions in one: Divinity and humanity; Virginity and fecundity; Faith and the heart of man. And though we shall live on through eternity, eternity will not be long enough for us to understand the mystery of that "Child who was a father and of the mother who was a child."

The tiny hands that were not quite big enough to touch the huge heads of the cattle, were the hands that were holding the reins that steer the sun, the moon, and the stars in their courses. The tiny fingers that could but clutch clumsily at the coarse straw of the threshing floor, were fingers that will one day point in judgment to the good and to the bad. The tiny feet that could not walk were weak, not because they were baby feet, but because those baby feet could not bear the weight of Divine Omnipotence. There under the tender skin of a baby brow was beating an Intelligence compared to which the combined intelligence of Europe and America amount to naught; an intelligence that, if it had moved in other days, would have found Plato and Aristotle but poor philosophers, Dante and Shakespeare but poor poets, and our modern scientists but mumbling beginners.

Each breath, each sigh, and each tear of that Babe was the breath, sigh, and tear of God. Each one of them would have been sufficient to have redeemed ten thousand worlds. Then why a life of suffering and why an existence that led to the hard bed of the Cross? Why the shedding of the last drop of blood? For something like the same reason that there are more birds than necessary for the needed song of man, more grains of sand than are necessary for a seashore — because of the superfluity of Love. Love, which is real loves even to the point of sacrifice, in fact loves even to the end, which is the giving of one's own life. Christ loves to that extent, for "greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

The drying of the blood of Christ on an infamous gibbet, then, is something more than some in our day would have us believe, who declare that Christ's death is interesting and valuable because of the subjective effect it has on the mind of the believer. He went to death, they tell us, in order that man might be impressed with His heroism. No! He went to death not to impress us subjectively, but to save us objectively. Imagine a man sitting on a pier on a bright sunny day, lazily fishing, and apparently without a concern in the world. Now suppose that a stranger wishing to impress the fisherman with the great humanitarian love he bore him, would rush forward, cast himself headlong over the pier into the sea, and drown. The whole matter would be ridiculous, for there is no relation between the fisherman's need and the act of the benefactor. But suppose the fisherman had fallen into the water and was drowning; and that then the friend came and threw himself in to save him and gave his own life in the rescue. In such a case we would say: "Greater love than this no man hath that a man lay down his life for his friend." Here there is an objective relation between the man's need and his rescue. So, too, in the greater drama of Salvation there is a relation between man who was lost in sin, and God who came to save him — not by gold or silver, but by the outpouring of His Precious Blood. And if you were the only person in the world who ever lived, He would have come down and suffered and died just for you alone. That is how much God loves you!

It takes a Divine, an Infinite, Being to use the very instruments of defeat as the instruments of victory. The Fall came through three realties: First, a disobedient man: Adam. Secondly, a proud woman: Eve. Thirdly, a tree. The reconciliation and redemption of man came through these same three. For the disobedient man, Adam, was substituted the obedient new Adam of the human race, Christ; for the proud Eve, there was the humble Mary; and for the tree, the Cross.

In the face of this cardinal doctrine of Christianity, the Incarnation of God, how tawdry and poor appear the substitutes offered in which we are asked to venerate a system, prostrate ourselves before a series of abstract nouns, or fall down on our knees before the cosmos. These things are too unreal, for the very reason that they are systems and hence will never appeal to the heart of man. Humanism is impossible because it is too academic; "love of humanity" is impossible because there is no such thing as humanity — there are only men and women; the religion of progress is impossible because progress means nothing unless we know whither we are progressing. Philosophical systems, scientific constructions, and slogans, leave the heart of man cold. Even a theory about love means little as long as it remains a theory. But let Love become personal in Some One and then it pulls at every heartstring in the world. There is the secret of the appeal of the Incarnation. Love became incarnate and dwelt amongst us. Since that day hearts that have known what the Incarnation means can never content themselves with any system which asks us to adore the cosmos. Man never has loved, never will love, anything he cannot get his arms around — and the cosmos is too big and bulky. That is why the Immense God became a Babe in order that we might encircle Him in our arms.

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The Divine Equation

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