(The American Catholic will observe its tenth anniversary in October. We will be reposting some classic TAC posts of the past. This post is from December 24, 2017.)
 Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am?
 Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.  Then he commanded his disciples, that they should tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ.
Matthew 16: 16-20
A good question to think about on Christmas Eve.
The all important question about Christ is the one He asked. Who do you say that I am? In trying to make sense of Christ and his ever present impact upon this world, that is the question that is ever addressed.
A popular answer among some atheists is that Christ never existed. This has always been a minority position since the evidence for the historicity of Christ is so overwhelming, especially for a figure who lived in obscurity. Written accounts by His followers were drafted within decades after His death. Saint Paul writes about Christ within a decade of the Crucifixion. Non-Christian accounts, notably Tacitus, mention Christ. His followers in Rome are persecuted within thirty years after His death. Attempts to get around all this involve large amounts of conspiracy theories, ignoring inconvenient facts and academic hand-waving. Regarding Christ as a myth may satisfy a semi-educated atheist, but it simply is not an intellectually honest position.
Much more popular, and not simply among atheists, is that Christ was a simple preacher and healer from Galilee. His post death reputation bears no relationship to the kernel of a completely unremarkable life. Tall tales involving miracles are complete inventions of his followers, and, in life, Christ was a common enough type of his time and place. An interesting little theory if it only fit the facts. All we know about Christ indicates that Christ was regarded by none of His contemporaries as either common or typical. Leaving aside His miracles, He spoke with authority, unlike the Sadducees, Scribes and Pharisees. His parables are masterpieces of thought and story, unforgettable after the first telling. Much of what He said was mysterious to His followers and recalled by them even though it bore no relationship to Judaism as practiced prior to Christ. He was viewed by the native rulers of His people as a mortal threat. No, unless we are willing to cast aside all written evidence about Christ, and completely ignore His passionate and ever-growing following after His crucifixion, the idea of Him being common and typical is simply laughable.
Perhaps then Christ was simply one of those great moral teachers that History casts up now an again, His followers post death transforming him into a supernatural being? In part, certainly, Christ was a great moral teacher, but He taught that He was so much more than that. What other great moral teacher has, as the center of his teaching, that he is God, the creator of All, and that his followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood? If Christ is regarded simply as a great moral teacher, he is one who had at the core of his teachings a blasphemous lie.
Christ as lunatic perhaps, a madman who thought he was God? That category simply doesn’t work either. Could a madman have responded to the clever trap of asking whether the Jews should pay tribute to Rome, by stating that the Jews should render unto Caesar his coin while giving to God what was His? The Christ portrayed in the Gospels is sane, humane and exceedingly original and clever. In spite of His remarkable claims, He gives not the slightest impression of psychosis.
Christ simply does not fit into any of our neat human categories, something that His contemporaries, both followers and adversaries, understood. He came like thunder and lightning out of a clear dawn and humanity has never been the same.
I see in Lycurgus, Numa and Mohammed only legislators who, having the first rank in the state, have sought the best solution of the social problem but I see nothing there which reveals divinity…nothing announces them divine. On the contrary, there are numerous resemblances between them & myself, foibles and errors which ally them to me and to humanity.
It is not so with Christ. Everything in Him astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, and His will confounds me. Beside Him and whoever else in the world, there is no possible term of comparison. He is truly a being by Himself. His ideals and His sentiments, the truths which He announces, His manner of convincing, are not explained either by human organization or by the nature of things.
His birth and the history of His life; the profundity of His doctrine, which grapples the mightiest difficulties, and which is, of those difficulties, the most admirable solution; His Gospel, His apparition, His empire, His march across the ages and the realms, is for me a prodigy, a mystery insoluble, which plunges me into a reverence which I cannot escape, a mystery which is there before my eyes, mystery which I cannot deny or explain. Here I see nothing human. The nearer I approach, the more carefully I examine, everything is above me, everything remains grand—and of a grandeur which overpowers.
His religion is a revelation from an intelligence which certainly is not a man. There is a profound originality, which has created a series of maxims before unknown. Jesus borrowed nothing from our sciences. One can absolutely find nowhere, but in Him alone, the imitation or the example of His life.