“He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sake is my one desire” (St. Ignatius of Antioch)
St. Ignatius of Loyola has left us glimpses in his writings of what admiration for the heroic Christ meant for him. This can be understood better in the light of similar experiences undergone by other Christians who have been fascinated by the grandeur of the person of the Lord Jesus. For two thousand years men have not ceased to express their awe and veneration for Him: “Since I have known Jesus Christ,” said Lacordaire, “nothing has seemed to me beautiful enough to be desired.”
“I believe,” wrote Dostoyevsky,“ there is nothing holier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly, and more perfect than the Savior; I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like Him, but there could be no one. I would say even more. If any one could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth. There is in the world only one figure of absolute beauty: Christ. That infinitely lovely figure is as a matter of course an infinite marvel (the whole Gospel of St. John is full of this thought: John sees the wonder of the Incarnation, the visible apparition of the Beautiful).”
Napoleon, during his final years of exile on the island of St. Helena, expressed his ideas about Jesus Christ during a conversation with General Bertrand, a self-declared non-believer:
“I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Shallow minds see a resemblance between Jesus Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance just isn’t there. There is an infinite distance between Christianity and whatever other religion.[…] “Everything in him [Christ] astonishes me. His spirit awes me and his willpower makes me marvel. Between him and anyone else in the world there is no possible point of comparison. He is truly unique. His ideas and emotions, the truth which he announces, his way of convincing, are not explained either by human organization or by the nature of things…His birth, and the history of his life; the depth of his teaching which grapples with the most difficult questions and is the most admirable solution to those questions; his gospel, his appearance, his empire, his march across the ages and the realms,—every thing is for me a marvel, an insoluble mystery, plunging me into dreams that I cannot escape; a mystery that is there before my eyes; a mystery that I can neither deny nor explain. Here I see nothing human. […] The closer I get to him, the more carefully I examine him, I see that everything is beyond me; everything is immense with an overpowering grandeur. His religion is a revelation from a mind that is certainly not human. There lies a deep originality that has created a series of words and sayings hitherto unknown. Jesus borrowed nothing from our knowledge. One cannot find such a life absolutely anywhere except in him.[…] I search vainly through history to find someone like Jesus Christ or anything resembling the gospel. Neither history nor humanity nor the ages nor nature offer me anything with which to compare or explain it. Here everything is extraordinary. The more I consider the gospel, the more I am certain that there is nothing there that is not beyond the march of human events and above the human mind.”
…”You speak of Caesar, of Alexander, of their conquests and of the enthusiasm that they enkindled in the hearts of their soldiers. But can you conceive of a dead man making conquests with an army that remains faithful and entirely devoted to his memory? My armies have forgotten me even while I am living, just as the Carthaginian army forgot Hannibal. Such is our power. A single lost battle crushes us, and adversity scatters our friends.”
“Can you imagine Cæsar as the eternal emperor of the Roman senate, and, from the depth of his mausoleum governing the empire, watching over the destinies of Rome? Yet that precisely is the history of the invasion and conquest of the world by Christianity; that is the power of the God of the Christians; that is the perpetual miracle of the progress of the Faith, and of the government of his Church. Nations pass away, thrones crumble – but the Church remains. What then is the power that has protected this Church thus assailed by the furious billows of rage and the hostility of ages? Whose is the arm that for eighteen hundred years has protected the Church from so many storms that have threatened to engulf it?
“Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne, and myself founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ alone founded his empire upon love; and, at this hour, millions of men would die for him”.
The words of Soren Kierkegaard about the bond between the hero and the poet can be applied to the bond between the admirer and the hero:
“The God who created man and woman also fashioned the hero and the poet or orator. The latter cannot do what the former does; he can only admire, love, rejoice with the hero. All the same, he too is happy, no less than the other. Indeed the hero is his better essence, he with whom he is in love, happy in not being himself. And this is how his love can manifest itself: in admiration. He is the recording genius who can do nothing save record what has been done, do nothing but admire what has been done, does nothing of himself but is jealous of what has been entrusted to him. He follows his heart’s choice but, once having found what he seeks, he then goes from door to door with his songs and his speeches, proclaiming that all should admire the hero as he does, should be as proud of the hero as he is. This is his trade, his humble activity; this is his loyal service in the house of the hero.”
This relationship admirer-hero provokes a desire for closeness. For admirers “to gird on the hero’s sword for a single moment or to carry his shield is their reward.”(Sertillanges). Yet they also want somehow to be like their revered role model. Such was the admiration that provoked Elisha to ask his revered master Elijah whom he called “my father” (2 Kings 2: 12) when he sensed the latter’s imminent departure from this life: “I pray you, let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”(2 Kings 2: 9).