Archbishop Fulton Sheen, comparing Our Lord with “any other moral teacher the world has ever known … Buddha, Confucius, Lao-tsze, Socrates, Mohammed – it makes no difference which”, wrote that not one of them identified himself either with the Way of Salvation, or with the Truth, or with Life. “They all said: “I will point out the way”; but Our Lord said: “I am the Way” …. Every reformer, every great thinker, every preacher of ethics in the history of the world pointed to an ideal outside himself. Our Lord did not. He pointed to Himself … Alcibiades, for example, asked Socrates what he should ask of the gods. Socrates told him “to wait for some great teacher who would tell us how we were to conduct ourselves before God”. Socrates did not say, “look to me, I am the way”. Rather, he said, “Look after me, and beyond me, and outside me” (ibid., p. 67). There was a distinction between the master and his system.
What is true of Socrates is equally true of the Buddha, he adds. In the “Book of the Great Decease”, Ananda tries to obtain from Buddha, when his end was near, direction and consolation. Buddha did not say: “Believe in me”, or “Live by me”. But instead he answered: “Be a lamp unto yourself and a refuge unto yourself”. According to Fulton Sheen, he “was practically saying “I am not the Light. I am not the Truth”. It was something outside him”. And finally, turning to Confucius, “the great reformer of the Orient”, Fulton Sheen notes how he “repeatedly disclaimed any special excellence in himself. “How dare I”, he said, “rank myself with the sage and the man of perfect virtue?” He was practically saying, “The Life is not in me. These ideals are distinct from my historical existence”.”
It is in this that Our Lord differs from all of them. While Socrates was saying “Wait for another”, Christ was saying: “I am here. Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). While Buddha refused to be a lamp to guide the poor, dying Ananda, Our Lord was saying: “I am the Light of the World”. While Confucius refused to see in himself a personification of his ideal of sinlessness, our Redeemer was saying that He was the Life and Resurrection. While the prophets of Israel pointed beyond themselves, He proclaimed Himself as the Desire of the Nations.
Unlike modern prophets, too, who insist that a successful message must be sophisticated, liberal and modern, Our Lord’s method was just the opposite. “He did the very things any other prophet would have called foolish. He chose the very method the others labelled unsuccessful. His teaching possessed the three opposite characteristics of the world. He did not make his message smart, but simple; not liberal, but transforming; not modem, but eternal. In contrast with modern prophets the message of Our Blessed Lord was not smart and sophisticated, but plain and simple. There is nowhere an attempt to impress His auditors either with His Omniscience or with their nescience. He is never complex. There is no trick of rhetoric, no appeal to the intelligensia, no pomp or demonstration, no monotonous deserts of laws and precepts such as are found in Buddha or Mohammed” (ibid., p. 74).
On most occasions, as we have seen already, His sermons were given under the open sky, by the hillside, alongside the lake, or in the road-way. His words flowed as sweetly to single listeners as to raptured crowds, and could be caught just as well by the learned enquirer in the lonely midnight, as by the frail woman at the noonday well. His phrases are taken out of common life and common experience which makes them plain to every age. His lessons were drawn from the very incidents of life before him at the moment.
Our Lord did not say that the message should be liberal,. But in opposing a liberal doctrine He was not narrow; “He was not a revolutionary; He was not making an innovation. Rather He was renovating. His doctrine was transforming. He begins a recast race of Adam. Socrates reformed the mind, Moses the law, and others altered codes, systems and religions; but Our Lord did no alter a part of man, but the whole man from top to bottom, the inner man which is the motive power of all his works and deeds. He therefore makes no compromises, or concessions. He has a real contempt of a broad-mindedness which is synonymous with indifference” (ibid., p. 77).
Finally, whereas modern prophets would rather be up-to-date than right, Our Lord upset this spirit by dwelling not on timely topics, but on eternal truths. “It was an ideal outside time; difficult in all times; impossible at no time. Because He did not adapt himself to past times, nor present times, nor to future times, He never fell into a platitude. Platitudes belong only to those who say we must have new morals to suit the new science. Platitudes are the heritage of time, but not of the eternal. For example, there are no platitudes about war, about its waste, about its hate, about its slaughter. What there is running through His teaching, is a little phrase which is a mighty phrase; a phrase which separates time from eternity, a phrase which began a new system of education; “But I say unto you”. In the Sermon on the Mount, He begins every example with the words, “You have heard it said …” and then He purifies the so-called timely, platitudinous, with an eternal command: “But I say to you …”” (ibid., p. 81).
Futon Sheen wrote (ibid., p. 140) that there were two great passions which entwine themselves around the life of Our Lord, as they do about no other person who ever lived: the passion of love and the passion of hate. Hated he said he would be – by the world until the end of time – not the material universe, not by people in general in it, but hated rather by what His own Apostles called the spirit of the world.
There is nothing to hate in the life of Christ, who is meek and humble of heart; whose Gospel was the Gospel of love, even for enemies; whose last act was pardon and forgiveness for those who put him to death. Certainly he was loved; but he was also hated. We do not find such love towards any other person as we do towards him; neither do we find such abiding hate. Why is Buddha not hated, why is Christ hated? We must look outside of him and his Gospel apparently, if we are to find the reason for the immortality of that hatred.
Fulton Sheen asks (ibid., p. 144): “Can it be that He was an impostor as Communist Russia believes, and that His religion is an imposture? But if He is an impostor, as the Soviets believe, then our love for Him is false, and their hatred for him is true. But if their hatred is true, then it ought to renovate their society and transform the hearts of men …. But name one thing that their hatred for Our Lord has done. Where are the good works of their hatred? What peoples have they drawn from vice and corruption? What souls have they consoled? What hearts have they sweetened? Where are their Sisters of Charity? Where are their Sisters of the Poor? Where are their martyrs, there white-robed virgins, their happy marriages? There are men dying in sorrow; there are souls crying out for the bread of everlasting life, and there are sinful hearts pleading for forgiveness. Where oh! where – oh, Hatred of Christ is your consolation, your mercy and your peace for such souls?”
He goes on (ibid., p. 145): “No other founder of a world religion ever said he would be hated, and no-one ever was hated. Buddha is not hated. Mohammed is not hated, Zoroaster is not hated. Some men while they lived were hated. Nero was hated while he lived … Aghis Khan … Bismarck …. But who hates any of them today? … Hatred died with them”. What then causes hatred? “Hatred is caused by that which annoys or creates an obstacle to something we desire… Nero … Ivan the Terrible … Nestorius … have ceased to be objects of hatred, because the have ceased to be obstacles. But with Our Lord it is different. The hatred against Christ has never weakened even after twenty centuries … and the reason it still endures is because Christ is still an obstacle – an obstacle to sin, to selfishness, to godlessness, and to the spirit of the world …. Hatred still endures, because He still lives. But if He still lives, then He is Divine” (ibid., p. 146).