The Christian vocation.

This objectivity and balance is all the more necessary for a Christian, because Christianity itself and every phase of Christianity is an irreducible paradox, which must be lived without regarding it as a problem to be solved or a dilemma whose horns must be avoided.

That is, Christianity, as supra-rational, appears to reason as a contradiction (which is, perhaps, why Jesus was a "sign of contradiction"); and reason always tries to explain a contradiction to its own satisfaction. But to rationalize Christianity is to remove its supra-rational character, and so is to destroy it.

Hence, the Christian has to know both sides of the contradiction and reveal them in his life, in such a way that his life shows that the paradox which he is living is in fact the living truth.

The layman is perhaps more aware of the strange nature of Christianity than is the Religious or priest, because the layman is called to a life that he is already--apparently--living.

Immediately, as laymen, we must force ourselves to avoid the tendency of reason to resolve this dilemma by assuming that we must add something to our lives in order to respond to the call. We take it for granted, based on our observation of priests and Religious, that to be a Christian we must do something different; and since we are in the world, our attempt to Christianize it has shown up in the attitude that Christianity is some kind of social work.

But the result of this is becoming apparent. Atheists are as interested in social work as Christians are, and can do as good a job at helping people as Christians can do. Atheists can love the poor as much as Christians do, and can work for them as hard as Christians can. It is increasingly difficult to see what the difference is between a Christian social worker and an atheistic social worker--especially since the Christians seem to be following the atheists in their programs, not the other way round.

Yet if our lives are the evidence to the world that Christianity is true, then if there is no blatantly observable difference between the Christian and the atheist, then we have proved that Christianity is false. Our "witness" has become a witness that it really makes no difference to be a Christian. In attempting to make Christians relevant to the world, we have succeeded in making Christianity appear irrelevant; and if it is irrelevant, it is false.

So it is time to sit back and look at Christianity and ourselves. When we do this, we find that Christianity, as involving the supernatural, has never really been adapted to any age, but has always attempted, not always successfully, to adapt the age to itself as the truth of any age. But nothing can adapt a culture to its reality if its reality is not beyond that culture. Hence, Christianity will always appear irrelevant; but its very relevance is its apparent irrelevance.

The only proof of the truth of Christianity the Christian's life can give to the atheist is that the Christian can be happy in this life consistently with his Christianity in a way that the atheist cannot, consistently with his atheism. The atheist is not interested in "transcendence"; he is interested in the here and now; and it is the life here and now of the Christian which is supposed to prove to the atheist that the transcendent actually exists. And the only way the Christian can do it is somehow to show that life here and now can make sense and be consistent only on the supposition that Jesus is in fact the Supreme Being humanized, and that he died and came back to life to rescue us from our perversity. But I submit that you can't do this by trying to show the atheist, "See; we can do everything you can do." What this book is about is, if you will, true Christian witness. How does the Christian show by his life the truth of Christianity?

If the relevance of Christianity is its apparent irrelevance, if the transcendence is revealed in the happiness in this life, then this is another instance that shows that the Christian is called to a state that is paradoxical and apparently contradictory.

But let me return to an analysis of the earlier paradox I mentioned, that the Christian layman is called to the state he seems to be in, and say that we are not to suppose that the Christian is first called to the Christian life, and then some Christians have an additional call to either the Religious life or the priesthood. This supposes that the lay life is the "generic" Christian life, and the other states are special "higher" states, which contradicts the thesis of this book.

No, the Christian call from the very beginning is to one or the other of the three states of life, because the call lies in one's own abilities and native interests, and the three types of Christianity are qualitatively distinct expressions of the Christian mystery as lived in the person. So the Religious life is not a vocation added to that of being a Christian, but a limitation of the Christian vocation to that of being a certain way of living Christianity. Similarly, the lay life is not the "basic Christian life," but a different sort of limitation of what it means to be Christian.

That is, the "lay life" in which a person spends his early years is not really the Christian lay state, any more than life as a child is strictly speaking human life--still less, the "generic" human life that is "added to" by the life of an adult. In childhood, a person is developing himself, and life is really defined by the mature condition, not the other way round.

It is the same with the Christian life. One is called in childhood by means of his potential into either the lay state or the Religious or the clerical state, or some combination of the three; and it is not a quibble to say that the person is called into the lay state, because the condition of a child and that of a person on his own are very different. In this sense, one is called away from childhood into adulthood--and into the adulthood that suits him.

Of course, this means that the "Christian vocation" as such is that abstraction discovered by comparing what each of the states of Christian life has in common with the others, and is not a life that a person can ever live as such--more or less as "humanity" is what either sex has in common with the other, but no one can be a human of neither sex.

But it is nonetheless of supreme importance to know what this common element in every Christian vocation is, so that we can know how to distinguish Christian living of a certain type from the life of non-Christians who do the same thing.

Superficially, we tend to equate the Religious, and perhaps the clerical, lives with "living Christianity to the full" because it would seem that monks, nuns, and priests don't have any counterparts outside of Christianity. But of course there are Buddhist monks, and Jewish and Hindu priests also; and in many respects the practices of both Christians and non-Christians in these orders are similar.

The point is that if there is something distinctive about the Christian vocation, it seems that we will not find it if we look for some special way of acting. When the rich young man asked Jesus, "What should I do to earn eternal life?" Jesus answered, "What do you read in the law?" But this was to do what any good Jew would do. True, when the young man answered that he had done all this since the time he was very young, Jesus answered, "If you want to be complete, there is one thing left: go sell what you have and give it to the poor and then come follow me." But the act of impoverishing oneself is obviously not distinctively Christian; again, Buddhists do this, and so do Stoics. No, the selling was a condition for the distinctively Christian thing: "follow me."

But what does that mean? Obviously, to do what Jesus did. But not the acts that Jesus did; we can't walk around Israel preaching and doing miracles. No, "follow me" must mean what St. Paul said it meant in his letter to the Philippians: "Your attitude is to be the one that was in Prince Jesus, who when he possessed God's form did not consider being equal to God something he had to keep hold of; he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, and turned himself into what was the same as a human being; and once he found himself in human shape, he lowered himself so far as to submit obediently to death, and death on a cross."

What is distinctive about Christianity, then, is not an action but an attitude, not what you do, or even why you do it, but the spirit in which you do it; it is how we do things, rather than why or what we do that makes us Christian. Any action that is moral can be Christian (Paul points out that you can't "Christianize" immoral acts by saying that you did them with the Christian attitude--there is a contradiction here); but by the same token, that same act, lacking the Christian attitude or outlook is--though morally good--not Christian.

Similarly, Christianity is not a matter of motives, really. Any morally good motive for a good act can be Christianized; but in itself a morally good motive is not Christian. Not even to help others because of love is in itself Christian. There is nothing anti-Christian in it, but it could be Buddhist-style love or atheistic-humanist-style love. If it is not the expression of the attitude Paul talks about, it is not Christian love, and if there is nothing distinctively Christian about it, it is not Christian witness.