The Bishop Of Beauvais

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In that classic of literature, “Les Miserables,” by the French author, Victor Hugo, I have lots of sympathy and empathy with the person of the Bishop of Beauvais. The Bishop of Beauvais is an instrument of divine grace in the spiritual awakening of the criminal and ex-galley slave, Jean Valjean. The Bishop is always being corrected for his poor judgment in constantly helping others, by those around him.

The Bishop is warned, as I find myself often being warned, by good, well meaning folk trying to protect him from coming down too badly with a disease called Christianity. He is told he should not do so much, give so much (he gives away the flat silver to the poor) or be much. His Christianity is regarded by them like a bad cold. Whenever he does a good deed, they say, “Watch out for that one,” as some people say, ‘‘God bless you” when you sneeze.

The good people around the Bishop have solid, moneyed social class judgment. That is, they have good, solid, brutal, short range judgment. They lack the long range view taught by Christ: forgiveness, love, patience. Actually the judgment taught by Christ seems quite poor judgment to an upscale middle class person, many of whom are nominal Christians.

So we need to face this fact: Curt middle class judgments are often short, nasty, mean and brutal. At their worst they can be loveless and graceless. But persistently trying, forgiving, caring, a love that transcends reason, a love that is unconditional, such is the love of the Father for His Prodigal Children. Such divine love does seem very silly at times to the middle class sharpies and that vast army of decent but morally plain folk who are making money but yet remain uncivilized by not having experienced the love of Christ.

My, how I do sympathize with the good Bishop of Beauvais. It is indeed hard to practice Christianity when many of the nominal Christians around you don’t understand it, haven’t experienced Christ and don’t miss a chance to urge you to be graceless.

Yet, I find this. The creeds that separate us in thinking do not always divide us in feeling. The Bishop of Beauvais is a Roman Catholic while I am a Protestant neo-Calvinist. Our creeds are like banisters that support us going up different stair cases of thought, but in feeling the experience of God makes us alike and much the same. Yet, I find this to be a benefit of the experience. I have concluded that creeds can divide us in our thinking, but they do not always divide us in our feelings. We may think in different images and analogies but having known Christ, we respond to life with similar feelings. We may not think uniformly but through shared feelings, like Christ we may trace our "DNA" back to God.

The literary Bishop was Roman Catholic while I am Protestant and of that division neo-Calvinist. As different as logic and churches may be, at the end of the day they are much alike in feelings of faith. Too much creed may throw churches out of tune with each other but common experiences of the same God invariably return them to some commonality of emotional understanding.

I feel a strong empathy as a Protestant for the literary Catholic Bishop of Beauvais. I share his same martyrdom of having nominal Christians’ daily encouraging us NOT to follow Christ’s teachings. I am afraid Beauvais and I have poor judgment so far as listening to the wisdom of this world. To the sometimes despair of those around us, we just don’t listen. We have decided to follow Jesus. And we are stonewalling the critical opposition that offers low, mean and nasty advice on why not to. Their Word to the wise is lost on us. May it also be lost on you. Remember “we are fools for Christ’s sake” (I Corinthians 4:10)


Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.