"[T]he history and the theology of Christ are one thing: His life is theology in action, and the drama of His life is dogma shown as dramatic action.
"For Jesus Christ is unique - unique among gods and men. There have been incarnate gods a-plenty, and slain-and-resurrected gods not a few; but He is the only God who has a date in history. And plenty of founders of religions have had dates, and some of them have been prophets or avatars of the Divine; but only this one of them was personally God. There is no more astonishing collocation of phrases than that which, in the Nicene Creed, sets these two statements flatly side by side: "Very God of very God. ... He suffered under Pontius Pilate." All over the world, thousands of times a day, Christians recite the name of a rather undistinguished Roman pro-consul - not in execration (Judas and Caiaphas, more guilty, get off with fewer reminders of their iniquities), but merely because that name fixes within a few years the date of the death of God. ...
[We are inclined to think of the history as:]
"The characters are not men and women: they are all 'sacred personages', standing about in symbolic attitudes, and self-consciously awaiting the fulfilment of prophecies. ... Sacred personages, living in a far-off land and time, using dignified rhythms of speech, making from time to time restrained gestures symbolic of brutality. They mocked and railed on Him and smote Him, they scourged and crucified Him. Well, they were people very remote from ourselves, and no doubt it was all done in the noblest and most beautiful manner. We should not like to think otherwise.
"Unhappily, if we think about it at all, we must think otherwise. God was executed by people painfully like us, in a society very similar to our own - in the over-ripeness of the most splendid and sophisticated Empire the world has ever seen. In a nation famous for its religious genius and under a goverment renowned for its efficiency, He was executed by a corrupt church, a timid politician, and a fickle proletariat led by professional agitators. His executioners made vulgar jokes about Him, called Him filthy names, taunted Him, smacked Him in the face, flogged Him with the cat, and hanged Him on the common gibbet - a bloody, dusty, sweaty, and sordid business.
"If you show people that, they are shocked. So they should be. If that does not shock them, nothing can. If the mere representation of it has an air of irreverence, what is to be said about the deed? It is curious that people who are filled with horrified indignation whenever a cat kills a sparrow can hear that story of the killing of God told Sunday after Sunday and not experience any shock at all."
Awake, O Sleeper
3 hours ago