Free from the constraint of the chapel, he takes a more tolerant view of what he has seen and heard there. He gives the preacher credit for having said a great deal that was true, and in the manner most convincing to the already convinced who were assembled to hear him. For his own part, he declares, Nature is his church, as she has been his teacher; and he surrenders himself with a joyful sense of relief to the religious influences of the solitude and the night: his heart glowing with the consciousness of the unseen Love which everywhere appeals to him in the visible power of the Creator. Suddenly a mighty spectacle unfolds itself. The rain and wind have ceased. The barricade of cloud which veiled the moon’s passage up the western sky has sunk riven at her feet. She herself shines forth in unbroken radiance, and a double lunar rainbow, in all its spectral grandeur, spans the vault of heaven. There is a sense as of a heavenly presence about to emerge upon the arc. Then the rapture overflows the spectator’s brain, and the Master, arrayed in a serpentining garment, appears in the path before him.
But the Face is averted. “Has he despised the friends of Christ? and is this his punishment?” He prostrates himself before Him; grasps the hem of the garment; entreats forgiveness for what was only due to the reverence of his love, to his desire that his Lord should be worshipped in all spiritual beauty and truth.
The Face turns towards him in a flood of light. The vesture encloses him in its folds, and he is borne onwards till he finds himself at Rome, and in front of St. Peter’s Church. He sees the interior without entering. It swarms with worshippers, packed into it as in the hollow of a hive. All there is breathless expectation, ecstatic awe; for the mystery of the mass is in process of consummation, and in another moment the tinkling of the silver bell will announce to the prostrate crowd the actual presence of their Lord; will open to them the vision of the coming heavenly day. Here, too, is faith, though obscured in a different manner. Here, too, is love: the love which in bygone days hurled intellect from its throne, and trampled on the glories of ancient art—which instructed its votaries to feel blindly for its new and all-sufficient life, as does the babe for its mother’s breast—which consecrates even now the deepest workings of the heart and mind to the service of God. And Christ enters the Basilica, into which, after a momentary doubt, he himself follows Him.
They float onwards again, and again he is left alone but for the hem of the garment; for Christ has entered the lecture-hall of a rationalistic German professor, and into this He will not bid His disciple follow Him; but the interior of the building is open, as before, to the disciple’s mental sight. The lecturer is refreshing his hearers’ convictions by an inquiry into the origin of the Christian Myth and the foundation of fact on which it rests; and he arrives at the conclusion that Christ was a man, but whose work proved Him all but Divine; His Gospel quite other than those who heard it believed, but in value nearly the same.