Remember my preference

About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI


Part II: The Necessity of the Four Gospels

Chapter 2

Which Portrait is the True One?

     IT IS OF the greatest importance to everything that follows in this paper that the difference between Truth and Reality should be clearly borne in mind. It is a basic principle in philosophy that truth is perception of reality, and not reality itself. What follows in this chapter should perhaps clarify this issue somewhat by the use of a series of illustrations directly relevant to the subject. How we perceive and what we perceive are two distinctively different things, and no two people perceive the same object in precisely the same way. The object itself is the reality. What we call "truth" is not the object itself, but how our mind perceives it.
     Looking up into outer space we see here and there stars which form a triangle or a square or perhaps even a letter like W, for instance, in the constellation of Cassiopeia. From the point of view of objective reality, these particular stars in Cassiopeia are simply hung in space. When we, who use the capital letter W inherited from the Romans, say that these stars form a W, we are stating a truth; yet the truth lies not in the fact that the stars are so arranged, but rather that we see the arrangement as a W. This is our perception. The Hebrew who knows only the Hebrew alphabet or the Chinaman who knows only Chinese characters would not perceive the form of a W, because this particular configuration has no meaning to him whatever. Thus it is "true" that these stars in Cassiopeia form a W: but it is only true for us because we happen to perceive it this way. The truth is not the same as the reality. Truth is something perceived--in this case the constellation of stars (arbitrarily named Cassiopeia). Reality remains, whether it impinges upon any man's consciousness or not.
     Truth must therefore often vary according to the consciousness of those who become aware of the reality. This does not mean that

     pg 1 of 13      

there is no absolute Truth. It only means that in certain areas where perceptions differ, not all will perceive the truth in the same way. Such forms of truth as these, which are in some sense "culturally relative," are not moral truths; but they are important to us individually, because they relate to our view of life and history and the physical world about us--and they are important also in our assessment of one another as persons.
     What this means is that when any man becomes conscious of some event or circumstance or person, the event or circumstance or person will strike his consciousness in a very individual way. He does not perceive the vision that he may happen to be sharing at the moment with other people in precisely the same way that they perceive it. Each of us looks out upon the world and perceives it uniquely. We see the many things as we are, not as they are.
     There are countless illustrations of this important truth. The painter Ludwig Richter relates in his memoirs how once, when he was in Tivoli as a young man, he and three friends set out to paint the same landscape.
(10) They were all firmly resolved not to deviate from nature; they wished to reproduce what they had seen as accurately as possible. Nevertheless, the result was four totally different pictures, as different from one another as the personalities of the artists. From this experience, Richter concluded that there is no such thing as objective vision, and that form and color are always apprehended according to individual temperament.
     Is an objective view possible? In a manner of speaking, it is. It would be a color photograph. The purist will object to this, and his objection is perfectly justified: but for the present purposes the statement may be allowed to stand. The really important point is that each of those young artists--and it is worth noting that there were four of them--was determined to paint only what he saw, yet each ended up with a unique record.
     It might be argued that scenery is not the same as portraiture. But here again we have plenty of evidence that what each artist perceives when painting a single subject may lead to an apparently contradictory series of portraits.
     I think it is providential that we have four portraits of a United Nations hostess, Maria Lani, painted by four well-known artists.

10. Ludwig Richter's four pictures: Ernst Cassirer, Essay on Man, Yale U. Press, 1948, p.145. Similarly Arthur Eddington (The Nature of the Physical World, Cambridge, 1930, pp.316f) points out that the scientist's description of a stream is a purely arbitrary one, even though it enables him to do certain things with it successfully. But it is quite possible that the artist's description may be far more effective and conceivably much more reliable, according to Eddington.

     pg.2 of 13     

Figure 1.  Maria Lani in a Photograph

Figure 1 is the "objective" view of the camera. Now, without looking at Figure 2 to see how she was perceived by certain artists, it is worthwhile studying this camera portrait and trying to estimate for oneself what kind of person Maria Lani really was. If you take the time and trouble to write down what you think of her as a person, judging solely of course by this photograph, you may be surprised to find that perhaps one or possibly even two of the other artists felt as you do but not all of them.

     pg.3 of 13     

Next we have pictures by Goerg, by Braque, by Matisse, and by Rouault (figures 2 and 3). It would be unfair to try to state expressly what each artist was seeing in Maria. But Braque seems to have been persuaded that she was a woman who was really hiding behind a facial mask; Matisse, that she was a woman with a sharp incisive character, sharp in the sense, not of unkindness, but rather of penetration. Rouault seems to have seen Maria as inwardly a woman in some torment. And what shall we say of Goerg? Our method of reproduction will undoubtedly have lost to the viewer some of the original quality of these paintings; but this much is quite dear, namely, that each artist was honestly trying to portray the person whom the camera has shown us objectively in a single, instantaneous fragment of time.
     These four artists knew Maria as a living person. The camera lens and photographic plate "knew" her only as a thing reflecting light. Here is the difference between Truth which is perception and Reality which simply is the thing perceived. Once again, we have four pictures to tell the truth.

  Figure 2. Portraits of Maria Lani by (above) Goerg;
 (top right) Braque; and (right) Matisse.
 Figure 3. Portrait of Maria Lani by Roualt.
 Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

     pg.4 of 13     

     The medium of expression so far has been graphic art. Does this still apply when portraiture is in words? Cassirer has this to say: (11)

     No example is more characteristic and instructive in this respect than the change in our portrait of Socrates. We have the Socrates of Xenophon and Plato; we have a Stoic, a skeptic, a mystic, a rationalistic, and a romantic Socrates. They are entirely dissimilar. Nevertheless, they are not untrue, each of them gives us a new aspect, a characteristic perspective of the historical Socrates and his intellectual and moral physiognomy.
     Plato saw in Socrates the great dialectician and the great ethical teacher; Montaigne saw in him the anti-dogmatic philosopher who confessed his ignorance; Friedrich Schlegel and the Romantic thinkers laid the emphasis upon the Socratic irony.
     And in Plato himself we can trace the same development. We have a mystic Plato, the Plato of neo-Platonism; a Christian Plato, the Plato of Augustine and of Marsillio Ficino; a rationalistic Plato, the Plato of Moses Mendelssohn; and a few decades ago we were offered a Kantian Plato.
     We may smile at all these different interpretations, yet they not only have a negative but also a positive side. They have all in their measure contributed to an understanding and to a systematic evaluation of Plato's work. Each has insisted on a certain aspect which is contained in his work but which could only be made manifest by a complicated process of thought. When speaking of Plato in his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant indicated this fact: " is by no means unusual," he said, "upon comparing the thoughts which an author has expressed in regard to his find that we understand him better than he understood himself."

11. Cassirer, Ernst, ref. 10, p.180.

     pg.5 of 13     

     In short, we have a better understanding--I think it is safer to say a more complete understanding--of the Lord by reason of the four Gospels than we would have had if some super author had left us with only one Gospel combining the substance of the others. And I think it is remarkable how frequently it happens that to make the composite picture complete, four portraits, not less and not more, seem best suited. It is as though three portraits provide us with a three-dimensional picture in space and one more is required to complete the picture in time. In the present case the three Synoptic Gospels seem clearly to be within the single framework of space, while the fourth seems to add the time dimension--opening with the words, "In the beginning...."
     There is one other point of view from which we may approach this subject, and it involves us in a brief consideration of the nature of stereoscopic vision. Stereoscopic sight involves the use of two eyes spaced a sufficient distance apart that views are obtained from two slightly different angles of vision. The mind in some mysterious way combines these two views, different as they are, into a single picture that has depth. Stereoscopic vision thus allows us to perceive the relative distance of objects from us regardless of their size. We can manage after some time of training to estimate these distances with only one eye. We do this by a very rapid assessment of the relative size of the objects which naturally appear to be smaller as they recede into the distance. We learn to gauge distance because of size. For every object, the mind somehow preserves a kind of standard reference dimension. Two eyes make this particular form of mental exercise unnecessary, and our gauge of distance becomes much more

     pg.6 of 13     

accurate exceedingly accurate, in fact, at close range. It allows us to touch something without missing it by coming short, or without stubbing our finger by over-estimation
     An ordinary camera takes only one picture, and it is flat. We "read" it in depth because we learn so to read it. Children do not automatically recognize that things in the distance appear smaller, and they therefore draw distant objects as large as near ones. They are being more truthful, but we find it a disturbing way to present reality to the eye because it is not the way we customarily perceive it. I have a stereoscopic camera which has two lenses and takes two simultaneous pictures, the spacing between the lenses being the mean distance between the human eyes (65mm). A special viewer is required, but the effect is marvelous. One sees everything in the round, whether it be a few trees receding into the distance or even a fly trapped by the camera in midair. The fly hangs in space. An entirely new dimension is added to the photograph.
     A simple experiment can be performed by anyone who will sit down in his living room and sight across a chair or an object on the table to the wall behind it. By closing one eye and then the other, it will be seen that the nearer object shifts its position specifically with respect to some more distant object in line with it. Each eye therefore is giving a slightly different picture of the same scene, and the mind is able to integrate them into a single view which has depth. However, because our eyes are set in a horizontal plane, we have this stereoscopic vision only in a horizontal plane and not in a vertical one.
     We can obtain stereoscopic vision in the vertical plane by lying down on a couch so that the eyes are in the vertical with respect to each other. But now we lose stereoscopic vision in the horizontal plane. Thus, to obtain vision in depth in every direction we would actually have to have four eyes. I think that in Nature certain creatures may have been provided with this facility, not by being given four eyes, but by being given the habit of bobbing the head up and down very rapidly every so often. If we assume that their central nervous system is designed to accept this sudden shift in the vertical direction, stereoscopic vision might be achieved both horizontally and vertically. Birds that live and feed in shallow water while standing much of the time out of the water must be able to compensate, when they strike for food in the water, for the refractive index: and it is possible that they are able to correct for this by the rapid bobbing up and down of the head. I have no research evidence for this, but discussion with some ornithologist friends indicates that it is a very real possibility.

     pg.7 of 13     

     Virtually everyone has had the experience of watching a dog intently putting his head first on one side and then on the other. The movement is a rather delightful one. It seems to me that it, too, may serve to enhance the dog's total perceptive capabilities in depth, because it increases its range of stereoscopic vision above the mere horizontal plane to which most animals are normally limited.
     At any rate, whatever may or may not be valid in the above observations regarding animal vision, it is certain that to obtain 100 percent perception in depth, we would have to have four eyes and a mind designed to unify the four points of view. Both are required, for otherwise we should be in effect imposing photographs shot from different angles upon each other and trying to obtain a single print from the composite. The result would undoubtedly be a blurred image. There are some diseases known to man in which even the images from the two eyes we have are not fused, and a conflicting double image has to be eliminated by preventing the light from entering one eye or in a few cases by a mental process which is learned and by which one picture of the two is somehow ignored. Only special circumstances enable us to create a harmonious picture out of "conflicting" material. The process is in the mind.
     Reverting to our consideration of the four Gospels, it is only due to special circumstances that we are able to create a harmonious picture out of apparently conflicting records. The process here is a spiritual one. Just as God has designed our minds to accept the conflicting evidence of our two eyes that we might gain more complete vision, so God has designed our spirits that we may somehow accept the conflicting evidence of the four Gospels so that we might gain more nearly perfect understanding. Just as the visual input to the mind is perfectly integrated without our being aware of any conflict, so do we for the most part read the four Gospel accounts without being aware that they are in conflict. And finally, just as by upsetting our vision we can make ourselves aware of the divergence of the two pictures received by the eyes, so we can if we wish become aware of the conflicts between the Gospel accounts. In physical health we are not aware of any conflict between the eyes, nor in spiritual health are we disturbed by any conflict between the Gospels. By a virtually unconscious process we "integrate" and gain in depth of vision. Years ago, Principal Cairns wrote, with true eloquence,

12. Cairns, Rev. Principal. "Christ the Central Evidence of Christianity," Tract No. 3 Present Day Tracts, Vol.1, Religious Tract Soc., London, 1883, p.9.

     pg.8 of 13     

     In the narratives of the Evangelists, the impossible is achieved. The living Christ walks forth and men bow before Him. Heaven and earth unite all through: power with gentleness, solitary greatness with familiar intimacy, ineffable purity with forgiving pity, unshakable will with unfathomable sorrow. There is no effort in these writers, but the character rises till it is complete. It is thus not only truer than fiction or abstraction, but truer than all other history, carrying through utterly unimaginable scenes the stamp of simplicity and sincerity, creating what was to live forever, but only as it had lived already; and reflecting a glory that had come so near and been beheld so intently, that the record of it was not only "full of grace," but of "truth."

     Subsequently the same writer concludes by saying, (13) "The difficulties of the Gospels from divergence are as nothing compared with the impression made by them all of one transcendent creation; and for my part, if I rejected inspiration, I should have reason to be still more astonished...The very diversities so often appealed to as an objection to this conclusion really strengthen it and prove that writings which can so bring forth the one out of the manifold have in them not only truth but inspiration."
     I cannot leave this aspect of the subject without one further observation. In the previous chapter we underscored the difference between what a man actually says and what a man really means. In drawing a portrait with brush or pen, it is equally important to distinguish between what a man looks like and what he really is. Those who have had occasion to do portraiture will know that if the subject is prepared to pose for long enough, the superficial facial mask tends to relax unconsciously and one slowly finds oneself drawing or painting the real character rather than the superficial one.
     I had occasion to draw a well-known businessman. The drawing was to be a presentation to him by the family. I had sufficient time with him to be able to draw him as he was inwardly: and standing out from the page, rather surprisingly, was a somewhat different and less pleasant character than the man whom one saw in a casual encounter. Several persons who had little or no respect for his integrity as a businessman, said in effect, "Hmmm...that's him all right." He was not, to those who knew him well, a pleasant man to have to deal with in business. I hardly need to say that his relatives turned the picture down. So I ended up in possession of one of the best portraits I have drawn, technically speaking--and one of the most worthless! I still have it... 

13. Ibid., p.11.

     pg.9 of 13     

Figure 4. Lorenzo the Magnificent: a drawing by the author from memory 

     pg.10 of 13     

Figure 5. Lorenzo the Magnificent: from a medallion attributed to Niccolo Fiorentino, circa 1490.

     One of the greatest figures of Michaelangelo's time was Lorenzo the Magnificent. As a man of very great wealth, a patron of the arts, a person of integrity, charm, intelligence, and wisdom, he became Michelangelo's patron. When Lorenzo died, Michelangelo carved the figure which adorned his tomb in the Medici Chapel in Rome. I have redrawn the head of this reclining figure, which in the original is carved out of marble. My pencil drawing cannot, of course, do credit to the original, but it does show something of the genuine greatness of Lorenzo's character (Fig. 4).
     However, we happen to have both a written description of Lorenzo and a portrait from a medal struck in his honor. Both the written and the pictorial images of Lorenzo's visual appearance agree in this, that he struck the eye as rather a mean character with little manifest greatness, with no physical presence that was immediately

     pg.11 of 13   

impressive, with a slight deformity in his back, and with a nose and mouth that gave him a rather "untrustworthy" look. I have redrawn the medallion, and it requires some stretch of the imagination to equate it with Michelangelo's beautiful tribute to his benefactor (Fig. 5).
     Which is the true portrait: the one which portrays how Lorenzo looked, or the one which portrayed what he was? Michelangelo preferred the latter and although his portrait contradicts the other one, they are both true portraits, but from different points of view. To give the complete picture of reality, it is necessary to perceive reality in different ways so that what may appear to be two different statements of the truth may really only be one. It seems likely that with our minds constituted as they are, contradictions will always be essential to the perception of truth, particularly truth about a person.
     There is a tremendous difference between knowing the facts and perceiving the truth. Contradictory evidence is likely to confuse the man who seeks only to know the facts, but contradictory statement is often the only way in which truth may be represented. In our present state of knowledge it is customary to say that light is to be described both as corpuscles and waves. Under certain circumstances it behaves as though it were composed of discrete particles which have some kind of mass and are subject to gravitational forces. At other times its behavior is best explained by viewing it as having some kind of nonmaterial wave form. The two views are seemingly irreconcilable, which means that the "facts" are contradictory. But scientists have learned to live with this contradiction, since the most complete picture seems to depend upon both contradictory views being accepted at the same time. Even in science therefore, the statement of the truth may demand the use of contradictory terms.

     One of the wonders of the Gospel story is that so few people in reading the four Gospels year after year ever become aware of the "contradictions" which are to be found between them. The fact is that we have been given spiritual vision that enables us to see a single picture of the Lord which, although it is presented from four different points of view, reaches us without disharmony. The skeptic is like the man with faulty vision whose mind cannot resolve these four views except by a very deliberate effort and even then only by some artifice. The Christian, on the other hand, can by an equally deliberate process--as though he were closing one eye at a time--separate out these different pictures and study them profitably in isolation without at the same time destroying his power to see the unified whole.

     pg.12 of 13     

Of such a nature are these four gospels that, as Rousseau said, the inventor of such a Character as they present would be even more astonishing than the Character Himself. It is undoubtedly true.
     The portrait of the Lord Jesus which emerges from the combined impact of the four Gospels demonstrates indeed that fact is more amazing than fiction, that creative imagination is no match for inspired record of truth. Here truly is an uncreatable figure. Albertus Pieters, in his wonderful little book, Divine Lord and Saviour, has a quotation from the work of Carnegie Simpson which captures something of the sheer beauty and splendour of the Saviour.

     They [the Gospels] do not merely affirm His stainlessness, which were easy. They exhibit it, which it were simply impossible to do except from the life. We have there what Jesus said and did in all kinds of circumstances and on all manner of occasions--in public and private, in the sunshine of success and the gloom of failure, in the houses of His friends and in face of His foes, in life and in the last great trial of death. It is the detailed picture of a man who never made a false step, never said the word that ought not to have been said, never, in short, fell below perfection. Such a portrait is of necessity a true portrait. It simply can not be an idealized picture. That which is so above; human criticism is not less above our conception....Only one thing accounts for their being able to do it. That is simply veracity. They had a model, and they copied it faithfully. And because, first, the model was faultless, the reproduction, being faithful, was perfect too.

14. Pieters, Albert, Divine Lord and Saviour, Revell, New York, 1949, p.96.

     pg.13 of 13       

Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

Previous Chapter                                                                      Next Chapter

Home | Biography | The Books | Search | Order Books | Contact Us