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Thoughts for the day

And we have seen him, and he had no beauty nor comeliness (Is 53:2). Was our bridegroom ugly, then? Of course not.... It was to those persecuting him that he appeared ugly; if they had not thought him ugly, they would not have attacked him, they would not have beaten him with whips, they would not have crowned him with thorns, they would not have dishonored him with spit. They did all these things because he seemed ugly to them. They did not have eyes to see why he is beautiful. To what eyes does Christ appear beautiful? The kind of eyes Christ himself sought when he said to Philip: Have I been with you so long, and you still do not see me (Jn 14:9)? They are the eyes that have to be cleansed so that they can see that light, the eyes that when even slightly touched by his splendor, become inflamed with love and desire to be healed and enlightened. That you may know that Christ is beautiful, the prophet says of him: More beautiful than all the sons of men (Ps 44:3). His beauty surpasses all men.What is it that we love in Christ? His crucified limbs? His pierced side? Or his love? When we hear that he suffered for us, what do we love? We love his love. He loved us so that we would love him in return, and so that we might love him in return, he has come to us with his Spirit. (Augustine, Enar. in Ps 127, 8)

And thoughts for the day from Newman:

It is the death of the Eternal Word of God made flesh, which is our great lesson how to think and how to speak of this world. His Cross has put its due value upon every thing which we see, upon all fortunes, all advantages, all ranks, all dignities, all pleasures; upon the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. It has set a price upon the excitements, the rivalries, the hopes, the fears, the desires, the efforts, the triumphs of mortal man. It has given a meaning to the various, shifting course, the trials, the temptations, the sufferings, of his earthly state. It has brought together and made consistent all that seemed discordant and aimless. It has taught us how to live, how to use this world, what to expect, what to desire, what to hope. It is the tone into which all the strains of this worlds music are ultimately to be resolved. (Newman, "The Cross of Christ the Measure of the World," Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. VI, 84-85)

The seventh of Newman's Lectures of Justification ends with a reflection on the necessity of our appropriating the cross of Christ. Two brief excerpts:

So also justification is wholly the work of God; it comes from God to us; it is a power exerted on our souls by Him, as the healing of the Israelites was a power exerted on their bodies. The gift must be brought near to us; it is not like the Brazen Serpent, a mere external, material, local sign; it is a spiritual gift, and, as being such, admits of being applied to us individually. Christ's Cross does not justify by being looked at, but by being applied; not by as merely beheld by faith, but by being actually set up within us, and that not by our act, but by God's invisible grace. Men sit, and gaze, and speak of the great Atonement, and think this is appropriating it; not more truly than kneeling to the material cross itself is appropriating it. Men say that faith is an apprehending and applying; faith cannot really apply the Atonement; man cannot make the Saviour of the world his own; the Cross must be brought home to us, not in word, but in power, and this is the work of the Spirit. This is justification; but when imparted to the soul, it draws blood, it heals, it purifies, it glorifies. ...Our crosses are the lengthened shadow of the Cross on Calvary. (Newman, Lectures on Justification, 177)

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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Thanks for the Augustine. One my private beliefs is that one of the greatest pleasures will be seeing the eyes of Jesus Himself :-) I don't understand the Newman. "Justification" and "Atonement" are alien to me in a Protestant context, and only slightly less so in a Catholic one. Maybe the new Aquinas will make headway with that. Yes, a mystery, but . . . Does Scripture itself have a name for "the Cross" or "the Crucifixion"? If so, what does it mean literally?

The NT has "cross" and "crucify" in both the literal and the metaphorical sense, referring either to the execution of Jesus and its saving significance (e.g., "making peace through the blood of the cross") or to the appropriation of it into the life of the Christian ("take up your cross and follow me"; "crucified to the world, and the world to me"). Newman's lecture reviews all the texts. Although written before he became a Catholic, Newman's Lectures on Justification are a very Catholic work, a powerful argument against reducing justification simply to a matter of faith. It includes the Resurrection of Christ in the theology of the Atonement, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, too.

Hmm. I can understand the second meaning clearly enough (we are to accept life's burdens as Christ accepted the Cross), but the first still mystifies me. "making peace through the blood of the cross" is a new description to me. What can it mean? Peace between which antagonists? And what sense does "blood" take on here? And what does the Cross "save" us from? Or "to"? Most fundamentally, what does "save mean? What is the literal Scriptural word used? (I guess I'm asking for a dissertation. Sigh.)I just don't get what all this is referring to. I mean I don't get just what the Cross is *for*, though I accept on faith that as Christians we must sometimes accept undeserved suffering for the sake of others. Deserved suffering is a no-brainer. Sort of. I mean its justice is obvious, though the problem of God's own pain, if such is real, is still the greatest problem of all.What does it MEAN to "save" us, to "redeem" us? I know the result of such saving/redeeming is to to repair us, to make us whole, to make us capable of a greater life. But the very *doing* of the saving/redeeming is wholly mysterious to me. Why should our repair, being made whole and capable of a greater life be the result of what Christ did? It's the relation between Christ's act and His Father that is most mysterious to me. Why did the Father require *this* sort of thing of Christ? Why did Jesus have to suffer? Why did he have to die? It all seems so totally unfair. I never go to Church on Good Friday. It just makes me angry.

"It all seems so totally unfair. I never go to Church on Good Friday. It just makes me angry."Ann--Don't mean to interrupt, but your ending was jarring, because my take is just the opposite. Given all the sin in the world--we've all done bad things over and over again and some of us have done some really, really bad things--the fact that we can all be saved through the actions of just one man seems not only not unfair, it's so fair as to be downright silly. And how can we consider it unfair to Jesus, in light of what he received: the gift of pleasing his Father.

Sorry, Mark, I can't for the life of me see the Crucifixion in itself as anything but the most unfair event in the history of the cosmos. Obviously, it accomplishes what is most generous. But how? What can turn black into white?

Well, yes, Ann, you are asking for a dissertation! Nothing less than a full treatise on the redemption.... Your questions, especially those in the your last paragraph, link up with the great question of evil, physical and moral, and of why God created a universe in which these are possible and real. In any case, "save"-language goes back to the earliest days of Christianity, to the "creed" that Saul/Paul was taught upon his conversion, only a few years after the death and resurrection of Christ. Christianity is pretty unintelligible without it.Since so many people misunderstand the Atonement to mean that God required the blood-sacrifice of his Son before he could forgive mankind our sins, let me simply say this: that the meaning of Christ's atoning sacrifice is not to get God to love us, to change him from anger to love--the whole thing originates out of love: "God so loved the world..." It was a terrible thing when the notion of penal substitution spread.The terrible thing that was the unjust execution of the Son of God became by his love the source of the greatest good--their evil was not greater than his good, their hatred than his love.

Soteriology bums my head. Among other issues, that's where the metaphor of God as Father starts to shatter for me: I'm uncomfortable with the kind of parent who would demand, expect, or accept that "pleasing" gift from His child. Warped from an early age, perhaps. When I was a little kid the church we went to did a very dramatic stripping of the altar, wrought iron gates crashing shut, lights going off thing "when Jesus died." And then we sat for 3 hrs. I was terrified that if Jesus was gone all the bad stuff could happen (yeah, okay, so I was 5) and particularly bothered that His "Dad" let it happen to him. (I don't envy the catechists out there.)

Fr K (3:13)I appreciate your way of describing it and one reason I appreciate Catholicism is that we don't have penal substitution as our salvation theology. I've yet to see a good kid's book that explains Jesus' death in a way that is intelligible as well as consistent with Church teaching.

JAK ==I don't know why, but I do believe that the key to understanding Redemption is in understanding "the problem of evil". For the Crucifixion to make any sense, for it to be just would seem to require that God the Father *Himself* suffered with His Son, as all good parents do. Such suffering isn't a fault, but, rather, it's a virtue. So saying God the Father suffered with Jesus does not demean the Father in any way (though the ontological status of His pain as pain remains a problem).But why this suffering by God would redeem or save *us* or make peace for us, I haven't a clue. Is it because only such suffering can show, can verify the depth of His love for us? Would that make it a sort of ultimate sacrament? (Is that what the Eucharist continues to both "signify" and make real?) (This just gets more confusing.) Yes, Jesus gave some of Himself (His hours of torture and His body unto death) to make us whole, so I can understand the Crucifixion as a sort of exchange, which makes me very sympathetic to the theologians who believe that Jesus' suffering somehow paid the price of our salvation. That is at least easy to understand. But it won't do either because it makes the Father a monster and Jesus some sort of patsy. Still, there does seem to be some sort of payment or some sort of gift. What is this "creed" of St. Paul's? Never heard of it before.

It wasn't "St. Paul's" creed, but the one he himself received and in turn handed on to the Corinthians: " "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:1-4; some scholars take it into the next verses, too).

"that he rose again the third day'I think the text goes something more like "that he was raised on the third day". There is no "again" in the Greek and the verb is an aorist passive. Check the NAB.

"But how? What can turn black into white?"AnnSounds like with your background you need to understand redemption in the tangle of the mind. I dont have much I can offer other than that the principles of logic would dictate that if you can show a proposition to be false in even one case, its false. To prove that evils hold on the world was not complete, one incorruptible man was needed. When Christ was shown to be that man, the edifice of evil blocking the gates of heaven came tumbling down. Christ is the counter-example.

Mark ==I don't question *that* Christ redeemed the world. That's a matter of faith. My question has to do with *how* and *why* His acceptance of such suffering was the means to that end. NOte: I don't think that it was simply His suffering that did it == it was His *acceptance* of the suffering that was the key.

Newman's justification is a fascinating book, about which I once wrote a critical article to which no one responded. Here it is: think that Newman, like most British theologians and like most Catholic theologians, did not really understand Luther, so that much of his polemic has a straw man quality. He swears by Robert Bellarmine and on the Protestant side makes much of Andreas Osiander (usually regarded as diluting the doctrine of justification by securing an ontological basis for it). For the Catholic and Anglican tone deafness to Luther (and, the argument runs, to Paul) see Daphne Hampson's book, Christian Contradictions. Since the Joint Declaration on Justification of October 31, 1999, Catholics no longer beat a sectarian drum on this issue -- the watchword now is mutual understanding and mutual appreciation. Catholics have more to learn from Luther than from any other Christian author.

In reply to Ann, the whole topic of Redemptive Suffering is totally central to Christianity. "Death is at work in us, but life in you" said St Paul. We can make our sufferings fountains of grace through identification with Christ crucified. Hence the need to meditate on the Cross regularly, so as to be prepared.

Newman in later life dismissed his Justification book as of merely historical interest. His own theology of grace as a Catholic is a rather drab Tridentinism, though his studies should have equipped him to make a valuable contribution to the development of Catholic thinking on this front.

The drama of the crucifixion is mind-boggling. Everything is turned upside down, and we end up adoring the instrument of torture. The reversal is complete. Ann, I, too, find it perplexing, but here's a question: what alternative story would work for you? How would you rather have had the story go?I can't have Christ defending himself, because he would thereby put some distance between himself and the people. He is the vulnerable lamb, open to all in spite of all - anything else would show him taking a step away from us, and I can't have that.As to having the crowds and disciples behaving better (maybe thanks to Christ's request or to God's intervention) because this story is simply unacceptable - then, whoever lived through some unspeakable horror could complain to God that He has never lived through anything like that; his identification with them could not be complete, and some part of humanity would be damned by their misery without recourse. I can't have that either.I agree that the story of the crucifixion is paradoxical and disturbing, and I don't understand it, but how else could it be? Nothing else would make any more sense, that I can think of. What strikes me this year is that, no matter what we do, God does not pull away from us. "Identification [of ourselves] with Christ crucified", or rather, identification of Christ crucified with us - that seems central to me even if I don't see the exact connection.

Herbert McCabe makes more sense on this subject to me than anyone I have ever heard, Check this site out and scroll down to " Easter Sermon."

Susan: wow. Thank you!

Susan,Thank you for the link. I did not know the Halden blog. It seems very rich. But I need some clarification. I take it that the "Sermon" is by Halden with quotes from McCabe and Jenson. Was it the McCabe quote you found especially helpful, or the whole sermon?And what did you find particularly helpful?

I was referring to the selections from McCabe referenced in the piece to which I linked to give a sense of what he has to say. But the best place to look for an exposition of his ideas on the atonement would be his full essay Good Friday: The Mystery of the Cross in his book "God Matters". (The essay was published in Blackfriars Magazine and is available online through the Wiley site if anyone has access through an academic library.) In this essay McCabe speaks of the passion and death of Christ not as the sort of atonement that has so often been presented to us, in which metaphorically he is tortured to death to satisfy a debt humanity owes God, but as the supreme expression of Christs love of the father and his obedience to the mission his Father had given him. He sees the cross as a prayer and all our prayers as prayers only by sharing in the prayer of the cross, the exchange between Jesus and the Father in which Jesus offered the whole of his life to the Father and the Father raised him from the dead. And McCabe sees the answer to that prayer as the resurrection, when the Father through the dead but risen Christ does accomplish his will for human creatures. Through the risen Christ the Spirit is poured out upon all men, or, to put it another way, the relationship between Jesus and the father, between the Son and the Father, is extended to all men.Well, thats only a taste of it. No excerpts can match the way McCabe puts it in his complete essay, and in the case of McCabe, it all means more, the more you read of his work. Note to Ann Olivier: I think you would be relieved to find that McCabe felt much as you (and I) do about the image of a loving God demanding the torture of a sinless being as "satisfaction" of some sort, and he didn't mind saying so.

That abominable distortion of the doctrine of the Atonement was, it seems, taken over by Catholic preachers from Calvin who was also the first to maintain that Christ suffered the pains of the damned, a view recently revived, controversially, by Balthasar. The only time I ever met the present Pope, I mentioned that I couldn't follow Balthasar's views on what happened on Holy Saturday, on which he presented himself as quite well informed on inner-Trinitarian tensions. The then Cardinal Ratzinger replied: "Oh, he got all that from Adrienne von Speyer, and you must remember that she had been a Calvinist!"

Herbert McCabe's article on Good Friday can be found at:

I would offer three points:1. Susan writes: McCabe speaks of the passion and death of Christ ... as the supreme expression of Christs love of the Father and his obedience to the mission his Father had given him. It seems to me that this is the teaching of Saint Anselm (who has been distorted by "supporters" and "opponents" alike!). When one reads his "Cur Deus Homo" one is struck that the most frequent characterizations of the Father and Son are "misericors Pater" and "Filius sua sponte."2. The link Susan provided has a stimulating reflection by Halden in which he incorporates quotes from Jenson and McCabe. But what is striking for me about Halden's own reflection is his recognition of how our death-wedded existence distorts and poisons our relationships. And how only Christ's transforming of death "from within" enables new, true, resurrection life.3. I respect von Balthasar and, as you know, offer seminars on his theology that I think are richly stimulating (because of him, not me!). But I personally find his reading of Holy Saturday the least persuasive of his theologoumena.This seems to be an instance when Joseph Ratzinger and Joseph O'Leary concurrunt :-).

The current exchange on von Balthasar reminded me of this one: if link requires subscription (but it's worth the price).

Thank you, Fr. O'Leary for your comments and the link to your article. I fear I know much too little theology to understand it, especially Luther. (I must say the little I know of him turns me off. What a cramped and sour soul!) But I might have understood one point: years ago when I read the agreement with the Lutheran theologians that Benedict reached with them I couldn't help wonder if he was a lot more Lutheran than Catholic to start with. It didn't say what I had been taught. I wonder if the Germans start from some one cultural assumption or attitude or whatever about human nature that colors all their different theologies.

"Ann, I, too, find it perplexing, but heres a question: what alternative story would work for you? How would you rather have had the story go?"Claire --I don't think of this as a story. I think it's what happened, it was so unfair. Yes, love goes beyond what is fair/unfair. I guess Christ's love is the greatest mystery. Why love us so much, miserable creatures that we are sometimes? Fr. McCabe can talk about God's enthusiastic love for the bugs, but bugs don't execute holocausts. And I don't think we can say simply that Jesus loved us because of what He is, not because of what we are. Given what He says, He also loved us because of what we are or could be. Another mystery -- what we could be.The trouble with Christianity intellectually is that the more it explains things, the more mysteries there are.

Many thanks, Mark Proska. Access was also free.

Mark --Thanks for the link. If Pitstick is right, then von Balthasar is -- I"ll say it -- quite a heretic. He seems to be saying that in Hell Jesus became, not a surrogate for us for obtaining forgiveness, but rather, he seems to say that Jesus actually becomes identical with us sinners, that this is *necessary* for His sacrifice to be effective. Yes, what St. Paul says is problematic (He "became sin"). But Paul doesn't say Christ literally became us, does he? It never ceases to amaze me how conservative Catholics are the ones automatically assumed to be the orthodox ones.

Speaking of less than orthodox conservatives, where is Nancy these days?Have a Happy Easter, Nancy, whatever you're up to.

Yes, I was also wondering what happened to Nancy. Happy Easter Nancy!

I know a "moderator" threatened to pull Nancy's account; sure hope that didn't happen. Happy Easter, Nancy.

Thanks for this post, Fr Komonchak. I was the organizer of today's monthly prayer meeting at my parish, and used Is 2-7, your quote of Augustine, a homemade summary of the Passion, two paragraphs of the Herbert McCabe quotes in the blog linked to by Susan Gannon, and another paragraph that I copied by hand from his text on Good Friday that you linked to. I think that it was successful in deflecting people's bad memories of catechism lessons on Good Friday picturing a vengeful God.I feel very lucky that this blog exists. Thanks to all!

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