Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday 2010: The Wounds of Christ and the Suffering God

The wounds of Christ are the wounds of a divine Person. God suffers His wounds. It is not His humanity that suffers. It is He – the “I Am,” the divine Person – Who suffers. Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI contemplated the work “Behold the Pierced One” when suddenly realizing that “the 1600-year commemoration of the First Ecumenical Council of Constantinople [381]was being celebrated with “almost no attention… paid to the fact that the date of the Third Council of Constantinople – 681 – might also have been the occasion for a memorial.”[1] This caused him “to acquaint myself more closely with the pronouncements of this Council. As I read the texts it became clear, much to my astonishment, that the achievement of a spiritual Christology had also been the Council’s ultimate goal, and that it was only from this point of view that the classical formulas of Chalcedon appear in the proper perspective.”[2]

The import of Constantinople III (680-681) was the shift of epistemology from object to subject. That is, instead of a parallelism of objectively distinct divine and human natures in Christ, the perspective was taken from scripture, John 6, 38 that read: “I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.” The perspective is the divine “I” that is God-man. Just as I am analyzable physically, inorganically, organically, physiologically, biologically, etc., and yet – I am. I – the divine “I” – have come down… not to do my own - human – will. What Maximus the Confessor saw, and the Council said, was there is only one “I” in Jesus Christ, and that “I” wills with two ontologically distinct wills, but since it is the same “I,” there is only one will of the one Person. Therefore, there is only one personal will. Ratzinger saw that this removed any “parallelism” of the divine and the human in Christ – which, when thought out, would have a profound effect on all subsequent dualisms that derived from said “parallel:” faith-reason, supernatural-natural, grace-nature, Church-State, etc.

It also raises, and solves, the question whether God suffers. That is, instead of working with the objective metaphysics that would insist that since God is substantial (objective) Being, and suffering means a diminution in Being, then God as God cannot suffer. If Christ is God and suffers, then He must suffer as man, and not as God, because, they argue, if He suffers as God, He cannot be God.

But since, God has revealed Himself to be Love (Agape), He is capable of suffering precisely because He is Love. In fact, He suffers because He is Love. The human person as image of God understands this and experiences it The experience of Love is to-be-with-the-other. To suffer, then, is a constitutive part of being human. Benedict XVI says: “The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through ‘com-passion’ is a cruel and inhuman society.”[3]

But the question stands: Can God suffer? Joseph Ratzinger offers the mind of Origen: “It was also Origen … who formulated the normative hermeneutic on the theme of the suffering God: whenever you hear of God’s passions and sufferings, says Origen, you must always relate these to his live. God is a sufferer only because he is first a lover; the theme of the suffering God follows from the theme of the loving God and continually points to it. The decisive step that the Christian concept of God takes beyond that of the ancients is the realization that God is love.”[4] Ratzinger comments that the theme of the suffering God has become a theological fashion, not without reason, opposing a “biased rationalistic theology [on the one hand], and on the other, a banalization of the Jesus understood as image of God that debases the love of God to a cheap conception of a merely ‘nice’ God.” [5]

In his second encyclical “Spe Salvi,” Benedict remarks that “The Christian faith has shown us that truth, justice and love are not simply ideals, but enormously weighty realities. It has shown us that God – Truth and Love in person – desired to suffer for us and with us. Bernard of Clairvaux coined the marvellous expression: Impassibilis est Deus, sed non incompassibilis – God cannot suffer, but he can suffer with man in an utterly real way – in flesh and blood – as is revealed to us in the account of Jesus’s Passion.”[6]

And I think it is possible to insist: if God as God can “suffer with,” it must be true that He suffers since the “suffering with” is an act of the divine Person suffering as divine Person. Who else suffers? Not the humanity. That is a nature. Therefore, though it is alleged that God does not suffer as God, even if He be Love, nevertheless in the Person of Christ, since there is only one Person, and only Persons freely act and are the protagonists of their action, then it must be He, the Son of the living God, Who does the suffering.

Consider the following imaginative dialogue from Bernard Lonergan:

“Q. Who suffered under Pontius Pilate?

A. Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord.

Q. Did he himself suffer, or was it somebody else, or was it nobody?

A He himself suffered.

Q. Did he suffer unconsciously?

A. No, he suffered consciously. To suffer unconsciously Is not to suffer at all. Surgical operations cause no pain, when the patient is made unconscious by an anesthetic.

Q. What does it mean to say that he suffered consciously?

A. It means that he himself really and truly suffered. He was the one whose soul was sorrowful unto death. He was the one who felt the cutting, pounding scourge. He was the one who endured for three hours the agony of the crucified.

Q. Do you mean that his soul was sorrowful but he himself was not sorrowful” [Weinandy]

A. That does not make sense. The Apostles’ Creed says explicitly that Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, suffered under Pontius Pilate.

Q. Do you mean that his body was scourged and crucified but he himself felt nothing?

A. No, he felt all of it. Were our bodies scourged and crucified, we would feel it. His was scourged and crucified. He felt it.

Q. Is not Jesus Christ God?

A. He is.

Q. Do you mean that God suffered?

A. In Jesus Christ there is one person with two natures. I do not mean that the one person suffered in his divine nature. I do mean that the one person suffered in his human nature.

Q. It was really that divine person that suffered though not in his divine nature?

A. It was. He suffered. It was not somebody else that suffered. It as not nobody that suffered;”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Also, consider the mind and experience of St. Josemaria Escriva:

Burgos, June 6, 1938

+ May Jesus safeguard you, for himself.

Dear Juanito [Jimenez Vargas],

This morning, on my way to Las Huelgas, where I went to do my prayer, I discovered a new world: the Most Holy Wound of our Lord’s right hand. I was there all day long, kissing and adoring. How truly lovable is the sacred humanity of our God! Pray that he give me that real love of his and with it completely purify all my other affections. It’s not enough to say, `Heart on the cross!’ Because if one of Christ’s wounds cleans, heals, soothes, strengthens, enkindles, and enraptures, what wouldn’t the five do as they lie open on the cross? Heart on the cross! O my Jesus, what more could I ask for? I realize that if I continue contemplating in this way (Saint Joseph, my father and lord, is the one who led me there, after I asked him to enkindle me), I’ll end up crazier than ever. Try it yourself!...”[7]

Then, Rodriguez includes a quote from St. Teresa of Avila: “Appearing to me as on former occasions, He began by showing me the wound in His left hand, and then, with the other hand, drew out a large nail which was embedded in it, in such a way that in drawing out the nail He seemed to me to be tearing the flesh. It was clear how very painful this must be and I was sorely grieved by it.”[8]

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 9.

[2] Ibid

[3] Benedict XVI “Spe Salvi” #38.

[4] J. Ratzinger, “Paschal Mystery As Core and Foundation of Devotion to the Sacred Heart,” in Towards a Civilization of Love Ignatius (1985) 154.

[5] Ibid 155.

[6] Benedict XVI, “Spe Salvi” # 39.

[7] St. Josemaria Escriva, “The Way – Critical-Historical edition prepared by Pedro Rodriguez” Scepter (2009) 725.

[8] Ibid 726.

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