View all Novenas | November 3, 2023
Part 4 – God the Son – Week 2
Part 4 – God the Son – Week 2
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried (1)
The second article of the Creed about Jesus deals with His passion and death, and – as we should already be accustomed to by now – Ratzinger’s commentary on this truth in Introduction to Christianity is not centered on understanding all the details of Jesus’ trial and suffering, but on its deepest meaning, or in other words on its existential import, its relevance for me as a Christian.
In this context, he points out that many Christians see Jesus’ death as a type of atonement or expiation for sin that was in some sense ‘demanded’ or ‘necessary’ in order to placate God’s offended honour and in this way restore our relationship with Him. But this way of looking at things makes a mockery of the true novelty of New Testament revelation, Ratzinger then counters. For the Cross is first and foremost the revelation of God’s mercy and limitless love, he says. It is done ‘for us’ and is the highest expression of God’s radical self-giving to us. It cannot primarily be seen ‘from below’ as the attempt to placate and restore God’s injured right, he continues, but must be interpreted ‘from above,’ from the point of view of God’s foolish and extravagant attempt to bestow healing and the fullness of life upon man.
As a result, Ratzinger adds, the way we live out our relationship with God should primarily be one of thanksgiving. Christian worship, he tells us, is not fundamentally about keeping the rules and offering to God the ‘sacrifice’ of our fidelity. Instead, it is about asking in humility and trust and receiving in gratitude, opening ourselves up, and allowing ourselves to be ‘overcome’ by Him.
“What position is really occupied by the Cross within faith in Jesus as the Christ? That is the question with which this article of the Creed confronts us […]
To anyone who looks […] closely, the scriptural theology of the Cross represents a real revolution as compared with the notions of expiation and redemption entertained by non-Christian religions […]. In other world religions, expiation usually means the restoration of the damaged relationship with God by means of expiatory actions on the part of men. Almost all religions center around the problem of expiation; they arise out of man’s knowledge of his guilt before God and signify the attempt to remove this feeling of guilt, to surmount the guilt through conciliatory actions offered up to God. The expiatory activity by which men hope to conciliate the Divinity and to put him in a gracious mood stands at the heart of the history of religion.
In the New Testament, the situation is almost completely reversed. It is not man who goes to God with a compensatory gift, but God who comes to man, in order to give to him. He restores disturbed right on the initiative of his power to love, by making unjust man just again, the dead living again, through his own creative mercy. His righteousness is grace; it is active righteousness, which sets crooked man right, that is, bends him straight, makes him correct. Here we stand before the twist that Christianity put into the history of religion. The New Testament does not say that men conciliate God, as we really ought to expect, since, after all, it is they who have failed, not God. It says, on the contrary, that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19). This is truly something new, something unheard of—the starting point of Christian existence and the center of New Testament theology of the Cross: God does not wait until the guilty come to be reconciled; he goes to meet them and reconciles them. Here we can see the true direction of the Incarnation, of the Cross.
Accordingly, in the New Testament, the Cross appears primarily as a movement from above to below. It stands there, not as the work of expiation that mankind offers to the wrathful God, but as the expression of that foolish love of God’s that gives itself away to the point of humiliation in order thus to save man; it is his approach to us, not the other way about. […] It is the expression of the totality of his surrender and of his service; an embodiment of the fact that he offers no more and no less than himself. The gesture of the love that gives all—this, and this alone, according to the Letter to the Hebrews, was the real means by which the world was reconciled; therefore the hour of the Cross is the cosmic day of reconciliation, the true and definitive feast of reconciliation. […]
With this twist in the idea of expiation, and thus in the whole axis of religion, worship, too, man’s whole existence, acquires in Christianity a new direction. Worship follows in Christianity first of all in thankful acceptance of the divine deed of salvation. The essential form of Christian worship is therefore rightly called Eucharistia, thanksgiving. In this form of worship human achievements are not placed before God; on the contrary, it consists in man’s letting himself be endowed with gifts; we do not glorify God by supposedly giving to him out of our resources—as if they were not his already!—but by letting ourselves be endowed with his own gifts and thus recognizing him as the only Lord. We worship him by dropping the fiction of a realm in which we could face him as independent business partners, whereas in truth we can only exist at all in him and from him. Christian sacrifice does not consist in a giving of what God would not have without us but in our becoming totally receptive and letting ourselves be completely taken over by him. Letting God act on us—that is Christian sacrifice. […] It demands that, instead of indulging in the destructive rivalry of self-justification, we accept the gift of the love of Jesus Christ, who “stands in” for us, allow ourselves to be united in it, and thus become worshippers with him and in him.
- Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2004 , 281-288.
- Reflect on the passion of Jesus, if possible before a crucifix or before the Eucharist. Thank Jesus again, with a renewed and deepened fervour, for the gift of salvation, for being the underserved recipient of God’s forgiving love. Ask Him for the grace of humility and gratitude, for the capacity to see all the good things in my life as free gifts and not as something ‘owed’ to me, as something that I deserve or have attained principally through my own efforts.