A Reflection on the Beauty of Christ’s Priestly Sacrifice: Part V
Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple robe; they came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. (John 19:1–3)
The Lord of hosts, mighty in battle, stood in shackles and let himself be struck. Incredulous at Christ’s testimony to the truth, Pilate’s soldiers beat him for sport. They would not believe that the one God could have been condemned and brought before them. The soldiers surely believed that God was far from his people and his people far from him. God would not literally be with them, would he? He could never be so meek and palpable as to receive their blows. Certainly, the Lord could not be—God forbid—vulnerable. The soldiers accomplished with their blows what all of us do through our sins: the disfigurement of Beauty.
Though Christ became physically disfigured and ugly through his wounds, he who is Beauty himself in the flesh showed forth the highest degree of Truth, Goodness and Beauty in his suffering. To have eyes to see the beauty that is really present in the passion and death of Christ, we must recognize beauty as also a spiritual reality. Indeed, “God is spirit” (John 4:24), and visible beauty—though really beautiful—is of a lower order than spiritual beauty. By being wounded in his body, Christ becomes, when seen by natural eyes, that which does not please. Indeed, for those without the eyes of faith he became “one from whom men hide their faces” (Isaiah 53:3). Only those with a taste for real beauty could see the splendor of Christ’s wounds.
Christ’s wounds are beautiful because he is beautiful. This is the reality of the. Christ’s body is his body. It is not his mere instrument or possession; it is his. Christ’s body, as a constitutive element of the psychosomatic unity of his human nature, is more than something he uses. In short, Christ’s body is not only his, it is he. Where Christ’s body is, while he lives, he in his entirety also is. Since in his divine nature Christ is not only beautiful but Beauty, through the inexpressible unity of our Lord’s natures in his Person, we can truly say that Beauty itself suffered wounds.
To this extent, Christ was passive since he really suffered, but we must not imagine the aspect of beauty in him to be like the beauty of a painting that is defaced. Our Lord is a Person and as God is pure act. Christ is a victim but not helpless, because he is also the priest. He sacrifices himself. He lays down his life; no one takes it from him (John 10:18). This is another way in which Christ’s wounds are his own, not only in the sense that he is like the painting that bears them but also in the sense that he is the Painter who gives reality to their being imprinted on himself.
Though Christ’s human nature suffers a loss of accidental beauty since his body for a time ceased to be as beautiful as it should have been, as Veronica recognized, this wounding of Christ brings about a greater beauty than would have been present otherwise. Without our Lord’s wounds, we would not have his blood. This is why his wounds are beautiful: they are the terrible means by which he shares himself with us. The beauty which is his nature could only be communicated to his creation through his sufferings. At the same time, it is easy to see how the sacramental life of the Church flows from Christ’s pierced side. How can we have life without drinking his blood? How could we have his blood without his being wounded? Christ is “the life” (John 14:6), so beauty is alive and life-giving.
After the Resurrection, he bears these marks still, because they are not defects or mars in his beauty. Rather, the marks of the passion are beautiful because they are his and they were instruments of his restoration of the divine image in man. How could Christ’s life-giving wounds cease in his resurrected body? Indeed, they show the perfection of the created divine image in Christ’s body in a surpassing way. The stigmata are not arbitrary signs or symbols—in our modern sense of the word—that merely point to Christ’s love for us; they are Christ’s bodily love for us. The wounds of the passion are beautiful because they are God’s love made visible in his own human body.
The vulnerability that was a consequence of sin has become the means of man’s redemption and restoration to an even greater splendor. Thus, the wounds themselves by which Christ accomplished this are actually beautiful. The wounds are not unintentional, because his body is completely subject to his soul, that is, his human nature is completely harmonized, perfectly ordered by the very fact of itswith his divine nature. Christ’s wounds are, then, also real signs of his perfect and lasting human nature and his human beauty (see Luke 24:39). How fitting it is that they should remain after his Resurrection.
To Be Continued…
Special Thanks to Father Dylan Schrader for the contribution.
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Other articles in this series
- A Reflection on the Beauty of Christ’s Priestly Sacrifice Part I (March 25, 2012)
- The Breath: Creation (March 27, 2012)
- Tui: The Old Covenant (March 28, 2012)
- Nati: The Incarnation (March 29, 2012)
- Vulnerati: The Wounding of Christ (This post) (March 30, 2012)
- Tam dignati pro me pati: Christ’s Priestly Sacrifice (March 31, 2012)
- Poenas mecum divide: The Participation of Mary and the Church in the Beauty of Christ’s Priestly Sacrifice (March 31, 2012)
- The Priest As Artisan (April 25, 2012)
- The Priesthood of the Baptized (May 18, 2012)
- The Ministerial Priesthood (June 22, 2012)