A Reflection on the Beauty of Christ’s Priestly Sacrifice: Part VI
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.” (John 12:27)
Christ deigned to suffer and die for man. He “had power to lay down [his] life and power to take it up again” (John 10:18). Christ died, in fact, to reconcile the world to God. This gives his death its character not as a tragic event but as his priestly sacrifice. Christ is the great high priest “who has pleased God and has been found just.”(Ecce sacerdos magnus). To the Father, who does not judge by appearance but sees the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), Christ, being seen in the act of offering his bloody sacrifice on the cross, pleases.
By giving up his life freely and obediently, Christ restored the disfigured form of man to its original splendor and infused it with an even greater beauty. Christ, the New Adam, is the true and pre-eminent model after which the human race under the law of grace is formed in baptism. He is the model, but he is also the artisan. He is the victim, but he is also the priest. Since Christ’s sacrificial death is the restoration of the divine image, Christ’s priestly work has an artistic character.
Our Lord’s suffering and death are beautiful because they are his complete obedience to the Father’s will. His suffering and death put Christ as man in the proper order of submission to God. Christ, as the New Adam, as the Head of the new humanity takes the new humanity with him through his assumed human nature into this proper ordering. Thus, the beauty of Christ’s passion and death effect the re-beautification of the tarnished divine image in fallen man. Christ’s beauty makes us beautiful. His beauty is contagious; his obedience to the Father is contagious.
Yet, this is not all. Christ’s suffering and death do not merely restore a proper order; his obedience goes deeper than Adam’s disobedience. Christ’s suffering and death go to the very root of the disorder in man’s relationship with God, and they go past the root because of his divine identity. Christ makes suffering and death beautiful. He makes the divine image in man shine with a splendor that was unknown even in Eden. To those who had gone astray regarding not only truth and goodness but also beauty, Christ revealed what is beautiful to be of a greater kind than what perfect nature could have discovered.
Since Christ restored the divine image in free creatures, this re-formation of the divine image can be freely denied. To this end, obedience to the moral law is certainly necessary. If Christ did not abolish the moral law, what makes his salvation a real salvation from sins? Christ did not destroy sins by doing away with laws and thus the possibility of their violation. Rather, he destroyed sin and its power in that he gave us the possibility of obeying and exceeding the precepts of the law. When representatives of God’s own chosen people, whose greatest boast was the law, handed over the Lawgiver himself since they had no law to put a man to death (cf. John 18:31). It seemed perhaps then that they would no longer be able to call God their God since they had rejected his law and along with God himself, but in that very act of rejection, Christ hung enthroned with authority on the cross and gave power to the new Law of grace that would reform hearts and make the Holy Spirit at home in men’s souls. Far from being absent from his chosen people, God would be theirs and they his in a new, thoroughly deep, and eternal covenantal bond. The harmony of the New Covenant perfected the harmony offered by the Old, not destroying it but bringing it to its fullest meaning and power. In this new people of God, the Church, man finds again his proper orientation, his proper ordering toward God.
Again, the sacramental life of the Church plays an essential role since the—as works of art deriving from the —not only show beauty but bring it about. They not only show how the divine image in man ought to be but apply Christ’s reformation of the divine image to men of every time and place.
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 (March 30, 2012)
- Tam dignati pro me pati: Christ’s Priestly Sacrifice (This post) (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)