Crucified “Christa”: A sign of faith lost
One can only marvel at the “evolving, growing, learning church” touted by New York’s Episcopalian Bishop Andrew Dietsche. He says that’s why Episcopalians can now welcome the crucifix portraying Christ as a woman, which they rejected some 30 years ago. But this is not a sign of evolution, growth or learning; it is a sign of loss of faith.
There is something scandalously particular about Christianity which really is a stumbling block to those who prefer to make up their own religion as they go along. I mentioned recently that Voltaire had (improbably) captured the essence of this particularity very nicely, when he said that anyone who wishes to start a new religion must begin by getting himself killed and then rise on the third day. Of course Episcopalians and Anglicans have been reinventing their rather malleable version of Christianity for quite some time now.
It is one thing to experiment with artistic portrayals of God the Father or God the Holy Spirit. One must beware of graven images, of course; we must not worship the human creations that remind us of the ineffable God. But it is well within the realm of artistic license to portray the Holy Spirit as a dove or even to portray the Father as an ancient man of incomparable strength and dignity. We can suggest the presence of God with a well-placed shaft of sunlight in a painting, or through particular strains in a musical composition. Such intimations of the Divine can have significant artistic value.
But Christianity is not easily reduced to our own questionable imaginings for the simple reason that it is most fully revealed in concrete particulars. You have doubtless heard of the “scandal of the cross”, but this scandal is preceded by an even greater one. The very essence of Christianity consists in a single astonishing historical fact: The Word became flesh. God “emptied Himself” by assuming a human nature in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
This decision has consequences. What is apparently a new scandal today is that the Son of God incarnate was not a female but a male. He was as male as your father, your husband, your son, your brother, or any of your men friends. Clearly this is a significant part of that scandalous particularity of Christianity which imposes limits on our vain imaginings. As Christians we are not free to project an image of God as an extension of our own personalities and desires. We are not free to remake our Lord and Savior in accordance with our pet theories. We are made in His image, not He in ours.
We may not always understand the reasons behind the particularity of the Incarnation, but we do know that representing Our Lord as a woman is a lie. In doing so we take a central and non-malleable aspect of God’s own self-revelation and make it into whatever we may want it to be. Such a choice is not motivated by Faith. No, it represents an abandonment of Faith—and in particular the rejection of the uniquely concrete character of Christianity. We cast aside the very concreteness which enables God to make a tangible sacrifice for us, a sacrifice which we understand all too well, which condemns each one of us, and which demands not our theories but our tears.
Tears too are scandalously concrete. Yet it is precisely our human sorrow that opens us to Divine mercy. Our tears, joined with Our Lord’s, once again make it clear that Christianity is unlike any other religion on earth. Its very particularity demands that we stop making things up as we go along, inventing “lofty” sentiments and “higher” moral precepts to suit our own ideologies. Instead, we are called to stand mute before the Crucified. We are silenced not by an argument but by a fact.
It was a young Jewish male, Jesus of Nazareth, who died upon the Cross. By His bodily Resurrection He proved Himself to be the Christ. When Peter tried to prevent His sacrifice, Our Lord called Him “Satan”. The crucifix is not to be repurposed for our own fantasies. The God-man already had a specific purpose in mind, a purpose which He alone could accomplish: “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:31-2).
It is as if he said, “Enough of your self-serving theories and your vacuous spirituality.” In contrast, Our Lord was focused exclusively on His Father’s will—and not merely in some abstract way. For as St. John explained in the very next verse, Christ was once again insisting on the particular, the concrete, the scandalous reality: “He said this to show by what death he was to die.”
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