Calvary is not merely an incident in the tragedy of the human race, it is the very climax and culmination of that tragedy
By FATHER THOMAS CORBISHLEY, 5.1
THERE is surely something per
plexing about our indifference to the story of the Passion as it is presented in the Gospel narrative; for that we arc lamentably indifferent few of us will deny. The most trivial newspaper paragraph about some alleged atrocity in some unknown country will stir in us at least a passing thrill of pity; nor does the repetition of horrors associated with the War stale for us their emotional appeal. And yet we can read unmoved, unresponsive, the history of the events that constitute the greatest crime and the greatest tragedy that human records contain. Why should it be so?
Possibly part of the explanation is to be found in a certain sense of unreality shrouding so much of the life and character of Our Lord. We art so conscious of the transcendent quality of His personality that we fall into a kind of monophysism, forgetting that his nerves quivered and ached as do our own, that the very perfection of His humanity meant not a lessening but an accentuation of pain, that his sublime courage is not a token of insensibility but of The triumph of the human spirit over the extreme of agony. If ever the phrase " the martyrdom of Man " meant anything, it is in Christ's Passion that it finds its truest significance And it is riot until we have brought ourselves to a realisation of this truth that we shall be able to appreciate as we should its poignancy and its inspiration.
Bond with Our Fellows
Let us begin by asking why human suffering calls out the sympathy of those who witness it or, it may be, only knows of it by hearsay? Surely it is because of that mysterious bond linking us with all our fellow-men, a bond deeper than all the divisions established by race or political faith or social condition. So real is this bond that, Where our sympathies are closely involved we actually experience a sort of physical counterpart of anothers pain, we almost feel ourselvee the searing shock of the bullet-wound, the
harsh edge of the bayonet. And the greater our humanity, the mole do we find ourselves affected in this way equally, The more selfish or brutalised we become, the less do we heed the sufferings of others. There comes the extreme degradation when a man can revel in the suffering of others, can take delight in inflicting it; and, at the other end of the scale, there is the sublimity that would rather suffer than cause others to suffer, that would rather suffer than see others euffering.
It is just here that we can look for one clue to a solution of the mystery of Christ's Passion. The heart of the mystery will remain withdrawn, beyond the grasp of human understanding because infinitely transcending the measure of human generosity. But at the summit of human endeavour we begin to approach the realm of the achievement of God made man. We have seen that, involved in the perfection of humanity, is a readiness to suffer in order to save others from suffering. God, infinitely above man in His perfection, is necessarily beyond
him in this sublime altruism. But, even if we could nevet rise to such heights ourselves, we are surely not incapable al appreciating the quality of such generosity.
Christ Suffers Because Man Suffers
If, then, we ask why Christ sutlers, the only answer can be, because Man suffers. And if we go further and a5k why man suffers, the only answer can be, because man would have it so. Involved in the towering pride of the creature that would refuse to acknowledge its dependence upon God, is the attempt to live a life independent of God. And the result is, inevitably, godlessness and the horrors of the world of 1943. In no academic or theoretical sense we can say with entire truth that the anguish of these years is to be traced directly to the selfish ambition, the avarice, the jealousy, the brutal degradation or the cynical in
difference of individual men. Inexorable as the law of gravity is the sequeece of suffering upon sin. And as sin has been present from the beginning, so has suffering. In one sense, the story of mankind is indeed the story of the martyrdom of Man—but it is a self-inflicted martyrdom.
And, historically, part of that martyrsic= is the story of the just man who was put to death because of the ambition, the avarice, the jealousy and the cynical indifference of others. So completely has he identified himself with our fortunes.
Bit!, in another and a deeper sense, Calvary is not merely an incident in the tragedy of the human race: it is the very climax and culmination of that tragedy. Christ is suffering humanity. In that supreme sacrifice we behold not the martyrdom of a man, but the martyrdom of Man.
Man it is that suffers on the Cross, even as Man has suffered from the beginning, even as he suffers to-day in a million homes, in the flames of the burning tanker, in the skies of Africa, on the steppes of Russia, beneath the waters of the seven seas. Again and again the senseless story of man's inhumanity to man has been repeated.
Redemption Through Suffering
Senseless. Yes, but is there no other side LO the picture? Is it noth
ing but senseless waste? Surely Calvary gives, once again, the ringing reply to that question. For if, on Calvary, was wrought the most hideous of all crimes, the brutal slaying of a man known to bc guiltless and, if not known :is God, yet seen as a benefactor beyond compare. yet, in and through that lery crime, was being worked out the supreme gift of God to man, the salsation of man horn himself. That we see, and can only see with eyes of faith, From the outside we see only the blood and the wounds, the ugliness and the baseness of men. But the inner truth, the abiding fact of Calvary is the fact of Redemption, How it can be, passes our comprehension. Ifow the rotten death that dungs God's harvest-fields can so work to produce fresh life, that is one of God's secrets. But it is a fact. Because Christ suffered and died, we shall rise to immortal life.
Redemption through suffering—it is the law of Christian life, What may be the precise relation between Christ's Passion and the suffering of his fellowmen is, again, a secret that we cannot probe. But this much we can be certain of: that if human suffering steels us, if we are sickened by the sight of the tortures inflicted on our fellow-men in the concentration-camp or the ghetto, if it is with reluctance that we find ourselves compelled to bring suffering upon out enemies, all this is immeasurably truer of Our Lord. Not the least part of his earthly suffering was the vision of suffering humanity. Had it been possible, compatible with the divine justice, for him to take upon himself all the punishment, all the suffering that is the consequence of human pride, we 'nay well believe that he would have done so. And we ate surely right in holding that, in virtue of his identification of himself with our fate on earth, and always, of course, in view of his dispensation of grace, there is no human suffering whatsoever but has a remedial power, Not in this World Inevitably, of course, we men think in terms of this-world redemption, We like to think, soloner or later, we shall establish Utopia within this space-time framework. We fail to realise, or we forget, that Utopia is merely a pale reflection of a city not made with hands. It is an ideal towards which we must ever be striving, because the intensity of our shiving is the measure of our generosity and of our love. But, side by side with this striving, must ever go a consciousness that the more we fix our gaze on a merely temporal paradise, the greater is bound to be our disappointment. Beyond the city of our earthly dreams rises the immortal vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, that fair vision of peace that is being surely raised by all our efforts and strivings, by the tears and sufferings that 50 often seem to bc of no avail here below.
So, when we talk of the remedial power of pain, we must be careful not
to fall into the mistake of thinking that this world will necessarily he a better place its consequence of the lire of tribulation that is sweeping it to-day. We hope and pray that it will be so; we trust that even the monumental stupidity of mankind will learn this lesson—that ceaseless vigilance and unselfish co-operation is but a small price to pay for immunity from total war. It is true that Christ has " overcome the world ": it is true that His victory is complete and final. But it is also true that, in this temporal order, the struggle goes on—the struggle against evil in its every form—aguinst tyranny and cruelty, against disease and exploitation, against sloth and cowardice, passion and pride.
Christ's Cross is the sign of His triumph. But it is a terrible sign, too, of the reality of that evil thing over which he does triumph.
I tell you naught for your comfort, Yea, naught for your desire, Save that the sky grows darker yet And the sea rises higher.
But there is at least this for our cornfort that the very horror of the evil is a measure of the superabounding good that issues from it.