He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
— Martin Luther, 1518 Heidelberg Disputation
As the years go on, I see more and more clearly as a theologian the awful, terrible beauty of the “wondrous” Cross of Christ. In that beauty is the defining form of all of God’s Providence, and, most astoundingly, the deepest mystery of the inner nature of God’s Trinitarian life. All of Scripture, all of history, and every detail of each human life finds its resolve and meaning only in the Crucified God whose torn Flesh and out-poured Blood forever remain openly manifest in the glorious Body of the Risen Christ. Indeed, at each Eucharist we taste and see this overwhelming truth and, in holy fear, ingest this divine form of life as both pledge and power that it will be so in our human life.
…of the Cross
This realization has been deepened especially these days as I immerse myself yet again — thanks to the generous interest of some seminarians here in New Orleans — in the works of St. John of the Cross. St. John is so clear to his monastic audience in The Ascent of Mt. Carmel that the only gate of entry into the depths of this wondrous mystery of Christ, the only way we can dare drink of the sweet beauty of the mystical meanings hidden in the biblical Song of Songs, is for every sojourner up the slopes of Mt. Carmel to pass through the splintered thickets of Golgotha’s dense forest. As he says it,
Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.
So even as I am captivated by the beauty of God’s revelation as eternally self-wasting mercy on the Cross, I tremble knowing that theologians — I — may not remain mere distant spectators of the very Mystery they consent to explore and to teach.
But we know that in faith that it is precisely this Crucified Christ, the Captain and Author of our Faith, that is with us always as we follow Him along the way. We need only see His serene face to know that, as Thomas Merton worded it,
…you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.