Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Christ the Victim

I was recently swapping Body & Blood comments with a cordial non-Catholic Christian. One of the Catholic concepts he took exception to was the presentation of Christ at Mass as a victim rather than triumphing over Death and Sin. One might express the difference as the Crucified Christ vs. the empty cross of the Risen Christ. Or note that Jesus died once as a victim 2,000 years ago, but now "is seated at the right hand of the Father," as the Creed says, borrowing from Ephesians, "he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places..."

So as usual, I'm in debt to to my Separated Brethren for prompting me to examine more closely an aspect of Catholicism, that I, the posterchild of Cradle Catholics, had not reflected on before. I'm determined not to discuss the Eucharist in general, but stick to the victim business.

First let's look at the Big Picture:

1. In Eden there was no sin; Man, body and soul, lived in perfect friendship with God.

2. Due to sin, Man was thrown out of Eden. Body and soul became separable; death was the inevitable consequence. Perfect friendship with God was no longer possible.

3. Jesus, uniquely Man and God,  atoned for all Man's sins, thus allowing Man's Soul, but not his Body, to once again enjoy perfect friendship with God.

4. After the Second Coming, when Jesus returns, Man will once again, body and soul, live in perfect friendship with God in the New Jerusalem. I expect this to be better than Eden, because in Eden God had no body. God had some kind of physical presence it seems, "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day"; but not like Jesus, who could be seen, touched, heard, smelled, kissed, flogged, spat on and crucified.

So now we're in Phase 3, a good place to be, but not the best place. We know from Revelations that in Phase 3 Heavenly Worship, the "Lamb which has been slain" continually stands before the Throne. Jesus, the Lamb of God, as John proclaimed him to be, is going to stand there before the Throne as the slain Victim as long as we are in Phase 3. Why? Because we are all still sinning in Phase least, I still sin. So continual sin on Earth in space-time means the atoning Victim is continually presenting himself before the Father in heaven, in the eternal present where God exists outside of his creation. "But," you may say, "Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father." So which is it? Favored Son, or Slain Lamb? Well, being Catholic, I can say: both, and neither cancels out the other. OK...but just because this Victim business is going on beyond our senses in heaven doesn't mean we have to dwell on it here, right? Umm, no. When Jesus "ascended to the Father" 40 days after Easter, did he go up spiritually...or physically? And you say, "both."  Right. So Jesus is somewhere right now, both Body and Divine Spirit. And in Revelation's description of the Heavenly Worship, he's not triumphant, but the slain victim. So if we're going to worship together on Sunday, the Sabbath of the New Covenant, it would behoove us to be in harmony with the worship everyone in heaven is participating in, which features Christ as Victim.

Now, recall that after Jesus died and rose again on Sunday, Thomas wasn't persuaded until a week later that it was true by sticking his fingers into Him (and the 6th grade girls say: eww!). This reminds us that the Risen Jesus still bore the marks of his Victimhood. Odd that Jesus wasn't restored to a pre-Eden sort of body freed from every consequence of sin, but nooo, after eight days He's still bearing all those wounds, which apparently haven't even closed up, much less disappeared. So it's safe to assume that 32 days later (8 + 32 = 40) Jesus ascended, Body and Soul, to heaven with all those gashes still unhealed. This dovetails with John seeing Him in heaven as a slain Lamb: still doing the living Victim thing there, too.

But didn't Jesus triumph over Death & Sin on Easter? Yes, but Jesus' resurrection was pretty modest: he comes out of the tomb, scares some sleeping soldiers, and keeps a very low profile for the next 40 days, then poofs off to heaven at the drop of a hat (see Transition & Ascension). Compared to his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, or the Transfiguration, there's a huge difference. The Resurrected Jesus made a very unassuming return to the land of the living.

As we know, Jesus is continually offering atonement for our sins in Phase 3: he may be spiritually free from the consequences of Sin, but not physically, based on his open-wound encounter with Thomas, and his slain-Lamb appearance in Heaven.   Until Jesus returns in triumph there's no complete restoration of his, or anyone's, Body & Soul to an Eden-like, preternatural, 'perfect' state. But why not?

Because Jesus is in the transitional Phase 3 just as we are, including those of us whose souls are in heaven. Sin still keeps the saints' bodies (well, most of them) in the ground, 'eaten of worms'. But haven't the saints triumphed over Death & Sin? Yes...but not completely. The saints won't be completely, perfectly triumphant until their souls are reunited with their bodies. And because Jesus is one of us, he retains his wounded, sin-consequenced body as long as the saints do. He gets his perfected body when we get ours. I think that's because he loves us, and in solidarity with the cloud of witnesses waits with them for that body'n'soul reunification. And when will that be?

That's in Phase 4, the Second Coming, when Jesus will return to Earth in triumph. Jesus himself describes it by quoting Daniel: "And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory."
Why triumph at that point in the future, and not at Easter? Because after Easter we kept right on sinning; but there will be no more sin after the Second Coming: the triumph will be complete. With no sin, there's no need for the atoning presentation of a Slain Lamb. And there'll be no reason for any saved soul not to be reunited with its formerly sin-flawed, but now perfected, body. And when the saved get their sin-free bodies, I expect Jesus' body will then, and not sooner, shed all its sin-marks as well. That will be the best time to worship a triumphant Jesus: when His victory over sin is complete, body and soul.

And in the meantime, like the heavenly hosts, we give our attention each Sunday to the Victim.

BTW, I'm not completely settled on this line of thinking, so I'm looking for reactions.


Scott Lyons said...

To me, this push back is little more than the common misunderstanding on the part of our separated brothers and sisters of the Eucharist and what happens at the Consecration of Bread and Cup.

Catholics do not proclaim Christ as victim over and against Christ as victor. It's "et, et," or both-and and is a strange source discomfort for our Protestant brothers and sisters. I say strange because there is not a Catholic that I know that does not celebrate the Resurrection, Christus Victor, and yet so very many Protestants make "Our Cross Is Empty!" as a kind of anti-Catholic battle cry. We are sinners and we are sharing, often, in Christ's suffering - that, to me, is the crucifix. It is where the Church militant stands. We proclaim, with St. Paul, his death until he comes. (As an aside, this kind of Protestant response also may have something to do with iconoclasm.) Christ does not remain victim in the sense that we kill him, re-sacrifice him in the Mass, but his once-for-all sacrifice is re-presented to us in the Mass. We are made present at his once-for-all sacrifice, it is made present for us. It is not a perpetually dying Christ that we preach. We do not crucify him over and over and over again. But the reality of his sacrifice is an outside-of-time and once-in-time occurrence. God is the reality outside of space-time. He is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. And he is also a man (but not merely) dying on a cross around A.D. 30 outside of Jerusalem. And his sacrifice is presented to us, and we become participants in it, at every Mass in every place in the world.

And we must remember that Mass is also a celebration of the Resurrection, not just a re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice. Every Sunday, every Mass, is re-presentation of his Resurrection, a little Easter. Not just a participation in the Sorrowful Mysteries but also in the Glorious Mysteries.

There could be books written (and have been) on this subject. But there is no distinction here between Catholic and Protestant concerning our proclamation of the Resurrection of Christ. We both proclaim it. But we Catholics also, with St. Paul, proclaim his death and boast in his Cross until he comes (1 Corinthians 11.26; Galatians 6.14). Remembering also what St. Paul writes, "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3.10,11). It is in the Crucifix that we, sinners, stand, sharing in his suffering and death that we might also, one day, share in his Resurrection.

(Forgive me for any errors I have made here.)

Still praying for Evangeline.

kkollwitz said...

Thanks for the comment, Scott. You know I almost added the bit about Little Easter, then took it out. I may put it back in now that I see its value in pointing to the Resurrection.

The daughter is coming home Tuesday, they say, but she has a long road ahead of her. We remain optimistic.

Moonshadow said...

The objection to Catholic transubstantiation seems to be summed up in the opaque slogan, "Ubiquity undermines orthodox christology" (found here, a debate between Lutheran and Reformed on the Lord's Supper).

I haven't got anyone to explain the slogan to me and so I can't see how to accept its truth, as I don't understand it.


Anonymous said...

A wonderful reflection on the Mass and Christ's sacrifice for us. This is definitely one area of Catholic theology that Protestants usually don't understand--and don't even try to understand. My relatives are not Catholic, and my parents have made an especially big deal about transubstantiation, thinking it to be both unbiblical and just plain silly. My father has told me repeatedly about a man he knew who had been a Catholic priest but left because, as he said, the Catholic Church's belief in the Mass as a sacrifice contradicted the verses in Hebrews that speak of Christ offering Himself up once for all. But in fact, the Church doesn't teach that Christ is put to death over and over; rather, the Mass makes Christ's sacrifice present to us (as Scott Lyons noted in his comments).

Thanks for this post!


kkollwitz said...

Moonshadow, I visited the linked interesting dicussion indeed, thanks.

I liked this from the comments:

"The question is WHERE and HOW we receive the whole Christ."

Given that Jesus is a unity of body and divine soul (as opposed to God the Father or the H.S.) then how would the whole Christ be made available if not both physically & spiritually?

And given that we are composed of body and soul, it would make sense that we in our wholeness would thus receive Christ through our physical and spiritual natures.


...[T]he attributes of the Divine Nature had been communicated to the humanity of Christ which thus was deified. If deified, it was everywhere, ubiquitous, just as His divinity, and therefore really present in the Eucharist.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Barb Schoeneberger said...

Not being a theologian, I don't know if my way of thinking is OK. I'm with you up to the point of Jesus getting a new body along with us at the Second Coming. I think that His wounds are His glory. I see them streaming with light. To me, they are part of His eternal glory because by them we are redeemed. The redemption is forever. And St. Lucy will have her eyes after the Second Coming, but we will still recognize that they were part of her martyrdom. I can't explain well except to say that what has been true (Christ's Sacrifice)in the past is always true. The history of creation and salvation will be forever present, so anything that was a part of that will always be present. The rest of what you wrote makes complete sense to me and is a good answer for the doubters, including Catholics who don't believe in the Real Presence.

Moonshadow said...

kkollwitz, the Catholic Encyclopedia goes on to say that Brenz's argument you quoted, while true in fact, is heretical in explanation:

"His assertion that Christ's human nature had been deified, and that His body was in the Eucharist as it was elsewhere, was heretical. Christ, as God, is everywhere, but His body and blood, soul and divinity, are in the Eucharist in a different, special manner (sacramentally)."

Though, personally, I haven't been above thinking about it that way myself. When I think about it at all. And, well, sorry to say that my christology has never been very well formed, I know.


kkollwitz said...

"but His body and blood, soul and divinity, are in the Eucharist in a different, special manner (sacramentally)."

Yes, I agree with this. I had only quoted enough to offer a definition. Thanks for your engagement with this post & resulting comments.

eutychus said...

Where's MC when you need him?

" both, and neither cancels out the other"

This protestant has no issues with your take on the matter. But perhaps I am not representative since I do after all, consider myself a "closet" Catholic after all, and feel more at ease with the concept of transubstantiation than most.

I suppose the only point of contention I MIGHT have would be a minor one indeed. That of the word victim. Of course, this was a willing sacrifice. (I told you it was minor-nitpicky even.)

Barb makes a good point though. She reminded me of a story I heard many years ago about an individual that was born with a certain defect. I don't remember the specifics but it was a deformed arm or leg or some such. Someone had told this person that in heaven he would have both legs (or arms) fully healthy. He was upset by that proclamation, he said, because that was not who he was.

I have always been intrigued with the resurrected body. Substantial enough to eat fish and as you point out, for Thomas to place his hands in the wounds, yet able to pass through the locked door of the upper room. another case of "both and neither cancels.."

" then poofs off to heaven at the drop of a hat"

I just love that. :-)

kkollwitz said...

Hey that reminds me I read an article in First Things in the last year or so in which a woman reflects on her Down's Syndrome child. She likewise wondered if her child would be 'de-flawed' in heaven, and decided she would not. It was very thought-provoking...worse even: reflection-provoking.

Michael Gormley said...

Jesus in Glory Perpetually Offers the Father His Sacrifice on Our Behalf

Rev. 1 to 22 - Jesus is described as the "Lamb" 28 times in the book of Revelation. This is because Jesus emphasizes His sacrifice in heaven and in His Holy Catholic Church.

Rev. 1:13 - Jesus is clothed in heaven with a long robe and golden girdle like the Old Testament priests who offered animal sacrifices. See Exodus 28:4.

Rev. 2:17 - the spiritual manna, our Lord's glorious body and blood, is emphasized in the heavenly feast.

Rev. 3:20 - as Priest and Paschal Lamb, our Lord shares the Eucharistic meal with us to seal His New Covenant.

Through the covenant of his body and blood, we are restored to the Father and become partakers of the divine nature.

Rev. 5:6 - this verse tells us that Jesus in His glory still looks like a lamb who was slain. Also, Jesus is "standing" as though a Lamb who was slain. Lambs that are slain lie down.

This odd depiction shows Jesus stands at the Altar as our eternal priest in forever offering Himself to the Father for our salvation.