Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 30--Christ Crucified

THE MORAL LIFE IS MORE THAN just avoiding running afoul of the negative prohibitions; staying within the boundaries of the irreducible minimum of the moral life is hardly moral flourishing. No, the moral life requires us not only to "obey the commandments," which means avoid infringing the negative precepts. It also means attempting to follow the positive precepts. It also means working towards enriching, thickening our nature so that it is better ordered to our end, and this means working on character, on moral virtue. Virtue is best gained by imitating its paradigmatic expression as found in Christ. The moral life is therefore an imitatio Christi, and imitation of Christ.

More, as Christ made clear, it means following Christi, and so it is also a sequela Christi. This means, at its heart, that we must open ourselves up to the divine, accepting the gift of transformative grace, of the gifts of the Holy spirit, of the theological virtues, the grace of the Sacraments, and the call of the divine life, the life which requires us to carry the cross, and to place on the yoke of Christ, the burden of which, though difficult, is yet easy and light.

Both the imitation of and following of Christ make it clear that a sacrificial, self-giving Love is at the center of the moral enterprise. Love, of course, is never forced: love is always the ultimate expression of freedom. The "ought" of the moral life is no longer merely avoiding the strictures of the commandments: a legalist, casuist recipe. No, the"ought" of the moral life is a compulsion not of law, but of love which does not contradict law but supersedes it altogether. The "ought" of the moral life is Love: Caritas Christ urget nos. It is the love of Christ that urges us.

Inasmuch as we love Christ, who is the truth, the way, and the life, it follows that we will imitate and follow him, and that means that there will be an intimate relationship between freedom and truth. This is one of the burdens of the encyclical Veritatis splendor, to re-awaken the knowledge that there is an intimate "relationship between freedom and truth." VS, 84. The essential bond between freedom and truth has been lost, and one of the Church's central tasks in the modern world is to revivify an awareness of that connection, for it is one of the philosophical underpinnings of the Gospel.

The Gospel presupposes that there is truth, that man is free, and that man shall know the truth and the truth shall make him free. If man denies his freedom, or its purpose, and if man denies truth, and its objective nature, it follows that the Gospel will be nonsensical, unnecessary, extrinsic to his life, when in fact, it is the answer to the ennui that he suffers from his current dilemma, one that frequently ends in "the fearful plunging of the human person into situations of gradual self-destruction." VS, 84. There is a sort of self-loathing that comes with modern man's denial of truth in the moral order.

All around us we encounter contempt for human life after conception and before birth; the ongoing violation of basic rights of the person; the unjust destruction of goods minimally necessary for a human life. Indeed, something more serious has happened: man is no longer convinced that only in the truth can he find salvation. The saving power of the truth is contested, and freedom alone, uprooted from any objectivity, is left to decide by itself what is good and what is evil. This relativism becomes, in the field of theology, a lack of trust in the wisdom of God, who guides man with the moral law. Concrete situations are unfavorably contrasted with the precepts of the moral law, nor is it any longer maintained that, when all is said and done, the law of God is always the one true good of man.

VS, 84*
A certain transformation of the mind is required, what St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans identified as a move from a passive conformity to a dynamic "transformity," if one may speak that way: "Do not be conformed to this world," St. Paul told the Christians at Rome, "but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." Rom. 12:2. A renewal of the modern mind is needed, and the Church is the only institution that can supply that need.

Christ Crucified, San Clemente, Rome (Detail of Apse mosaic, 12th Century)

The Lord Jesus is at the heart of the solution of modern man's ills:
This effort by the Church finds its support — the "secret" of its educative power — not so much in doctrinal statements and pastoral appeals to vigilance, as in constantly looking to the Lord Jesus. Each day the Church looks to Christ with unfailing love, fully aware that the true and final answer to the problem of morality lies in him alone. In a particular way, it is in the Crucified Christ that the Church finds the answer to the question troubling so many people today: how can obedience to universal and unchanging moral norms respect the uniqueness and individuality of the person, and not represent a threat to his freedom and dignity? . . . . The Crucified Christ reveals the authentic meaning of freedom; he lives it fully in the total gift of himself and calls his disciples to share in his freedom.
VS, 85.**

What does the crucified Christ teach? Why is the brutal suffering and death of the God-Man Jesus at the heart of morality? The short answer is because it is both Love and Redemption, and modern man is in particular need of both. He needs Love because he lacks it. He needs Redemption because he has lacked Love.

Jesus reveals by his whole life, and not only by his words, that freedom is acquired in love, that is, in the gift of self. The one who says: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13), freely goes out to meet his Passion (cf. Mt 26:46), and in obedience to the Father gives his life on the Cross for all men (cf. Phil 2:6-11). Contemplation of Jesus Crucified is thus the highroad which the Church must tread every day if she wishes to understand the full meaning of freedom: the gift of self in service to God and one's brethren. . . . Jesus, then, is the living, personal summation of perfect freedom in total obedience to the will of God. His crucified flesh fully reveals the unbreakable bond between freedom and truth, just as his Resurrection from the dead is the supreme exaltation of the fruitfulness and saving power of a freedom lived out in truth.

VS, 87.

The Pope thus reminds us that we are all called to share in the "munus regale [the kingly or regal office] of the Crucified Christ . . . to share in the grace and in the responsibility of the Son of man who came 'not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for man.'" VS, 87.

To wrest Christ from morality is ultimately a grave mistake. While there is, to be sure, a natural law that is binding on all men, and while, also to be sure, that natural law must be obeyed as a necessary part of salvation, those truths alone cannot save, and cannot fulfill in man the yearning that is fulfilled only by answering that great calling, which Christ once said to the rich, young man, but which he says to every single human on earth: "Come, follow me."

Veni, Christ says, sequere me!

*Quoting Address to those taking part in the International Congress of Moral Theology (April 10,1986), 2; Insegnamenti IX, 1 (1986), 970-71.
**In the old liturgy of the Mass, the "secret" was the prayer said in a low voice by the priest-celebrant. This silent prayer represented the offertory prayer: looking toward Jesus, then, is the silent underpinning of the entire moral life. God is the end of the natural law, and the Christian's "secret" is that God has shown himself to man in a unique and definitive way by assuming human nature in Christ. This "secret" transforms the natural law, and interiorizes it to the Christian who is baptized into Christ, who puts on Christ, who becomes incorporated into the Body of Christ. Christ will be that interior breath, the secret, of everything that the Christian does, and of those things which, for the love of Christ, the Christian will refuse to do.

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