Is there more “mad eros”* than that which led the Son of God to make himself one with us even to the point of suffering as his own the consequences of our offences?Dear brothers and sisters, let us look at Christ pierced in the cross! … On the cross, it is God himself who begs the love of his creature: he is thirsty for the love of every one of us.—Pope Benedict XVI, Lent 2007, “Love Letter”
Most modern biblical translations give us Christ’s final words as “It is finished.”
Encountering the Douay-Rheims translation a few years ago, I read “It is consummated,” and the whole meaning of the God-man as Bridegroom and the church as Bride began to expand for me. I had not yet encountered Pope Benedict’s stunning thoughts on the “mad eros of the cross,” but discovering “It is consummated” completed the theology for me.
I can understand how — encountering that “mad eros” of the cross — some people might feel uncomfortable with the Douay-Rheims. For some, both words, eros and consummated, may intrude on fastidious sensibilities.
And yet every covenant between God and humanity has been a blood covenant, and even now the constant encounter between God’s ever-present “yes” (upon which all of creation is formed and is still expanding) and the brokenness of humanity — which constantly tempts us to “no,” — demands the inclusion of eros. It demands, finally, an understanding that God means to woo us and to have us, to be one with us, all along — as spouse and companion — but always with our consent.
I actually wrote about this in Strange Gods, and yes, even there the imagery made some people uncomfortable, but I believe it contains a key to the deepest mystery of ourselves as free beings:
Look at the profundity of God’s love for his people, Israel, and for those of us grafted onto that branch. He gives his people something better than a king — something transcendent and eternal and incorruptible. But because they are so body bound, so captive to their senses to touch, hear, taste and smell they cannot see what he shows, which is everything. And so they whine, “Well, we want a king like they have over there,” and God, staggeringly, acquiesces.
God takes pity on human limitations and tries another way of teaching and reaching, a better way to know the transcendence. He says, in essence:
My love and my law are not enough? You need a corporeal king? All right then, I will come down and be your corporeal king. I will teach you what I know — that love serves, and that a king is a servant — and I will teach you how to be a servant in order to share in my kingship. In this way, we shall be one — as a husband and wife are one — as nearly as this may be possible between what is whole and holy and what is broken. For your sake, I will become broken, too, but in a way meant to render you more whole and holy, so that our love may be mutual, complete, constantly renewed, and alive. I love you so much that I will incarnate and surrender myself to you. I will enter into you (stubborn, faulty, incomplete you, adored you, the you that can never fully know me or love me back), and I will give you my whole body. I will give you all of myself unto my very blood, and then it will finally be consummated between us, and you will understand that I have been not just your God but also your lover, your espoused, your bridegroom. Come to me, and let me love you. Be my bride; accept your bridegroom and let the scent and sense of our love course over and through the whole world through the church I beget to you. I am your God; you are my people. I am your bridegroom; you are my bride. This is the great love story, the great intercourse, the great espousal, and you cannot imagine where I mean to take you, if you will only be faithful … as I am always faithful, because I am unchanging truth and constant love.
This God of Abraham, this king, this one who ravishes will give us anything, if we only are willing to trust the truth, even though we do not understand — have not understood since humanity first showed its instinct to hide from God, and will never fully understand — what it is his love has in mind for us, which is simply, “Olly olly oxen free; in my light, in my love, you need not hide.”
Christ’s death at Calvary is a consummation meant to set us free, to bring us forever out of the shadows and “into his marvelous light,” wherein love may not be hidden, or distorted, or perverted, if only we allow our own “yes” to join with the Creator’s.
And this intercourse does not end with the passing of Easter. Christ means for us to empty ourselves to him and then to each other, as completely as he has emptied himself on the cross.
It is the challenge of a whole lifetime. And if taken up in good faith, it leads (even amid our failures) to an empty tomb, and life eternal. Because death becomes destroyed.
* (N. Cabasilas, “Vita in Cristo”, 648)