The Passion Through the Lens of Theology of the Body
March 29, 2021
The Agony in the Garden
“Christ made a “gift of self” to the Father through obedience to the point of death on the cross.”– TOB 90:5
The essence of creation is found through the logic of the gift structure that permeates all of creation, most especially the human person. As we read in Gaudium et Spes, “…man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” We find in the passion, Christ not only revealing God to man, but man to himself. We too as embodied creatures composed of a body and soul are meant to align our human wills with the supreme will of God in offering ourselves and creation back to God, and it is in this that we find our deepest fulfillment.
This could seem confusing, especially when you consider in the agony that Christ trembled with fear and sweat blood; this hardly seems to represent deep human fulfillment or happiness. Yet it is important to consider what St. John Paul II points out in the Theology of the Body, that there exists a tryptic or three ages of man: original man (before the fall), historical man (after the fall), and eschatological man (man of the resurrection). Christ in his passion in a very real way traverses through all these ages of man in a recapitulation of humanity thus uniting us to the Father. Let us see the agony in the garden as Christ being made clear and present to us as the New Adam who was promised in Genesis 3:15! While Christ trembled at what lay before him it should bring us comfort knowing that he cleared the path for us in his suffering.
The Scourging at the Pillar
“Christ appeals to the human heart, exhorting it to purity.”– TOB 59:1
The scourging of Jesus, while completely dreadful to imagine, points to a deeply important aspect of our humanity as embodied creatures: what we do with our body not only matters in this life but has eternal significance. The virtue of purity, like the other virtues, manifests the spiritual realm through the created order and thus points to God. Remember, the body reveals God! And here it is important to remember the thesis statement of the Theology of the Body: “The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.”
When we think of the scourging we should think of the sins of the flesh, those sins that are anti-virtues and a deformation of the human person. The horror that is the scourging of Christ is in all reality an exhortation to purity, that is, a fulfillment and manifestation of our being made in the image and likeness of God. Purity makes us like Him who we thus are promised of seeing: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” – Matthew 5:8
The Crowning of Thorns
“In this struggle between good and evil, man proves to be stronger thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, who, working within the human spirit, causes its desires to bear fruit in the good.”– TOB 51:6
In the crowning of thorns Jesus overcomes our pride by his submission to what appears to be utter humiliation and indeed a mocking by the Roman soldiers. There is great irony in the crowning with thorns because it was here that Jesus was truly crowned as the Bridegroom. The Word who from all eternity was with God, who was God, became incarnate and took on human flesh that God might wed himself to humanity.
As we read in the Catechism: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” So what do theology and the body have to do with one another? Everything. As St. John Paul II reminds us in the Theology of the Body, “Through the fact that the Word of God became flesh the body entered theology . . . through the main door.” The crown of thorns placed upon Christ’s head is truly a wedding crown.
Jesus Carries his Cross
“When the cross is embraced it becomes a sign of love and total self-giving. To carry it behind Christ means to be united with him in offering the greatest proof of love.”– St. John Paul II
In this life it can seem that our mortal and perishable bodies are more of a burden than a gift. Sickness, pain, and death await all of us, as we experience the corruption of creation due to sin. For those who must suffer with chronic illness, debilitating physical or mental pain, or any suffering experience as embodied creatures, we are tempted to make the errors of many from the past; namely the error that the body is something to escape from, so as to live “free” as a pure spirit, free of the corruption of the flesh. Yet as the resurrection of Christ attests to, the body is the stuff of eternity. The body is essential. We are our bodies. Yet the carrying of the cross preceded the resurrection and there is a great lesson in this for us.
Because God became man and carried his cross, we now can unite our sufferings to his and follow him with our cross in redemptive suffering. What propelled Christ onward was his love for us, and now what must propel us forward with our crosses is our love for him and the hope that is ours knowing that endurance leads to eternal glory in the resurrection, as spiritual-corporeal beings perfectly wed to God. The theological virtues which are the foundation of the spiritual life: faith, hope, and charity are the fuel that allows us to follow our Lord with our crosses.
“The Church is precisely that body, which…receives from him…the fullness of salvation as a gift of Christ, who “gave himself for her” to the end.”– TOB 90:5
The joy of the Gospel is precisely this: that we are offered salvation through the cross where we will be united in our bodies to the resurrected body of Christ for eternity. He is the vine; we are the branches. In the crucifixion, Jesus is the vine which bares as its fruits eternal salvation for those who accept it. Humanity was wed to God through the body of Christ on the cross and this is the redemption of not only our souls, but our bodies as well. Jesus did not come to redeem a part of man, or even man himself, but all of creation with man as a body-soul unity; incarnate and spiritual, as creation’s pinnacle.
In the Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II points out the foundation of man in his integral state which consists in what he calls “original solitude, original unity, and original nakedness.” Original solitude expresses that man finds himself in creation with no equal among the animals as well as being “alone” before God in an unrepeatable relationship with God, his covenantal partner. Original unity points us to the reality that in the experience of original solitude man thus realizes he is made for another, to be in a communion of persons. It is in original nakedness, then that man and woman realize the full and unveiled truth of creation, especially with regard to their embodied souls through which they experienced the fullness and purity of the interior gaze.
When we look at Christ crucified, we see the integral man all at once, the New Adam who embodies the acronym SUN: solitude, unity, and nakedness. He is the way, the truth, and the life; the integral man in whom we recognize our past, in whom gives our present life meaning and to whom we are called to follow into our future, eternal life.
President of Ruah Woods Press