The Mysterious Language of the Cross

“Since when has the world of computer software design been about what people want?” says Bill Gates. “This is a simple question of evolution. The day is quickly coming when every knee will bow down to a silicon fist, and you will all beg your binary gods for mercy.”

Of course Gates sees it that way, his God being an unforgiving God, God for him being the very spirit of computation, efficiency and profit. “In this business,” he advises, “by the time you realize you’re in trouble, it’s too late to save yourself. Unless you’re running scared all the time, you’re gone.” No wonder Gates has no time for religion. “Just in terms of allocation of time resources,” he says, “religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.” Appeasing such a God is a full-time business for sure, and who does not know out of his own experience how fear can be quite the motivator? And certainly having no time for religion strongly indicates having no time for understanding the meaning of life, fear or no fear. Benjamin Franklin’s dictum that “time is money” of course everyone remembers, yet it is not so often remembered that he also said: “Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.”

Well then, happiness. What of it? That money cannot buy happiness is universally acknowledged, but when Thomas Aquinas tells us in Summa Theologica that happiness is another name for God, what then? Especially so when we realize that Aquinas is referring to the crucified, to the dead and buried, to the resurrected God of Christianity, not to an impassive God three-times removed from humanity whose essence is computation, efficiency and profit, a God who could not care less about someone nailed to die on a bit of wood in some obscure province of an empire having long ago gone the way of all empires.

“Wise and honest people living in the world,” writes Saint Louis de Montfort, in The Love of Eternal Wisdom, “you do not understand the mysterious language of the Cross. You are too fond of sensual pleasures and you seek your comforts too much. You have too much regard for the things of this world and you are too afraid to be held up to scorn or looked down upon. In short, you are too opposed to the Cross of Jesus.”

Too opposed, Saint Louis de Montfort says, to the Cross of Jesus: too opposed to the God-Man crucified like a common criminal between two thieves. “Our crucifixes exhibit the pain, but they veil, perhaps necessarily, the obscenity,” writes Charles Williams. “. . . The death of the God-Man was both.” Too opposed to the Cross of Jesus, because, as Louis de Montfort says, “One must be humble, little, self-disciplined, spiritual and despised by the world to learn the mystery of the Cross.”  The spirit of opposition, specifically the spirit of bourgeois opposition, Wallace Stevens gets right immediately in the first stanza of his poem “Sunday Morning”:

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice
.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

I remember when a friend, who happened to be an anthroposophist, perhaps wanting to demonstrate a spirit of open-mindedness, decided to accompany me one Christmas eve to a Roman Catholic midnight mass. Walking through the door of the church, this friend was confronted immediately with a large crucifix above the altar. Her eyes widened, her mouth fell open, and within seconds she was out on the street again, presumably never to darken the door of any Catholic Church again.

Yet Rudolf Steiner, founder of anthroposophy, whose anniversary of death in 1925 is today, the 30th of March, held that what happened at Calvary was absolutely essential to understanding the whole of evolution. A lecture for example entitled The Mystery of Golgotha delivered in Manchester College Chapel, Oxford on August 27th 1922, clearly shows this:

Humankind is reaching out to apprehend the Mystery of Golgotha once more with all the forces of the human soul; to understand it not only from the limited standpoint of present-day civilization, but so as to unite with it all the forces of man’s being. But this will only be possible if we are ready to approach the Mystery of Golgotha once more in the light of spiritual knowledge. Intellectualistic knowledge can never do justice to the full World-impulse of Christianity. For such knowledge only takes hold of the thinking life of man. So long as we have a Science whose only appeal is to our life of Thought, we must derive the sources of our Will (and these for Christianity are the most important) from our instinctive life, and cannot realize their true origin in spiritual Worlds.

Thus it will be indispensable to turn attention in our time once more to this the greatest question of mankind, inasmuch as the essence and meaning of the whole evolution of the Earth lies in the Mystery of Golgotha. I would fain express it in a parable, however strangely seeming. Imagine some Being descending from another planet to the Earth. Unable to become an earthly man, the Being would in all likelihood find the things on Earth quite unintelligible. Yet it is my deepest conviction, arising from a knowledge of the evolution of the Earth, that such a Being — even if he came from distant planets — Mars or Jupiter — would be deeply moved by Leonardo da Vinci’s picture of the Last Supper. For in this picture he would discover that a far deeper meaning lies hidden in the Earth, — in earthly evolution. Beginning from this deeper meaning which belongs to the Mystery of Golgotha, the Being from a distant world could then begin to understand all other things on Earth.

 As long as we have a science whose only appeal is to our life of thought we must derive the sources of our will from the instinctive life, says Steiner – instead of deriving the sources of our will, as he puts it, from “the spiritual worlds”. In other words, if we can never have any feeling for what happened at Golgotha, he is clearly suggesting, we might as well forget spiritual science altogether. “The prototype, the example on which one should reflect and model one’s self, is Jesus Christ,” writes Padre Pio in a letter to Maria Gargani. “But Jesus chose the cross as his standard, so he wants all his followers to tread the path to Calvary, carrying the cross and then dying stretched out on it. Only this way do we reach salvation.” Only this way do we reach salvation, whether we are Christian believers at Sunday morning Mass, or whether we are Christian esotericists meditating on the rose cross. Either way humanity cannot do without the crucifix, for neither a rose cross nor an empty cross has any power for the will, without the Crucified One finding a place in our imagination.  

“It always strikes me, and it is very peculiar,” writes Vincent van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo, “that when we see the image of indescribable and unutterable desolation – of loneliness, of poverty and misery, the end of all things, or their extreme – then rises in our mind the thought of God.”

What better symbol for what Vincent van Gogh speaks of than the crucifix? Is this why Hitler, Stalin and Mao so hated the crucifix, why they wanted it banished from the sight of all eyes?  Claiming to be Christian, Hitler declared that Christianity rightly understood found in Nazism a potent ally.  Yet the crucifix was hateful to him, just as the Catholic priest, second only to the Jew, was hateful to him.

Today is the feast day of Blessed Maria Restituta, who was beatified on June 21, 1998. Born in 1894 to a shoemaker, she grew up in Vienna. She decided to join the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity at twenty, taking the name Restituta after an early Church martyr who had been beheaded. Stout and cheerful, she liked her pint at the end of the day. In 1919, she began working as a surgical nurse in Austria. When the Nazi’s took over Austria, she opposed the Nazi regime.  When the Nazis ordered her to remove all the crucifixes she had hung up in each room of a new hospital wing, her conflict with them came to head when she refused. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1942, Sister Maria Restituta was sentenced to death for “aiding and abetting the enemy in the betrayal of the fatherland and for plotting high treason.” Spending the rest of her days in prison caring for other prisoners, for which the prisoners were lovingly grateful, she was offered freedom if she would abandon the Franciscan sisters, but she refused. She was beheaded March 30, 1943 in Vienna. 

“The Cross is precious,” writes Saint Louis de Montfort, “because it enlightens the mind and gives it an understanding which no book in the world can give” — something that Doctor Rudolf Steiner, founder of anthroposophy, and the Blessed Maria Restituta, simple Roman Catholic nun and nurse, understood equally well, the heart having its reasons of which reason knows nothing.

Pax et Bonum,
Randall Scott

 

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