The calendar pages turn, Lent unfolds – and once again, God comes to the rescue of our humanity. That is what we remember, ponder, and celebrate each year in the great Easter Triduum: the astonishing good news that the Creator of the universe entered his creation, in the person of his son, in order to redirect the story back to its proper end, which is eternal life within the light and love of the Blessed Trinity. That’s a rescue story for the ages.
It is also, as Paul put it to those rowdy Corinthians, “a stumbling block to Jews and a folly to gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1.23). Other New Testament texts refer to the “scandal” of the Cross. But what kind of “scandal” is this?
It is not a scandal against reason; it is a scandal beyond reason. Creation, Joseph Ratzinger once wrote, displays the “exaggerated infinity of God’s love.” The love of God, that mysterious exchange within the life of the Trinity in which the gift eternally enhances both the giver and the receiver, bursts the bounds of the inner-trinitarian life and there is – Creation. Yet if the exaggeration of the divine love is manifest in the Creation, how much more is it manifest in the Incarnation and the Redemption?
The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus is, Benedict XVI constantly reminds us, “the God with a human face.” As the Pope put it last September in Germany, in the first section of the Creed we confess that the world began, not accindetally, but purposefully: a divine purpose is at work in the created order. But then, Benedict teaches, we get more: “God does not leave us groping in the dark.” He comes looking for us in history. The creative reason and love from which everything proceeds “has a face:” the face of goodness, the face of love.
For Christians, the “face of God” is the Holy Face of Christ. On Good Friday, we see the exaggerated love of God at its most scandalous: for the Holy Face is struck, spat upon, lacerated, crowned with thorns. Here is a scandal beyond reason: what the world sees as the quintessence of irrational brutality, the eyes of faith see as a love that has burst the bounds of our reason to show us the deeper “reason” of God, which is the reason of infinite love.
We live in a season of irrationality, as the pictures in our newspapers regularly remind us. The irrationality of the early twenty-first century is not only the irrationality of murder-in-the-name-of-God, however; it is also the irrationality of the radical skeptic, who insists that human beings can never know the truth of anything with surety. Corrosive skepticism is eating away at the cultural vitals of Europe, the continent that gave the world the very idea of reason; corrosive skepticism is not unknown in America, which is Europe transplanted. At this moment in history, confronted on the one side by irrational faith and on the other by a profound loss of faith in reason, the Church, Benedict XVI insists, must “make more room for rationality.”
The rationality the Church proclaims is not, however, identical to the rationality of the scientists. It is a more ample rationality, a bigger reason. For the reason to which Christianity gives witness is the reason that is the Logos, the Word of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity. And the second person of the Trinity, incarnate, displays for us the human face of God, the face of infinitely exaggerated love.
The reason of God, the Logos through whom all things were made, calls us beyond reason to love. Walking the Way of the Cross, Jesus reaches the end of the road of the world’s rationality – and becomes, thereby, a stumbling block and a folly. But a more ample “reason” is at work here: the logic of love, carried out to infinity. That is what bursts the bounds of the tomb on Easter morning. The tomb is empty. The world has been suffused with the power of divine love, which is the most living thing there is.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.