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For Holy Saturday

April 7, 2007

What follows from all of the foregoing, it seems to me, is this: that what the Church desires above all to teach through her own unbending insistence upon Christ’s real descent into hell, a descent affirmed and expressly defined by two ecumenical councils, is the truth, at once applicable to the evils of the crematoria–through which so many went, in silence, their voices stilled forever–that silence too can be salvific. That the very Word, after speech, wills to plunge himself headlong into the abyss of silence, bespeaking there his presence, his solidarity, with numberless silent victims. The silence of the Word, no less than his speech, shares in the mysterious efficacy of the Cross. In fact, the Cross is precisely efficacious in winning salvation through the consent of the one who silently lets it happen to him. Revelation, we need to remind ourselves, consists not simply in the pure articulated intelligibility of God’s Word, fully armed, as it were, with an eternity of super-abundant meaning. Revelation comes also to unravel itself in silence, in order that it might stand in complete vulnerability–fully dis-armed!–before the gaze and the ridicule, the organized beastliness of wicked men. What else is Christ’s Cross but the Father’s strategy of pure paradox, of sheer unending collision among opposities: life found in death, holiness amid humiliation, strength in weakness, speech in silence, redemption in hell?

There can be no gnostic and effortless leaps into infinity for Christ. The entire scandalous particularity of his life, so deeply shocking to people of docetist sensibility, should once and for all disabuse us of the mythic notion that Christ came to earth dispensing magic. Whether it be the episode in the desert where he evinces supreme contempt for the devil’s tawdry enticements to an immediate and painless glory, or his sorrow over Jerusalem, for which beloved city he will weep rather than rush messianically forward to lead to glory; or his own Passion, Death and Descent, the whole wearily protracted business of which Christ will not hasten to an end, no, not even the ultimate end of his own long-deferred glory. All of this painstaking finitude points unassailably to Chrsit’s complete abandoment before the human, the historical, his unhesitating plunge into the icy currents of time and space, right down to the hermetic horror and bleakness of the tomb.

So Christ, in the paradoxical form of the wordless Word, mysteriously comes to those who, in their apparent choice to be always alone, refuse the gift of another’s love, and offering his own passive witness of silent solidarity, he encamps alongside these lost souls. For to be is always to be in relation to another; but in the abandonment of Sheol there is no other, there is only the radically, fearfully solitary self; there is only the self destined from birth to be with the other, yet self-condemned, now, to an abyss everlastingly lonely…here amid the stark desolation of those lacking all otherness, the true horror of Christ’s descent into that same loneliness, the condition of those who seemingly have refused every gesture of relation, is startingly evident: Christ too is alone, the Blessed Company of God having freely consented to allow the Son to endure this apparent eclipse of all relatio with God.

Regis Martin, The Suffering of Love: Christ’s Descent into the Hell of Human Hopelessness

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