Adhering with love to the Lord, Victim and Priest, Obedient and Merciful, we embrace him in the real and veiled presence of the broken Bread, and we celebrate the victory against evil, sin, and death.
This essay focuses on the Christological and “Staurological” (from stauros, “cross” in Greek) dimension of our Christian faith, proposing a unique synthesis of biblical thought including Pope Francis’ Lumen Fidei teaching. It stresses the role of the Paschal Christ as archêgos (starting point), as well as teleiotês (consummator) of faith according to Hebrews 12:2—the Alpha and the Omega of Revelation 1:8; 22:13. This path of faith begins with the salvific proposal of the cross as divine love towards human beings (exitus a Deo), and culminates in the personal sharing of the holy justice of Christ’s cross as our sharing in his love for the Father (reditus in Deum). Finally, we shall conclude by linking our faith, our charitable actions, and our prayerful worship as the way of holiness (iter fidei) for all Christians.
Accordingly, I propose here a reflection in light of a short passage from the so-called Letter to the Hebrews. 1 It will not be scientific hermeneutics; it will rather be a theological meditation which will allow us to grasp a unique synthesis of the Pauline, and, generally, neo-testamentary, thought on faith. I believe this is actually the task I was assigned. I will try, as much as possible, to integrate the pontifical teaching of Pope Francis’s Lumen Fidei (June 29th, 2013; hereafter, LF).
Let us begin by recalling Hebrews 12:1-3, a very rich passage exhorting us to keep running, with our eyes fixed firmly on Faith, through his very own witnesses:
With so many witnesses in a great cloud all around us, we too, then, should throw off everything that weighs us down and the sin that clings so closely, and with perseverance keep running in the race which lies ahead of us.
Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who leads us in (gives rise to) (archegon) faith and brings it to perfection (teleioten). For the sake of the joy (charas) which lay ahead of him, he endured the cross (stauron), disregarding the shame of it (aischynes),and has taken his seat at the right of God’s throne (thronou).
Think that he persevered against such opposition (antilogian) from sinners and then you will not lose heart and come to grief.
In this fragment, the author urges patience (hypomone), which is the most excellent virtue of the Christians; the one which will receive the crown, as St. Augustine 2 said. In support of Christian patience, there is the memory and the fellowship of the saints; seeing ourselves surrounded by so many people who have lived the experience of faith, and have brought it to completion. 3 There is no loneliness in living the faith: we are helped and supported by the witness of others. Yet, perseverance means not succumbing to difficulties, and not giving into tribulations. We must, first of all, look at Christ, whose steadiness is exalted in spite of shame (aischyne) and hostility (antilogia). But the backbone of this exhortation is that this Jesus, 4 who was humiliated and opposed, is actually the one who has been glorified (thronos).
What is faith? We know it is a gift—a virtue—of knowledge and of reliance on the God who reveals himself. But this synthetic text of Hebrews offers us the possibility to grasp his Christological and “staurological” (that is, the doctrine of the cross) heart. At the center of our faith, there is “Christ and Christ crucified” (1 Cor 2:3). To have faith, means to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. That is the kind of fixed gaze that Peter lost, for he was scared by the waves of the stormy sea (cf. Mt 14:30), but eventually recovered, when he repented after his denial of Jesus the night before he died (cf. Lk 22:61). Looking at Christ, remembering Christ, adhering to him, letting him know us and love us (cf. Gal 2:20), in order to have him, then, dwelling within us (cf Eph 3:17); this is faith.
Let us explore, a little, the two original and intriguing expressions of this text: Jesus is the one who “gives origin” to faith, and he “brings it to fulfillment.” In Greek, two terms resound: archè and telos. In Jesus, we find the beginning and purpose of our belief; he is the alpha and omega of faith. Let us try to understand, or at least to attempt to do so, an interpretation of this affirmation. I also think that we can connect the archè of the faith with the terms cross (stauros), the telos, and the word “throne” (thronos). There is a similar parallelism: our faith begins with the unveiling of the mystery of the cross, and reaches its fulfillment with the eschatological hope of being with Christ at the right hand of the Father (cf. Rev 3:21).
“Archegos” and the Kyrios, the Object of Our Faith
Christ is at the origin of our faith, because in him we have the revelation of the Father’s love for us (cf. Rom 8:32). In him, the fullness of the manifestation of the Divine among mankind is given. The word of the cross, of the crucified love of Christ, is the “verbum abbreviatum.” He is the one who reveals to us the Name of the Father, his word, his love. In Jesus, and in Jesus crucified, God shows us his free, gracious, undeserved love. “God shows his love toward us in the fact that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more now, justified in his blood, we will be saved from wrath through him” (Rom 5:8-9). Such is the central object of revelation, which is, as an ordinary way of communication, the announcement (kerygma) of the Good News: the “fides ex auditu” (cf. LF §29).
In Romans 10:14-17, the simpler and clearer “phenomenology of the act of faith” can be found: it starts from a divine sending out (of the apostles) who, through their preaching, announce the possibility of faith and confession which will bring salvation. The original point of theological faith consists in adhering to the communication of this love, that is, to accept “with the joy of the Spirit” the announcement of the Good News (1Thes 1:6; Acts 13:48, LF §22). The beginning of salvation happens when I hear the word of God, and I say “Amen” (it is so, it is truly so!) from the depth of my heart, “opened” by the grace to the word of the Gospel that is the “word of the cross” (1Cor 1:18). Saying “yes” to the kerygma, the “door of faith,” is then revealed to us. Welcoming the lordship 5 of Jesus corresponds to the light of the divine graciousness which invades my darkened heart, enclosed in its loneliness, in its fears, in the constraints of its own selfishness. Faith begins this way; or else it cannot begin: the joyful experience of being loved.
Because Jesus is the “initiator of faith,” Christian faith does not presume any merit, any good work: it is scandalously free. This is all Pauline, Augustinian, and I would even add “Lutheran,” doctrine of the undisputed priority of faith and grace: sola fide, sola gratia. I am convinced that we must be Pauline, Augustinian, and, at least initially, “Lutheran.” But this is, let us repeat, only the beginning. To the beginning of faith—faith as light, as grace, as gift—corresponds donum fidei, lumen fidei. Faith is that attraction—at the same time both strong and sweet—that Jesus receives from the Father. It is the experience of Peter, who is attracted to Christ by the Father, which inspires Peter to then confess the divine sonship of Christ (cf. Jn 6:44; Mt 16:16). Jesus is the inspiration at the beginning of our faith, because the first movement of faith is proclaiming, at the prompting of the Spirit, that “Jesus is the Kyrios,” the risen and victorious Lord (1 Cor 12:3). Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the origin of our faith, means, as Thomas recalled, raising our eyes toward him, like the elect in the desert toward the bronze serpent. 6 Christ is, thus, the origin of our faith, proposing himself as the salvation of reconciliation, and of the remission of sins. This is the “hamartiological” and soteriological moment that I will now explore through the theme of justice (dikaiosyne). 7
Accepting the Justice of the Cross
The Christian faith consists in accepting the justice of the cross. Faith is born from justice which saves, which derives from Christ’s cross. It is the justice through which God the Father justifies us in Christ, forgives us. Christ is acknowledged as victim, through his atonement for our sins, and saving grace (Rom 3:25). The “blood of his cross” (Col 1:20) purifies us. His obedience covers our disobediences; his “Yes,” his “Amen,” extinguishes our “No” to God. This is the justifying justice of the cross. But the cross is also the saving cross in another sense: the cross of Christ manifests the full justice of man toward God. It is fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, crucified—the unheard-of paradox in which the rejected one, the cursed one, turns out to be the Blessed one, the Just one, the Holy one. In this place of “turpissima mors”—an emblem of the dominion of the devil, a figure of cruelty, and of unredeemed evil—the cross becomes, with Jesus, the place in which justice and holiness is manifested at its highest level by the one who fulfills the Torah, who, in all respects, lives the Shemà Israel. The third Gospel especially reveals that the crucifixion realizes the two commandments of love in which all Divine Law is summarized: Jesus dies, entrusting himself to the Father, and forgiving those who crucified him (Lk 24). Unconditional trust and self-giving until forgiveness: this is the fulfillment of the Law (cf. Rom 13:10). The impurity of the hanged man on the tree of infamy is transformed, through love, in the holiness of the Just One who reigns from the tree of life. The man of sorrows, in which there is no beauty, (Is 53:2) becomes, in an incredible way and forever, the “most beautiful of man’s sons” (Ps 45:3). 8 The justice of the cross is then also justice (Tsedaqah) as fulfillment of the will of the holy God, and it is in this kind of justice that we are called to participate. This participation, which I would call the “reditus in Deum,” is proper to Christian existence, and depends on Christ who makes faith “perfect.”
Jesus’ Vivifying Spirit Dwelling in Us
Faith does not end with the simple invocation of Jesus’ name. Its purpose is to assimilate us into the object of our believing. It is what we can call, with Paul, “knowing Christ in the Spirit” (cf. 2 Cor 5:17), that is, to be in vital contact with him who is the source of a new humanity, the New Adam, the “life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:46). It is about adhering to him to “become one spirit with the Lord” (1 Cor 6:17). In a way, this unification with Christ constitutes the central stage of our life journey of faith. It is the Baptismal and Eucharistic moment, the “insertion in Christ” (Rom 6). Such a union is precisely that—living “for Christ, with him and in him”—which we proclaim in the Eucharistic doxology (Per ipsum).
We could say that after invoking our faith (“Jesus is the Lord!”), unitive faith must take over: “it is no longer I, but Christ living in me” (Gal 2:20). The depth of faith lies in conformity and assimilation in willing, in feeling, and in working with Christ. Christ becomes a model for our actions, a criterion for our judgments, a measure for our expectations. “We have the thought (nous) of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). Lumen Fidei insists on this, restating that faith makes us partakers in the way, the view, of Christ:
In faith, Christ is not simply the one in whom we believe, the supreme manifestation of God’s love; he is also the one with whom we are united precisely in order to believe. Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus himself sees them, with his own eyes: it is a participation in his way of seeing (LF §18)…
We come to see the difference, then, which faith makes for us. Those who believe are transformed by the love to which they have opened their hearts in faith. By their openness to this offer of primordial love, their lives are enlarged and expanded. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). “May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph 3:17). The self-awareness of the believer now expands because of the presence of another; it now lives in this other and thus, in love, life takes on a whole new breadth. Here we see the Holy Spirit at work. The Christian can see with the eyes of Jesus and share in his mind, his filial disposition, because he or she shares in his love, which is the Spirit. In the love of Jesus, we receive in a certain way his vision. Without being conformed to him in love, without the presence of the Spirit, it is impossible to confess him as Lord (cf. 1 Cor 12:3).(LF §21) 9
This seems to me the best magisterial integration of the widely discussed theme of Christ’s Faith (pistis Christou). 10 I would say that Jesus, while remaining the main object of theological faith, becomes the “subject” of our faith, come to maturity, as filial agape.
Mature faith, once fulfilled, becomes hope and love. Jesus brings to fulfillment our faith, becoming the last horizon of our desires, and source of our love. This corresponds to the action of the Spirit which cries in us, “Come, O Lord!” (Rev 22:17). “Formed” faith, as the scholars used to say, is faith which hopes, which looks forward, which longs for the full manifestation of the Lord: “Marana tha!,” (1 Cor 16:7), and which loves, that is, “which works through love” and cries “Abba, Father!” (Gal 5:6; Rom 8:15). Jesus makes perfect our faith, enlarging it into hope and love. The glorious Kyrios, having searched for us and “captured us” to himself through the donum fidei, attracts us to himself, seducing us through blessed hope:
…because of the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, I count everything else as loss … that I may gain Christ and be given a place in him with the uprightness I have gained, not from the Law, but through faith in Christ, an uprightness from God, based on faith, that I may come to know him, and the power of his resurrection, and partake of his sufferings by being molded to the pattern of his death, striving towards the goal of resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:8-11)
Conforming Ourselves to the Justice of the Cross
The action of conversion (metanoia), animated by the Spirit, realizes “the graft” and the conformation to Christ. 11 With faith (which includes baptism as its sacramental seal), the faithful communicates and shares (koinonia) Christ’s love. He participates through the Spirit in the “messianic” action of Christ, in his prophetic proclamation, in his royal power, and in his priestly sacrifice. In the glorious cross, truth, justice, and divine adoration are summarized. The cross becomes teaching chair, throne, and altar. Believing in Christ means taking up the cross, following in his footsteps, and participating existentially in the justice of the cross.
Believing in Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, implies a tension in conformity to him; an impulse to constantly reactivate the paschal dynamic of baptism: dying with him to rise with, and in, him. Dying with him is always moved by memoria passionis, rising with him, by spes gloriae. We may summarize the whole movement of faith with this expression from Philippians 3:12: “Not that I have secured it already, nor yet reached my goal, but I am still pursuing it in the attempt to take hold of the prize for which Jesus Christ took hold of me.”
Initially, faith consists in being conquered by Christ (katelempthe/comprehensus sum); the telos is in “conquering Christ” (katalabo/comprehendam). In the beginning, “the grace to believe in Christ” is given to us; at the end, also the grace “to suffer for him” (Phil 1:29). The dawn of salvation is in believing in Christ, Redeemer, but the sunset consists in participating in his mystery, the koinonia of his love passion, in our cooperating for redemption (1 Cor 1:9; Col 1:24).
The heart of faith, its entelechy, its form, and its energy is love. He who adheres to Jesus with faith in the heart, who aspires to his fullness in hope, and always strives to live in one spirit with him, partakes in the upward movement of Christ to the Father: he shares in Christ’s eternal self-offering to the Father in the Spirit (Heb 9:14). We can understand, then, what Paul means when he speaks about being “co-crucified” with Christ (cf. Gal 2:19), making ourselves “imitators of God” (Eph 5:2). Christ brings our faith to fulfillment, living in us, associating us to his paschal mystery, fulfilling in us his works—that is, loving with his love, crying out in our hearts, “Abba, Father!”(Rom 8:15).
In the light of Zechariah 4:9, which tells us that Zorobabel founded the new temple and completed it with his hands, Thomas affirmed that Jesus Christ “founded his Church through faith, and made perfect this faith with glory” as in seeing Christ, face-to-face (cp 1 Cor 13:12): “fundat Ecclesiam in fide, et fidem Gloria consummate.”
Fecundity of the Trinitarian and Eucharistic Faith
Let us now answer two further questions: how should we articulate the relationship between faith and works? Second, how are we to avoid the so-called “christomonism” in this radically Christocentric perspective of faith? I believe that we absolutely need to avoid “hypostatizing” faith or the theological virtues. It is beautiful to use parables, as the French poet Charles Péguy did, comparing the three theological virtues to three sisters, but we never must forget that faith, as such, doesn’t exist. What exists is the believer, the individual and concrete person, who believes, hopes, and loves. This corresponds to the “personalistic” conception of faith proposed by Vatican II’s Dei Verbum (cf. §5). Such a global vision, it seems to me, is our answer to God, the conditio sine qua non, to correctly understand the relation of faith to works.
Let us ask ourselves how to reconcile Paul and James, Luther and Trento? It seems to me that the notion of “fecundity” of faith, held by Pope Francis (LF §7;§19), may help to settle the old dilemma. In the end, “works” will be taken into account (rather!) in the last judgment (cf. 2 Cor 5:10)—because “good and beautiful works” (kalà erga) 12 stem from faith like rays from fire.
A valid solution can be found in this statement of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s: “priority of faith—primacy of love.” 13 , ch. 44).] Faith is the fundamental and irreplaceable substrate; but love is “greater” (1Cor 13:13). Undoubtedly, the best articulation of this is Ephesians 2:8-10, which exalts both the gratuitous nature of salvation through faith, and the responsibility this new life, freely given, invokes. Thus we, are called to fulfill “the good works that God prepared so that we may walk in them.” 14 It is deplorable that an attitude, present in certain reformed traditions, stressed the priority of faith while undervaluing, and almost despising, the concrete works of love; raising the theocentric character of faith, while reducing charity to generic humanitarianism. 15
Fides Christi and Worship of the Father
We conclude with a very important issue: the Trinitarian and doxological dimension of faith. 16 If Christ is the center and fulcrum of our faith, it is only because he is both Son and Messiah, the one who is eternally generated by the Father in the power of the Spirit. 17 We might say that such generation has three realizations: an eternal one within the Father, one in history through the paschal mystery, and one mystical and sacramental one in our baptism and Eucharistic participation. Faith in Christ reveals itself as true and authentic only if it leads us to participate in the personal, paschal, and filial dynamic of Jesus—his calling in the Spirit, with trust and worship for the one who has always been the Alpha and the Omega of his life—the Father. Through Christ, who is the One who gathers humanity in One Body: “we have access (prosagoghè), both the ones and the others, to the Father in one Spirit” (Eph 2:18). Now, “in the Eucharist we have Jesus, we have his redeeming sacrifice, we have his resurrection, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have the worship, the obedience, and the love toward the Father” (John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia §60). So that, “the Eucharistic action in itself is the Church’s greatest act of worship” (Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis §66), and such worship happens in the Spirit, the source of the theological dynamic. By instilling in us the anamnesis of Christ (cf. Jn 14:26), the Spirit unites us in the greatest proclamation of Faith/Truth: “we announce your death….” (cf. 1 Cor 11:26), and impels us to invoke the blessed hope of his Parousia (“waiting for your coming,” Marana tha!), and to offer ourselves to him, and with him, to the Father in brotherly love (cf. Gal 4:6; Eph 5:2; Heb 9:14).
Adhering with love to the Lord, Victim and Priest, Obedient and Merciful, we embrace him in the real and veiled presence of the broken Bread, and we celebrate the victory against evil, sin, and death. Communicating on earth to the slain and triumphant Lamb (cf. Rev 5:6), we continue in the paths of history the redemption of the world, and the glorification of God the Father. United in one Spirit to Christ, we become the community of the Amen and Yes; “praise of the divine glory”; and “for Christ, with Christ, and in Christ.” We offer to the Father “every Honor and Glory.” “In the Eucharist we learn to see the heights and depths of reality. The bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ, who becomes present in his passover to the Father: this movement draws us, body and soul, into the movement of all creation towards its fulfillment in God. (LF §44).
- Cp C.R. Koester, Hebrews, Anchor Bible, New York 2001, 536ss; C. Marcheselli, Lettera agli Ebrei, Paoline, Milano 2005, 547ss; A. Vanhoye, L’epistola agli Ebrei, EDB, Bologna 2010, 265s. About faith in Pau,l see: Th. Söding, Die Trias Glaube, Hoffnung, Liebe bei Paulus, Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, Stuttgart 1992; Ch. Jourdan, Foi, espérance, amour chez saint Paul, Cerf, Paris 2010. ↩
- Cp Disc. 303; Comm. On John., Hom. 3, 10 ↩
- Faith arises through the ecclesial presence of Christ signs which are mainly: supernatural peace, love in the dimension of the Cross and Unity (cp Mk 16,18; Jhn 13,34f; 17,21, Gal 3,28). On the ecclesial cooperation to Faith, cp LF 22, 37ff. ↩
- Cp Ac 2,32. (Cp P. Gamberini, Questo Gesù (At 2,32). Pensare la singolarità di Gesù Cristo, EDB, Bologna 2005). ↩
- Cp R. Cantalamessa, La vita nella Signoria di Cristo, Ancora, Milano 1986. ↩
- Cp Num 21,8ss; Jhn 3,14, Thomas, Inhebr. ad loc. v. 12,2. ↩
- Cp The theology on redemption /atonement (apolytrôsis-hylastêrion) and reconciliation (apokatallaxis), cp Rm 3,25, 2Cor 5,21; Col 1,20.22. I mention the well-known studies of K. Kertelge and M. Hengel. ↩
- Cp the beautiful comment of St. Augustine, In Io. Ep., IX, 9. ↩
- See also LF 22, 46, 56, 60. ↩
- On this topic, which was stressed by von Balthasar, cp G. Canobbio (ed.), La fede di Gesù, EDB, Bologna 2000; R. Penna, «La fede di Gesù e le Scritture di Israele», in Rassegna di teologia 48 (2007) 5-17; P.-D. Dognin, «La foi du Christ dans la théologie de Saint Paul», in Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques 89/4 (2005) 713-728 (which is critical towards A. Vanhoye,); I. G. Wallis, The Faith of Jesus Christ in Early Christian Tradition, Cambridge 1995 (tr. it. ed. LUP). ↩
- Cp symphytoi, Rm 6, 5 e symmorphizomenos, Phil 3,11. ↩
- Cp the comment of Pavel Florenskij to Mt 5,16: «tà kalà erga vuol dire “atti belli”, rivelazioni luminose e armoniose della personalità spirituale – soprattutto, un volto luminoso, bello, di una bellezza per cui si espande all’esterno “l’interna luce” dell’uomo, e allora vinti dall’irresistibilità di questa luce, gli uomini lodano il Padre celeste, la cui immagine sulla terra così sfolgora» (Le porte regali. Saggio sull’icona, Adelphi, Milano 1999, 50). ↩
- Cf Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2013; cp also s. Juan of Avila, Audi filia [1533/1557 ↩
- Note that, unfortunately, this text wasn’t quoted in the important ecumenical Document on Justification, Common Declaration of Augsburg 1999. ↩
- Cp Luther: “maledicta sit charitas, quae servatur cum iactura doctrinae fidei”; “fides credit Deo, ideo falli non potest, charitas hominibus, ideo saepe fallitur”, (In Galat.WA 40, II, p. 47; 49). ↩
- Cp C.L. Rossetti, La pienezza di Cristo, LUP, Città del Vaticano 2012, ch. 10. ↩
- On this topic see F.X. Durrwell, Spirito Santo alla luce del mistero pasquale, Paoline, Milano 1985. ↩