The Excess Of Divine Love

Crucifixion, by Anthony van Dyck (1622).

The distance between our humanity and the divinity of God is so incomprehensible that to begin to try and imagine this distance through the eyes of faith, is to catch a glimpse of the unfathomable power of God, and immensity of his love for us. His love for us is expressed in his divine plan where: “Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence, determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ” ( Eph 1:4-5). To be holy and spotless in eternal love in the presence of God is to enjoy his beatific vision in all its splendor and grandeur. Again, this vision is as incomprehensible as grasping the distance between human and divine nature. The power of the Divinity in accomplishing our redemption is explained by God the Father to St. Catherine of Siena.

This is why I gave the Word, my only begotten Son. The clay of humankind was spoiled by the sin of the first man, Adam, and so all of you, as vessels made from the clay, were spoiled and unfit to hold eternal life. So, to undo the corruption and death of humankind, and to bring you back to the grace you had lost through sin, I, exaltedness, united myself with the baseness of your humanity. For my divine justice demanded suffering in atonement for sin. But I cannot suffer. And you, being only human, cannot make adequate atonement. Even if you did atone for some particular thing, you still could make atonement only for yourself, and not for others. But, for this sin you could not make full atonement, either for yourself or for others, since it was committed against me, and I am infinite Goodness. Yet, I really wanted to restore you, incapable as you were of making atonement for yourself. And because you were so utterly handicapped, I sent the Word, my Son; I clothed him with the same nature as yours—the spoiled clay of Adam—so that he could suffer in that same nature which had sinned, and by suffering in his body, even to the extent of the shameful death of the cross, he would placate my anger.1

The mystery of the incarnation embodies the depth of God’s excessive generosity and gratuitousness in stooping to become one with our human nature, so that we can become exalted and share in his inner life through grace. Through the first sin of Adam, we “were spoiled and unfit to hold eternal life.” The original sin of Adam could only be repaired and atoned for by the new Adam: Jesus Christ. In his exaltedness, he clothed himself in the “baseness of our humanity.”

Left on our own, we are “so utterly handicapped” and unable to save ourselves and, therefore, attain eternal life. On our own, we “cannot make adequate atonement” for sin. A sin committed against God carries an infinite offense because, in his divine nature, he is “infinite goodness.” God the Father “really wanted to restore” us through his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and so, to restore us, “he clothed him in the same nature as” ours. Jesus repaired for the sins of man by becoming sin himself, through substituting and taking upon himself, as divine victim, the entirety of man’s sins. He suffered bodily all the evil that man could procure to inflict on him. “By suffering in his body, even to the extent of the shameful death of the cross, he would placate” the anger of God. As he is divine and eternal, his act of atonement transcends all time and space, and so, covers all the sins that have, and ever will be, committed. Even though our Savior was unblemished and without sin, he took upon himself all the sins of the world. His sacrifice as pure, divine victim fully satisfied the divine justice of his Father. Through his death on the cross, the penalty or punishment of all the sins of mankind was satisfied.

And so I satisfied both my justice and my divine mercy. For my mercy wanted to atone for your sin, and make you fit for the good which I had created you for. Humanity, when united with divinity, was able to make atonement for the whole human race—not simply through suffering in its finite nature, that is, the clay of Adam, but by virtue of the eternal divinity, the infinite divine nature. In the union of these two natures, I received and accepted the sacrifice of my only begotten Son’s blood, steeped and kneaded with his divinity into the one bread, which the heat of my divine love held nailed to the Cross. Thus was human nature able to atone for its sin by virtue of the divine nature.2

The divine mercy of God was also satisfied through the death of his only begotten Son. The mercy of God wanted to make us “fit for the good” for which he had created us: his eternal kingdom. The suffering of Jesus in his human and finite nature was not enough on its own to atone for all the sins of mankind. It was only his humanity when united with “the infinite divine nature” that was “able to make atonement for the whole human race.”

The mystery of the cross is that the Father willed and received from his only begotten Son his sacrifice that, on one level, seems to have gone way beyond what was required for our salvation. In his humanity, he appeared to suffer in excess what was required for our redemption. Because of his divinity, a single drop of his blood or prayer to his Father, would have been sufficient to procure the salvation of the entire world.

It is true to say that one single drop of this divine blood would have sufficed to redeem us; the least suffering, the lightest humiliation of Christ, even a single desire coming from his heart, would have sufficed to expiate all the sins, all the crimes that could be committed. For each one of the actions of Christ, being the action of a Divine Person, constitutes a satisfaction of infinite worth.3

This mystery as with all the beautiful mysteries of the Christian faith, are to be glimpsed through the eyes of faith in our exile. The gift of life and free will is to enable us to seek and search for the gift of faith and grace, and discover the glory of the kingdom that the Father wills for all his divinely adopted children. Grace is the borrowed treasure from heaven, and through our calling to “share in the divine nature” (Peter 2:4) we begin to slowly discover the glories of eternal life, and how everything we see and do and ultimately become in this life, prepares us for our eternal life with God.

Just as Jesus appeared to suffer in excess what was required to fulfill his redemptive mission, so are all the sins of the world a drop in God’s infinite and incomprehensible mercy. The infinite paradoxes of our God all point to his excessive love for us “which the heat of his divine love held nailed to the Cross.”4 This heat of love is like the everlasting, burning heat of ecstatic love that awaits us in his kingdom. This is the kingdom we inherit if we do but one thing: Love him. As our Lord says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

The excess of God’s love cannot be imagined in our finite minds. To begin to comprehend dimly his unfathomable love is to contemplate our final resting place. It is only through the eyes of faith that we can understand God’s plan for us. Any attempt to try to grasp with human reason alone the infinite paradoxes and incomprehensible mysteries of the revealed truth in Jesus Christ, is to lessen the distance between the divinity of God and our human nothingness—a nothingness that, when left on its own, will remain in sin and embody the essence of nothingness. This nothingness, God desires to exalt to the fullness of perfection in his incomprehensible mercy, so that we may “be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence” (Eph 1:4). The vision experienced by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich brings us closer to imagining what it must be like to be in his presence and to dimly conceive “What no eye has seen and no ear heard, what the mind of man cannot visualize; all that God has prepared for those who love him;” (Cor 2:9).

I saw innumerable cohorts of saints of endless variety, and yet, in my soul, in my interior, they were all only one, all living and revelling in a life of joy, all interpenetrating and reflecting one another. The place was like a boundless dome full of thrones, gardens, palaces, arches, flower-gardens, and trees, with pathways sparkling like gold and precious stones. On high, in the center, in infinite splendour was the throne of the Godhead. The saints were grouped according to their spiritual relationship: the religious in their Orders higher or lower, according to their individual merits; the martyrs, according to their victories; and laics of all classes, according to their progress in the spiritual life, the efforts they had made to sanctify themselves. All were ranged in admirable order in the palaces and gardens which were inexpressibly brilliant and lovely. I saw trees with yellow luminous fruits. They who were associated by similar efforts to sanctify themselves had aureoles of the same form, like a supernatural spiritual habit, and they were otherwise distinguished by emblems of victory, crowns and garlands and palms, and they were of all classes and nations. Among them I saw a priest of my acquaintance, who said to me: “Thy task is not yet finished!” I saw, too, legions of soldiers in Roman costume, and many people whom I knew, all singing together. I joined in a sweet song with them. I looked down on the earth which lay like a speck of land amid the waters; but, where I was, all was immense. Ah! Life is so short, the end soon comes! One can gain so much—I must not be sad! Willingly and joyfully shall I accept all sufferings from my God!5

Who would not want to discover the God who has this heavenly glory in mind for each one of us! All he desires is that we come to know him and love him. To be “all only one, all living and revelling in a life of joy” is to be all in one with the Blessed Trinity in never ending peace and love. We can begin our journey in becoming one with God during our exile in our efforts to love him and our neighbor. Our efforts to love our neighbor on earth will be rewarded with a perfect harmony and abounding joy in heaven, where we will all become one; sharing in each other’s glory, as we continually praise God.

The God of infinite creativity and power has placed us in our earthly home, which abounds with an infinite variety of trees, flowers, and plants of every conceivable species. In heaven, our God desires that we walk along, “pathways sparkling like gold”as we enjoy the infinite wealth of his creative power and majesty. Our journey on earth can be a foretaste of this heavenly glory in which we are invited to open our hearts to the beauty and endless variety of his creative powers. In heaven, the earthly colors we admire in the beauty of God’s nature will be luminous, and of a depth and variety unknown to human eyes. We will enjoy the infinite splendor of “trees with yellow luminous fruits.”

Our degree of glory will be reflected in how much we have let God love us, and pour in his all-consuming divine love that seeks to fill and expand our souls, so that, at the hour of our death, we will join immediately the “innumerable cohorts of saints of endless variety.” In the glory of our efforts, we, too, will rejoice in “the efforts they had made to sanctify themselves.” We will all be joined in perfect harmony with our neighbor “singing a sweet song with them,” praising forever the holiness of God.

Next to this vision of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, we are indeed “like a speck of land amid the waters;” a grain of sand next to an immense ocean. The ocean is God’s infinite and incomprehensible mercy which desires that we are all saved, and share in the fullness of his glory. God’s mercy encompasses all of his infinite qualities: his providence, love, goodness, truth, and forgiveness. God, in his mercy, looks down on his creatures, and our helpless and destitute state excites his desire that we become what he has predestined us to become from all eternity: his children, chosen to gaze upon his face in the glory of his Kingdom. “Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

The reality of heaven, as revealed to us by God through his faithful servants, is to inspire and excite our imaginations to fully contemplate the splendor of the heavenly bliss that God wants for all his children. The excitement of our imagination and wonder dimly mirrors the mercy of God, in which our misery excites him to do whatever he can to save us, and bring us to his eternal kingdom.

The mercy of God goes way beyond just the forgiveness of sins. It is the transforming of our misery and nothingness into his image and likeness. The mercy of God is all his works; all his attributes. God is mercy itself, as St. Catherine expresses in an outpouring of her love to him.

O eternal Mercy, you who cover over your creatures’ faults! It does not surprise me that you say of those who leave deadly sin behind and return to you: “I will not remember that you had ever offended me” (Ez 18:21-22). O unspeakable mercy! I am not surprised that you speak so to those who forsake sin, when you say of those who persecute you: “I want you to pray to me for them so that I can be merciful to them.” What mercy comes forth from your godhead, eternal Father, to rule the whole world with your power!

By your mercy, we were created. And by your mercy, we were created anew in your Son’s blood. It is your mercy that preserves us. Your mercy made your Son play death against life and life against death on the wood of the cross. In him, life confounded the death that is our sin, even while that same death robbed the spotless Lamb of his bodily life. But who was conquered? Death! And how? By your mercy!6

The ultimate paradox is the conquering of death through the death of our Savior on the cross. The mercy of God extended to making his “Son play death against life and life against death on the wood of the cross.” Our eternal life was born through the conquering of sin and death through the same death that “robbed the spotless Lamb of his bodily life.” Christ on the cross endured the depths of hell in all its horrors and terrors, so that we could enjoy the heights of heavenly love and peace for all eternity. The cross is an instrument of torture where God willed to endure excessive suffering, so that we could all share in his kingdom of peace and love. The cross is also, for all God’s adopted children, paradoxically, the path to peace and love; “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, and take up his cross every day, and follow me. For, anyone who wants to save his life, will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it”( Lk 9:23-25). The mystery of the cross is the greatest divine mystery of them all, and like all the mysteries of the Christian faith, will remain veiled and hidden until our entry into eternal life.

The grace that Jesus won for us throughout his whole life allows us also to share and participate in his divine nature. Our finite nature can participate and share in the redemptive mission of Jesus, in which we complete what is lacking in his sufferings. This does not mean that there is anything incomplete or insufficient in our Lord’s Passion; but as the model of our life on earth, we are invited to share in his redemptive mission to build up his mystical body, the Church. As St. Paul said: “It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body, to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church” (Col 1:24). This is the Church Triumphant, enjoying the beatific vision; the Church Suffering, the Holy Souls in Purgatory; and the Church Militant, in its exile on earth. As the Church Militant, we have to follow the plea of the Priest in Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s vision: “Thy task is not yet finished!”7 The task is not finished until all souls, predestined to enjoy the beatific vision, are safely home.

Our Father is the gardener, and the author and source of all grace and eternal life. In his power, he knows all things and governs the whole universe. He planted the vine of his only begotten Son, so that we could be redeemed, and share in his eternal kingdom. We are freely invited to share in the inner life of God, and gain the eternal reward due to us, if our actions are united to him. There is nothing that our Lord has not suffered; he won for us the grace to conquer, if we remain united to him.

“I am the true vine and you are the branches. And my Father is the gardener.” (Jn 15:1, 5.) Indeed, I am the gardener, for all that exists comes from me. With power and strength beyond imagining, I govern the whole world: Not a thing is made, or kept in order, without me. I am the gardener, then, who planted the vine of my only begotten Son in the earth of your humanity, so that you, the branches, could be joined to the vine and bear fruit.8

The invitation is there for us to build up the kingdom of heaven and “be joined to the vine and bear fruit.” Through our journey in life, we can come to know our Savior, to love him, and, ultimately, to discover the greatest of his open secrets: how much he really loves each one of us. At some stage in our life, we too can say to our living God, “willingly and joyfully shall I accept all sufferings from my God!”9 His infinite and incomprehensible love for us will be revealed in his eternal paradise when our earthly labors will be rewarded beyond all measure, as expressed by St. Paul: “I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us” (Rom 8:18). The glory that awaits us is to gaze with awesome wonder in seeing “on high, in the center, in infinite splendor, the throne of the Godhead.”10

  1. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue: The Classics of Western Spirituality, trans. Suzanne Noffke, O.P. (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), p.51.
  2. Ibid., p.51.
  3. Blessed Columba Marmion, Christ, The Life of the Soul, trans. Alan Bancroft (Gracewing, 2005), pp.67-68.
  4. Catherine of Siena, p.51.
  5. Very Rev. K. E. Schmoger, C.SS.R., The Life and Revelations of Anne Catherine Emmerich, Vol. 2, (Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1976), p.201.
  6. Catherine of Siena, p.71.
  7. Schmoger, p.201.
  8. Catherine of Siena, p.61.
  9. Schmoger, p.201.
  10. Ibid., p.201.
Brent Withers About Brent Withers

Brent Withers is originally from New Zealand. He is now living in Farnborough, England, with his wife and two young children. He returned to the Catholic Church about ten years ago after being away for about twenty or so years. He has previously published essays with the Homiletic and Pastoral Review. Presently, he is employed as a commissioning manager for mental health services in an inner London City borough.

Comments

  1. Ann Schmidt says:

    This is a thoughtful look at the ultimate things of God through Scripture, revelation, visions, and reflection. May God bless you, Brent, and may you continue to share your insights.