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Of the Cross

If the Incarnation has the significance of a ‘descent’ of God, Christ is also equivalent to the whole of creation. He contains it, as it were; He is a second creation which purifies and redeems the first. He assumes, with the cross, the evil of Existence; to be able to assume this evil, it was necessary that God should become Existence. The cross is everywhere because creation is of necessity separated from God; Existence affirms itself and blossoms out through joy, but enjoyment becomes sin to the extent that God is not its object, although all enjoyment contains a metaphysical excuse from the fact that it is directed to God by its existential nature; every sin is broken at the foot of the cross. But man is not made solely of blind desire; he has received intelligence that he may know God; he must become conscious of the divine end in everything, and at the same time he must ‘take up the cross’ and ‘offer the other cheek’, that is to say pass beyond the internal logic of the prison of existence; his logic, which is ‘madness’ in the eyes of the world, must transcend the plane of this prison, it must be ‘vertical’ or celestial, not ‘horizontal’ or terrestrial.

Existence or ‘manifestation’ has two aspects: the tree and the cross; the joyous tree which bears the serpent, and the grievous cross which bears the Word made flesh. For the impious, Existence is a world of passion that man justifies by philosophy ‘according to the flesh’; for the elect, it is a world of trial transpierced by grace, faith, gnosis. Jesus is not only the new Adam, but also the new Creation. The old is totality and circumference, the new, unicity and centre.

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We can no more escape the cross than we can escape Existence. At the root of all that exists, there is the cross. The ego is a propensity drawing man away from God; the cross is a halting of that propensity. If Existence is ‘something of God’, it is also something ‘which is not God’, and it is this which the ego incarnates. The cross brings the latter back to the former and in so doing makes possible the conquest of Existence.

What makes the problem of Existence so complex is that God shows through everywhere, since nothing could exist outside of Him; the whole object is never to be separated from this distant perception of the Divine. And that is why enjoyment in the shadow of the cross is conceivable and even inevitable; to exist is to enjoy, even though it be at the foot of the cross. That is where man must keep himself, since such is the profound nature of things; man can violate this nature only in appearance. Suffering and death are none other than the cross reappearing in the cosmic flesh; Existence is a rose signed with a cross.

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Social morals distinguish between the rightness of one man and the wrongness of another; but the mystical morals of Christ, strictly speaking, admit no one to be right, or rather, they are situated on a plane where no one is entirely right, since every man is a sinner and ‘there is none good but one, that is, God’.(1) The Law of Moses has a man stoned for wronging society, an adulterer for example, but for Christ there is only God who can be wronged and this excludes all forms of vengeance; every man is guilty before the Eternal. Every sin is that of Adam and Eve, and every human being is Adam or Eve;(2) the first act of justice will then be to forgive our neighbour. The fault of ‘the other’ is at bottom our own; it is only a manifestation of the latent fault which constitutes our common substance.

But Christ, whose Kingdom is ‘not of this world’, leaves open a door for human justice so far as it is inevitable: ‘Render ... unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.’ To deny this justice on every plane would amount to setting up injustice; however, it is necessary to overcome hatred by bringing evil back to its total root, to that ‘offence’ which must needs come, and above all by discovering it in our nature, which is that of every ego; the ego is an optical illusion which makes a mote out of a beam, and conversely, according to whether it is a question of ‘ourselves’ or of ‘another’. It is necessary to find, through the Truth, that serenity which understands all, ‘forgives all’, and reduces all to equilibrium; it is necessary to conquer evil with the peace which being beyond evil is not its contrary; true peace has no contrary.

‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone’: we are all of a same sinful substance, a same matter susceptible to this abscess, evil, and we are, in consequence, all joint partners in evil, in a way that is doubtless indirect but none the less real; it is as if everyone carried in himself a particle of responsibility for all sin. Sin then appears as a cosmic accident, exactly as is the ego on a larger scale; strictly speaking, he is without sin who is without ego and who, thereby, is as the wind of which no man can ‘tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth’. If God alone has the right to punish, it is because He is beyond the ego; hatred means to arrogate to oneself the place of God, to forget one’s human sharing of a common misery, to attribute to one’s own ‘I’ a kind of absoluteness, detaching it from that substance of which individuals are only so many contractions or knots. It is true that God sometimes delegates his right of punishment to man in so far as he rises above the ‘I’, or must and can so rise; but to be the instrument of God is to be without hatred against man. In hatred, man forgets ‘original sin’ and thereby loads himself, in a certain sense, with the sin of the other; it is because we make God of ourselves whenever we hate, that we must love our enemies. To hate another is to forget that God alone is perfect and that God alone is Judge. In good logic one can hate only ‘in God’ and ‘for God’; we must hate the ego, not the immortal soul’, and hate him who hates God, and not otherwise, which amounts to saying that we should hate his hatred of God and not his soul. Likewise, when Christ says that it is necessary to ‘hate’ one s ‘father and mother’, that means that it is necessary to reject whatever in them is ‘against God’, that is to say the attachment which serves as an obstacle in respect of ‘the one thing needful’. Such ‘hatred’ implies for those whom it concerns a virtual liberation; it is then, on the plane of eschatological realities, an act of love.

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‘To bear the cross’ is to keep oneself close to the cross of existence. Existence has the pole ‘sin’ and the pole ‘cross’, the blind launching into enjoyment and the conscious stopping; the ‘broad way’ and the ‘narrow way’. To ‘bear the cross’ is, essentially, not to ‘swim with the tide’; it is to ‘discern spirits’, to keep oneself, incorruptible, in this apparent nothingness which is the Truth. To ‘bear the cross’ means then to endure this nothingness, threshold of God; and since the world is pride, egoism, passion and false knowledge, it means to be humble and charitable, to ‘die’ and be ‘as a little child’. This nothingness becomes suffering to the extent that we are pride and that it thereby makes us suffer; the fire of purgatory is nothing else: it is our substance which burns, not because God wishes to hurt us, but because it is what it is; because it is ‘of this world’ and in proportion to its being so.

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The cross is the divine fissure through which Mercy flows from the Infinite. The centre of the cross, where the two dimensions intersect, is the mystery of foresakenness: it is the ‘spiritual moment’ when the soul loses itself, when it ‘is no more’ and when it ‘is not yet’. Like the whole Passion of Christ, this cry is not only a mystery of grief in which man must share by renunciation, but also, on the contrary, an ‘opening’ that God alone could effect, and which He did effect because He was God; and that is why ‘my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’. The victory which devolves on man has already been won by Jesus; for man nothing remains but to open himself to this victory, which thus becomes his own.

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What is ‘abstraction’ in the case of the logician becomes as it were corporeal in the case of the Word made flesh. The spear of the centurion Longinus has just pierced Christ’s side; a drop of divine blood, flowing down the spear, touches the man’s hand. At that moment, the world collapses for him like a house of glass, the darkness of existence is torn away, his soul becomes like a weeping wound. He is as if drunk, but with a drunkenness that is cold and pure; his whole life is henceforth like an echo repeating a thousand times that single instant at the foot of the cross. He has just been reborn, not because he has ‘understood’ the Truth, but because the Truth has seized him existentially and torn him, with a ‘concrete’ gesture, from this world. The Word made flesh is the Truth that has in a way become matter, but at the same time a matter transfigured and new-minted, a matter which is burning light, transforming and delivering.

(1) ‘For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord’ (I Cor. iv, 4).

(2) St. Gregory the Great says in a letter, quoted by the Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, that ‘every sin proceeds from three causes, namely suggestion, pleasure and consent. Suggestion comes from the devil, pleasure from the body and consent from the will. The serpent suggested the first sin, and Eve, as flesh, found in it a carnal pleasure, while Adam, as mind, consented to it; but only the most subtle intelligence can discern between suggestion and pleasure, and between pleasure and consent …’.