Circular Letter: Lent 1996
The Five Wounds of Christ
Life and Death
The Cross (death) and Resurrection of Jesus are intimately, indeed, inseparably related both as mysteries as well as events. Humanly speaking, it is clear that without a prior death there can be no resurrection. At the same time, without Christ’s resurrection His death would be utterly meaningless, as Paul teaches: “if Christ has not risen, vain then is our preaching and vain too is your faith” (1 Cor 15,14).
With respect to the mystery, St. Thomas notes that while there is nothing strange that a man should die, but that God should die is incomprehensible. This thought led Tertullian to exclaim, “It must be true, because it is impossible!” Similarly, that a man should rise from the dead is problematic — did not the Athenians laugh Paul to scorn, when he proposed this idea to them? — and can only be resolved by a divine intervention of the highest order. This is why the Resurrection is the proof for the Divinity of Christ in the New Testament, for only God could so corroborate His divine claim, which, of course, was the reason for His condemnation by the Sanhedrin.
In this Circular we want to offer a short meditation on the beauty and efficacy of the Wounds of Christ Crucified and Risen .
The 5 Wounds of CHRIST Heal the 5 Wounds of Original Sin
Death and suffering entered the world by (Original) sin (cf. Sir 40,9; Rom 5,12); sin and death were remedied on the Cross by Christ’s suffering and death, by His most Sacred wounds, by the shedding of His precious Blood. The damage caused by Original Sin was fivefold; the principal wounds of Christ are five. There is a correspondence here, and this invites us to offer up to the Father the blood and wounds of Christ to purify our blood and heal the several wounds of our soul. To Christ we pray, “Passion of Christ, my comfort be. O good Jesus, listen to me. In Thy wound, I fain would hide, never to be parted from Thy side.”
What then are the five wounds of Original Sin? First, death to the soul through the loss of sanctifying grace, and consequently in due time to the body. Second, darkness in the intellect. Third, malice — an inclination to evil — in the will. Fourth, sensuality (disordered desires) in the concupiscible appetite. And fifth, irritability and aggression in the irascible appetite.
Original Sin Brought Death
The death of the soul is reflected in the death of the body (heart). Death occurs when the soul, the life principle of the body, is separated from the body. Supernaturally, God is the life-principle of the soul by sanctifying grace. Accordingly, Original Sin struck a deadly blow to grace, thus driving God out of His paradise, the soul. This, in turn, lead to the death of man’s body, since man’s immortality in God’s covenant with Adam was a grace dependent upon Adam’s fidelity to the covenant. It came down to this: in the measure that man lovingly and faithfully clings to God, the life-principle of his soul, God grants that man’s body cling inseparably (immortally) to his soul. Thus, the divisiveness of sin caused death. To restore our life, Christ accepted death; He allowed His Heart to be pierced on the Cross, so that “from His wounded side (Heart) from which blood and water flowed, and whence the sacraments of the Church issue forth, all men are invited to draw water (life giving grace) from the springs of salvation” (Preface of the Sacred Heart).
Original Sin Caused Darkness
The wound to our intellect is spiritual darkness. Man’s two spiritual faculties, his intellect and will, are reflected in his hands because they too can reach out to grasp things. The intellect grasps something when it comprehends. When we want to understand something, we say, “Let me see it,” and we take it into our hand in order to grasp it the better. The will grasps at things by reaching out for them in desire. The wound of intellectual darkness may be associated with the wound in Christ’s right hand, since the intellect is the principal spiritual faculty. Christ is the WORD, the eternal Wisdom of God, and sits at the right hand of the Father.
Original Sin Brought Malice
The wound to our will is malice, a proclivity to real evil, to rebellion. This may be associated with the wound in Christ’s left hand, with which He atones for all that is ‘sinister’ (means ‘left’ in Italian and ultimately in Latin) and morally ‘gauche’ (meaning ‘left’ in French) in our life. Culturally, the left hand stands for disorder! The Roman legionnaires surely knew the dangers of a sinister (left-handed) opponent who would attack unexpectedly from the left side. Biblically, the blessed sheep are called to Christ’s right hand, while the goats are set at His left side, and are condemned. Spiritually, the ‘left eye’ symbolizes all the glances askance, all deviations from the single good of the soul, and thus especially represents envy. Intellectual pride is the principal and most grievious sin against God, while envy is the greatest sin against the good of one’s neighbor. In the parable, the reproach was, “Is your eye evil, because I am good?” (Mt 20,15), that is, are you envious because I have been generous with other souls? Positively, the perfection of charity is described as a single eye by the Spouse in the Song of Songs: “Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister my spouse, thou hast wounded my heart with one of thy eyes” (4,9).
Original Sin Caused Irascibility
The lower appetites are the earthly side of man’s willing and desiring which are all earth bound. Hence they are well represented by the feet and may be associated to the foot wounds of Jesus. The wound in the irascible appetite is our aggressivity and proclivity to anger. Many evils issue from this festering wound in man’s soul, major among them is war! Anger, according to the wisdom of the desert father’s is called the ‘ape of reason’, since it is always marshaling arguments to justify its aggression, and because in its disordered passion it preempts reason. Now, since the right foot is the foot of strength and violence, whether we kick out, or leap forward, it follows that the sins of anger and aggression may be associated with the wound in Christ’s right foot.
Original Sin Caused Sensuality
The wound in the concupiscible appetite is sensuality. The left foot is not a symbol of strength, but rather the foot that sets off down the wrong path of pleasure and sin. Without specifying a side, the psalmist writes: “I restrain my feet from every evil path, that I may keep thy words” (118,102). “Wisdom” — the good of the intellect and the will — writes St. Thomas, “pertains to the right side along with the other spiritual goods, while the left side symbolizes temporal goods (literally nourishment) according to Proverbs 3,16: “On her left are riches and glory” (Summa I-II.102,4,6m). This may be associated with the wound in Christ’s left foot.
In a similar way the entire Passion of our Lord can be divided up into five parts which can be appropriated to various kinds of reparation. Thus, in the Agony in the Garden Christ makes reparation for our interior sins of thought. At the Scourging at the Pillar He offers expiation for our sins of the flesh. At the Crowning with Thorns, by His humiliation He offers reparation for our pride. On the Way of the Cross He expiates for all our infidelities, lack of perseverance and flight from the will of God. Stripped and nailed to the Cross, by His poverty and obedience He atones for all our disobedience and avarice which are at the root of all sin.
The Glorious Wounds of the Risen Christ
It is a mystery of faith that when Christ rose from the dead He retained these five wounds in His glorious body. Speaking to the doubting Thomas, He said: “‘Bring here thy finger, and see My hands; and bring here thy hand, and put it into My side, and be not unbelieving, but believing.’ Whereupon Thomas answered Him, saying, ‘My Lord and My God!'” (Jn 20,27-28).
St. Thomas offers 5 basic reasons why Christ chose to retain His sacred wounds in glory (Summa III.54,4), taking the first from St. Augustine and the latter ones from St. Bede.
First, because they proclaim the glory and the victory of Christ. Just as Adam, exalting himself through pride and disobedience, was defeated by the serpent upon a tree, so now Christ, identifying Himself through the psalm as “a worm and no man” (Ps 22,6), to remind us of the bronze serpent raised upon a crossed standard by Moses to heal the people of the snakebite and their sin (cf.., Num 21,7-9), “emptied Himself … He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to death on a cross. Therefore God has exalted Him, and bestowed upon Him a name that is above every other name; …every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2,7-9. 11).
Secondly, Christ retained His wounds in glory, in order to confirm the disciples in their faith and hope of the resurrection, and so give them courage to suffer for His name. “If Christ has not risen, vain is your faith, for you are still in your sins. Hence, they who have fallen asleep in Christ, have perished. If with this life only in view we have had hope in Christ, we are of all men the most to be pitied. But as it is, Christ has risen from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also comes resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15, 17-21). Being assured of our hope, we will not fear suffering and death, rather, St. Peter exhorts: “rejoice, in so far as you are partakers of the sufferings of Christ, that you may also rejoice with exultation in the revelation of His glory!” (1 Pt 4,12-13).
In the third place, He retains His wounds in glory, so that He might constantly present them to the Father in heaven supplicating in our behalf. “Jesus, as the High priest, “entered once and for all through the greater and more perfect tabernacle… by virtue of His own Blood [wounds] into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption” for us. He entered “into heaven itself, to appear now before the face of God in our behalf. Therefore He is able at all times to save those who come to God through Him, since He lives always to make intercession for them” (Heb 9,11. 12. 24; 7,25).
Fourth, to impress upon those whom He has redeemed by His death, how mercifully He came to their aid by placing His wounds before their eyes. This He did not only to demonstrate the magnitude of His love (“in this is the love of God, not that we loved God first, but while we were yet sinners He sent His Son as a propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4,10), but to strengthen our hope. “If God is for us, who is against us? He who has not spared even His own Son but has delivered Him for us all, how can He fail to grant us also all things with Him?” (Rom 31-32). He knows that deep gratitude will strengthen us in the fear of the Lord and preserve us from sin. This moved St. Paul to exclaim to the Galatians to bring them back to Christ and their senses:”O foolish Galatians! who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been depicted as crucified? This only I would learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit in virtue of the works of the Law, or in virtue of hearing and believing? … Have you suffered so much in vain, if indeed it be in vain?” (3,1-3a. 4).
And Fifth, so that at the Last Judgment it might be apparent to all, even to the damned, how just their condemnation really is, in that they spurned so great a redemption. An ancient author exclaimed to them in the person of Christ the Judge: “Behold the man whom you crucified. See the wounds which you inflicted. Recognize the side which you pierced. Since it was by you and for you that it was opened, yet you refused to enter into it” and thus share in its life. Accordingly, we read in the Apocalypse: “Behold, He comes with the clouds, and every eye shall see Him and they also who pierced Him” (1,7).
The Wounds of Christ Reveal the LOGOS
The Cross of Christ, which is His Glory, additionally reveals and identifies His personal identity in terms of the Blessed Trinity. In as much as we are called to share in His Sonship, we are called to share in the mystery and glory of the Cross: “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Gal 6,14).
The life of Christ is a stage, because everything He does, God does. But whatever God does, He does in His own eternity. Whatever Christ does in time and as man reveals what and Who the Son is in eternity.
The distance between His two natures is assuredly infinite, but they are united in one Divine Person. Hence, it is more than simply an analogy of being, because the self-same person acts in the two natures of Christ. Practically we can see how this works with regards to the Incarnation. The fittingness for the Conception and Birth of the Son comes from the fact that the Son is eternally generated by the Father. That this generation and conception be virginal has its ultimate ground and explanation in the fact that the Eternal Father virginally begets the Word, His Son. The eternal pro-cession and Generation of the Son, therefore, is presented in the temporal mission, conception and birth of Christ.
Now, the Passion and Death of Christ- we may say His wounds – present us with the high point of His life. He calls it His exaltation, His being lifted on high with all the beauty and irony possible, for Christ Crucified is the power and wisdom of God, but the folly and scandal of the world.
What concerns us currently is that the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ is the maximum revelation of Christ in His Person and in His mission. To be even more precise, the Cross is the high point of Christ’s mission – “for this reason I have come into the world”- and the first point of His return. It is the most intense revelation of the Son’s relationship to the Father, but also the beginning of the coming of the Holy Spirit. “If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of His heart shall flow rivers of living water!’ Now He said this about the Spirit, which those who believed in Him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not yet been given, because Christ had not yet been glorified” (Jn 7,37-39), that is, exalted on the Cross, exalted to the right of the Father.
In the Blessed Trinity, the term or High point of the procession of the Son is simultaneously the beginning of the procession of the Holy Spirit. These are co-eternal processions. Even as the Son is being generated and proceeding forth from the Father He is returning back to the Father in an embrace of love, which is the spiration of the Spirit.
God has chosen the Cross on which to consummate this revelation. Both humanly and Divinely does Christ commend His spirit into the Father’s hands in Death. [Behold, the Cross: the Process of the WORD like a sword, the vertical beam of the Cross; the outstretched arms of love, the wings of the Spirit in the arms of the Cross.] Christ’s immolatory death, His glory, is the image of His eternal return to the Father in the Trinity, thus spirating the Spirit. Not of course that He dies or suffers in the divinity, but only that the most perfect reflection of the Son’s total love for the Father, in which He is a co-principle of the Spirit, is in a total holocaust of love as we have it in His Crucifixion.
This is why the word of God penetrates to the separation of bone and marrow, for it is inseparable from total love which cannot offer less than its whole self: “This child is a sign of contradiction, and your own soul a sword shall pierce, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2, 34-35). This is why the concept of death mystically tends to coincide with the concept of transformation. And at the final level of contemplative light, death is the image of entering into the Divine Light, of entering into God: “No one can see Me and live!” And yet, “this is eternal life, to know (see) Thee the only true God, and Him whom Thou hast sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn 17,3).
This is why the Death and Resurrection of Christ constitute a single mystery, because only together do they proclaim the Mystery of Christ and our eternal vocation in God. The mystery of death is ultimately linked up with the Son’s Procession from the Father and His return to the Father in the Spirit.
The creation, trial and return of Creatures back to God is the threefold mystery of our existence in relation to the Trinity: At creation we proceed from God Father in the semblance and through the Word into being. In trial we are faced in the Garden with the Cross, the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, with the choice, in the Son to be obedient to the will of the Father: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (Jn 4,34). [We can even see now that death as a punishment for sin was most fitting, in that by sin man refused to be a son of God.]
In the Consummation of our sacrifice of self in surrender to the Father’s will we enter back into God through the Son in the sanctifying power of the Spirit. “If I do not go (surrender in Death) the Spirit cannot come, since, as we said, His death reveals to us the Son’s relationship to the Father in which they are co-principles of the Spirit. The wounds of Christ are, therefore, an everlasting revelation of the Triune God and of His redemptive love.
The Wounds of Christ Reveal The Perfection of Love
It follows, from what we have said, that unless we love as Christ did — and this is the new Commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13,34) — we cannot fully share in the fruits of His resurrection, principal among which is the outpouring of the Spirit of love.
Hence, risen Christ’s first gift to the Disciples on Easter was the Holy Spirit (Jn 20,22). But our present point is this: the wounds of Christ are the revelation of the nature, victory and the glory of Christ’s love. This is eloquently expressed in the exaltation of the Lamb in the Apocalypse: “I saw a Lamb … standing, as if slain” (5,6). How paradoxical! The Easter Preface interprets this for us: “qui immolatus iam non moritur, sed semper vivit occisus,” which means, that Christ, “who has been immolated, now He is not dying, but always lives as slain”, that is, in a state of holocaust! He was made a little less than the angels in his capacity to suffer. He, the High Priest, immolated himself on the Cross, now He is living, not dying, but His life is a perpetual state of the holocaust of love. The temptation of imperfect lovers in the face of the Cross and the wounds of Christ, namely, is to want to be able to say “yes” once, and get it over with, and so get on the pleasant receiving side of things again. But this misses the point, that love by its very nature is holocaustal: it is total and constant giving of self to God. “It is in giving that we receive!”
While we are in this life, perfect love is linked with the painful side of sacrifice which causes us dread and trembling, even as it did Christ. But the glorious wounds of the risen Christ proclaim the eternal victory of divine charity, that is the beginning of eternal happiness. By grace and charity we will not only see and enjoy God, but we become divinized. If we are divinized, we share in the divine nature, and if we share in the divine nature, we also share in the very processions of the Divine Persons (“I bend my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth receives its name,” Eph 3,19; or: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.” 1 Jn 3,1).
Christ’s love for the Cross is the sure path to this sharing, to sharing in His Sonship, in His eternal oblation to the Father from whence flows the Spirit of love. The sign of the triumph of this love are the glorious wounds of Christ.
Fr. William Wagner, ORC
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