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"Nothing Human Alien": Donald MacKinnon on the Sorry Cheapness of the Cross

There was nothing 'religious' in the crucifixion: it belongs to history, whether you see it as a miscarriage of justice, or as just another example of the fruits of that pride which fanaticism can so surely nourish in men. A raw, ugly deed in a world where raw, ugly deeds are familiar. And yet "all our hopes are there"/ There, nowhere else. Why?

Salvador Dali Crucifixion (from L'Apocalypse de Saint Jean) 1961

Because of course, it is in Christ that God has, so to speak, planted himself in history. The very insignificance of the whole episode (it is not by any means important to the historian, let us say, of Roman-Jewish relations; Bar Kochba matters more) is our evidence of the depths at which he struck his roots. Nihil humanum a me alienum puto: you could call that the very motto of God in the Incarnation. Nothing human alien: there are no depths to which descent is not made, no point, no phase of the being set beyond the reach of healing. All, all can be, is converted into the instrument of response to God. Whence death arose, thence life springs new again; and where Satan overcame, there he acknowledges defeat—even as the extremity of agony draws from the Christ his word at once of dereliction and of triumph: "My God, my God, why..."

But to see its significance, you must master, be mastered by its triviality, its sorry cheapness. Otherwise you will not understand. You will forget that Christ redeems us because he comes so close that almost he passes unnoticed. Just as he conforms to no previous model of what Messiahs should be or do, so he is beyond any conception of redeemer we may frame. For it is by man in man that man's foe is smitten—there where man kneels in fear of death in the orchard, or is brought forth thorn-crowned by Pilate, with the spittle running done his face, and the purple robe around him. In the Passion of Christ the mystery of Emmanuel, God with us, is consummated.

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