Ronald Knox for Good Friday

It seems that Monsignor Knox foreknew the overly-human interpretations of Christ that abounded in the 1970s and 1980s, that painted Christ almost exclusively as the people’s liberator martyred by the oppressive establishment, or our misunderstood brother victimized by the jealous, or the visionary ahead of his time and so rejected by those of that time. In this they see the tragedy and meaning of Christ’s death. Not so for Knox:

You will tell me, perhaps, that the tragedy of the Passion seems to you all the more real as a tragedy, if you are allowed to suppose that the chief actor  in it was really helpless; could not, if he would, have defended himself. … “For me (you say) the true pathos of the situation, the element in it that challenges and provokes my tears, is that utter helplessness and hopelessness which your [supposed] God-man could neither bring upon himself nor feel. It is enough for me that a man who lived generously for what he believed to be his mission died heroically for what he believed to be the truth. Is not this enough (you ask) to bow a man’s knee in homage to that divine inspiration which could make so noble a thing out of our weak humanity? …

But if that God-man we Catholics worship did truly walk the earth, if the Immutable grew to manhood, and the Impassable suffered, and the Immortal died, then I say that to me the three hours on Calvary are more, not less, of a tragedy for the divine personality, that is veiled and unveiled in their passing. If there are really angel legions that stood all about, hand on scabbard, ready to interfere in that history at a single word from the Hero of it – a word which was never given; then there is no detail in the story, no circumstance that invests it whether of Jewish hate or Roman scorn, that does not become alive with irony – and what is tragedy , if it be not irony? A visionary hated, an innocent man misjudged, an unbefriended victim done to death – that is an old story, a story of every day. But, God rejected by his own people! Eternal justice arraigned before a human tribunal! The Author of life sighing out the last breath of a human soul! Tell us, if you will, that it is only a story, and we children who believe in it; only do not try to tell it us without the point!

[From a sermon preached at Our Lady of Victories, Kensington (London) in 1921]

Christ is the lamb of God who went meekly to his death, who “was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). But he is the meek and submissive Lamb not because he was helpless and had no choice, but because he chose to withhold his power in order that the divine drama of our salvation might reach its finale, for us and for our salvation. Intrinsic to the sacrifice of the Cross is Christ’s sacrifice of his own status and power; without it the sacrifice is rendered almost banal. You cannot sacrifice what is not yours in the first place. But as we know,

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!
(Revelation 5:12)

2 thoughts on “Ronald Knox for Good Friday

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