The Logic of the Cross of Christ
The Cross is an image of the definitive revelation of the heart of the Father.
At the beginning of Goethe’s Faust, the famous and educated Dr. Faustus decides to commit suicide, only to be stopped when he hears the singing coming from a church. In an inspiration of what appears to be religious devotion, he decides to take up Scripture translation.
His first passage is John 1:1 — “In the beginning was the Word.” What trips him up is the word Word, Logos in Greek. After debating with himself over a few different possible words for translation, he decides on the word Act or Deed (It’s tricky because even our English is a translation from Goethe’s original German.) “In the beginning was the Act.”
Not long after, he makes a deal with the devil.
I receive that as a cautionary tale as I undertake to discuss the translation and possible meaning of that same word in Scripture, but in a different passage. It is a verse that has remained in my mind for a long time, but I don’t claim to be an expert on it. I am not even a Greek scholar. So, unlike Faust, I am not claiming that my translation is better, or even that mine is a valid translation at all. It is only a reflection, and I invite you to reflect with me.
The passage in question is 1 Corinthians 1:18:
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The word translated as message is the Greek word logos, the same as in John 1:1. Some translations use the same English word as John 1:1: “The word of the cross is foolishness …”
Both message and word give a sense of revelation or expression. The Son is the Father’s perfect knowledge of himself, the Father knowing himself. The Cross, then, is an image of something: the definitive revelation of the heart of the Father.
There is another sense in which this word can be taken as well. Logos is the root of the ending in words like biology and cosmology, the studies of life and the structure of the universe. Yes, there is the sense of information, but also a habit of thought. Biology has a certain way of thinking unique to biology. Cosmologists have to develop a cosmological habit of looking at and thinking about particular aspects of things.
The simplest and closest English word is logic, the study of the right way of thinking. The logic of the Cross is foolishness to the world. The habit of thought aligned with the Cross is the wisdom of God.
St. Francis de Sales called Calvary, the mount of the Crucifixion, the academy of love. There we find the Father’s declaration of love as well as an expression of the right way to think about and evaluate the world. The lines of the Cross should form our lines of thought if we call ourselves Christians.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). The lofty ignominy of the Cross reveals the thoughts of God.
The logic of the Cross is the key to thinking about all of Christ’s teaching. “Blessed are those who mourn.” The beatitudes make no sense to the world, but to the Cross-minded people, they are sublime wisdom. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” — foolish and naive to everyday common sense, but courage and freedom according to the logic of the Cross.
The Litany of Humility makes sense only with the logic of the Cross. The prayer thanking God for the gift of suffering makes sense only with the logic of the Cross.
The way up is down.
If you try to save yourself, you will lose yourself.
Die to yourself to truly live.
“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing” (Fyodor Dostoyevsky).
This is the Gospel preached by St. Paul.
A naked, beaten man tortured to death as a criminal? That’s the Good News St. Paul has to preach?
The message and logic of the Cross is a mystery that is not only a mystery to know but also a mystery by which to know everything else. The Cross is not just what we see, but that by which we see, not just something to think about, but the very way we think about all of life’s most important questions and realities. It is the logic of true, divine charity.
- cross of christ