In my March lecture in San Francisco, I made an assertion that is worth isolating for an article. That assertion is that we are created in the image of the Crucified Christ, and that this is essential in understanding what it means to be human. I have been asked where I got such an idea. The most simple answer is: the Scriptures.
Arguably, the first reference to the Crucified Christ occurs in Rev. 13:5.
All who dwell on the earth will worship [the Beast], whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Rev 13:8)
The Lamb, slain from the foundation of the cosmos (τοῦ ἐσφαγμένου ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου), is St. John’s reference to the pre-existent Christ. This is easily familiar from his description in the gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (Joh 1:2-3)
However, in Revelation, the Word who exists before all of creation (through whom all things were made) is depicted as the slain Lamb. It is startling in what it suggests. Christ is not simply the One who will be incarnate in history and be slain for the salvation of the world, but is already the One who is slain even before the world is created.
Those who are married to literalism should listen quietly. This is obviously not a claim that Christ was somehow already crucified in time before He was crucified in time. Rather, it is a claim concerning the timeless Christ. The Crucifixion is not a distortion of the eternal Word of God, but a revelation of the truth of the eternal Word of God.
In Genesis 2, we have the story of the creation of woman. In it, God causes a deep sleep to come on the man, and He removes a rib from the man’s side, forms the woman and closes the man’s side. The Fathers consistently saw in this an image of the wounding of Christ’s side on the Cross, from which flowed blood and water (Eucharist and Baptism), being the birth of His bride, the Church. It is deeply part of the imagery of Christ as the Bridegroom, and the Church as His Bride. It is worth noting, however, that this “wounding” of Adam in Genesis 2 occurs before the Fall. It is not something that is done on account of the Fall. And, even more to the point, in Genesis 1, where the description of human creation is recounted, both male and female are mentioned.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen 1:26-27 NKJ)
However, as both accounts are seen together (as they normally are in the Tradition), the woman of Genesis 1, presumes the “wounded” Adam of Genesis 2. “In the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” What is this image according to which He created them (“wounded” man and “side-born” woman)? It is obviously St. John’s slain Lamb, the Crucified Christ.
This in no way contradicts Scripture. Rather, it explicates Scripture. But even more than that, it unmasks a common mistake and faulty assumption made by many (if not most). That common mistake is to see the Crucifixion as simply a moment in history, perhaps foreshadowed in various Old Testament figures. This pure historicization of the Cross fails to account for the language of St. John. And in doing this, it fails to rightly understand what it means to be truly human.
St. Paul says to the Corinthians:
For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1Co 2:2)
In saying this he does not mean that he is restricting himself to speaking about the historical Crucifixion and its role in salvation. Indeed, in the very passage where he makes this declaration, his topic is not the historical crucifixion but his own weakness and lack of excellence.
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1Co 2:1-5)
He had earlier declared:
but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1Co 1:23-24)
This crucified Christ is the same Wisdom through which God has made all things (Ps. 104:24). All of this pushes us towards the mystery of the Cross and the fullness of its meaning for existence. Reducing the Cross and Christ’s death to mere atonement, a Divine arrangement to rescue man from his tragic, sinful predicament, is just that: a reduction. Of course, the Cross is all of that – but everything more. If the Crucified Christ is the Wisdom through which God created all things, then the Cross is also, somehow, at the center and meaning of all things. The Cross alone reveals things to be what they truly are.
It is in the light of this that we understand that being conformed to the image of the Crucified is the fulfillment of our true humanity and not simply a moral effort:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. (Phi 2:5-8)
The cruciform human is the true human. Kenosis is theosis.