The suffering of the impassible God 2: Julian of Norwich

Mid-14th c. French diptych, Bibliotheque nationale de France, Département des Monnaies, médailles et antiques (my pic)

I have a friend who once noted that all theology is ‘practical’ theology. The communicatio idiomatum, discussed last time as that doctrine whereby everything about Jesus’ divinity can be posited about his humanity and vice versa, is not without practical, pastoral applications. One of the difficulties that the human mind has with transcendence, for example, is the fact that our finitude makes us falsely imagine that a transcendent God is inaccessible and uninterested in us, that he is, perhaps, like one of those WWI generals who sent people to the front lines without getting into the muck of it all himself.

This is not how transcendence works in classical theism, fear not. I recommend this post at Eclectic Orthodoxy to start, although you’ll find much more on the topic over there if you keep looking.

Part of the implications of the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as the man Jesus, caught up in the doctrine of communicatio idiomatum, is that we can see the full suffering and anguish of the man Jesus as happening to God the Son. God is not aloof from our suffering, in other words. He has been there. He can thus comfort all who mourn.

Julian of Norwich (c. 1395) puts it beautifully:

Thus it was that I saw our Lord Jesus languish a long time.  For the union in him of Godhead with manhood strengthened the latter to suffer for love’s sake more than the whole of mankind could suffer.  I mean, not only that he suffered more pain than they, but that the pain he endured for our salvation was more than the whole body of mankind from the beginning to the end of time could experience or imagine.  We have only to contrast the worthiness of the most high and revered king, with his shameful, scandalous, painful death: he that is the most high and most worthy was the most fully humiliated and most utterly despised.  For the fundamental thing about the passion is to consider who he is who has suffered.  I began to think about the majesty and greatness of his glorious Godhead, now united with his precious, tender body; I also remembered how we creatures loathe to suffer pain.  For just as he was the gentlest and purest of all, so too would the strength of his sufferings be greatest of all.

He suffered for the sin of every one who is to be saved: and seeing the sorrow and desolation of us all himself was made sorry through his kindness and love.  Just as our Lady grieved for his suffering, so too he grieved for her sorrow—and more, of course, since his own humanity was by its nature more worthy.  All the time he could suffer, he did suffer for us, and sorrow too.  Now that he is risen and is impassible, he still suffers with us.

By his grace I saw all this, and saw that the love which he had for our soul was so strong that he chose to suffer quite deliberately and with strong desire, enduring what he did with meekness and long-suffering.  For when a soul that is touched by grace can see it in this way, it sees indeed that the pains of Christ’s passion surpass all our pains; that is to say, all those pains which, by virtue of that passion, will be turned into supreme and eternal joys. –Revelations of Divine Love, ch. 20, trans. Clifton Wolters (London: Penguin, 1966).

I thought I would share these two passages with you yesterday and today since they came up in close succession to one another in my varied devotional readings this Lent.

May Christ comfort all who mourn today and suffer alongside you.

One thought on “The suffering of the impassible God 2: Julian of Norwich

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.