Christians likewise can and must constantly learn from the strict rejection of images that is contained in God's first commandment (cf. Ex 20:4). The truth of negative theology was highlighted by the Fourth Lateran Council, which explicitly stated that however great the similarity that may be established between Creator and creature, the dissimilarity between them is always greater. [However] God has given himself an “image”: in Christ who was made man. In him who was crucified, the denial of false images of God is taken to an extreme. God now reveals his true face in the figure of the sufferer who shares man's God-forsaken condition by taking it upon himself. This innocent sufferer has attained the certitude of hope: there is a God, and God can create justice in a way that we cannot conceive, yet we can begin to grasp it through faith.
Spe Salvi 43
Reflection – One of the true markers of greatness in a thinker or a human being is the capacity to recognize and freely embrace that which is true in the positions of one’s opponents. And as everyone has some little bit of truth somewhere in their thought (it is psychologically impossible to be wrong about everything), this gives the great thinker the ability to agree with and affirm everyone… while still advancing his or her own argument.
Pope Benedict is a great thinker. Here, he gladly affirms the element of truth in the iconoclast heresy of the eighth century, that heresy which denied any use of imagery whatsoever to depict God. The Pope here points out that the iconoclasts were concerned rightly to preserve the mystery of God, His supreme unlikeness to anything material or visible, His transcending of all categories of time and space, extension and hence depiction.
Affirming the truth of this, the Pope then says, essentially, “Yes, but…” And this ‘but’ is what we are all gearing up to celebrate this coming weekend. God made an image for Himself. God the invisible made Himself visible. God the utterly transcendent, the immense one, made Himself very small. God the All-powerful, the All-mighty, the All-knowing and All-judging one, made Himself very weak, very poor, very helpless.
A baby on a bed of straw. A naked man on a Cross. This is the face of God.
And this is, then, hope. There is so much about the world we do not understand. So much about the world that seems just wrong to us. It seems unjust; God seems unjust to many. No need to rehearse all that here.
But then we have the ultimate revelation of God, and it’s as if He says in the language of the poker table, “I see your mystery and I will raise you a mystery beyond it.” The world is cruel and cold; God is born a baby shivering in the cold. The world is unjust; God becomes victim of an injustice. The world is dying, and this death makes everything in us cry out to God in fear, in anger, in despair; God, in response, dies.
And in this all is reborn. All enters into the passion of the infant Christ, the passion of the man Christ, this mysterious unfathomable pity of God which ‘stoops from the heights to look down, to look down upon heaven and earth.’ (Ps 113). And all is mysteriously touched, changed, reshaped, refashioned from its most interior reality outward.
We are in an in-between time, which is always difficult for human beings. The transformation has begun, but it is still largely hidden from view. God is working this mysterious change in all reality, has worked it essentially in depth, but we await the final eruption of this transformation to appear so that all flesh will see it.For now, we have a baby lying in a manger. We have a man hanging on a cross. We have a host in a tabernacle, a ciborium, a monstrance. We have Jesus. For now, we have Jesus, and in Him we have hope.