Monday, February 17, 2014

Ecce Homo

Ecce homo—behold the man! In Him the world was reconciled with God. It is not by its overthrowing but by its reconciliation that the world is subdued. It is not by ideals and programs or by conscience, duty, responsibility and virtue that reality can be confronted and overcome, but simply and solely by the perfect love of God.

Here again it is not by a general idea of love that this is achieved, but by the really lived love of God in Jesus Christ. This love of God does not withdraw from reality into noble souls secluded from the world. It experiences and suffers the reality of the world in all its hardness. The world exhausts its fury against the body of Christ. But, tormented, He forgives the world its sin. This is how the reconciliation is accomplished. Ecce homo!

The figure of the Reconciler, of the God-Man Jesus Christ, comes between God and the world and fills the center of all history. In this figure the secret of the world is laid bare, and in this figure is revealed the secret of God. No abyss of evil can remain hidden from Him through whom the world is reconciled with God. But the abyss of the love of God encompasses even the most abysmal godlessness of the world…

God himself sets out on the path of humiliation and atonement, and thereby absolves the world. God is wiling to be guilty of our guilt. He takes upon Himself the punishment and suffering which this guilt has brought upon us. God Himself answers for godlessness, love for hatred, the saint for the sinner. Now there is no more godlessness, no more hatred, no more sin which God has not taken upon Himself, suffered for and expiated. Now there is no more reality, no more world, but it is reconciled with God and at peace. God did this in His dear Son Jesus Christ. 

Ecce Homo!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics

Reflection – Last week was Orthodoxy week here at TTP, so it seems fitting that this week should be Protestant week. I’m a little late with all these ecumenical postings for the Church Unity Prayer Octave, but as usual I march to the beat of my own drummer on this blog. So this week I will feature some of my favorite writers coming out of the various Reformed traditions emerging from the 16th century.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the great Lutheran theologians of the 20th century, who had the dreadful challenge of forging his theology and living his Lutheran faith in the shadow of the Third Reich. Ethics is an unfinished work, as his activities in the Resistance led to his arrest and eventual execution before he could complete it.

His work would stand on its own without that context of confrontation with evil and heroic resistance to it, but the facts of his life give a resonance and depth to his words here. When he says that there is no godlessness, no hatred, no abyss of evil which has not been embraced by the love of God in Jesus Christ, we know that this is a man who has seen and experienced at close quarters profundities of hatred, godlessness and evil that many of us are spared.

We see here what I consider one of the great vigorous strengths of Lutheranism, which is the total and all-encompassing focus on Jesus Christ embracing the world’s sin and doing away with it in that embrace. There is a fierce passion that runs through all of the Luther and all the Lutheran writers I have read that transcends the unfortunate polemics of the Reformation—a deep sense of the crash and clash between the absolute goodness and charity of Christ and the absolute evil and sin of the world, and the overcoming of this evil by the Lord in this very collision.

What emerges from this is precisely this sense of ecce homo – behold the man, behold Jesus, and see just what His life and death have wrought for us. An absolute fixation, rapt and reverent, on the person of Jesus Christ and his fantastic charity, utter generosity, total gift, his abasement and in that, his (and our) total glorification.

We badly need this sensibility, it seems to me, today. I do not believe the world is evil—truly, it is not—but there is great evil in the world, and it cannot be reduced to one or two contentious ‘issues’ (pick your favorites!), nor to ‘this group of politicians’ or ‘that group of evil-doers’ and their depredations, nor to ‘those people over there’ – the fabled Others who serve as effective distractions from our own moral failures.

We badly and deeply need this passionate fiery awareness of Jesus Christ embracing all of us, every one of us, even the ones who may not show signs of wanting His embrace or welcoming it – the love of God poured out for the whole world and all in it. Because as members of His Body the Church, we are called to that same love and that same embrace, to throw our lot in with Jesus, and that means living the mercy of God for all people without exception.


  1. God is divine. Religion is a festering sore upon divinity.

  2. This for me is an example of words I just must believe. As Bonhoeffer describes Jesus' gift to us I suspect he knew in the Spirit these truths because he lived them through faith and grace. In my case they are Sunday morning preacher words to be understood and accepted but as to a knowing, I have only nibbled around the edges of the depths of the walk of Jesus so they are saintly words which I am mostly unable to own in a way concrete way. If you are a witness to a way to a passionate, fiery, awareness beyond a written belief system please share. I can sense a degree of what Christ did for me and for you in small ways when I invest myself in and/or forgive others but I may have to wait to know more deeply the Gift of God's mercy purchased by Jesus.

    1. I think you are on the right track absolutely when you say you sense a degree of it when you forgive or invest yourself in others. I would never claim to 'know' anything of my own personal knowledge, but I do feel like I touch the hem of the mystery when I make serious efforts to love my neighbor and serve those whom God sends me. That personal engagement and personal striving to live the commandment of love is where it goes from the head to the heart, as far as I understand such things. God bless you.


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