“This is my body, which is given for you . . . This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Lk 22:19-20). Of ecstasy—that is, standing outside oneself or going out of oneself—Our Lord Jesus Christ is the supreme model: He pours out his very life for us and to us, that we might be healed, rescued, glorified in Him. He gives, that we might receive; we receive, that we might give in return, yielding ourselves to Him, pouring out our life into the Heart of Christ, to be borne with Him in love to the Almighty Father. The Paschal Mystery of passion, death, descent, resurrection, ascension.
Martin Luther is famous for saying that Christ “shields” the sinner, hiding his wickedness from God’s wrathful gaze. For Luther, justification means not becoming righteous oneself, but hiding behind the justice or righteousness of Christ—a view the Council of Trent roundly condemns, not because it is too bold a claim, but because it is a far too meager one. The problem with Luther is that he vastly underestimates the strength and glory of the salvation Christ accomplished for us and brings about in us at every moment of our Christian discipleship, beginning in time with our baptism and extending to eternity. For Christ to shield the sinner extrinsically would be a far too feeble expression of His greatness, an embarrassing exhibition of inability to reach into man and transform him into a living image of Himself.
Our Lord, being under no such constraints, takes the sinner into His Heart, a burning furnace of love, and purifies the sinner there, teaching him to be love as He is incarnate love. He places him deep within the wound so that he can become this wound, can make his being into a wound and through it pour himself out as Christ offered Himself up to the Father and for us. Christ does not want to shield us, as though He were putting us behind His back so that the Father could not see who was really there (a puerile anthropomorphism, whatever else may be said). No, Christ wants to embrace the sinner as the father embraces the prodigal son, so that the sinner may be converted by His touch—the flow of evil may stop and the disease be healed, like the hemorrhaging of the woman who touched the Lord’s garment. He wants to stop man’s useless and senseless bleeding from the wounds of sin, and make him bleed love instead, bleed himself into the chalice which is the Heart of Christ, Who is Himself resting in the bosom of the Father from whom He eternally comes.
Here we stand in awe before the mystical circulation of the Trinitarian life: the life which is in the Father is the life received by the Word, the life which is in the Word returns to the Father, and in this eternal reciprocal giving and receiving is breathed forth the Spirit of Love. By drawing the Christian into the depths of His Heart, Christ introduces him into this circulation and gives him an internal orientation to the Father—not an external juridical relationship of criminal to judge or serf to lord, but the intimate relationship of son to father. For this return of the prodigal son, not only to celebrate it but to bring it about, One who is infinitely more precious than a fatted calf has been offered up: the only-begotten Son in whom the Father is well pleased, who offered Himself upon the cross as the Word made flesh. Because the Word was made flesh, man can pass through the courts of the temple of His human nature, the outer court of His body and the inner court of His soul, into the tabernacle of divinity, the Holy of Holies. The Incarnation is, to speak metaphorically, the opening in the side of God through which exiled mankind may return to the Father.
Thus we are no longer bondservants or enemies of God, but are made His sons by adoption, which is to say that we really enter through the gate of the Heart of Jesus: our adoption is nothing less than our incorporation into the divine humanity of Christ, our being led into the kingdom of heaven through Him, who as God IS the kingdom of heaven. He is the narrow way to heaven, the face-to-face truth in which we rest, the endlessly gushing wellspring of life (cf. Jn 14:6).
Our Lord is not hiding the sinner but healing him; not obscuring him so that divine justice will overlook his wickedness but revealing him openly before the Father, stripped of his evil and shame, restored to the glory of Adam as he came from the Father through the Word, glorified because he has been taken into the embrace of the Son, Who, as we chant in the Gloria, is “in the glory of the Father.” The embrace of the Son is more than an external contact; it draws the whole man into the Heart through the side, the reverse direction of Eve being taken from Adam. Just as a companion fit for Adam was drawn from his side, so now, the fallen person is drawn back into the one Companion who is fit for him, because he came into being through the Word. In the same way, human lovers whose love is divinized by the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity reunite in a common return to this Heart.
Thus, what Luther failed to see is that the Incarnation is not a mere “event” which brought about a change in the objective relationship between craven debtors and cosmic creditor, but a pattern, a living paradigm for mankind, according to which man would be, and is, changed into a subject of divine life. In Christ, man is given divine life: “My body is given up for you, my blood is poured out for you.” God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whosoever believeth in Him may have, really and truly take possession of, everlasting life. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him (cf. Jn 3:16-17). Salvation is everlasting life, and everlasting life is union with God, in His fiery holiness. In being “saved,” a man is not merely rescued or pardoned; he is made alive by sharing in the life of Christ, so that he comes to rest in the Father, in the merciful and beatifying gaze of the Father: “You are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor 3:23).
This, then, is what it means to “put on Christ” (Gal 3:27). The sinner does not put on Christ as though putting on a garment, for doing so would leave him no better off than sinful Adam, who tried to hide his nakedness for shame of what he had become. Adam’s garments were skin deep, they were skins that hid but did not heal (cf. Gen 3:21), and what he put on over himself, like a shield or barrier, was the unmistakable sign that he would now be cut off from the intimate communion of trust, honesty, and surrender that befits one who is innocent, just, and utterly in love with the beloved. Anyone who must wear a garment has something to hide, something which cannot bear the light or must be protected.
The sinner puts on Christ by becoming one with Christ in the transformative mystery of baptism, through which he is brought forth in the Word as a newborn child purged of sin and replete with the grace of divine loveliness, with all spiritual beauty.
To put on Christ is to be pulled out of oneself and taken up by Him, since in His divine personhood—which is also the personhood of the humanity of Christ—the Word is pure ecstasy. When we take upon ourselves the image of the Son, we are taken up in the inwardness of the Son, who is the Image of the Father. We become living icons, reflecting our Maker with a new intensity, and we find the meaning of ourselves in the one of whom we are the image.
Characters in search of an author. Icons in search of their archetype. Images straining for the original. Heliotropes stretching towards the light. The author is waiting, summoning, drawing with a firm and gentle hand. The archetype radiates with inward brightness, Light from Light.
“Thou hast said, ‘Seek ye my face.’ My heart says to thee, ‘Thy face, O Lord, do I seek.’ Hide not thy face from me” (Ps 27:8-9).
 Fallen man must return in the other direction, through the Word to the Father. As Christ is the exemplar of Adam, so too man is renewed in the image of this exemplary Adam and becomes an innocent man in the garden of heaven.
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America. He has taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. He writes regularly for Catholic blogs and has published seven books, the most recent being Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018). For more information, visit www.peterkwasniewski.com.