Project Canterbury

Discerning the Lord's Body
The Rationale of a Catholic Democracy

By Frederic Hastings Smyth, Ph.D.
Superior of the Society of the Catholic Commonwealth

Louisville, Kentucky: The Cloister Press, 1946.

Chapter IV. Mediation as Sacrifice


THIS KIND OF MEDIATION, whereby a pattern of humanity perfected upon the level of our natural world is conveyed into the level of the absolute perfection of its ultimate redemption, is called a process of sacrifice.

From the very dawn of religious consciousness men have always striven to find access to such a process of mediation. It is therefore no accident that they have instinctively offered sacrifices as the central activity of their religious observance and worship. To this end they have ever sought to offer something good, something valuable, something chosen as a perfected unit from among the materials of their own world. They have thus striven to give to their gods, under these material forms, certain concreted, acceptably perfected structures of human life and activity. Sometimes the things chosen have been objects of gold, of silver, or of jewels. Sometimes they have been perfumes and incense, sometimes the flesh of carefully selected and solemnly slaughtered animals. Sometimes they have been other articles of food and drink. Sometimes they have even been other human beings. The religion of Our Lord's own nation, His religion, was a religion of sacrifice.

The difficulty always had been, up to the appearance of God Incarnate Himself, that the organized structures of human life put forward by men's creative efforts were never so perfected within the contingent level of this world, that they were capable of being conveyed into the absolute level of man's ultimate redemption. The reason for this we have already seen. Unaided man, caught in the disordered time process of a fallen world, is inhibited from preparing an adequately perfected offering.

[36] All earlier sacrifices, therefore--even the sacrifices of Israel--while they clearly pointed the direction of what needed to be done, were not able to accomplish it. As the greatest Hebrew Prophets began to see, sacrifice was necessary for man's redemption; but that perfected structure required for a sacrifice which could actually over-pass the barrier between a fallen world, disordered in the historical time process, and the absolute level of the eternal and the divine, could not be made available in our natural order by man. [St. Paul often deals with this problem in his various letters. Of all the writers of either the Old or the New Testaments, he seems most clearly to have understood the difficulty. He usually attacks the problem in terms of an analysis of the relation of the efficacy of the Law of the Old Covenant to its fulfilment in the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. See, for example, his Letter to the Galatians, Chapter 3. Here the finest theological thinker of all time fairly wrestles with his problem. In this field of thought he is the first intellectual pioneer.]


It was Our Lord alone, who, by virtue of His solution of the time-problem in His Incarnation, was able to prepare in His own individual humanity a re-created unit for a sacrifice which could move through the necessary transit from the natural to the super-natural levels. And furthermore He was able to effect this transit by virtue of the perfect union in Him of the divine and human natures. This is why He is indeed our only Mediator. The final offering was made, and the final transit was consummated, upon the Cross. And this is what is meant by the expression, "The Sacrifice of the Cross."

Our Lord, considered under the aspect of His individual humanity, is spoken of as Victim or Host in this Sacrifice. This is parallel with the terminology of all other and earlier sacrifices in which animals, put forward by various human groups to epitomize their own attempts at a re-created perfection, were called victims.

The conveyance of a contingently perfected unit into the level of the absolute, is essentially a priestly action. It is [37/38] an act of mediation between the natural and super-natural levels of being. The official representative of any group who acts in its behalf in the capacity of effecting such a transit is called a priest. Our Lord, therefore, in His capacity of effecting the transit of His individual, earthly humanity into the eternal level of His divine nature is spoken of as Priest. The place of a sacrifice is commonly called an altar.

Hence, on the Cross, Our Lord is properly called both Priest and Victim. And the closing event of Our Lord's life, because of the manner of His execution and death, is called the Sacrifice upon the Altar of the Cross.


Let us now see what happens to a perfected pattern of human nature, the items of whose content still evince many limitations and contingencies, when such a contingent structure passes over into the super-natural level of the divine nature. This can be most conveniently seen as we compare the risen Lord with that same Lord as He hung dying upon the Cross.

Here on the Cross we find the consummation of the full content of the structure of Our Lord's earthly life. Here is the fullness of His Sacrifice. Here the perfected pattern of His individual actualization of human nature is presented in its totality (including in its content the event of natural death itself) as a final oblation to God the Father. At the death on the Cross, this perfectly ordered structure, created within the conditions of our world and with its content drawn from that same world, passes completely into the level of the divine nature. In the subsequent resurrection we see what occurs in such a transit. For after the resurrection Our Lord's humanity appears not only perfected (as it was before) in pattern; it is now perfected in content as well. For example, that which was an item of defeat within its structure in the natural order becomes victory within the super-natural order of the divine nature. Even the physical body, previously subject to the contingencies of time and space, becomes completely [38/39] independent of these physical dimensions. That which was failure becomes the assurance of success. That which was sorrow and weariness becomes joy and thanksgiving. Fear becomes courage; misunderstanding and timid confusion in the relations with His immediate followers become complete clarity and vigorous determination. The human dereliction at the last moment before death on the Cross becomes the consciousness of complete union with God. Natural death itself emerges as risen and eternal life. This is the way of the second stage of human salvation.


It is very important for our understanding of the discussion which now follows that we grasp the full meaning of the foregoing relationships. We often think of the events of the Cross and resurrection in terms of a mere sequence in time. We think of defeat as followed by victory; sorrow as followed by joy; death as followed by life. But this way of thinking misses a fundamental truth. For example, the element of sorrow as one item giving content to Our Lord's humanity (marking it out, as we have put it) is not merely superseded by joy, as He carries His humanity into the level of His divinity. It happens, rather, that the very thing which was sorrow itself, in this transit from the natural to the super-natural levels, becomes the very joy of His risen life. As He Himself said to His disciples: Your sorrow shall be turned into (not, be superseded by) joy. [John 16: 20.] So likewise the natural, material human body becomes the transcendent risen body. Defeat becomes victory; natural death becomes eternal life. Likewise with every other contingent item which fulfils the pattern of His human nature, it is re-ordered, and it then reappears as the corresponding absolutely perfected item in that same nature when, risen from the tomb, Our Lord conveys this within the level of His divine nature. Each and every one of these contingent items is the necessary natural foundation out of which are prepared the corresponding items of an absolutely [39/40] perfected humanity. And without these foundations laid in our natural order, their absolutely perfected counterparts could not possibly emerge. Thus the first stage of man's salvation, the preparation of a contingently perfected pattern of human nature within this world, is the very foundation stuff out of which man's absolute perfection--his ultimate salvation--is built. So far as human beings are concerned, the life-materials of our time and space, perfected in pattern on the level of this world, and within Our Lord's natural humanity, form the structure which He conveys into the level of His divine nature. The second stage of man's salvation--his salvation's super-natural and absolute consummation--therefore presupposes the completion of the first stage; for the second stage not only builds upon, but with that which is accomplished in the first stage. It builds with a newly created, ordered pattern of humanity brought to some kind of adequate fulfilment while men are still within this world.

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