“Depth below depth of meaning lies in that phrase–‘My Eros is crucified'”

The tiara of the pontiff-Emperor and the tiara of the Roman Bishop arose above the new world. But there were other and more spectacular changes, some of them particular, as in the ritual about the Emperor, some general, as in the alteration of crosses. When St. Paul preached in Athens, the world was thronged with crosses, rooted outside cities, bearing all of them the bodies of slowly dying men. When Augustine preached in Carthage, the world was also thronged with crosses, but now in the very centre of cities, lifted in processions and above altars, decorated and jewelled, and bearing all of them the image of the Identity of dying Man. There can hardly ever have been—it is a platitude—a more astonishing reversion in the history of the world. It is not surprising that Christianity should sometimes be regarded as the darkest of superstitions, when it is considered that a thing of the lowest and most indecent horror should have been lifted, lit, and monstrously adored, and that not merely sensationally but by the vivid and philosophic assent of the great intellects of the Roman world. The worship in jungles and marshes, the intoxication of Oriental mysteries, had not hidden in incense and litany a more shocking idol. The bloody and mutilated Form went up everywhere; Justinian built the Church of Holy Wisdom to it in Byzantium, and the Pope sang Mass before it on the hills where Rome had been founded. The jewelled crosses hid one thing only—they hid the indecency. But original crucifixion was precisely indecent. The images we still retain conceal—perhaps necessarily the same thing; they preserve pain but they lack obscenity. But the dying agony of the God-Man exhibited both; depth below depth of meaning lies in that phrase—“My Eros is crucified.”

Yet if the image was ghastly and horrible, the sacrificers were not so. There were still many altars, as there had been before, but the old republican worship of household gods had disappeared, and the pouring of honourable libations. The East had overcome Rome, as the civic fathers had feared it might when they forbade Cybele to enter the City. But the East itself had changed in doing so. There was offered everywhere “the clean sacrifice.” Men were no longer to die, for Man had died; orgies were no longer mystically to celebrate divine nuptials, for that must be a secret process of arduous will; ecstasy was no longer specially to be desired, for the ordinary daylight was as much He as the extraordinary night. Even the dark night of the soul was, as it were, nothing out of the common. Dullness, as well as drama, was to be borne on the wings of the spirit, and the Church leaned strongly to the idea that dullness was more reliable than drama. It had been, in fact, one of the objections to the Faith that it originally offered itself particularly to slaves and small shopkeepers. Its modern antagonists denounce it still as a bourgeois superstition; and certainly St. Paul and St. Augustine themselves demanded precisely that their converts should become the bourgeoisie of a City. The difficulty has generally been to prevent the bourgeois mind from supposing that it satisfactorily understood all the heavenly experiences which the bourgeois soul endured.

There had been, so far, little dispute on the nature of the Eucharistic Food. The Rite, with some variation of ceremony, was the same everywhere—from Delphi to Mona, from Carthage to Antioch. The elements of the Bread and the Wine were presented, the invocation of the God corresponded with His will and obeyed His command; the elements underwent His pre-occupation, and the original actuality of the Death of Messias in some way existed among the faithful. By virtue of that Death they communicated upon Him living. The Death was not repeated, for that could not be. As the Church accommodated herself to time in her dealing with the world so she also receded out of time in her union with her Victim and her Way. He had commanded her to command him, and she did; there, in the here and now of each particular Rite, holy exchange was perfected. She comunicated and she adored.

Charles Williams

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