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At the Mercy of a Little Piece of Iron
A meditation for Good Friday
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, tr. Craufurd, Routledge 1995, p. 75:
The infinite which is in man is at the mercy of a little piece of iron; such is the human condition; space and time are the cause of it. It is impossible to handle this piece of iron without suddenly reducing the infinite which is in man to a point on the pointed part, a point on the hand, at the cost of a harrowing pain. The whole being is stricken in the instant; there is no place left for God, even in the case of Christ, where the thought of God is then that of privation. This stage has to be reached if there is to be Incarnation. The whole being becomes privation of God: how can we go beyond? After that there is only the resurrection. To reach this stage the cold touch of naked iron is necessary.
'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' There we have the real proof that Christianity is something divine. (p. 79)
We are spiritual beings, participants in the infinite and the absolute. But we are also, undeniably, animals. Our human condition is thus a predicament, that of a spiritual animal. As spirits we enjoy freedom of the will and the ability to encompass the whole universe in our thought. As spirits we participate in the infinity and absoluteness of truth. As animals, however, we are but indigent bits of the world's fauna exposed to and compromised by its vicissitudes. As animals we are susceptible to pains and torments that swamp the spirit and obliterate the infinite in us reducing us in an instant to screaming wretches.. In the extremity of suffering, the body that served us as vehicle becomes a burden and a cross, and our way through the vale becomes a via dolorosa.
Now if God were to become one of us, fully one of us, would he not have to accept the full measure of the spirit's hostage to the flesh? Would he not have to empty himself fully into our misery? That is Weil's point. The fullness of Incarnation requires that the one incarnated experience the worst of embodiment and be tortured to death. For if Christ is to be fully human, in addition to fully divine, he must experience the highest exaltation and the lowest degradation possible to a human. These extreme possibilities, though not actual in all, define being human.
The Crucifixion is the Incarnation in extremis. Christ’s spirit, 'nailed' to the flesh, is the spirit of flesh now nailed to the wood of the cross. At this extreme point of the Incarnation, doubly nailed to matter, Christ experiences utter abandonment and the full horror of the human predicament. He experiences and accepts utter failure and the terrifying thought that his whole life and ministry were utterly delusional.
The darkest hour. And then dawn.