Pope_Benedictus_XVITo many, many Christians…it looks as if the Cross is to be understood as part of a mechanism of injured and restored right.

It is the form, so it seems, in which the infinitely offended righteousness of God was propitiated again by means of an infinite expiation.

[…] Many devotional texts actually force one to think that Christian faith in the Cross visualises a God whose unrelenting righteousness demanded a human sacrifice, the sacrifice of his own Son, and one turns away in horror from a righteousness whose sinister wrath makes the message of love incredible.

[…] The expiatory activity by which men hope to conciliate the divinity and put him in a gracious mood stands at the heart of the history of religion.

In the New Testament the situation is almost completely reversed. It is not man who goes to God with a compensatory gift, but God who comes to man in order to give to him.

He restores disturbed right on the initiative of his own power to love, by making unjust man just again, the dead living again, through his own creative mercy.

His righteousness is grace; it is active righteousness, which sets crooked man straight, that is, bends him straight, makes him right.

[…] The New Testament does not say that men conciliate God, as we really ought to expect, since after all it is they who have failed, not God. It says on the contrary that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).

[…]  God does not wait until the guilty come to be reconciled; he goes to meet them and reconciles them. Here we can see the true direction of the incarnation, of the Cross.

Accordingly, in the New Testament the Cross appears primarily as a movement from above to below.

It does not stand there as the work of expiation which mankind offers to the wrathful God, but as the expression of that foolish love of God’s which gives itself away to the point of humiliation in order thus to save man; it is his approach to us, not the other way about.

With this twist in the idea of expiation, and thus in the whole axis of religion, worship too, man’s whole existence, acquires in Christianity a new direction.

Worship follows in Christianity first of all in thankful acceptance of the divine deed of salvation. The essential form of Christian worship is therefore rightly called “Eucharistia”, thanksgiving.

Christian sacrifice does not consist in a giving of what God would not have without us but in our becoming totally receptive and letting ourselves be completely taken over by him.

Letting God act on us – that is Christian sacrifice.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, pp. 281-283; a longer extract from this passage can be read at the excellent Eclectic Orthodoxy.

With thanks to The Ironic Catholic for the suggestion that bloggers should pay tribute to Benedict the XVI on this particular day by posting a favourite quotation or extract from his writings.