Inverted Optics

Léon Bonnat - The Christ 1880

Léon Bonnat – The Christ, 1880

Exerpt from David Bentley Hart’s book, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth.

“Christian thought is obliged by the particularity of Christ’s beauty to move into an entirely different ambit of vision, where one cannot so easily distinguish between the above and the below, the godlike and the slavish; Christians are bidden to see in Christ at once the true form of God and the true shape of humanity, and to believe that the Father sees with pleasure his own very likeness in Jesus of Nazareth, even him crucified, and furthermore, consents to view all of humanity as gathered into the beauty of his Son. The divine and the human appear at once, the very infinity of God is made visible in the brokenness of Christ on the cross, and the deepest depravity of the human heart is grasped only in the light of the risen Lord…

According to theological tradition, the act through which the Father sees the Son and all persons in the Son also effects a change: it justifies and sanctifies, it makes all things pleasing to the Father, it reconciles humanity to God. It is this power of conversion, of optical inversion, by which the form of Christ measures the world anew; in its light, all the orderings of secular power and meaning are exposed, even reversed: the first become last, the mighty are put down and the lowly exalted, the hungry are filled with good things while the rich are sent away, the stone rejected by the builders becomes the head of the corner. In raising up this particular form, this particular presence, God judges the visible orders of the world, subjects them to a new and intense radiance that pierces all the trappings and beguilements of power; a murdered slave is the eternal Word of the Father, whom the Father vindicates and makes victorious, and is the supreme rhetoric that unveils the squalor and deceits of the rhetoric of violence. The scale of the reversal cannot be exaggerated: when Jesus stands before Pilate for the last time, beaten, derided, robed in purple and crowned with thorns, he must seem, from the vantage of all the noble wisdom of the empire and the age…merely absurd, a ridiculous figure prating incomprehensibly of an otherworldly kingdom and some undefined truth, obviously mad, oblivious of the lowliness of his state and of the magnitude of the powers into whose hands he has been delivered. But in the light of the resurrection, from the perspective of Christianity’s inverted order of vision, the mockery now rebounds upon all kings and emperors, whose finery and symbols of status are revealed to be nothing more than rags and brambles beside the majesty of God’s Son, beside this servile shape in which God displays his infinite power to be where he will be; all the rulers of the earth cannot begin to surpass in grandeur this beauty of the God who ventures forth to make even the dust his glory. There is a special Christian humor here, a special kind of Christian irreverence: in Rome the emperor is now as nothing, a garment draped over the shoulders of a slave and then cast aside.”  (The Beauty of the Infinite, pg. 336-338)