What the Triumph of the Cross is Not

Yesterday was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

This is a big deal in my world because it’s the feast day for my parish.

So, because it’s my job to find cool stuff to share (I like that part of my work), I went looking for cool quotes on the Feast of the Holy Cross.

Here’s an amazing post I found by Fr. Barron about the Triumph of the Cross.

The Cross: Cosmic child abuse?

In this post Fr. Barron writes:

“There is a terrible interpretation of the cross that has, unfortunately, infected the minds of many Christians. This is the view that the bloody sacrifice of the Son on the cross was “satisfying” to the Father, and appeasement of a God infinitely angry at sinful humanity. In this reading, the crucified Jesus is like a child hurled into the fiery mouth of a pagan divinity in order to assuage its wrath. It is no wonder that many, formed by this cruel theology, find the Christian doctrine of the cross hard to accept: I once heard the objection that this sacrifice of the Son to the Father constitutes an act of cosmic child abuse.”

Double Imputation: Just say no!

The theory of atonement, exactly how Jesus effects our salvation, is kind of complicated in Catholic theology. As Fr. Barron points out in the video, the Church doesn’t point solely to one theory or model that is correct.

However, one thing that is NOT correct is this idea of “punishing substitution” Fr. Barron condemns in the quote above. This is the accepted theory in many Protestant churches. I run across people with this viewpoint all the time in RCIA.

What it says is that, on the Cross, a kind of substitution that takes place. God the Father inputs Christ’s righteousness onto us and our sinfulness onto his Son. This is also called Double Imputation.

In a kind of divine schizophrenia, the Father no longer sees his Son on the Cross. Instead, he sees our horrible, ugly sin and throws all of his anger and wrath at Christ.

The Father also no longer sees us as sinful. The status that belonged to Christ now belongs to us. So we’re saved.

With that situation in mind, you have to wonder how great it really is to be God’s son. I mean, with a Father like that, who needs enemies?

The Cross is a Trinitarian event

The truth is the Father never loved the Son more than when he’s on the Cross. We have to see the Cross as a Trinitarian event!

Within the Trinity, the Son is continually pouring out his life in gift to the Father. The Father continually receives that gift and returns it with a gift of his own self. This divine exchange is the inner life of the Trinitarian Persons.

What Christ does on the Cross at a specific time in human history is the same thing he’s done for all eternity as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity–he pours himself out in total self-giving love to the Father.

Catechetical takeaway

God is not some dysfunctional father that demands blood for a wrong done to him. He doesn’t hate the Son on the Cross. He hates sin!

The Father sent the Son into the darkest depths of human suffering out of love. Christ brings light into those places and makes all things new.

The Cross is not a murder but a self-offering. It’s not of punishment but an act of love.

United with Christ, we’re called to imitate this act of love in gift to the Father. The problem for all of us is, giving everything hurts! We need to be united with Christ to make it work.

Image Credit: carulmare


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  1. Great post. What a confusing and difficult concept it is that just happens to be at the very center of our faith! We recently read about Abraham and Isaac in my Old Testament class. I love how this story foreshadows the New Testament Story of Christ – the son carrying the wood to his own sacrifice, the willingness of the (F)father to sacrifice a very part of himself, his beloved. The students drew some great parallels – Abraham saying yes to Mary saying yes, knowing that she would watch her own son die, the men helping carry the wood to Simon helping Christ… Many of the students still, understandably struggled with God asking Abraham to do this, with Isaac going through this. This video I think can help with some of that… Thanks!

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      Thanks for the comments Allison!

      You’re right, it is a confusing concept and so vital to our faith. In the last couple of years, the Church has recognized the need for a more substantial defining of this concept to state really happens here. Perhaps soon there will be more clarification on the matter.

      I agree, the story of Abraham and Isaac is so powerful when investigating this topic. It has so much emotion, so much drama, and it’s such a concrete image. It’s a great one to bring out the reality of Christ’s own situation. We tend to gloss over the Cross because it’s such a familiar image. And, we don’t think of God’s sacrifice at all. But put it in terms of Abraham and his only son and it gets real because we can all relate to those terms.

  2. Marc,

    Great post. I used to believe in double imputation and penal substitution my whole life until I researched and entered full communion a few months ago. This needs to be talked about more, as some Catholics believe this, and it’s just blatantly heretical from the standpoint of Trinitarian orthodoxy. I wrote some posts about it on a blog I write for, here, if you’re interested: http://thepapist.org/articulating-the-atonement/. God Bless!


    • Wow, fantastic article Christie! Very thorough. I think you’re right. This really needs to be talked about more because Catholics have picked up this idea and it’s so wrong. It really skews your view of God and what his love is all about. God bless! Thanks for the comment!

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