THE MYSTERY OF THE CROSS IN THE FOUR DIMENSIONS
“The cross, the glory of the divine Redeemer, must be the boast also of his disciples, as St Paul admonishes and – St Augustine continues – it must be so since all of us ‘are upon it.’ The whole of the Christian life is based upon the cross, as upon a firm edifice, and the Bishop of Hippo, by his marvellous contemplation, takes pleasure in revealing the mystical meaning of the four dimensions of that blessed wood: the width, length, height and depth.
[By St Augustine of Hippo]
‘Listen to the Apostle saying to you, ‘But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Let us too make it our boast, if only because we lean totally upon it. Let us all glory in it, o good brethren; in it may we glory. Perhaps it is there that we shall find both width, and length, and height, and depth. These words of the Apostle, you see, somehow set up the cross before our very eyes. It shows, in fact, the width in which the hands are nailed; it shows the length, as the trunk inclines from there to the ground; it also shows the height, since from the same transversal trunk to which the hands are nailed, it protrudes somewhat and there the head of the Crucified One is placed; it shows also the depth, which means to say, the part that is fixed into the ground and which remains unseen. Consider the great mystery. From that depth, which is unseen, is raised on high all that may be seen.
THE WIDTH, THE LENGTH AND THE HEIGHT OF THE CROSS
So where is the width? Turn your mind to the life and behaviour of the Saints, who say, ‘Far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ We find in their way of life and behaviour the width of charity; which is why the Apostle himself gives this advice: ‘Open yourselves wide, lest you should be bearing the yoke with unbelievers.’ And from the moment that he exhorted them to open their hearts, listen to what he adds: ‘Our mouth is open towards you with sincerity, Corinthians; our heart is completely open.’ It follows, therefore, that the width means charity, which alone fulfils good works. The width shows that God loves those who give with joy. In reality if someone finds himself to be in dire straits, he will give reluctantly; if he will give and be at the same time afflicted by this, what he gives will be lost. Generosity of love, therefore, is necessary, so that your good deeds will not be lost. But because the Lord said, ‘When iniquity abounds, the charity of many will grow cold,’ he gave me also length.
What is meant by length? ‘Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.’ This is the length of the cross, where the whole body is stretched; where after a fashion it is standing, the kind of standing by which one perseveres. So if you are seeking, you that make the cross your boast, to have the width of the cross, make sure you have the virtue to do good. If you want to have the length of the cross, make sure you have the long-suffering capacity to persevere.
But if you want to have the height of the cross, make sure you know the meaning of the words you hear, ‘Lift up your hearts,’ and where you hear them. Well, what does it mean, ‘Lift up your hearts’? Place your hope up there, place your love up there, ask for strength from up there, look for your reward up there. Because if you do good, and give cheerfully, you seem to have the width; if in the same good works you persevere to the end, you seem to have the length. But if you don’t do any of this for the sake of the reward up above, you won’t have the height; which means you won’t have the real width and real length either. In what consists, in fact, possessing the height, if one does not have God in his mind, and that means to love him gratuitously, He Who succours, He Who looks, He Who crowns, He Who grants the reward? It consists also in considering Him as the reward, in not wanting anything from Him except He Himself? If you love, love gratuitously; if it is true that you love, He will be the reward that you love. Or is it not true, in fact, that all things are dear to you and that you despise He who has made all things?
THE DEPTH OF THE CROSS
In order that all this may be possible for us, the Apostle has bent his knee, above all so that it will be given to us. The Gospel, in fact, makes us fear with the words: ‘To you has been given to understand the mystery of the kingdom, but to them it has not been given. Thus to he who has it will be given.’ But who is he who has and to whom will it be given but to he to whom it has been given? ‘But to he who has not, from him will be taken what he has.’ Who, on the other hand, is he who has not, but he to whom it has not been given? Why has it been given to one and not to the other?
In this consists the depth of the cross and I dare to say it. From the depths, I know not what, of the judgements of God, which we are unable to penetrate and contemplate, proceeds all that which is possible for us. From the unfathomable depths of the judgements of God, which we are not able to use for the object of our contemplation and are incapable of penetrating, there proceeds all that which we can contemplate. I see that which I am able to see: I do not see that which I might be able to see; this is solely because even that which I can see I do so only to the point of recognising that it comes from God. But the fact of attributing it to one and not the other is beyond my comprehension; it is an abyss, it is the depth of the Cross.”
– This item was published in “De Vita Contemplativa” (Monthly Magazine for Monasteries) Year VII – Number 9 – September 2013.