Part 2: Cruciform Theology and the Cruciform Icon
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
– 1 John 4:7-8
There is a school of thought in the Christian tradition known as Cruciform Theology. This theological perspective, following Paul’s Christ hymn in Colossians (“image of the invisible God…”), essentially treats the image of Christ Crucified as an icon – a term used in Eastern Orthodox Christianity to refer to an image that serves as a window into the invisible, heavenly realm. Put another way: an icon can be considered to be a mysterious revelation channeled through the human Spirit from a Supreme Imaginal Reality beyond conception, rather than a simply human work of art, or a product of mundane inspiration.
There are many icons that are venerated within the Eastern Orthodox Church, but Cruciform Theology is concerned specifically, and primarily, with the icon of Christ Crucified. This image, this icon, viewed in its context, is considered to be the core revelation of the Gospels; it reveals the good news of who God really is. As such, it can be used as a primary hermeneutical technology to interpret the sacred scriptures of Christianity. One must ask oneself how those portions of the Bible which depict God as murderous, angry, or jealous align with what this most important and essential revelation communicates about the fundamentals of who God is.
Similarly, one must endeavour to construct one’s theology according to those fundamentals, and to critique those theologies which run counter to them. As I stated in the preceding portion of this essay, we must interpret our religious narratives in reference to the light which illuminates them from within, as well as those portions of our narrative which reveal that light most clearly. According to cruciform theology, the icon of Christ Crucified should be considered the most brilliant portion of our narrative – our theological and scriptural Rosetta stone.
So what does the icon reveal, then? It reveals that what is most fundamental to God’s nature is love. A love that is characterized by incarnation, relationality, non-violence, and, most importantly, kenosis (or self-emptying). This revelation constitutes the importance of the cruciform icon. Franciscan friar Richard Rohr expresses the power of this good news in his statement, “If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe. God is not someone to be afraid of, but is the Ground of Being and on our side.” What a different way to understand God than many Christians are used to!
Moving forward, we will explore how the Cruciform Icon can be used as a basis for Christology, a branch of thought which endeavours to elucidate the role and nature of Christ. Given that Christology is divided into two schools – low christology, which focuses on the historical Jesus, and high christology, which focuses on the cosmic Christ – we will examine both perspectives in the light of the Cruciform Icon. I will show how the fundamentals revealed by the icon – that God’s nature is essentially incarnational, relational, non-violent, kenotic (self-emptying) Love – can be seen in the narrative of the life and death of the historical Jesus, and then employed in the understanding and construction of a Cosmic Christology. We will begin first with an exploration of low Christology.