Let us look at the following text from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.’ Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?
Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:18-24)
This text is the inspiration and foundation of our spirituality – so let’s unpack it a bit to see what it means and how we are to live it out.
The Cross was a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles because it appeared so contrary to worldly ways of thinking. A dead man hanging on a cross does not seem like power! In fact, it seems to be the very epitome of weakness!
An innocent man allowing himself to be condemned for crimes he didn’t commit does not seem like wisdom. It seems to be foolishness! How could a dying man hanging on a Cross, something so foolish and weak, be the victory of God? How could that accomplish the salvation of the whole world?
The answer is Love!
God’s infinite power took the form of merciful love. Through Jesus’ sacrificial death God’s power washed away our sins, conquered the enemy, and united us to himself!
The most powerful thing that has ever happened in the universe was an act of love – the destruction of the evil of our sins by Christ Crucified.
God’s infinite wisdom was revealed in the logic of love, an unconditional, foolish love, a love that could not bear to be separated from us. Christ the foolish Lover gave Himself away for His Beloved, the Church. According to the logic of love, this is perfect wisdom.
The act of love in which Christ died perfectly manifests the power and wisdom of God.
Truly, as St. Paul says: “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:25)!
St Bernard of Clairveaux explained it this way:
“[Christ’s] very weakness is no less useful than his majesty. For if by the power of his divinity he has released us from the captivity of sin, he has also, through the weakness of his flesh, destroyed death’s rights. As the Apostle so beautifully said, ‘the weakness of God is stronger than men.’; indeed by this folly he has been pleased to save the world by combating the wisdom of the world and confounding the wise; for possessing the nature of God and being equal to God, he abased himself, taking the form of a servant; being rich, he became poor for love of us; being great, he became little; being exalted, humble; he became weak, who was powerful; he suffered hunger and thirst, he wore himself out on the roads and suffered of his own free will and not by necessity. This type of folly, I repeat: has it not meant for us a way of wisdom, a model of justice and an example of holiness, as the same Apostle says: ‘The foolishness of God is wiser than men’? So true is this, that death has freed us from death, life has freed us from error, and grace from sin.” (St. Bernard, De laudibus novae militiae, 11, 27, as quoted in The Navarre Bible, The Letters of Saint Paul, pp. 194-195)
Christ Crucified was the Power of God because through His death He saved us from our sins.
Christ Crucified was the Wisdom of God because through His death He revealed his saving love.