Love Does Such Things

According to the Bible, God entered into time in a specific manner, acting on an self-chosen decision made in complete freedom. . . .this journey of God from the everlasting into the transitory, this stride across the border into history, is something no human intellect can altogether grasp. The mind might even oppose the apparently fortuitous, human aspect of this interpretation with its own “purer” idea of godliness; yet precisely here lies hidden the kernel of Christianity. Before such an unheard of thought the intellect bogs down. Once at this point a friend gave me a clue that helped my understanding more than any measure of bare reason. He said: “But love does such things!”

Again and again these words have come to the rescue when the mind has stopped short at some intellectual impasse. Not that they explain anything to the intelligence; they arouse the heart, enabling it to feel its way into the secrecy of God. The mystery is not understood, but it does move nearer, and the danger of “scandal” disappears.

None of the great things in human life springs from the intellect; every one of them issues from the heart and its love. If even human love has its own reasoning, comprehensible only to the heart that is open to it, how much truer must this be of God’s love! When it is the depth and power of God that stirs, is there anything of which love is incapable? The glory of it is so overwhelming that to all who do not accept love as an absolute point of departure, its manifestations must seem the most senseless folly.

Time unrolls further. Joseph, instructed by God, takes his promised bride to him. How deep that instruction must have gone to decide this sober man! How must he have felt before he realized that God had laid hand on his future wife, and that the life she had conceived was of the Holy Spirit! In that realization awoke the great and blissful mystery of Christian chastity (Mark 1:19–5).

Luke continues: “And Joseph also went from Galilee out of the town of Nazareth into Judea to the town of David, which is called Bethlehem – because he was of the house and family of David – to register, together with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child. And it came to pass while they were there, that the days for her to be delivered were fulfilled. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

What we have just attempted to grasp in the obscurity of divine action now presents itself to us in visible form. At first a child like any other, it cries, is hungry, sleeps, and yet is “the Word. . .become flesh.” It cannot be said that God “inhabits” this infant, however gloriously; or that heaven has set its seal upon him, so that he must pursue it, suffer for it in a manner sublimely excelling all other contacts between God and man; this child is God in essence and in being.

"The Holy Family" by Lorenzo Costa (1490)
“The Holy Family” by Lorenzo Costa (1490)

If an inner protest should arise here, give it room. It is not good to suppress anything; if we try to, it only goes underground, becomes toxic, and reappears later in far more obnoxious form. Does anyone object to the whole idea of God-become-man? Is he willing to accept the Incarnation only as a profound and beautiful allegory, never as literal truth?

If doubt can establish a foothold anywhere in our faith, it is here. Then we must be patient and reverent, approaching this central mystery of Christianity with calm, expectant, prayerful attention; one day its sense will be revealed to us. In the meantime, let us remember the directive “But love does such things!”

. . . .Christian thinkers have spent much time and thought probing Jesus’ inner life, now from the psychological, now from the theological side, in an effort to discover what must have taken place there. But all psychology of Jesus shatters on the rock of what, essentially, he is. An analysis of Christ might be valid for the periphery or outmost surface of his being, but any significance or image it manages to construct is almost immediately consumed by the power of the center.

As for theological analysis, however true in itself and fundamentally important to Christian thought, it is necessarily abstract. Hence, in order to advance at all in our faith, we are bound to call some concrete train of thought to our assistance. Let us try this one: The young creature in the stall of Bethlehem was a human being with human brain and limbs and heart and soul. And it was God. Its life was to manifest the will of the Father: to proclaim the sacred tidings, to stir mankind with the power of God, to establish the Covenant, and shoulder the sin of the world, expiating it with love and leading mankind through the destruction of sacrifice and the victory of the Resurrection into the new existence of grace.

In this accomplishment alone lay Jesus’ self-perfection: fulfillment of mission and personal fulfillment were one. The Resurrected himself points this out: “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things before entering into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). It was as if Jesus’ self-realization meant that his human being “took possession” of the divine being he had always intrinsically been. Jesus did not “experience” God; he was God. He never at any given moment “became” God; he was God from the start. His life was only the process by which this innate divinity came into its own.

His task was to place divine reality and power squarely in the realm of his human consciousness and will; to reflect holy purity in his relation to all things, and to contain infinite love and divinity’s boundless plenitude in his heart of flesh and blood. . . .The thought is certainly inadequate. It does not pretend to be perfect theological argument but only a stimulus when we reflect on the frail child in the crib and on all that stirs behind its small forehead.

Servant of God Fr. Romano Guardini (1885 – 1968), author and academic, was one of the most important figures in Catholic intellectual life in the 20th-century. This essay is adapted from his most famous book, The Lord. He was a mentor to such prominent theologians as Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger.