Christ’s Leap

Prose hardly conveys the majesty of Christ's 'leap' from his Father's throne to earth

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Faith

“When all things were in quiet silence and night was in the midst of her swift course, thine almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne” (Wisdom 18, 14-15).

Of all the images of Christmas, this is the one that has always thrilled me the most. The iconography of the Incarnation is so rich, diverse, and charming: the Baby in the manger, the Star and the Magi, Mary and Joseph soon to be refugees when they find they must flee Herod, the poverty, the exposure to danger. Our faith is a very physical one, built upon real events in history. Vivid pictures of them readily populate our minds and have the power to move even the hearts of unbelievers like Thomas Hardy, who doubted everything, yet “hoped it might be so.”

But this little piece from the Book of Wisdom is quite another thing. It’s pure poetry. Prose simply isn’t strong enough to convey the sheer power and majesty of Christ’s “leap” from his Father’s throne to earth below.

All those other images of the incarnation are literally mundane — miraculous and marvelous, of course, but grounded in a world we all know and share. They also have a kind of passivity about them. After all, nobody is more passive than a helpless newborn baby, utterly dependent on the kindness of others, yet so easily weakened by indifference or harmed by cruelty.

But that Leap from heaven was and is the most active thing there has ever been since the world began. It is pure energy in action, a deed of positive but loving aggression. If you think the word aggression is too strong, by the way, read on to verse 22: there Christ is a warrior with a sharp sword, who “overcame the destroyer, not with strength of body, nor force of arms, but with a word…”

All our images of God are valuable but none is adequate. Since the days of St. Francis of Assisi, the sufferings of Christ have played a huge role in our imagery, but it was not always so. In the early Church he was more commonly depicted as a shepherd. As far as it is known, it was not until the 5th century that he was first shown suspended on the Cross, carved on a screen in the Roman Basilica of Santa Sabina. But such early depictions stressed His impassivity rather than his suffering, and some went even further, showing him crowned and triumphant — Christus Victor, “reigning from the tree.”

This brings us back to the One who in full knowledge made that gigantic and generous Leap, for our sakes, from Heaven to Earth, and (in Charles Wesley’s words)

Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.

David Daintree was President of Campion College (Australia’s only Catholic liberal arts college) from 2008 to 2012. In 2013 he founded and is now Director of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Hobart.

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