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    The Way of the Passion

    Five readings from across the centuries illuminate the meaning of suffering in Christian discipleship.

    By Felicity of Carthage, Anselm of Canterbury, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther, J. Heinrich Arnold

    March 5, 2023

    Felicity of Carthage

    This third-century eyewitness account describes the martyrdom of Felicity, an enslaved woman, and her companions.

    Felicity, who had been with child when she was arrested, was sorrowful as the day of the games drew near, fearing lest for this cause she should be kept back (for it is not lawful for women that are with child to be brought forth for torment) and lest she should shed her holy and innocent blood after the rest, among strangers and malefactors. Also her fellow martyrs were much afflicted lest they should leave behind them so good a friend. Wherefore with united groaning they poured out their prayer to the Lord, three days before the games. Immediately after their prayer her pains came upon her. And when because of the natural difficulty of the eighth month she was oppressed with her travail and made complaint, one of the servants said to her: “You who complain now, what will you do when you are thrown to the beasts, which you scorned when you would not sacrifice?” She answered, “I now suffer what I suffer myself, but there another shall be within me who will suffer for me, because I am to suffer for him.” So she was delivered of a daughter, whom a sister brought up as her own.

    Now dawned the day of their victory, and they went forth from the prison into the amphitheater as it were into heaven, cheerful and bright of countenance; if they trembled at all, it was for joy, not for fear. Felicity, rejoicing that she had borne a child in safety, that she might fight with the beasts, came now from blood to blood, from the midwife to the gladiator, to wash after her travail in a second baptism.

    Adapted from The Passion of Perpetua and Felicity, trans. W. H. Shewring (1931).

    a red pillar against an aqua and purple background

    Andreas Felger, Credo VI: Suffered under Pontius Pilate, oil on canvas, 2011. All images used by permission.

    Anselm of Canterbury

    Saint Anselm (ca. 1033–1109) was a Benedictine monk, Christian philosopher, and scholar.

    My Lord and my Creator,
    you bear with me and nourish me—
    be my helper.
    I sigh for you, I covet you:
    I am like an orphan deprived of the presence
    of a very kind father,
    who, weeping and wailing,
    does not cease to cling to the dear face
    with his whole heart.
    So, as much as I can,
    though not as much as I ought,
    I am mindful of your passion,
    your buffeting, your scourging, your cross,
    your wounds,
    how you were slain for me,
    how prepared for burial and buried;
    and also I remember your glorious Resurrection,
    and wonderful Ascension.
    All this I hold with unwavering faith,
    and weep over the hardship of exile,
    hoping in the sole consolation of your coming,
    ardently longing for the glorious contemplation
    of your face.

    Saint Anselm, “Prayer to Christ,” from Second Letter to the Countess Mathilda, trans. Benedicta Ward.

    a red mark on a black column against a purple background

    Andreas Felger, Credo VII: Crucified, oil on canvas, 2011

    Julian of Norwich

    The fourteenth-century anchorite recounts receiving a vision in which Jesus explains to her why he suffered the Passion.

    Then said our good Lord Jesus Christ: Art thou well pleased that I suffered for thee? I said: Yea, good Lord, I thank Thee; Yea, good Lord, blessed mayst Thou be. Then said Jesus, our kind Lord: If thou art pleased, I am pleased: it is a joy, a bliss, an endless satisfying to me that ever suffered I Passion for thee; and if I might suffer more, I would suffer more. …

    And in these words: If that I might suffer more, I would suffer more – I saw in truth that as often as He might die, so often He would, and love should never let Him have rest till He had done it. And I beheld with great diligence for to learn how often He would die if He might. And verily the number passed mine understanding and my wits so far that my reason might not, nor could, comprehend it. And when He had thus oft died, or should, yet He would set it at nought, for love: for all seemeth Him but little in regard of His love. …

    Beholding in this blessed Passion the love that made Him to suffer passeth as far all His pains as Heaven is above Earth. For the pains was a noble, worshipful deed done in a time by the working of love: but Love was without beginning, is, and shall be without ending. For which love He said full sweetly these words: If I might suffer more, I would suffer more. He said not, If it were needful to suffer more: for though it were not needful, if He might suffer more, He would.

    Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, trans. Grace Warrack (Methuen & Company, 1901), 47–49.

    brown and black abstract painting

    Andreas Felger, Credo VIII: And Buried, oil on canvas, 2011

    Martin Luther

    The great sixteenth-century Reformer imagines Christ speaking to a disciple about what it means to follow him.

    Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend – it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own comprehension, and I will help you to comprehend even as I do. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours.

    Thus Abraham went forth from his father, and not knowing whither he went. He trusted himself to my knowledge and cared not for his own, and thus he took the right road and came to his journey’s end. Behold, that is the way of the cross. You cannot find it in yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Wherefore, it is not you, no man, no living creature, but I myself who instruct you by my word and Spirit in the way you should go. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is clean contrary to all that you choose or contrive or desire – that is the road you must take. To that I call you and in that you must be my disciple. If you do that, there is the acceptable time, and there your master is come.

    Martin Luther, as quoted in Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (Touchstone, 1995), 93.

    painting of a stairway

    Andreas Felger, Credo IX: Descended into the Realm of Death, oil on canvas, 2011

    J. Heinrich Arnold

    In his classic work on discipleship, the Bruderhof pastor (1913–1982) describes the via amara, “the bitter way.”

    Dying with Christ does not mean being extinguished. But it does mean pouring out our innermost being before him, bringing our sins to the cross, and becoming one with him who died for us.

    When a grain of wheat is laid in the earth, it dies. It no longer remains a grain, but through death it brings forth fruit. This is the way of true Christianity. It is the way Jesus went when he died on the cross for each of us. If we want our lives to be fruits of Christ’s death on the cross, we cannot remain individual grains. We must be ready to die too.

    Have Christ before you in everything so that you are able to die for him! Long to come nearer to him. Live in one spirit – in service to him – so that the grace of God may always be with you. Then, even when the day comes that your blood must be shed for him, you will be joyful. It will be nothing but victory!

    Jesus says that if we love him and fulfill his commandments, he will love us and disclose himself to us. This is not a question of a theology or a teaching but a question of life, of receiving Jesus as a real person, as the Son of Man who wants to love us and reveal himself to us. When we dwell in Jesus, he will dwell in us, and we can say like Paul the Apostle, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

    J. Heinrich Arnold, Discipleship (Plough, 1994), 247.

    abstract painting of Jesus ascension into Heaven

    Andreas Felger, Credo XI: Ascended into Heaven, oil on canvas, 2011

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