STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Tenth Station — Jesus Christ Is Stripped Of His Garments, by Evelyn Underhill

From The Path of Eternal Wisdom, written under the pseudonym, John Cordelier

The Mysteries of the Eternal Wisdom Given into the Hands of His Foes

“They parted his garments amongst them” – visible creation, which is the vesture of God.  The scientist and the artist snatched their share.  The lover took the inner-most garment for himself.  But they left the Eternal Wisdom, whose veils these things had been – who, robed in them, had gladly shared the meanest life of men – to sacrifice himself for them alone: unloved by them.

It has been said that man shall not behold God in his nakedness, and live.  Even the manifestation of the Word was under the veil of the flesh.  The Uncreated Light reaches us – such a glimpse as we are able to bear – through the veil of beauty, the veil of nature, the veil of human love, the sacramental veil of bread and wine.  All these, according to our temperaments, we snatch at and part amongst ourselves: but what of the divine, suffering, self-giving Personality whom they clothe?

In the piteous exhibition of Calvary, that Personality was for once unveiled before the eyes of men.  That last and most horrible of all humiliations, that stripping off of the veils of privacy, which the very saints themselves have feared – this, too, the Godhead has endured for us that we might see.

This which is here shown us is the essence of the Eternal Wisdom, the secret dwelling at the heart of life: this is that Word “which is through all things everlastingly.”  Behind the vesture of nature and of art, behind religion, knowledge, beauty, love in its myriad forms – we are, in the last resort, to discern this.  Creative Chivalry, enduring to the utmost: wrung with agony, reduced to weakness in our interest: sparing itself nothing, if thereby our errant souls may have more light.

Perhaps we may see the deepest meaning of the incarnation as summed up for us, supremely, in this act: the Unsearchable and Absolute Godhead, that “aeterna veritas, vera caritas, et cara aeternitas,” [eternal truth, true love, and loved eternity (Confessions of Saint Augustine, vii. 10)], within whose thought we dwell stripped of his vestments and exhibited before the uncomprehending eyes of all his creatures, loving and loveless, evil and good alike.  The King is here, not in his glory, but in his nakedness.  “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him!” we are taught to say.  We think it difficult.  Yet our master has said of us, “Though they crucify me, yet will I show them all.”

At such a moment of utmost revelation, man might look to be blinded by some awful radiance “dark with excessive light”: might expect a supernal vision contradicting rather than fulfilling his partial experience and his wistful dreams.  But he sees instead a quiet and selfless acquiescence in the most odious accidents of sacrifice, high chivalry in circumstances of squalor, manliness conquering the weakness of the flesh.  He sees the piteous heroism of a painful folly: God man manifest, not in his ineffable glory, but in our helplessness and shame.

Here, then, we come face to face with the superb simplicity of the cross: its easy naturalness, its inclusion and exaltation of all the miseries and humiliations which dog our own heroic efforts, dim their beauty, tarnish their romance.  No aspect of life has escaped the glorifying touch of the Christian God.  He came that we might have life more abundantly.  Not a picked and chosen life: but a life that leaves no corner unexplored, a life that carries us triumphantly through death itself – even through death’s more terrible preliminaries.

As we came into the world, so we go forth: naked, stripped of all things save our humanity.  So, too, in the going forth of the soul to God, that return home which is the very object of the mystical quest; of man’s clambering of Calvary, his inward transmutation from the unreal to the real.  Here there is a summary and inevitable divorce between us and our possessions; all our veils and vestments, however close and intimate, however lovely they may be.  They are gone; and with them all our shams and self-hidings, all the polite draperies of life.  Men see us as we are when we mount the cross: over that bridge nothing but the naked personality can pass.  There is no place for the verb To Have in Heaven: it is annihilated by the verb To Be.

“By grace,” says the Bride, in the Fiery Soliloquy with God, “I have received, as it were, the power of presenting myself formless and naked before the face and presence of the eternal and immovable truth and changeless identity which is ever that which is.”

The grace which confers this awful gift was first exhibited on Calvary.  We who aspire to it must be prepared to leave all in its interest: every gracious garment of mind and body which we have woven from the substance of life.  This cruel unveiling, this utter destitution, is the very condition of our true freedom: the taking away of all the warm and intimate clothing in which we have wrapped our existence, all that protects us from the keen, sharp air of the real.  The vesture of things and of thoughts is ruthlessly torn away from us; even to the embroideries in which we delighted to dress our faith.  All is gone.  The soul is stripped of form and image.  The long lesson of detachment is made complete.

Nothing is left now but the essential manhood of us: the naked spirit, the energizing spark, face to face with the spiritual world.  Then, if ever, our divine sonship is disclosed, triumphant: nothing to hide it, nothing to help.  There is conferred on us a mysterious participation in that suffering body of Christ by whose eternal sacrifice we are nourished, and with which we are made one.

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