Freedom is for Worship

The setting is first century second Temple Judaism. It is hard to fully describe the worldview of second Temple Judaism because it was pluralistic. We know that there were many eschatological movements and it is safe to say that “eschatology” in that time meant a restoration of Israel and the cosmos under the one God. For example, the Qumran community believed that they were the true Israel which God would vindicate. In the end, there will be a battle between good and evil, those who walk the ways of righteousness and those who walk in the ways of Belial, the ways of darkness, and God will destroy darkness, “destroy it forever” (1QS ch.4). Those who followed evil were not simply the Romans, but the Jews associated with the Temple. The Temple, they believed, was plagued by Hellenistic influences which they saw as evil.

This anti-Hellenistic mentality is also seen in the Book of Jubilees (which is also found in the Dead Sea Scrolls) where even the angels in heaven have the Torah, that which distinguishes Israel from others. The earth reflects heaven and since the angels in heaven worship and follow the Torah, so too the people on earth must do the same (15:28-30). Doing the works of the law is what distinguishes the Jew from the Gentile, those who have false gods. For example, after retelling the story of the fall of Adam and Eve, it says, “[I]t is prescribed on the heavenly tablets as touching all those who know the judgment of the law, that they should cover their shame, and should not uncover themselves as the Gentiles uncover themselves” (3:31-32). Following the Torah is what made Jews righteous in the sight of God and others unrighteous in His sight. They believed that those who follow the Torah properly will be vindicated by God. N.T. Wright in summarizing second temple Judaism says, “Many if not most second-Temple Jews, then, hoped for the new exodus, seen as the final return from exile. The story would reach its climax; the great battle would be fought; Israel would truly ‘return’ to her land, saved and free; YHWH would return to Zion” (Jesus and the Victory of God, Fortress Press 1996, pg. 203). Wright is probably right that many believed that they were in exile. What kind of exile they were in is tougher to pin-point. Some may argue that they believed they were still under the Assyrian exile (B. Pitre). Whatever exile they thought they were in, the fact is that they were unable to do something appropriate. It was a lack of freedom to adhere and act the way they were supposed to. Freedom, then, was never thought of as doing as one pleases, but doing what one ought to do. The Qumran community thought that they were not free because the Jews in the Temple have corrupted and violated the Torah.

Of course we cannot limit first century Judaism to these texts alone. Nonetheless, these two tell us an important point which, I believe, has been neglected in some studies, which is, eschatological hope is hope for proper worship. This is implicit in every eschatological movement. Jews wanted to be free from Roman oppression because they believed that the Romans were idolaters. The Qumran community separated themselves from the Temple because they believed that the priests and other Jews there have fallen away from the covenant of God and have followed the ways of darkness, not that of God; their worship is meaningless. Jews then wanted Yahweh to liberate them from oppressors, oppressors who worship other gods. This too is reflected in the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. We read that the woman said, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem” (Jn. 4:20). Here we see a struggle between people on proper worship. One says that proper worship is done on the mountain Gerizim and the other says that it is done in Jerusalem. And Christ answers, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him” (Jn. 4:23).


“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.” This is nothing new. The history of Yahweh and man can be summarized as man struggling to give proper love and worship to his God. We can understand the myth of Eden as God proposing man His love and man failing to respond properly. Such is a tragedy beyond all tragedy: love rejected. It is, in the truest sense of the word, ugly because man outside of love becomes a caricature of himself. In order for man to love God properly, he must denounce other idols, denounce those which seem to fulfill his desires but in reality cannot (the tree of knowledge). St. Maximus the Confessor said, “For he [Adam] had to make a free decision whether ‘to cling to the Lord and become one spirit with him’ or ‘to cling to a harlot and to become one body with her’ (1 Cor. 6:16f.)—the latter of which, in his blindness, he chose” (Centuries of Knowledge I, 13, quoted in Hans Urs von Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to Maximus the Confessor, Ignatius Press 2003, pg. 182). This is something which should disgust all of us, that the all-loving God would be rejected by man for his own pleasure. Such a rejection can only be repaired by forgiveness. God need not have to forgive man. He has absolute infinite freedom. There is nothing that He owes to man. Man has value only insofar as his source of value sustains it. Yet, God does act. St. Athanasius said,

So then, men having thus become brutalized, and demoniacal deceit thus clouding every place, and hiding the knowledge of the true God, what was God to do? To keep still silence at so great a thing, and suffer men to be led astray by demons and not to know God? And what was the use of man having been originally made in God’s image? For it had been better for him to have been made simply like a brute animal, than, once made rational, for him to live the life of the brutes. Or where was any necessity at all for his receiving the idea of God to begin with? For if he be not fit to receive it even now, it were better it had not been given him at first. Or what profit to God Who has made them, or what glory to Him could it be, if men, made by Him, do not worship Him, but think that others are their makers? For God thus proves to have made these for others instead of for Himself. (On the Incarnation of the Word ch. 13)

God would not allow men to keep up with their idolatry, to fail to worship Him properly. We can see that there is a correspondence in salvation and proper worship. God saves us so that we can adore Him. “Let my son [Israel] go, that he may serve me” (Ex. 4:23). We see this clearly in the instruction of the Passover, “Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, that place of slavery. It was with a strong hand that the LORD brought you away…For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and the seventh day shall also be a festival to the LORD. Only unleavened bread may be eaten during the seven days; no leaven and nothing leavened may be found in all your territory. On this day you shall explain to your son, ‘This is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt’” (Ex. 13:3,6-8). This notion of remembering is important for salvation history. Forgetfulness of God’s redemptive love led Israel to become impatient and to sin. Even after being saved from the slavery of the Egyptians, they would rather be in slavery than to give the love and worship God demands of them (Ex. 14:11, Num. 14:2-3). Mindful of their forgetfulness, the Shema is commanded to be “drilled” to their children: “Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates” (Deut. 6:7-9). Of course we know that Israel would not be faithful to their part of the covenant. She would fall into idolatry, chasing after other gods, which is the same as adultery. It is the same sin Adam committed in Eden. And God would punish Israel as He punished Adam: “I will punish her for the days of the Baals, for whom she burnt incense While she decked herself out with her rings and her jewels, and, in going after her lovers, forgot me, says the LORD” (Hos. 2:15). Punishment, however, is not annihilation. It is a means to turn back to God:

“Therefore, I will hedge in her way with thorns and erect a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. If she runs after her lovers, she shall not overtake them; if she looks for them she shall not find them. Then she shall say, ‘I will go back to my first husband, for it was better with me then than now.’ So I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart. From there I will give her the vineyards she had, and the valley of Achor as a door of hope. She shall respond there as in the days of her youth, when she came up from the land of Egypt. On that day, says the LORD, She shall call me ‘My husband,’ and never again ‘My baal.’ Then will I remove from her mouth the names of the Baals, so that they shall no longer be invoked. I will make a covenant for them on that day, with the beasts of the field, With the birds of the air, and with the things that crawl on the ground. Bow and sword and war I will destroy from the land, and I will let them take their rest in security. I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know [in the biblical sense!] the LORD…I will sow him for myself in the land, and I will have pity on Lo-ruhama. I will say to Lo-ammi, ‘You are my people,’ and he shall say, ‘My God!’” (Hos. 2:8-22,25).

That divine justice is divine mercy is also seen in this passage, “When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the farther they went from me, Sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols… How could I give you up, O Ephraim, or deliver you up, O Israel? How could I treat you as Admah, or make you like Zeboiim? My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. I will not give vent to my blazing anger, I will not destroy Ephraim again; For I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you; I will not let the flames consume you” (Hos. 11:1-2,8-9). Here we can get a glimpse of why God has been patient (longsuffering) with man. Although Israel has kept moving farther from Him, God is a father who saw Israel as His son. He remembered when Israel “was a child,” like a mother who never ceases to see her son, no matter how old he is, as her baby, and this overwhelms His heart and was moved with pity. Although man is wicked, He never stops waiting for His prodigal son to come home simply because he is His son, and for Him to stop waiting is contrary to His nature as a father.

Within this historical and theological background, we can get a glimpse of the Paschal Mystery. God, seeing that His people are in exile, is in harlotry, will save her so that she can become His bride. Man, ever since the fall, has fallen into the dominion of Satan, that is, idolatry. Satan’s main purpose is to drive God’s people away from Him, away from His love, away from submitting to His will. As foreseen by the Hosean passage above, God will not allow the harlot to remain a harlot, but God will make her to be what she was in the beginning, before the fall, pure and spotless. To do this He Himself will assume a human nature, orienting man to what is above. Man, ever since the beginning, has a natural desire for God but is oriented towards evil. This orientation comes from wanting to be like God without God, choosing the tree of knowledge rather than the tree of life. To St. Maximus the Confessor, the “tree of knowledge” refers to our senses which have “the criteria for telling bodily pleasure from pain; more precisely, they are the power of ensouled and sensitive bodies that gives them the ability to be attracted by pleasurable things and to avoid painful things” (Quaestiones ad Thalassium 43, Balthasar 183). The fall of man was seen as a disorder, a misuse of the powers of man. In explaining the Confessor’s theology of the fall, of man’s misuse of his powers, Balthasar said, “This comes to giving an intellectual nature sensible, temporal, transitory food to nourish its being and, so, to poison it at its root, to hand it over to death. For the opposite of what Adam hoped for was bound to happen: instead of the intellect assimilating the world of sense to itself, which could only have happened to God’s order and plan, the sensible realm took over the intellect” (pg. 184). Balthasar quotes St. Maximus,”The first man turned this capacity—I mean the mind’s natural longing for God—toward sensible things as soon as he was created, and so, from his first conscious moment on, an unnatural pleasure drew him toward sensible things, through the medium of his sense faculties” (Quaestiones ad Thalassium 61, pg. 188). Exile really started in Eden when man understood freedom as absolute autonomy from God.

Although man is oriented towards death, to sin, he still longs to be with God. It is this capacity that makes him different from other animals. Each animal has certain needs, but no animal has a need like that of man. Man has more needs than animals, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual. This need can be summarized as the need to love since all the faculties of man, the whole man, is required for self-giving. Love includes not just an act of the will and the intellect, but man’s affectivity. It is in this way that we can say that man longs to know God, that is, in the biblical sense of the word. Love is an integration of these faculties to its own ends so that it can attain the End of man. The sensitive powers must be submitted to the intellect which in turn must itself be submitted to the Logos.

It would take the Logos Himself to submit the whole world to Himself. St. Athanasius beautifully said:For men’s mind having finally fallen to things of sense, the Word disguised Himself by appearing in a body, that He might, as Man, transfer men to Himself, and centre their senses on Himself, and, men seeing Him thenceforth as Man, persuade them by the works He did that He is not Man only, but also God, and the Word and Wisdom of the true God. (On the Incarnation of the Word ch. 16)

St. Thomas Aquinas said, “For the first man sinned by seeking knowledge, as is plain from the words of the serpent, promising to man the knowledge of good and evil. Hence it was fitting that by the Word of true knowledge man might be led back to God, having wandered from God through an inordinate thirst for knowledge” (ST III q. 3 a. 8). Christ, then, was sent to the world so that He can know the Father. In knowing God, man can, in the Holy Spirit, know the Father. Again, it is important that the type of knowledge we are speaking of is biblical knowledge, that is, marital intimacy. As St. Athanasius said, “…the Word was made flesh in order to offer up this body for all, and that we partaking of His Spirit, might be deified, a gift which we could not otherwise have gained than by His clothing Himself in our created body, for hence we derive our name of ‘men of God’ and ‘men in Christ’ (De Decretis 14). Deification is what man longs for and we can say that it was also the longing of the Jews in Christ’s time. They had long for the Presence of God, the presence which tells them that God has not abandoned them but has kept His promise of not letting Israel stay in harlotry.

Within the context above, we can understand the author of the Hebrews better,

“For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering. He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them ‘brothers,’ saying: ‘I will proclaim your name to my brothers, in the midst of the assembly I will praise you’; and again: ‘I will put my trust in him’; and again: ‘Behold, I and the children God has given me.’ Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life… therefore, he had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:10-15,17).

We are not trying to get away from the Anselmian theory of atonement, but simply trying to put it in a different picture, that is, the obedience of Christ undoing the idolatry man and responding with espousal love to God. Christ represents Israel, and by his blood, has delivered Israel from sinful and adulterous oppression. His blood will wash her robe and make it white (Rev. 7:14) so that He and the Father can dwell in her (Jn. 14:23). God is not pleased with man in exile and harlotry. He is not pleased with men in disunity. Here we understand God’s punishment coinciding with man’s autonomy. Christ came in to this world to appease God’s anger, God’s unpleasant disposition towards man in disunity.

We can see this clearly when we take into recognition what baptism is. St. Paul tells us that we who are baptized are baptized into the death of Christ (Rom 6:3). In the early church, those who were preparing for baptism were advised to turn away from the harlotry and evil of sin and turn towards God. It is Christ’s passion applied in the world, the exodus from sin to the presence of God. This has been pointed out by Jean Danielou in his marvelous book The Bible and the Liturgy (University of Notre Dame Press 1956). He quotes St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “If your wedding day were approaching, would you not leave everything else and devote yourself entire to preparing for the feast? You are about to consecrate your soul to her heavenly Bridegroom. Should you not leave these material things in order to gain the spiritual?” (pg.23). We have already talked about the material and spiritual, the intellectual and sensitive distinctions. Here we note that baptism is a consecration of one’s soul to Christ. And Christ does the baptizing, the consecrating (Heb. 2:11). Consecrating to Christ requires renouncing, as Christ did and Adam did not, Satan and evil. Danielou quotes Cyril again, “You first entered into the vestibule of the baptistery, and, while you stood and faced West, you were told to stretch out your hand. Then you renounced Satan as if he were present, saying, ‘I renounce you, Satan, and all your pomp and all your worship’” (Mystagogic Catecheses XXXIII, pg. 26). Facing East, then, is turning away from Satan and looking to God and back to the Paradise, the place we have fallen away from. It is a turning back to our origin by looking forward to eternity. St. Maximus says, “In looking for his end, man meets his origin, which essentially stands at the same point as his end…For we should not seek our origin, as I have said, as something that lies behind us; rather we should seek out ways toward the goal that lies before us. It is through his end that man comes to know his lost origin, once he has realized that he must not look for his origin to find his end” (Quaestiones ad Thalassium 59, Balthasar pgs. 187-188. Compare this with the doctrine of epektasis of Gregory of Nyssa). We also see these words from St. Cyril of Jerusalem to the catechumens, “Already the perfume of blessedness is wafted to you, O catechumens. Already you gather spiritual flowers to weave heavenly crowns. Already the sweet perfume of the Holy Spirit is poured out. You are in the vestibule of the royal dwelling. May you be led into it by the king. From henceforth, indeed, the flowers have appeared to the trees. Now the fruit must ripen.” (Procatechesis XXXIII, Danielou pg. 193). Cyril, like many Fathers, have applied the Canticle of Canticles to Christian initiation. Danielou says, “From the fact that the Canticle is the prophecy of the eschatological marriage of the Messias and the New Israel, we are right in seeing it realized in the Christian sacraments, in which the perpetual marriage of Christ and the Church is carried out” (pg. 205).

We read from the early hymn of the Church that Christ, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God” (Phil. 2:6). This refers to the Incarnation, that God sent His Son to the world to free man. God became man, that is, the Son “left the Father” so that He can cling to His wife: “That is why a man leaves his father…and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body. The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame” (Gen. 2:24,25). Like St. John Chrysostom, to say that the “Son left the Father,” does not mean that the Son lost His divinity. Rather, it refers to the Incarnation (Homily 20 on Ephesians). The kenosis of God must be seen in light of the Genesis passage of man leaving his parents in order that he can cling to a wife. But this wife of his, man, is a harlot. Because man had sinned against God, sin has become a property of man. Every man is enslaved to it. The Son, Jesus Christ, did not come to this world with a Cross. Man had given it to him. By assuming a human nature, Christ, in some mysterious way, took sin. “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Sin became a “property” of Jesus Christ, who did not commit any sin or was stained with original sin. He possessed the sin of the whole world. In a sense, as Hans Urs von Balthsar put it, the cross is the incarnation of sin. Christ carried His cross, sin incarnated, the cross man gave to Him, all the way to Calvary so that He can restore mankind. He ate with sinners, touch sinners, and will save only sinners. On the Cross, we can see what troubled men, especially philosophers and theologians in the past. On the Cross, we see the coexistence of good and evil. Sin and evil, as Dietrich von Hildebrand pointed out, is not simply a privation of goodness or a turning away from God, but wages war on God. Only within this context can we really understand Christ’s cry to the Father, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Lk. 22:42). He wanted to remove His “cup,” that is, becoming sin because by becoming sin, he is “waging war” against His Father (on Gethsemane as a trial of hope, cf. Fr. Antonio Lopez’s “On Restlessness”). We can see this notion of “waging war” clearly in the image of the crucifixion. Here on the Cross, God was rejected, spat upon, beaten, humiliated, and put to death. There is no greater image of what sin is. It is man’s response to God ever since the beginning. Yet, we do not see God’s wrath. The Father’s silence is revelation that He has taken away His wrath, but rather opens his arms to the prodigal son. Christ asks the Father to forgive the sins of world: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:24). With this cry, we can be sure that the God’s words are true, “My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. I will not give vent to my blazing anger” (Hos. 2). In a sense, we see that the overwhelmed heart of God is “struggling,” that is, in the Crucified heart of Christ, we see a battle between good and evil. Satan is laughing (“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself”) while Christ is crying: “Have pity on me, LORD, for I am weak; heal me, LORD, for my bones are trembling” (Ps. 6:3). Christ’s cry overcomes the laughter of those who look down upon the lowly: “The LORD has heard my weeping. The LORD has heard my prayer; the LORD takes up my plea” (Ps. 6:9-10). On the Cross, Christ draws all men to himself (Jn. 12:32) and because the Father sees His Son’s obedience, He did not “give vent” to His “blazing anger.”

“Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Lk. 22:42) says Christ. Here, he unties the knot of disobedience. Christ’s sensitivity leads him to say “remove this cup from me,” but his obedience leads him to say “thine, be done.” In submitting his human will to the divine will, he has healed the disordered love of man that existed ever since his fall. In so doing, man can know love God properly. On the Cross, proper worship has been accomplished where both of Christ’s intellectual and sensitive powers are oriented towards God. Christ embraced death so that man can embrace God. The pierced heart of Christ is the circumcised heart God demanded, that heart which has no barrier (foreskin), a heart that is totally open. It is the heart that is free of idolatry and sin. It is a heart that cannot be destroyed, for, on the third day, he rose again. Here the whole history of human race has been embraced. In the Risen Christ, we can see the face of God, the face which knows no impatience, the glorious face which is forgiving. Only when we encounter this forgiving love can we be able to worship God properly. True adoration of God requires that man is able to love again. It is this forgiveness which makes him love again. In the Risen Christ, we get to see what true adoration is: union with God. Adoratio (to kiss, to embrace) is a gift from God which in our part must make our own. The Risen Christ has embraced us and we must unveil ourselves so that we can consume his flesh. The promise of God from Hosea is realized, “I will say to Lo-ammi, ‘You are my people,’ and he shall say, ‘My God!’”Christ has impregnated in our souls a love, the Holy Spirit, which orients us towards our Father above: “Abba! Father!” To see the Risen face of Christ is to see his love, that is, to remember what he has done. Only when we join ourselves to Him, proclaim his death and joyfully sing to his glory can we truly know Him.

One Response

  1. “Exile really started in Eden when man understood freedom as absolute autonomy from God.”

    Is that the main thrust of this post? Thanks for such a rich meditation.

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