The Cross in the Cosmos – A Meditation on a Teaching by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

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The Wisdom Tradition of the Scriptures emphasizes that God speaks and is discerned in things He has made. Scripture says, The heavens declare the glory of God, the firmament (stars) shows forth his handiwork (Psalm 19:1). Indeed, when God spoke His Word, creation came forth.

And the Word that God spoke was the Logos, Jesus. Scripture says, Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made (Jn 1:3). It also says, For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).

It makes sense, then, that creation would reflect Jesus Christ and point to Him. For from Him and through Him all things are. And central to Christ is His Cross. So it also makes sense that we would find His Cross etched into the very heavens and earth.

As the Wisdom Tradition in the Scriptures (Wisdom, Sirach, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, etc.) teaches, the created world has a Logike (a kind of logic) based on the fact that God made it through His Logos (Word).

The New Testament takes this up and teaches that when God spoke creation into existence through His Word (Logos), His Logos set things forth and impressed them with a Logike (logic) that is discernible. We draw from this scriptural teaching, Natural Law. In effect, we can discern a logic of rationality to what God has made, and come to know of God and His will for us. Central to this Logike is the Cross.

Pope Benedict (as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote of the Cross that it is etched in the very cosmos. I want to present some excerpts from his teaching here, along with a few comments of my own. These are drawn from his work The Spirit of the Liturgy, which is now taken up in his Collected Works Volume XI: Theology of the Liturgy, pp 111-114. Enjoy this thrilling excursion into cosmology. As always, quotes from the book are in bold, black italics, while my remarks are in plain, red text.

The Fathers belonging to the Greek cultural world were … directly affected by another discovery. In the writings of Plato, they found the remarkable idea of a cross inscribed upon the cosmos. Plato took this from the Pythagorean tradition, which in its turn had a connection with the traditions of the ancient East.  [There are] the two great movements of the stars with which ancient astronomy was familiar: the ecliptic (the great circle in the heavens along which the sun appears to run its course) and the orbit of the earth. These two intersect and form together the Greek letter, Chi which is written in the form of a cross (like an X). The sign of the cross is inscribed on the whole cosmos.

In the video below, I have cued the footage to begin where this X, this cross, is observable. The video generally shows the dual X-like motion of the stars rotating at one angle:  while the earth turns at the other: /  We can see this easily in fast-forward motion. It is remarkable that the ancients (who knew and observed the heavens far better than the average person today) could perceive this dual motion at the slower pace of “real time.” 

St. Justin martyr … came across this platonic text and did not hesitate to link it with the doctrine of the Triune God and his action in salvation history in the person of Jesus Christ … The Cross of Golgotha is foreshadowed in the structure of the universe itself … The cosmos speaks to us of the cross, and the cross solves for us the enigma of the cosmos. It is the real key to all reality.

Quite stunning. The cross is the true crux, the intersection of God and creation. The downward thrust of man’s pride in the tall beam is intersected with the wide beam of God’s love in the outstretched arms of Christ on the Cross. Or, alternately, the downward action of Jesus’ descent from the realms of heavenly glory intersects with the world turning up and out toward God, who alone can save us. Here is the cosmos’ inclusion in the divine perichoresis, the movement of love in the Trinity, the dance of loving union. God descends and earth turns up and out in dance of love and unity, meeting at the intersection of the cosmic cross. This is the deeper and truer reality of what is going on. It is what St. Paul described when he said, 

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (Rom 8:19-22).

[This was] one of the fundamental ideas in patristic theology … that the crucified one is the very word of Almighty God, who penetrates our universe by an invisible presence. And for this reason he embraces the whole world in its breadth and length, height and depth. For through the Word of God all things are guided into order. And the son of God is crucified in them, since, in the form of the cross he is imprinted upon all things.

Jesus, the Word of God, orders all things, and through His cross imprinted on the cosmos, restores all things. We now, in our souls, are the first fruits, but one day all creation will be liberated. The great Cross in the sky announces this! 

The epistle to the Ephesians exhorts us to be rooted and grounded in love, so that, we “May have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:18 ff). There can be little doubt that this epistle emanating from the school of St. Paul is referring to the cosmic cross, and thereby taking up traditions about the cross-shaped tree of the world that holds everything together.

Indeed, like sturdy branches holding all the leaves and smaller branches together.

In his eschatological discourse, Jesus had announced that at the end of time “the sign of the Son of Man” would appear in the heavens (Matthew 24:30). The eye of faith is now able to recognize that this sign has been inscribed into the cosmos from the beginning, and thus see [our] faith in the crucified Redeemer confirmed by the cosmos.

Once again, the Cross is the key. It has always been there to see, but now in these last days, through faith, we can see it plainly. And in doing so, we can take up with all creation the hymn we have only lately learned, but the cosmos has always known and sung:

CRUX fidelis,
inter omnes
arbor una nobilis;
nulla talem silva profert,
flore, fronde, germine.
Dulce lignum, dulci clavo,
dulce pondus sustinens!
above all other,
one and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
none in fruit thy peers may be;
sweetest wood and sweetest iron!
Sweetest Weight is hung on thee!
Flecte ramos, arbor alta,
tensa laxa viscera,
et rigor lentescat ille,
quem dedit nativitas,
ut superni membra Regis
miti tendas stipite.
Lofty tree, bend down thy branches,
to embrace thy sacred load;
oh, relax the native tension
of that all too rigid wood;
gently, gently bear the members
of thy dying King and God.
Sola digna tu fuisti
ferre saeculi pretium,
atque portum praeparare
nauta mundo naufrago,
quem sacer cruor perunxit,
fusus Agni corpore.
Tree, which solely wast found worthy
the world’s Victim to sustain.
harbor from the raging tempest!
ark, that saved the world again!
Tree, with sacred blood anointed
of the Lamb for sinners slain.

Here’s the video showing the chiastic movement of the stars and earth. Note the double movement: the stars moving downward to the right and the earth turning slowly upward to the left. A few of the angles feature a moving camera, which obscures the result a bit, but you still get the point. (Sorry for the brief concert interruptions.) To experience the greatest effect, click on full screen; it is awesome that way!

4 Replies to “The Cross in the Cosmos – A Meditation on a Teaching by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger”

  1. Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ:

    4 As he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity.

    5 Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will:

    6 Unto the praise of the glory of his grace, in which he hath graced us in his beloved son.

    7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins, according to the riches of his grace,

    8 Which hath superabounded in us in all wisdom and prudence,

    9 That he might make known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in him,

    10 In the dispensation of the fulness of times, to re-establish all things in Christ, that are in heaven and on earth, in him.

  2. Before my days as a psychologist I did graduate work in the history of science, with particular focus on astronomy. There is a very inspiring video “The Star of Bethlehem” by Rick Larson, evangelical Christian, attorney, turned amateur astronomer. It is well researched and inspiring, reinforcing Msgr Pope’s about how man can to some extent discern the providence of God through the heavenly motions. Larson gives a very interesting interpretation of Revelations, and how many of the references to the Virgin, Serpent, etc., also refer to astronomical phenomena.
    Here’s a low-quality version.
    Here’s the commercial version:

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