It is this “truth” of which the Divine Hero speaks at the time of the Passion which he had prophesied—as necessity and as his free choice. Before one of the jurisdictions by which he is rejected and condemned he declares: “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice.” He formally claimed before another the ritual titles of Son of God and Son of Man, and his future descent “in the clouds of heaven” and in the glory of heaven. But before then the earlier proclamation, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” has changed. It has become concentrated ; if the kingdom, then the moment of the arrival of the kingdom. The Gospels break into peremptory phrases: “My time is at hand,” “this night,” “this hour;’ an image of the hour absorbed into the Holy Thing is thrown up—”this cup;’ the hour arrives—”behold, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”
Around that moment the world of order and judgement, of Virgil and the Precursor, of Pharaoh and Cain, rushes up also. Its good and its evil are both concerned, for it cannot very well do other than it does do. The knowledge of good as evil has made the whole good evil to it; it has to reject the good in order to follow all that it can understand as good. When Caiaphas said that “it was good that one man should die for the people,” he laid down a principle which every government supports and must support. Nor, though Christ has denounced the government for its other sins, does he denounce either Caiaphas or Pilate for his own death. He answers the priest; he condescends to discussion with the Roman. Only to Herod he says nothing, for Herod desired neither the ecclesiastical nor the political good; he wanted only miracles to amuse him. The miracles of Christ are accidental, however efficient; the kingdom of heaven fulfils all earthly laws because it is concerned only with its own, and to try to use it for earth is to lose heaven and gain nothing for earth. It may be taken by violence but it cannot be compelled by violence; its Incarnation commanded that he should be awaited everywhere but his effectiveness demanded nowhere. Everything must be made ready and then he will do what he likes. This maxim, which is the condition of all prayer, has involved the Church in a metaphysic of prayer equivalent to “Heads, I win; tails, you lose.”
The three jurisdictions acted according to all they could understand of good: Caiaphas upon all he could know of the religious law, Pilate of the Virgilian equity, Herod of personal desire. The Messias answered them in that first word of the Cross which entreated pardon for them precisely on the ground of their ignorance: “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The knowledge of good and evil which man had desired is offered as the excuse for their false knowledge of good. But the offer brings their false knowledge into consciousness, and will no longer like the prophets blot it out. The new way of pardon is to be different from the old, for the evil is still to be known. It is known, in what follows, by the Thing that has come down from Heaven. He experiences a complete and utter deprivation of all knowledge of the good. The Church has never defined the Atonement. It has contented itself with saying that the Person of the kingdom there assumed into itself the utmost possible capacities of its own destruction and they could not destroy it. It separated itself from all good deliberately and (as it were) superfluously: “thinkest thou I cannot now pray to the Father and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” It could, it seems, still guiltlessly free itself, but it has made its own promise and will keep it. Its impotency is deliberate. it denies its self; it loses its life to save it; it saves others because it cannot, by its decisions, save itself. It remains still exclusive and inclusive; it excludes all consent to the knowledge of evil, but it includes the whole knowledge of evil without its own consent. It is “made sin,” in St. Paul’s phrase. The prophecy quoted concerning this paradox of redemption is “A bone of him shall not be broken,” and this is fulfilled; as if the frame of the universe remains entire, but its life is drawn out of it, as if the pattern of the glory remained exact but the glory itself were drawn away. The height of the process begins with the Agony in the Garden, which is often quoted for our encouragement; he shuddered and shrank. The shrinking is part of the necessity; he “must” lose power; he “must” know fear. He “must” be like the Adam in the garden of the myth, only where they fled from their fear into the trees he goes among the trees to find his fear; he is secluded into terror. The process reaches its height, after from the cross he has still asserted the pietas, the exchanged human responsibility, of men: “behold thy son, behold thy mother,” and after he has still declared the pure dogma of his nature, known now as hardly more than dogma: “today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” This is what he has chosen, and as his power leaves him he still chooses, to believe. He becomes, but for that belief, a state wholly abandoned.