For you non-Latin speakers, that means “Oh, happy guilt”; a staple of medieval theology still celebrated in the Holy Saturday liturgy of the Catholic Church. This should, however, not be confused with the issue Paul dealt with in Romans 5 & 6, where he insists that the guilt occasioned by the law largely served to increase trespass, making it more evident – more definable. “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,…” Romans 5:20
Yet, to head off human nature, which always seeks the easy way out or an excuse for bad behavior, he denied that grace’s increase in the face of sin excused consistent, persistent, willful misbehavior. Asking, “What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin;…” in Christ. Romans 6:1,2 In reiterating his point, he asks again, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” Again, emphatically exclaining, “By no means!” (or Absolutely not!)
O Felix culpa simply means that, in a mysterious, somewhat incomprehensible way, we are better off now than before what some early theologians called Adam’s “Fortunate Fall.” But how could that be?! Simply put, the end of God’s story – redemption – achieves a superior state for us than was achieved even at creation; if not fully realized yet. Which is a hard concept to grasp. Wasn’t everything perfect in the Garden? Not for long. Sin entering the world as a result of God allowing our ancestors – and us – the freedom to choose between Him and His way and disobedience to His will by choosing our own way. St. Augustine insisting that the final result, redemption from and through sin, proves worth the cost to us and God. As, “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil at all.”1 (A similar principle expressed in Romans 8:28)
For Christians, the focal point of all history is Jesus; as the creative word at creation, later – in the flesh – revealing God in his fullness. (John1:1-14) “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,…” Colossians 2:9 Jesus being, “…the exact representation of (God’s) being.” Hebrews 1:13 Beyond that, early Christian writers spoke of Jesus as the recapitulation – a summary or brief statement – of the human condition, leaving the splendor of heaven to be born of a peasant woman in a manger, raised by her in poverty alongside her hard-working yet peasant husband, experiencing hunger, tiredness, illness, temptation – without succumbing to it. Growing to manhood, finding a place in God’s plan of things and submitting himself to God’s will – taking on our sin, being the sacrifice with which that sin could be considered paid in full – dying, rising again to reign in heaven once more with God. The creation story summed up as: The world was/is good. God pronounced it so at the end of each day of creation. Later, even in its fallen state, he judged the world – and us – worth the effort to rescue; worth dying for.
And yet, the world is fallen. Still, God promises to do away with its suffering, poverty, evil and death. The means of his doing so, however, involved his participation in suffering, poverty, evil and death. He doesn’t exclude these hardships from our free – and sometimes dangerous existence – which we often bring on ourselves. But neither did he shield himself from those afflictions, which he doesn’t condone or cause; suffering alongside us, showing us they can be overcome. Deliberately, Jesus chose to submit himself to the worst the world had to offer to bring out the best in and for us.
The world can be redeemed. That was the point of the incarnation, Jesus’ appearance on earth; God’s intervention in the affairs of man. In the height of irony, God transformed the ultimate evil into the ultimate good, working through violence and hatred to accomplish our redemption. Paul declaring that God – through Jesus – had “…disarmed the powers and authorities, (making) a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Colossians 2:15 2
Which is why, to this day, we refer to the day Jesus was crucified as Good Friday. Peter referencing Isaiah 53 when he wrote how, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree… by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24 Isaiah more graphically prophesying hundreds of years before the fact that, “…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Is. 53:5,6
But the law that led to the necessity of such a sacrifice was only, “…a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves.” Hebrews 10:1 How could the Law, which consistently and persistently reminded all who tried to keep it how consistently and persistently they failed to do so, demanding a penalty of varying degrees for the breaking of even a part of it (See James 2:10 & Hebrews 9:22), be considered good? By highlighting the shortfall, it reoriented the penitent believer to recognize their need, seek forgiveness from their sin and walk in a new way. Romans 3:20 The Law inevitably pointing to Jesus, who no longer needs to offer sacrifice repeatedly for sin as he did so “once for all” on the cross of Calvary. (Hebrews 7:27)
As a result, we have the assurance that, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” Hebrews 9:27,28
1From, The Book of Catholic Quotations, Farrar, Straus & Cudahy
2From, Reaching For The Invisible God, by Philip Yancey, Zondervan Publishing
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