A drama between the mysterium iniquitatis and the mysterium amoris

[1] Matthias Scheeben, a German theologian of romanticism (1835-1888), describes mystery as something secret, concealed from us, including things unknown to man; however, though the object of the mystery may be occult, it remains perceivable either partly or entirely; and for this reason, the mystery of sin is perceivable through the mysterium amoris; it is a defect, an absence of divine justice, non-existence of divine goodness in contrast with the fullness of God's being (i.e. divine love); sin is the absence of God's love which should be there but not there. Lent is a season that portrays a drama between the mysterium iniquitatis and mysterium amoris in the event of the mysterium paschalis, indeed, Christ is the mysterium (cf., CCC 512-570) in whom the drama once took place. The incomprehensibility of the graspable reality constitutes the mystery.

[2] Mysterium amoris as a pre-requisite. The CCC understands sin as failure in an offensive manner against God and neighbor in the context of charity (CCC 1849-1851), truth, and beauty of God in man that affects his sense of good and beauty; philosophically speaking, sin in itself cannot be apart from charity because it is a deprivation, an evil; the subtitle mysterium iniquitatis is a figurative sense; it is the lack of justice of God in man; and the depth of sin could be grasped only in the depth of God's love and mercy. The entire period of Lent unfolds the depth of God’s love and mercy at the same time it shows the extent of man’s iniquity.

[3] Ash Wednesday: creatio ex nihilo. One of the formulas of ash imposition during Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are dust, and into dust, we will return. It reminds us that we are creatures ex nihilo (from nothing). However, God created man into someone (Gen 1:27) and elevated him to sonship.

[4] We are elevated into adopted sons (cf., Rm 8:14-17) through the mysteries of the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery (amor incarnationis et amor paschalis). Yet being filii in Filio does not eliminate the “nihilo” in man. Man tends to cling to “nihilo” (creature) believing that it will make him into somebody as the serpent deceived the woman, saying: “You will become like God.” Instead, the greatness of man is by remaining obedient to God. Nothingness is in the DNA of man. He feels the nothingness (the nihilo) in his daily experience of self-emptiness. The sense of ex nihilo (emptiness) demands for an infinite fulfillment. In this desire comes the opportunity of the devil by alluring man to become like God in ungodly way – the disobedience.

[5] First Sunday of Lent: Our temptations in the temptations of Jesus. However, Jesus shows to man that he truly becomes human by fidelity to God’s word. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). The love of Jesus to the Father heightens the contrast between the mystery of sin and the mystery of God’s love, a theme of the first Sunday of Lent. Our first parents did not listen to God but to a creature (the serpent), a nihilo. He who comes from nothing listened to something who also came from nothing. On the other hand, the eternal Word remained faithful and did not allow himself to be gulfed in by an ex nihilo. Thanks be to Christ who stands by man’s side to be victorious against any temptation through, with, and in Christ.

[6] Second Sunday of Lent: The transfiguring glory of the Lord’s love. The mystery of God's love is life-giving. In contrast, with the mystery of sin that brings death to man (cf., 2 Tim 1:8b-10). The mystery of God's love is beyond human logic. It is the sovereign divine goodness that overflows itself freely into creation. In this is rooted the freedom of man wherein it finds its meaning and finality only in the mysterium amoris Dei. The transfiguration is the vision of the fulness of God’s love, glorious and life-giving, The mystery of sin is powerless afore the transfiguration. The motive of transfiguration is the love of God to his children who will face the scandal of the cross. Transfiguration is a glorious epiphany of mysterium amoris Dei against the horror of the cross as the highest expression of mysterium iniquitatis. Man realizes that the splendor of man (splendor hominis) is in the divine splendor (splendor divinitatis). However, there is no shortcut to God’s glory except through the mysterium crucis. The mystery of the cross is always connected to the glorious mystery and vice-versa.

[7] Third Sunday of Lent: “It was noon.” The time setting of John 4:6: "It was noon," suggests the glory of God’s love in Jesus as the noonday Sun that illuminates the Samaritan woman, standing before the radiant sun. The mystery of the woman's sin came before the shining light of Christ (4:17-18): He brings the light of faith to the woman and to the rest of the town people of Samaria; the presence of the mystery of God's love is a light that drives away the iniquity of disbelief; the transfiguring image of Christ continues shining on men and women.

[8] Fourth Sunday of Lent: He saw and believed Him. Man's blindness represents the mystery of iniquity hindering to see God's beauty and goodnessin creation: Jesus' touch restored the blind man's sense of sight into two dimensions: namely physical and spiritual. The Light (Jesus) from the fourth Sunday of Lent touches and shines forth on the blind man. The first dimension describes Jesus' touching man's eyes with the smeared clay reminds the reader of Genesis 2:7 about the creation of man from dust. Jesus’ restoration of man’s sight is a recreation of the blind man into a new man coming from darkness he turned into light. The second dimension is the fullness of the gift of sight: man came to believe then worshipped Christ. The mystery of iniquity (darkness) in the blind man has been overcome by the mystery of divine love (belief and worship). The blind person experienced in himself the drama between the two mysteries where the love of God is triumphant.

[9] The fifth Sunday: the foretaste of life everlasting. The raising of Lazaro compliments the transfiguration of Jesus (2nd Sunday). The mysterium iniquitatis overpowered Lazaro, and he died. Yet the mysterium amoris of Christ freed Lazarus from the grip of death. The calling back into the life of his friend testifies to the recreative power of the Word that reminds the reader about the answer of Jesus to the tempter: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Mt 4:4): the caller is the Word made flesh and truly God himself who commands, "Lazarus come out" (Jn 11:43) coming from the mouth of God that gives life. Lazarus lives again and he experiences in himself the drama between the mysterium iniquitatis through death and the mysterium amoris through coming to life again.

[10] Conclusion. The mysterium iniquitatis, as I have mentioned above, is a deprivation, non-existence of good that is supposed to be there: absence of life in Lazarus (5th Sunday), the lack of sight to the blind man (4th Sunday), the absence of faith in a Samaritan woman (3rd Sunday), the absence of the refulgent glory in Jesus (2nd Sunday), the paradoxical non-show of power of the Son of God (1st Sunday). The mystery of iniquity stands opposed to the fullness of dantis mysterium amoris (a giving mystery of love): receiving a new life (5th Sunday), receiving the sight and faith (4th Sunday), finding her faith (3rd Sunday), revealing his glory (2nd Sunday), manifesting his power of filial fidelity to the Father (1st Sunday).

The coming Easter Triduum is an intense drama of antithesis between the mysterium iniquitatis and the mysterium paschalis in the Son of God, the Word-made-Flesh as the fulfillment of the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah (cf., 52:4-7) he took into himself our iniquities so that we may become witnesses of the mystery of God’s love.


Fra Alfonsus D. Panaligan, OFMConv., SThD
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