Multiple Meanings

Michael Metzger

Quantum Theory can widen how we imagine the cross of Christ.

Our modern age has forgotten how the ancients imagined the physical universe as an “image” of the invisible, or metaphysical universe. A star is more than a luminous ball of gas held together by its own gravity. According to Calcidius, the 4th-century philosopher and Christian, physics depicts metaphysical realities about God.[1] Hence, the ancients treated physics as a subdiscipline of theology. Physics reveals how the physical world functions. Theology reveals why it operates as it does, that is, what mysteries lie behind physics.

Which brings us to Quantum Theory. Physicists have discovered how an observed particle behaves very differently from one that is unobserved. An observed particle passed through a screen will always go through one hole. An unobserved (but mechanically monitored) particle will pass through multiple holes simultaneously. Pretty mysterious, but we see a similar effect when we observe scripture describing what happened on the cross. We unconsciously “screen” what we see, so the cross always goes through one meaning: payment for sin. But in contemplating scripture describing what happened on the cross, we don’t “screen,” and the event passes through multiple meanings simultaneously.

This is due to the difference between contemplation and observation. Contemplation is passive, not “screening” but opening our body to God, letting him reveal multiple meanings. Observation is active, observing a “text” to “figure out” what it means. The medieval world called this “an act of aggression” for observation “screens” from us from multiple meanings. In the case of the cross, it yields only one meaning: Jesus died for sin, redeeming us.

Jesus did redeem us on the cross. But wondrously beautiful things happened simultaneously to his blood being shed. For instance, Jesus married (betrothed) us. In Jewish tradition, a redeemer was a male relative responsible for caring for a deceased relative’s possessions, including the widow. He would pay off any debts, and if the widow was childless, the “kinsman” redeemer would marry her. This is the story of Boaz and Ruth. Contemplative traditions note the backdrop of this story: our Creator is our husband.

This is why Augustine taught that Christ “came to the marriage bed of the Cross… United himself with the woman [the Church], and consummated the union forever.” This occurred simultaneously with the blood and water pouring from Christ’s side, his “spiritual seminal fluid.” In contemplative traditions, this mystery “emerges” in scripture. It’s wondrous.

Consummating the union corresponds to Jesus tasting the sour wine on the cross at the moment of his death. Christ was tasting the fourth cup of the Last Supper (Jn.19:30). He then said: “It is finished.” What’s finished was Jesus, pouring out his blood and water—the same drink that he had given to his disciples to drink during the Last Supper—inviting his bride to the wedding feast (Rev.19:9). Here the Bridegroom and his Bride drink the fourth cup of the Last Supper, consummating their marriage. This doesn’t happen “in the future” for in eternity time doesn’t exist. Contemplatives recognize this happens simultaneously, which is why Jesus assures the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Contemplatives also note how Jesus is the “kinsman” redeemer. Kin refers to family. The cross of Christ depicts the family of God whose blood and water is thicker than our biological family’s blood. The church is the family of God. Mary is the Mother of the Church, a title bequeathed by Jesus as he was dying on the cross. He looked at his mother and said, “Woman, behold, your son.” And to John, “Behold your mother.” This is why Ambrose, the 4th century Bishop of Milan who converted and baptized Augustine, wrote that Mary is the Mother of Christ, and Christ is head of the Church, so Mary is the Mother of the Church.

I recognize this is a lot to take in. I close by asking you to contemplate a few things.

The single meaning of the cross (Jesus died for our sins) was first proposed by Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109). It’s a judicial, or forensic view of salvation. It got traction with Enlightenment thinkers. They assumed we can observe a thing for what it truly is, with no preconceived biases. But is this true, or do unconscious biases limit what we observe?

And if Jesus only came to save us from sin, his becoming flesh is Plan B, a mop-up operation after we messed up and fell into sin (Genesis 3). In the “marital” gospel, Jesus’ incarnation is Plan A. He was always coming to “marry” us, bringing us into a new family.

Furthermore, when the cross is only payment for sin, we know what we’re saved from (sin) but not what we’re saved for (marriage). All that God says should happen after we believe (discipleship, formation, disciplines, the Eucharist, church membership) becomes optional. If I’m saved and going to heaven, none are necessary. But all this and more is necessary in the “marital” gospel as they prepare us to be presented as a pure virgin to Jesus our husband.

As I said, a lot to take in. And there’s something else that happens simultaneous to Jesus’ death on the cross. But I’m hesitant to share it. It’s erotic. Many Christians imagine eros as pornographic. That’s telling, for Paul wrote, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted” (Titus 1:15). Next week I’ll describe this erotic event, but beforehand I ask a favor: contemplate whether you have a clear conscience. It might make next week’s column more palatable.

May God widen how we imagine the cross of Christ this week.


[1] Calcidius, On Plato’s Timaeus, 27c, as quoted in The Medieval Mind of C. S. Lewis: How Great Books Shaped a Great Mind (InterVarsity Academic, 2022), 28.


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  1. The marriage of Christ to the Church is definitely an poorly understood concept in Evangelicalism. I wonder if this is part of the reason why Christ told the Sadducees: “there is no marriage or giving in marriage” in heaven. We are all married, individually and corporately to Christ? There’s some stuff for contemplation.

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