During a time of intolerance when even the children killed for righteousness and peace, Eros descended, wandering among his children of the flesh. They knew him not. Which is to say, they thought they were being very gracious to him, treating him like a god. They threw parties for him, pictured him in the newspapers, crowded him constantly, begged signatures and miracles. Eros, restore my sight. Eros, restore my youth. Touch me and I will be whole. Eros wearied of people, their noise and selfishness. They bruised his body, pushing to be near him. They gave him no rest or privacy. When a storm came at night, Eros took advantage of the confused darkness and fled to the mountains.
In the mountains, an abbey is named after a local saint. It is out of the way, so visitors are rare. It was with some excitement that the holy brothers admitted the young man. They longed to question him about himself and the outside world, but his obvious weariness and hunger prevented their inquiries. They brought him bread and wine and gave him a cell to sleep in.
That evening after Vespers there was much speculation concerning the visitor. Brother Alfonso claimed to recognize him.
“Impossible,” said the other brothers. “You’ve been in here thirty-some years, and our guest can scarcely be that old.”
“And yet,” said Brother Alfonso, “I have seen him.”
They joshed him for a while, but became silent when he suddenly fled the room. “We have been too hard on him,” they said. “We must go and apologize.” Just then he returned, carrying a book.
“See, here he is!” he exclaimed, showing them a picture.
“You’re imagining things,” said Brother Thomas. “That book is far older than any of us, or any man alive for that matter.”
“Exactly,” said Brother Alfonso. “He isn’t a man. Look at the caption.”
“Is it possible?” asked some of the brothers.
“It’s certain,” replied Brother Alfonso. “It’s an exact likeness.”
The brothers went to the stranger’s cell and compared the picture to their sleeping guest until they were finally convinced. Father John then spoke. “Many infidels and heretics have been put to death for the glory of the faith, but we have done nothing in this glorious cause because we are too far removed from where any infidel or heretic dwells. Now God has yielded into our hands not merely a pagan, but that very deity of the pagans by whom so very many have been led from the faith. Can there be any doubt as to what our course of action must be?”
They locked the cell in which Eros slept, and that night they stripped a yew of its branches and fastened a beam across it. The next morning, after Matins, they crucified Eros.
One of the brothers painted a picture to commemorate their victory. They hung the picture in the common room.
“This is one of the most interesting crucifixions of the period. It’s a perfect example of placing a Biblical scene in a contemporary setting: the landscape is that of the abbey in which the painting hangs; furthermore, all of the characters, except, of course, the Christ, are dressed as monks. The painter wished to express that it was the religious people who crucified Christ; or, perhaps, monks were the only people the painter had seen in years. Some view the painting as a symbolic criticism of rivalries inappropriate within a group supposedly dedicated to meditation and prayer. Are there any questions?”
“What’s the title of the painting, and who painted it?”
“Neither is certain,” the professor answered. “It was almost surely painted by one of the monks, though a few critics have assigned it to one or another outside artist. The monks refer to it as ‘The Crucifixion of Love,’ though outside the abbey it is generally known as ‘The Crucifixion of the Monks,’ or occasionally as ‘The Mountain Crucifixion,’ but these titles are probably all of recent origin. An early critic called it ‘Eros Is Crucified,’ a quote from a Christian martyr, but it is difficult to say why. Quite possibly the painter left it untitled, a practice not then uncommon, or called it simply ‘Crucifixion.’ ”
Marie knew of a barren old woman who had prayed to the picture for a baby and had given birth less than a year later, and she had heard many other stories of miracles. She had come to the abbey to pray for a husband, but as she knelt in front of the picture, something stopped her. “The Crucifixion of Love” the monks called it, and they were right. The central figure did look like the personification of love, even though bruised and bleeding — or perhaps because bruised and bleeding. Old catechism verses went through her mind. God so loved the world. Love not the world. God is love. God is Love. What had she come to pray for? An earthly husband. But here was Christ offering eternal love. She would accept. She would be His and His alone, for no other love could satisfy. Maybe she would join a convent. Maybe not. What did it matter? She was the bride of Christ.
Brother Pat had gone to talk to Father James. He was troubled, for he was one of the few who knew the story behind the painting. “Is it right to let these people worship an image of Eros as if it were of Christ? So we crucified Eros. Is he therefore our Lord and Savior?”
Father James was slow to answer. “It is no better to worship an image of Christ than an image of Eros,” he said, “for the worship of any image is idolatry. If it is Christ Himself we worship, what does it matter what image is in front of us? If we see Christ in a painting, isn’t He there, even though the painter himself did not know it? Our flesh is crucified with Christ, and Christ is present in all that is crucified. ‘In the name Messiah is implied the anointer and the anointed and the anointment.’ It is God who crucifies and is crucified and is the crucifixion, and it is He who resurrects and is resurrected and is the resurrection. Some who kneel here worship a painting, and we continue to pray for their salvation. Some worship Christ, and we rejoice with them. There are indeed millions who worship the flesh of Eros, but this is not where they worship. What then should we do about the painting? Let us be like the Apostle who knew nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and let us learn to say with the Saint, ‘This too is Thee. This too is not Thee.’ ”