St. Augustine famously said of Jesus on the cross: “Victor quia victima!” which means “victor because victim.” On the cross, Jesus turns the ancient thinking of battle on its head. Usually in war, the defeated is the victim and the executioner is the victor. But as the victim on the cross, Jesus became the victor over the enemies of sin, death and the devil. St. Paul points out this amazing reversal:
Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” —1 Corinthians 15:54-55
Then in Hebrews 2:14-15, St. Paul describes the divine combination of Christ’s being victim and victor this way:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
The interesting thing to me is that while both concepts of victor and victim are present in the person of Jesus Christ, the Church over the years has tended to emphasize one more than another.
In general, Christ the Victim was the dominant motif in the Church in the last forty years or so, which exhibited itself in various ways: through music, through artwork, through liturgy. The language of sermons in general spoke more often of the blood of Christ, the pain and suffering he endured. I think of the fact that we sang songs like “The Lamb,” “Striken, Smitten and Afflicted,” and “The Old, Rugged Cross” more often 10 to 20 years ago than we do now.
The concept of Christ the Victor is becoming more and more prominent in the Church today. Our music emphasizes more and more the glory of heaven, Christ seated on the throne above, and the trampling of sin, death and the devil through the resurrection. I notice that songs like “He Reigns,” “Resurrection Song,” and “Because He Lives (Amen)” are sung more frequently in my church these days.
What does this mean for us as church-goers? It is something to be aware of in our worship environment. But it is also something we need to consider more deeply in our personal reflections on Christ. Our prayers, our emphasis, our reflections on Scripture should be focused on both Christ the victim and Christ the victor, because both are necessary and both are important. We cannot have Easter without Good Friday and vice versa. And in the end we know that we ourselves are no longer victims of sin, death and the devil, be we are forever victors because of Christ, who died and was raised.