Aquinas and Trent: Part 6Apr 10th, 2009 | By Bryan Cross | Category: Blog Posts, Featured Articles
What did Christ do for us through His Passion, according to Aquinas? Was it necessary that He suffer? How do we receive the salvific benefits of Christ’s Passion? Was His Passion sufficient? Does God hate sinners?
Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John the Evangelist
Ugolino di Nerio (1280 – 1349)
In the last three posts in this series we have considered the three effects of sin, according to Aquinas: corruption of man’s nature, stain in his soul, and the debt of eternal punishment. By these three effects man was cut off from his supernatural end, i.e. being united to God eternally in perfect happiness and love, in what is called the Beatific Vision. Here we turn to Aquinas’ understanding of Christ’s Passion, in redeeming us from sin and its effects, and opening for us the way to the Beatific Vision. In order to understand what Aquinas says about Christ’s Passion, we must first briefly consider what Aquinas says about man’s supernatural end and why grace is needed to attain that end.
Grace and The Beatific Vision
According to Aquinas, God made man with the ultimate purpose of giving to man what the tradition calls the “Beatific Vision,” that is, seeing the Divine Essence.1 Jesus told His disciples, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”2 The Beatific Vision is something the blessed in heaven now enjoy. Concerning the Beatific Vision, Aquinas writes, “The vision of the Divine Essence is granted to all the blessed by a partaking of the Divine light which is shed upon them from the fountain of the Word of God ….”3
According to Aquinas, the human intellect, apart from grace, cannot attain the Beatific Vision. The human intellect can of its own power attain an indirect knowledge of God, as knowledge of a cause can be determined from its effects. In this way we can, by the natural power of human reason, come to know that God exists, and that God is good, just, perfect, etc. But for Aquinas, the vision of the Divine Essence is natural only to God Himself. Attaining to the vision of the Divine Essence exceeds our natural capacities; no created nature is in itself proportional to the vision of the Divine Essence. This is why the vision of the Divine Essence is man’s supernatural end (finis supaturalis). We need a divine gift by which we may participate in the divine nature, and so enjoy the vision of the Divine Essence. This divine gift, by which our nature is elevated and made proportionate to the divine nature, so that we can have the vision of the Divine Essence, is sanctifying grace.4 If grace were merely “divine favor” in the sense of God looking upon us in a favorable manner, we could never enter heaven, because we could never see the Divine Essence.5 Since grace is necessary for man to enjoy the vision of God’s essence, we may now consider how, for Aquinas, the grace of salvation comes to man through Christ’s Passion and Death.
Was the Passion Necessary?
According to Aquinas, because God is omnipotent, He could have saved man without sending Christ to die for us. Aquinas writes, “God of His omnipotent power could have restored human nature in many other ways.”6 This would not have been contrary to justice, as Aquinas explains:
But if He had willed to free man from sin without any satisfaction, He would not have acted against justice. For a judge, while preserving justice, cannot pardon fault without penalty, if he must visit fault committed against another–for instance, against another man, or against the State, or any Prince in higher authority. But God has no one higher than Himself, for He is the sovereign and common good of the whole universe. Consequently, if He forgive sin, which has the formality of fault in that it is committed against Himself, He wrongs no one: just as anyone else, overlooking a personal trespass, without satisfaction, acts mercifully and not unjustly. And so David exclaimed when he sought mercy: “To Thee only have I sinned” (Psalm 50:6), as if to say: “Thou canst pardon me without injustice.”7
By satisfaction [satisfactione] Aquinas is referring to a voluntary reparation for an offense. Even if Christ had not come, God could have forgiven our debt of punishment, and this would not have been a violation of justice because our debt is precisely to God. A human judge, by contrast, cannot simply forgive the injustice of a criminal without violating justice. That is because the crime committed by the criminal was not against the judge, but against someone or something else. But if a debt is owed only to one man, then this man can freely discharge the debt, without any violation of justice. Man’s debt of [eternal] punishment was owed to God alone, and therefore without any injustice God can forgive this sin even without satisfaction.
Yet there was no more fitting way to save us than through Christ’s Passion, because Christ’s Passion most perfectly demonstrates to us God’s glory, His love, the evil of sin, human dignity, and the perfect example of loving obedience to the Father. Not only that, it also delivers us from sin and merits for us justifying grace and the glory of bliss.8 It was more fitting for Christ to suffer, because Christ’s Passion demonstrates both God’s mercy and His justice:
That man should be delivered by Christ’s Passion was in keeping with both His mercy and His justice. With His justice, because by His Passion Christ made satisfaction for the sin of the human race; and so man was set free by Christ’s justice: and with His mercy, for since man of himself could not satisfy for the sin of all human nature ….9
Through Christ’s Passion, He made satisfaction for the sin of the whole human race. Christ freely suffered humiliation, pain, injustice and even death, out of loving obedience to the Father. This sacrifice of Himself out of love for His Father made reparation for all the sin of the human race, and thereby was in keeping with the order of justice. Likewise, by sending His Son to make such satisfaction for our sins, the Father showed His mercy, because we could not make satisfaction for our sins. So although strictly speaking it was not necessary for Christ to suffer in order to save mankind, yet in another sense it was necessary for Christ to suffer, in order most perfectly to demonstrate to mankind God’s mercy and justice.
Four Ways in Which Christ’s Passion Brought About Our Salvation
According to Aquinas, Christ, from the first instant of His conception, had the fullness of sanctifying grace.10 Not only that, but from the first moment of His conception was the Head of the Church.11 All the graces that come into the Church come from Christ the Head of the Body.12 Aquinas presents four ways in which Christ’s Passion brought about our salvation.
First, Aquinas says that Christ’s Passion brought about our salvation by way of merit.
As stated above (7, 1,9; 8, 1,5), grace was bestowed upon Christ, not only as an individual, but inasmuch as He is the Head of the Church, so that it might overflow into His members; and therefore Christ’s works are referred to Himself and to His members in the same way as the works of any other man in a state of grace are referred to himself. But it is evident that whosoever suffers for justice’s sake, provided that he be in a state of grace, merits his salvation thereby, according to Matthew 5:10: “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’s sake.” Consequently Christ by His Passion merited salvation, not only for Himself, but likewise for all His members.13
Christ had grace in His soul from the first instant of His conception. Otherwise, Christ would have been in a state of original sin.14 But in that first instant of His conception Christ received grace not only as an individual man, but also as the Head of the Church, so that this grace might overflow into His members, i.e. all those who are joined to His Body, the Church. Insofar as we are joined to Christ as members of His Body, the works of Christ the Head of the Body are referred not only to the Head but to all the members of His Body, because this Body is one Body. Furthermore, if anyone in a state of grace suffers for justice’s sake, that person merits blessedness (i.e. the vision of God). Therefore, since Christ was in a state of grace, and Christ suffered for justice’s sake, it follows that Christ merited the Beatific Vision, even though He already had it.15 Hence, since Christ merited the Beatific Vision, and since those who are joined to Him as members of His Body share in His merits, it follows that Christ merited the Beatific Vision for us, and thus that He merited salvation for us.
Aquinas explains the notion of merit elsewhere, writing:
Merit implies a certain equality of justice: hence the Apostle says (Romans 4:4): “Now to him that worketh, the reward is reckoned according to debt.” But when anyone by reason of his unjust will ascribes to himself something beyond his due, it is only just that he be deprived of something else which is his due; thus, “when a man steals a sheep he shall pay back four” (Exodus 22:1). And he is said to deserve it, inasmuch as his unjust will is chastised thereby. So likewise when any man through his just will has stripped himself of what he ought to have, he deserves that something further be granted to him as the reward of his just will. And hence it is written (Luke 14:11): “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”16
Merit is based on justice, according to which reward is due for every obedient act, and punishment is due for every disobedient act, to chastise the unjust will. Aquinas notes that the precept of the Old Law required that the theft be paid back fourfold.17 Aquinas then proceeds to show the four respects in which Christ humbled Himself, thereby paying fourfold for the [extrinsic] glory man had stolen from God through disobedience.18
Second, according to Aquinas, Christ’s Passion brought about our salvation by way of satisfaction.
He properly atones for [satisfacit] an offense who offers something which the offended loves equally, or even more than he detested the offense. But by suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race. First of all, because of the exceeding charity from which He suffered; secondly, on account of the dignity of His life which He laid down in atonement, for it was the life of one who was God and man; thirdly, on account of the extent of the Passion, and the greatness of the grief endured, as stated above (Question 46, Article 6). And therefore Christ’s Passion was not only a sufficient but a superabundant atonement for the sins of the human race; according to 1 John 2:2: “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”19
Aquinas begins here by explaining the meaning of satisfaction. A person makes proper satisfaction for an offense by offering to the offended something that the offended person loves equally or even more than he detested the offense. By giving Himself over to suffering, in love and obedience for the Father, Christ offered to the Father something that the Father loves far more than He detests all the sins of the human race. Why was Christ’s gift so greatly loved by the Father? Because of the greatness of the charity out of which Christ suffered, the great dignity of what He laid down in love for the Father, and the immensity of the grief He endured, which was far greater interiorly than all His bodily suffering.20 How do we benefit from Christ’s satisfaction? Aquinas writes:
The head and members are as one mystic person; and therefore Christ’s satisfaction belongs to all the faithful as being His members.21
Here again, Aquinas explains that we benefit from Christ’s satisfaction by being joined to Him as members of His Body, the Church, of which He is the Head. Through being joined to Him, we become, as it were, one mystic person [quasi una persona mystica]. Just as what belongs to the hand also belongs to the foot or the ear, so what belongs to Christ the Head belongs also to the rest of His Body. And therefore the satisfaction that He offered to the Father belongs also to all the faithful, because we are members of His Body.
Third, according to Aquinas, Christ’s Passion brought about our salvation by way of sacrifice.
The Apostle says (Ephesians 5:2): “He delivered Himself up for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness.” A sacrifice properly so called is something done for that honor which is properly due to God, in order to appease Him: and hence it is that Augustine says (De Civ. Dei x): “A true sacrifice is every good work done in order that we may cling to God in holy fellowship, yet referred to that consummation of happiness wherein we can be truly blessed.” But, as is added in the same place, “Christ offered Himself up for us in the Passion”: and this voluntary enduring of the Passion was most acceptable to God, as coming from charity. Therefore it is manifest that Christ’s Passion was a true sacrifice.22
A sacrifice [sacrificium], says Aquinas, is something done for the honor that is properly due to God, in order to appease Him. This falls under the virtue of religion, which itself falls under the virtue of justice, i.e. giving to each its due.23 But not only does sacrifice fall under the precepts of the natural law, various kinds of sacrifice were also required by the ceremonial precepts of the Old Law.24 These sacrifices, according to Aquinas, directed the minds of the worshipers to God as the source and end of all things. But they also foreshadowed Christ, the chief and perfect sacrifice.25 How does sacrifice differ from satisfaction? Satisfaction can be made by sacrifice, but satisfaction presupposes an offense, whereas sacrifice does not. Sacrifice is what is due to God as God, and only to God. Satisfaction, on the other hand, can be made to any offended party, not only to God.26
Fourth, according to Aquinas, Christ’s Passion brought about our salvation by way of redemption.
Man was held captive on account of sin in two ways: first of all, by the bondage of sin, because (John 8:34): “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin”; and (2 Peter 2:19): “By whom a man is overcome, of the same also he is the slave.” Since, then, the devil had overcome man by inducing him to sin, man was subject to the devil’s bondage. Secondly, as to the debt of punishment, to the payment of which man was held fast by God’s justice: and this, too, is a kind of bondage, since it savors of bondage for a man to suffer what he does not wish, just as it is the free man’s condition to apply himself to what he wills.
Since, then, Christ’s Passion was a sufficient and a superabundant atonement [satisfactio] for the sin and the debt of the human race, it was as a price at the cost of which we were freed from both obligations. For the atonement [satisfactio] by which one satisfies for self or another is called the price, by which he ransoms himself or someone else from sin and its penalty, according to Daniel 4:24: “Redeem thou thy sins with alms.” Now Christ made satisfaction, not by giving money or anything of the sort, but by bestowing what was of greatest price–Himself–for us. And therefore Christ’s Passion is called our redemption.27
Aquinas explains the two ways in which man was held captive on account of sin. In the first way, man was held captive by sin and Satan. By sinning, we make ourselves prone to sin, susceptible to its temptation, less willing to resist it firmly and consistently. Through mortal sin we make ourselves incapable of repenting, unless God provides grace. In this way, by submitting ourselves to sin we make ourselves slaves to it. Furthermore, says Aquinas, in succumbing to Satan’s temptation, we likewise subject ourselves to Satan’s bondage. We put ourselves under the devil by consenting to him.28 The second way that man was held captive on account of sin was by the debt of punishment, which he could not pay.
According to Aquinas, Christ by His Passion redeemed us from both obligations. That is because the satisfaction by which one satisfies is the price by which one one ransoms from sin and its penalty. Since Christ made satisfaction by giving to God what was of maximum worth, namely, Himself, for us, therefore in doing so Christ paid a price that ransomed us both from our bondage to sin and our debt of punishment.
Aquinas sums up the four ways in which Christ’s Passion brought salvation to us, writing:
Christ’s Passion, according as it is compared with His Godhead, operates in an efficient manner: but in so far as it is compared with the will of Christ’s soul it acts in a meritorious manner: considered as being within Christ’s very flesh, it acts by way of satisfaction, inasmuch as we are liberated by it from the debt of punishment; while inasmuch as we are freed from the servitude of guilt, it acts by way of redemption: but in so far as we are reconciled with God it acts by way of sacrifice ….”29
On account of the will of Christ’s soul, His Passion acts by way of merit. On account of the flesh of Christ’s body, His Passion acts by way of satisfaction (inasmuch as by it we are liberated from the debt of punishment), by way of redemption (inasmuch as it frees us from the servitude of guilt [servitute culpae]), and by way of sacrifice (inasmuch as by it we are reconciled to God).
Four Effects of Christ’s Passion
One effect of Christ’s Passion is the forgiveness of our sins. Aquinas writes:
Christ’s Passion is the proper cause of the forgiveness of sins [remissionis peccatorum] in three ways. First of all, by way of exciting our charity [provocantis ad caritatem], because, as the Apostle says (Romans 5:8): “God commendeth His charity towards us: because when as yet we were sinners, according to the time, Christ died for us.” But it is by charity that we procure pardon of our sins, according to Luke 7:47: “Many sins are forgiven her because she hath loved much.” Secondly, Christ’s Passion causes forgiveness of sins by way of redemption [redemptionis]. For since He is our head, then, by the Passion which He endured from love and obedience, He delivered us as His members from our sins, as by the price of His Passion: in the same way as if a man by the good industry of his hands were to redeem himself from a sin committed with his feet. For, just as the natural body is one though made up of diverse members, so the whole Church, Christ’s mystic body, is reckoned as one person with its head, which is Christ. Thirdly, by way of efficiency [efficientiae], inasmuch as Christ’s flesh, wherein He endured the Passion, is the instrument of the Godhead, so that His sufferings and actions operate with Divine power for expelling sin.30
Christ’s Passion causes the forgiveness of our sins in three ways or modes. First, by provoking us to charity. Through His divine demonstration of charity in the Passion, charity is communicated to us and provoked within us. And our sins are forgiven when we love God, because our will is turned back to God in friendship, away from that which we had wrongly loved more than we loved God. Second, as explained above, Christ’s Passion causes the forgiveness of our sins by way of redemption. Since Christ by His Passion offered to His Father such a great gift, therefore since He is the Head and we are the members of His Body, therefore by incorporation into His Body (and only by incorporation into His Body) we participate in what He obtained. Aquinas uses the example of a man who by the good work of his hands was able to redeem himself from a sin committed with his feet. Thirdly, Christ’s Passion causes the forgiveness of our sins in the mode of efficient cause. By this he means that Christ’s flesh, as the instrument of the Godhead, has within it the divine virtue (power) to drive out all evils through His actions and sufferings in His Passion.
Another effect of Christ’s Passion is deliverance from the debt of punishment. Aquinas writes:
Through Christ’s Passion we have been delivered from the debt of punishment in two ways. First of all, directly–namely, inasmuch as Christ’s Passion was sufficient and superabundant satisfaction for the sins of the whole human race: but when sufficient satisfaction has been paid, then the debt of punishment is abolished. In another way–indirectly, that is to say–in so far as Christ’s Passion is the cause of the forgiveness of sin, upon which the debt of punishment rests.31
This short paragraph provides a helpful distinction between the debt of punishment [reatus poenae] and the forgiveness of sins [remissionis peccati]. Christ’s Passion delivers us from the debt of punishment both directly and indirectly. It directly delivers us from the debt of punishment in that through His Passion Christ made superabundant satisfaction [superabundans satisfactio] for the sins of the whole human race, and thereby paid our debt, inasmuch as we are joined to Him as members of His Mystical Body. Christ’s Passion indirectly delivers us from the debt of punishment insofar as it is the cause of the forgiveness of sin [remissionis peccati], on which the debt of punishment is founded. The forgiveness of sin is not merely the payment of our debt of punishment. The debt of eternal punishment is continually caused by the privation of original justice in the will, by which the will is made subject to God. Therefore, in order to remove the debt of punishment, not only must the debt be paid, but the continuing cause of the debt must be remedied. So Christ’s Passion is the cause of the forgiveness of sins, by the gift of grace, whereby our will is again made subject to God in love. We receive this gift of grace by being united to Him as our Head, from whom flow all graces to us as members of His Body.
Another effect of Christ’s Passion is that we are reconciled to God. Aquinas writes:
Christ’s Passion is in two ways the cause of our reconciliation to God. In the first way, inasmuch as it takes away sin by which men became God’s enemies, according to Wisdom 14:9: “To God the wicked and his wickedness are hateful alike”; and Psalm 5:7: “Thou hatest all the workers of iniquity.” In another way, inasmuch as it is a most acceptable sacrifice to God. Now it is the proper effect of sacrifice to appease God: just as man likewise overlooks an offense committed against him on account of some pleasing act of homage shown him. Hence it is written (1 Samuel 26:19): “If the Lord stir thee up against me, let Him accept of sacrifice.” And in like fashion Christ’s voluntary suffering was such a good act that, because of its being found in human nature, God was appeased for every offense of the human race with regard to those who are made one with the crucified Christ in the aforesaid manner (1, ad 4).32
Here Aquinas explains that Christ’s Passion is the cause of our reconciliation to God in two ways. First, Christ’s Passion takes away sin [removet peccatum] by which men are put at enmity with God. Sin is not a stuff or substance. Sin is a privation of the due order in acts, or in the disposition of the will, such that we are turned against God and against the order of Divine justice. One way that Christ removes sin is by turning our heart (i.e. our will) back to the Father in love, such that we are no longer enemies of God, but are reconciled to Him as friends, even sons. The second way in which Christ reconciles us to God is by making perfect satisfaction, in His human nature, to the Father. The debt of punishment that was due to the human race for every offense is thereby canceled, insofar as we are “made one with the crucified Christ”. I will discuss below the way in which we are made one with Christ.
Another effect of Christ’s Passion is that the gate of heaven is opened to us. Aquinas writes:
The shutting of the gate is the obstacle which hinders men from entering in. But it is on account of sin that men were prevented from entering into the heavenly kingdom, since, according to Isaiah 35:8: “It shall be called the holy way, and the unclean shall not pass over it.” Now there is a twofold sin which prevents men from entering into the kingdom of heaven. The first is common to the whole race, for it is our first parents’ sin, and by that sin heaven’s entrance is closed to man. Hence we read in Genesis 3:24 that after our first parents’ sin God “placed . . . cherubim and a flaming sword, turning every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” The other is the personal sin of each one of us, committed by our personal act.
Now by Christ’s Passion we have been delivered not only from the common sin of the whole human race, both as to its guilt and as to the debt of punishment, for which He paid the penalty on our behalf; but, furthermore, from the personal sins of individuals, who share in His Passion by faith and charity and the sacraments of faith. Consequently, then the gate of heaven’s kingdom is thrown open to us through Christ’s Passion. This is precisely what the Apostle says (Hebrews 9:11-12): “Christ being come a high-priest of the good things to come . . . by His own blood entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption.”33
When God sent man out of Eden, He placed a cherubim and a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life [ligni vitae]. According to Aquinas, on account of man’s sin, the gate to heaven was thereby closed. This gate being closed to us was due not only to original sin, common to all mankind descended from Adam, but also to all actual sins committed by each person. By Christ’s Passion we have been delivered from original sin both as to its guilt [culpam] and as to its debt of punishment [reatum poenae]. Here again by the guilt [culpam] of original sin, Aquinas is referring to the privation of original justice in the will, whereby the will was made subject to God. When man receives grace, through union with the crucified Christ, this privation in the will is removed. And likewise by union with Christ the debt of punishment for original sin is canceled. Furthermore, by Christ’s Passion, we have been delivered from the guilt and debt of punishment for our personal sins. Therefore, through Christ’s Passion the gate of heaven has been thrown open to us.
Some people claim that God the Father hated sinners, on account of their sin, and therefore that God the Father unleashed this stored-up wrath upon Christ, temporarily damning Christ on our behalf. But that is not how Aquinas understands Christ’s salvific work. God the Father and Christ the Son are one in their Divine nature, and therefore one in their single Divine will. It is not as though the Father hated us while Christ the Son loved us. Aquinas says, “Christ as God delivered Himself up to death by the same will and action as that by which the Father delivered Him up….”34 Nor is it that the Son in His Divine nature hated us, but that the Son in His human nature loved us. The distinction, for Aquinas, is at a different level. He writes:
God loves all men as to their nature, which He Himself made; yet He hates them with respect to the crimes [culpam] they commit against Him, according to Sirach 12:3: “The Highest hateth sinners.”35
The three Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity eternally love all men in regard to man’s primary human nature [quantum ad naturam]. In other words, the Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity eternally love each and every human being on account of our human nature, which God Himself made in His own image. But the Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity hate [odit] sin, and therefore in regard to human opposition to God [quantum ad culpam], the Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity hate sinful man (i.e. man devoid of sanctifying grace and charity). So the Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity both love and hate sinful man, but in different respects. Yet their love for man is more fundamental than is their hate, because the nature of man is fundamental to man’s wickedness. Sinful man’s opposition to God is made possible by man’s rational nature. But this raises a question. If God has always loved man, even when man was turned against God, how then can Christ’s Passion be rightly said to reconcile man to God? Aquinas answers:
Christ is not said to have reconciled us with God, as if God had begun anew to love us, since it is written (Jeremiah 31:3): “I have loved thee with an everlasting love”; but because the source of hatred was taken away by Christ’s Passion, both through sin being washed away and through compensation being made in the shape of a more pleasing offering.36
The reconciliation of sinners with God through Christ’s Passion was not effected by a change in God, but by a change in man. His Passion removed the cause of hatred [odii causa] in two ways. Our sin was washed away [ablutionem peccati] by His blood; this washing we receive by being joined to Him in His Mystical Body. Furthermore, Christ completely and lovingly offered Himself in His human nature as a sacrifice to God the Father. By such a sacrifice, Christ in His human nature, stands in a highly favored and exalted position before the Father.37 Therefore, by being united with Christ as members of His Mystical Body, we are reconciled to God not because of a change in God, but because we are truly made one with Christ, with whom God is well-pleased.
Sufficiency and Union with Christ
If Christ through His Passion made satisfaction sufficient for the sins of every human being who has ever lived and will live, why then is not every human person saved? Aquinas writes:
It is certain that Christ came into this world not only to take away that sin which is handed on originally to posterity, but also in order to take away all sins subsequently added to it; not that all are taken away (and this is from men’s fault, inasmuch as they do not adhere to Christ, according to John 3:19: “The light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light”), but because He offered what was sufficient for blotting out all sins. Hence it is written (Romans 5:15-16): “But not as the offense, so also the gift . . . For judgment indeed was by one unto condemnation, but grace is of many offenses unto justification.”38
Here Aquinas explains that Christ came into this world to remove both original sin and all actual sins. Not all sins are removed, he says, because men do not adhere [non inhaerent] to Christ. They choose darkness rather than Christ the light who has come into the world. Christ offered Himself up to the Father on behalf of all men, but if men reject Christ, then they are not united to Christ, and so do not partake of the salvific benefits procured by Christ’s Passion. Only by union with Christ do we participate in the salvific benefits of His Passion. Aquinas writes:
Christ by His Passion delivered us from our sins causally–that is, by setting up the cause of our deliverance, from which cause all sins whatsoever, past, present, or to come, could be forgiven: just as if a doctor were to prepare a medicine by which all sicknesses can be cured even in future.
As stated above, since Christ’s Passion preceded, as a kind of universal cause of the forgiveness of sins [remissionis peccatorum], it needs to be applied to each individual for the cleansing [deletionem] of personal sins. Now this is done by baptism and penance and the other sacraments, which derive their power from Christ’s Passion, as shall be shown later (62, 5).39
Aquinas uses the example of a doctor who prepares a medicine by which all sicknesses, even future sicknesses, can be cured. Likewise, through Christ’s Passion, the remedy for all sin (past, present, and future) is provided. But this medicine needs to be applied to each sick person, in order to benefit the sick person. How is this medicine applied? By the sacraments of baptism and penance and the other sacraments, which have their power from Christ’s Passion [habent virtutem ex passione Christi].
When Aquinas is faced with the objection that if all men were freed from the punishment of sin by Christ’s Passion, no one would suffer eternal damnation in hell, he replies:
Christ’s Passion works its effect in them to whom it is applied, through faith and charity and the sacraments of faith. And, consequently, the lost in hell cannot avail themselves of its effects, since they are not united to Christ in the aforesaid manner.40
Here again he shows that Christ’s Passion works its effect in those to whom it is applied, by faith and charity and the sacraments of faith. But the lost in hell cannot be united to Christ by faith and the sacraments, and that is why Christ’s Passion does not free them from eternal punishment.
Aquinas then raises a similar objection. He observes that baptized persons who fall into mortal sin and then receive the sacrament of penance, are given some penance to do. According to the objection, this implies that Christ’s work was not sufficient to pay their debt of punishment, because no one whose debt is already paid should be made to pay anything additional. Aquinas then replies:
As stated above (1, ad 4,5), in order to secure the effects of Christ’s Passion, we must be likened unto Him. Now we are likened unto Him sacramentally in Baptism, according to Romans 6:4: “For we are buried together with Him by baptism into death.” Hence no punishment of satisfaction is imposed upon men at their baptism, since they are fully delivered by Christ’s satisfaction. But because, as it is written (1 Peter 3:18), “Christ died” but “once for our sins,” therefore a man cannot a second time be likened unto Christ’s death by the sacrament of Baptism. Hence it is necessary that those who sin after Baptism be likened unto Christ suffering by some form of punishment or suffering which they endure in their own person; yet, by the co-operation of Christ’s satisfaction, much lighter penalty suffices than one that is proportionate to the sin.41
Here Aquinas explains that in order to secure [consequamur] the effects of Christ’s Passion, it is necessary that we be configured [configurari] to Him. And we are configured to Him sacramentally in Baptism, because in Baptism we are buried together with Him into His death, as the Apostle Paul teaches. Therefore there is no punishment of satisfaction imposed on men at their baptism, because through Christ’s satisfaction, all the punishment for their sin until that time, is canceled by their union with Christ in baptism. But since Christ died but once for sins, therefore we cannot be configured to Him by being baptized again. So those who sin after baptism must be configured to Christ suffering, by some form of temporal punishment [poenalitatis] or suffering [passionis] which they themselves endure. Yet, explains Aquinas, by the cooperation of Christ’s satisfaction [cooperante satisfactione Christi], this penance that penitents must do is much lighter than is deserved for their [post-baptismal] sins. So for Aquinas the requirement of doing penance for post-baptismal sin is not due to Christ’s satisfaction being insufficient, but rather because since Christ died only once, we cannot be baptized again as a remedy for post-baptismal sins, and so must be configured to Him by sharing in His suffering.
Christ, by His Passion has supplied the remedy for all three of the effects of sin. He has paid the debt of punishment. He has procured for us the grace by which our will is made subject to God in charity, and in this way He has removed the corruption of our will, forgiven our sins, and washed away the stain of sin from our souls. We receive this remedy in the sacraments, and especially baptism as the gateway to the other sacraments. In baptism we are joined to Christ as members of His Body of which He is the Head and from whom all graces flow. Concerning Christ’s baptism by John, Aquinas writes:
[T]he entrance to the heavenly kingdom was opened to us by the baptism of Christ in a special manner, which entrance had been closed to the first man through sin. Hence, when Christ was baptized, the heavens were opened, to show that the way to heaven is open to the baptized.42
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.
- This should not be construed as implying that any creature can comprehend (i.e. fully or exhaustively understand) the Divine Essence. According to Aquinas, not even the soul of Christ comprehends the Divine Essence. See Summa Theologica III Q.10 a.1 [↩]
- St. Matthew 5:8 [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.10 a.4 co. [↩]
- This is why for Aquinas the Beatific Vision is man’s supernatural end. In saying that the Beatific Vision is man’s supernatural end, Aquinas is not simply saying that God is supernatural. He is saying that this end (i.e. the Beatific Vision) exceeds our natural capacities. It is beyond our nature, and in that sense it is supernatural. The Beatific Vision is also beyond the natural capacity of each angel. This is also why, for Aquinas, even the angels needed grace in order to enjoy the Beautific Vision, as I discussed here. [↩]
- See Summa Theologica I-II Q.110 a.1 in which Aquinas discusses the three senses of the term ‘grace’. [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.1 a.2 co. [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.46 a.2 ad 3 [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.46 a.3 co. [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.46 a.1 ad 3 [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.7 aa. 7, 9 [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.8 a.1 [↩]
- In fact, according to Aquinas, from the first moment of Christ’s conception He was the Head of all men, but not all in the same way.
Hence we must say that if we take the whole time of the world in general, Christ is the Head of all men, but diversely. For, first and principally, He is the Head of such as are united to Him by glory; secondly, of those who are actually united to Him by charity; thirdly, of those who are actually united to Him by faith; fourthly, of those who are united to Him merely in potentiality, which is not yet reduced to act, yet will be reduced to act according to Divine predestination; fifthly, of those who are united to Him in potentiality, which will never be reduced to act; such are those men existing in the world, who are not predestined, who, however, on their departure from this world, wholly cease to be members of Christ, as being no longer in potentiality to be united to Christ. Summa Theologica III Q.8 a.3
- ST III Q.48 a.1 co. [↩]
- See my discussion on original sin in Part 2 of this series. [↩]
- Aquinas writes:
Now the soul of Christ, since it is united to the Word in person, is more closely joined to the Word of God than any other creature. Hence it more fully receives the light in which God is seen by the Word Himself than any other creature. And therefore more perfectly than the rest of creatures it sees the First Truth itself, which is the Essence of God…. Summa Theologica III Q.10 a.4 co.
- Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.6 co. [↩]
- This is why Zaccheus told Jesus that he would pay back four times as much as he had defrauded. cf. St. Luke 19:8 [↩]
- cf. Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.6 [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.48 a.2 co. [↩]
- Aquinas writes:
Christ grieved not only over the loss of His own bodily life, but also over the sins of all others. And this grief in Christ surpassed all grief of every contrite heart, both because it flowed from a greater wisdom and charity, by which the pang of contrition is intensified, and because He grieved at the one time for all sins, according to Isaiah 53:4: “Surely He hath carried our sorrows.” Summa Theologica III Q.46 a.6 ad 4
- Summa Theologica III Q.48 a.2 ad 1 [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.48 a.3 co. [↩]
- See Summa Theologica II-II Q.85 a.1 co. [↩]
- Besides the ceremonial precepts of the Old Law, there were also the moral precepts and the judicial precepts. See Summa Theologica I-II Q.99 [↩]
Consequently the chief sacrifice is that whereby Christ Himself “delivered Himself . . . to God for an odor of sweetness” (Ephesians 5:2). And for this reason all the other sacrifices of the Old Law were offered up in order to foreshadow this one individual and paramount sacrifice–the imperfect forecasting the perfect. Hence the Apostle says (Hebrews 10:11) that the priest of the Old Law “often” offered “the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but” Christ offered “one sacrifice for sins, for ever.” And since the reason of the figure is taken from that which the figure represents, therefore the reasons of the figurative sacrifices of the Old Law should be taken from the true sacrifice of Christ. Summa Theologica I-II Q.102 a.3 co.
- For an excellent treatment of this subject see Matthew Levering’s Christ’s Fulfillment of Torah and Temple: Salvation According to Thomas Aquinas (University of Notre Dame Press, 2002). [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.48 a.4 [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.48 a.4 ad 2. Aquinas explains elsewhere [Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.2] that because man had sinned against God, God with justice left man under the devil’s power. [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.48 a.6 ad 3 [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.1 co. [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.3 co. [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.4 [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.5 co. [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.47 a.3 ad 2 [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.4 ad 1 [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.4 ad 2 [↩]
- Indeed, Christ in His human nature is seated at the right hand of the Father. [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.1 a.4 co. [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.1 ad 3,4 [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.3 ad 1. Two paragraphs later he writes, “Christ’s satisfaction works its effect in us inasmuch as we are incorporated with Him, as the members with their head….” Summa Theologica Q.49 a.3 ad 3 [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.3 ad 2 [↩]
- Summa Theologica III Q.39 a.5 co. [↩]