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Chapter VIII from
The Sermon-Conferences of St. Thomas Aquinas
On the Apostles' Creed
Translated from the Leonine Edition and edited and introduced by
Nicholas Ayo, C.S.C.
Copyright 1988 by University of Notre Dame Press, All Rights Reserved.
Used with the permission of The University of Notre Dame Press.
On the third day he rose again from the dead.

Humanity must come to know two things, namely the glory of God and the pains of hell. Enticed through glory and frightened through pain, humankind becomes careful and draws back from sin. These things, however, remain extremely difficult to come to know. Thus Proverbs says about the glory [of God]: “[And with difficulty we search out the things that are on earth, and what is in sight we discover with effort.] Who will investigate the things that are in heaven?” (Prov. [Wis. 9:16]). And such investigation is indeed difficult for the earthly minded, because “The one who is of the earth, [belongs to the earth,] and speaks of the earth” [John 3:31]. But such investigation is not heavy for the spiritually minded, because “The one that comes from heaven [is above all things]” and so forth [John 3:31]. The Lord therefore descended from heaven and was enfleshed that he might teach us about heavenly things.

It remains also difficult to know the pains of hell: “There is no one known [to have come back from hell]” and so forth (Wis. [2:1]). And this is spoken in the voice of the wicked. But this no longer can be said, because just as Christ descended from heaven to teach us about heaven, so he rose from the dead to teach us about hell. Therefore we must believe that a human being not only is born and dies, but also that he or she rises from the dead. Thus it is said [in the creed]:
“On the third day he rose from the dead.”

We find, however, that many people rose from the dead, such as Lazarus, the son of the widow, and the daughter of the synagogue ruler. The resurrection of Christ differs from the resurrection of those and others in four ways.

(1) The cause of the resurrection differs. Others who rose [from the dead], did not rise by their own strength, but either by Christ’s or by the prayers of some saint. But Christ rose by his own strength, because he was not only human but also God. His divinity was never separated from either his soul or his body. And therefore his body, when he wished, took up again his soul, and his soul, [when he wished,] took up again his body: [“No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down by myself,] and I have the power to lay down my life, [and the power to take it up again]” and so forth (John [10:18]). Although Christ was dead, the reason was not exhaustion nor constraint, but rather strength, because [he died] by choice. This is clear, because “when he sent forth his spirit, he cried out with a loud voice” [Mt. 27:50]. Those others [the two thieves on either side] who were dying were not able to do so, because they died from exhaustion. Thus the centurion said: “Truly this man was the Son of God” [Mt. 27:54].

Just as Christ lay down his life by his own strength, so he took it up again by his own strength. Therefore it is said that “he rose,” and not that he was resuscitated by another: “I slept [and I was overcome;] and I rose up, [because the Lord bore me up]” (Ps. [3:6]). Nor is this opposed to what Paul said in Romans 8: “God raised up this man Jesus, [of which we are all witnesses]” [Acts 2:32]. Indeed it is the Father who raised him up, and the Son who rose, because the Father and the Son share the same power.

(2) The life to which Christ rose differs, because Christ rose to a glorious and imperishable life: “As Christ rose from the dead [in the glory of the Father, so too we will walk in newness of life]” and so forth (Rom. 6:[4]). The others [who rose from the dead] came back to the same life as before, as is evident in the example of Lazarus and the rest.

(3) The power differs, because all rise up by virtue of the resurrection of Christ. Thus Matthew writes: [“And many tombs broke open,] and many of the bodies of the saints [who died rose up]” and so forth [27:52]. And “Christ rose from the dead, the first of those who have fallen asleep, because through a human being death [and through a human being resurrection from the dead]” and so forth [1 Cor. 15:20-21]. Yet, do see that Christ came into his glory through the passion: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer [and so enter into his glory?]” and so forth (Luke [24:26]), so that you might learn how we can enter into glory. “Through many tribulations [must we enter the kingdom of God]” and so forth (Acts [14:21]).

(4) The timing differs. The resurrection of all others is postponed until the end of the world, whereas Christ rose on the third day. The reason is that the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ was for our salvation. Therefore he wished to rise then so that our salvation might be brought about. If Christ had arisen immediately, there would be no credibility in his being dead. Similarly, if he much postponed his resurrection, the disciples would not have kept faith in him and no practical benefit would come from his passion: “What benefit from shedding my blood, [as long as I go down to corruption]” and so forth (Ps. [29:10]). Thus he rose on the third day, that we might believe he was dead and that his disciples might not lose faith.

From these considerations above we can harvest four insights for our own learning. (1) We might study how to rise up spiritually from the death of the soul that a human being suffers through sin and rise to the life of justice that is obtained through penitence. Paul says: “Rise, you who sleep; [rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you]” and so forth [Eph. 5:14]. This is the first resurrection: “Blessed [and holy] is the one who has part [in the first resurrection]” and so forth (Apoc. [20:6]).

(2) We might not postpone this rising until death, but [do it] quickly, because Christ rose on the third day: “Do not delay to be converted to the Lord [and do not put it off from day to day]” (Ecclus. [5:8]). [Do so now] because weighed down by infirmity you will not be able to think on the resurrection, or you also will lose part of all the good [merits and graces] that comes about in the church.

(3) We might rise to an incorruptible life, that is to say, that we might not die again. With such a premise we might not sin. “Knowing that Christ risen from the dead no longer [dies; death no further overwhelms him]” and so forth (Rom. [6:9]). And “similarly you also should consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive [to God, in Christ Jesus, our Lord]” and so forth (Rom. [6:11]).

(4) We might rise to a new and glorious life, that is to say, that we might avoid what were previously occasion and cause of sin and death: “Just as Christ rose from the dead by the glory of the Father, so also [will we walk] in newness of life” and so forth (Rom. [6:4]). This new life is a life of justice, which renews the soul and leads it on to the life of glory.

For which, [let us pray to the Lord] and so forth.