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Chapter VI 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.
Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, was dead, and was buried.


Just as it is necessary that Christians believe in the incarnation of the Son of God, so they must believe in his passion and death.  As Gregory says: “Nothing was gained by being born unless we should have gained by being redeemed.”27  That Christ died for us remains so impenetrable that our intellect is scarcely able to comprehend it.  Indeed, in no way does it fall within our understanding.  And this is what Baruch says: “I will do a work in your days [a work which you will not believe, should anyone narrate it to you]” and so forth [Acts 13:41].28  So great is the favor and love of Christ for us, that he does more for us than we can comprehend.


Nevertheless, we need not believe that Christ so underwent death that the divinity would be dead, but rather that human nature in him would be dead.  He did not die insofar as he was God, but insofar as he was human.  And this is clear from two illustrations.


(1) Take us for example.  Let us grant that when a human being dies, the soul does not die in the separation of the soul from the body, but the flesh or the body itself dies.  Similarly, in the death of Christ the divinity does not die, but the human nature.


(2) If the Jews, however, did not kill the divinity, it would seem that they did no more sin than if they had killed any human being.  I would give this response.  Let us suppose some king were dressed in a single beautiful garment and someone were to dirty that garment.  That person would incur guilt proportionate to besmirching the king himself.  Although the Jews were not able to kill the divinity, nevertheless in killing the human nature assumed by Christ, they are punished as much as if they had killed the divinity.29


Similarly, as it is said, the Son of God is the Word of God.  And the Word of God has been enfleshed as the word of the king written on a paper.  If anyone were to tear up the paper of the king, it would be considered just as seriously had they torn up the word of the king.  Therefore the sin of the Jews is considered just as seriously had they killed the Word of God.


But, what was the necessity that the Son of God should suffer for us?  Great need.  And it can be reduced to necessity that is twofold.  (1) A remedy against sin, and (2) an example for behavior.  As for the “remedy,” through the passion of Christ we find a remedy against all the evils that we undergo because of sin.  We discover, however, five evils because of sin.


(1.1) Stain.  When human beings sin, they soil their own soul, because as virtue of the soul is its beauty, so sin is its defilement: “How is it, O Israel, that you are in the land of your enemies” and so forth; “that you grow old [in an alien land, that you are defiled with the dead,] that you are put among the dead [those going down into hell?]” and so forth (Bar. [3:10-11]).30  But the passion of Christ takes this away, for by his passion Christ makes a bath of his own blood, in which sinners are washed: “[And from Jesus Christ who is a faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the sovereign of the kings of the earth;] who loved us, [and washed us in his blood from our sins]” (Apoc. [1:5]).  In baptism the soul is washed in the blood of Christ, because baptism is a rebirth in the blood of Christ.  And therefore, whenever anyone defiles himself again through sin, he does an injury to Christ and sins more than before: “Anyone undoing the law of Moses, [given two or three witnesses, dies without any mercy]” and so forth.  “[How much more severe punishment do you think he would merit who has trampled upon the Son of God, and] brought to [pollution the blood of the covenant, in which he was sanctified, and who gave insult to the spirit of grace?]” (Heb. [10:28-29]).


(1.2) We commit an offense against God.  Just as a bodily human being loves bodily beauty, just so God loves spiritual beauty, which is beauty of soul.  Therefore, when the soul is soiled through sin, God is offended and holds the sinner in aversion: “The impious and their impiety God likewise holds in aversion” (Wis. [14:9]).  The passion of Christ undoes this.  He made satisfaction to God the Father for the sin of humanity, for which human beings themselves were not able to make satisfaction.  His love and obedience were greater than the divided heart and sin of humanity: “If when we were enemies we have been reconciled to God [through the death of his Son, how much the more now that we are reconciled will we be saved through his life]” and so forth (Rom. [5:10]).


(1.3) We undergo debilitation.  Having once sinned, we believe afterwards we can control sin.  Just the opposite, because through one sin we are weakened and made more prone to sinning.  Thus when the first human sinned, our nature became weakened, corrupted, and then on more prone to sinning.  And sin is yet more the tyrant over humanity. 31


Although Christ did not totally put an end to this weakness and debilitation, nevertheless by the passion of Christ humanity is strengthened and sin is weakened to the extent that it does not further dominate humankind.  Human beings can struggle, aided by the grace of God which is conferred in the sacraments.  From the passion of Christ they have their efficacy, which is able to resist sin.  Therefore Paul says: “Our old man was crucified with him [that we might destroy the body of sin, and no longer serve sin)” and so forth (Rom. [6:6]).  Thus it is that before the passion of Christ, few people were found living without mortal sin, whereas after his passion many are found who live without sin.


(1.4) We undergo the consequences of wrongdoing.  The justice of God demands that whoever sins be punished.  The punishment, however, is proportioned to the guilt.  Since the guilt of a mortal sin is infinite considering it offends an infinite good, namely God, whose precepts the sinner spurns--the punishment due to mortal sin is infinite.  But Christ through his passion took this punishment away from us and he himself suffered it: “Our sins” that is, the punishment for our sins, “he took into his own body [on the wood of the cross, that dead to sin we might live to justice)” and so forth [1 Pet 2:24].  Indeed the passion of Christ was of such great power that it sufficed for expiating the sins of the whole world, yes even a hundred worlds.  Thus it is that the baptized are cleansed of all sins, and likewise that the priest forgives all sins.  Consequently, whoever conform themselves more to the passion of Christ, the greater pardon follows and the more by grace is merited.


(1.5) We undergo exile from the kingdom [of God].  Those who offend kings are driven into exile away from the kingdom.  Similarly, humanity is expelled from paradise because of sin.  Thus it is that Adam was put out of paradise immediately after sinning, and the door of paradise was shut.


Christ, however, by his passion opened the door of paradise, and called the exiles back into the kingdom.  Having opened the side of Christ [on the cross], the door of paradise was opened.  Having poured out his blood, the stain [of sin] is removed, God is pleased, the weakness [of sin] is taken away, the punishment [due to sin] is lifted, and the exiles are called back to the kingdom.  Thus it is that he [Jesus] said to the thief in an instant: “Today you will be with me in paradise” [Luke 23:43].  This was not said previously; this was not said to Adam, nor to Abraham, nor to David.  Yet, today when the door [of the kingdom of God] is open, he [Jesus] offers pardon to the thief: “We have confidence through the blood of Christ, [brothers, in the access of the saints]” and so forth (Heb. [10:19]).


(2) Thus it is clear how useful a remedy it [the passion of Christ] is, and no less useful an example.  As Augustine says, the passion of Christ suffices for completely modeling our life.32 Whosoever wishes to live with perfection should do nothing other than to despise what Christ despises, and desire what Christ desires.  Not a single example of virtue is lacking from the [example of the] cross.


(2.1) If one seeks an example of love, “no one has any greater charity, [than the one who lays down his life for his friends]” and so forth [John 15:13].  This Christ does on the cross.  And therefore if he gave his life for us, it ought not to be hard to put up with any evil whatsoever for him: “What will I give back to the Lord [for all the things which he has given to me]” and so forth; “[I will lift up the] cup [of salvation, and I will call upon the name of the Lord]” and so forth (Ps.  [115:12-13]).


(2.2) If one seeks an example of patience, none more excellent than the cross will be found.  Patience is considered great for two reasons: either when someone greatly suffers with patience, or when someone suffers what they might have avoided and did not.  But Christ suffered greatly on the cross: “O all you who pass by [on the way, attend and see if there is a sorrow like my sorrow!]” and so forth (Lam. [1:12]).  And [Christ suffered] with patience, because “when he suffered [he did not hurl threats]” and so forth [1 Pet 2:23]; and “as a sheep [he was led to the slaughter]” and so forth (Is. [53:7]).  Similarly, [he suffered what] he might have avoided and did not: “Or do you think that I am [not] able to ask [my] Father, [and he would furnish me in an instant with more than twelve legions of angels]” and so forth (John [Mt. 26:53]).  Great therefore is the patience of Christ on the cross: “In patience let us embrace the struggle put before us” and so forth, “[Jesus, who for the joy held out to him, endured the cross,] despising the shame” and so forth (Heb. [12:1-2]).


(2.3) If one seeks an example of humility, look upon the cross.  God chose to be judged under Pontius Pilate and to be put to death: “As if your case was one of the wicked, it was judged” (Is. [Job 36:17]).  “As if one of the wicked” because “I have been condemned to a most wretched death” (Wis. [2:20]).  The Lord chose to die for a servant, and the life of angels for humankind: “[He humbled himself,] made obedient” to the Father [“unto death, even the death of the cross’] and so forth (Phil. [2:8]).


(2.4) If one seeks an example of obedience, you might follow him who was made obedient: “Just as through the disobedience of one human being” namely, Adam, “[many became] sinners, [so through the obedience of one, many became just]” and so forth (Rom. [5:19]).


(2.5) If one seeks an example of despising earthly things, follow him “in whom all the treasures [of wisdom and knowledge are hidden]” and so forth [Col. 2:3],33 nude on the cross, made sport of, spat upon, bruised, crowned with thorns, and at the last given bitter and sour wine to drink.  Therefore do not attach yourself to your clothes and riches, because “they divided my vestments among them” [Ps. 21:19 and in Mark 15:24], nor to honors, because “acquainted with mockeries and beatings” [Heb. 11:36], nor to especial dignity, because “twisting a crown of thorn they put it down” [John 19:2] on my head, nor to delights, because “in my thirst they gave me vinegar wine to drink” [Ps. 68:22].34


Let us pray to the Lord.





27. Gregory the Great: “nihil nasci profuit nisi redimi profuisset."  Taken from the "Exsultet" song of the Praeconium Paschale during the Holy Saturday liturgy at the solemn blessing of the Paschal candle.  It is likely that the text was attributed to Gregory without foundation.


28. The Leonine edition indicates this quotation is from Baruch.  The editions of Vivès and of Parma, however, locate the quotation in Acts, as indicated above, and they also give the quotation that Acts took from Habakkuk: “A work done in your days, which no one will believe when it is told" (1:5).


29. Aquinas would seem to betray here a common prejudice held in the Middle Ages against the Jews for the death of Christ.


30. Aquinas's quotation slightly rearranges some of the words of these parallel clauses.


31. After this last sentence, the Leonine edition does not reproduce some twenty words of text found in the Vivès and the Parma editions.


32. Augustine: "passio Christi sufficit ad informandum totaliter vitam nostram." The Latin text does not indicate this is an exact quotation.  The reference has not been identified.


33. The quotation from Colossians was not noticed in the Vivès or the Parma editions, nor their English translations.


34. The commentary on this article ends with a quotation from Augustine in the Parma edition, but not in the Vivès nor in the Leonine.