How necessary is a knowledge of this Article, and how assiduous the pastor should be in stirring up in the minds of the faithful the frequent recollection of our Lord's Passion" we learn from the Apostle when he says that he knows nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.' The pastor, therefore, should exercise the greatest care and pains in giving a thorough explanation of this subject" in order that the faithful" being moved by the remembrance of so great a benefit" may give themselves entirely to the contemplation of the goodness and love of God towards us.
The first part of this Article (of the second we shall treat hereafter) proposes for our belief that when Pontius Pilate governed the province of Judea" under Tiberius Caesar" Christ the Lord was nailed to a cross. Having been seized" mocked, outraged and tortured in various forms" He was finally crucified.
It cannot be a matter of doubt that His soul" as to its inferior part" was sensible of these torments; for as He really assumed human nature" it is a necessary consequence that He really, and in His soul, experienced a most acute sense of pain. Hence these words of the Saviour: My soul is sorrowful even unto death.
Although human nature was united to the Divine Person, He felt the bitterness of His Passion as acutely as if no such union had existed" because in the one Person of Jesus Christ were preserved the properties of both natures" human and divine; and therefore what was passible and mortal remained passible and mortal; while what was impassible and immortal, that is, His Divine Nature, continued impassible and immortal.
Since we find it here so diligently recorded that Jesus Christ suffered when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea, the pastor should explain the reason. By fixing the time, which we find also done by the Apostle Paul, so important and so necessary an event is rendered more easily ascertainable by all. Furthermore those words show that the Saviour's prediction was really verified: They shall deliver him to the Gentiles, to be mocked and scourged and crucified.
The fact that He suffered death precisely on the wood of the cross must also be attributed to a particular counsel of God, which decreed that life should return by the way whence death had arisen The serpent who had triumphed over our first parents by the wood (of a tree) was vanquished by Christ on the wood of the cross.
Many other reasons which the Fathers have discussed in detail might be adduced to show that it was fit that our Redeemer should suffer death on the cross rather than in any other way. But, as the pastor will show" it is enough for the faithful to believe that this kind of death was chosen by the Saviour because it appeared better adapted and more appropriate to the redemption of the human race; for there certainly could be none more ignominious and humiliating. Not only among the Gentiles was the punishment of the cross held accursed and full of shame and infamy, but even in the Law of Moses the man is called accursed that hangeth on a tree.
Furthermore, the pastor should not omit the historical part of this Article, which has been so carefully set forth by the holy Evangelists; so that the faithful may be acquainted with at least the principal points of this mystery, that is to say, such as seem more necessary to confirm the truth of our faith. For it is on this Article, as on their foundation, that the Christian faith and religion rest; and if this truth be firmly established, all the rest is secure. Indeed, if one thing more than another presents difficulty to the mind and understanding of man, assuredly it is the mystery of the cross, which, beyond all doubt, must be considered the most difficult of all; so much so that only with great difficulty can we grasp the fact that our salvation depends on the cross, and on Him who for us was nailed thereon. In this, however, as the Apostle teaches, we may well admire the wonderful Providence of God; for, seeing that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe. It is no wonder, then, that the Prophets, before the coming of Christ, and the Apostles, after His death and Resurrection, labored so strenuously to convince mankind that He was the Redeemer of the world, and to bring them under the power and obedience of the Crucified.
Since, therefore, nothing is so far above the reach of human reason as the mystery of the cross, the Lord immediately after the fall ceased not, both by figures and prophecies, to signify the death by which His Son was to die.
To mention a few of these types. First of all, Abel, who fell a victim of the envy of his brother, Isaac who was commanded to be offered in sacrifice, the lamb immolated by the Jews on their departure from Egypt, and also the brazen serpent lifted up by Moses in the desert, were all figures of the Passion and death of Christ the Lord.
As to the Prophets, how many there were who foretold Christ's Passion and death is too well known to require development here. Not to speak of David, whose Psalms embrace all the principal mysteries of Redemption, the oracles of Isaias in particular are so clear and graphic that he might be said rather to have recorded a past than predicted a future event. a
The pastor should explain that these words present for our belief that Jesus Christ, after He was crucified, really died and was buried. It is not without just reason that this is proposed to the faithful as a separate object of belief, since there were some who denied His death upon the cross. The Apostles, therefore, were justly of opinion that to such an error should be opposed the doctrine of faith contained in this Article, the truth of which is placed beyond the possibility of doubt by the united testimony of all the Evangelists, who record that Jesus yielded up the ghost.
Moreover as Christ was true and perfect man, He of course was capable of dying. Now man dies when the soul is separated from the body. When, therefore, we say that Jesus died, we mean that His soul was disunited from His body. We do not admit, however, that the Divinity was separated from His body. On the contrary, we firmly believe and profess that when His soul was dissociated from His body, His Divinity continued always united both to His body in the sepulchre and to His soul in limbo. It became the Son of God to die, that, through death, he might destroy him who had the empire of death that is the devil, and might deliver them, who through the fear of death were all their lifetime subject to servitude.
It was the peculiar privilege of Christ the Lord to have died when He Himself decreed to die, and to have died not so much by external violence as by internal assent. Not only His death, but also its time and place, were ordained by Him. For thus Isaias wrote: He was offered because it was his own will. The Lord before His Passion, declared the same of Himself: I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No man taketh it away from me: but I lay it down of myself, and I have power to lay it down: and I have power to take it again. As to the time and place of His death, He said, when Herod insidiously sought His life: Go and tell that fox: Behold I cast out devils, and do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I am consummated. Nevertheless I must walk today and tomorrow, and the day following, because it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.'' He therefore offered Himself not involuntarily or by compulsion but of His own free will. Going to meet His enemies He said: I am he; and all the punishments which injustice and cruelty inflicted on Him He endured voluntarily.
When we meditate on the sufferings and all the torments of the Redeemer, nothing is better calculated to stir our souls than the thought that He endured them thus voluntarily. Were anyone to endure all kinds of suffering for our sake, not because he chose them but simply because he could not escape them, we should not consider this a very great favour; but were he to endure death freely, and for our sake only, having had it in his power to avoid it, this indeed would be a benefit so overwhelming as to deprive even the most grateful heart, not only of the power of returning but even of feeling due thanks. We may hence form an idea of the transcendent and intense love of Jesus Christ towards us, and of His divine and boundless claims to our gratitude.
When we confess that He was buried, we do not make this, as it were, a distinct part of the Article, as if it presented any new difficulty which is not implied in what we have said of His death; for if we believe that Christ died, we can also easily believe that He was buried. The word buried was added in the Creed, first, that His death might be rendered more certain, for the strongest argument of a person's death is the proof that his body was buried; and, secondly, to render the miracle of His Resurrection more authentic and illustrious.
It is not, however, our belief that the body of Christ alone was interred. The above words propose, as the principal object of our belief, that God was buried; as according to the rule of Catholic faith we also say with the strictest truth that God died, and that God was born of a virgin. For as the Divinity was never separated from His body which was laid in the sepulchre, we truly confess that God was buried.
As to the manner and place of His burial, what the holy Evangelists record on these subjects will be sufficient for the pastor. There are, however, two things which demand particular attention; the one, that the body of Christ was in no degree corrupted in the sepulchre, according to the prediction of the Prophet: Thou wilt not give thy holy one to see corruption; the other, and it regards the several parts of this Article, that burial, Passion, and also death, apply to Christ Jesus not as God but as man. To suffer and die are incidental to human nature only; yet they are also attributed to God, since, as is clear, they are predicated with propriety of that Person who is at once perfect God and perfect man.
When the faithful have once attained the knowledge of these things, the pastor should next proceed to explain those particulars of the Passion and death of Christ which may enable them if not to comprehend, at least to contemplate, the immensity of so stupendous a mystery.
And first we must consider who it is that suffers all these things. His dignity we cannot express in words or even conceive in mind. Of Him St. John says, that He is the Word which was with God. And the Apostle describes Him in sublime terms, saying that this is He whom God hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world, who being the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, making purgation of sins. sitteth on the right hand of the majesty on high. In a word, Jesus Christ, the Godman, suffers ! The Creator suffers for His creatures, the Master for His servant. He suffers by whom the Angels, men, the heavens, and the elements were made; in whom, by whom, and of whom, are all things.
It cannot, therefore, be a matter of surprise that while He agonised under such an accumulation of torments the whole frame of the universe was convulsed; for as the Scriptures inform us, the earth quaked, and the rocks were rent, there was darkness over all the earth; and the sun was obscured. If, then, even mute and inanimate nature sympathised with the sufferings of her Creator, let the faithful consider with what tears they, the living stones of this edifice, should manifest their sorrow.
The reasons why the Saviour suffered are also to be explained, that thus the greatness and intensity of the divine love towards us may the more fully appear. Should anyone inquire why the Son of God underwent His most bitter Passion, he will find that besides the guilt inherited from our first parents the principal causes were the vice's and crimes which have been perpetrated from the beginning of the world to the present day and those which will be committed to the end of time. In His Passion and death the Son of God, our Saviour, intended to atone for and blot out the sins of all ages, to offer for them to his Father a full and abundant satisfaction.
Besides, to increase the dignity of this mystery, Christ not only suffered for sinners, but even for those who were the very authors and ministers of all the torments He endured. Of this the Apostle reminds us in these words addressed to the Hebrews: Think diligently upon him that endured such opposition from sinners against himself; that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds. In this guilt are involved all those who fall frequently into sin; for, as our sins consigned Christ the Lord to the death of the cross, most certainly those who wallow in sin and iniquity crucify to themselves again the Son of God, as far as in them lies, and make a mockery of Him. This guilt seems more enormous in us than in the Jews, since according to the testimony of the same Apostle: If they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; while we, on the contrary, professing to know Him, yet denying Him by our actions, seem in some sort to lay violent hands on him.
But that Christ the Lord was also delivered over to death by the Father and by Himself, the Scriptures bear witness. For in Isaias (God the Father) says For the wickedness of my people have I struck him. And a little before the same Prophet filled with the Spirit of God, cried out, as he saw the Lord covered with stripes and wounds: All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. But of the Son it is written: If he shall lay down his life for sin, he shall see a longlived seed. This the Apostle expresses in language still stronger when, in order to show how confidently we, on our part, should trust in the boundless mercy and goodness of God, he says: He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how hath he not also, with him, given us all things? a
The next subject of the pastor's instruction is the bitterness of the Redeemer's Passion. If we bear m mind that his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground, and this, at the sole anticipation of the torments and agony which He was about to endure, we must at once perceive that His sorrows admitted of no increase. For if the very idea of impending evils was overwhelming, and the sweat of blood shows that it was, what are we to suppose their actual endurance to have been ?
That Christ our Lord suffered the most excruciating torments of mind and body is certain. In the first place, there was no part of His body that did not experience the most agonising torture. His hands and feet were fastened with nails to the cross; His head was pierced with thorns and smitten with a reed; His face was befouled with spittle and buffeted with blows; His whole body was covered with stripes.
Furthermore men of all ranks and conditions were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. Gentiles and Jews were the advisers, the authors, the ministers of His Passion: Judas betrayed Him, Peter denied Him, all the rest deserted Him.
And while He hangs from the cross are we not at a loss which to deplore, His agony, or His ignominy, or both? Surely no death more shameful, none more cruel, could have been devised than this. It was the punishment usually reserved for the most guilty and atrocious malefactors, a death whose slowness aggravated the exquisite pain and torture I
His agony was increased by the very constitution and frame of His body. Formed by the power of the Holy Ghost, it was more perfect and better organised than the bodies of other men can be, and was therefore endowed with a superior susceptibility and a keener sense of all the torments which it endured.
And as to His interior anguish of soul, that too was no doubt extreme; for those among the Saints who had to endure torments and tortures were not without consolation from above, which enabled them not only to bear their sufferings patiently, but in many instances, to feel, in the very midst of them, filled with interior joy. I rejoice, says the Apostle, in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church;' and in another place: I am filled with comfort, I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulations. Christ our Lord tempered with no admixture of sweetness the bitter chalice of His Passion but permitted His human nature to feel as acutely every species of torment as if He were only man, and not also God.
It only remains now that the pastor carefully explain the blessings and advantages which flow from the Passion of Christ. In the first place, then, the Passion of our Lord was our deliverance from sin; for, as St. John says, He hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. He hath quickened you together with him, says the Apostle, forgiving you all offences, blotting out the handwriting of the decree that was against us, which was contrary to us. And he hath taken the same out of the way, fastening it to the cross.
In the next place He has rescued us from the tyranny of the devil, for our Lord Himself says: Now is the judgment of the world; now shall the prance of this world be cast out. And I if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself.
Again He discharged the punishment due to our sins. And as no sacrifice more pleasing and acceptable could have been offered to God, He reconciled us to the Father, appeased His wrath, and made Him favourable to us.
Finally, by taking away our sins He opened to us heaven, which was closed by the common sin of mankind. And this the Apostle pointed out when he said: We have confidence in the entering into the holies by the blood of Christ. Nor are we without a type and figure of this mystery in the Old Law. For those who were prohibited to return into their native country before the death of the highpriest typified that no one, however just and holy may have been his life, could gain admission into the celestial country until the eternal Highpriest, Christ Jesus, had died, and by His death immediately opened heaven to those who, purified by the Sacraments and gifted with faith, hope, and charity, become partakers of His Passion.
The pastor should teach that all these inestimable and divine blessings flow to us from the Passion of Christ. First, indeed, because the satisfaction which Jesus Christ has in an admirable manner made to God the Father for our sins is full and complete. The price which He paid for our ransom was not only adequate and equal to our debts, but far exceeded them.
Again, it (the Passion of Christ) was a sacrifice most acceptable to God, for when offered by His Son on the altar of the cross, it entirely appeased the wrath and indignation of the Father. This word (sacrifice) the Apostle uses when he says: Christ hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness.
Furthermore, it was a redemption, of which the Prince of the Apostles says: You were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver, from your vain conversation of the tradition of your fathers: but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled. While the Apostle teaches: Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.
Besides these incomparable blessings, we have also received another of the highest importance; namely, that in the Passion alone we have the most illustrious example of the exercise of every virtue. For He so displayed patience, humility, exalted charity, meekness, obedience and unshaken firmness of soul, not only in suffering for justice, sake, but also in meeting death, that we may truly say on the day of His Passion alone, our Saviour offered, in His own Person, a living exemplification of all the moral precepts inculcated during the entire time of His public ministry.
This exposition of the saving Passion and death of Christ the Lord we have given briefly. Would to God that these mysteries were always present to our minds, and that we learned to suffer, die, and be buried together with our Lord; so that from henceforth, having cast aside all stain of sin, and rising with Him to newness of life, we may at length, through His grace and mercy, be found worthy to be made partakers of the celestial kingdom and glory !