"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2

REALITY—A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


We consider here three important problems.

1. How is Christ's passion in harmony with His beatific vision?
2. How did His passion cause our salvation?
3. Why did He suffer so much, seeing that His least suffering would suffice to save us?

1. According to St. Thomas [811] our Savior's sufferings were the greatest that can be conceived. In particular, His moral suffering surpassed that of all contrite hearts, first because it derived from a transcendent wisdom, which let Him realize, far beyond our power, the infinite gravity of sin, and the countless multitude of men's crimes; secondly because it derived from a measureless love for God and men; thirdly because He suffered, not merely for the sins of one man, as does a repentant sinner, but for all sins of all men taken together. Hence the question: How under such intense pain, physical and moral, could our Lord simultaneously preserve the boundless joy of the beatific vision?

This mystery, as theologians generally teach, is the consequence of another mystery, namely, that Jesus was simultaneously a viator (on the road to ultimate glory) and a comprehensor (already in possession of ultimate glory). [812] How is this possible? The truest answer is that of St. Thomas, an answer that is full of light, though the mystery remains a mystery.

We must distinguish also in Christ, says the saint, [813] the higher soul faculties from the lower. Hence, as long as He was simultaneously viator and comprehensor, He did not allow the glory and the joy of the superior part to overflow on the inferior part. Only the summit of His soul, that is, His human mind and will was beatified, while He freely abandoned to pain all His faculties of sense. [814] He would not permit His beatific joy in the summit of His soul to send down the slightest softening ray upon that physical and moral pain, to which He would fully surrender Himself, for our salvation. In Illustration, think of a lofty mountain, the summit Illumined by the sun, while a violent storm envelops the lower slopes and the foundations, and, as analogy, think of the contrite penitent, whose higher faculties rejoice in the affliction of his lower faculties, and rejoice the more, the more he is thus afflicted.

2. How did Christ's passion cause our salvation? [815] In five different ways: as merit, as satisfaction, as sacrifice, as redemption, as efficient cause. Is this series a mere juxtaposition of scriptural terms? No, we have here an ordered process, rising from general terms to terms which are specific and comprehensive. All acts of charity are meritorious, but not all are satisfactory. An act may be satisfactory without being, properly speaking, a sacrifice, which presupposes a priest. And even a true sacrifice, as in the Old Law, may not of itself be redemptive, but only as prefigurative of a perfect sacrifice. And, lastly, even a redemptive sacrifice may be only a moral cause of grace, whereas Christ's redemptive sacrifice is also the efficient cause of grace.

Christ's passion, then, wrought our salvation under the form of merit because, as the head of humanity, He could pour out grace on us from His own fullness, and, as divine person, His merits have an infinite value. [816].

His passion was, second, a perfect satisfaction, because by bearing that passion with theandric love, He offered something for which the Father's love was greater than His displeasure at all sins of mankind. And the life He offered, the life of the God-man, had infinite value. Personally then, and objectively, satisfaction was completely adequate. [817].

His passion, further, was sacrificial cause of our redemption, for it was an oblation, in the visible order, of His life, of His body and blood, made by Him as priest [818] Of the New Covenant. [819].

Hence, also as redemption, His passion is cause of our salvation, because, being an adequate and super-abounding satisfaction, it was the price paid for our deliverance from sin and penalty. [820].

Merit, satisfaction, sacrifice, redemption are forms of moral causality. But Christ's passion is also an efficient cause of our salvation, since the suffering humanity of Christ is the instrument by which the divinity causes in us all graces which we receive. [821].

Recapitulating, [822] St. Thomas speaks thus: The passion of Christ's humanity compared to His divinity, has instrumental efficiency; compared to Christ's human Will, it energizes as merit; considered in His flesh, it energizes as satisfaction; it energizes as redemption, in delivering us from the captivity of guilt; lastly, it energizes as sacrifice, by reconciling, by making us the friends of God.

We should note here that St. Thomas sees the essence of satisfaction in our Savior's theandric love rather than in His great sufferings, since these sufferings draw their value from that love which pleases God more than all sin displeases Him. [823] This love makes Christ's satisfaction superabundant, and, further, as Thomists hold against Scotus, intrinsically, of itself, superabundant, not merely extrinsically, by God's acceptance. And this satisfaction, they add, being of itself superabundant, has the rigorously strict value of justice.

Let us note another conclusion. Jesus is the one sole Redeemer, [824] the universal Redeemer from whom alone all others, even His mother, the Virgin Mary, receive their sanctity. [825].

The effects of Christ's passion, to recapitulate, are deliverance and reconciliation, deliverance from sin, from the domination of the devil, from the penalties due to sin; and reconciliation with God, who opens to us the gates of heaven. Here we see, in mutual order and Illumination, the various terms and truths whereby Scripture and tradition speak of our Savior's passion. The conclusions thus presented are not, strictly speaking, theological conclusions, even when at times they proceed from two premises of faith. They are rather explanations of the truths contained in the "doctrine of faith," truths that precede theology, and of which theology is itself the explanatory science.

3. Why did Jesus suffer so much, seeing that the least of His sufferings offered with such love would superabundantly suffice for our salvation? [826].

In answer, let us look at our Savior's sufferings from three points of view; our own, His own, and that of God the Father.

a) We need to be Illumined on how to receive the greatest testimony of love, accompanied by the highest example of heroic virtue. Now there is no greater love than giving life for those we love. [827].

b) Christ Himself must fulfil His redemptive mission in the highest manner. Now, as priest, no victim but Himself was worthy. And to be a perfect holocaust He must be completely victim, in body, in heart, in a soul "sorrowful unto death." Further, having the fullness of charity, and being both viator and comprehensor, He necessarily suffered with boundless intensity from mankind's sins taken on Himself, seeing in these sins both the offense against God and the cause of the loss of souls.

c) God the Father willed by this road of suffering and humiliation to give our Savior the grandest of victories, a threefold victory, over sin, over the devil, over death. The victory over sin was gained by the greatest of all acts of charity, victory over the devil's disobedience and pride by the supreme act of obedience and the loving acceptance of the lowest humiliations, victory over death, the consequence and punishment of sin, by the glorious external sign of the two preceding victories, a victory culminating in His resurrection and ascension. "Christ humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to death on the cross. Hence God exalted Him, and gave Him a name above every name, a name before which all kneel... while every tongue, to the glory of God the Father, confesses that Jesus Christ is the Lord." [828].

This treatise on the redemptive Incarnation, like that on God, shows that Thomism is not a mere sum of haphazard theses, but a mental attitude of research, a method of expounding truth in the order of nature and of grace, a unified grasping, a living synthesis, of the natural order of truth in its essential subordination to the supernatural order of truth. Such a synthesis radiates from one mother-idea. In the treatise on God that parent-idea is this: God is subsistent being, in whom alone essence is identified with existence. In the treatise on the Incarnation, the parent idea is the divine personality of our Savior. This unity of person in two natures implies first, unity of existence, [829] secondly, substantial sanctity, thirdly, a priesthood supremely perfect, fourthly, a royal dominion over all creatures. Lastly, since person is the substantial principle of all acts, the theandric acts of Christ have a value intrinsically infinite in the order of merit and satisfaction.

We add one remark. These two treatises, that on God and that on the Incarnation, are the foundations of the theological edifice. On their solidity all else depends.

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