CHAPTER XXXIII: QUESTION 48: THE EFFICIENCY OF CHRIST'S PASSION
This question of St. Thomas must be carefully considered, and all its articles must be explained, because it is of great importance. He answers that Christ's passion caused our salvation by way of merit, satisfaction, sacrifice, redemption or liberation, and that it was the efficient cause.
Division and orderly arrangement of this question. Certain recent historians seem to think that St. Thomas placed in quasi-juxtaposition the notions of merit, satisfaction, sacrifice, and redemption, not subordinating them. They also find that this question is too complex, as if the holy Doctor did not know how to preserve the unity of the mystery by showing how it predominantly illustrates Christ's love for the Father and for us.
Truly it would be contrary to St. Thomas, method of procedure, not to subordinate these various notions, for it is the mark of the wise man to do so. If, on the contrary, this question is carefully examined, its wonderful order becomes quite clear.
1) The holy Doctor finds these different notions in Sacred Scripture and tradition, and he had therefore to explain them all as to their theological significance in due order.
2) These notions are of themselves subordinated as in the present enumeration beginning from the more universal and ascending to the less universal, and they all presuppose Christ's charity, which holds the first place. For Christ's act of charity is primarily meritorious, but it is strictly satisfactory only if it is laborious and difficult; for every satisfactory act is meritorious, but not vice versa. Then an act that is both meritorious and satisfactory is not always in the strict sense a sacrifice, whereas, on the contrary, a perfect sacrifice, such as a holocaust, is both meritorious and satisfactory. Moreover, in the enumeration, redemption is taken in the restricted sense of liberation from the slavery of sin and the devil, but not in the complete sense, whereby Christ is said to be the cause or the author of our salvation. Wherefore several authors explain this question of St. Thomas, as we shall, by considering the different ways of redemption in the adequate sense, that is, by way of merit, satisfaction, sacrifice, liberation, and effectiveness. But in this enumeration, as E. Hugon observes, merit, satisfaction, and sacrifice belong to redemption as constitutive elements, but our liberation and the efficiency of our salvation in the application of the merits and satisfaction of the Passion, belong to it as consecutive elements or effects. Thus the orderly arrangement of these articles and the beautiful structure of this question become increasingly apparent. But the liberation and restoration of the human race is called objective redemption, and to this Jesus has condign right, the Blessed Virgin Mary, however, a congruent title. The application of this liberation and restoration to this particular person, such as to Peter or Paul, is called subjective redemption.
3) Finally, Christ the Savior in redeeming us practiced different subordinated virtues. First of all, He practiced charity, to which merit strictly belongs, for the other virtues are meritorious only as they are commanded by charity. Secondly, He practiced justice, of which satisfaction is a part. Thirdly, He practiced religion, to which sacrifice belongs. But these three elements, as stated, constitute the work of redemption from which our liberation and restoration follow, by the effective application of the merits and satisfaction of the Passion. Thus St. Thomas succeeded very well in the orderly arrangement of this question. It is no wonder that this question is rather complex, because the higher and more universal is the cause, the more it includes several modes of causality; but in this complexity shines forth the splendor of its unity, inasmuch as all these elements manifest Christ's love for the Father and for us.
This orderly arrangement is seen to be all the more profound when we take note of the fact that Christ, the head of the human race, as generally admitted, could have redeemed us by whatever meritorious act without painful satisfaction and sacrifice in the strict sense.
First Article: On Redemption By Way Of Merit
State of the question. At the beginning of this first article St. Thomas presents three difficulties. It seems that Christ's passion was not the meritorious cause of our salvation: (1) because suffering, as such, is not meritorious; (2) He did not even merit our salvation as an interior offering of Himself, because Christ from the beginning of His conception, merited for us in fact by merit that is of infinite value. Therefore it would be superfluous for Him to merit again what He had already merited; (3) because charity is the foundation of merit, and this charity did not increase in Christ by His passion. Therefore He did not merit our salvation more by His passion than He had merited it before.
Reply. Nevertheless the answer is that Christ by His passion merited salvation for all His members.
This conclusion is of faith, for the Council of Trent says: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity whereby He loved us, merited justification for us by His most holy passion on the wood of the cross." The Council also says: "If anyone shall say that men are justified without Christ's justice, whereby He merited for us; let him be anathema."
Scriptural proof. St. Paul says: "For as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners; so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just." In other words, just as by Adam's demerit we lost grace, so by the merit of Christ's grace we receive grace. Again he says: "Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." In another epistle, he says: "God hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ... unto the praise of the glory of His grace, in which He hath graced us in His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the remission of sins according to the richness of His grace." Jesus Himself said: "The Son of man must be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting." By His passion He merited exaltation for Himself, and for us sanctification, for Jesus said: "And for them do I sanctify [or sacrifice] Myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth."
Theological proof. St. Thomas gives the fundamental argument as follows: Grace was given to Christ, not only as an individual, but inasmuch as He is the head of the Church, and therefore Christ's works are referred to Himself and to His members, just as the works of another man in a state of grace are referred to himself. But it is evident that whoever suffers for justice' sake, provided he is in the state of grace, merits his salvation thereby. Consequently Christ by His passion merited not only His exaltation but also salvation for all His members.
We are concerned here with condign merit, whereby Christ the head, by His theandric supernatural love that is of infinite value, merited for us in justice, the supernatural goods lost by sin, namely, grace and eternal life, as explained above. All the conditions required for merit are eminently verified in this great act of charity, namely, grace and eternal life; for Christ was still a wayfarer, and God by appointing Him mediator and Head, had ordained His works for the salvation of His members.
Reply to first objection. Christ's suffering was meritorious not inasmuch as it was suffering, but inasmuch as Christ bore it willingly.
Reply to second objection. "From the beginning of His conception Christ merited our eternal salvation; but on our side there were some obstacles, whereby we were hindered from securing the effect of His preceding merits." Thus the souls of the just were awaiting Him in limbo, for by His descent into limbo He delivered the holy fathers detained there. As St. Thomas says: "The holy fathers while yet living were delivered from original as well as actual sin through faith in Christ; also from the penalty of actual sins; but not from the penalty of original sin, whereby they were excluded from glory since the price of man's redemption was not yet paid." Farther on, St. Thomas remarks: "Original sin spread in this way, that at first the person infected the nature, and afterward the nature infected the person. Whereas Christ in reverse order at first repairs what regards the person and afterward will simultaneously repair what pertains to the nature in all men.... But the penalties of the present life, such as death, hunger, and thirst, will not be taken away until the ultimate restoration of nature through the glorious resurrection."
Reply to third objection. "Christ's passion has a special effect, which His preceding merits did not possess, not on account of greater charity, but because of the nature of the work, which was suitable for such an effect." This means that the other preceding merits of Christ had indeed already a personal and infinite value, but the merits of the Passion had a greater objective value on account of the dignity of the object itself most arduous, namely, the sacrifice on the cross or the supreme holocaust. Right from the beginning, Christ offered up to His Father all His future merits, even those of the Passion, for St. Paul says: "When He cometh into the world, He saith, ... "Behold I come.," Christ's oblation and merit continued throughout His life until He completed the work of redemption, by saying: "It is consummated."
What Christ Merited For Us By His Passion
He merited for us all we had lost in Adam. Thus the Evangelist says: "And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace," from the first grace to the last grace.
Hence He merited for us sanctifying grace, the infused virtues, and the seven gifts, likewise all actual graces whereby we are prepared for justification, by means of which we perform meritorious acts and persevere. He likewise merited for us eternal life, or salvation, and also final resurrection or the preternatural gifts that we lost through Adam, namely, immunity from death, pain, concupiscence, and error.
But Christ's passion is a universal cause that produces its effect only if the fruits of Christ's merits are applied to us through the instrumentality of the sacraments or without them, and frequently men, because of concupiscence or pride, place obstacles in the way of their application. Wherefore we said above in treating of Christ's merit, that the efficacious graces which de facto are not granted, such as the grace of a good death for Judas, these Christ merited as offered to men in the sufficient grace, but not as here and now bestowed or to be conferred. For God offers us the efficacious grace in the sufficient grace, as the fruit is contained in the flower, but if a person resists the sufficient grace, then the efficacious grace is not conferred. For we must cooperate in our salvation, wherefore St. Paul says: "And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; yet so if we suffer with Him that we may be also glorified with Him." But Christ merited for the elect by His passion all the effects of their predestination, namely, their calling, justification, perseverance, and glorification.