BUT THE GLORY OF CHRIST in His body, and the glory that is to come to all men at the end of the world are purchased with a great price. Before the body of Christ could be confirmed in the glory of His sanctified soul, before men could have any chance to emulate His glory, Christ had to win redemption for mankind by His Passion and His death upon the Cross of Calvary.
CHRIST DID NOT SUFFER and then die upon the Cross because God was under any compulsion to demand so great a recompense for the sins of men. God could have simply condoned men's sins and granted them pardon when they repented of their sins. Nor was Christ Himself under any compulsion to suffer and die for the sins of men.
He offered Himself freely and voluntarily as a sacrifice for men. But Christ suffered for men because this was the will of God. God willed that His only-begotten Son should become man to suffer and die for the salvation of men. This Divine decision manifests both the justice and the mercy of God.
It manifests His justice, because it shows that God has actually demanded satisfaction for the sins of men against Him. It manifests His mercy, because no one but a God-man could have offered a suitable satisfaction for the sins of men. Because He was God, Christ could offer God an infinite satisfaction for the infinite malice of sin. Because He was man, Christ could offer a man's satisfaction for man's sin.
THE WISDOM OF GOD'S PLAN in the Passion and death of Christ is shown, too, by the other purposes which God accomplished in this way. Christ suffered and died to win God's pardon for the sins of men. But His suffering did more than this. In the first place, since He was both God and man, His suffering was a staggering proof of God's love for men.
Could God do more for men than suffer and die for them? Secondly, in His Passion and death Christ gave to men an example of the perfect virtue which will lead men to heaven: obedience to God's will, humility, constancy in following God's will, fortitude in the face of death, a love of justice even unto death, and so on.
Thirdly, by His suffering Christ merited grace and glory for men, and so made it possible for men to attain their real happiness. Fourthly, by suffering and dying for all men, Christ gave to men a strong additional motive for avoiding sin.
If a father sold all his possessions in order to pay the foolish debts of his son, would not the son have a strong reason for behaving prudently in the future? If the Son of God suffered and died because of the sins of men, to pay the debt of men's sins, should not all men have a good reason for avoiding sin in the future? Lastly, the Passion and death of Christ are a Divine tribute to the dignity of man.
Man had destroyed himself by falling victim to the devil in the garden of Paradise. Through Christ, a man conquers the devil and restores mankind to the friendship of God. Men can point to Christ with honest pride and say that their Brother Man has saved them.
IN HIS PASSION AND DEATH Christ endured extreme suffering. He suffered at the hands of both men and women. A man betrayed Him; a woman betrayed His Apostle Peter; the Sanhedrin condemned Him; His own people cried out for His blood; Herod and Pilate washed their hands of Him; Pilate delivered Him over to scourging and the crucifixion on the Cross; the soldiers and servants mocked Him and spat upon Him and beat Him; He was abandoned by His Apostles and friends; His reputation was destroyed by the ignominy of His trial and death as a criminal; His soul was sad and weary at the prospect and the reality of suffering and death; His sensitive nature flinched from suffering and death; His hands and feet were pierced by nails; His brow was crowned with thorns; His whole body was torn with the lashes of the scourging. And because He had a perfect human nature He felt this suffering all the more keenly.IT IS TRUE that the higher part of His soul continued to enjoy the vision of God. But the lower part of His soul, His power to feel sensitive joy or pain, was inundated with the anguish of His torments. Christ allowed His human nature to experience the length and the breadth and the depth of human suffering. Because He suffered to atone for the sins of all men, He allowed Himself to endure the fullness of human pain.
In Him the words of the prophet Isaias were fulfilled: "There is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him: despised and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised. Whereupon we esteemed him not.
Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our iniquities: he was bruised for our sins. The chastisement of our peace was upon him: and by his bruises we are healed" (Isaias LIII, 2-5).
THE SUBLIMITY OF CHRIST'S LOVE for men is shown by the fact that He did not have to suffer and die. Because He was God, He could have prevented His enemies from doing Him any injury. Because His soul had perfect control of His body, He could have prevented the wounds from achieving their normal effect. But, in obedience to the will of His Father, He submitted Himself to the violent hands of His enemies.
God and Christ Himself, out of love for men, delivered Christ to the hands of His torturers and executioners. But it was these latter who scourged Christ, crowned Him with thorns, nailed Him to the Cross and so killed Him.
His own people handed Him over to the Romans to be put to death, and the Romans crucified Him. In this way Christ suffered both from the Jews and from the pagans of the world. Since He came to save not only the Jews but also the rest of men, it was natural that He should suffer at the hands of both.
THE GUILT OF THOSE who brought about the death of Christ varies with their knowledge of what they were doing. Least guilty of all were the pagan soldiers who tortured and crucified Christ. They had no knowledge of the fact that Christ was the Savior of mankind, nor the fact that Christ was God, the Son of God. More guilty than they was Pilate who, though he also was ignorant of the true identity of Christ, nevertheless, out of cowardice, condemned an innocent man to death.
Next in the mounting scale of guilt comes the multitude of simple people at Jerusalem who were misled by their leaders. They had seen the wonderful works of Christ and so might have believed in Him. But their leaders deceived them and made them doubt Christ.
Most guilty of all were the arch conspirators among the leaders of the people. They knew that Christ had fulfilled in His Person and life the signs foretold by the prophets. But they were unwilling to accept Christ as their Savior.
They deliberately blinded their eyes to the evident signs of His Divinity. God was ready to give them faith in Christ, but, in the hardness of their hearts, they refused to accept it. Because their ignorance of His true identity was deliberate, it does not excuse their sin. They committed the most grievous of sins. They delivered their Savior and their God to death at the hands of pagans.
CHRIST SUFFERED AND DIED on the Cross of Calvary. As He hung there, suspended between earth and sky, with His life's blood draining away in agony, His enemies mocked Him. "If thou be the son of God," they said, "come down from the Cross". As St. Paul has said, the crucified Christ is "unto the Jews indeed a stumbling-block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness" (1 Cor. I, 23).
Did God fail on the Cross? Was His life among men a magnificent but futile gesture? St. Paul gives us the answer: "But unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks," the crucified Christ is "the power of God, and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men (1 Cor. I, 24-25). On the Cross Christ seems most helpless. But it is on the Cross that he accomplished His purpose, the salvation of men.
AS CHRIST HUNG ON THE CROSS, He willingly offered His human life and the sufferings and death of His body for the salvation of men. In the plan of God, Christ was the new Adam, the new Head of the human race. Because He offered His life willingly out of charity and obedience to His Father, His human will merited from God the salvation of mankind.
Because He suffered and died out of love and obedience, Christ gave God more than was required to compensate for the sins of the whole human race. He satisfied or atoned for men's sins. He offered His life to God to honor God and to appease Him for the sins of men.
His Passion, therefore, was a sacrifice most pleasing to God. The life which He so willingly laid down for men was the price paid to God for the sins of men and the punishment due to those sins. By paying the price of men's sins Christ redeemed all men.
Christ did all this ----- He merited salvation, He atoned for sin, He sacrificed Himself to God for sin, He redeemed men ----- in obedience to the will of God. His human nature was the instrument of His Godhead, the instrument which the Son of God used to save men. Because it was the instrument of His Godhead, Christ accomplished what He had come into this world to do.
BECAUSE CHRIST IS GOD as well as man, His Passion delivered men from sin and from the power of the devil. It freed men from the penalty of sin, death and the loss of the vision of God. His Passion reconciled men to God and reopened the gates of Heaven to all mankind. His Passion merited for Himself the exaltation of His own human nature. Because He was put to death unjustly, God raised Him from the dead.
Because His body had suffered the humiliation of burial, He ascended into Heaven. Because He had endured the mockery of men, He now sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. Because He had been delivered over to the power of men, He has been made the judge of all men in the world to come. In the Passion of Christ the weakness of God is stronger than men. Through the human death of Christ the Divine life is restored to men.
CHRIST REALLY DIED on the Cross. His human soul was separated from His body. But His Divine Personality remained united to both His body and His soul. For this reason the dead body of Christ was still infinitely precious.
Because it was still united to the Person of the Son of God, any indignity inflicted upon it by the soldiers who lowered it from the Cross, any gesture of reverence paid to it by His Mother or the holy men and women who reverently buried it, was of infinite value for the salvation of men.
AS SOON AS HE DIED, the soul of Christ descended into Hell. The Hell of which we speak here is Limbo, the place in which the souls of the just were awaiting deliverance. He hastened to Limbo to announce to the just the reopening of the gates of Heaven. Through His Passion, He had made it possible for them to find glory in the vision of God.
He did not descend into the Hell of the devils and the lost human souls. There .was nothing He could do for them. By their own free decision, they had cut themselves off from God forever. Only those united to Himself in faith and charity could obtain the benefits of His Passion.