On the Eve of Holy Thursday…

I reflect on why it was this sacrifice was so necessary for our salvation.  I know of no better reply than this note from a friend who writes:

Interesting experience to read this story and then reach over to feel our daughter moving in my wife’s womb. Makes me want to vomit, literally.

Why did Jesus have to make such a horrific sacrifice? Because we are a species that does that to pure innocence. Indeed, we do that and then we blame God for it–all while saying we are fine and don’t need help or grace.

Those who say “There is no God and besides he’s evil because look what he did to his Son” need to fish or cut bait. Whether God exists or not, it was not God who inflicted the crucifixion on his Son. It was us. We did it. We come of a race that looks at the beaten and bloody body of a scourging victim, trembling in shock on a cold April morning, and then twists a crown of thorns and presses it down on his head.

Just for fun.

*We* made clear the sort of sacrifice we required for our sins by our *our* free choice to inflict it on the victim.

And as the monster Kermit Gosnell–and the civilization that created him and many others like him–makes clear, we haven’t changed a bit. We require this sacrifice because *we* inflict this sacrifice on perfect innocence.

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  • Subsistent

    Our Lord’s self-sacrifice unto death was “necessary for our salvation”? Well, it was admittedly necessary with a “necessity of end” in order to fulfill Scripture, and in order that “all justice” be fulfilled (as He told John the Baptist). But Catholic author Jacques Maritain has maintained — sorry, I can’t find the exact reference — that God could have saved us by forgiving us by a sort of amnesty, but that, for our even greater happiness, He willed to make atonement in strict justice.

  • Benjamin

    No, Mark, “we” didn’t crucify an innocent leader of a charismatic Jewish cult. The government of the Roman Empire did. I, you, and everyone reading this had absolutely zilch to do with it. To say otherwise is illogical self-hating masochism. But breaking down one’s self-esteem through talk of “sin” one had nothing to do with is part of the Middle Eastern Monotheism playbook.

  • Stu

    I am a sinner.

    Forgive me Jesus for my part in hurting You.

  • Ed the Roman

    Benjamin, why do read this blog?

  • Jude K

    Perhaps Benjamin is a teenager with internet access. Because that is about the level of understanding of most teenagers. “Jesus died because of those people back then. But I didn’t have anything to do with it.” I am quite logical, although I learned to understand that there exists that with is above and beyond logic. I am not self-hating. I am not a masochist. And I KNOW that Christ died for MY sins. And the internet spittle of an unbeliever does nothing to take away from the glory of God.

  • Subsistent

    Some of my fellow-Catholics in this thread seem making fools of themselves, apparently forgetting that, literally, no matter how wicked any present-day human be, he’s had nothing to do with causing our Lord’s suffering and death. For a well-established Scholastic philosophic principle is that cause as causing and effect as being caused are simultaneous in duration, the cause being prior to the effect in nature. They are apparently forgetting, further, that our liturgy states that our Lord’s death was “a death He freely accepted”.

    • Mark Shea

      Actually the Church teaches that “all sinners were the authors of Christ’s passion

    • Subsistent

      I appreciate the interesting link to the Catechism. Seems to me, the English version of the CCC’s title — “All sinners were [Latin *fuerunt*] the authors of Christ’s Passion” is much better rendered, “All sinners have been authors of Christ’s Passion”, since Latin has no definite article meaning “the”, and since the verb *fuerunt* can readily mean “have been”, whereas “were (at the time)” would have been expressed by the Latin verb *erant*. I figure the CCC is thinking more of our Lord’s mystical passion *subsequent* to His Passion on good Friday, persecuted in His Church (as He told Saul He was on the road to Damascus), neglected in the persons of the poor (His “least brethren”), and crucified “anew” in the hearts of current relapsed sinners (CCC#598). Thus St. Francis of Assisi asserted “thou … hast crucified Him and still crucify him by delighting in vices et sins.”
      Some author (Fr. Gerald Vann, OP, I think) having pointed out that the Psalmist asks God to “have mercy on me, BECAUSE [not "even though"] I have sinned”, it seems to me that our present sins can be said to figure into the *final* cause, the purpose, a reason why, God has mercy on us, and has freely loved us superabundantly in choosing to suffer an atrocious evil two millenia ago; but they cannot figure as any active or *efficient* cause of that past evil itself.

      • Rosemarie


        The Catechism clearly states that the sins of all, including those of Christians (which God foresees eternally), made Jesus suffer on the *Cross.* Not just in persecution of the Church or neglect of the poor, but on the Cross. And it’s clearly talking about His earthly Passion because it says we can’t pass off all responsibility for His earthly Passion and Death on the Jews. Here it is:

        598 In her Magisterial teaching of the faith and in the witness of her saints, the Church has never forgotten that “sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured.” Taking into account the fact that our sins affect Christ himself, the Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus, a responsibility with which they have all too often burdened the Jews alone:

        We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt. And it can be seen that our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews. As for them, according to the witness of the Apostle, “None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” We, however, profess to know him. And when we deny him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him.

        Nor did demons crucify him; it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.392

        • Subsistent

          If the “Catechism clearly states that the sins of all … made Jesus suffer on the Cross”, why does the comment here not have a direct quote to that effect? “Peccata omnium fecerunt …”, etc.? In reality, nothing “made” our Lord suffer on the cross by “efficient” causality, except after He had Himself freely chosen, out of superabundant love for each and all of us, to accept without resistence what some local humans then put Him through. “No one takes My life from Me,” He said, as I’m sure “Rosemarie” knows.

          • Rosemarie


            >>>If the “Catechism clearly states that the sins of all … made Jesus suffer on the Cross”, why does the comment here not have a direct quote to that effect?

            The second paragraph I quoted clearly says “Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross….”

            >>>In reality, nothing “made” our Lord suffer on the cross by “efficient” causality,

            I’m sure you know that there are other causalities besides efficient, right? Why do you assume that everyone posting here is saying that our sins are the efficient cause of the Passion and Death of Christ?

            >>>except after He had Himself freely chosen, out of superabundant love for each and all of us, to accept without resistence what some local humans then put Him through. “No one takes My life from Me,”

            So basically you’re saying that, no one killed Jesus in the primary sense because God freely willed from all eternity that the Cross is how He would accomplish the Redemption of Man. Well, that’s true, but I think you’re splitting hairs here. In the secondary sense, we can say that our sins killed Him because God willed that He would die *for our sins.*

            St. Thomas Aquinas said that the Incarnation was effected purely for the Redemption of Man who had fallen via his sins. As such, the Incarnation, and subsequently the Cross and Resurrection, would not have happened had man not sinned. So in the secondary sense, humanity’s sin *did* kill Christ since He couldn’t logically die for our sins if there were no sins to die for. No, the sins of mankind did not *compel* God’s immutable will to chose this course of action as remedy. He freely chose this remedy out of Divine Love. Yet it is not totally incorrect to say that, in a secondary sense, our sins caused His death.

          • Subsistent

            Since “Rosemarie” acknowledges that “there are other causalities besides efficient”, and since I’ve opined (just above) that “our present sins can be said to figure into the *final* cause, the purpose, a reason why, God … has freely loved us … in choosing to suffer … two millenia ago”, there seems no substantial disagreement between us here.
            However, in the Roman Catechism’s wording “… cum peccata nostra Christum Dominum impulerint ut crucis supplicium subiret,” *peccata nostra* means precisely “our sins,” not “the sins of all”. Likewise, to say that “we Americans nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945″, is not the same as to say, “all Americans nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945″.
            Further, my Traupman’s dictionary indicates that altho *impulerint* can indeed mean “made”, even “forced”, this Latin verb can also mean “impelled” (its most literal translation) or “induced”, or “persuaded”, which agrees with my notion of a sort of “final” causality: the fact of our sins induced Christ the Lord, in his beneficent love for us, to willingly undergo the cross’s torment. It’s in such a sense as this, then, that we sinners have been “authors” and “ministers” of our Lord’s suffering: His suffering on the cross, and also His subsequent mystical suffering in His neglected “least brethren”, and in His persecuted Church.

            • Rosemarie


              First of all, why the scare quotes around my name?

              Second, there is also quite likely no substantial disagreement between you and the people on this blog whom you accused above of “making fools of themselves.” I don’t think any Catholic commenting here believes that our sins, and not God’s eternal will, were the efficient cause of Christ’s Passion.

              Third, Scholasticism is wonderful. My husband is really into it. But there’s really no need to flaunt it.

            • Subsistent

              “I’m glad you asked that!”
              First: I generally put quotes around the handles of other commenters to avoid using apparent given names of people, especially women, whom I’ve never met, out of respect for them, and in order to avoid appearance of over-familiarity, altho I recognize that it’s customary among both friends and foes among cyber-commenters. But, septuagenarian that I am, I’m used to older ways than first-naming strangers. (My own handle, of course, is no “apparent given name”, so I don’t care how others refer to me.)
              Second: I said that some other apparently Catholic commenters “SEEM [to be] making fools of themselves”, out of my concern that the Catholic faith itself not be held up to ridicule by being wrongly associated with some apparently foolish theory.
              Third: My referencing Scholasticism is on account of its laudable efforts (not always achieved, alas) toward being objective rather than foolishly pietistic, and toward conserving and developing what’s valuable in scholarly tradition both divine and human.

              • Rosemarie


                Fair enough. Have a blessed Triduum and Paschal season.

                • Subsistent

                  Thanks, Ma’am. You and yours too.

  • Stu

    I’ll be a fool for Christ’s sake.

  • Bob

    So, this at the heart of the very thing I don’t really understand about Christianity.
    I don’t understand why anyone had to die, much less be crucified, in order to make it possible for human race to be forgiven.
    I DO understand that the human race needs forgiveness. We are depraved filthy lot, no question.
    But I’ve got to be honest: I have never understood the reason that Christ had to die for our sins. Why couldn’t God just decide to forgive those of us who repented?
    I heard someone ask this question on “Catholic Answers Live” recently and was surprised and disappointed by the answer. The apologist said, essentially, “Suppose someone borrows your car and then dents it. They can be sorry and apologize, but that doesn’t get the dent out. Something has to happen to balance the scales.” And I thought, OK, but how does Christ’s death balance the scales?
    FYI, this is not a troll question, it’s not an attempt to bait anyone, and although I do enjoy the fights we have in these comboxes from time to time, this is not attempt to start such a fight. I realize the question is at a very fundamental level but that’s why I think it’s so important.

    • http://companionscross.org Fr. Terry Donahue, CC

      To answer your question, here are some excerpts from a not-yet-published book I’m helping to write on the spirituality of our community, the Companions of the Cross. This is an attempt to explain some reasons why it was fitting for God to choose a plan of salvation which involves the death of Christ, and how that redemption is accomplished.

      Satisfaction for sin through love – It is reasonable to ask, “Why all this horror in God’s plan of salvation?” God created the universe with a decree and He could have chosen to redeem us with a decree. But God chose a plan of salvation that would most perfectly demonstrate His love.

      The Father inspired the Son with such a great love that He willingly became man and went to His death for us. The Son, “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-9). “Divine Wisdom judged it fitting that God should become man… to offer satisfaction” – to make reparation for our offenses against God (Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas’s Shorter Summa).

      The work of the Passion is a work of love. The act of love in which Christ died makes satisfaction for all the offenses we have committed against God’s righteousness. “As St. Thomas [Aquinas] says… we make satisfaction to someone when we give him back something which is of equal if not greater value than the thing that was lost. God the Father lost from us that response of love and trust and obedience that He offered us. He lost that because we didn’t give it to Him and without the grace of Christ we never would give it to Him. But in Jesus Christ, He received a pure act of love from a human heart, which was so beautiful and so great, that it more than compensated for all the sins of mankind. And that’s the heart of Redemption.” (Fr. Francis Martin, Themes of the Passion, tape 1)

      Christ died for You- The Cross exposes the true nature of sin. Before our very eyes the horror of sin is unmasked in the most dramatic fashion. We see it in the torn body and agonized soul of Jesus. We hear it as He cries out in our name from the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46) When we consider what our sins deserved and what we have received instead, we grasp that “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

      Suffering and Death Transformed – In the face of so much suffering in the world many ask, “Lord, where is Your love amidst all this evil?” Here at the Cross we find His answer. As Blessed Pope John Paul II explained, “God has responded to this anguished question that arises from the scandal of evil, not with an explanation of principle…, but with the sacrifice of his own Son on the cross” (John Paul II, Address, September 19, 2004). At the Cross of Christ, human suffering reaches its culmination. “[Jesus] annihilates this evil in the spiritual space of the relationship between God and humanity, and fills this space with good” (John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, 17). In what appeared to be the triumph of evil and the darkest moment of history, God accomplished the definitive victory of good.

      On the Cross, the promised ‘day of vindication’ has arrived (Isaiah 61:2). In the words of then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Christ’s mercy is not a grace that comes cheap, nor does it imply the trivialization of evil. Christ carries the full weight of evil and all its destructive force in his body and in his soul. He burns and transforms evil in suffering, in the fire of his suffering love. The day of vindication and the year of favour converge in the Paschal Mystery, in the dead and Risen Christ. This is the vengeance of God: he himself suffers for us, in the person of his Son” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Homily, 18 April 2005).

      Through the Cross of Christ, human suffering “has been linked to love” and in this way has been redeemed (John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, 18-19). The triumph of the Cross has completely reversed the very meaning of suffering, and even the meaning of death itself. Many people find the thought of death to be so distressing that they simply try to ignore it. Though many try to live as though it didn’t exist, death is inevitable and irreversible. Throughout human history, Death has been the great enemy that has held us in fear. “Before the divine sojourn of the Saviour, even the holiest of men were afraid of death and mourned the dead as those who perished” (St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, 27). But death has been defeated by Christ on the Cross! Athanasius continues, “Death has become like a tyrant completely conquered by a legitimate Monarch.” We no longer need to fear death. “Now since the children share in blood and flesh, [Christ] likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life” (Heb 2:14-15).

    • Sam Schmitt

      I don’t understand why anyone had to die, much less be crucified, in order to make it possible for human race to be forgiven.
      That’s just the point: Jesus did not “have” to become man and die in the first place: he chose to do so out of love – freely. He could have snapped his finger or blinked his eye and forgiven us, but the way he died shows both the greatness of his love and the true nature of our sins. Our sins are that horrific – they caused the most innocent man who ever lived – the Son of God made man – to be tortured to death. So this is the way God chose to save us, out of love, and to show His glory.
      how does Christ’s death balance the scales?
      The traditional way of looking at this is that our sins offend the infinite love of God, so only the infinite God can “balance the scales.” Again, he could have done this by a simple decree, a simple declaration of our forgiveness. But since we humans tend to be a little thick-headed, he chose to do it in such a dramatic way that we would have a chance of “getting it.” God was not forced by circumstances to give his Son over to death, as if that were the “only” way he could have redeemed us – it was his free decision. The fact that it was completely free should demonstrate, even to us knuckleheads, the overwhelming greatness of his love for us.
      These are excellent questions – the answers to which are, in the last analysis, mysteries. We can never fully understand “why” God loves us the way he does, though pondering it can offer us some insights, I think.

  • Mark R

    Christ in his human nature is the perfect man. We share his human nature. Death is the consequence of sin– one need not literally interpret Genesis so long as one understands the doctrinal value of man’s fall through disobedience. Besides death, the immediate cosequence of sin is man’s alienation from God. Christ, as second person of the Holy Trinity could never sin or be alienated from God, because that is who he is in his Divine Nature–although he had a sense of this on the cross. In his incarnation, however, Paul says Christ “became sin”, which if I am not incorrect means he was incarnate to have the effects of sin — or, as Bishop Sheen put it, he was the only man born who was meant to die — as we as humans were created to live and to be in friendship or union with God. Christ’s death completely altered the character of death since he is the author of life. Christ’s incarnation and death and resurrection both elevated our common human nature and made our resurrection — which would have happened had there been no Messiah, as the more traditional Jews still believe– a means of not just rising, but sharing eternity with the Lord. This was as it was meant to be when God made man. In a sense, Christ’s involvement with humanity makes this union with God more intimate.

  • Daniel G. Fink

    I will state a reply from the deepest level of understanding at which I have arrived to date. I do not state it in order to completely answer your question, but to gain for myself from any correctives others will offer through citing scripture and Tradition, therefore hopefully learning from others myself.

    We are created to share in the life and love of the Trinity (2 Pt 1:4). The life of the Trinity is an act of complete gift of Self in communion with the other Persons of the Trinity. Created in the image and likeness of God with complete free will, the Fall resulted in the severe corruption of our freedom to choose beauty and truth, as in Mark citing some of the events of that “cold April morning”.

    Christ, of course in communion with the Father and Holy Spirit, incarnated Himself into that world in order to restore our capacity to “partake of divine nature”, to love as God Loves through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Having full knowledge of all events in His divine nature, He foresaw the result of presenting Truth to severely wounded free will. In His divine Sonship as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, His human nature revealed the eternal act of complete gift of self as “becoming obedient to death…on a cross”. (Phil 2:8)

  • Wryman

    I reckon God could do anything He wanted to do. But God, being perfect, caused a perfect manner of forgiveness: The sacrificial death of someone totally without sin. As St. Paul says, “You could hardly find anyone ready to die for someone upright; though it is just possible that, for a really good person, someone might undertake to die.”
    Yet we were not “really good” people, as St. Paul says in the next line (I’m quoting from Romans chapter 5) : “So it is proof of God’s own love for us, that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.” So God, having no perfect man to call on, became man that He might make this perfect sacrifice.
    Notice something else there: It was not God’s forgiveness, enacted in a Heaven we cannot yet see, that accomplished this redemption, but something given to people, visible, as “proof.” We do not live in the abstract theology of deists, but in a world in which God is personally involved with us. So, more perfect in that it is accessible to all, through the senses.
    St. Paul also says that Christ’s death — and resurrection — give us proof of our own destiny:
    “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more can we be sure that, being now reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”
    All of Roman chapter 5 is very good to read for light on this matter!