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CHAPTER LVPoints of Reply to Difficulties touching the Economy of the Incarnation

WE must bear in mind that, so immovable is the divine goodness in its perfection, that nothing is lost to God, however near any creature is raised to Him: the gain is to the creature.

3. Man being a compound of a spiritual and a corporeal nature, and thereby, we may say, occupying the borderland of two natures, all creation seems to be interested in whatever is done for man’s salvation. Lower corporeal creatures make for his use, and are in some sort of subjection to him: while the higher spiritual creation, the angelic, has in common with man its attainment of the last end. This argues a certain appropriateness in the universal Cause of all creatures taking to Himself in unity of person that creature whereby He is more readily in touch with all the rest of creation.

4. Sin in man admits of expiation, because man’s choice is not immovably fixed on its object, but may be perverted from good to evil, and from evil brought back to good; and the like is the case of man’s reason, which, gathering the truth from sensible appearances and signs, can find its way to either side of a conclusion. But an angel has a fixed discernment of things through simple intuition; and as he is fixed in his apprehension, so is he fixed also in his choice. Hence he either does not take to evil at all; or if he does take to evil, he takes to it irrevocably, and his sin admits of no expiation. Since then the expiation of sin was the chief cause of the Incarnation, it was more fitting for human nature than for angelic nature to be assumed by God.

7. Though all created good is a small thing, compared with the divine goodness, still there can be nothing greater in creation than the salvation of the rational creature, which consists in the enjoyment of that divine goodness. And since the salvation of man has followed from the Incarnation of God, it cannot be said that that Incarnation has brought only slight profit to the world. Nor need all men be saved by the Incarnation, but they only who by faith and the sacraments of faith adhere to the Incarnation.

8. The Incarnation was manifested to man by sufficient evidences. There is no more fitting way of manifesting Godhead than by the performance of acts proper to God. Now it is proper to God to be able to change the course of nature (naturae leges), by doing something above that nature of which Himself is the author. Works overriding the ordinary course of nature (opera quae supra leges naturae fiunt) are the aptest evidences of divine being. Such works Christ did; and by these works He argued His Divinity. When asked, Art thou he that is to come? He replied, The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again (Luke vii, 22).947947Miracles show that physical nature, the cosmos of necessary cause and effect, is not everything; that some cause of another order has stept in to alter the effect from what it would have been, had physical causes alone operated. Such a cause is man himself, much more God. The forces of physical nature, were they endowed with consciousness, would regard all man’s manipulation of nature as miraculous: a house would be a miracle to them or a railway. Geology does not build railways, nor gravitation cathedrals. There Mind and Will has come in. God, too, has Mind and Will and Power, beyond that of man; and a miracle shows it. A miracle does not clash with ‘nature’; but evidences that what we call ‘nature’ is not all the power that is. People who believe in nature, physical nature, and nothing but physical nature, will not hear of miracles. But what is there in physical nature to assure them that such nature is all in all, and that there is nothing beyond it? And if it be said 377that the same miracles have been wrought by others, we must observe that Christ worked them in a very different and more divine way. Others are said to have wrought miracles by prayer, but Christ wrought them by command, as of His own power. And He not only wrought them Himself, but He gave to others the power of working the same and even greater miracles; and they worked them at the mere invocation of the name of Christ. And not only corporal miracles, but spiritual miracles, were wrought through Christ and at the invocation of His name: the Holy Ghost was given, hearts were set on fire with divine love, minds were suddenly instructed in the knowledge of divine things, and the tongues of the simple were rendered eloquent to propose the divine truth to men (Heb. ii, 3, 4).

9. Human nature is so conditioned as not to be apt to be led to perfection at once; but it must be led by the hand through stages of imperfection, so to arrive at perfection at last, as we see in the training of children. If great and unheard-of truths were proposed to a multitude, they would not grasp them immediately: their only chance is to become accustomed to such truths by mastering lesser truths first. Thus it was fitting for the human race to receive their first instruction in the things of salvation by light and rudimentary lessons (levia et minora documenta), delivered by the patriarchs, the law and the prophets; and that finally in the consummation of ages the perfect doctrine of Christ should be set forth on earth. When the fulness of time was come, God sent his Son (Gal. iv, 4). The law was our paedagogue unto Christ, but now we are no longer under a paedagogue (Gal. iii, 24, 25).948948St Thomas here recognises that Christianity could but develop slowly. It remains for us to prosecute the enquiry, which did not occur to St Thomas, what development Christianity had attained in the apostolic age, and how it further unfolded itself in the centuries that followed.

12. It was not expedient for the Incarnate God in this world to live in wealth and high honour: first, because the object of His coming was to withdraw the minds of men from their attachment to earthly things, and to raise them to things heavenly, for which purpose He found it necessary to draw men by His example to a contempt of riches: secondly, because if He had abounded in riches, and had been set in some high position, His divine doings would have been ascribed rather to secular power than to the virtue of the Divinity. This indeed forms the most efficacious argument of His Divinity, that without aid of secular power He has changed the whole world for the better.949949Not however without considerable aid from the secular power since the days of Constantine downwards. And it is the common doctrine of the schools that the aid of secular power is necessary for the well-being of the Church.

13. God’s commandment to men is of works of virtue; and the more perfectly any one performs an act of virtue, the more he obeys God. Now of all virtues charity is the chief: all others are referred to it. Christ’s obedience to God consisted most of all in His perfect fulfilment of the act of charity: for greater charity than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John xv, 13).

15. Though God has no wish for the death of men, yet He has a wish for virtue; and by virtue man meets death bravely, and exposes himself to danger of death for charity. Thus God had a wish for the death of Christ, inasmuch as Christ took upon Himself that death out of charity, and bravely endured it.


17. It is well said that Christ wished to suffer the death of the cross in order to give an example of humility. The virtue of humility consists in keeping oneself within one’s own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, but submitting to one’s superior. Thus humility cannot befit God, who has no superior, but is above all. Whenever any one subjects himself out of humility to an equal or any inferior, that is because he takes that equal or inferior to be his superior in some respect. Though then the virtue of humility cannot attach to Christ in His divine nature, yet it may attach to Him in his human nature. And His divinity renders His humility all the more praiseworthy: for the dignity of the person adds to the merit of humility; and there can be no greater dignity to a man than his being God. Hence the highest praise attaches to the humility of the Man God, who, to wean men’s hearts from worldly glory to the love of divine glory, chose to endure a death of no ordinary sort, but a death of the deepest ignominy.

19. It was necessary for Christ to suffer (Luke xxiv, 46), not only to afford an example of braving death for the love of truth, but also for the expiation of the sins of other men; which expiation He made by His own sinless Self choosing to suffer the death due to sin, and so satisfying for others by taking on Himself the penalty due to others. And though the sole grace of God is sufficient for the forgiveness of sins, nevertheless in the process of that forgiveness something is required on his part to whom the sin is forgiven, namely, to offer satisfaction to him whom he has offended.950950Where sanctifying grace is given, sin is forgiven: but sanctifying grace would not be given to any man, if Christ had not made satisfaction to His Father for the sin of all mankind. Sanctifying grace is in fact the forgiveness of sin. And because men could not do this for themselves, Christ did it for all, suffering a voluntary death for charity.

20. Although when it is a question of punishing sins, he must be punished who has sinned, nevertheless, when it is a question of making satisfaction, one may bear another’s penalty. When punishment is inflicted for sin, his iniquity is put into the scale who has sinned: but when satisfaction is made by the offender’s voluntary taking upon himself a penalty to appease him whom he has offended, account is taken in that case of the affection and good will of him who makes the satisfaction. And this appears best in the case of one taking upon himself a penalty instead of another, and God accepting the satisfaction of one for another (B. III, Chap. CLIX ad fin.)951951What St Thomas here calls ’satisfaction,’ answers fairly well to the French amende honorable. As St Thomas here teaches, it is not correct, in the strictest theological parlance, to say that Christ was ‘punished’ for the sins of the world. Great authorities may speak popularly and loosely on this as on other topics. But in strict theology we say that Christ made the amende honorable for the sins of all His brethren, and that in the manner most humiliating, painful, and costly to Himself. When any sinner, identifying himself with this amende honorable and satisfaction of his Saviour, cries with Him: ‘Father, forgive me, for I knew not what I did’; that is to say: ‘I was a fool in doing as I did, and now I see my folly and repent of it’: the satisfaction that Christ made becomes available for that man, and according to the nature of his sorrow he is either forgiven or on the road to forgiveness.

25. Though the death of Christ is sufficient satisfaction for original sin, there is nothing incongruous in the miseries consequent952952These paenalitates consequentes, as St Thomas calls them, — death, suffering, dulness of heart, concupiscence, — are no longer punishments, after baptism. The Church has condemned the proposition, that “all his life long a man ought to do penance for original sin” (Denzinger, Enchiridion, n, 1176). upon original sin remaining in all men, even in those who are made partakers of the redemption of Christ. It was a fit and advantageous arrangement for the punishment953953That is to say, it was originally a punishment, and after baptism still remains a misery: cf. Council of Trent, Sess. 5, Can. 5. It is to be observed that exemption from these miseries is not due to man: they go with human nature, as such, unless God grants an exemption, as He did to the first man, who sinned and lost it. to remain after the guilt was taken away: — first, for the conformity 379of the faithful with Christ, as of members with their head, that as Christ endured many sufferings, so His faithful should be subject to sufferings, and so arrive at immortality, as the Apostle says: If we suffer with him, so that we be glorified with him (Rom. viii, 17): — secondly, because if men coming to Christ gained immediate exemption from death and suffering, many men would come rather for these corporal benefits than for spiritual goods, contrary to the intention of Christ, who came into the world to draw men from the love of corporal things to spiritual things: — thirdly, because this sudden impassibility and immortality would in a manner compel men to receive the faith of Christ, and so the merit of faith would be lost.

26. Each individual must seek the remedies that make for his own salvation. The death of Christ is a universal cause of salvation, as the sin of the first man was a universal cause of damnation.954954Damnation here means exclusion from heaven and the supernatural happiness described in B. III, Chapp. LXI–LXIII. But there is need of a special application to each individual for the individual to share in the effect of a universal cause.955955Thus water-pipes have to be laid down to each house for that house to share the benefits of that universal cause of water supply, the city reservoirs. The effect of the sin of our first parent reaches each individual through his carnal origin. The effect of the death of Christ reaches each individual by his spiritual regeneration, whereby he is conjoined and in a manner incorporated with Christ.

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