the life of christ
Aquinas is struck by the fact that Christ "preferred to
be born in an undistinguished place," and chose to live
an ordinary life and mix with ordinary people. Being a good Dominican,
he also notes that Christ structured his life with a balance
of contemplation and
teaching: “Christ chose an active life of preaching and
teaching, passing on to others the fruits of his own contemplation
a man first spends time in contemplation, and then comes down
to the market place and associates with others." (3a, 40, 1-2)
Christ also chose a life of poverty. This, according to Aquinas,
freed him to preach, gave us a good example, and insured that
no conflict of interest would arise. "His poverty
suited his life of preaching, for a preacher of the word of
God must be entirely free from the worldly concerns that accompany
possessions.” (3a, 40, 2) It also showed
that worldly wealth
had nothing to do with divinity.
the death of Christ
Aquinas thinks that Christ did not have to die, but allowed
it to happen as his ultimate lesson on what it means to
be human. “The fact that Christ voluntarily
suffered was such a great good to find in human nature.” (3a,
He thinks it
is fitting for a number of reasons.
That Christ would give up
life shows us how much we are
loved. He quotes 1
Cor 6:20 "You are bought with a great price."
(If someone goes and dies for us in order to adopt us into divinity,
it hardly seems appropriate to say, 'oh no,
I couldn't possibly.' The obvious challenge for us is to accept
the adoption and take our shot at actually trying to be divine.)
The death of Christ is a blazing statement about vulnerability.
Being in the presence of someone who is suffering is painful
on a number of levels but can help us by bringing us face
to face with our own basic defenselessness. This in turn can
humanize us by putting the trivialities of life into their proper
and by opening us to the experience of our own pain, an act
that is not necessarily nice but definitely useful for growth.
In this way the crucifixion
work of art: it is an image forcing us
come face to face with our own ultimate truth. And since charity
is the habit of choosing to be vulnerable enough to be
drawn to the good, to love it, and to act accordingly, and without it we have
no shot at true happiness, vulnerability is crucial. By his
death, Christ elevates it to an act of divinity: Agnus Dei, the
Lamb of God. It is no longer something to be ashamed of but is
for all time wedded to goodness and godliness.
The death of Christ is also an answer to the problem of suffering
and death. It is as strong a statement as one can make on the
ultimate unimportance of the conscious ego. By his death, Christ
showed us exactly how little ego meant to him and how little
it should mean to us if we (both as individuals and as a species)
want to evolve into what we're supposed to evolve
of the ego are
redeemed by nothing less than the conscious tearing down of the
of ego itself, the ultimate
which is sacrificial death: Christ as both priest and offering.
resurrection and ascension
And after such death? Resurrection. Aquinas believes that Christ
rising from the dead shows us that sacrifice will be justly
followed by new life. He also thinks that it confirms faith in
is good "for the raising of our hope," is important "to
set in order the lives of the faithful," and finally is
needed to "advance
us towards good things." (3A, 53, 1).
What is the best way to understand the mystery of the resurrection?
I think it is to see it,
like the Incarnation, in the context of the ultimate
mystery of life and
explore it for its meaning, because it also says something very
specific about us: the path to the divine (and the shape of the
future) is via the death of the ego, and if you willingly undergo
you will find new life.
The resurrection as well as the Incarnation are claims the
faith makes about the essential nature of reality: that the stuff
of existence is blessed since God became it and that in
an unexplainable way there is life after death.
The Ascension of the human Jesus Christ into heaven neatly ties
up the life of the risen Christ.
Quoting Augustine, Aquinas asks us to "Believe then that
Christ dwells so at
the right hand of the Father: For He is happy and the Father's
right hand is the name for bliss." (3A, 58, 1) We don't
know Heaven is, any more than we know what God is. But faith
tells is that whatever it is, it's got at least one human in
it, and that human is happy.
the epoch of grace
Aquinas describes the resurrection and ascension as the beginning
the third epoch. The first was the epoch before the Law (i.e.,
the Old Law), the second was the epoch under the Law (i.e., the
life of Christ) and the third is the epoch under Grace, where
we try and flourish not with the old rules or the presence of
Christ on earth, but through the ongoing healing presence of
grace in the
sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
"For this I was born, and for this I came into the world,
that I should give testimony to the truth."
On the resurrected Christ: "For Bede says on Lk. 24:40 that
He kept His scars not from inability to heal them, 'but to wear
them as an everlasting trophy of His victory.'"