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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 ... Such 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 also 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, 49, 4)

He thinks it is fitting for a number of reasons.

That Christ would give up his 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 perspective 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 is a work of art: it is an image forcing us to 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 into. The sins of the ego are redeemed by nothing less than the conscious tearing down of the very structures of ego itself, the ultimate act of 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 Christ's divinity, 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 that death, 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.

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"For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, that I should give testimony to the truth."
John 18:37

 

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.'"
(3A, 54, 4)

 

 
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