QUESTION 47: OF THE EFFICIENT CAUSE OF CHRIST'S PASSION
We have now to consider the efficient cause of Christ's Passion,
concerning which there are six points of inquiry:
(1) Whether Christ was slain by others, or by Himself?
(2) From what motive did He deliver Himself up to the Passion?
(3) Whether the Father delivered Him up to suffer?
(4) Whether it was fitting that He should suffer at the hands of the
Gentiles, or rather of the Jews?
(5) Whether His slayers knew who He was?
(6) Of the sin of them who slew Christ.
Article 1: Whether Christ was slain by another or by Himself?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ was not slain by another, but by
Himself. For He says Himself (Jn. 10:18): "No men taketh My life from Me,
but I lay it down of Myself." But he is said to kill another who takes
away his life. Consequently, Christ was not slain by others, but by
Objection 2: Further, those slain by others sink gradually from exhausted
nature, and this is strikingly apparent in the crucified: for, as
Augustine says (De Trin. iv): "Those who were crucified were tormented
with a lingering death." But this did not happen in Christ's case, since
"crying out, with a loud voice, He yielded up the ghost" (Mt. 27:50).
Therefore Christ was not slain by others, but by Himself.
Objection 3: Further, those slain by others suffer a violent death, and hence
die unwillingly, because violent is opposed to voluntary. But Augustine
says (De Trin. iv): "Christ's spirit did not quit the flesh unwillingly,
but because He willed it, when He willed it, and as He willed it."
Consequently Christ was not slain by others, but by Himself.
On the contrary, It is written (Lk. 18:33): "After they have scourged
Him, they will put him to death."
I answer that, A thing may cause an effect in two ways: in the first
instance by acting directly so as to produce the effect; and in this
manner Christ's persecutors slew Him because they inflicted on Him what
was a sufficient cause of death, and with the intention of slaying Him,
and the effect followed, since death resulted from that cause. In another
way someone causes an effect indirectly---that is, by not preventing it
when he can do so; just as one person is said to drench another by not
closing the window through which the shower is entering: and in this way
Christ was the cause of His own Passion and death. For He could have
prevented His Passion and death. Firstly, by holding His enemies in
check, so that they would not have been eager to slay Him, or would have
been powerless to do so. Secondly, because His spirit had the power of
preserving His fleshly nature from the infliction of any injury; and
Christ's soul had this power, because it was united in unity of person
with the Divine Word, as Augustine says (De Trin. iv). Therefore, since
Christ's soul did not repel the injury inflicted on His body, but willed
His corporeal nature to succumb to such injury, He is said to have laid
down His life, or to have died voluntarily.
Reply to Objection 1: When we hear the words, "No man taketh away My life from
Me," we must understand "against My will": for that is properly said to
be "taken away" which one takes from someone who is unwilling and unable
Reply to Objection 2: In order for Christ to show that the Passion inflicted by
violence did not take away His life, He preserved the strength of His
bodily nature, so that at the last moment He was able to cry out with a
loud voice: and hence His death should be computed among His other
miracles. Accordingly it is written (Mk. 15:39): "And the centurion who
stood over against Him, seeing that crying out in this manner, He had
given up the ghost, said: Indeed, this man was the Son of God." It was
also a subject of wonder in Christ's death that He died sooner than the
others who were tormented with the same suffering. Hence John says
(19:32) that "they broke the legs of the first, and of the other that was
crucified with Him," that they might die more speedily; "but after they
were come to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not
break His legs." Mark also states (15:44) that "Pilate wondered that He
should be already dead." For as of His own will His bodily nature kept
its vigor to the end, so likewise, when He willed, He suddenly succumbed
to the injury inflicted.
Reply to Objection 3: Christ at the same time suffered violence in order to die,
and died, nevertheless, voluntarily; because violence was inflicted on
His body, which, however, prevailed over His body only so far as He
Article 2: Whether Christ died out of obedience?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ did not die out of obedience. For
obedience is referred to a command. But we do not read that Christ was
commanded to suffer. Therefore He did not suffer out of obedience.
Objection 2: Further, a man is said to do from obedience what he does from
necessity of precept. But Christ did not suffer necessarily, but
voluntarily. Therefore He did not suffer out of obedience.
Objection 3: Further, charity is a more excellent virtue than obedience. But
we read that Christ suffered out of charity, according to Eph. 5:2: "Walk
in love, as Christ also has loved us, and delivered Himself up for us."
Therefore Christ's Passion ought to be ascribed rather to charity than to
On the contrary, It is written (Phil. 2:8): "He became obedient" to the
Father "unto death."
I answer that, It was befitting that Christ should suffer out of
obedience. First of all, because it was in keeping with human
justification, that "as by the disobedience of one man, many were made
sinners: so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just," as is
written Rm. 5:19. Secondly, it was suitable for reconciling man with God:
hence it is written (Rm. 5:10): "We are reconciled to God by the death of
His Son," in so far as Christ's death was a most acceptable sacrifice to
God, according to Eph. 5:2: "He delivered Himself for us an oblation and
a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness." Now obedience is preferred
to all sacrifices. according to 1 Kgs. 15:22: "Obedience is better than
sacrifices." Therefore it was fitting that the sacrifice of Christ's
Passion and death should proceed from obedience. Thirdly, it was in
keeping with His victory whereby He triumphed over death and its author;
because a soldier cannot conquer unless he obey his captain. And so the
Man-Christ secured the victory through being obedient to God, according
to Prov. 21:28: "An obedient man shall speak of victory."
Reply to Objection 1: Christ received a command from the Father to suffer. For it
is written (Jn. 10:18): "I have power to lay down My life, and I have
power to take it up again: (and) this commandment have I received of My
Father"---namely, of laying down His life and of resuming it again. "From
which," as Chrysostom says (Hom. lix in Joan.), it is not to be
understood "that at first He awaited the command, and that He had need to
be told, but He showed the proceeding to be a voluntary one, and
destroyed suspicion of opposition" to the Father. Yet because the Old Law
was ended by Christ's death, according to His dying words, "It is
consummated" (Jn. 19:30), it may be understood that by His suffering He
fulfilled all the precepts of the Old Law. He fulfilled those of the
moral order which are founded on the precepts of charity, inasmuch as He
suffered both out of love of the Father, according to Jn. 14:31: "That
the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father hath given
Me commandment, so do I: arise, let us go hence"---namely, to the place
of His Passion: and out of love of His neighbor, according to Gal. 2:20:
"He loved me, and delivered Himself up for me." Christ likewise by His
Passion fulfilled the ceremonial precepts of the Law, which are chiefly
ordained for sacrifices and oblations, in so far as all the ancient
sacrifices were figures of that true sacrifice which the dying Christ
offered for us. Hence it is written (Col. 2:16,17): "Let no man judge
you in meat or drink, or in respect of a festival day, or of the new
moon, or of the sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the
body is Christ's," for the reason that Christ is compared to them as a
body is to a shadow. Christ also by His Passion fulfilled the judicial
precepts of the Law, which are chiefly ordained for making compensation
to them who have suffered wrong, since, as is written Ps. 68:5: He "paid
that which" He "took not away," suffering Himself to be fastened to a
tree on account of the apple which man had plucked from the tree against
Reply to Objection 2: Although obedience implies necessity with regard to the
thing commanded, nevertheless it implies free-will with regard to the
fulfilling of the precept. And, indeed, such was Christ's obedience, for,
although His Passion and death, considered in themselves, were repugnant
to the natural will, yet Christ resolved to fulfill God's will with
respect to the same, according to Ps. 39:9: "That I should do Thy will: O
my God, I have desired it." Hence He said (Mt. 26:42): "If this chalice
may not pass away, but I must drink it, Thy will be done."
Reply to Objection 3: For the same reason Christ suffered out of charity and out
of obedience; because He fulfilled even the precepts of charity out of
obedience only; and was obedient, out of love, to the Father's command.
Article 3: Whether God the Father delivered up Christ to the Passion?
Objection 1: It would seem that God the Father did not deliver up Christ to
the Passion. For it is a wicked and cruel act to hand over an innocent
man to torment and death. But, as it is written (Dt. 32:4): "God is
faithful, and without any iniquity." Therefore He did not hand over the
innocent Christ to His Passion and death.
Objection 2: Further, it is not likely that a man be given over to death by
himself and by another also. But Christ gave Himself up for us, as it is
written (Is. 53:12): "He hath delivered His soul unto death."
Consequently it does not appear that God the Father delivered Him up.
Objection 3: Further, Judas is held to be guilty because he betrayed Christ to
the Jews, according to Jn. 6:71: "One of you is a devil," alluding to
Judas, who was to betray Him. The Jews are likewise reviled for
delivering Him up to Pilate; as we read in Jn. 18:35: "Thy own nation,
and the chief priests have delivered Thee up to me." Moreover, as is
related in Jn. 19:16: Pilate "delivered Him to them to be crucified"; and
according to 2 Cor. 6:14: there is no "participation of justice with
injustice." It seems, therefore, that God the Father did not deliver up
Christ to His Passion.
On the contrary, It is written (Rm. 8:32): "God hath not spared His own
Son, but delivered Him up for us all."
I answer that, As observed above (Article ), Christ suffered voluntarily out
of obedience to the Father. Hence in three respects God the Father did
deliver up Christ to the Passion. In the first way, because by His
eternal will He preordained Christ's Passion for the deliverance of the
human race, according to the words of Isaias (53:6): "The Lord hath laid
on Him the iniquities of us all"; and again (Is. 53:10): "The Lord was
pleased to bruise Him in infirmity." Secondly, inasmuch as, by the
infusion of charity, He inspired Him with the will to suffer for us;
hence we read in the same passage: "He was offered because it was His own
will" (Is. 53:7). Thirdly, by not shielding Him from the Passion, but
abandoning Him to His persecutors: thus we read (Mt. 27:46) that Christ,
while hanging upon the cross, cried out: "My God, My God, why hast Thou
forsaken Me?" because, to wit, He left Him to the power of His
persecutors, as Augustine says (Ep. cxl).
Reply to Objection 1: It is indeed a wicked and cruel act to hand over an
innocent man to torment and to death against his will. Yet God the Father
did not so deliver up Christ, but inspired Him with the will to suffer
for us. God's "severity" (cf. Rm. 11:22) is thereby shown, for He would
not remit sin without penalty: and the Apostle indicates this when (Rm. 8:32) he says: "God spared not even His own Son." Likewise His "goodness"
(Rm. 11:22) shines forth, since by no penalty endured could man pay Him
enough satisfaction: and the Apostle denotes this when he says: "He
delivered Him up for us all": and, again (Rm. 3:25): "Whom"---that is to
say, Christ---God "hath proposed to be a propitiation through faith in
Reply to Objection 2: Christ as God delivered Himself up to death by the same
will and action as that by which the Father delivered Him up; but as man
He gave Himself up by a will inspired of the Father. Consequently there
is no contrariety in the Father delivering Him up and in Christ
delivering Himself up.
Reply to Objection 3: The same act, for good or evil, is judged differently,
accordingly as it proceeds from a different source. The Father delivered
up Christ, and Christ surrendered Himself, from charity, and consequently
we give praise to both: but Judas betrayed Christ from greed, the Jews
from envy, and Pilate from worldly fear, for he stood in fear of Caesar;
and these accordingly are held guilty.
Article 4: Whether it was fitting for Christ to suffer at the hands of the Gentiles?
Objection 1: It would seem unfitting that Christ should suffer at the hands of
the Gentiles. For since men were to be freed from sin by Christ's death,
it would seem fitting that very few should sin in His death. But the Jews
sinned in His death, on whose behalf it is said (Mt. 21:38): "This is the
heir; come, let us kill him." It seems fitting, therefore, that the
Gentiles should not be implicated in the sin of Christ's slaying.
Objection 2: Further, the truth should respond to the figure. Now it was not
the Gentiles but the Jews who offered the figurative sacrifices of the
Old Law. Therefore neither ought Christ's Passion, which was a true
sacrifice, to be fulfilled at the hands of the Gentiles.
Objection 3: Further, as related Jn. 5:18, "the Jews sought to kill" Christ
because "He did not only break the sabbath, but also said God was His
Father, making Himself equal to God." But these things seemed to be only
against the Law of the Jews: hence they themselves said (Jn. 19:7):
"According to the Law He ought to die because He made Himself the Son of
God." It seems fitting, therefore, that Christ should suffer, at the
hands not of the Gentiles, but of the Jews, and that what they said was
untrue: "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death," since many
sins are punishable with death according to the Law, as is evident from
On the contrary, our Lord Himself says (Mt. 20:19): "They shall deliver
Him to the Gentiles to be mocked, and scourged, and crucified."
I answer that, The effect of Christ's Passion was foreshown by the very
manner of His death. For Christ's Passion wrought its effect of salvation
first of all among the Jews, very many of whom were baptized in His
death, as is evident from Acts 2:41 and Acts 4:4. Afterwards, by the
preaching of Jews, Christ's Passion passed on to the Gentiles.
Consequently it was fitting that Christ should begin His sufferings at
the hands of the Jews, and, after they had delivered Him up, finish His
Passion at the hands of the Gentiles.
Reply to Objection 1: In order to demonstrate the fulness of His love, on account
of which He suffered, Christ upon the cross prayed for His persecutors.
Therefore, that the fruits of His petition might accrue to Jews and
Gentiles, Christ willed to suffer from both.
Reply to Objection 2: Christ's Passion was the offering of a sacrifice, inasmuch
as He endured death of His own free-will out of charity: but in so far as
He suffered from His persecutors it was not a sacrifice, but a most
Reply to Objection 3: As Augustine says (Tract. cxiv in Joan.): "The Jews said
that 'it is not lawful for us to put any man to death,' because they
understood that it was not lawful for them to put any man to death" owing
to the sacredness of the feast-day, which they had already begun to
celebrate. or, as Chrysostom observes (Hom. lxxxiii in Joan.), because
they wanted Him to be slain, not as a transgressor of the Law, but as a
public enemy, since He had made Himself out to be a king, of which it was
not their place to judge. Or, again, because it was not lawful for them
to crucify Him (as they wanted to), but to stone Him, as they did to
Stephen. Better still is it to say that the power of putting to death was
taken from them by the Romans, whose subjects they were.
Article 5: Whether Christ's persecutors knew who He was?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ's persecutors did know who He was. For
it is written (Mt. 21:38) that the husbandmen seeing the son said within
themselves: "This is the heir; come, let us kill him." On this Jerome
remarks: "Our Lord proves most manifestly by these words that the rulers
of the Jews crucified the Son of God, not from ignorance, but out of
envy: for they understood that it was He to whom the Father says by the
Prophet: 'Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the Gentiles for Thy
inheritance.'" It seems, therefore, that they knew Him to be Christ or
the Son of God.
Objection 2: Further, our Lord says (Jn. 15:24): "But now they have both seen
and hated both Me and My Father." Now what is seen is known manifestly.
Therefore the Jews, knowing Christ, inflicted the Passion on Him out of
Objection 3: Further, it is said in a sermon delivered in the Council of
Ephesus (P. iii, cap. x): "Just as he who tears up the imperial message
is doomed to die, as despising the prince's word; so the Jew, who
crucified Him whom he had seen, will pay the penalty for daring to lay
his hands on God the Word Himself." Now this would not be so had they not
known Him to be the Son of God, because their ignorance would have
excused them. Therefore it seems that the Jews in crucifying Christ knew
Him to be the Son of God.
On the contrary, It is written (1 Cor. 2:8): "If they had known it, they
would never have crucified the Lord of glory." And (Acts 3:17), Peter,
addressing the Jews, says: "I know that you did it through ignorance, as
did also your rulers." Likewise the Lord hanging upon the cross said:
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34).
I answer that, Among the Jews some were elders, and others of lesser degree. Now according to the author of De Qq. Nov. et Vet. Test., qu. lxvi, the elders, who were called "rulers, knew," as did also the devils, "that He was the Christ promised in the Law: for they saw all the signs in Him which the prophets said would come to pass: but they did not know the mystery of His Godhead." Consequently the Apostle says: "If they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory." It must, however, be understood that their ignorance did not excuse them from crime, because it was, as it were, affected ignorance. For they saw manifest signs of His Godhead; yet they perverted them out of hatred and envy of Christ; neither would they believe His words, whereby He avowed that He was the Son of God. Hence He Himself says of them (Jn. 15:22): "If I had not come, and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin." And afterwards He adds (Jn. 15:24): "If I had not done among them the works that no other man hath done, they would not have sin." And so the expression employed by Job (21:14) can be accepted on their behalf: "(Who) said to God: depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways."
But those of lesser degree---namely, the common folk---who had not
grasped the mysteries of the Scriptures, did not fully comprehend that He
was the Christ or the Son of God. For although some of them believed in
Him, yet the multitude did not; and if they doubted sometimes whether He
was the Christ, on account of the manifold signs and force of His
teaching, as is stated Jn. 7:31,41, nevertheless they were deceived
afterwards by their rulers, so that they did not believe Him to be the
Son of God or the Christ. Hence Peter said to them: "I know that you did
it through ignorance, as did also your rulers"---namely, because they
were seduced by the rulers.
Reply to Objection 1: Those words are spoken by the husbandmen of the vineyard;
and these signify the rulers of the people, who knew Him to be the heir,
inasmuch as they knew Him to be the Christ promised in the Law, but the
words of Ps. 2:8 seem to militate against this answer: "Ask of Me, and I
will give Thee the Gentiles for Thy inheritance"; which are addressed to
Him of whom it is said: "Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee."
If, then, they knew Him to be the one to whom the words were addressed:
"Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the Gentiles for Thy inheritance," it
follows that they knew Him to be the Son of God. Chrysostom, too, says
upon the same passage that "they knew Him to be the Son of God." Bede
likewise, commenting on the words, "For they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34), says: "It is to be observed that He does not pray for them who,
understanding Him to be the Son of God, preferred to crucify Him rather
than acknowledge Him." But to this it may be replied that they knew Him
to be the Son of God, not from His Nature, but from the excellence of His
Yet we may hold that they are said to have known also that He was verily
the Son of God, in that they had evident signs thereof: yet out of hatred
and envy, they refused credence to these signs, by which they might have
known that He was the Son of God.
Reply to Objection 2: The words quoted are preceded by the following: "If I had
not done among them the works that no other man hath done, they would not
have sin"; and then follow the words: "But now they have both seen and
hated both Me and My Father." Now all this shows that while they beheld
Christ's marvelous works, it was owing to their hatred that they did not
know Him to be the Son of God.
Reply to Objection 3: Affected ignorance does not excuse from guilt, but seems,
rather, to aggravate it: for it shows that a man is so strongly attached
to sin that he wishes to incur ignorance lest he avoid sinning. The Jews
therefore sinned, as crucifiers not only of the Man-Christ, but also as
Article 6: Whether the sin of those who crucified Christ was most grievous?
Objection 1: It would seem that the sin of Christ's crucifiers was not the
most grievous. Because the sin which has some excuse cannot be most
grievous. But our Lord Himself excused the sin of His crucifiers when He
said: "Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34).
Therefore theirs was not the most grievous sin.
Objection 2: Further, our Lord said to Pilate (Jn. 19:11): "He that hath
delivered Me to thee hath the greater sin." But it was Pilate who caused
Christ to be crucified by his minions. Therefore the sin of Judas the
traitor seems to be greater than that of those who crucified Him.
Objection 3: Further, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. v): "No one suffers
injustice willingly"; and in the same place he adds: "Where no one
suffers injustice, nobody works injustice." Consequently nobody wreaks
injustice upon a willing subject. But Christ suffered willingly, as was
shown above (Articles ,2). Therefore those who crucified Christ did Him no
injustice; and hence their sin was not the most grievous.
On the contrary, Chrysostom, commenting on the words, "Fill ye up, then,
the measure of your fathers" (Mt. 23:32), says: "In very truth they
exceeded the measure of their fathers; for these latter slew men, but
they crucified God."
I answer that, As stated above (Article ), the rulers of the Jews knew that
He was the Christ: and if there was any ignorance in them, it was
affected ignorance, which could not excuse them. Therefore their sin was
the most grievous, both on account of the kind of sin, as well as from
the malice of their will. The Jews also of the common order sinned most
grievously as to the kind of their sin: yet in one respect their crime
was lessened by reason of their ignorance. Hence Bede, commenting on Lk.
23:34, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," says: "He
prays for them who know not what they are doing, as having the zeal of
God, but not according to knowledge." But the sin of the Gentiles, by
whose hands He was crucified, was much more excusable, since they had no
knowledge of the Law.
Reply to Objection 1: As stated above, the excuse made by our Lord is not to be
referred to the rulers among the Jews, but to the common people.
Reply to Objection 2: Judas did not deliver up Christ to Pilate, but to the chief
priests who gave Him up to Pilate, according to Jn. 18:35: "Thy own
nation and the chief priests have delivered Thee up to me." But the sin
of all these was greater than that of Pilate, who slew Christ from fear
of Caesar; and even greater than the sin of the soldiers who crucified
Him at the governor's bidding, not out of cupidity like Judas, nor from
envy and hate like the chief priests.
Reply to Objection 3: Christ, indeed willed His Passion just as the Father willed
it; yet He did not will the unjust action of the Jews. Consequently
Christ's slayers are not excused of their injustice. Nevertheless,
whoever slays a man not only does a wrong to the one slain, but likewise
to God and to the State; just as he who kills himself, as the Philosopher
says (Ethic. v). Hence it was that David condemned to death the man who
"did not fear to lay hands upon the Lord's anointed," even though he
(Saul) had requested it, as related 2 Kgs. 1:5-14.