QUESTION 48: OF THE EFFICIENCY OF CHRIST'S PASSION
We now have to consider Christ's Passion as to its effect; first of all,
as to the manner in which it was brought about; and, secondly, as to the
effect in itself. Under the first heading there are six points for
(1) Whether Christ's Passion brought about our salvation by way of merit?
(2) Whether it was by way of atonement?
(3) Whether it was by way of sacrifice?
(4) Whether it was by way of redemption?
(5) Whether it is proper to Christ to be the Redeemer?
(6) Whether (the Passion) secured man's salvation efficiently?
Article 1: Whether Christ's Passion brought about our salvation by way of merit?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ's Passion did not bring about our
salvation by way of merit. For the sources of our sufferings are not
within us. But no one merits or is praised except for that whose
principle lies within him. Therefore Christ's Passion wrought nothing by
way of merit.
Objection 2: Further, from the beginning of His conception Christ merited for
Himself and for us, as stated above (Question , Article ; Question , Article ). But it is
superfluous to merit over again what has been merited before. Therefore
by His Passion Christ did not merit our salvation.
Objection 3: Further, the source of merit is charity. But Christ's charity was
not made greater by the Passion than it was before. Therefore He did not
merit our salvation by suffering more than He had already.
On the contrary, on the words of Phil. 2:9, "Therefore God exalted Him,"
etc., Augustine says (Tract. civ in Joan.): "The lowliness" of the
Passion "merited glory; glory was the reward of lowliness." But He was
glorified, not merely in Himself, but likewise in His faithful ones, as
He says Himself (Jn. 17:10). Therefore it appears that He merited the
salvation of the faithful.
I answer that, As stated above (Question , Articles ,9; Question , Articles ,5), grace was
bestowed upon Christ, not only as an individual, but inasmuch as He is
the Head of the Church, so that it might overflow into His members; and
therefore Christ's works are referred to Himself and to His members in
the same way as the works of any other man in a state of grace are
referred to himself. But it is evident that whosoever suffers for
justice's sake, provided that he be in a state of grace, merits his
salvation thereby, according to Mt. 5:10: "Blessed are they that suffer
persecution for justice's sake." Consequently Christ by His Passion
merited salvation, not only for Himself, but likewise for all His members.
Reply to Objection 1: Suffering, as such, is caused by an outward principle: but
inasmuch as one bears it willingly, it has an inward principle.
Reply to Objection 2: From the beginning of His conception Christ merited our
eternal salvation; but on our side there were some obstacles, whereby we
were hindered from securing the effect of His preceding merits:
consequently, in order to remove such hindrances, "it was necessary for
Christ to suffer," as stated above (Question , Article ).
Reply to Objection 3: Christ's Passion has a special effect, which His preceding
merits did not possess, not on account of greater charity, but because of
the nature of the work, which was suitable for such an effect, as is
clear from the arguments brought forward above all the fittingness of
Christ's Passion (Question , Articles, 3,4).
Article 2: Whether Christ's Passion brought about our salvation by way of atonement?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ's Passion did not bring about our
salvation by way of atonement. For it seems that to make the atonement
devolves on him who commits the sin; as is clear in the other parts of
penance, because he who has done the wrong must grieve over it and
confess it. But Christ never sinned, according to 1 Pt. 2:22: "Who did no
sin." Therefore He made no atonement by His personal suffering.
Objection 2: Further, no atonement is made to another by committing a graver
offense. But in Christ's Passion the gravest of all offenses was
perpetrated, because those who slew Him sinned most grievously, as stated
above (Question , Article ). Consequently it seems that atonement could not be
made to God by Christ's Passion.
Objection 3: Further, atonement implies equality with the trespass, since it
is an act of justice. But Christ's Passion does not appear equal to all
the sins of the human race, because Christ did not suffer in His Godhead,
but in His flesh, according to 1 Pt. 4:1: "Christ therefore having
suffered in the flesh." Now the soul, which is the subject of sin, is of
greater account than the flesh. Therefore Christ did not atone for our
sins by His Passion.
On the contrary, It is written (Ps. 68:5) in Christ's person: "Then did
I pay that which I took not away." But he has not paid who has not fully
atoned. Therefore it appears that Christ by His suffering has fully
atoned for our sins.
I answer that, He properly atones for an offense who offers something
which the offended one loves equally, or even more than he detested the
offense. But by suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to
God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human
race. First of all, because of the exceeding charity from which He
suffered; secondly, on account of the dignity of His life which He laid
down in atonement, for it was the life of one who was God and man;
thirdly, on account of the extent of the Passion, and the greatness of
the grief endured, as stated above (Question , Article ). And therefore Christ's
Passion was not only a sufficient but a superabundant atonement for the
sins of the human race; according to 1 Jn. 2:2: "He is the propitiation
for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole
Reply to Objection 1: The head and members are as one mystic person; and
therefore Christ's satisfaction belongs to all the faithful as being His
members. Also, in so far as any two men are one in charity, the one can
atone for the other as shall be shown later (XP, Question , Article ). But the
same reason does not hold good of confession and contrition, because
atonement consists in an outward action, for which helps may be used,
among which friends are to be computed.
Reply to Objection 2: Christ's love was greater than His slayers' malice: and
therefore the value of His Passion in atoning surpassed the murderous
guilt of those who crucified Him: so much so that Christ's suffering was
sufficient and superabundant atonement for His murderer's crime.
Reply to Objection 3: The dignity of Christ's flesh is not to be estimated solely
from the nature of flesh, but also from the Person assuming it---namely,
inasmuch as it was God's flesh, the result of which was that it was of
Article 3: Whether Christ's Passion operated by way of sacrifice?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ's Passion did not operate by way of
sacrifice. For the truth should correspond with the figure. But human
flesh was never offered up in the sacrifices of the Old Law, which were
figures of Christ: nay, such sacrifices were reputed as impious,
according to Ps. 105:38: "And they shed innocent blood: the blood of
their sons and of their daughters, which they sacrificed to the idols of
Chanaan." It seems therefore that Christ's Passion cannot be called a
Objection 2: Further, Augustine says (De Civ. Dei x) that "a visible sacrifice
is a sacrament---that is, a sacred sign---of an invisible sacrifice." Now
Christ's Passion is not a sign, but rather the thing signified by other
signs. Therefore it seems that Christ's Passion is not a sacrifice.
Objection 3: Further, whoever offers sacrifice performs some sacred rite, as
the very word "sacrifice" shows. But those men who slew Christ did not
perform any sacred act, but rather wrought a great wrong. Therefore
Christ's Passion was rather a malefice than a sacrifice.
On the contrary, The Apostle says (Eph. 5:2): "He delivered Himself up
for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness."
I answer that, A sacrifice properly so called is something done for that
honor which is properly due to God, in order to appease Him: and hence it
is that Augustine says (De Civ. Dei x): "A true sacrifice is every good
work done in order that we may cling to God in holy fellowship, yet
referred to that consummation of happiness wherein we can be truly
blessed." But, as is added in the same place, "Christ offered Himself up
for us in the Passion": and this voluntary enduring of the Passion was
most acceptable to God, as coming from charity. Therefore it is manifest
that Christ's Passion was a true sacrifice. Moreover, as Augustine says
farther on in the same book, "the primitive sacrifices of the holy
Fathers were many and various signs of this true sacrifice, one being
prefigured by many, in the same way as a single concept of thought is
expressed in many words, in order to commend it without tediousness":
and, as Augustine observe, (De Trin. iv), "since there are four things to
be noted in every sacrifice---to wit, to whom it is offered, by whom it
is offered, what is offered, and for whom it is offered---that the same
one true Mediator reconciling us with God through the peace-sacrifice
might continue to be one with Him to whom He offered it, might be one
with them for whom He offered it, and might Himself be the offerer and
what He offered."
Reply to Objection 1: Although the truth answers to the figure in some respects,
yet it does not in all, since the truth must go beyond the figure.
Therefore the figure of this sacrifice, in which Christ's flesh is
offered, was flesh right fittingly, not the flesh of men, but of animals,
as denoting Christ's. And this is a most perfect sacrifice. First of all,
since being flesh of human nature, it is fittingly offered for men, and
is partaken of by them under the Sacrament. Secondly, because being
passible and mortal, it was fit for immolation. Thirdly, because, being
sinless, it had virtue to cleanse from sins. Fourthly, because, being the
offerer's own flesh, it was acceptable to God on account of His charity
in offering up His own flesh. Hence it is that Augustine says (De Trin.
iv): "What else could be so fittingly partaken of by men, or offered up
for men, as human flesh? What else could be so appropriate for this
immolation as mortal flesh? What else is there so clean for cleansing
mortals as the flesh born in the womb without fleshly concupiscence, and
coming from a virginal womb? What could be so favorably offered and
accepted as the flesh of our sacrifice, which was made the body of our
Reply to Objection 2: Augustine is speaking there of visible figurative
sacrifices: and even Christ's Passion, although denoted by other
figurative sacrifices, is yet a sign of something to be observed by us,
according to 1 Pt. 4:1: "Christ therefore, having suffered in the flesh,
be you also armed with the same thought: for he that hath suffered in the
flesh hath ceased from sins: that now he may live the rest of his time in
the flesh, not after the desires of men, but according to the will of
Reply to Objection 3: Christ's Passion was indeed a malefice on His slayers'
part; but on His own it was the sacrifice of one suffering out of
charity. Hence it is Christ who is said to have offered this sacrifice,
and not the executioners.
Article 4: Whether Christ's Passion brought about our salvation by way of redemption?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ's Passion did not effect our salvation
by way of redemption. For no one purchases or redeems what never ceased
to belong to him. But men never ceased to belong to God according to Ps.
23:1: "The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof: the world and all
they that dwell therein." Therefore it seems that Christ did not redeem
us by His Passion.
Objection 2: Further, as Augustine says (De Trin. xiii): "The devil had to be
overthrown by Christ's justice." But justice requires that the man who
has treacherously seized another's property shall be deprived of it,
because deceit and cunning should not benefit anyone, as even human laws
declare. Consequently, since the devil by treachery deceived and
subjugated to himself man, who is God's creature, it seems that man ought
not to be rescued from his power by way of redemption.
Objection 3: Further, whoever buys or redeems an object pays the price to the
holder. But it was not to the devil, who held us in bondage, that Christ
paid His blood as the price of our redemption. Therefore Christ did not
redeem us by His Passion.
On the contrary, It is written (1 Pt. 1:18): "You were not redeemed with
corruptible things as gold or silver from your vain conversation of the
tradition of your fathers: but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a
lamb unspotted and undefiled." And (Gal. 3:13): "Christ hath redeemed us
from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." Now He is said to
be a curse for us inasmuch as He suffered upon the tree, as stated above
(Question , Article ). Therefore He did redeem us by His Passion.
I answer that, Man was held captive on account of sin in two ways: first
of all, by the bondage of sin, because (Jn. 8:34): "Whosoever committeth
sin is the servant of sin"; and (2 Pt. 2:19): "By whom a man is overcome,
of the same also he is the slave." Since, then, the devil had overcome
man by inducing him to sin, man was subject to the devil's bondage.
Secondly, as to the debt of punishment, to the payment of which man was
held fast by God's justice: and this, too, is a kind of bondage, since it
savors of bondage for a man to suffer what he does not wish, just as it
is the free man's condition to apply himself to what he wills.
Since, then, Christ's Passion was a sufficient and a superabundant
atonement for the sin and the debt of the human race, it was as a price
at the cost of which we were freed from both obligations. For the
atonement by which one satisfies for self or another is called the price,
by which he ransoms himself or someone else from sin and its penalty,
according to Dan. 4:24: "Redeem thou thy sins with alms." Now Christ made
satisfaction, not by giving money or anything of the sort, but by
bestowing what was of greatest price---Himself---for us. And therefore
Christ's Passion is called our redemption.
Reply to Objection 1: Man is said to belong to God in two ways. First of all, in
so far as he comes under God's power: in which way he never ceased to
belong to God; according to Dan. 4:22: "The Most High ruleth over the
kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will." Secondly, by being
united to Him in charity, according to Rm. 8:9: "If any man have not the
Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." In the first way, then, man never
ceased to belong to God, but in the second way he did cease because of
sin. And therefore in so far as he was delivered from sin by the
satisfaction of Christ's Passion, he is said to be redeemed by the
Passion of Christ.
Reply to Objection 2: Man by sinning became the bondsman both of God and of the
devil. Through guilt he had offended God, and put himself under the devil
by consenting to him; consequently he did not become God's servant on
account of his guilt, but rather, by withdrawing from God's service, he,
by God's just permission, fell under the devil's servitude on account of
the offense perpetrated. But as to the penalty, man was chiefly bound to
God as his sovereign judge, and to the devil as his torturer, according
to Mt. 5:25: "Lest perhaps the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and
the judge deliver thee to the officer"---that is, "to the relentless
avenging angel," as Chrysostom says (Hom. xi). Consequently, although,
after deceiving man, the devil, so far as in him lay, held him unjustly
in bondage as to both sin and penalty, still it was just that man should
suffer it. God so permitting it as to the sin and ordaining it as to the
penalty. And therefore justice required man's redemption with regard to
God, but not with regard to the devil.
Reply to Objection 3: Because, with regard to God, redemption was necessary for
man's deliverance, but not with regard to the devil, the price had to be
paid not to the devil, but to God. And therefore Christ is said to have
paid the price of our redemption---His own precious blood---not to the
devil, but to God.
Article 5: Whether it is proper to Christ to be the Redeemer?
Objection 1: It would seem that it is not proper to Christ to be the Redeemer,
because it is written (Ps. 30:6): "Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, the God
of Truth." But to be the Lord God of Truth belongs to the entire
Trinity. Therefore it is not proper to Christ.
Objection 2: Further, he is said to redeem who pays the price of redemption.
But God the Father gave His Son in redemption for our sins, as is written
(Ps. 110:9): "The Lord hath sent redemption to His people," upon which
the gloss adds, "that is, Christ, who gives redemption to captives."
Therefore not only Christ, but the Father also, redeemed us.
Objection 3: Further, not only Christ's Passion, but also that of other saints
conduced to our salvation, according to Col. 1:24: "I now rejoice in my
sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the
sufferings of Christ, in my flesh for His body, which is the Church."
Therefore the title of Redeemer belongs not only to Christ, but also to
the other saints.
On the contrary, It is written (Gal. 3:13): "Christ redeemed us from the
curse of the Law, being made a curse for us." But only Christ was made a
curse for us. Therefore only Christ ought to be called our Redeemer.
I answer that, For someone to redeem, two things are required---namely,
the act of paying and the price paid. For if in redeeming something a man
pays a price which is not his own, but another's, he is not said to be
the chief redeemer, but rather the other is, whose price it is. Now
Christ's blood or His bodily life, which "is in the blood," is the price
of our redemption (Lev. 17:11,14), and that life He paid. Hence both of
these belong immediately to Christ as man; but to the Trinity as to the
first and remote cause, to whom Christ's life belonged as to its first
author, and from whom Christ received the inspiration of suffering for
us. Consequently it is proper to Christ as man to be the Redeemer
immediately; although the redemption may be ascribed to the whole Trinity
as its first cause.
Reply to Objection 1: A gloss explains the text thus: "Thou, O Lord God of Truth,
hast redeemed me in Christ, crying out, 'Lord, into Thy hands I commend
my spirit.'" And so redemption belongs immediately to the Man-Christ, but
principally to God.
Reply to Objection 2: The Man-Christ paid the price of our redemption
immediately, but at the command of the Father as the original author.
Reply to Objection 3: The sufferings of the saints are beneficial to the Church,
as by way, not of redemption, but of example and exhortation, according
to 2 Cor. 1:6: "Whether we be in tribulation, it is for your exhortation
Article 6: Whether Christ's Passion brought about our salvation efficiently?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ's Passion did not bring about our
salvation efficiently. For the efficient cause of our salvation is the
greatness of the Divine power, according to Is. 59:1: "Behold the hand of
the Lord is not shortened that it cannot save." But "Christ was crucified
through weakness," as it is written (2 Cor. 13:4). Therefore, Christ's
Passion did not bring about our salvation efficiently.
Objection 2: Further, no corporeal agency acts efficiently except by contact:
hence even Christ cleansed the leper by touching him "in order to show
that His flesh had saving power," as Chrysostom [*Theophylact, Enarr. in
Luc.] says. But Christ's Passion could not touch all mankind. Therefore
it could not efficiently bring about the salvation of all men.
Objection 3: Further, it does not seem to be consistent for the same agent to
operate by way of merit and by way of efficiency, since he who merits
awaits the result from someone else. But it was by way of merit that
Christ's Passion accomplished our salvation. Therefore it was not by way
On the contrary, It is written (1 Cor. 1:18) that "the word of the cross
to them that are saved . . . is the power of God." But God's power brings
about our salvation efficiently. Therefore Christ's Passion on the cross
accomplished our salvation efficiently.
I answer that, There is a twofold efficient agency---namely, the
principal and the instrumental. Now the principal efficient cause of
man's salvation is God. But since Christ's humanity is the "instrument of
the Godhead," as stated above (Question , Article ), therefore all Christ's
actions and sufferings operate instrumentally in virtue of His Godhead
for the salvation of men. Consequently, then, Christ's Passion
accomplishes man's salvation efficiently.
Reply to Objection 1: Christ's Passion in relation to His flesh is consistent
with the infirmity which He took upon Himself, but in relation to the
Godhead it draws infinite might from It, according to 1 Cor. 1:25: "The
weakness of God is stronger than men"; because Christ's weakness,
inasmuch as He is God, has a might exceeding all human power.
Reply to Objection 2: Christ's Passion, although corporeal, has yet a spiritual
effect from the Godhead united: and therefore it secures its efficacy by
spiritual contact---namely, by faith and the sacraments of faith, as the
Apostle says (Rm. 3:25): "Whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation,
through faith in His blood."
Reply to Objection 3: Christ's Passion, according as it is compared with His
Godhead, operates in an efficient manner: but in so far as it is compared
with the will of Christ's soul it acts in a meritorious manner:
considered as being within Christ's very flesh, it acts by way of
satisfaction, inasmuch as we are liberated by it from the debt of
punishment; while inasmuch as we are freed from the servitude of guilt,
it acts by way of redemption: but in so far as we are reconciled with God
it acts by way of sacrifice, as shall be shown farther on (Question ).