Choose a topic from Vol 3:


Reason proves God's existence
Primitive monotheism
Mystery of God's inner nature
Personality of God
Providence of God and the problem of evil


Immortal destiny of man
Can earth give true happiness?
Do human souls evolve?
Is transmigration possible?
Animal souls
Freedom of will
Free will and faith


Religion and God
The duty of prayer
The mysteries of religion
Can we believe in miracles?

The Religion of the Bible

Historical character of the Gospels
Canonical Books of the Bible
Original Manuscripts
Copyists' errors
Truth of the Bible
New Testament "contradictions"

The Christian Religion

Christianity alone true
Not the product of religious experience
Compared with Buddhism, Confucianism, Mahometanism, Bahaism, etc.,
Rejected by modern Jews
The demand for miracles
The necessity of faith
Difficulties not doubts
Proofs available
Dispositions of unbelievers

A Definite Christian Faith

One religion not as good as another
Changing one's religion
Catholic convictions and zeal
Religious controversy
The curse of bigotry
Towards a solution

The Problem of Reunion

Efforts at the reunion of the Churches
The Church of England as a "Bridge-Church"
Anglicans and the Greek Orthodox Church
The "Old Catholics" of Holland
Reunion Conferences
Catholic Unity
The Papacy as reunion center
Protestant hostility to Catholicism
The demands of charity

The Truth of Catholicism

Necessity of the Church
The true Church
Catholic claim absolute
A clerical hierarchy
Papal Supremacy
Temporal Power
Unity of the Church
Holiness of the Church
Catholicity of the Church
Catholic attitude to converts
Indefectible Apostolicity
Necessity of becoming a Catholic

The Church and the Bible

Catholic belief in the Bible
Bible-reading and private interpretation
Value of Tradition and the "Fathers"
Guidance of the Church necessary

The Dogmas of the Catholic Church

Dogmatic certainty
Credal statements
Faith and reason
The voice of science
Fate of rationalists
The dogma of the Trinity
Creation and evolution
The existence of angels
Evil spirits or devils
Man's eternal destiny
The fact of sin
Nature and work of Christ
Mary, the mother of God
Grace and salvation
The sacraments
Holy Eucharist
The Sacrifice of the Mass
Holy Communion
Marriage and divorce
Extreme Unction
Man's death and judgment
Resurrection of the body
End of the World

Moral Teachings of the Catholic Church

Catholic intolerance
The Spanish Inquisition
Prohibition of Books
Liberty of worship
Forbidden Socieities
Church attendance
The New Psychology
Deterministic philosophy
Marriage Legislation
Birth Prevention
Monastic Life
Convent Life
Legal defense of murderers
Laywers and divorce proceedings
Judges in Divorce
Professional secrecy

The Church in Her Worship

Why build churches?
Glamor of ritual
The "Lord's Prayer"
Pagan derivations
Liturgical symbolism
Use of Latin
Intercession of Mary and the Saints

The Church and Social Welfare

The Church and Education
The Social Problem
Social Duty of the Church
Catholicism and Capitalism

Nature and work of Christ

690. In what year and on what day was Christ born?

It is probable that He was born on December 25th, our present Christmas Day. I say that this is probable, because there is really no strict proof in favor of the exact day. Traditionally, we can say that there is much more for it than against it. There is more difficulty as regards the exact year. It is certain that Christ was born after the Roman year 747, and before the Roman year 749. That is, He was born between 5 and 7 years before the usually accepted year 1 of the Christian era.

691. Whence came the mistake concerning the year of Christ's birth?

From the mistakes of those who originated our present calendar. In the year 525, Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk, decided to draw up an exact calendar for the Christian era. He calculated that Christ was born in the year 753 after the founding of Rome. But it is certain that he was mistaken. For Herod, who persecuted Christ and slaughtered the innocents, died in April, 750. Herod could not have persecuted Christ if our Lord was not born until 3 years after Herod's death! Again, Herod was in Jerusalem when he sought to destroy Christ, yet left Jerusalem for good in November, 749. Therefore, our Lord must have been born by then. Moreover, Herod made diligent inquiry of the Wise Men as to the circumstances of our Lord's birth, and decided to kill all the male children of two years and under. Evidently, then, our Lord was at least one year old, or even perhaps 18 months. If we deduct two years from 749 we get back to 747. If Christ was born in 747, after the founding of Rome, instead of 753 as Dionysius thought, He was born six years before our present mistaken calendar supposes. It need scarcely be said that the uncertainty of human calculations as to time in no way affects the fact of the birth of Christ.

692. Why did Christ refrain from preaching and instructing mankind until He was thirty years of age?

Our Lord's life, from the moment He commenced it, was a practical instruction for all time. But our Lord did not undertake the public preaching of His religion until He was about thirty years of age. There were several reasons for this. He wished to sanctify home life by His long submission to Joseph and Mary, setting the example of obedience to parents, and showing the supreme importance of domestic society. What home life is the national life will be. Again, our Lord wished to do and to teach; and, therefore, He gave years to the exemplification of virtue before He preached it. He wished also to be faithful to the Jewish Law, which did not permit one to teach religion until 30 years of age, which was regarded as the age of maturity of thought and judgment. Christ would not give the Jews the excuse to reject Him on the score that He was under the legal age of teachers in religious matters.

693. Is it not true that there are no references to the Life of Jesus in the Gospels from the ages of twelve to thirty?

That is not quite true. St. Luke tells us that Jesus went down to Nazareth, and that He was subject to Joseph and Mary. The Greek word used by St. Luke implies that He was continuously subject to them.

694. Would not that bear out the contention that He was in India between the ages of twelve and thirty, learning the Buddhist religion, and getting the ideas He later preached in Palestine?

St. Luke's assurance that He went down to Nazareth and continued there in subjection to Joseph and Mary certainly does not bear out the notion that He went off to India. Nor is there a trace of evidence that He did. And most certainly Christ neither preached Buddhistic doctrines, nor derived His teachings from Buddhism in any shape or form. Christ said simply, "My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me." To the Apostles He said, "All things that I have heard of my Father I have made known to you." He did not say, "All things that I have heard from the Buddhist monks." Again He said to Nicodemus, "No man hath ascended into heaven but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven ... how will you believe if I speak to you heavenly things?" He did not say "Indian" things. Christ's character merits credence. The accusation that He preached Buddhism denies His veracity; and not only is there no evidence for it; it is against the evidence that does exist.

695. The doctrines of the Sermon on the Mount were part of the Buddhist religion before Christ was born.

That is not really true. Religion is natural to man as well as a conscience dictating natural ethics. The moral aspirations of men will, therefore, lead to certain similar ethical principles. But to construct a journey to India, and to picture Christ sitting at the feet of Buddhist teachers on a few vague similarities is fanciful in the extreme; and above all, when the dissimilarities are far more significant. In reality the moral teachings of Buddhism are nothing like those of the Sermon on the Mount. Such good and natural ideas as exist in Buddhism bear only a superficial likeness to the doctrine of Christ. Christ taught supernatural virtue to be exercised with the help of God's grace, and from motives of pure love of God. Buddhism knows nothing of this. It teaches natural virtue only, from motives of self-love, or merely natural sympathy. There is nothing in Buddhistic teaching which surpasses the natural ingenuity of man; and the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount is entirely different from anything in Buddhism. St. Matthew records that, when Christ finished speaking, the "people were in admiration at His doctrine, for He was teaching them as one having power, and not as the Scribes and Pharisees." And we can equally say, "not as the Buddhists." Christ's doctrine in itself, and in the manner in which He taught it, and in the source He claimed for it, rules out any possibility of its derivation from Buddhism.

696. Was not Christ mistaken in many of His teachings?

Christ was God in human form; and God does not make mistakes.

697. The Gospels show that Christ thought the end of the world at hand, and that it would occur during the lifetime of some of His hearers.

The Gospels show just the opposite. Asked when the end of the world would come, Christ expressly said that He would give no information on that point. "Of that hour and day," He said, "no man knoweth. No, not the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." When He said "nor the Son," He meant that Son as talking to those around Him; i. e., the Son in human form. The time when the end of the world would occur was not part of His message to mankind. He taught that judgment will come unexpectedly, deliberately leaving it uncertain as to when it would happen. However, He implies that it would not soon arrive-certainly not before the death of His immediate hearers. When He commissioned the Apostles to go and to teach all nations, likening His Church to a slowly growing tree, He knew that there would be time for all these things; and He promised to be with His Church all days, even till the consummation of the world. He could not have spoken like that had He thought the end of the world to be close at hand.

698. What is the Catholic doctrine on the sinlessness of Jesus?

Both that He was without sin of any kind, and that He was absolutely incapable of sin. That necessarily follows from the Catholic doctrine that He was truly God, and could never cease to be God.

699. Was the temptation of Christ a matter of routine, or was Satan unaware that he was dealing with an impeccable nature?

Satan was obviously unaware that Jesus was the very Son of God in human form. He would not have tempted Him had he known that. But he at least knew that God had endowed Him with supernatural power, that Jesus was perhaps the Messiah, and that he himself had all to fear if Jesus used this power according to God's will. So he tried at least to induce Jesus to violate God's will. The temptation was permitted, even though Christ was impeccable, not as a matter of mere routine, but for our instruction. We are taught that, no matter how holy we may be, we cannot expect to be free from temptation; and Christ gives us an example how to behave when actually tempted. Moreover, by undergoing the temptation He fills us with confidence in His mercy, that He should deign to share our temptations; and also, by His victory, He merits for us the grace to overcome our own trials.

700. If Jesus was quite incapable of sin, it was no real temptation. Yet Hebrews IV., 15, tells us that "We have not a high priest who cannot have compassion on our infirmities; but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin."

Jesus could not sin; yet the temptation was real. You will say, "But how can that be?" It could be a non-use of His divine power on the part of Jesus to the extent of allowing His human nature to experience quite natural cravings, even as He allowed that human nature to endure the sufferings of the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and even the sense of dereliction on the cross. By calling on His divine power, Christ could have spared Himself those sufferings, but He did not. In the temptation He permitted His lower and created nature a distressing struggle between the adherence of His human will to the will of God, and the satisfaction to be found in yielding to what Satan proposed. The struggle was never allowed to get out of bounds, but it was endured. Though Jesus could not have consented, He encountered the suggestion of attractions, and experienced them as attractions, even as the Saints who could but do not consent, or sinners who do consent. And the deliberate conforming of His human will to the divine will was not less violent because it had to be, than it would otherwise have been.

701. Who, believer or unbeliever, can prove the sinlessness of Jesus?

Unbelievers desire to prove that He was not sinless. But any believer who knows how to read can prove from Sacred Scripture the sinlessness of Jesus. The Gospels put Christ before us as a flawless character, supremely pure and holy, with no consciousness of sin, uttering no words of repentance, and seeking no forgiveness. He is the Savior of sinners who need salvation, not one of them. He could say to His most bitter enemies, "Which of you can convince me of sin?" It was written of Him before His birth, "He shall save His people from their sins." Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St. Peter wrote of Him in his first Epistle, "He did no sin." To the Corinthians St. Paul wrote, "He knew no sin." St. John did not hesitate to say in his first Epistle, "In Him was no sin." Outside the Catholic Church many professing Christians deny the divinity of Christ, speaking of Him as though He were a mere man, albeit the most perfect of men. But, having dragged Christ down to the merely natural level, they are now going further, and declaring that He was also subject to sin just as other sinful men, even though not so tainted as the rest. And still they do not blush to call themselves Christians. They like the name, though they reject the religion.

702. Fundamentalists regard it as essential to Christianity to believe that Christ is the Divine Son of God.

That is undoubtedly an essential teaching of the Christian religion.

703. I have to qualify my agreement with regard to the interpretation of the meaning of the word divine.

The qualification you introduce is such that you completely withdraw all agreement with those who maintain the Divinity of Christ in the truly Christian sense of the word.

704. I do not believe that Christ was the Divine Son of God in a way utterly outside the possibility of attainment by every other son of God.

In that case you do not believe in Christian revelation. For Christ is the Eternal Son of God by divine and spiritual generation. He was begotten, not made. We merely human beings are created, and the adoptive children of God. Could any ordinary man ever attain to the dignity of Christ whom St. John tells us to have existed in eternity as the Word of God, the Word who was with God, and who was God? Can any ordinary man say that he descended from heaven, as Christ declared Himself to have done; or assert with any trace of truth, "Before Abraham was made, I am"? When St. Peter said to Christ, "Thou art the Son of the living God," he used that expression in a sense that could never apply to anyone else. The Jews were quite familiar with the expression "sons of God." St. Peter needed no special revelation from God to apply that expression to Christ. But he did need a revelation from God to perceive that Jesus was the Eternal Son of God in human form, and our Lord therefore said to him, "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but My Father who is in heaven." Matthew XVI., 17. St. Peter had discerned that Jesus was the Son of God in the unique sense of being God the Son. In refusing to regard faith in Christ to this extent as essential to Christianity, you reject Christianity in favor of yet one more purely natural religion ranking with all others devised by mere man.

705. How can one prove that Jesus Christ is truly God?

By His character, work, and claims. He perfectly fulfilled the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. His life was one of more than human virtue and holiness. He taught a doctrine obviously of heavenly rather than of earthly origin. He wrought miracles, including even that of His own resurrection from the grave. He established the Catholic Church which has outlived empires and human institutions against tremendous opposition, betrayals from within, and persecution from without. He definitely claimed to be God; yet was neither insane nor a liar, for no one could doubt His wisdom and veracity. And He has retained a perpetual vitality and power, winning a deeply personal love from millions of human hearts through thousands of years-a phenomenon unparalleled elsewhere.

706. It is true that one cannot doubt the wisdom and the veracity of Christ. But one can doubt whether He really claimed to be God.

One cannot reasonably doubt that. In the Gospel of St. John X., 30, we find Christ saying, "I and the Father are one." The Jews clearly understood Him, and took up stones to stone Him to death. "For which of my good works will you stone me?" asked Christ. "Not for a good work," they replied, "but because, being a man, you make yourself God." In John XIV., Christ said to His Apostles, "You believe in God. Believe also in me. If you had known me you would have known the Father also." Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father." Jesus replied, "Philip, he that seeth me seeth the Father also." It is quite clear that Christ there identified Himself with God the Father in the Divine Nature. In John XX., 28, Thomas, the Apostle, addressed Christ with the words, "My Lord and my God." Christ accepted the salutation, although He could not have dared to do so had He not been God. In St. Matthew XXVIII., we find Christ saying, "Go baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." He did not hesitate to rank His own authority with that of the Father and of the Holy Spirit. Nothing could be more certain than Christ's claim to Divinity in the full sense of that word; and St. John rightly speaks of His eternal Divinity when he says in the opening words of his Gospel, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . and the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us."

707. Why did Christ so often call Himself the Son of man, and so rarely the Son of God? You and I are both sons of men, and also God's sons.

We are not God's sons as Christ was God's Son. For He declared Himself to be the only-begotten Son, which excludes other "begotten" sons. He was the only Eternal Son of God by generation. We are children of God by creation in time. But now, why did the Eternal Son of God, having become man by assuming to Himself the human nature born of the Virgin Mary, so frequently refer to Himself as the "Son of man" rather than as the "Son of God"? He did so because the title "Son of man" had a special Messianic significance for the Jews. Daniel had predicted that a son of man would come with the clouds of heaven; that he would have power and glory; that all peoples and tribes and tongues would serve him; that his power would be everlasting, and his kingdom never be destroyed. (Dan. VII., 13-14.) The Jews had first to accept Christ as the Messiah, and then His Messianic teaching of the new revelation of God. He, therefore, constantly refers to Himself in the terms of Daniel's Messianic appellation. The Jews knew that it signified much more than a merely human nature. So, in His trial, when the High Priest said to Him, "Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed God?", Jesus said, "I am. And you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of the power of God, and coming with the clouds of heaven." Then the High Priest cried, "What need have we of further testimony? You have heard the blasphemy." Those words are intelligible only provided Christ meant by the expression "Son of man" that He was much more than "merely a man." Christ, together with His humanity, possessed the same Divine Nature as His Father, and was God in the strictest sense of the word.

708. Christ quoted of Himself David's words, "The Lord said to my Lord: Sit thou at my right hand till I make thy enemies thy footstool."

He did; and He quoted those words in support of His claim to be God. Take the context. The Pharisees had put to Him the tempting question, "Master, which is the great commandment of the Law?" They did not really desire information. They wished to catch Him. Knowing that He claimed to be God, they thought that He would add to the greatest commandment, or alter it by bringing in some reference to Himself. But Christ replied, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart." Then, to show up their hypocrisy, and the fact that this question was prompted only by hatred of Himself, and not by humility or charity, He pointedly added, "And the second is like to the first. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Then at once He turned to their thought of His claim to be God. "What think you of Christ?" He demanded of them, "Whose son is he?" They said to Him, "David's." Jesus replied, "How then doth David in spirit call Him Lord, saying, The Lord said to my Lord . . .?" The Pharisees could not answer the argument. David had acknowledged that the future Christ to be born of his stock would in reality be his God, and Supreme Lord and Master. Christ rightly said, "If David called Him Lord, how can the future Messiah be merely his son?"

709. The words exclude an equality of Christ with the Father, for they express the Father's dominative right.

The words do not suggest a dominative right of the Father over the Son prescinding from the Incarnation. David referred to the Messiah as my Lord, and predicted that the Messiah would triumph in the end. But the Messiah was Christ, and the reference was to the Eternal Son as personally united to a created human nature which was as subject to God as any other created nature. It is a fallacy to apply to the Eternal Son of God prescinding from His union with a created human nature a text which refers to Him as incarnate in that nature.

710. You have said that God the Son was man only from the time of His incarnation.


711. If God is eternally all-complete and all-perfect, how could His Divine Nature have lacked that attribute till then?

The Divine Nature is, of course, infinitely perfect, and no attribute could be added to that infinitely perfect nature. But, in the incarnation the humanity of Christ did not become a new attribute added to the Divine Nature, nor was the Divine Nature more perfect after the incarnation than before. In God we have to distinguish between the Divine Nature, and the three Divine Persons possessing that nature. Now, in the incarnation, the Second Divine Person simply assumed into relationship with Himself a created human nature. That human nature remained a created human nature. It did not become, nor was it blended with, nor was it added to the Divine Nature. The Second Divine Person merely made it His own, extending His personal control to it also. From the moment of the incarnation He acted in two distinct natures, instead of in the Divine Nature only.

712. Was God less perfect before the incarnation than afterwards?

In the light of what I have just explained it is clear that your question should be this: Was God less perfect when the Second Divine Person acted in the one Divine Nature only, than He was subsequently when that Second Divine Person operated in two natures, the one Divine, and the other human? The answer is: No. For the incarnation did not mean any intrinsic change in God. If the incarnation produced any intrinsic change in God, then it would have meant a perfection or attribute superadded to the Divine Nature. That is an impossibility.

713. What change did occur when the incarnation took place?

The change was intrinsic from the viewpoint of the created human nature, but extrinsic to the Divine Nature. It is difficult to make this metaphysical problem clear and simple. But you will get some idea of what I mean by considering the analogy from knowledge. When you get knowledge from the study of a certain object, the object causes the knowledge of it within your mind. Thus a tree reflects its image to my eye. I acquire knowledge of it, and undergo a change from ignorance to a new degree of learning. But the relationship between myself and the tree arising from my perception of it is intrinsic to me, and only extrinsic to the tree. There is no change in the tree. There is a change in myself. That is only an analogy, of course. But it gives a faint idea of what I want to express concerning God. In the incarnation the change which occurred was not in the Divine Uncreated Nature; the humanity assumed by the Eternal Son was made more perfect than any other humanity. But the receiver, not the giver was perfected. We can say that God was henceforth differently related to humanity by a relationship extrinsic to the Divine Nature, and intrinsic to the assumed human nature. So far as the Divine Nature is concerned, therefore, we have an extrinsic non-perfecting change. And it added no attribute to the Divine Nature which was previously lacking. My explanation does not do away with the mystery of it all. It merely excludes, any contradiction from the viewpoint of human reason.

714. The idea that God begot an only Son by the woman Mary, and that this son Jesus was a second God, is too pagan for me.

Paganism is opposed to the true God. And as Christianity is the religion revealed by the true God, it can scarcely be called pagan. But you have not correctly understood Christian teaching. It is not Christian teaching that "God begot an only son by the woman Mary." The Christian teaching is that the eternally begotten Son of God assumed to Himself a human nature formed from the Virgin Mary; and in that nature appeared to men on earth. Nor do we say that Jesus was a "second God." There is but one God. The Second Person of the Trinity, even during and after the incarnation, retained His mutual possession of one and the same Divine Nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Whether you understand our doctrine or not, it is useless to refute what we do not teach.

715. You argue that because Christ worked miracles He was God. But if all the people who have worked miracles were gods, the world would have had a lot of gods.

You must not confuse actual miracles with spurious claims to miracles. Through ignorance or superstition many people have regarded things as miracles which were certainly not miracles. Eliminating all these, and confining our attention to actual miracles, even then we do not claim that all who have worked miracles are gods. The prophets worked miracles to prove that they were truly sent by God, but they themselves were not God, nor did they claim to be God. Christ, however, was in a very different category from the prophets. He claimed to be God, and by actual miracles justified His claim. "Believe me," He said, "for the sake of the works that I do." And He exacted belief in His Divinity.

716. Are we not always in the presence of God?

Yes. God is everywhere present by His immensity, knowledge, and power.

717. Why accept the teaching of Jesus that He is the Son of God, yet refuse to accept His teaching that we are all the sons of God?

We are not all sons of God in the same sense as that in which Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus, in His Divine Nature, is the Son of God by eternal generation in an infinitely perfect and uncreated nature. We are children of God by creation in a finite and imperfect nature.

718. Is not God in all of us?

God is everywhere, and we are ever within His immensity of being. But in no way are we identified with God, nor He with us. We are in God; but we are not God.

719. If Christ's Divinity was so clear, why did so few Jews accept His claim, despite the fact that they had seen His miracles?

This was not due to obscurity in Christ's claim, nor to lack of evidence for it. The fault was in the dispositions of the majority of the Jews at the time. The Jews could deny neither the claim nor the miracles. But when it came to an acceptance of Christ in practice, their will was at fault. His doctrines demanded too much of them. They dealt a great blow at their national pride, reversed many of their traditional notions, and proposed an ethical standard of life much higher than that to which they had been accustomed. Fear of the Romans was also a factor, prompting the choice of Caesar when Christ and Caesar were put before them as necessary alternatives. Their will was at fault, and Christ knew it. "Even if one were to rise from the dead," He said, "they will not believe."

720. It could not have been evident that He was God; for people do not trifle with one whom they know to be God.

You are confusing extrinsic evidence with intrinsic evidence. We do not claim that the Jews had intrinsic evidence that Christ was God. But they certainly had sufficient extrinsic evidence to know it. They knew quite clearly that He claimed to be God. And they knew that the works He did justified that claim. But, whilst they had this extrinsic evidence, they had no intrinsic evidence that He was God. He was visibly a man, invisibly God; and they could know that He was God only by accepting His authority for the statement-an authority justified by His character and works. But they refused to accept His authority. They refused to put their faith in Him because it would mean worldly disadvantages. They concentrated their attention upon those worldly disadvantages to the exclusion of attention to their own spiritual advantages, choosing not what was right, but what seemed to them expedient for the time being. This attitude is of daily experience amongst men, even where there is a clear knowledge that God's love and friendship are being rejected, and His infinite power defied.

721. Where now is the soul of Christ?

It is united with His risen and glorified body, forming an integral part of His human nature still.

722. The Eternal Son is of the Holy Trinity. How can the human soul be of the Holy Trinity?

The Eternal Son is of the Holy Trinity in virtue of His Divine Nature. But that Son assumed into union with His own proper Personality a human nature, and from the moment He did so that union has never been broken. The human soul of the risen Christ belongs by natural union to His body, even as His body belongs by natural union to His soul. Both body and soul, as forming a complete human nature, belong by supernatural union to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and its relationship to the Trinity is by and through the Divine Personality of the Eternal Son of God.

723. The Catholic Church teaches, does it not, that Christ died to atone for our sins, and thus to accomplish our redemption?

That is the Catholic teaching.

724. For years I have tried without success to get a lucid explanation of the doctrine of the Atonement.

I will try to clear up all your difficulties for you.

725. Can one suffer vicariously for another in the sense Catholic dogma teaches?

That question is answered by the fact that Christ did suffer for us, and make vicarious atonement for our sins. Christ declared that He was the Good Shepherd who would give His life for His sheep. Again, of Himself He said, "The Son of man is come to give His life, a redemption for many." Mk. X., 45. At the last supper He said, "This is my blood which shall be shed for many unto the remission of sins." Matt. XXVI., 28. And such was the doctrine preached by the Apostles. St. Peter wrote, "You were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver . . . but with the precious blood of Christ." 1 Pet. I., 19. St. Paul wrote to the Romans, "We were reconciled to God by the death of His Son." Rom. V., 10; to the Galatians, "I live in the faith of the Son of God who loved me and delivered Himself for me." Gal. II., 20.

726. If the point be allowed, of what spiritual significance is it?

I admit that it is of little spiritual significance to one who has no supernatural faith in Christ. St. Paul declares that the natural man does not perceive the things that are of the Spirit of God, and that they are foolishness to him. He cannot understand "because it is spiritually examined." 1 Cor. II., 14. Applying this thought to the Atonement he wrote, "The word of the Cross, to them indeed that perish, is foolishness; but to them that are saved, that is to us, it is the power of God. . . . We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, the power of God and the wisdom of God." 1 Cor. I., 18-24.

727. Did Christ really die, or did He merely go through the form of dying?

Christ really died, just as ordinary human beings die, His created human soul separating from His body.

728. As God, did Christ have power over death?

He had. He proved that by undoing in His own case the work wrought by death. Death separated His soul from His body. He reunited His soul to His body in the resurrection, resuming His human life as if He had never died.

729. Knowing this, did He fear death?

He did. He possessed a truly human nature, consisting of a created human soul and a body. Soul and body are naturally adapted to the formation of one human being, and this natural unity is opposed to dissolution. The body has a natural tendency to fight to retain the soul; and the soul cooperates in the struggle to retain its unity with the body. It is against natural instinct of both soul and body to separate; and Christ experienced this psychological dread, in addition to that awakened by the prospect of so much other suffering.

730. If God, Christ must have known that He would he happier in heaven than on earth. If not, how could He teach authoritatively concerning heaven?

As God, Christ knew the essential happiness of heaven by eternal experience; and foreknew the further secondary happiness awaiting Him in His risen humanity. Your very question shows that you are seeking an explanation of Christ whilst omitting all consideration of His Divinity. If you see in Christ merely an ordinary human being, no wonder you have difficulties. Christ is inexplicable, unless we take into account all the factors concerning Him. And it is essential to remember that He was at one and the same time true God and true man.

731. Why then should He fear to die and desire to remain on earth?

He did not desire to remain on earth any longer than He did. But the knowledge of His happier state in heaven did not free Him from the natural dread of the intermediate means by which He was to attain it. The prospect of freedom from toothache does not rob the dentist's chair of its significance.

732. If He did not wish to remain any longer on earth, wherein is the sacrifice of His death?

His sacrifice did not rest essentially in His dying when He died, but in the fact that He did die, and in such a way. The conformity of His human will to the Divine will as to the time of His death was a meritorious element; but His essential sacrifice lay in His free acceptance of a dreadful death not due to Him, taking upon Himself the penalty due to our sins, and endowing His offering with the infinite value of His Divine dignity and charity.

733. Was it the manner of His death that constituted the sacrifice?

The passion and sufferings of Christ which preceded His death formed an integral part of the particular type of sacrifice demanded of Him by God's justice and charity. Had God willed it, Christ could have saved us without undergoing so much suffering. But God willed otherwise, and Jesus undertook to satisfy for human nature in human nature, and in generous measure indeed. Nor was His long-drawn-out and intense passion superfluous. He thus made superabundant satisfaction for our sins, gave an extreme manifestation of His love for us, set us an example of almost every virtue in almost every possible trial, and intensified the motives why those who profess to believe in Him should refrain from further sin. Thus Christ made essential reparation by His death, and circumstantial reparation by enduring all types of penalties deserved by the various sins of men.

734. Had He been given a painless death, would the atonement have been accomplished?

Yes. But that is a purely speculative question. We know that God did not decree a painless death; and Jesus fulfilled every detail of His passion and death as it had been predicted long before His birth into this world.

735. If Christ were not God, but merely a man dying for His convictions, then there was something great and grand in His sacrifice.

If Christ were not God, then He was a blasphemous liar, and not even an ordinary martyr for lofty convictions. He asserted Himself to be God. The alternative to deliberate deception is that He was insane, if indeed not God, and that would render His death a pity, but not heroic. It is precisely because He was God that there is something greater and grander than anything else that has ever happened in history where the death of Christ is concerned. It is a great and grand thing for a man to choose to die for the sake of justice rather than escape death by forsaking principle. It is greater and grander to die for a friend, without any obligation of justice, and solely for the sake of charity. And our admiration is increased if one in high position, with wealth and comfort, gives his life for a nobody, some poor fellow creature who is facing disaster. And if that poor person had exhibited nothing but hatred towards his benefactor, being his declared enemy, still further is our admiration increased. But that God, infinitely superior to us, should offer Himself for sinners who have used His very gifts to offend and insult Him, goes far beyond our ordinary ideas of heroism, nobility, and generosity; and no greater or grander sacrifice comes within the range of our wildest dreams and most extravagant imaginations.

736. I certainly find great difficulty in accepting the resurrection of Christ with the confidence exhibited by Catholics.

I can quite understand that. There is a supernatural significance in the resurrection to appreciate which one needs the gift of faith from God. But still, abstracting from its supernatural significance, you should have no difficulty in accepting the resurrection as an historical fact.

737. If it were a fact, I agree that Christianity would be demonstrated as scientifically true.

No Catholic could agree with that. It is an historical fact that Christ rose from the dead. But that is not scientific proof of the Christian religion, as such. It gives rational justification for one's acceptance of Christianity, but no more. I am not watering down the case for Christianity. I merely wish to exclude extravagant claims. There are various orders of knowledge, each quite sound, but each with its own methods. Things within the scope of sense experience can be experimentally proved by actual experimental knowledge. Theorems can be demonstrated mathematically. Historical facts are proved by testimony of those who observed events in past times. Moral principles demand a moral judgment; religious teachings a religious approach, inspired by true wisdom, good will, and divine grace. Now the resurrection of Christ can be viewed historically, or it can be viewed religiously. The merely historical view is certain by all the laws of history, and as far as it goes, it is within the grasp of any man just as the fact that Julius Caesar landed in Britain, or that Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. But the merely historical view will not give religious comprehension.

738. But there seems to be no historical proof that Christ did really rise from the dead.

The Gospels, and the subsequent history of the Christian religion, afford all the proof that any man should want. We know that Christ truly died. That He did not is historically false. The disciples, Jews, and Romans were quite certain of it. It was physically impossible that He did not die. He was brutally scourged, drained of His blood, and His death was tested by a final spear thrust. Again, that He did not die is morally impossible, for after His resurrection Christ said, "It behoved Christ to suffer and to rise again from the dead." The moral character of Christ forbids any pretense on His part that He had died whilst He knew quite well that He had not died. But, as He was truly dead, so it is equally certain that He reappeared as living. He appeared to so many, and so suddenly, and so perfectly restored, that their evidence cannot be disregarded; and still less can the astounding change in the Apostles be accounted for save by a fact obvious to their senses. Historically, therefore, a man must either shut his eyes to the evidence, or believe that the resurrection of Christ did take place. But this belief in the historical fact would not be belief in Christianity as a religion.

739. Personally, I think the belief was the product of the vivid religious faith of the early Christians.

The idea that Christ rose from the dead was not the product of faith. The faith of the early Christians rested upon the historical fact, and merely explains the spiritual results of the fact in them. The Apostles knew by actual experience that Christ had risen, as we know from history. Faith, however, goes further. Even after the fact of the resurrection, the faith of the Apostles needed development. They said to the risen Christ, "Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?" Acts I., 6. They still had material and rather temporal ideas. But when they received the Holy Ghost, their faith received an immense stimulus, and it clarified their views. They realized the supernatural character of Christ's kingdom. Where before they had seen Christ's humanity, now at last they saw His Divinity as never before. They saw that God had indeed put His seal on Christ; that Christ was indeed Lord and Master, endowed with all power in heaven and on earth, and able to keep His promise to be with His Church all days even till the end of the world. Religiously, our own faith today gives us certainty in its own order concerning the resurrection, already known historically. We live in intimate union with Christ, and it is not an intimate union with a dead man. By His Church Christ enfolds us; by grace He dwells within us; by the Blessed Eucharist He renders Himself personally present both without and within us. All this is certainly true, yet inexplicable without the resurrection. And the fact explains the faith; the faith did not invent the fact.

740. I admit that Christians believe in Christ every bit as fervently as Mahometans believe in Mahomet.

The religious opinions of Mahometans concerning Mahomet cannot be compared with the supernatural faith of Christians in Christ. Mahometans in any case point to a coffin at Mecca; Christians to an empty grave at Jerusalem. Where Mahometans say of their prophet, "He is here," Christians can say of Christ, "He is not here; He is risen as He said." Mahomet is dead. Christ is very much alive and active, giving life to millions of souls.

741. People can sustain their religious propensities on nothing when it is consecrated by centuries of tradition.

Nothing could scarcely be consecrated by centuries of tradition. Also, religious propensities will be sustained, whether they have centuries of tradition to lean upon or not. For religious propensities are part of human nature. They result from man's intelligence; and that is why religion is peculiar to man, and not found amongst mere animals. Such propensities, therefore, will persist. And they will persist, even when men abandon all the century-old traditions. The resurrection, of course, happens to be a fact known to men ever since it occurred, and, therefore, during twenty centuries. But you cannot explain the resurrection by tradition. How did it originate? Who began it? What was it that gave the first impulse to the Apostles, and made them succeed? Whilst Jesus personally was alive and with them before His death He could sustain them. But afterwards, if He did not appear to them alive once more, who made them all so certain and so urgent in their cause? The fact of the resurrection alone can explain these things.

742. I cannot admit that belief in the physical resurrection of Christ is essential to Christianity.

St. Paul, who surely has a greater claim to our confidence, wrote to the Corinthians, "If there is no resurrection from the dead, then even Christ did not rise; and if Christ did not rise, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith also is in vain." 1 Corinthians XC., 14. Belief in the actual resurrection of Christ was certainly essential to the Christianity preached by St. Paul!

743. All I can admit is that the tale of his physical resurrection is told in the four Gospels.

No one who really believes in them could refer so contemptuously to the historical value of the Gospels. If they are not reliable why pretend to believe in Christ at all? How long will your form of Christianity stand, with all the supports knocked from beneath it?

744. I cannot see that belief in the physical resurrection of Christ has any bearing on Christian living.

St. Paul does not hesitate to say that the just man "lives by faith." Romans I., 17. In the light of the truths put before us by faith, and in the light of all of them, the Christian lives and walks. The supernatural and spiritual life supposes supernatural principles and spiritual power. And these must be made known to us by a supernatural revelation, and made possible for us by the merits of Christ our Redeemer. And the resurrection of Christ is of profound significance in the work of our redemption and even of our present sanctification. St. Paul wrote to the Romans, "We are buried with Him by Baptism unto death; that as Christ is risen from the dead ... so we also may walk in newness of life." Romans VI., 4. Earlier, in Romans IV., 25, St. Paul wrote that Christ "was delivered for our sins, and rose again for our justification." It is the continued life of the risen Christ which is derived by our souls. The resurrection of Christ was due to His divine power. And by the divine power that resurrection of Christ exercises an effect upon us so that as, in God's providence, the body lives by the soul, so now the soul lives by the grace of the risen Christ. It is because Christ, being risen, dies no more, that we, being dead to sin, are enabled to live henceforth to Christ. The resurrection is essential for Christian living.

745. Is it a dogma of the Catholic Church that Christ ascended bodily into heaven?

Yes. The Gospels declare the fact. And in the Acts of the Apostles we read that when Stephen was being stoned to death he was "filled with the Holy Ghost, and looking up steadfastly into heaven, he saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And he said: Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." Acts VII., 55.

746. I can scarcely conceive that Christ would have in heaven the same body that He had on earth.

Christ has the same body as He had on earth, but nobody maintains that that same body is subject to exactly the same conditions as when He lived in the midst of men. No difficulty presents itself concerning the fact. The Jesus Christ who died on the cross was the Jesus Christ who rose from the dead, and that demands that He rose with the same body and soul. That body was as integral to Christ in His human nature as your body is integral to you. It is an historical fact, also, that Jesus ascended bodily from this earth. But beyond these facts we meet with mystery. One thing is certain: The body of Christ has undergone some change which has altered its nature without changing its identity. St. Paul tells us that our bodies also, when rising from the dead, will be changed from merely material conditions, becoming spiritualized. What these mysterious changes mean we do not know. But despite the mysterious elements connected with them, we believe the facts revealed, knowing them to be true with all the certainty of divine faith. Far from being surprised by the presence of difficulty, therefore, we expect it; and are content to leave mysterious details mysterious. But we do not doubt what has been revealed as fact; and we profess with undiminished conviction that Jesus Christ rose again from the dead, and ascended into heaven, body and soul.



Prefer a PRINT version?