Defects Assumed by Christ

In assuming human nature for the salvation of man, the Son of God appropriately showed in the nature He assumed, by the perfection of its grace and wisdom, what was to be the goal of human salvation. No less appropriately was the human nature assumed by the Word of God characterized by certain conditions befitting the most suitable way of redeeming the human race. The most suitable way was that man, who had perished through his iniquity, should be restored by satisfying justice. But the order of justice requires that the one who has become liable to some punishment by sinning, should be freed by paying the penalty. Since, however, what we do or suffer through our friends, we ourselves are considered in some fashion to do or to suffer, inasmuch as love is a mutual force that in a way makes two lovers one, the order of justice is not violated if a person is set free by the satisfaction his friend offers for him.

By the sin of the first parent ruin had come upon the entire human race. No punishment undergone by any man could suffice to liberate the whole human race. No worthy satisfaction was available; no satisfaction offered by any mere man was great enough in value to free all men. Similarly, justice would not be fully met if even an angel, out of love for the human race, were to offer satisfaction for it. An angel does not possess infinite dignity, and hence any satisfaction he offered would not be capable of sufficing for indefinitely many people and their sins. God alone is of infinite dignity, and so He alone, in the flesh assumed by Him, could adequately satisfy for man, as has already been noted. Therefore it behooved Him to assume a human nature so constituted that in it He could suffer for man what man himself deserved to suffer on account of his sin, and thus offer satisfaction on man’s behalf.

However, not every punishment incurred for sin is suitable for making satisfaction. Man’s sin comes from the fact that in turning to transient goods he turns away from God. And man is punished for sin on both counts. He is deprived of grace and the other gifts by which union with God is effected, and besides this he deserves to suffer chastisement and loss with respect to the object for whose sake he turned away from God. Therefore the order of satisfaction requires that the sinner should be led back to God by punishments that are to be endured in transient goods.

Unfortunately the punishments which keep man back from God continue to stand in the way of such recall. No one offers satisfaction to God by being deprived of grace, or by being ignorant of God, or by the fact that his soul is in a state of disorder, even though such afflictions are punishment for sin; man can satisfy only by enduring some pain in himself and by undergoing loss in external goods.

Accordingly Christ ought not to have assumed those defects which separate man from God, such as privation of grace, ignorance, and the like, although they are punishment for sin. Defects of this kind would but render Him less apt for offering satisfaction. Indeed, to be the author of man’s salvation, He had to possess fullness of grace and wisdom, as we pointed out above. Yet, since man by sinning was placed under the necessity of dying and of being subjected to suffering in body and soul, Christ wished to assume the same kind of defects, so that by undergoing death for men He might redeem the human race.

Defects of this kind, we should note, are common to Christ and to us. Nevertheless they are found in Christ otherwise than in us. For, as we have remarked, such defects are the punishment of the first sin. Since we contract original sin through our vitiated origin, we are in consequence said to have contracted these defects. But Christ did not contract any stain in virtue of His origin. He accepted the defects in question of His own free will. Hence we should not say that He contracted these defects, but rather that He assumed them; for that is contracted (contrahitur) which is necessarily drawn along with (cum trahitur) some other thing. Christ could have assumed human nature without such defects, just as He actually did assume it without the defilement of sin; and indeed the order of reason would seem to demand that He who was free from sin should also be free from punishment. Thus it is clear that defects of this sort were not in Him by any necessity either of vitiated origin or of justice. Therefore in Him they were not contracted but were voluntarily assumed.

Yet, since our bodies are subject to the aforesaid defects in punishment for sin—for prior to sin we were immune from them—Christ, so far as He assumed such defects in His flesh, is rightly deemed to have borne the likeness of sin, as the Apostle says in Romans 8:3: “God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Hence Christ’s very passibility or suffering is called sin by the Apostle, when he adds that God “hath condemned sin in the flesh,” and observes in Romans 6:10: “In that He died to sin, He died once.” For the same reason the Apostle uses an even more astonishing expression in Galatians 3:13, saying that Christ was “made a curse for us.” This is also why Christ is said to have assumed one of our obligations, that of punishment, in order to relieve us of our double burden, namely, sin and punishment.

We should call to mind, further, that the penal defects afflicting our bodies are of two kinds. Some are common to all men, such as hunger, thirst, weariness after labor, pain, death, and the like. Others, however, are not common to all, but are peculiar to certain individuals, such as blindness, leprosy, fever, mutilation of the members, and similar ills. The difference between these defects is this: common defects are passed on to us from another, namely, our first parent, who incurred them through sin, but personal defects are produced in individual men by particular causes. But Christ had no cause of defect in Himself, either in His soul, which was full of grace and wisdom and was united to the Word of God, or in His body, which was excellently organized and disposed, having been fashioned by the omnipotent power of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, He took upon Himself certain defects by the free decision of His own will, with a view to procuring our salvation.

Accordingly, Christ judged it well to take upon Himself those defects that are handed down from one man to others, namely, the common defects, but not the special defects that arise in individuals from particular causes. Again, since He came chiefly to restore human nature, He fittingly assumed those defects that are found universally in nature. The doctrine thus set forth also makes it clear that, as Damascene points out, Christ assumed our irreprehensible defects, that is, those which are not open to slander. If Christ had taken to Himself a deficiency in knowledge or in grace, or such ills as leprosy or blindness, this would seem to detract from His dignity, and might provide men with an occasion for defaming Him. But no such occasion is given by defects attaching to the whole of nature.

Reference

St. Thomas Aquinas. (1265-1274). Compendium Theologiae: Defects Assumed by Christ, trans. by Cyril Vollert. St. Louis & London: B. Herder Book Co., 1947

All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

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