Today’s Catechism sections discuss Jesus’ death as a redemptive act in the plan of God. Supporting material comes from St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologica”.

Paragraph 2. JESUS DIED CRUCIFIED

I. THE TRIAL OF JESUS

Divisions among the Jewish authorities concerning Jesus

595 Among the religious authorities of Jerusalem, not only were the Pharisee Nicodemus and the prominent Joseph of Arimathea both secret disciples of Jesus, but there was also long-standing dissension about him, so much so that St. John says of these authorities on the very eve of Christ's Passion, "many.. . believed in him", though very imperfectly.378 This is not surprising, if one recalls that on the day after Pentecost "a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith" and "some believers. . . belonged to the party of the Pharisees", to the point that St. James could tell St. Paul, "How many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; and they are all zealous for the Law."379

596 The religious authorities in Jerusalem were not unanimous about what stance to take towards Jesus.380 The Pharisees threatened to excommunicate his followers.381 To those who feared that "everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation", the high priest Caiaphas replied by prophesying: "It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish."382 The Sanhedrin, having declared Jesus deserving of death as a blasphemer but having lost the right to put anyone to death, hands him over to the Romans, accusing him of political revolt, a charge that puts him in the same category as Barabbas who had been accused of sedition.383 The chief priests also threatened Pilate politically so that he would condemn Jesus to death.384

Jews are not collectively responsible for Jesus' death

597 The historical complexity of Jesus' trial is apparent in the Gospel accounts. The personal sin of the participants (Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate) is known to God alone. Hence we cannot lay responsibility for the trial on the Jews in Jerusalem as a whole, despite the outcry of a manipulated crowd and the global reproaches contained in the apostles' calls to conversion after Pentecost.385 Jesus himself, in forgiving them on the cross, and Peter in following suit, both accept "the ignorance" of the Jews of Jerusalem and even of their leaders.386 Still less can we extend responsibility to other Jews of different times and places, based merely on the crowd's cry: "His blood be on us and on our children!", a formula for ratifying a judicial sentence.387 As the Church declared at the Second Vatican Council: . . .

Neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his Passion. . . the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from Holy Scripture.388

All sinners were the authors of Christ's Passion

598 In her Magisterial teaching of the faith and in the witness of her saints, the Church has never forgotten that "sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured."389 Taking into account the fact that our sins affect Christ himself,390 The Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus, a responsibility with which they have all too often burdened the Jews alone:

We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt. And it can be seen that our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews. As for them, according to the witness of the Apostle, "None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." We, however, profess to know him. And when we deny him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him.391

Nor did demons crucify him; it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.392

II. CHRIST'S REDEMPTIVE DEATH IN GOD'S PLAN OF SALVATION

"Jesus handed over according to the definite plan of God"

599 Jesus' violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God's plan, as St. Peter explains to the Jews of Jerusalem in his first sermon on Pentecost: "This Jesus (was) delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God."393 This Biblical language does not mean that those who handed him over were merely passive players in a scenario written in advance by God.394

600 To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of "predestination", he includes in it each person's free response to his grace: "In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."395 For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness.396
"He died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures"

601 The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through the putting to death of "the righteous one, my Servant" as a mystery of universal redemption, that is, as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin.397 Citing a confession of faith that he himself had "received", St. Paul professes that "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures."398 In particular Jesus' redemptive death fulfills Isaiah's prophecy of the suffering Servant.399 Indeed Jesus himself explained the meaning of his life and death in the light of God's suffering Servant.400 After his Resurrection he gave this interpretation of the Scriptures to the disciples at Emmaus, and then to the apostles.401

"For our sake God made him to be sin"

602 Consequently, St. Peter can formulate the apostolic faith in the divine plan of salvation in this way: "You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers... with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake."402 Man's sins, following on original sin, are punishable by death.403 By sending his own Son in the form of a slave, in the form of a fallen humanity, on account of sin, God "made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."404

603 Jesus did not experience reprobation as if he himself had sinned.405 But in the redeeming love that always united him to the Father, he assumed us in the state of our waywardness of sin, to the point that he could say in our name from the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"406 Having thus established him in solidarity with us sinners, God "did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all", so that we might be "reconciled to God by the death of his Son".407

God takes the initiative of universal redeeming love

604 By giving up his own Son for our sins, God manifests that his plan for us is one of benevolent love, prior to any merit on our part: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins."408 God "shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."409

605 At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God's love excludes no one: "So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish."410 He affirms that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many"; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us.411 The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: "There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer."412

IN BRIEF

619 "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures" (⇒ I Cor 15:3).

620 Our salvation flows from God's initiative of love for us, because "he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (⇒ I Jn 4:10). "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (⇒ 2 Cor 5:19).

621 Jesus freely offered himself for our salvation. Beforehand, during the Last Supper, he both symbolized this offering and made it really present: "This is my body which is given for you" (⇒ Lk 22:19).

622 The redemption won by Christ consists in this, that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many" (⇒ Mt 20:28), that is, he "loved [his own] to the end" (⇒ Jn 13:1), so that they might be "ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [their] fathers" (⇒ I Pt 1:18).

In his “Summa Theologica” (3, 49), St. Thomas Aquinas discusses how Christ’s death reconciled us with God.

Article 5. Whether Christ opened the gate of heaven to us by His Passion?

Objection 1. It would seem that Christ did not open the gate of heaven to us by His Passion. For it is written (Proverbs 11:18): "To him that soweth justice, there is a faithful reward." But the reward of justice is the entering into the kingdom of heaven. It seems, therefore, that the holy Fathers who wrought works of justice, obtained by faith the entering into the heavenly kingdom even without Christ's Passion. Consequently Christ's Passion is not the cause of the opening of the gate of the kingdom of heaven.

Objection 2. Further, Elias was caught up to heaven previous to Christ's Passion (2 Kings 2). But the effect never precedes the cause. Therefore it seems that the opening of heaven's gate is not the result of Christ's Passion.

Objection 3. Further, as it is written (Matthew 3:16), when Christ was baptized the heavens were opened to Him. But His baptism preceded the Passion. Consequently the opening of heaven is not the result of Christ's Passion.

Objection 4. Further, it is written (Micah 2:13): "For He shall go up that shall open the way before them." But to open the way to heaven seems to be nothing else than to throw open its gate. Therefore it seems that the gate of heaven was opened to us, not by Christ's Passion, but by His Ascension.

On the contrary, is the saying of the Apostle (Hebrews 10:19): "We have [Vulgate: 'having a'] confidence in the entering into the Holies"--that is, of the heavenly places--"through the blood of Christ."

I answer that, The shutting of the gate is the obstacle which hinders men from entering in. But it is on account of sin that men were prevented from entering into the heavenly kingdom, since, according to Isaiah 35:8: "It shall be called the holy way, and the unclean shall not pass over it." Now there is a twofold sin which prevents men from entering into the kingdom of heaven. The first is common to the whole race, for it is our first parents' sin, and by that sin heaven's entrance is closed to man. Hence we read in Genesis 3:24 that after our first parents' sin God "placed . . . cherubim and a flaming sword, turning every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." The other is the personal sin of each one of us, committed by our personal act.

Now by Christ's Passion we have been delivered not only from the common sin of the whole human race, both as to its guilt and as to the debt of punishment, for which He paid the penalty on our behalf; but, furthermore, from the personal sins of individuals, who share in His Passion by faith and charity and the sacraments of faith. Consequently, then the gate of heaven's kingdom is thrown open to us through Christ's Passion. This is precisely what the Apostle says (Hebrews 9:11-12): "Christ being come a high-priest of the good things to come . . . by His own blood entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption." And this is foreshadowed (Numbers 35:25-28), where it is said that the slayer* "shall abide there"--that is to say, in the city of refuge--"until the death of the high-priest, that is anointed with the holy oil: but after he is dead, then shall he return home." [The Septuagint has 'slayer', the Vulgate, 'innocent'--i.e. the man who has slain 'without hatred and enmity'.]

Reply to Objection 1. The holy Fathers, by doing works of justice, merited to enter into the heavenly kingdom, through faith in Christ's Passion, according to Hebrews 11:33: The saints "by faith conquered kingdoms, wrought justice," and each of them was thereby cleansed from sin, so far as the cleansing of the individual is concerned. Nevertheless the faith and righteousness of no one of them sufficed for removing the barrier arising from the guilt of the whole human race: but this was removed at the cost of Christ's blood. Consequently, before Christ's Passion no one could enter the kingdom of heaven by obtaining everlasting beatitude, which consists in the full enjoyment of God.

Reply to Objection 2. Elias was taken up into the atmospheric heaven, but not in to the empyrean heaven, which is the abode of the saints: and likewise Enoch was translated into the earthly paradise, where he is believed to live with Elias until the coming of Antichrist.

Reply to Objection 3. As was stated above (Question 39, Article 5), the heavens were opened at Christ's baptism, not for Christ's sake, to whom heaven was ever open, but in order to signify that heaven is opened to the baptized, through Christ's baptism, which has its efficacy from His Passion.

Reply to Objection 4. Christ by His Passion merited for us the opening of the kingdom of heaven, and removed the obstacle; but by His ascension He, as it were, brought us to the possession of the heavenly kingdom. And consequently it is said that by ascending He "opened the way before them."

Footnotes

378 ⇒ Jn 12:42; cf. ⇒ 7:50; ⇒ 9:16-17; ⇒ 10:19-21; ⇒ 19:38-39.
379 ⇒ Acts 6:7; ⇒ 15:5; ⇒ 21:20.
380 cf. ⇒ Jn 9:16; ⇒ 10:19.
381 Cf ⇒ Jn 9:22.
382 ⇒ Jn 11:48-50.
383 Cf. ⇒ Mt 26:66; ⇒ Jn 18:31; ⇒ Lk 23:2, ⇒ 19.
384 Cf. ⇒ Jn 19:12, ⇒ 15, ⇒ 21.
385 Cf. ⇒ Mk 15:11; ⇒ Acts 2:23, ⇒ 36; ⇒ 3:13-14; ⇒ 4:10; ⇒ 5:30; ⇒ 7:52; ⇒ 10:39; ⇒ 13:27-28; ⇒ I Th 2:14-15.
386 Cf. ⇒ Lk 23:34; ⇒ Acts 3:17.
387 ⇒ Mt 27:25; cf. ⇒ Acts 5:28; ⇒ 18:6.
388 NA 4.
389 Roman Catechism I, 5, 11; cf. ⇒ Heb 12:3.
390 Cf. ⇒ Mt 25:45; ⇒ Acts 9:4-5.
391 Roman Catechism I, 5, 11; cf. ⇒ Heb 6:6; ⇒ 1 Cor 2:8.
392 St. Francis of Assisi, Admonitio 5, 3.
393 ⇒ Acts 2:23.
394 Cf. ⇒ Acts 3:13.
395 ⇒ Acts 4:27-28; cf. ⇒ Ps 2:1-2.
396 Cf. ⇒ Mt 26:54; ⇒ Jn 18:36; ⇒ 19:11; ⇒ Acts 3:17-18.
397 ⇒ Is 53:11; cf. ⇒ 53:12; ⇒ Jn 8 34-36; ⇒ Acts 3:14.
398 ⇒ 1 Cor 15:3; cf. also ⇒ Acts 3:18; ⇒ 7:52; ⇒ 13:29; ⇒ 26:22-23.
399 Cf. ⇒ Is 53:7-8 and ⇒ Acts 8:32-35.
400 Cf. ⇒ Mt 20:28.
401 Cf. ⇒ Lk 24:25-27, ⇒ 44-45.
402 I Pt 1:18-20.
403 Cf. ⇒ Rom 5:12; ⇒ I Cor 15:56.
404 ⇒ 2 Cor 5:21; cf. ⇒ Phil 2:7; ⇒ Rom 8:3.
405 Cf. ⇒ Jn 8:46.
406 ⇒ Mk 15:34; ⇒ Ps 22:2; cf. ⇒ Jn 8:29.
407 ⇒ Rom 8:32; ⇒ 5:10.
408 ⇒ I John 4:10; ⇒ 4:19.
409 ⇒ Rom 5:8.
410 ⇒ Mt 18:14.
411 ⇒ Mt 20:28; cf. ⇒ Rom 5:18-19.
412 Council of Quiercy (853): DS 624; cf. ⇒ 2 Cor 5:15; I ⇒ Jn 2:2[ETML:C/].