Whether Christ Died on the Cross

Updated on April 2, 2018

WAS CHRIST REALLY DEAD ON THE CROSS?

1.0 INTRODUCTION

In the ancient records of Christendom the human race has been masked with a peculiar dignity, which secures firmly the constituent of each and every member’s notion of Christianity in the economy of salvation. This salvation is enormously expressed in Christ’s mystery and loudly reflected in His suffering.[1] Such mystery and suffering speaks volumes of the Christological account of Christ’s passion and death on the wooden cross. Undisputable is the fact that - this cross which bears the mark and shadow of the crucifixion - announces clearly to all, the impenetrable mystery of Christ’s human will.[2] A point of inquiry peculiar to the treatise on the human nature of Christ is whether Christ was dead on the cross[3] which is our subject of discourse.

Nevertheless, these preliminary remarks which includes the notion of punishment, the imagery of the cross and crucifixion, the Christological question pertaining to the death of Christ shall be discussed to give a clearer view about “whether Christ died on the cross” followed by the conclusion.

2.0 THE NOTION OF PUNISHMENT

Dithering in between the lines of controversies, man is consistently exposed to the impending social vices of cruelty and the societal peril of injustice. [4] It habitually becomes the case, that a vast number of the populace in a particular community responds differently to anyone found guilty of going against the spirits and dictates of the laws of a given state. By implication, this communicates volumes of judgemental reactions and signals more than a few events of punishments that have and can be inflicted (directly or indirectly) on an individual; found culpable for any offense committed.[5]

The humanitarian perspective of condemning a person to a given sentence appears to be in a clear cut contrast to a punishment built on the benchmark of revenge and the seed of hatred. This explains why the humanitarian theory is of the opinion that punishments are meant to serve as curative measures of the person involved; other than this, it becomes something more than the legitimate motive of punishment – the amendment of one’s life.[6]

Relatively, from the vulgar notion, Christ death on the cross was a form of punishment prearranged upon him by the Jewish tribe; carried out of the spiteful feelings and judgements held against Him. Though He was no criminal neither did He sin against man, as all that was done to him was never deserved which makes such sentence unjust, as all that occurred was occasioned by God.[7]

3.0 IMAGERY OF THE CROSS AND CRUCIFIXION

In the primeval world of the Greeks, Romans and Jews, the image of the cross flashes patterns of various impressions in the human mind. The cross in centuries long before now was similarly associated with a cruel and barbaric death sentence, solely carried out by crucifixion.[8] Categorically explained, the crucifixion was a form of execution allotted to an offender (mostly criminals) of the law. It has a manifold of historical antecedents as to how it began in prehistoric times, as it was told that it was a form of execution initially used by the Persians, including tribes and persons of barbarian origin. Common among these peoples were the Indians, Assyrians, Scythians, and the Taurians.[9]

From the simplicity of form, the cross has also been used both as religious symbols and an ornament, from the dawn of civilization. Conversely, from the Christian perspective, the cross is not a condemnable tool used to occasion punishment and certify death sentences. It is a redemptive instrument of God’s plan to save us, which became for us a spiritual centerpiece and sign of our soul’s emancipation.[10]

4.0 THE CHRISTOLOGICAL QUESTION PERTANING TO THE DEATH OF CHRIST

The human nature in Christ is relatively linked with His incarnation and the dreadful mortal condition He was subjected to; the death on the cross. Through sustained arguments concerning the presence of Christ humanity in His divinity, much have been said about the body-soul composite –a natural endowment of every human being –as it relates to His human nature, which is entirely different from every other person. This gives an account for the affirmation that Christ is a human being and not a human person; for He is not essentially human like every one of us are.[11]

Comparatively, Thomas Aquinas exposes in his explicit and well detailed legendary writings on the question of the death of Christ in Q. 50 Art. 1, in the Summa Theologiae; where he gives due credence to six subjects of inquiry on this subject matter. These inquiries are: Whether it was fitting that Christ should die? Whether His death severed the union of Godhead and flesh? Whether His Godhead was separated from his soul? Whether Christ was a man during the three days of His death? Whether His was the same body, living and the dead? And lastly whether His death conduced in any way to our salvation?[12]

Accordingly, all of the six subjects of inquiry are chiefly concerned with the death of Christ on the cross, but these are deep waters that cannot be waded into momentarily. Q. 50 Art. 1 of the Summa Theologiae affords us with three proposed objections on why it is not of a befitting possibility for Christ to die on the cross. From these positions Christ is seen as: the fountain of life, that “first principle” that gives life to all things; thus he cannot be subject to that which is contrary to the first principle of life –death. Another is the infliction of sickness through which death emanates, Christ could never have had himself inflicted with sickness, it follows that it is arguably unbecoming for Christ to die. Lastly is on the claim that He is the primary and sole giver of life in abundance, as affirmed by the Lord in John 10:10. Since one opposite do not lead to another, then, it is not fitting for Him to die.[13]

Conversely, Thomas Aquinas compromises these three objections by offering concrete and sufficient answers, which provides laudable defense on why it was fitting for Christ to die on the cross. First is to satisfy for the whole human race which was doomed to destruction on account of their sins. More so, he died in order to show the reality of the flesh assumed. For just as Eusebius rightly affirms: “that if not for his death, then he would have been a mark of mockery by all men of not being really and truly existent. Extending to another would be the purpose of dispelling from the hearts of men every fear of death. Also was the fulfillment of setting an example of dying to sin spiritually. Generally, there was a most pressing need for Him to have suffered death on the cross. This occurrence unsparingly reveals the manifestation of His power over death; as this was fully actualized by instilling in us a hope of the resurrection from the stillness of death.[14]

5.0 CONCLUSION

Notably affirmed is the notion that all constituent of existing materials and potential objects are completely dependent and product of God’s goodness, benevolence and grace.[15] This occasion the plethora of divine mysteries behind what must have been the promptings etched toward God’s compassionate giving of His Son (Jesus Christ) as a sacrificial gift for the redemption of a sinful generation. A crucial moment when various pertinent and sensitive Christological questions have engulfed the theological power house of the Roman Catholic faith, Thomas Aquinas creates a dimensional genesis of truth in the Summa Theologiae, Q. 50 Art. 1. He provisionally affords us with reasonable and doctrinal answers –that are necessarily and sufficiently suitable –on whether Christ was dead on the cross, in contrast to the narrow objections of those who believed He never could possibly have.

In this piece of writing, areas proposed to be examined have been explicitly carried out and it is also worthy to mention that the entire ideas provisionally expressed in this work, is only an academic contributive effort to the subject matter, which is open for further research and deliberation.


[1] Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, in Colman E. O’Neill (ed.), The One Mediator (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 233.

[2] Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, in Colman E. O’Neill (ed.), The One Mediator, p. 233.

[3] Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Quodlibetal Questions 1and 2, in Sandra Edwards (ed.), (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1983), pp. 30-33.

[4] Cf. C.S. Lewis, The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment, in Robert Ingram (ed.), Essays on The Death Penalty (Texas: St. Thomas Press, 1978), p. 1.

[5] Cf. C.S. Lewis, The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment, in Robert Ingram (ed.), Essays on The Death Penalty, p. 2.

[6] Cf. C.S. Lewis, The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment, in Robert Ingram (ed.), Essays on The Death Penalty, pp. 2-3.

[7] Cf. Ben C. Blackwell, Christosis: Pauline Soteriology in Light of Deification in Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), p. 230.

[8] Cf. Martin Hengel, Crucifixion: In The Ancient World and Folly of The Cross (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), p. 22.

[9] Cf. Martin Hengel, Crucifixion: In The Ancient World and Folly of The Cross, p. 23.

[10] Cf. Judith Couchman, The Mystery of The Cross: Bringing Christian Images to Life (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), pp. 17-22.

[11] Cf. Oliver D. Crisp, Divinity and Humanity: The Incarnation Reconsidered (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 82-83.

[12] Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (New York: Benziger Brothers, Inc., 1984), p. 2287.

[13] Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (New York: Benziger Brothers, Inc., 1984), p. 2287.

[14] Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, pp. 2287-2288.

[15] Cf. Philo, Selections From Philo: On God’s Grace, in Hans Lewy (ed.), Three Jewish Philosophers (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1945), p.33.

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    • kamsy profile imageAUTHOR

      FRANCIS CHUKWUEBUKA OKOYE 

      8 months ago from LAGOS, NIGERIA

      Thanks for your golden comment. I really do appreciate. I am running my B.A program in philosophy and Theology.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      8 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very interesting. Well researched and written. I would be afraid to write an article requiring so much vocabulary of the 4 syllable kind stemming from Theology and Philosophy. I would think that only one in ten could understand it. But I like it.

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