The Catechism of Trent 1100
The enumeration of this among the other Articles of the Creed is alone sufficient to satisfy us that it conveys a truth, which is not only in itself a divine mystery, but also a mystery very necessary to salvation. We have already said that, without a firm belief of all the Articles of the Creed, Christian piety is wholly unattainable. However, should that which ought to be clear in itself seem to require the support of some authority, the declaration of our Lord will suffice. A short time previous to His Ascension into heaven, when opening the understanding of His disciples that they might understand the Scriptures, He bore testimony to this Article of the Creed, in these words: It behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day, and that penance and remission of sins should be preached, in his name, unto all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Let the pastor but weigh well these words, and he will readily perceive that the Lord has placed him under a most sacred obligation, not only of making known to the faithful whatever regards religion in general, but also of explaining with particular care this Article of the Creed.
On this point of doctrine, then, it is the duty of the pastor to teach that, not only is forgiveness of sins to be found in the Catholic Church, as Isaias had foretold in these words: The people that dwell therein shall have their iniquity taken away from them; but also that in her resides the power of forgiving sins; and furthermore that we are bound to believe that this power, if exercised duly, and according to the laws prescribed by our Lord, is such as truly to pardon and remit sins.
When we first make a profession of faith and are cleansed in holy Baptism, we receive this pardon entire and unqualified; so that no sin, original or actual, of commission or omission, re mains to be expiated, no punishment to be endured. The grace of Baptism, however, does not give exemption from all the infirmities of nature. On the contrary, contending, as each of us has to contend, against the motions of concupiscence, which ever tempts us to the commission of sin, there is scarcely one to be found among us, who opposes so vigorous a resistance to its assaults, or who guards his salvation so vigilantly, as to escape all wounds.
It being necessary, therefore, that a power of forgiving sins, distinct from that of Baptism, should exist in the Church, to her were entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven, by which each one, if penitent, may obtain the remission of his sins, even though he were a sinner to the last day of his life. This truth is vouched for by the most unquestionable authority of the Sacred Scriptures. In St. Matthew the Lord says to Peter: I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed also in heaven; and again: Whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.' Further, the testimony of St. John assures us that the Lord, breathing on the Apostles, said: Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. '
Nor is the exercise of this power restricted to particular sins. No crime, however heinous, can be committed or even conceived which the Church has not power to forgive, just as there is no sinner, however abandoned, however depraved, who should not confidently hope for pardon, provided he sincerely repent of his past transgressions.
Furthermore, the exercise of this power is not restricted to particular times. Whenever the sinner turns from his evil ways he is not to be rejected, as we learn from the reply of our Saviour to the Prince of the Apostles. When St. Peter asked how often we should pardon an offending brother, whether seven times, Not only seven times, said the Redeemer, but till seventy times seven.
But if we look to its ministers, or to the manner in which it is to be exercised, the extent of this divine power will not appear so great; for our Lord gave not the power of so sacred a ministry to all, but to Bishops and priests only. The same must be said regarding the manner in which this power is to be exercised; for sins can be forgiven only through the Sacraments, when duly administered. The Church has received no power otherwise to remit sin. Hence it follows that in the forgiveness of sins both priests and Sacraments are, so to speak, the instruments which Christ our Lord, the author and giver of salvation, makes use of, to accomplish in us the pardon of sin and the grace of justification.
To raise the admiration of the faithful for this heavenly gift, bestowed on the Church by God's singular mercy towards us, and to make them approach its use with the more lively sentiments of devotion the pastor should endeavour to point out the dignity and the extent of the grace which it imparts. If there be any one means better calculated than another to accomplish this end, it is carefully to show how great must be the efficacy of that which absolves from sin and restores the unjust to a state of justification.
This is manifestly an effect of the infinite power of God, of that same power which we believe to have been necessary to raise the dead to life and to summon creation into existence. But if it be true, as the authority of St. Augustine assures us it is, that to recall a sinner from the state of sin to that of righteousness is even a greater work than to create the heavens and the earth from nothing, though their creation can be no other than the effect of infinite power, it follows that we have still stronger reason to consider the remission of sins as an effect proceeding from the exercise of this same infinite power.
With great truth, therefore, have the ancient Fathers declared that God alone can forgive sins, and that to His infinite goodness and power alone is so wonderful a work to be referred. I am he, says the Lord Himself, by the mouth of His Prophet, I am he who blotteth out your iniquities.
The remission of sins seems to bear an exact analogy to the cancelling of a pecuniary debt. None but the creditor can forgive a pecuniary debt. Hence, since by sin we contract a debt to God alone wherefore we daily pray: forgive us our debts sin, it is clear, can be forgiven by Him alone, and by none else.
This wonderful and divine power was never communicated to creatures, until God became man. Christ our Saviour, although true God, was the first one who, as man, received this high prerogative from His heavenly Father. That you may know that the son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins (then said he to the man sick of the palsy), rise. take up thy bed, and go into thy house. As, therefore, He became man, in order to bestow on man this forgiveness of sins, He communicated this power to Bishops and priests in the Church, previous to His Ascension into heaven, where He sits forever at the right hand of God. Christ, however, as we have already said, remits sin by virtue of His own authority; all others, by virtue of His authority delegated to them as His ministers.
If, therefore, whatever is the effect of infinite power claims our highest admiration and reverence, we must readily perceive that this gift, bestowed on the Church by the bounteous hand of Christ our Lord, is one of inestimable value.
The manner too, in which God, in the fullness of His paternal clemency resolved to cancel the sins of the world must powerfully move the faithful to contemplate the greatness of this blessing. It was His will that our offences should be expiated by the blood of His Onlybegotten Son; that His Son should voluntarily assume the imputability of our sins, and suffer a most cruel death, the just for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty.
When, therefore, we reflect that we were not redeemed with corruptible things, as gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled, we are naturally led to conclude that we could have received no gift more salutary than this power of forgiving sins, which proclaims the ineffable Providence of God and the excess of His love towards us. This reflection must produce in all the most abundant spiritual fruit.
For whoever offends God, even by one mortal sin, instantly forfeits whatever merits he may have previously acquired through the sufferings and death of Christ, and is entirely shut out from the gate of heaven which, when already closed, was thrown open to all by the Redeemer's Passion. When we reflect on this, the thought of our misery must fill us with deep anxiety. But if we turn our attention to this admirable power with which God has invested His Church; and, in the firm belief of this Article, feel convinced that to every sinner is offered the means of recovering, with the assistance of divine grace, his former dignity, we must exult with exceeding joy and gladness, and must offer immortal thanks to God.
If, when we are seriously ill, the medicines prepared for us by the art and industry of the physician are wont to be welcome and agreeable to us, how much more welcome and agreeable should those remedies prove which the wisdom of God has established to heal our souls and restore us to the life of grace, especially since they bring with them, not, indeed, uncertain hope of recovery, like the medicines that are applied to the body, but assured health to such as desire to be cured !
The faithful, therefore, having formed a just conception of the dignity of so excellent and exalted a blessing, should be exhorted to profit by it to the best of their ability. For he who makes no use of what is really useful and necessary must be supposed to despise it; particularly since, in communicating to the Church the power of forgiving sin, the Lord did so with the view that all should have recourse to this healing remedy. As without Baptism no one can be cleansed, so in order to recover the grace of Baptism, forfeited by actual mortal guilt, recourse must be had to another means of expiation, namely, the Sacrament of Penance.
But here the faithful are to be admonished to guard against the danger of becoming more prone to sin, or slow to repentance, from a presumption that they can have recourse to this power of forgiving sins which is so complete and, as we saw, unrestricted as to time. For, as such a propensity to sin would manifestly convict them of acting injuriously and contumaciously to this divine power, and would therefore render them unworthy of the divine mercy; so this slowness to repentance gives great reason to fear that, overtaken by death, they may in vain confess their belief in the remission of sins, which by their tardiness and procrastination they
That this Article supplies a convincing proof of the truth of our faith appears chiefly from the fact that not only is it proposed in the Sacred Scriptures to the belief of the faithful, but is also confirmed by numerous arguments. This we scarcely find to be the case with regard to the other Articles, which justifies the inference that on this doctrine, as on its most solid basis, rests our hope of salvation; for according to the reasoning of the Apostle, If there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen again; and if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
The diligence and zeal, therefore, of the pastor in the explanation of this dogma should not be less than the labor which the impiety of many has expended in efforts to overthrow it. That eminently important advantages flow to the faithful from the knowledge of this Article will be shown further on.
That in this Article the resurrection of mankind is called the resurrection of the body, is a circumstance which deserves special attention. It was not, indeed, so named without a reason for the Apostles intended thus to convey a necessary truth, the immortality of the soul. Lest anyone, despite the fact that many passages of Scripture plainly teach that the soul is immortal, might imagine that it dies with the body, and that both are to be restored to life, the Creed speaks only of the resurrection of the body.
Although in Sacred Scripture the word flesh often signifies the whole man, as in Isaias, All flesh is grass, and in St. John, The Word was made flesh; yet in this place it is used to express the body only, thus giving us to understand that of the two constituent parts of man, soul and body, one only, that is, the body, is corrupted and returns to its original dust, while the soul remains incorrupt and immortal. As then, a man cannot be said to return to life unless he has previously died, so the soul could not with propriety be said to rise again.
The word body is also mentioned, in order to confute the heresy of Hymeneus and Philetus, who, during the lifetime of the Apostle, asserted that whenever the Scriptures speak of the resurrection, they are to be understood to mean not the resurrection of the body, but that of the soul, by which it rises from the death of sin to the life of grace. The words of this Article, therefore, as is clear, exclude that error, and establish a real resurrection of the body.
It will be the duty of the pastor to illustrate this truth by examples taken from the Old and New Testaments, and from all ecclesiastical history. In the Old Testament, some were restored to life by Elias and Eliseus; and, besides those who were raised to life by our Lord, many were raised by the holy Apostles and by many others. These many resurrections confirm the doctrine taught by this Article; for believing that many were recalled from death to life, we are also naturally led to believe the general resurrection of all. In fact the principal fruit which we should derive from these miracles is to yield to this Article our most unhesitating belief.
To pastors ordinarily conversant with the Sacred Volumes many Scripture proofs of this Article will at once present themselves. In the Old Testament the most conspicuous are those afforded by Job, when he says that in his flesh he shall see his God, and by Daniel when, speaking of those who sleep in the dust of the earth, he says, some shall awake to eternal life, others to eternal reproach. In the New Testament (the principal passages are) those of St. Matthew, which record the disputation our Lord held with the Sadducees, and those in which the Evangelists speak concerning the Last Judgment. To these we may also add the accurate reasoning of the Apostle on the subject in his Epistles to the Corinthians and Thessalonians.
But although the resurrection is most certainly established by faith, it will, notwithstanding, be of material advantage to show from analogy and reason that what faith proposes is not at variance with nature or human reason.
To one asking how the dead should rise again, the Apostle answers: Foolish man! that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die first; and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not the body that shall be, but bare grain, as of wheat, or of some of the rest; but God giveth it a body as he will; and a little after, It is sown in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption.
St. Gregory calls our attention to many other arguments of analogy tending to the same effect. The sun, he says, is every day withdrawn from our eyes, as it were, by dying, and is again recalled, as it were, by rising again; trees lose, and again, as it were, by a resurrection, resume their verdure; seeds die by putrefaction, and rise again by germination.
The reasons also adduced by ecclesiastical writers seem well calculated to establish this truth. In the first place, as the soul is immortal, and has, as part of man, a natural propensity to be united to the body, its perpetual separation from it must be considered as unnatural. But as that which is contrary to nature and in a state of violence, cannot be permanent, it appears fitting that the soul should be reunited to the body, and consequently that the body should rise again. This argument our Saviour Himself employed, when in His disputation with the Sadducees He deduced the resurrection of the body from the immortality of the soul."
In the next place, as an alljust God holds out punishments to the wicked and rewards to the good, and as very many of the former depart this life unpunished for their crimes and many of the latter unrewarded for their virtues, the soul should be reunited to the body, in order, as the partner of her crimes, or the companion of her virtues, to become a sharer in her punishments or rewards. This argument has been admirably treated by St. Chrysostom in his homily to the people of Antioch.
To this effect also, the Apostle, speaking of the resurrection, says: If in this life only, we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most miserable.. These words of St. Paul cannot be supposed to refer to the misery of the soul; for since the soul is immortal, it is capable of enjoying happiness in a future life, even though the body did not rise again. His words, then, must refer to the whole man; for, unless the body receive the due rewards of its labours, those who, like the Apostles, endured so many afflictions and calamities in this life, would necessarily be the most miserable of men. On this subject the Apostle is much more explicit in his Epistle to the Thessalonians: We glory in the churches of God, for your patience and faith, in all your persecutions and tribulations which you endure for an example of the just judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which also you suffer; seeing it is a just thing with God to repay tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled, rest with us when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with the angels of his power, in a flame of fire, yielding vengeance to them who know not God, and who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Again, while the soul is separated from the body, man cannot enjoy that full happiness which is replete with every good. For as a part separated from the whole is imperfect, the soul separated from the body must be imperfect. Therefore, that nothing may be wanting to fill up the measure of its happiness, the resurrection of the body is necessary.
By these, and similar arguments, the pastor will be able to instruct the faithful in this Article.
He should also carefully explain from the Apostle who are to be raised to life. Writing to the Corinthians, he (St. Paul) says: As in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.' Good and bad then, without distinction, shall all rise from the dead, although the condition of all will not be the same. Those who have done good, shall rise to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
When we say all we mean those who will have died before the day of judgment, as well as those who will then die. That the Church acquiesces in the opinion that all, without distinction, shall die, and that this opinion is more consonant with truth, is the teaching of St. Jerome and of St. Augustine.
Nor does the Apostle in his Epistle to the Thessalonians dissent from this doctrine, when he says: The dead who are in Christ shall rise first, then we who are alive, who are left, shall be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ, into the air. St. Ambrose explaining these words says: In that very taking up, death shall take place, as it were, in a deep sleep, and the soul, having gone forth from the body, shall instantly return. For those who are alive shall die when they are taken up that, coming to the Lord, they may receive their souls from His presence; because in His presence they cannot be dead. This opinion is supported by the authority of St. Augustine in his book On the City of God."
But as it is of vital importance to be fully convinced that the identical body, which belongs to each one of us during life, shall, though corrupt and dissolved into its original dust, be raised up again to life, this too is a subject which demands accurate explanation on the part of the pastor.
It is a truth conveyed by the Apostle when he says: This corruptible must put on incorruption, evidently designating by the word this, his own body. It is also clearly expressed in the prophecy of Job: In my flesh I shall see my God, whom I myself shall see, and mine eyes behold, and not another.
Further, this same truth is inferred from the very definition of resurrection; for resurrection, as Damascene defines it, is a return to the state from which one has fallen.
Finally, if we bear in mind the arguments by which we have just established a future resurrection, every doubt on the subject must at once disappear.
We have said that the body is to rise again, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil. Man is, therefore, to rise again in the same body with which he served God, or was a slave to the devil; that in the same body he may experience rewards and a crown of victory, or endure the severest punishments and torments.
Not only will the body rise, but whatever belongs to the reality of its nature, and adorns and ornaments man will be restored. For this we have the admirable words of St. Augustine: There
shall then be no deformity of body; if some have been overburdened with flesh, they shall not resume its entire weight. All that exceeds the proper proportion shall be deemed superfluous. On the other hand, should the body be wasted by disease or old age, or be emaciated from any other cause, it shall be repaired by the divine power of Christ, who will not only restore the body unto us, but will repair whatever it shall have lost through the wretchedness of this life. In another place he says: Man shall not resume his former hair, but shall be adorned with such as will become him, according to the words: "The very hairs of your head are all numbered." God will restore them according to His wisdom.
But the members especially, because they belong to the integrity of human nature, shall all be restored at once. The blind from nature or disease, the lame, the maimed and the paralysed in any of their members shall rise again with entire and perfect bodies. Otherwise the desires of the soul, which so strongly incline it to a union with the body, would be far from satisfied; but we are convinced that in the resurrection these desires will be fully realised.
Besides, the resurrection, like the creation, is clearly to be numbered among the principal works of God. As, therefore, at the creation all things came perfect from the hand of God, we must admit that it will be the same in the resurrection.
These observations are not to be restricted to the bodies of the martyrs, of whom St. Augustine says: As the mutilation which they suffered would prove a deformity, they shall rise with all their members; otherwise those who were beheaded would rise without a head. The scars, however, which they received shall remain, shining like the wounds of Christ, with a brilliance far more resplendent than that of gold and of precious stones.
The wicked, too, shall rise with all their members, even with those lost through their own fault. The greater the number of members which they shall have, the greater will be their torments; and therefore this restoration of members will serve to increase not their happiness but their sorrow and misery; for merit or demerit is ascribed not to the members, but to the person to whose body they are united. To those, therefore, who shall have done penance, they shall be restored as sources of reward; and to those who shall have contemned it, as instruments of punishment.
If the pastor gives attentive consideration to these things, he can never lack words or ideas to move the hearts of the faithful, and enkindle in them the flame of piety; so that having before their minds the troubles and calamities of this life, they may look forward with eager expectations to that blessed glory of the resurrection which awaits the just.
It now remains for the faithful to understand how the body, when raised from the dead, although substantially the same body that had been dead, shall be vastly different and changed in its condition.
To omit other points, the chief difference between the state of all bodies when risen from the dead and what they had previously been is that before the resurrection they were subject to dissolution, but when reanimated they shall all, without distinction of good and bad, be invested with immortality.
This admirable restoration of nature, as the Scriptures testify, is the result of the glorious victory of Christ over death. For it is written: He shall cast death down headlong for ever, and, O death! I will be thy death.' Explaining these words the Apostle says: And the enemy death shall be destroyed last; and St. John also says: Death shall be no more.
It was most fitting that the sin of Adam should be far exceeded by the merit of Christ the Lord, who overthrew the empire of death. It was also in keeping with divine justice, that the good should enjoy endless felicity, while the wicked, condemned to everlasting torments, shall seek death, and shall not find it, shall desire to die, and death shall fly from them. Immortality, therefore, will be common to the good and to the bad.
In addition to this, the bodies of the risen Saints will be distinguished by certain transcendent endowments, which will ennoble them far beyond their former condition. Among these endowments four are specially mentioned by the Fathers, which they infer from the doctrine of St. Paul, and which are called gifts.
The first endowment or gift is impassibility, which shall place them beyond the reach of suffering anything disagreeable or of being affected by pain or inconvenience of any sort. Neither the piercing severity of cold, nor the glowing intensity of heat, nor the impetuosity of waters can hurt them. It is sown says the Apostle, in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption This quality the Schoolmen call impassibility, not incorruption, in order to distinguish it as a property peculiar to a glorified body. The bodies of the damned, though incorruptible, will not be impassible; they will be capable of experiencing heat and cold and of suffering various afflictions.
The next quality is brightness, by which the bodies of the Saints shall shine like the sun, according to the words of our Lord recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew: The just shall shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father. To remove the possibility of doubt on the subject, He exemplifies this in His Transfiguration. This quality the Apostle sometimes calls glory, sometimes brightness: He will reform the body of our lowness, made like to the body of his glory; " and again, It is sown in dishonour, it shall rise in glory. Of this glory the Israelites beheld some image in the desert, when the face of Moses, after he had enjoyed the presence and conversation of God, shone with such lustre that they could not look on it.
This brightness is a sort of radiance reflected on the body from the supreme happiness of the soul. It is a participation in that bliss which the soul enjoys just as the soul itself is rendered happy by a participation in the happiness of God.
Unlike the gift of impassibility, this quality is not common to all in the same degree. All the bodies of the Saints will be equally impassible; but the brightness of all will not be the same, for, according to the Apostle, One is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, and another the glory of the stars, for star differeth from star in glory: so also is the resurrection of the dead.
To the preceding quality is united that which is called agility, by which the body will be freed from the heaviness that now presses it down, and will take on a capability of moving with the utmost ease and swiftness, wherever the soul pleases, as St. Augustine teaches in his book On the City of God, and St. Jerome On Isaias. Hence these words of the Apostle: It is sown in weakness, it shall rise in power.
Another quality is that of subtility, which subjects the body to the dominion of the soul, so that the body shall be subject to the soul and ever ready to follow her desires. This quality we learn from these words of the Apostle: It is sown a natural body, it shall rise a spiritual body.
These are the principal points which should be dwelt on in the exposition of this Article.
But in order that the faithful may appreciate the fruit they derive from a knowledge of so many and such exalted mysteries, it is necessary, first of all, to point out that to God, who has hidden these things from the wise and made them known to little ones, we owe a debt of boundless gratitude. How many men, eminent for wisdom or endowed with singular learning, who ever remained blind to this most certain truth ! The fact, then, that He has made known to us these truths, although we could never have aspired to such knowledge, obliges us to pour forth our gratitude in unceasing praises of His supreme goodness and clemency.
Another important advantage to be derived from reflection on this Article is that in it we shall find consolation both for ourselves and others when we mourn the death of those who were endeared to us by relationship or friendship. Such was the consolation which the Apostle himself gave the Thessalonians when writing to them concerning those who are asleep.
Again, in all our afflictions and calamities the thought of a future resurrection must bring the greatest relief to the troubled heart, as we learn from the example of holy Job, who supported his afflicted and sorrowing soul by this one hope that the day would come when, in the resurrection, he would behold the Lord his God.
The same thought must also prove a powerful incentive to the faithful to use every exertion to lead lives of rectitude and integrity, unsullied by the defilement of sin. For if they reflect that those boundless riches which will follow after the resurrection are now offered to them as rewards, they will be easily attracted to the pursuit of virtue and piety.
On the other hand, nothing will have greater effect in subduing the passions and withdrawing souls from sin, than frequently to remind the sinner of the miseries and torments with which the reprobate will be visited, who on the last day will come forth unto the resurrection of judgment.
The Catechism of Trent 1100