JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

The Atonement and Redemption.

197. The direct purpose for which God became man was to undo the evil done by Adam's sin. This evil was twofold: a grievous insult to God and grievous loss to mankind. Making amends for an insult is called "atonement", or "expiation". God could have pardoned man without requiring any expiation, or with a slight expiation, if He had wished to do so. But right order violated by sin is more perfectly restored by a full, or adequate atonement; this would also be more glorious to God, and, if man do his duty, more beneficial to man. An atonement for sin is adequate, if the honor done by it to God is as great as the insult offered to Him by sin. Now the insult was, in a true sense, infinite. For the more exalted is the dignity of the person offended, the greater is the indignity of the offence; but God's dignity is infinitely exalted; therefore the insult offered to Him by sin is infinite. Now all the good acts of created persons have only a finite value; therefore only a Divine Person can fully expiate sin. But God could not do so in His Divine Nature; for expiation implies an abasement, which is impossible to infinite greatness. Therefore it was most congruous that a Divine Person should make atonement to God in a finite nature.

The atonement was to be made to God, that is, to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, in their Divine Nature. For all we know, any of the Divine Persons might have become man; but as men were to be made adopted sons of God, it appears most appropriate that the Son of God should atone for the sin of His adopted brethren. When we say that He made atonement to His Father, we attribute to the Father what is common to the three Divine Persons (n. 148).

198. The second evil which Christ came to repair was that which Adam's sin had done to man. We have explained this evil in detail (nn. 176, 177). The most deplorable loss sustained by man was that of sanctifying grace, the sonship of God, and a right to the beatific vision. The loss of sanctifying grace constitutes the state of sin (n. 179), which makes us slaves of Satan. The Redemption freed us from this slavery by paying our ransom in the Blood of Christ. He thus became our "Redeemer", not by the mere effect of His preaching and example, as some heretics have maintained, but by His bloody Death upon the Cross: "We are not redeemed with corruptible things, but with the precious Blood of Christ, as of a Lamb unspotted and undefiled" (1 Pet. I, 18, 19); and "Christ bore our sins in His Body upon the Tree . . . by whose stripes you were healed" (ib. II, 14).

199. The generations that lived before the Death of Christ were redeemed by His future Sufferings and Death. Therefore, all through the Old Testament, atonement was made by bloody sacrifices, whose value lay in their typifying the future Sacrifice of the Cross (n. 252). Christ was the Priest who offered this Sacrifice; He was also the Victim offered. The Altar was the Cross. He is "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world" (Jo. I, 29). He continues to offer this Sacrifice in Holy Mass, under the appearances of bread and wine.

In Heaven, He is ever offering to His eternal Father the satisfaction which He made for our sins. But the consumation of the bloody Sacrifice, and therefore the centre of all sacrifice, is the Death of Christ on the Cross: 'Christ by His own Blood entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption; . . . How much more shall the Blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered Himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works?" (Hebr. IX, 12, 14).

200. By His Atonement and Redemption Christ has made Himself our permanent Mediator, or Intercessor with His Father: "There is one God and one Mediator of God and man, the Man Jesus" (1 Tim. II, 5), He can use His intercession the more effectively, as He has both the Nature of God and that of man. This has brought about our reconciliation with God: "Who hath reconciled us to Himself by Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. V, 18).

To bring this reconciliation within the reach of all men, the Apostles were sent into the whole world, to "preach the Gospel to every Creature"; which words show that the Redemption was intended to be universal. St. John expressly declares that Christ "is a propitiation for our sins, and, and not for our sins only, but also for those of the whole world" (1 Jo. II, 2); and St. Paul: "As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. XV, 22).

201. When Christ had died, His Soul descended into hell, "In which also coming He preached to those spirits that were in prison" (1 Pet. III, 19). This, evidently, is not the hell of the damned, but the abode of the just souls that awaited the coming of the Saviour; it is called "Limbo." Meanwhile His sacred Body was, by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, bound in linen cloths with spices, and honorably laid in a new sepulchre (Jo. XIX, 38). The Divinity remained united with the Body and the Soul. The precious Blood, being a part of His human nature, when poured forth during His Passion remained united with the Divinity; it was restored to the Body at the Resurrection, for Christ ascended to Heaven with all the integrity of His manhood. Any relics of the sacred Blood which may have remained on the instruments of the Passion, or may since have been poured forth by sacred Hosts or crucifixes, supposing their genuineness to be established, are worthy of reverence; but the Divinity is not united with them.

202. Regarding the honor rendered to Christ and to His sacred Body and Blood, we must remark that, when we worship Christ, we worship the person, who is God. This highest worship is called latria. The Fifth General Council teaches that one and the same adoration is due to the Word made Flesh and to the Flesh. For the homage goes to Jesus; and in the name of Jesus every knee is to bow (Phil. II, 10). Therefore St. Augustine writes: "No one eats that Flesh unless he has first adored. Not merely do we not sin by adoring, but we sin by not adoring" (In Ps. 98). St, John Damnascene points out that we do not adore mere flesh, but the Flesh as united to the Divinity (De Fid. Orth. III, 8); "We feel dread", he adds, "of touching a live coal, because of the fire united with the fuel; so too we adore the two natures of Christ, because of the Divinity united with the Flesh". The Church, in giving holy Communion, uses this form: "May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy soul to life everlasting".

203. The wide-spread devotion to the Sacred Heart had its origin, about 1673, in a private revelation by Christ to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque, then a simple nun of Paray, in France. He said that He had selected her to be His instrument in causing men to honor His Sacred Heart, which had loved men so much; and He instructed her to procure the assistance of the Jesuits, to whose Society the propagation of this devotion was especially entrusted. Its rapid and remnarkable spread throughout the Catholic world is sufficient proof that it has been found to be a strong means of grace to the faithful. It was for a long time violently opposed by the Jansenists, who, in the synod of Pistoia, rejected it as new, erroneous, or at least dangerous. But this rejection was condemned by Pius VI, A. D. 1794, in the Bull "Auctorem Fidei". The form of the devotion was new, as every devotion now in use must have been at some time; but its spirit had long been familiar to the Saints, and prayers suitable to it are extant written by St. Bernard.

The Church has never pronounced any judgment respecting the visions of Blessed Margaret Mary. But the Bull "Auctorem Fidei" explains that the object of the devotion is the Heart of our Lord, and therefore a lawful object of latria, no less than the precious Blood, or the sacred Body of the Man-God. The motive for rendering honor to that portion of His Body is, a) That He speaks of His Heart as the seat of His affections: "Learn of Me that I am meek and humble of Heart" (Matt. XI, 29); b) That the heart is usually spoken of among men, and even in Scripture, as the symbol of love; and therefore this devotion is a mode of honoring Christ's love for us, in particular as this love is manifested in the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament of love. Latria has for three centuries been paid to the Five Wounds as reminding us of the Passion of Christ; with equal right is it rendered to His Sacred Heart.

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