Christians celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection with great joy. We rejoice in Jesus’ personal victory, despite the forces of evil that tried to crush Him.
Do we celebrate the Resurrection the way that we celebrate the triumphs of our national heroes or athletic champions or persons of amazing skill and talent? We might ask whether the Resurrection itself affects us?
Jesus’ victory affects us because the Resurrection confirms His identity as Son of God and confirms that His message is true and the best way for us to live our lives. Still, we may ask whether the event itself touches upon our lives?
Because a number of New Testament passages speak of Jesus dying for our sins, we may assume that the work of our salvation was accomplished on the Cross. The Resurrection might seem to be the Father’s loving acknowledgement of His Son’s gift of Himself for us.
However, a careful reading of St. Paul’s Letters shows that the Resurrection also contributes to our salvation. Paul writes: “It was also for us, to whom it will be credited, who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over for our transgressions and was raised for our justification” (Rom 4:24-25).
The eminent Biblical scholar, Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J., in his commentary on Romans points out regarding the removal of sin and our justification referred to by Paul, “both effects are to be ascribed to the death and the resurrection … the cross and the resurrection are two intimately connected phases of the same salvific event…” (Romans, 389).
Fitzmyer reviews the efforts of the Fathers of the Church and the early medieval theologians to describe the role of the Resurrection in our salvation. He concludes: “… it remained for Thomas Aquinas to formulate the causality properly …“ Fitzmyer calls attention to a passage in Thomas’ Commentary on Romans. It is helpful to look at the full text of this passage noted by Fitzmyer:
“Christ’s death was salutary for us not only by way of merit but also by way of effecting it. For Christ’s human nature was somehow the instrument of His divinity, as Damascene says, all the acts and sufferings of His human nature were salutary for us, considering that they flowed from the power of His divinity. But because an effect has to some extent a similarity to its cause, the Apostle says that Christ’s death, by which mortal life was extinguished in Him, is the cause of extinguishing our sins. But His resurrection, by which He returns to a new life of glory, he calls the cause of our justification by which we return to the new life of justice” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, 380).
Thomas joins the Passion with the Resurrection: “Considered on the part of their efficacy, which is dependent on the Divine power, Christ’s death and His Resurrection are the cause both of the destruction of death and the renewal of life; but considered as exemplar causes (causes by example), Christ’s death – by which He withdrew from mortal life – is the cause of the destruction of our death; while His Resurrection, whereby He inaugurated immortal life, is the cause of the repairing of our life” (3a. 56, 1, ad 4).
Paul states: “If you confess with your lips that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).
Fitzmyer asserts: “Because of faith, Christians are included among the children of the resurrection. Thus faith means not only that we believe in Christ’s resurrection, but that we are also removed by His death and resurrection from the realm of sin and death and taken into the state of uprightness and life” (Fitzmyer, Romans, 388).
Fitzmyer gives an apt explanation: “Paul introduces his fundamental assertion about Christian faith. Faith begins with a confession on the lips that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ but demands the concomitant recognition of the heart that God has raised Him from the dead. This is not a mere external or public affirmation, but the inmost and profound dedication of a person to God in the Lord Jesus. What Paul acknowledges here has become the affirmation par excellence of Christian faith. By His Resurrection Christ has become the first fruits of a new mode of life, He had become the ‘life-giving Spirit’ (1 Cor 15:45). Thus to confess Christ as Lord and to believe in Him as the risen Lord is one and the same thing” (Fitzmyer, Romans, 588).
Fitzmyer reaffirms these points: “In addition to the verbal confession, an inward faith is demanded, which will guide the whole person in dedication to God in Christ. Thus Kyrios [Lord] becomes the title par excellence for the risen Christ. Paul once again ascribes the resurrection of Christ to the Father. His resurrection is again presented as the kernel of Christian faith, the basis of salvation” (Fitzmyer, Romans, 592).
Thomas comments that we “recognize Him as Lord by submitting your will to Him” (Commentary on Romans, 829).
Jesus will cause our own resurrections from the dead. Commenting on Jesus’ words, “I am the Resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25), Thomas reflects: “I am the resurrection, is a causal one. It is the same as saying: I am the cause of the resurrection, for this manner of speaking is usually applied only to those who are the cause of something. Now Christ is the total cause of our resurrection, both of bodies and souls; and so the statement, I am the resurrection, indicates the cause. He is saying: The entire fact that everyone will rise in their souls and in their bodies will be due to me” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1516).
Aquinas affirms that Christ’s resurrection causes our eventual resurrections from the dead: “Christ’s Resurrection must be the cause of ours” (3a. 56, 1). He recalls Paul’s words: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. By a man came death, by a man has come the resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15:20-21).
Thomas explains that the man Adam brought death, so God chose to bring life through Christ’s humanity: “God willed to reintegrate human nature, which had been corrupted by man, because death entered through a man. Therefore, it pertained to the dignity of human nature that it be reintegrated by a man, but this is so that it be brought back to life. Therefore, it was fitting that just as death entered through a man, namely, Adam, so the resurrection of the dead be accomplished by a man, namely, Christ” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 931).
According to Thomas, we experience Christ’s sufferings and then share in His Resurrection: “First of all we are conformed to the suffering and dying Christ in this suffering and mortal life; and afterwards may come to share in the likeness of His Resurrection” (3a. 56, 1, ad 1).
Thomas affirms that Christ doesn’t merit our Resurrection by His Resurrection because Christ merited during His human lifetime. Rather Christ’s resurrection is the “efficient and exemplar cause of ours.” Thomas explains: “It is the efficient cause, inasmuch as Christ’s humanity, according to which He rose again, is as it were the instrument of His Godhead, and works by its power” (3a. 56, 1, ad 3).
Christ’s Resurrection is also the “exemplar cause” (causes by example). Thomas tells us: “Just as the Resurrection of Christ’s body, through the personal union with the Word, is first in point of time, so also is it first in dignity and perfection. But whatever is most perfect is always the exemplar, which the less perfect copies according to its mode; consequently Christ’s Resurrection is the exemplar of ours… ‘He will reform the body of our lowliness to be like His glorious body” (3a. 56, 1, ad 3).
“In both cases the effect brought about by the power of God is said to be caused by Christ’s death and resurrection… the passion and death of Christ are properly the causes of the remission of our faults, for we die to sin. The resurrection, on the other hand, more properly causes the newness of life through grace or justice” (3a. 56, 2).
Paul asks: “Who will condemn them? Christ Jesus, who died, or rather who was raised, who is at God’s right hand and even intercedes for us” (Rom 8:34). Fitzmyer reflects: “The risen, exalted Christ still presents his supplication to the Father on behalf of the Christian elect. So not only the Spirit intercedes for Christians (8:26-27), but also the heavenly Christ…”
This idea of the saving power of the Resurrection is expressed in two of the Prefaces for Easter. Preface I of Easter declares: “By dying He has destroyed our death, and by rising, restored our life.” Preface II of Easter proclaims, “His death is our ransom from death, and in His rising the life of all has risen.”
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas give the part of the Summa, the question and the article. If the passage is found in a response to an objection that Thomas has introduced in the first part of the article, the Latin word “ad,” meaning “to,” is added with the number of the objection.
The quotations from St. Thomas’ Commentary on John and his Commentary of the First Letter to the Corinthians may be found on the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/