ASK FATHER: Does the Risen Christ still suffer?

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

We hear often in prayers and reflections before confession that we crucify Christ whenever we commit mortal sins. My question is: does Christ, being resurrected and in heaven, still suffer?

Big question.

Without a doubt, tambourines at Mass make Christ suffer immensely.  Our Lord certainly sheds tears when a priest wears a beige alb. Surely the Savior again suffers horrible agony when faith formation coordinators instruct First Communicants to receive… I can hardly bring myself to write … in the hand!

What is in play here is the dogma of divine impassibility. God does not suffer. Christ, in His divinity, did not, and does not suffer. But Christ, in His human nature, did suffer.

Does Christ, now in heaven, suffer? Will we, in heaven, suffer?

St. Thomas Aquinas says not (STh Supplement, q. 94, a. 2).  One seldom goes wrong in siding with The Angelic Doctor (provided that he not simply cherry-picking quotes, say, at the end of documents).

Holy Church teaches, and cannot be wrong, that Christ’s risen Body has four characteristics, namely, impassibility (no suffering or death), subtlety (spiritualization of the body’s matter), agility (no limitation by space or time – though somewhere I have heard that “time is greater than space, whatever that means), and clarity (another word for beauty).  We, images of God, members of Christ’s Mystical Body, indeed his Mystical Person, will be like him.  Complete impassibility will be a quality of the just who, when risen, enjoy the happiness of heaven.

As far as our physical or spiritual suffering is concerned, remember that Scripture says that in heaven, there will be no tears.  And that means something different than what Eric Clapton meant.  In heaven “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away.” (Rev. 21:4) In heaven, we will be so aligned with God’s will that we will be at peace, no matter what.  As Picarda says in the Paradiso, “In His will is our peace.”

Don’t put that at risk by staying away from Confession or by receiving Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin!

The constant and consistent teaching of the Church that our sins cause Christ to suffer means that our sins and transgressions caused Christ to have suffered during His earthly life and passion.  When we speaks of time and eternity, things become difficult. We are so bound up in time it is very hard to think of our actions today having effect in the past. Yet, that is precisely what the Church teaches.  Christ suffered in that one historical point in time in His Passion for every sin ever committed in the past, as He was suffering, and every sin that ever would be committed.  His suffering and death was the perfect expiatory satisfaction for all sins, past, present and future.

If someone reads and agrees with the Fishwrap – quod Deus averruncet! – Christ has already suffered for that.

So, yes, Christ suffered when we sin now, but He doesn’t suffer when we sin.  That doesn’t mean that His suffering wasn’t/isn’t real.

For more reading on this, try Fr. Thomas Weinandy, OFM in a helpful article in First Things.  HERE

That said, it cannot be doubted that God suffers and the holy angels weep with the saints in heaven when music by Marty Haugen is played during Mass, when anyone takes out a subscription to America Magazine, and when, as today, Michael Sean Winters puts pen to foolscap to attack, hah!, Dr. Peters as being “poisonous” (like venom) or ACTON INSTITUTE.

For these and all our foolish errors, have mercy on us, O Lord.

UPDATE:

We might ask next if heaven rejoices when you buy Mystic Monk Coffee (or Tea), thus helping both the Wyoming Carmelites to build their monastery and Fr. Z at the same time.  Aquinas is silent on the topic.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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9 Responses to ASK FATHER: Does the Risen Christ still suffer?

  1. TopSully says:

    I know that I shed tears when they play Haugen, or as they did this past Sunday, “Lord of the Dance”. And no, I’m not making that up.

  2. jameeka says:

    Thank you, Father Z, for that phenomenally good article and for this post.

    Bring back Patristics and Aquinas!

  3. Archicantor says:

    Your answer, Fr. Z., is of course correct. And yet the question is one worth dwelling on.

    It seems to me that the difficulty with the question is the word “still.” There can be no “not yet” or “still” or “no longer” in eternity, outside the flow of time that is the only lens through which we are, for now, capable of seeing any truth without distortion. We can hardly avoid such terms on this side of the veil, but they are inherently inadequate. It’s an old problem. I once asked an Eastern Orthodox theologian about how the “Theopaschite” addition to the Trisagion in Oriental Orthodox (e.g. Coptic) liturgies was dealt with by “Chalcedonian” Orthodox in ecumenical dialogue. (“Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, who wast crucified for us, have mercy on us.”) It was a real source of contention in the past (comparable to the filioque in the West). I ventured that the Eastern Orthodox might regard it as a legitimate theologoumenon. He replied, “No, if Christ is fully divine, then the addition is a theological necessity!”

    The whole problem was memorably and beautifully captured in the novel “Peter Abelard” by the brilliant medievalist Helen Waddell. This scene takes place in the remote hermitage to which Abelard fled after he found himself in trouble with the monks of Saint-Denis (where he found refuge after he was forcibly castrated on the orders of the uncle of his secret wife, Heloise). The “Guibert” referred to is the servant who let Abelard’s attackers into his house while he slept, and on whom Abelard’s students visited a still more terrible revenge. Waddell uses this fictional vignette to introduce Abelard’s later “exemplarist” theory of the Atonement:

    From somewhere near them in the woods a cry had risen, a thin cry, of such intolerable anguish that Abelard turned dizzy on his feet, and caught at the wall.

    “It’s a child’s voice,” he said. “O God, are they at a child?”

    Thibault had gone outside. The cry came again, making the twilight and the firelit hearth a mockery.

    “A rabbit,” said Thibault. He listened. “There’s nothing worrying it. It’ll be in a trap. Hugh told me he was putting them down. Christ!” The scream came yet again.

    Abelard was beside him, and the two plunged down the bank.

    “Down by the river,” said Thibault. “I saw them playing, God help them, when I was coming home. You know the way they go demented with fun in the evenings. It will have been drumming with its hind paws to itself and brought down the trap.”

    Abelard went on, hardly listening. “Oh, God,” he was muttering. “Let it die. Let it die quickly.”

    But the cry came yet again. On the right, this time. He plunged through a thicket of hornbeam.

    “Watch out,” said Thibault, thrusting past him. “The trap might take the hand off you.”

    The rabbit stopped shrieking when they stooped over it, either from exhaustion, or in some last extremity of fear. Thibault held the teeth of the trap apart, and Abelard gathered up the little creature in his hands. It lay for a moment breathing quickly, then in some blind recognition of the kindness that had met it at the last, the small head thrust and nestled against his arm, and it died.

    It was that last confiding thrust that broke Abelard’s heart. He looked down at the little draggled body, his mouth shaking. “Thibault,” he said, “do you think there is a God at all? Whatever has come to me, I earned it. But what did this one do?”

    Thibault nodded.

    “I know,” he said. “Only — I think God is in it too.”

    Abelard looked up sharply.

    “In it? Do you mean that it makes Him suffer, the way it does us?”

    Again Thibault nodded.

    “Then why doesn’t He stop it?”

    “I don’t know,” said Thibault. “Unless — unless it’s like the Prodigal Son. I suppose the father could have kept him at home against his will. But what would have been the use? All this,” he stroked the limp body, “is because of us. But all the time God suffers. More than we do.”

    Abelard looked at him, perplexed.

    “Thibault, when did you think of all this?”

    Thibault’s face stiffened. “It was that night,” he said, his voice strangled. “The things we did to — to poor Guibert. He — ” Thibault stopped. “I could not sleep for nights and nights. And then I saw that God suffered too. And I thought I would like to be a priest.”

    “Thibault, do you mean Calvary?”

    Thibault shook his head. “That was only a piece of it the piece that we saw in time. Like that.” He pointed to a fallen tree beside them, sawn through the middle. “That dark ring there, it goes up and down the whole length of the tree. But you only see it where it is cut across. That is what Christ’s life was; the bit of God that we saw. And we think God is like that, because Christ was like that, kind, and forgiving sins and healing people. We think God is like that for ever, because it happened once, with Christ. But not the pain. Not the agony at the last. We think that stopped.”

    Abelard looked at him, the blunt nose and the wide mouth, the honest troubled eyes. He could have knelt before him.

    “Then, Thibault,” he said slowly, “you think that all this,” he looked down at the little quiet body in his arms, “all the pain of the world, was Christ’s cross?”

    “God’s cross,” said Thibault. “And it goes on.”

    “The Patripassian heresy,” muttered Abelard mechanically. “But, oh, God, if it were true. Thibault, it must be. At least, there is something at the back of it that is true. And if we could find it it would bring back the whole world.”

    “I couldn’t ever rightly explain it,” said Thibault. “But you could, if you would think it out.” He reached out his hand, and stroked the long ears. “Old lop-ears,” he said. “Maybe this is why he died. Come and have your supper, Master Peter. We’ll bury him somewhere near the oratory. In holy ground.”

  4. Matt Robare says:

    Coming in at a seven or eight on the McLaughlian metaphysical certitude scale, I’m sure I’ve been at Mass where the Communion hymn was set to the same tune as “It’s not easy being green.”

    That being said, I think there’s a difference between suffering and pity. Christ may not suffer after the Ressurection, but I should think He still pities us when we go astray.

  5. Federico says:

    The difficulty I have with everything you wrote is the use of tenses. We experience the passage of time. God does not. In a mysterious way the Word is incarnate and also within time, but His divinity transcends time and His glorified body in heaven is beyond time.

    So I think the use of verb tenses — human constructs to help our limited intellect organize our experiences and measure change — ill-describes God. It is difficult for us to reconcile the great mystery of an omnipotent God who is unchanging and, therefore, outside (or beyond) time with the same God who enters time through the incarnation; nevertheless, He did.

    So I think saying Jesus suffered for our sins is correct from a strictly human perspective of history being sequential. It think that, theologically, it is equally correct (and perhaps more correct) to say Jesus suffers for our sins because His sacrifice is within time but at the same time beyond time and concurrent.

    When we behold the Eucharist, we see Jesus glorified in heaven, but also Jesus suffering on Calvary, Jesus suffering in the garden of olives, Jesus teaching in the temple, Jesus in Mary’s womb baptizing His cousin, etc. etc. etc…..

    No? [Of course. Which is part of the point, above.]

  6. Nicolas Bellord says:

    Somewhere, I think in “A retreat for lay people” Ronald Knox says that when we sin we are not adding to Christ’s passion on the cross but we are joining in approving what those who crucified Him did.

  7. robtbrown says:

    Man suffers because his flesh is subject to death (Passible flesh). After the Resurrection Christ’s flesh is glorified, no longer subject to death (Impassible flesh)–thus, no longer subject to suffering.

    Nb: Because of His Divine Nature it would have been fitting that His flesh never be subject to death. But for the Redemption He adopted the condition of Fallen Man, who is subject to death (cf Phil 2).

  8. kat says:

    Father,

    I have always understood this concept as you described it. Yet contemplating this today, I now have a question:

    Since Christ suffered for our sins, if we do NOT choose to sin in a certain temptation then it would seem we would have “lessened” the suffering of Christ, or at least not added to it. But, didn’t Christ suffer to a point where He could actually suffer no more? So by our sins, can we truly add to His suffering in His earthly life, or would He have suffered all the same sufferings whether or not we sin?

    I hope my question makes sense. Now I have confused myself…

    [Paul, Col 1:23-24: “If so ye continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and immoveable from the hope of the gospel which you have heard, which is preached in all the creation that is under heaven, whereof I Paul am made a minister. Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church”]

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