Friday, June 01, 2007

Into Your Hands I Commend My Spirit

You may recall from Part 2 of my debate on Jesus' descent into hell that I wasn't 100% sure how to answer a point that my opponent made at the end of the debate. His argument was basically this: How could Jesus descend into hell if he gave up his spirit to the Father? This puzzled me at first, especially after my "educated guess" was horribly wrong, but after I thought about it some more I realized that it was rather simple.

The Catechism sums it up nicely:
625 Christ's stay in the tomb constitutes the real link between his passible state before Easter and his glorious and risen state today. The same person of the "Living One" can say, "I died, and behold I am alive for evermore" (Rev 1:18):
God [the Son] did not impede death from separating his soul from his body according to the necessary order of nature, but has reunited them to one another in the Resurrection, so that he himself might be, in his person, the meeting point for death and life, by arresting in himself the decomposition of nature produced by death and so becoming the source of reunion for the separated parts (St. Gregory of Nyssa, Orat. catech. 16).
626 Since the "Author of life" who was killed (Acts 3:15) is the same "living one [who has] risen" (Lk 24:5-6), the divine person of the Son of God necessarily continued to possess his human soul and body, separated from each other by death:
By the fact that at Christ's death his soul was separated from his flesh, his one person is not itself divided into two persons; for the human body and soul of Christ have existed in the same way from the beginning of his earthly existence, in the divine person of the Word; and in death, although separated from each other, both remained with one and the same person of the Word (St. John Damascene, De fide orth. 3, 27).
In other words, when Jesus commended his spirit into the hands of the Father, he simply consented to the separation of his human soul from his body. That is what death is--the separation of body and soul--and Jesus truly underwent it. But, that does not mean that his human spirit was no longer his. Jesus' human spirit is hypostatically united to his Divine Person (the Son of the Holy Trinity), so such a separation is not even possible. Therefore, when he died, his human spirit, now separated from his body but still united to his Divine Person, descended into Hades and freed the righteous souls who came before him.

I hope that makes sense.

Pax Christi,


Bro. Thomas, op said...

It is also important to point out that the Second Person of the Trinity remained hypostatically united to the body while it remained in the tomb for three days. The Apostles' Creed says, that the Son of God "was conceived and born of a Virgin, suffered, died, and was buried." Hence, St. Thomas Aquinas points out that what is true of the body (that it is buried) is predicated of the Son of God by the creed.

Aquinas goes on to explain that "What is bestowed by God's grace is never withdrawn except through fault." The grace of union of the flesh with the Divine Person is a far greater grace than the grace of adoption by which we are sanctified (and which we can lose through sin). But Christ does not sin, and therefore the union of his flesh with his Divine Person cannot be lost because of a fault.

Christ assumes the whole human nature--body, blood, and soul--in his person (hypostasis). This is in line with Chalcedon's definition that the two natures are united in one person "without confusion or change, without division or separation." Once united, nothing can separate the union with the human nature, not even death.

Even though the soul was the means of the divine union with the body, Aquinas goes on to say, "The Word God is said to be united with the flesh through the medium of the soul, inasmuch as it is through the soul that the flesh belongs to human nature, which the Son of God intended to assume; but not as though the soul were the medium linking them together. But it is due to the soul that the flesh is human even after the soul has been separated from it--namely, inasmuch as by God's ordinance there remains in the dead flesh a certain relation to the resurreciton. And therefore the union of the Godhead with the flesh is not taken away." In a Christian perspective, a dead human body remains "human" because of it is ordered to the resurrection.

What this means is that the dead body in the tomb is not simply a carcass awaiting reanimation, but rather remains intrinsically united to the Divine Person, who, at the same time, united to his human soul descends into Sheol.

--Bro. Thomas Petri, OP, STL

phatcatholic said...

As usual Brother Thomas, you are brilliant. It warms my heart to find a Dominican with a thorough knowledge of Aquinas. Thank you very much for your insight.

Matt1618 said...

and he's a great guy to boot! we've met up a couple times in D.C. how are you Brother!?

Matt1618 said...

Also... Nick, I thought you'd be interested in my post of the latest Magnificat editorial on distractions in prayer, if you haven't already read it:

phatcatholic said...

Thanks dude :D

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