An Explanation of the Apostle’s Creed – Fourth Article of the Creed

detail from a painting of the 12 Apostles with their traditional lines from the Apostle's Creed, 1424; Lower Saxony State Museum, Hanover, Germany; photographed by Jean Louis Mazieres 24 December 2015; swiped from Wikimedia Commons“Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”

“SUFFERED UNDER PONTIUS PILATE” – HISTORY OF THE SUFFERINGS AND DEATH OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST

During three years and a half Our Saviour had gone about teaching, counseling, pointing out the divine chastisements that overtake the unrepentant, diffusing blessings, doing good. His time was now come, for DaniePs weeks of years were drawing to a close. Israel could no longer exculpate itself, for so astounding had been Jesus’ miracles that only wickedness itself could withstand their force. While some few had opened their hearts to the influence of God’s words, the majority had neglected the time of grace and salvation. The great event was drawing nigh, from which blessings were to flow down upon all mankind. The sufferings of Jesus began.

For some time past snares had been laid to entrap the Saviour, for He had unmasked the hypocrisy of the priests and Pharisees. Hence Our Lord for some time had avoided the city of Jerusalem. Four days previous to the feast of the Passover when, according to ancient custom, the paschal lamb was killed and eaten, He appeared again publicly in the city. When approaching Bethphage on the Mount of Olives He sent two of His disciples to Bethania to engage a foal of an ass, on which He seated Himself and rode into Jerusalem, in order that the vision of the prophet Zacharias might be fulfilled: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold thy King will come to thee, the Just and Saviour: He is poor and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” (Zacharias 9:9)

Just then there was great commotion throughout the ~ entire city, for only a short time before He had raised Lazarus to life after the body had been three days in the tomb, and this miracle could not be denied, explained away, or hushed up. The people rejoiced, while the priests were enraged. When the news spread that the worker of miracles was approaching, the people went out in crowds to meet Him, paying Him kingly honors, for on the road under His feet they strewed palm and olive branches, a distinction seldom shown to any one other than a royal personage, at the same time singing, “Hosanna! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel.” (John 12:13) Thus was Our Saviour recognized as king, and they proclaimed, “Hosanna!” who five days later cried out, “Crucify Him!”

Now, the devil entered Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles, who was eaten up with the passion of greed, and who went stealthily and plotted with the high priests and chiefs of the nation to deliver up his blessed Master to them. They were pleased, and promised him money, some thirty pieces of silver. Then came the day of the unleavened bread, on which the paschal lamb was to be slaughtered. This was the day on which Our Saviour’s Passion really began, for He was the real paschal lamb that was soon to be slaughtered for the sins of the world. Again had come the hour of Phase, that is to say, the passing of the destroying angel, for from this day forth the destroying angel would pass harmlessly over those sprinkled with the redeeming blood and marked with the sacred name of Christ.

The Saviour first ate the paschal lamb in order to fulfil all that the law prescribed. Then He instituted the sublime memorial of His boundless love by giving Himself to His apostles as their food, offering . Himself up in a bloodless manner, which they would thenceforth continue by offering Him up as the eternal High Priest and Victim, and which He Himself was to consummate on the next day in the bloody sacrifice of the cross. It is also probable, as indeed it has been revealed by God in more than one vision to pious souls, that it was in this solemn hour that Our Saviour appointed the apostles who surrounded Him bishops in the future Church. Then He joined His disciples in singing a hymn of praise and thanksgiving, after having instructed them of what He was to undergo, encouraged them, strengthened them with the promise of the Holy Ghost as their new Comforter, P and prayed for them and for the whole Church in those touching and deep-meaning words which compose what has ever since, been called the high priest’s prayer. Then they all went together over the brook Cedron to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemani, a spot which the Saviour had often before chosen as a place of prayer, and where, during whole nights, He had interceded with His heavenly Father for poor, distressed mankind, and had often fortified His own human nature for His future superhuman sufferings. This place was well known to Judas as a spot where Our Lord might easily be captured without alarming the people or causing any tumult. Jesus, knowing the treachery of Judas, went in this way to meet him, for now His hour was come.

When they reached the usual spot Jesus said to His disciples, “Wait ye here till I go yonder and pray.” Taking with Him Peter, John, and James, His favorite three, the same who had witnessed His transfiguration on Mount Thabor, He said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death, wait ye here and watch with Me.” But fatigue and drowsiness overpowered the three disciples. They fell fast asleep, and Our Lord had to encounter His dreadful agony alone. Three times He prayed, “Lord, if it be possible let this chalice pass from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done.” Then an angel appeared, comforting Him. “And being in an agony He prayed the longer and His sweat became as drops of blood trickling down upon the ground.” (Luke 22:44)

What could have produced such anguish in the heart of our blessed Redeemer? Three dreadful images rose up before His sight, the contemplation of which overcame Him, and forced the drops of blood from His pores. First, He saw the sins of the whole world pass before His mental gaze. This dreadful affliction, this cruel, overwhelming burden, He was about to take upon His shoulders and to offer satisfaction to His heavenly Father. This was the first shock.

The second horror that overwhelmed the Saviour was the thought of the excruciating cruelties awaiting Him, and before which His human nature shuddered and recoiled. Here, in this bloody sweat of anguish, in the strength sent from heaven, and which He needed, and in His imploring prayer, we see at once and plainly that Christ was really and truly man, and that His divinity had no influence in softening or alleviating the sufferings of His body.

The third cause of His agony was the knowledge He had that after all these dreadful sufferings, after this thrice and sorely proved love of His, after His ignominious death, so many would remain unbenefited, so many would persist in their sins, so many would be lost.

Such were the frightful internal sufferings which, as forebodings of grosser external torments, came upon our beloved Redeemer. After Our Saviour had passed through this struggle and, by complete resignation to the will of His) Father, become master over His three trying temptations, as He had in the beginning of His public life overcome the threefold temptation of the devil by obedience, He stood up and, awaking His disciples, said, ” Come, rise, let us go, he who will betray Me is at hand.” Then Judas approached, showing the way to a crowd of soldiers armed with sticks and swords. They had been sent by the high priests for the purpose of capturing Jesus. Judas knew the way, for he had often before trod it when accompanying his blessed Master to the solemn exercise of prayer.

Stepping forward, he imprinted on the cheek of Jesus a treacherous kiss, as a sign to those whom he had brought with him. Jesus advanced and said, “Whom seek ye?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” He said, “I am He.” Then the mob staggered back and fell to the ground. The Lord was pleased to show them His power, to show them that man could have no power over Him without His free consent. Then again Jesus asked them, “Whom seek ye?” They answered again, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Whereupon Jesus replied, “I have told you that I am He. If you seek Me let these go their way.”

Then Simon Peter, drawing his sword, cut off the right ear of a high priest’s servant, named Malchus. This act was done against the wish of Our Saviour, who wished no blood shed except His own. Hence He rebuked Peter and commanded him to put away his weapon, “Put up thy sword into the scabbard, for all that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I can not ask My Father and He will give Me more than twelve legions of angels?” Then He replaced the ear of Malchus, healed the wound, and of His own free will allowed His enemies to bind Him and to take Him captive.

Christ was not constrained to suffer and to die. No, He suffered voluntarily, as Isaias had long before foretold that He would, saying, “He was offered because it was His own will ” (Isaias 54:7). He submitted out of love for us and was pleased to drain to its bitterest dregs the chalice that we ought to drink.

At first the disciples were frightened, and dispersed in all directions. Only Peter and John followed their captive Master, and they kept at a distance, as He was led to Caiphas, the high priest, where the elders and scribes had gathered together, and where charges and accusations of all kinds were made by false witnesses who were really unable to prove their assertions. Two of these witnesses, the last who came, said, “We have heard Him say, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and after three days to rebuild it.'” To the enemies of Our Lord such an assertion seemed to be blasphemy, for only God could perform such a miracle, and in their blindness they did not discern the divinity of Him who stood before them. Then the high priest said to Him, “I adjure Thee, by the living God, that Thou tell us if Thou art Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “Thou hast said it; I am.” Thus did Our Saviour affirm on oath, before the whole assemblage, that He was true God, inasmuch as His reply was based on the adjuration to the living God made by the high priest. He also added, “I say to you, hereafter you shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of the power of God and coming in the clouds of heaven.” This solemn assurance of Our Saviour explains and confirms all that He had previously said when speaking of Himself as the Son of God, showing beyond all doubt that He did not consider Himself merely the Son of God in the sense that all men are sons of God, or even as a specially chosen man sent by God, but as the real, true, and consubstantial Son of God, participating equally in the power and glory of His Father.

Then the high priest rent his garments, saying, “He hath blasphemed. What further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now you have heard the blasphemy, what think ye?” The crowd condemned Him and shouted that He was guilty of death. Then the men who held Jesus bound mocked Him and spat in His face. They buffeted Him and, having covered His face, they struck Him with their fists, saying, “Prophesy unto us, O Christ, who is he that struck Thee?” And blaspheming, many other things they said against Him; and the servants of the high priest smote Him with the palms of their hands.

While Jesus was enduring in silence these atrocious indignities from His enemies, still another was added by one who but a few hours before had boasted, “Although all shall be scandalized in Thee, I will never be scandalized. Although I should die together with Thee, I will not deny Thee.”

Saint Peter’s denial of his Master is thus described by the Evangelists: “Now when Peter was in the court below, a portress, one of the maid servants of the high priest came, and when she had seen Peter sitting by the fire, warming himself, and had looked at him, she said: Thou also wast with Jesus the Galilean. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. And as he went out of the gate, another maid saw him, and she saith to them that were there: This man also was with Jesus of Nazareth. And again he denied with an oath: That I know not the man. And after a little while they came that stood by, and said to Peter: Surely thou also art one of them: for even thy speech doth discover thee. Then he began to curse and to swear that he knew not the man. And immediately the cock crew.”

Our divine Lord was then led from the council-chamber into the outer court, where He was subjected to the jeers and insults of the soldiers. As the cock crew the Lord, turning, looked at Peter; and Peter, remembering the word of the Lord, ” Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice,” went out, weeping bitterly. How low was the fall of Peter, of him who considered himself so staunch and faithful! A solemn warning to us all that we should not be too presumptuous, lest we fall into sin. During his whole subsequent life Peter ceased not to bemoan his want of constancy. A pious legend relates that he was never again heard to laugh, and that his tears gushed forth afresh every time he heard the cock crow.

Unjust and unlawful as were the proceedings of the Jews against Christ, they maintained an outward show of legality and justice. “And straightway in the morning, as soon as it was day, the ancients of the people and the chief priests and scribes met together, took counsel that they might put Jesus to death, and they brought Him before their council, saying: If Thou be the Christ, tell us. Jesus said: You say it, for I am. And the whole multitude of them rising up brought Him bound and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.” Unlike Galilee and the other portions of the Jewish territory the country of Judea was not under the jurisdiction of the tetrarchs, but was governed by the Romans, who had appointed there a governor named Pontius Pilate. The Jews kept their own code of laws, however, but having lost their right of life and death their sentence needed the ratification of the Roman governor. Pilate therefore said, “What accusation bring you against this man?” They answered and said to him, “We have found this man perverting our nation and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that He is Christ the King.” Already had Our Lord taught these people publicly, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Pilate called Jesus and asked Him, “Art Thou the King of the Jews? ” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world My servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews, but now My kingdom is not from hence.”

On hearing these words Pilate saw at once that on the part of Jesus no danger threatened his own power, or that of the Roman empire, and said to the chief priests and the people, “I find no cause in this man.” But they were more earnest, saying, “He stirreth up the people, teaching all over Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place.” When Pilate heard that Jesus was a Galilean and was of Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him away to Herod, who was also himself at Jerusalem in those days. Herod, seeing Jesus, was very glad, for he had been long desirous of seeing Him, because he had heard many things of Him and hoped to see some sign wrought by Him. Herod questioned Him with many words, but Jesus answered him nothing. Our Saviour was silent, not out of contempt for lawfully instituted authority, but because He knew and felt that all these questions were put, not with a view of discovering truth and securing justice, but from the merest idle curiosity. Herod mocked Him and, putting on Him a white garment, as it were to deck Him out as a would-be king, sent Him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate were made friends that same day, for before they were enemies to each other. Pilate, calling together the chief priests and the magistrates and the people, said to them, “You have presented unto me this man as one that perverteth the people and, behold, after having examined Him before you, I find no cause in Him in those things wherein you accuse Him. No, nor Herod either, for I sent you to him and, behold, nothing worthy of death is done to Him. I will chastise Him therefore and release Him.” Now, upon the solemn festival day the governor was accustomed, of necessity, to release to the people one prisoner, whom they would. And he had then a notorious prisoner who was called Barabbas, a robber, who was put in prison with some seditious men who had committed murder. The multitude, therefore, being gathered together, they began to desire what he had ever done for them. Pilate, answering, said to the multitude, “Whom will you that I release to you? Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ? ” The chief priests and ancients moved the people to ask that he release Barabbas to them and that he destroy Jesus, and together they cried out, “Not this man, but Barabbas. Away with this man and release to us Barabbas!” And Pilate, again answering, said, desiring to release Jesus, “What will you, then, that I do to the King of the Jews, who is called Christ?” They cried out, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers platting a crown of thorns put it upon His head, and they put on Him a purple garment and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and they gave Him blows. Jesus Christ, tied fast to a pillar, the whole upper portion of His sacred body exposed to the cruel gaze of the mob, and so unmercifully lashed by scourges in the hands of six or eight soldiers that His precious blood flows in warm streams to the earth, is the dread picture now before our thoughts. Such is the atonement made for our sins of the flesh, for the effeminacy, luxury, and lust of mankind.

When the soldiery conducted the lacerated, bleeding, and thorn-crowned Saviour into Pilate’s presence he was shocked and frightened at the result of his orders, and thinking it would not be possible for the Jews to remain unmoved at the deplorable appearance of their victim he accompanied Jesus to the balcony and showed Him to the crowd. “Pilate therefore went forth again and saith to them: Behold the man!” What a man to behold! How gentle and patient in His suffering; how chastened and broken; how dreadfully punished, He who had never been guilty of transgression against God or man!” When the chief priests therefore and the servants had seen Him, they cried out saying: Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Alas! what a sudden change from “Hosanna in the highest!” to “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Only five days to convert Palm Sunday into Good Friday! And the Jews cried out, “If thou release this man thou art not Caesar’s friend.” Now indeed they were sure of accomplishing their wicked designs against Our Saviour. Pilate had good cause to fear the emperor’s anger, for already many complaints had been lodged against him with that ruler. To be charged with showing favor to the enemies of the emperor would bring Pilate into disgrace and imperil his position as governor. His hesitancy to put Jesus to death was now overcome, and calling for water he washed his hands as a sign of his own innocence and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just man.” And the whole people, answering said, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” This awful malediction which the Jews called down upon themselves attained its fulfilment forty years later, when their city was laid in ruins and they themselves scattered over the face of the earth.

Then Judas, who had betrayed Jesus, seeing that his Master was condemned to death, repented, brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the ancients and said, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” But they said, ” What is that to us: Look thou to it.” Casting down the pieces of silver in the Temple he departed, and went and hanged himself with a baiter. The chief priests, having taker, the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful tc put them into the corbona, because they are the price of blood.” And after they had consulted together they bought with them the potter’s field, to be a burying place for strangers. For this cause that field was called Haceldama, that is, the field of blood.

The soldiers took Jesus and led Him away to crucify Him. Though weary, worn, and exhausted, Our Lord willingly accepted the heavy cross, and placed it upon His shoulders to carry it to the distant scene of His impending death. The way was rough, He was weak, and He fell three times during the journey. Hence His persecutors seized upon a man named Simon of Cyrene whom they met, and compelled him to carry the cross of Jesus, while they did not cease to taunt and insult Jesus and urge Him along the way with blows. It was carrying the wood on which he was to be offered that the guiltless Isaac once went to the altar of sacrifice. Some few pious women, overwhelmed with grief and compassion, followed in the footsteps of their Lord, and one of them, named Veronica, handed to Him her handkerchief to wipe the sweat and blood from His blinded eyes. This handkerchief received the impression of the divine countenance, and it is still preserved in the Church, an object of profound veneration. To these pious souls Jesus said, ” Weep not for Me, but for yourselves and for your children,” meaning that they and their children would live to see the dire, dark hour of vengeance when Israel would pay the penalty of this crime.

Just outside of the city of Jerusalem was a slight eminence called Golgotha, the ordinary place for executions – hence its other name, the place of skulls. To this spot our blessed Lord was dragged. Here He was stripped of His garments, bound to the cross with ropes, and finally nailed fast to it by hands and feet. Thus cruelly nailed in hands and feet He was raised aloft between heaven and earth, and “with Him they crucify two thieves: the one on His right hand and the other on His left And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith: And with the wicked He was reputed.” (Mark 15:27,28) Pilate wrote also an inscription or title over His head. It was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and meant, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

The chief priests, therefore, of the Jews said to Pilate, “Write not the ‘King of the Jews,’ but that He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.'” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” Thus it was that heathenism proclaimed to the world that Judaism had rejected its King and Saviour.

When the soldiers had crucified Him they took His garments and, excepting His coat, made four lots of them, a lot for each soldier. Now, the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said to one ancrther, “Let us not cut it, but let us cast lots for it and see whose it shall be.” And thus the Scripture was fulfilled: “They parted My garments among them, and upon My vesture they cast lots.” (Psalms 21:19) And the soldiers did these things indeed and sat down and watched Him. As we see these hard-hearted robbers plying their nefarious work at the very foot of the cross, are we not forcibly and painfully reminded of many self-called Christians who deliberately wrong God’s servants and rob His sacred sanctuaries and homes of piety and learning?

To the cruelties of the soldiers were now added the jeers and derision of the wretched bystanders, who taunted Jesus, saying, “He saved others, Himself He can not save; if He be the King of Israel let Him now come down from the cross and we will believe in Him. Let Him save Himself if He be Christ, the Elect of God. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He is pleased with Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”

Amid His cruel agony of body, amid these worse cruelties on the part of the bystanders, our beloved Saviour suffered in silence. He looked toward the West, for such was the position of the cross. The East had rejected salvation; it was to pass to the West. During the space of three tedious, agonizing hours Jesus hung upon the cross, dying. At last He uttered the words, “It is consummated,” and died.

The day on which Our Saviour died was the Parasceve, that is, the day of preparation, or the day preceding the great Easter Sabbath, on which, from the hour of three o’clock in the afternoon, called by the Jews the ninth hour, the preparation for’ the next day’s festival began. Although it was prescribed by law to eat the paschal lamb on the second day before the great Sabbath it had become customary to eat it on the Parasceve itself. Our Saviour, in strict accordance with the law, had observed the rite on the appointed day, and on the following day had permitted Himself, the true Paschal Lamb, to be led to the slaughter and to be slain for our sins.

As it was not allowable for the body of a dead malefactor to remain hanging on the cross during the great Sabbath, the Roman soldiers came to take away the bodies. Seeing that the two thieves were not yet dead the soldiers broke their legs in order to kill them; but seeing that Christ was already dead they did not break His legs, but one of them ran a spear into His side to prove, as it were, that death had already done its work.

From the wound thus made with the soldier’s lance, flowed blood mingled with water, the blood being the symbol of Christ’s divinity, the water of His humanity. That is the sacred bath of regeneration, the living stream with which Christ the Lord overflowed the Church, “that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having a spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish ” (Ephesians 5:27). Thus, too, were fulfilled the words of Holy Writ, ” The Lord keepeth all their bones: not one of them shall be broken” (Psalms 33:21); and, again, “they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced.” (Zacharias 12:10)

After these things, and when evening was come, there came a certain rich man, Joseph, of Arimathea, a city in Judea, who was a noble counselor, a good and a just man, and had looked himself for the kingdom of God and was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews. This man came and went in boldly to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus. But Pilate, wondering that He should be already dead, sent for the centurion and asked him if Jesus were really dead. On receiving an affirmative reply from the centurion he gave the body to Joseph. The latter came, therefore, and took away the body of Jesus, assisted by some few devout women. Nicodemus also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Joseph bought fine linen and wrapped the body in linen cloths with the spices, after the manner of Jewish burial. In the place where Jesus was crucified was a garden, and in the garden was a new sepulcher which Joseph had had hewn out in a rock, and wherein no man had yet been laid. There, therefore, because of the Parasceve of the Jews, they laid Jesus, the sepulcher being nigh at hand, and rolled a great stone to the door of the monument.

Blessings Resulting from the Death of Christ

As there is a meaning in the fact that Our Lord died the death of a sinner, and thus made use of the sinner as the instrument of His death, so there is a symbolical meaning in the death on the wooden cross. For He was the second Adam, come upon earth to atone by death upon a tree for the sin committed by the first Adam in connection with the tree in the garden of Paradise. From the wood of that tree death came to us; from the wood of the cross life was to be restored to us. From the tree of knowledge sin came to us; from the rod of Jesse came forgiveness. Thus the tree of the cross has become for us a second tree of knowledge, as the Church sings in her “Preface of the Cross,” “Eternal Father, who didst effect the salvation of mankind on the wood of the cross: that from whence death came, thence life might come forth; and that he who overcame by the tree, might also by the tree be overcome.”

It was thus that Christ the Lord became the Saviour, that is to say, the divine Mediator who brought us salvation, everlasting life, beside which there is no other salvation. Truly is the “Salvator Mundi” the Saviour of the world, for He bore the sins not of one person only – He atoned not for the sins of one alone – but became the atoning Mediator, “the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

There is no kind of sin that Our Saviour did not carry. He bore original sin committed by Adam and inherited by us, as well as all the actual sin which men committed from the time of Adam. We may safely say that at the moment when the curtain of the Temple was rent in two, our bill of debts to the almighty God was torn in pieces. Looking in one glance at all that Our Saviour has done for us, we may sum up and say, “He is our Deliverer and Friend.” He removed from us those things that bore us down, and secured for us all those blessings of which we stood in need. He took from us

1. Sin, an evil from which no human being could free himself. Though we were to live all through life without committing even the slightest sin, we would be tainted, for Adam’s sin was on our souls. While we were in sin we were in the power of the devil, who acquired a certain mastery over us at the moment when Adam and Eve yielded to his temptations. From that sad state Christ delivered us.

2. From the dominion of Satan, who was the enemy of the human race from the beginning, and who by cunning and deception dragged down men ever deeper and deeper into vice and misery, into idolatry, carnality, war, murder, and all the other evils that have been bred of human passions; not only dulled their sense of right, but inflamed their inordinate affections, waked up dormant though innate wickedness, and also persecuted and distressed them in their bodily affections, as we know from the case of Job and from the case of the possessed man in the Gospel. From such dominion has the Lord freed us. Christ crushed the head of this serpent and freed us from his coils.

3. He freed us from everlasting condemnation, for no man could enter the kingdom of heaven laden as he was with the impurities of sin. Now from all such stain our divine Saviour cleansed us with His precious blood. Saint John assures us, “Jesus Christ hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Apocalypse 1:5); thus, by the graces which He pours out upon us, He makes us as acceptable before God as Adam was at the time of his creation. We are now reconciled with God, heaven is open to us, precious graces have been obtained for us by Christ, Our Saviour, that we may become holy and happy, that we may overcome every hindrance thereto.

The whole treasury and the fulness of divine mercy has been poured out upon us, transforming us from enemies of God into His friends, and even making us His children. “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” (Romans 5:10). And Christ merited this happy blessing for all men without any exception since He died for all men; “for,” says Saint Paul, “Christ died for all; that they also, who live, may not now live to themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15)

But the death of Christ did not secure eternal happiness for us absolutely and unconditionally. It purchased for us the right to such happiness, a right that we had forfeited. The happiness itself we must earn and merit through faith and good works. For, as Saint Augustine teaches, ” He who created you without your cooperation will not sanctify you without your cooperation.” We can lose our souls; it is possible for the blood of Christ to have been shed in vain for us. Indeed this was one of the most agonizing thoughts of Our Saviour during His Passion, namely, that, notwithstanding His infinite pains and atoning death, many persons would derive no benefit from such love. But such unhappy people are lost through their own fault, for, on their part, they do nothing that is necessary to obtain eternal salvation. They desire heaven, but they desire to secure it without struggle, pain, or any effort whatever.

They will not surrender their intellects, which means that they have no faith. They follow their own will and reject the will of God, thus disobeying His commandments. They neglect, or perhaps refuse, to avail themselves of the means established by God for obtaining divine grace – they do not approach the sacraments. Does this make God responsible for the loss of such souls? “Behold,” says the Lord, “I stand at the gate and knock” (Apocalypse 3:20), while men let Him knock, and refuse to open the door of their hearts. Jesus says to all men, “Come to Me, all you that labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you ” (Matthew 11:28). But they do not come, they do not seek relief or assistance. Through their own fault they falter and lose strength, and finally fall into the power of the devil, from whose dominion the Lord had delivered them. If they trample the sufferings and death of Christ under foot who is to blame if they are lost and Christ’s precious blood is lost for them? If men die in their sins and are lost, who can blame that Saviour who, as the Evangelist says, “gave to as, many as received Him, power to be made the sons of God ” (John 1:12)?

Never, O Christian soul, forget the great love of Jesus Christ “For thee, O man, have I suffered,” exclaims Our Saviour from the cross, “what art thou doing for Me? ” Make, then, your resolution, that as the three pagan wise men knelt at the manger and offered their gifts, you will kneel at the cross of Jesus and offer up your most precious treasures of mind and body. Offer yourself. Promise to live for Him who died such a painful death for you. He desires no other offering but yourself. He wishes love for love, and life for life, and will then address you from His cross, as He said to the believing centurion, “As thou hast believed, so be it done to thee” (Matthew 8:13).

– text taken from An Explanation of the Apostle’s Creed: A Thorough Exposition of Catholic Faith, by Father H Rolfus, D.D., published by Benziger Brothers, 1907; it has the Imprimatur of +John M Farley, Auxiliary Bishop and Adminsitrator of New York, June 1902