Today we continue a Holy Week series that draws from St. Thomas Aquinas’ teachings on the Passion in his Summa Theologiae. Today we consider passages from the Summa Theologiae part III, question 46, article 5. This teaching focuses on the fullness of the sufferings that Jesus endured for us. He did not suffer merely this thing or that, but in a manner of speaking suffered all things. By this He sanctifies all our sufferings in a general yet comprehensive way.
Let’s learn and pray with St. Thomas as we ponder this question: Did Christ endure all suffering?
I answer that, Human sufferings may be considered under two aspects. First of all, specifically, and in this way it was not necessary for Christ to endure them all, since many are mutually exclusive, as burning and drowning; for we are dealing now with sufferings inflicted from without … But, speaking generically, He did endure every human suffering. This admits of a threefold acceptance.
St. Thomas distinguishes between the meaning of “every suffering” in a literal, absolute, specific understanding of the word “every,” from a more general, wide sense of the phrase “every suffering.”
To be sure, Jesus’ sufferings were comprehensive in that every general category was covered, but not in the sense that every possible delineation of a category was covered.
In the following sed contra, St. Thomas advances as an example that Christ did not endure every possible suffering. It is written (John 19:32): “The soldiers therefore came: and they broke the legs of the first, and of the other who was crucified with Him; but after they were come to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.” Consequently, He did not endure every human suffering.
I would only add one other example. Although we can say in a general way that Jesus suffered rejection by His own family and the townsfolk, we cannot say so comprehensively, because His Mother Mary did not reject or abandon Him. She was a member of both of the general categories “family” and “townsfolk,” but that does not mean that she was specifically included among those who rejected Jesus. Therefore, Jesus did not endure every suffering because His mother did not reject Him.
St Thomas goes on to distinguish that in a general sense Christ suffered in every category even if not in every possible example of every category.
First of all, on the part of men: for He endured something from Gentiles and from Jews; from men and from women, as is clear from the women servants who accused Peter. He suffered from the rulers, from their servants and from the mob, according to Psalm 2:1-2: “Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord and against His Christ.” He suffered from friends and acquaintances, as is manifest from Judas betraying and Peter denying Him.
Some people define the enemies as being only or chiefly among the religious leaders, but St. Thomas shows that the pain the Lord experienced from others comes from a far broader base. This is even more evident if we broaden the sample of his sufferings beyond his last three days. He experienced murderous rejection in His own town of Nazareth. He suffered rejection in the Synagogue of Capernaum because of His teachings on the Eucharist. Corazin and Bethsaida rejected Him. John reports that even many of His own kindred did not believe in Him (7:5). Yes, fierce opposition and hardened hearts were daily fare for Jesus throughout His life. St. Thomas includes these sorts of details in what follows, although he focuses more on the event of the Passion itself.
Secondly, the same is evident on the part of the sufferings which a man can endure. For Christ suffered from friends abandoning Him; in His reputation, from the blasphemies hurled at Him; in His honor and glory, from the mockeries and the insults heaped upon Him; in things, for He was despoiled of His garments; in His soul, from sadness, weariness, and fear; in His body, from wounds and scourgings.
There is a greater emphasis on the mental anguish of Christ in our more introspective times, but as St. Thomas witnesses, the mental and emotional sufferings of Christ were not unremarked in previous eras.
The experience of being abandoned by friends is among the most painful we can undergo. Further, we rightly count our reputations among our most prized possessions. For Jesus, innocent and without sin, to be numbered among the worst of sinners and assigned a humiliating death could not have been without profound effect upon Him.
As for His garments, they were likely one of the few things Jesus owned. In today’s consumer age, we don’t worry much about clothes; we have them in abundance. But not so in Jesus’ time. Scripture speaks to the value of one’s tunic when it forbade taking it as collateral on a loan. A tradition holds that Mary His Mother made His tunic herself. Its seamless quality spoke to its excellence. Even the soldiers saw its value and contended for it. Being stripped of it and having others gamble for it added to Jesus’ suffering in ways we may not fully understand.
Thirdly, it may be considered with regard to His bodily members. In His head He suffered from the crown of piercing thorns; in His hands and feet, from the fastening of the nails; on His face from the blows and spittle; and from the lashes over His entire body.
Moreover, He suffered in all His bodily senses: in touch, by being scourged and nailed; in taste, by being given vinegar and gall to drink; in smell, by being fastened to the gibbet in a place reeking with the stench of corpses, “which is called Calvary”; in hearing, by being tormented with the cries of blasphemers and scorners; in sight, by beholding the tears of His Mother and of the disciple whom He loved.
The litany-like writing of St. Thomas here is quite moving; I can add little to it other than to note that Christ took upon Himself all our sufferings in a general though very comprehensive way. Does God understand our pain? He does! An old spiritual says, “Nobody knows the trouble I seen; nobody knows but Jesus.”