Death & Dying

Did God Die on the Cross? How Can God Die?

by Steve Ray on March 1, 2019

Almost every day I get questions. I always try to answer, even if briefly. Today I received a question from Raymund in the Philippines. He is part of a apologetics group and they got very hung up on whether God died on the cross. Here is his e-mail:

JosephOfArimathea-5c2e4559c9e77c0001904cf9Greetings Mr. Stephen: 

I am a great follower of yours and I’m from the Philippines. I’ve got a couple of questions here that bother me a lot.

1) Did GOD THE SON died literally on the cross? or 2) Did only the HUMAN NATURE OF GOD THE SON  die on the cross?

I hope you can enlighten me on this matter.

My first response was brief, an attempt to get Raymund to think through it himself. I do this sometimes because some people prefer to just ask a question without giving it any thought or doing the research themselves. I wrote:

Let me ask you a question because it’s better for you to think through this on your own than for me to give you a pat answer. When you die, what dies? You are going to die and get buried in the ground, but are you dead?

Raymund wrote back:

You are putting more cobwebs in my brain….anyway, thanks. It has been an issue for us here (a little group of Catholics Faith Defenders, I’m new in this group). We were browsing the web found no definite answer. This issue has divided us.

  one of us says that GOD literally died on the cross for us to be saved.  AND THAT IS A MYSTERY OF OUR GOD IN CHRIST JESUS..

  the other is saying that it cannot be since GOD cannot die.  Jesus our Lord is both God and man.  What died? Some say IT IS A HERESY TO SAY THAT GOD DIED ON THE CROSS LITERALLY. For me, the latter seems a logical point of view.  GOD IS SPIRIT, ETERNAL, NO BEGINNING, AND NO END, therefore, cannot die. What died on the cross?

To sum it all, I’m sad for our group and at the same time, I’m confused.

So I responded further to Raymund and his group of Catholic Faith Defenders:

The reason I asked you about “when you die, what dies?” Is because it should help you think about what death is. Death is “separation.” It is the separation of the body from the soul. The soul goes to heaven or hell and the body is buried in the ground. Death does not mean annihilation, it means separation. When you die, you cease from your earthly existence, but you are still alive in your soul.

Jesus had two natures (human and divine) but he was only one “person.” He is a divine person (not a human person). He is God who has taken on human nature and therefore he is God and a man.

harrowingofhellJust like you, when this divine person of Jesus died on the cross it was a real death. But he was not annihilated or altogether dead. His body was buried in the tomb but he was soul and person was alive just like you will be alive in your soul when you die.

While his body lay in the tomb we are told that he ” he went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:18–19). He was still alive though his body was in the tomb. The person does not die, the body does and earthly existence ceases.

Catechism 630  “During Christ’s period in the tomb, his divine person continued to assume both his soul and his body, although they were separated from each other by death. For this reason, the dead Christ’s body “saw no corruption” (Acts 13:37).

Catechism 626  “Since the “Author of life” who was killed is the same “living one [who has] risen,” 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.”

So, Jesus taking on human flesh died just like we all die. But the divine person of Christ did not end or cease to exist. Jesus’ spirit/soul never stopped living just like your spirit/soul will still live after your body and soul are separated in death. Remember, death means separation, not annihilation.

I concluded with a bit of advice: Raymund, When you have questions like this I suggest you go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church which is the best theology book, the best commentary on Scripture and a superb guide for your spiritual life. It is easy to read and you can find answers to questions like this.

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Bishops Among the Flames in Mexico

by Steve Ray on November 28, 2018

Here in Mexico churches have 3 dimensional images of purgatory to scare people to holiness. Nearly every one has a bishop in the flames.

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If Pope Francis were to teach that capital punishment is “absolutely” immoral, he would be contradicting the teaching of scripture, the Fathers, and all previous popes, and substituting for it “some new doctrine.”

 Editor’s note: This first part of a two-part article on Catholicism and the death penalty was originally posted on July 17, 2016. It is reposted now that By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment (Ignatius, 2017), written by Dr. Feser and Dr. Bessette, has been published. 

Pope St. John Paul II was well-known for his vigorous opposition to capital punishment. Yet in 2004, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — the pope’s own chief doctrinal officer, later to become Pope Benedict XVI — stated unambiguously that:

[I]f a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment… he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities… to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible… to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about… applying the death penalty… (emphasis added)

How could it be “legitimate” for a Catholic to be “at odds with” the pope on such a matter? The answer is that the pope’s opposition to capital punishment was not a matter of binding doctrine, but merely an opinion which a Catholic must respectfully consider but not necessarily agree with. Cardinal Ratzinger could not possibly have said what he did otherwise. If it were mortally sinful for a Catholic to disagree with the pope about capital punishment, then he could not “present himself to receive Holy Communion.” If it were even venially sinful to disagree, then there could not be “a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics.”

The fact is that it is the irreformable teaching of the Church that capital punishment can in principle be legitimate, not merely to ensure the physical safety of others when an offender poses an immediate danger (a case where even John Paul II was willing to allow for the death penalty), but even for purposes such as securing retributive justice and deterring serious crime. What is open to debate is merely whether recourse to the death penalty is in practice the best option given particular historical and cultural circumstances. That is a “prudential” matter about which popes have no special expertise.

We defend these claims in detail and at length in our book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of the Death Penalty. What follows is a brief summary of some key points.

Sacred Scripture

 The Church holds that scripture is infallible, particularly when it teaches on matters of faith and morals. The First Vatican Council teaches that scripture must always be interpreted in the sense in which the Church has traditionally understood it, and in particular that it can never be interpreted in a sense contrary to the unanimous understanding of the Fathers of the Church.

Both the Old and New Testaments teach that capital punishment can be legitimate, and the Church has always interpreted them this way. For example, Genesis 9:6 famously states: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” The Church has always understood this as a sanction of the death penalty. Even Christian Brugger, a prominent Catholic opponent of capital punishment, admits that attempts to reinterpret this passage are dubious and that the passage is a “problem” for views like his own.i

St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans teaches that the state “does not bear the sword in vain [but] is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer” (13:4). The Church has always understood this too as a warrant for capital punishment, and by Brugger’s own admission, there was a “consensus” among the Fathers and medieval Doctors of the Church that the passage was to be understood in this way.ii But in that case, attempts to reinterpret the passage cannot possibly be reconciled with a Catholic understanding of scripture.

Not only Genesis 9:6 and Romans 13:4 but also passages like Numbers 35:33, Deuteronomy 19: 11-13, Luke 23:41, and Acts 25:11 all clearly regard capital punishment as legitimate when carried out simply for the purpose of securing retributive justice. The lex talionis (“law of retaliation”) of Exodus 21 and Leviticus 24 is also obviously a matter of exacting retribution for its own sake. Deuteronomy 19:19-21 talks of execution as a way of striking “fear” in potential offenders, and deterrence is clearly in view in Romans 13:4. Hence scripture clearly teaches that capital punishment can in principle be legitimate for the sake of deterrence.

The Fathers and Doctors of the Church

The Church has always regarded the Fathers as having an extremely high degree of authority when they are agreed on some matter of faith or morals. Now, some of the Fathers preferred mercy to the use of capital punishment. However, every one of the Fathers who commented on the subject nevertheless also allowed that capital punishment can in principle be legitimate. For example, in his Homilies on Leviticus, Origen teaches that “death which is inflicted as the penalty of sin is a purification of the sin itself.” Clement of Alexandria says that “when one falls into any incurable evil… it will be for his good if he is put to death.” In his commentary On the Sermon on the Mount, Augustine writes that “great and holy men… punished some sins with death… [by which] the living were struck with a salutary fear.” Jerome taught that “he who slays cruel men is not cruel.”

It is sometimes claimed that Tertullian and Lactantius were exceptions to the patristic consensus on capital punishment as legitimate at least in principle, but even Brugger admits that this is not in fact the case.iii And again, the Fathers also uniformly regarded scripture as allowing capital punishment, and the Church teaches that the Fathers must be followed where they agree on the interpretation of scripture.

Like scripture, the Fathers also speak of capital punishment as in principle legitimate for purposes like the securing of retributive justice and deterring others. (Indeed, neither scripture nor the Fathers refer to protection against immediate physical danger even as a purpose of capital punishment, let alone as the only legitimate purpose.)

The Church has also regarded the Doctors of the Church as having a very high degree of authority when they are agreed on some matter of faith or morals. Like the Fathers, these Doctors—including thinkers of the stature of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Robert Bellarmine, and St. Alphonsus Ligouri—are all in agreement on the legitimacy in principle of capital punishment. Aquinas even dismissed as “frivolous” the suggestion that capital punishment removes from offenders the possibility of repentance, arguing that “if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgment that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers” (Summa Contra Gentiles III.146).

The popes

No pope from St. Peter to Benedict XVI ever denied the legitimacy in principle of capital punishment, and many popes explicitly affirmed its legitimacy, even as a matter of basic Catholic orthodoxy.

For the whole article, click here.

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Disappointed in Two Movies: “Shape of Water” and “Breathe”

May 5, 2018

We see some of our best and worst movies while flying in airplanes back-and-forth across the Atlantic. Today we saw one of our dumbest movies which started out intriguing but we both said it’s on the lower end of all the movies we’ve watched. It was called “The Shape of Water“. It was about a […]

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Death, What a Wonderful Way to Explain It

April 14, 2018

Hope you enjoy this. I found it quite nice with a ring of truth to it. When it comes my turn to die, this will be my attitude.

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Forty Frozen Martyrs – we honor them today March 10

March 9, 2017

In my talk Swimming Upstream I usually tell the story of 40 Roman soldiers who chose to freeze naked on a frozen lake in 320 AD rather than deny Jesus Christ. St. Basil, Doctor of the Church, told of the heroic martyrdom of 40 soldiers in a homily. They had been executed fifty years before […]

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