Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Five Reasons the Ascension Was Necessary

Following up on the series of posts Brant and I have done on how the work of Christ saves us, I thought it appropriate to close it out today by looking at what Thomas Aquinas says about the Ascension (cf. ST IIIa, q. 57, art. 1 and art. 6).

The ascension saves us in two ways, first of all as it pertains to us and secondly as it pertains to Christ.

Through His Ascension our souls are lifted up to Him, because his ascension fosters faith, hope and love.

1. It helps foster faith in Him, since, if we could see him on earth there would be little faith involved since faith is belief in things unseen (cf. Heb 11:1 , cf. John 20:29). His visible presence could even be an obstacle to supernatural faith!

2. It also inspires hope―the hope of our own future admission into heaven. Jesus didn’t become man, die, rise from the dead and ascend into heaven for his benefit, but for ours! Thomas quotes the Gospel of John where Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

3. It also impels us to grow in charity―that is, it directs our love towards heavenly things and away from earthly things. Thomas cites three key texts. First, St. Paul writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Thomas also cites Jesus’ words: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt 6:21). And, finally, he explains that the Ascension effects charity in our hearts since Jesus goes to the Father to send us the Holy Spirit, who teaches us how to love (cf. John 16:7).

4. It helps us grow in our reverence for Christ, since his ascension reveals his glory, as he goes to sit at the right hand of God. With such a revelation of his glory, we come to the fullest possible understanding of who He is as the Son of Man to whom all glory and dominion belong.

But the ascension has another dimension too.

5. Thomas explains that in the Ascension Jesus enters into heaven with our humanity! He glorifies human nature! Again, he didn’t do this for himself, but for us. Here Thomas cites Micah 2:13, "He shall go up that shall open the way before them." Thomas says, Christ is the Head―and where the Head goes, the Body (the Mystical Body) follows. This is how Jesus himself explains the Ascension: “that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). Thus Jesus leads those souls he went to in his descent into Hell on Holy Saturday into heaven. Aquinas cites Psalm 67:19 and Ephesians 4, where Paul explains, “Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’ 9 (In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things)” (Eph 4:8-10).

Thomas sums it up in this way: “Christ's Passion is the cause of our ascending to heaven, properly speaking, by removing the hindrance which is sin, and also by way of merit: whereas Christ's Ascension is the direct cause of our ascension, as by beginning it in Him who is our Head, with whom the members must be united.”


Alex said...


I was hoping you didn't write this, because I like your blog and I think some of this is absolutely silly. Specifically, the first one. So he had to disappear in order for our belief in him to truly be faith? That's sounds like a desparate attempt at harmonizing scripture to me. And this guy is one of the "big five" theologians of all time? What am I missing?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Michael for this great explanation on the Ascension. I liked all the reasons given, including the first.

Alex, it helps me to recognize that faith is more than intellectual ascent to an idea, but includes an acceptance that God's ways - even when it is not my way or the easy way - is really the best way. Christ's "disappearing" does challenge me to a deeper faith. I'm no theologian, just a simple Catholic.

kentuckyliz said...

If we were stuck living on this earth with immortality after death, (a non ascended Christ), OMG what a burden and a drag. I'd prefer annhiliation to oblivion to that prospect.

That's why God in His mercy blocked access to the Tree of Life in the garden of Eden after Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad/Evil and incurred the consequences of the Fall. It would have been cruel to end up fallen yet immortal on this earth. We would be like zombies or vampires, despairing and chained to this earth.

Of course, we now eat freely of the fruit (Eucharist) of the Tree of Life (the Cross) and gain our immortality, because it is immortality in Heaven in glorified and resurrected bodies and not this earth in mortal, corruptible flesh.

In other words, we're just playing Follow the Leader!

If Christ didn't visibly ascend to Heaven in the presence of witnesses, he would be less than the angels (Jacob's ladder) or Elijah (assumed in a chariot of fire). It was necessary to get his followers (Jews) to really believe in him. Others too, to not discount them as apparition chasers.

Sister Mary Agnes said...

Professor Barber,

I really enjoyed this post and it gives me new ideas for meditations for my next online rosary!