The Catechism of St. Thomas Aquinas: THE SIXTH ARTICLE
“He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.”
Besides the resurrection of Christ, we must also believe in His ascension; for He ascended into heaven on the fortieth day. Hence, the Creed says: “He ascended into heaven.” Concerning this we ought to observe three things, viz., that it was sublime, reasonable, and beneficial.
THE SUBLIMITY OF THE ASCENSION
It was certainly sublime that Christ ascended into heaven. This is expounded in three ways. Firstly, He ascended above the physical heaven: “He . . . ascended above all the heavens.” Secondly, He ascended above all the spiritual heavens, i.e., spiritual natures: “Raising [Jesus] up from the dead and setting Him on His right hand in the heavenly places. Above all principality and power and virtue and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world but also in that which is to come. And He hath subjected all things under His feet.” Thirdly, He ascended up to the very throne of the Father: “Lo, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven. And He came even to the Ancient of days.” “And the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God.” Now, it is not to be taken in the
literal sense, but figuratively, that Christ is at the right hand of God. Inasmuch as Christ is God, He is said to sit at the right hand of the Father, that is, in equality with the Father; and as Christ is man, He sits at the right hand of the Father, that is, in a more preferable place. The devil once feigned to do this: “I will ascend above the height of the clouds. I will be like the Most High.” But Christ alone succeeded in this, and so it is said: “He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father.” “The Lord said to my Lord: Sit Thou at My right hand.”
THE REASONABLENESS OF THE ASCENSION
The Ascension of Christ into heaven is in accord with reason: (1) because heaven was due to Christ by His very nature. It is natural for one to return to that place from whence he takes his origin. The beginning of Christ is from God, who is above all things: “I came forth from the Father and am come into the world; again I leave the world and I go to the Father.” 9 “No man hath ascended into heaven, but He that descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven.” 9 The just ascend into heaven, but not in the manner that Christ ascended, i.e., by His own power; for they are taken up by Christ: “Draw me, we will run after Thee.” Or, indeed, we can say that no man but Christ has ascended into heaven, because the just do not ascend except in so far as they are the members of Christ who is the head of the Church. “Wheresoever the body shall be, there shall the eagles also be gathered together.”
(2) Heaven is due to Christ because of His victory. For He was sent into the world to combat the devil, and He did overcome him. Therefore, Christ deserved to be exalted above all things: “I also have overcome and am set down with My Father in His throne.”
(3) The Ascension is reasonable because of the humility of Christ. There never was humility so great as that of Christ, who, although He was God, yet wished to become man; and although He was the Lord, yet wished to take the form of a servant, and, as St. Paul says: “He was made obedient unto death,” and descended even into hell. For this He deserved to be exalted even to heaven and to the throne of God, for humility leads to exaltation: “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” “He that descended is the same also that ascended above all the heavens.”
THE BENEFITS OF THE ASCENSION
The Ascension of Christ was very beneficial for us. This is seen three ways. Firstly, as our Leader, because He ascended in order to lead us; for we had lost the way, but He has shown it to us. “For He shall go up that shall open the way before them, and thus we may be made certain of possessing the heavenly kingdom: “I go to prepare a place for you.” Secondly, that He might draw our hearts to Himself: “For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart so.” Thirdly, to let us withdraw from worldly things: “Therefore, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth.”
(For “Questions for Discussion” see Chapter 6.)
1. Eph., iv. 10.
2. “Ibid.,” i. 20-22
3. Dan., vii. 13.
4. Mark, xvi. 19.
5. “In these words we observe a figure of speech, that is, the changing of a word from its literal to a figurative meaning, something which is not infrequent in the Scriptures: for when accommodating its language to human ideas, it attributes human affections and human members to God, who is pure spirit and can admit of nothing corporeal. For, just as among men, he who sits at the right hand is considered to occupy the most honored place: so, transferring the idea to heavenly things to express the glory which Christ as Man enjoys above all others, we say that He sits at the right hand of His Eternal Father. Now, this does not mean actual position and figure of body, but declares the fixed and permanent possession of royal and supreme power and glory which Christ received from the Father” (“Roman Catechism,” Sixth Article, 3).
6. Isa., xiv. 13-14.
7. Ps. cix. 1.
8. John, xvi. 28.
9. “lbid.,” iii. 13.
10. “He ascended by His own power, not by the power of another as did Elias, who was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot (IV Kings, ii. 1); or as the prophet Habacuc (Dan., xiv. 35); or Philip, the deacon. who was borne through the air by the divine power and traversed the distant regions of the earth (Acts, viii. 39). Neither did He ascend into heaven solely by the exercise of His supreme power as God. but also, by virtue of the power which He possessed as Man; although human power alone was insufficient to raise Him from the dead, yet the virtue with which the blessed soul of Christ was endowed, was capable of moving the body as it pleased, and His body, now glorified, readily obeyed the soul that moved it” (“Roman Catechism,” “loc. cit.,” 2).
11. Cant., i. 3.
12. Matt., xxiv. 28.
13. Apoc., iii. 21.
14. Phil., ii. 8.
15. Luke, xiv. 11.
16. Eph., iv. 10.
17. Mich., ii. 13.
18. John, xiv. 2.
19. Matt., vi. 21.
20. Col., iii. 1.