135 – “The Son of Man, who like a serpent, became sin, is raised up to save us. Let us look at the Cross, a man tortured, a God, emptied of his divinity, stained by sin”

The Pope’s mission to teach the truth is inherent to his position as guide of the Church. All of the baptized turn to him for words of eternal life, which, we know God has willed, should come to us through Christ’s Vicar. So, over the centuries, the Roman Pontiffs have carefully undertaken the task of preaching, aware that no one can do so with greater efficacy, authority and celestial blessings than they themselves. To this end, they even sought the collaboration of the most renowned theologians at their time, to ensure that their work be carried out to perfection with the aid of the doctrinal certainty of these collaborators.

This office of teaching must be exercised in meticulously sound fashion, for what is expected of those who are called to teach the truth is – needless to say – that they teach the truth! What if Saint Peter, for example, had proclaimed doubtful doctrines in his famous sermons recorded in he Acts of the Apostles, later sending Saint Mark to clarify, before the congregation, what he had really meant to say?… You see, the Head of the Church meant one thing, but since it is being wrongly interpreted, we had better say he really meant quite another… If such a situation had cropped up in Saint Luke’s narration, we would take it as an apocryphal interpolation, fit to shock any pious ear, for nothing could be less suggestive of the assistance of the Holy Spirit, who always accompanies the authentic servants of the Word.

The Catholic world has received quite an affront with Francis’ recent homily, delivered on the Tuesday of the fifth week of Lent, in Casa Santa Marta. The readings were beautiful and most profound, and needful of due homiletic explanation to aid their understanding by the faithful, in keeping with unflawed theology. Francis put a new spin on the episode of the bronze serpent in the desert mentioned in the Book of Numbers (21: 4–9), and most especially Christ’s being made sin for us on the cross: He said that Jesus was dirtied by sin, and implied that the serpent symbolizes our faults. Some considered his words a wonderful development in biblical hermeneutics; others, outright heresy, while still others wondered what was the exact meaning he wished to convey with that jumble of ideas. Numerous requests for clarification arrived at the Denzinger-Bergoglio desk. True to our quest to present the authentic Magisterium of the Church, we attentively examine, here, the teachings of the masters of sound doctrine, and the matter becomes clear on its own. Hence, we invite each individual to draw his own conclusions…



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Teachings of the Magisterium

Enter the various parts of our study

I – What is the true significance of the serpent mentioned in Num 21:4–9? How can it be compared to Christ on the Cross?
II – Was Christ stained in assuming our nature? He emptied himself, humbled himself, but was not stained: On the contrary, he bore the faults of the human race to save us
III – Accusing Christ of having sin is sheer blasphemy
IV – The gravity of sin is known through the death of Christ on the cross. Sin is incompatible with his human and divine nature

I – What is the true significance of the serpent mentioned in Num 21:4–9? How can it be compared to Christ on the Cross?

Theophilus of Antioch

The serpent of Moses’ staff had the appearance of the beast, but not its poison: in the same way Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh, being free from sin

Saint John Chrysostom

The Lord’s Death was free from all sin, as the brazen serpent from venom

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Just as they who looked on Moses’ serpent perished not by the serpent’s bites, so they who look in faith on Christ’s death are healed from the bites of sins

John Paul II

The bronze serpent signifies the victory of Christ over sin

II – Did Christ become stained in assuming our nature? He emptied himself and humbled himself, but was not stained: on the contrary, being innocent, He suffered for the sins of the human race to save it

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Christ loved us so much that, sinless himself, he suffered for us sinners the punishment we deserved for our sins

Saint Maximus the Confessor

God became perfect man, taking on everything that belongs to human nature except sin, and indeed sin is not part of human nature created by God

John Paul II

Taking the form of a slave, Christ made himself similar to men in everything but not sin
The phrase ‘for our sake made him sin’ expresses God’s absolute justice, for Christ undergoes the passion and cross because of the sins of humanity

Benedict XVI

God himself wished to share in our human condition, but not in the corruption of sin
Note: Saint Thomas Aquinas offers three reasons explaining why Saint Paul said, of Christ, that “he made him to be sin”:

Saint Thomas Aquinas

“He made him to be sin”, that is, ‘the victim of sacrifice for sin’
“He made him to be sin”: that is, ‘he made him assume mortal and suffering flesh’
‘He made him to be sin’: that is, ‘made him regarded a sinner’

Leo I, the Great

Jesus assumed the form of a servant without the defilement of sin, enriching the human without diminishing the divine

Honorius I

Christ experienced no contagion of our sinful nature…

Council of Toledo XI

…and He died without sin as a sacrifice for our sin

Catechism of Trent

Christ paid for the sin he did not have

Sacred Scripture

Tested in every way, yet without sin
For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin
Jesus committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth

III – Accusing Christ of having sin is sheer blasphemy

John IV

There was no sin at all in Christ, as certain heretics are known to rave


In Christ the divine has everything belonging to the divine nature, and the human has all that belongs to human nature, without any sin

Saint Thomas Aquinas

In Christ there was no proneness towards evil, much less could there be sin

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Jesus did not experience reprobation as if He himself had sinned

John Paul II

Sin is by no means an enrichment to man

Cornelius a Lápide

To say of ourselves that we were sin is folly; to say it of Christ, is blasphemy

Sacred Scripture

‘Can any of you charge me with sin?’

IV – The gravity of sin is known from the death of Christ on the cross. Sin is incompatible with his human and divine natures

Catechism of Trent

Sin makes us debtors before God; that is why Christ the Lord spoke by the mouth of the psalmist: ‘Then did I pay that which I took not away’

Gregory I, the Great

Sin is a wound of the soul

John Paul II

Sin corrodes the relationship with God, refusing his plan in history, and a betrayal of God
The death of Christ makes us understand the gravity of our offenses

Catechism of Trent

The wicked are at war with God - sin is pursued by the imminent wrath of God

Catechism of Saint Pius X

The wicked are at war with God - sin is pursued by the imminent wrath of God

Sacred Scripture

You were ransomed by a spotless unblemished lamb
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