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Aquinas on Why Christ was Crucified Between the Thieves


(Source: "Meditations for Lent from St. Thomas Aquinas", pp. 62-64, 1937 Imp.)


First Thursday



Christ was crucified between the thieves because
such was the will of the Jews, and also because
this was part of God's design. But the reasons
why this was appointed were not the same in
each of these cases.

1. As far as the Jews were concerned Our
Lord was crucified with the thieves on either side
to encourage the suspicion that he too was a
criminal. But it fell out otherwise. The thieves
themselves have left not a trace in the remembrance
of man, while His cross is everywhere held in
honour. Kings laying aside their crowns have
broidered the cross on their royal robes. They have
placed it on their crowns; on their arms. It
has its place on the very altars. Everywhere,
throughout the world, we behold the splendour
of the cross.


In God's plan Christ was crucified with the
thieves in order that, as for our sakes he became
accursed of the cross, so, for our salvation, he is
crucified like an evil thing among evil things.

2. The Pope, St. Leo the Great, says that the
thieves were crucified, one on either side of him,
so that in the very appearance of the scene of his
suffering there might be set forth that distinction
which should be made in the judgment of each
one of us. St. Augustine has the same thought.
"The cross itself," he says," was a tribunal.
In the centre was the judge. To the one side a man
who believed and was set free, to the other side
a scoffer and he was condemned." Already there
was made clear the final fate of the living and the
dead, the one class placed at his right, the other
on his left.

3. According to St. Hilary the two thieves,
placed to right and to left, typify that the whole
of mankind is called to the mystery of Our Lord's
Passion. And since division of things according
to right and left is made with reference to believers
and those who will not believe, one of the two,
placed on the right, is saved by justifying faith.

4. As St. Bede says, the thieves who were
crucified with Our Lord, represent those who for
the faith and to confess Christ undergo the agony
of martyrdom or the severe discipline of a more
perfect life. Those who do this for the sake of
eternal glory are typified by the thief on the right
hand. Those whose motive is the admiration of
whoever beholds them imitate the spirit and the
act of the thief on the left-hand side.

As Christ owed no debt in payment for which
a man must die, but submitted to death of his own
will, in order to overcome death, so also he had
not done anything on account of which he deserved
to be put with the thieves. But of his own will
he chose to be reckoned among the wicked, that
by his power he might destroy wickedness itself.
Which is why St. John Chrysostom says that to
convert the thief on the cross and to turn him to
Paradise was as great a miracle as the earthquake.

(3 46 11.)



Blessed be St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles!


The Papal Restoration Staff

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