“Filled with the Holy Spirit”—this indicates that Christ was perfectly sanctified, perfectly filled with the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit (ST III, q.7, a.5). Christ was so sanctified from the first moment of his conception (ST III, q.34, a.1). This must necessarily be the case, since such sanctification follows upon the upon the very union of the human soul with the divine Word (ST III, q.34, a.1). This hidden perfection was manifested in our Lord’s baptism (C. Lapide). At his baptism, the Holy Spirit did not descend upon Christ as upon a stranger who as of yet did not possess the Spirit fully, but as upon an equal, with whom he already enjoyed full communion. Moreover, Christ was not baptized that he might be cleansed and sanctified, but that he might cleanse and sanctify the others through instituting the sacrament of baptism (ST III, q.39, a.1).
“He ate nothing during those forty days, and when they were over he was hungry”—This indicates that Christ truly suffered in his flesh and that, together with the human nature he assumed to his person, Christ likewise co-assumed certain perfections and defects in that nature (ST III, q.7, introduction). Among these defects co-assumed are those of the body, including death, hunger, thirst, and the rest. That Christ suffered in his body (e.g. from hunger) was fitting in three respects: First, that he might satisfy for the sin of the human race, which he did by taking upon himself the punishment due to the sin of others (i.e. death, hunger, thirst, and the rest); second, that we might believe that he was truly incarnate, since we experience human nature only as subject to such defects; and finally, that he might give us an example of patience (ST III, q.14, a.1).
And yet, we must nevertheless maintain that Christ experience perfect beatitude in his soul from the first instant of his conception and throughout his entire life—as it necessary that he who would be the cause of beatitude for all men should first possess this beatitude perfectly (ST III, q.9, a.2). Moreover, this beatitude follows upon the perfect union of Christ’s soul with the person of the Word, since the union of Christ’s soul with the Deity which is effected by personal union in the Word far exceed that union with God which is effected in the souls of the blessed by vision. Thus, Christ’s soul must not be denied the union of vision proper to beatitude (ST III, q.10, a.1).
Yet, by divine ordinance, the beatitude which filled the higher faculties of Christ’s soul poured forth neither into the lower faculties of his soul nor into his passible flesh. On this account, Christ’s body was not glorified (until after his resurrection) and remained passible and, therefore, capable of suffering (ST III, q.14,a.1, ad 2).
“[Jesus] was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil”—From this it is clear that Christ truly suffered temptation, but there is much to consider as to the manner in which Christ was tempted.
Objections: 1. It would seem that Christ could not have been tempted, since he could not sin. 2. It would seem that Satan would not have tempted Christ, since the demons knew of Christ’s power and virtue.
I answer that: Christ was tempted for several reasons (ST III, q.41, a.1): first, that he might strengthen us against temptation (by meriting grace and conquering Satan); second, that we might be warned and understand that no-one, not even the saints, are entirely free of temptations; third, as an example for us of how to bear temptations well; fourth, in order to fill us with confidence in his mercy, since “we have not a high priest, who cannot have compassion on our infirmities, but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin” (Hb. 4,15).
Moreover, it was fitting that our Lord be tempted in the desert so as to teach us that we are not to avoid all temptations. Indeed, Christ went out to meet Satan in the desert as one entering the field of battle (ST III,q.41, a.2). But, it must be noted that occasions of temptation are two-fold, one is on the part of man, as went a man places himself in an occasion of sin. Occasions of this sort are to be avoided, for we ought not place ourselves in the occasion of sin without grave cause. Yet, there is a second occasion of temptation, which is on the part of the devil who envies those who strive for the better things and wages war against them. Occasions of this sort are not to be avoided, since when a man is filled with the Holy Spirit, he must necessarily follow God’s inspirations toward virtue, which impulse will outrage Satan and his devils, leading to increased temptations. Yet, we must not fear the occasions of temptation which are on the part of Satan, since the Holy Spirit is more powerful than the devil and he will assist us in completing our task (ST III, q.41, a.2, ad 2).
What is more, it was fitting that Christ should be tempted after having fasted: first, in order to give us an example, that by fasting we are to be strengthened and prepared for the temptations to come; second, to show that Satan assaults even those holy men who fast and do other good works; third, because Satan would not have dared to war against Christ had the Lord not shown the infirmities of his flesh (ST III, q.41, a.3).
Finally, our Lord was tempted in a fitting order and mode (ST III, q.41, a.4): for as Adam was first tempted to consent to eating food, so was our Lord first tempted with the desire for food; and as Adam was tempted then to vainglory (Satan said, “Your eyes shall be opened”), so was Christ tempted to vainglory (when Satan urged Christ to demonstrate his greatness openly by calling upon the angels); and as Adam was tempted to pride (Satan said, “You shall be like Gods”), so was Christ tempted to desire worldly fame and riches over the glory of God (when Satan offered the Lord all the kingdoms of the earth, if only he would worship him).
Reply to the first objection: It is granted that in Christ there was neither sin nor the possibility of sin (ST III, q.15, a.1), nor even the “fomes” of sin by which one is inclined to sin (ST III, q.15, a.2). This is proved from the fact that Christ came to redeem man from sin, and to this end he assumed our weakness, but had he assumed also our sin, Christ would not be capable of redeeming man, but would himself need to be redeemed (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Hebrews; 4,15).
Moreover, in Christ, the “fomes of sin,” i.e. the inclination of the sensitive appetite contrary to reason, did not exist. In no respect was Christ inclined to act contrary to reason in sinning; which is manifest insofar as it must be granted that Christ possessed all virtues (for his human nature was perfect and was, moreover, elevated to a pre-eminent degree by further graces), since as virtue grows in man he become less and less inclined to sin and the fomes are lessened, such that in a man in whom virtue was perfect, the inclination to sin and the fomes can nowise be present (ST III, q.15, a.2).
I might add that, as sin is attributed not to a nature but to a person, to state that Christ could sin would be claiming that Word of God could sin. Yet this is surely impossible. And while, the person of the Word assumed various defects of our human nature, it was not possible that he should assume our sin; since sin does not belong to the nature of man, nor was sin necessary to prove him to be a man (as, for example, hunger and sorrow), nor would sin have aided in man’s redemption.
Nevertheless, though he suffered no internal assaults of the flesh (which result from sin and the fomes of sin), Christ is truly said to be tempted by external assault from the world and the devil (ST III, q.15, a.2, ad 3). In every way that a man can be tempted without sin, Christ was so tempted. And it must be admitted that these were true temptations; since, although Christ in no way submitted to them, they were truly waged against him by the Enemy.
Here it will be useful to quote a passage from St. Thomas’ Commentary on Hebrews (4,15):
“236. – Hence, he adds, but as we are, tempted. But there are three kinds of temptation: one is from the flesh, namely, when the flesh lusts against the spirit, as it says in Gal (5:17) and this always involves sin, because, as Augustine says, there is one sin in which the flesh lusts against the spirit. But this was not in Christ; hence, he says, without sin, i.e., without thee slightest movement of sin: ‘Who did not sin, neither was guile found in His mouth’ (1 Pt. 2:22). Therefore, He is called the Lamb of God. Another is temptation either by enticing us with prosperity or by terrifying us with adversity. Now Christ was tempted in those ways: for He was enticed by prosperity. For whatever pertains to prosperity in this life, pertains either to the concupiscence of the flesh, to the concupiscence of the eyes, or to the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16). The devil tempted Him with the first, when he tempted Him to gluttony, which is the mother of lust: ‘If you be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread’ (Mt. 4:3); also to vainglory when he said: ‘All these things will I give you, if falling down you will adore me’ (Mt. 4:9). ‘When all the temptations were over, the devil left him for a time’ (Lk. 4:13). Furthermore, He was tempted by adversity and by the snares laid by the Pharisees, because they wished to ensnare Him in his speech. And by insults: ‘You that destroy the temple of God in three days rebuild it, save your own self’ (Mt. 27:40); and by scourges and torments. Therefore, outside of being tempted with sin, he has been tempted as we are.”
Reply to the second objection: Though Satan and the demons knew something of who Christ was, extending at least to at least a certain conjecture that he was the Son of God, they did not know this for certain, nor did they fully comprehend the mysterious union effected by the Incarnation. Thus, when Satan saw the infirmity of our Lord’s passable flesh (for he was hungry), the Enemy desired to tempt Christ, testing him to discern if he really was the Son of God—hence Satan says, “If you are the Son of God” (ST III, q.41, a.1, ad 1). Moreover, it is commonly held that the infirmity of Christ’s humanity was as the “bait” on the “hook” of his divinity. Seeing only the humanity of Christ, Satan swallowed this bait only to be caught and utterly despoiled by the hood of Christ’s divinity (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Job; 40,19).
On temptation: ST I-II, q.75-77. Coming from malice: ST I-II, q.78. External temptations: ST I-II,q.79-81.
On the Gifts of the Holy Spirit: ST I-II, q. 68.
On the perfection of Christ: ST III, q.7. Christ’s knowledge: ST III, q.9-12.
On the perfection of the infant Christ: ST III, q.34.
On the beatific vision in Christ: ST III, q.9, a.2. As an infant: ST III, q.34, a.4. On the Cross: ST III, q.46, a.9.
On the defects of Christ’s body and soul before his glorification: ST III, q.14-15.