Why Did Christ Have To Die?

I know this seems basic, even laughable… but WHY, in the Catholic view, did Christ have to die?

As I understand satisfaction atonement, man is indepted to God the praise and honor due him, and has cheated him out of this via his sins. Christ came, living a perfect life, in order that our debts would be satisfied, and surpassed, via his infinite merits! His obedience is therefore more pleasing to God than all man’s previous disobedience.


Why, then, did he have to die? If we believe also in substitionary atonement, how is this? Why did he “take *our *place” or “suffer for us” if it was not in order to satisfy God’s wrath (penal atonement, a theory rejected by the Church)?

He wasn’t being PUNISHED for our sins… so what’s up? What did his death accomplish, then? (In regards to justification, not in that “it, along with his resurrection, conquered death.” It would make no sense to subject yourself to torment solely to conquer death, which could have been done in other ways.)

I’m really in the dark here. I’ve read about these theories…and I’m just confused. I get why penal substition DOESN’T work, but I don’t know why Catholics believe Christ had to die. All Church documents here seem really… vague.

Thanks in advance. I really need some clarity here.

Christ did not have to die; God is not compelled to do anything. The Father freely offers the Son and the Son freely obeys. It is not an act of wrath but of love.


This explanation has helped me:

“But He (God) is not capable of injustice. In economy of salvation,which we do not understand, justice required,in some mysterious ways, the holy life and terrible death of Jesus Christ. That death was not required by God, but apparently by divine Justice. Christ had to come into the world and be subject to the same vicissitudes of life as the rest of us, the same vulnerability to outrageous injustice. He would call the world to the kingdom of God, but it would not listen. Be clear in your mind that God did not want Christ’s crucifixion. God willed Christ’s Incarnation. Christ’s crucifixion was a result of Judas Iscariot, the high priests, Pontius Pilate, Herod and many others. Christ called the world to salvation. He did not have to die to redeem the world. His becoming human justified us all. Theologians say that we were adopted children of God by the Incarnation. It is true that the prophecies of the Old Testament foretold the death of the Messiah, but the prophecies were given because God knew what was going to happen to His Son as a consequence of people’s free will… As it says in the epistle to the Hebrews , the price had to be paid. It did not have to be that terrible price, but became so terrible because of the ill will of human beings.”
----Fr. Benedict Groschel
"The Virtue Driven Life"

The Crucifixion of Jesus was evil but because of it we can never complain of injustice to God. Who knows where we would be if the martyrs of the faith never knew of the crucifixion to bolster their courage. Or if victims of tragedy couldn’t sympathize with the Father or Our Blessed Mother. While the crucifixion was the most terrible thing to happen in history, because of God’s divine Justice He has brought about imponderable goodness from it.

Sometimes we forget what the cross was made of.

From a tree.
At the begining of Genesis we remember another tree.

Genesis 3:17
Then to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from **the tree **about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life.

Adam disobeyed God’s command to not eat from the tree. The first sin. We call Original Sin.This sin is called original because it comes down to us through our origin, or descent, from Adam.

**Romans 5:12 **
Therefore as through one man sin entered into the world and through sin death, and thus death has passed unto all men because all have sinned.

The chief punishments of Adam which we inherit through original sin are: death, suffering, ignorance, and a strong inclination to sin.

**Wisdom 2:24 **
But, by the envy of the devil, death came into the world.

**Genesis 3:19 **
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken; for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.

Because of Adam’s sin heaven’s doors were closed to us.God the Father promised us someone who would redeem us.

Genesis 3:15
I will put enmities between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait his heel.

Jesus the Christ bore all the sins of the world and sacrificed His life for us. He redeemed us.And God opened the doors to heaven for us.

1 Peter 2:24
24and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

Galatians 3:13
13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”–

1 Corinthians 15:3
3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

It had been written in the Old Testament that …

Deuteronomy 21:22
22"If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree,

Well Jesus was carrying all our sins on His body.

1 Corinthians 15:22
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

Acts 10:39

39"We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross.

Through a tree came death, Adam’s sin. And through a tree came life, Jesus’ crucifixion.

We were saved through His crucifixion not through His resurrection. As Catholics we remind ourselves by hanging a crucifix in our homes and churches to remind us how much God loves us.

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Matthew 5:17
"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.


though one blood drop, which thence did fall,
Accepted, would have served, He yet shed all,

John Donne
Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling Upon One Day

Here’s what the Catechism says that might be helpful:

CCC 599-605


"Jesus handed over according to the definite plan of God"

599 Jesus’ violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God’s plan, as St. Peter explains to the Jews of Jerusalem in his first sermon on Pentecost: "This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God."393 This Biblical language does not mean that those who handed him over were merely passive players in a scenario written in advance by God.394

600 To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of “predestination”, he includes in it each person’s free response to his grace: "In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."395 For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness.396

"He died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures"

601 The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through the putting to death of “the righteous one, my Servant” as a mystery of universal redemption, that is, as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin.397 Citing a confession of faith that he himself had “received”, St. Paul professes that "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures."398 In particular Jesus’ redemptive death fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering Servant.399 Indeed Jesus himself explained the meaning of his life and death in the light of God’s suffering Servant.400 After his Resurrection he gave this interpretation of the Scriptures to the disciples at Emmaus, and then to the apostles.401

"For our sake God made him to be sin"

602 Consequently, St. Peter can formulate the apostolic faith in the divine plan of salvation in this way: "You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers. . . with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake."402 Man’s sins, following on original sin, are punishable by death.403 By sending his own Son in the form of a slave, in the form of a fallen humanity, on account of sin, God "made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."404

603 Jesus did not experience reprobation as if he himself had sinned.405 But in the redeeming love that always united him to the Father, he assumed us in the state of our waywardness of sin, to the point that he could say in our name from the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"406 Having thus established him in solidarity with us sinners, God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all”, so that we might be “reconciled to God by the death of his Son”.407

God takes the initiative of universal redeeming love

604 By giving up his own Son for our sins, God manifests that his plan for us is one of benevolent love, prior to any merit on our part: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins."408 God "shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."409

605 At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God’s love excludes no one: "So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish."410 He affirms that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many”; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us.411 The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: "There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer."412

CCC 606-618 is also helpful but would make the post too long!

The way I understand it is that Jesus died so that existence wouldn’t be meaningless. Human actions don’t have to have consequences; God could control everything we say, do, or think, but he wants to elevate us above the angels, so he has given us the ability to make real choices. However, we sin, and the consequence of sin is death. Jesus died to be the alternative consequence, so that we could sin and yet live if we but beg for repentance, but our choices still have consequence because in sinning, you cause Jesus to be crucified.

I have one more perspective to add.

From a covenantal point of view, St. Paul writes in Romans that a marriage obligation ends when one of the participants in it dies. See Romans 7:1-6.

He is using this illustration to show that just as a marriage obligation ends at death, so do other covenantal obligations. He is referring to the old covenant. Therefore, Jesus’ death ENDS the old covenant of the Law and make it possible for us to participate in a new and everlasting covenant. The covenant of Love.

This shows why Jesus had to die, but it also assumes that Jesus was God. God HAD to die in order to bring to an end the obligations of the old covenant in the Law and make it possible for us to “re-marry” as it were and participate in the new covenant.

Christ did not have to die.

(1) He could have just let us all go to Hell, but this was not an option for Him. I might have considered it.

(2) Since He asked God to let the cup, His Passion pass from Him, i.e God can do all things, we could have been saved without the Passion, God could have saved us without Jesus dieing.

He died because it was the Father’s Will. “Your Will not Mine be done”, He said.

So then the question becomes why was it the Father’s Will? I think it has something to do with Who God Is. God is Just and God is Love. Going to the Cross shows Justice and Love at the same time.

I haven’t read through the posts properly,
I’m sorry, but yeah, I think everyone seems to be saying Christ did not have to die, and I think that’s right…
I think the question should be: why did Christ die? And I think we’re given the answer in John 3:16, God loved us so much…
So I think that’s why Christ died, just to show us His love. Yes, he could have just became Incarnate, and that would have been enough, I think, but JUST to show us His love, that we might believe, He died.
Cause if he was ‘merely’ conceived and died, or was assumed into heaven, or lived and died a natural life and death, or whatever, we might not SEE His love for us. Like if we told our lovers, ‘I love you’ and truly you did, they might not believe you if you didn’t show them. But if you lay down your life for your beloved, they can’t really argue against that…
Anyways, I think that’s in keeping with the teaching of Holy Mother Church.
Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia! Ora pro nobis Deum, Alleluia!

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