Originally: St. Thomas Aquinas on salvation by a drop of Christ's Blood

I heard on Relevant Radio a year or so ago something perplexing, I think it was a priest saying it, but it may have been a layman, regardless, he seemed very smart, and seemed to know a lot about the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Somewhere, I know not where, St. Thomas said that the Crucifixion was not necessary for salvation and that only a drop of Jesus' blood needed to be spilled.

Where and why did he write/say this and what is the reason for this. Is it accepted Catholic Doctrine and how much more does the Crucifixion do for us than a single drop of Christ's Precious Blood?


5 Answers 5


The statement “Crucifixion was not necessary for salvation and that only a drop of Jesus' blood needed to be spilled” could not have been from St. Thomas Aquinas. This is because it obliquely implies that there was no need for Christ to die, which is grossly against the tenets of Christianity.

St. Thomas was one of the supreme advocates of Eucharistic devotion and exponents of the nature of the mysterious process by which the host becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. Indeed, it was St. Thomas Aquinas who not only explained transubstantiation but also provided for the first time the word for it.

In his famous works “Summa theologiae” several times, St Aquinas stresses the importance of sacrifice of Jesus’ body and blood.

"The sacrifices of the Old Law contained only in figure that true sacrifice of Christ's Passion", whereas, "it was necessary that the sacrifice of the New Law instituted by Christ should have something more, namely, that it should contain Christ himself crucified, not merely in signification or figure, but also in very truth" (Summa, III, 75, 1, c.).

The Eucharist is, as it were, "the consummation of the spiritual life, and the end of all the sacraments" (Summa, III, 73, 3, c.).

The reason for this, St Thomas explains, lies in the fact that whereas the energy — "vis" or "virtus" — of the Passion of Christ is active in the other sacraments, the Eucharist contains "Christ's own Body" (Summa, III, 73, 1, 3m); ); in Scholastic language, Christ is present as "the common spiritual good of the whole Church... contained substantially in the sacrament itself of the Eucharist" (Summa, III, 65, 3, 1), in order to bring man to full communion with Christ in the Passion (cf. Summa, III, 73, 2, 3m).

St Thomas Aquinas also writes that

"in our pilgrimage, [Christ] does not deprive us of his bodily presence, but unites us with himself in this sacrament through the truth of his Body and Blood" (Summa, III, 75, 1, c.), always seen in their sacrificial condition".

Therefore, this statement is not in line with Catholic doctrine.

"And how much more does the Crucifixion do for us than a single drop of Christ's Precious Blood?"

While a single drop of Christ’s precious blood could cleans us from all sins, His death and resurrection was necessary for us to overcome the eternal damnation that came on us from our first parents. Our salvation is a result of death and resurrection of Jesus. The whole episode of crucifixion, including the circumstances leading to His crucifixion has been phrased as the passion of Christ and Jesus' physical torture including crucifixion was part of His punishment for our salvation.

The definitive plan of salvation began with the Fall of our first parents and the establishment of animal sacrifice as the one means of dealing with sin. Sin separated God's children from Him. There had to be a means to prevent eternal separation and that “means” became animal sacrifice by killing them and spilling their blood. Leviticus 17:11 explains God’s plan for forgiving sin.

God said to our first parents: For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Genesis 2:17). If we were to take this “death” that God mentioned, as physical death then the same day they were supposed to have died. Here God was telling them about the eternal death not the physical death, which Adam died 930 years later (Genesis 5:5).

Physical death physically destroys the body but it is not an eternal destruction. The eternal death destroys the soul. Christ crucifixion, death and resurrection was necessary to overcome the power of this eternal death. With resurrection of Christ there will be a resurrection of all those who believed in Christ as He overcome the power of eternal death by His resurrection from death.

St. Thomas Aquinas:

Just as man was overcome and deceived by the devil, so also it should be a man who should overcome the devil. And since man deserved death so it should be a man who, by dying, vanquishes death. That is why it is written: 'Thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ [1 Cor. 15:57]. Summa Theologiae 3:46:4.

P.S. May be what Priest/layman said on Radio Relevant was: Death not necessarily by Crucifixion but by any other means. Or it may THIS issue.

  • +1. Thanks for claryfiing the words from Adoro te devote: "Blood where one drop for human-kind outpoured| Might from all transgression have the world restored."
    – Pavel
    Commented Nov 20, 2012 at 20:54
  • "Indeed, it was St. Thomas Aquinas who not only explained transubstantiation but also provided for the first time the word for it." - I'm pretty certain that's not accurate. St. Hugh of Victor, who lived from 1096-1141 (i.e., before Aquinas), used the term first, or at least before Aquinas did.
    – user900
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 18:16

The Summa answers this nicely with a resounding, "Absolutely not." I'm lazy, so I'll just put Part III Question 46 Article 4 Objection 1 here:

As Chrysostom [Athanasius, Orat. De Incarn. Verb.] says: "Christ had come in order to destroy death, not His own, (for since He is life itself, death could not be His), but men's death. Hence it was not by reason of His being bound to die that He laid His body aside, but because the death He endured was inflicted on Him by men. But even if His body had sickened and dissolved in the sight of all men, it was not befitting Him who healed the infirmities of others to have his own body afflicted with the same. And even had He laid His body aside without any sickness, and had then appeared, men would not have believed Him when He spoke of His resurrection. For how could Christ's victory over death appear, unless He endured it in the sight of all men, and so proved that death was vanquished by the incorruption of His body?

I think that pretty much sums up that Christ:

  1. HAD to die
  2. HAD to die violently
  3. The violence MUST have come by man.

I suppose that strictly speaking it would be possible to have all of this happen with no blood being spilled, but that is not the theology of Aquinas. Article 1 makes it clear that his blood was shed and in Article 10 he cites the book of Hebrews and notes that Christ could not have fulfilled the law save by an immolation — something which requires a good deal more than one drop.


I don't have alot of time, but I'd like to do my best to contextualize what the priest on relevant radio was saying.

It is technically correct to say that Jesus didn't need to die on the Cross, in the sense of, God is not restrained by something other than Himself. (And, although I don't have time to look it up, I believe St. Thomas mention this as a theoretical, and purely conjectured possibility. God can do anything that is not against reason, He could have redeemed us simply by saying so. That being said, in the fuller sense, God chose to save us in a given manner because it was the most fitting (as has been pointed out above). The priest on relevant radio was not heretical, nor was he denying any of the above points made, but (I would guess) merely pointing out the fact, as St. Thomas does, that God chose the route of suffering and death as a means of a) fittingness, and b) showing us his limitless love. We need the signs and demonstrations, not him. So, in answer to your question, "what does the Crucifixion do more for us?" I would answer, it shows us, it demonstrates to us how much He loves us.

Summed up: God could, theoretically, have saved us without the crucifixion, etc., but He chose to undergo all the "extra" things for our sake - so that we could SEE it. It is ironic that the Jews demanded He "show his power" and come down from the cross, because that is exactly what He was doing - showing his power by going through the absolute worst punishments.


The priest was quoting Aquinas' prayer Adoro Te Devote (emphasis mine):

O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee,
Who truly art within the forms before me;
To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee,
As failing quite in contemplating Thee.

Jesu, eternal Shepherd! hear our cry;
Increase the faith of all whose souls on Thee rely.

Sight, touch, and taste in Thee are each deceived;
The ear alone most safely is believed:
I believe all the Son of God has spoken,
Than truth's own word there is no truer token.

Ave Jesu, Pastor Fidélium;
Adáuge fidem ómnium in te credéntium.

God only on the cross lay hid from view;
But here lies hid at once the manhood too;
And I, in both professing my belief,
Make the same prayer as the repentant thief.

Ave Jesu, Pastor Fidélium;
Adáuge fidem ómnium in te credéntium.

Thy wounds, as Thomas saw, I do not see;
Yet Thee confess my Lord and God to be;
Make me believe Thee evermore and more;
In Thee my hope, in Thee my love to store.

Ave Jesu, Pastor Fidélium;
Adáuge fidem ómnium in te credéntium.

O Thou memorial of our Lord's own dying!
O living bread, to mortals life supplying!
Make Thou my soul henceforth on Thee to live,
Ever a taste of heavenly sweetness give.

Ave Jesu, Pastor Fidélium;
Adáuge fidem ómnium in te credéntium.

O loving Pelican! O Jesus Lord!
Unclean I am, but cleanse me in Thy Blood!
Of which a single drop, for sinners spilt,
Can purge the entire world from all its guilt.

Ave Jesu, Pastor Fidélium;
Adáuge fidem ómnium in te credéntium.

Jesus, whom, for the present, veil'd I see,
What I so thirst for, oh! vouchsafe to me;
That I may see Thy contenance unfolding,
And may be blest Thy glory in beholding.

Ave Jesu, Pastor Fidélium;
Adáuge fidem ómnium in te credéntium.

It was thought that the pelican ("O loving Pelican! O Jesus Lord!"), when necessary, would wound itself and allow its children to drink its blood rather than let them starve. It became a symbol of Christ choosing to shed His blood for us.

Aquinas is not teaching here that Jesus' death was unnecessary for our salvation (though he does say in the Summa that for all we know there could have been another way, but this is the one God chose), but rather that Jesus gave an overabundance; He paid more than enough. Aquinas is not speaking in quantitative terms at all. We're not talking about how many pints of blood was necessary for forgiveness, but of the greatness of the grace and love of God.


You all could've found much better answers by actually reading what Thomas says about this: Summa th., III, q. 46, article 2. In point of fact, Thomas says that Christ's death was NOT necessary in the "simple and absolute" sense of the word, because, well: "Nothing shall be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37).

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