Christus Victor questions

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Josh sent me an email with some really great questions in it, so I thought it would be good to answer them here (also it saves lazy me from having to think of a new post :)

1) In the beginning of your article you state "True justice can only come through mercy." Can you expand on that a little more? It is a powerful statement, and I think it could be even stronger if you unpack it more.

This comes from understanding the two paradigms for justice. In the human legal paradigm of punitive justice, justice is about "quid pro quo", balancing the scales, usually through inflicting punishment to match pain of the harm done. In this paradigm (which the entire Western legal system is built on) mercy is an inaction, mercy means "leniency" and is in conflict with justice which here means "punishment". So mercy (leniency) is in conflict with justice (punishment).

A more biblical view, both in the OT and NT, is justice as a way of "making things right", what we might call restorative justice, or what Paul calls "justification". This entails both the restoration of those sinned against, as well as the redemption of sinners. In this paradigm, rather than inflicting more pain, justice tries to act to right the pain done by sin. The means that justice uses to restore the wounded and justify sinners, are acts of mercy (note that mercy is not passive here but active). Jesus demonstrates this by his acts of healing, exorcism, caring for the least, and forgiveness of sinners. Thus setting right the stain of sin on every level: physical (healing), mental(exorcism), social (the poor), and moral(forgiveness). So mercy and justice are not in conflict (leniency and punishment) but rather justice (making things right) comes through mercy (acts of making things right).


2) In your "Paradigm of Penance" chart your reject the idea of Jesus being a perfect offering, implying it is not Biblical. But what about verses like Hebrews 10:14 (among others)?

That's a very good point. Yes I think the idea of Jesus being the "perfect offering" is arguably a biblical one. Although I don't think that what he modeled is the "perfect law keeper" since in the eyes of the religious authorities he was seen as scandalous, rebellious, blasphemous. Jesus because of his association with sinners had a reputation as a drunk, a glutton, and a "friend of sinners" (which back then was like calling some one a "friend of terrorists" today). Jesus in being sinless actually needed to appear to be unclean (touching the unclean to heal them by the law meant that you were unclean too). So he does model a perfect sinless life, but that sinlessness actually exposed the corruption of the law and the religious authorities.

So, I think you are right, but we would need to take the understanding of the idea of Jesus as the "unblemished sacrifice" and fit that in with both the Gospel writers presentation of Jesus as "the perfect lawbreaker" and of Hebrews understanding of the sacrifices, which are not about appeasement, but cleansing in order to make holy (which is related to my definition of justice as "making things right" above)

3) I would recommend the book "Evil and the Justice of God" by N.T. Wright. He addresses the idea of Christus Victor. He makes the case that CV should be the primary, foundational way in which we view the cross, and that other views (ones with a more legal approach) find there place as additions to that base.

Thanks, I'll give that a read. And from your explanation, I think bishop Wright is correct that CV be understood as the larger framework which substitutionary atonement (and moral example theory) fits into.

4) Closely tied to the previous comment, it would seem like you make the case the CV is the only way we should view the cross. However, it would seem to me that many of the different theories of the atonement have at least some support in the Bible. Perhaps the cross is just too rich, too deeply nuanced to be reduced to one particular analogy or theory? I do, however, agree with you that CV is the most Biblically-supported and most easily applicable to today's world.

Yes, I think that may be an overemphasis in the essay. What I would say instead is that
A) all theories need to be understood in the context of dramatic narrative (the dramatic and passionate story of God entering into our lives to save us), and of relationship (meaning the point is always that God loves us and "the things we do for love" rather than a legal transaction or some other kind of formalistic approach. It is not just penal substitution that looks bad when understood in a legal context rather than a dramatic/relational one. CV when it is presented as a legal transaction is equally horrid. And BOTH when understood dramatically and relationally can be beautiful.

B) As I said above, CV should be the overall framework for all other atonement theories. Not in the narrow sense of a ransom or victory motif, but in the broad sense of CV saying that the Atonement entails a cosmic victory over us, over sin, over Hell, over our systems, over the law...everything is put under the Lord Jesus. And the redemption is also not only for us, redeeming us both from our sin and the damage of sin done to us, but also a redemption of all of creation, the whole "kingdom of God" picture. This "big picture" version of CV can thus be the general framework of understanding that allows all sorts of other metaphors and views of the Atonement to weave together into a huge colorful tapestry.

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Caputo Prose

Sunday, March 18, 2007

This is rather poetic passage from John D Caputo in his "Philosophy & Theology". He's talking about seeking after meaning, after the passion that makes us really alive, and how in that pursuit it often we who need to give answer, and we who are being pursued, haunted, and shaken. I have adapted the text slightly for readability and form.



"It it not as if I have a choice in the matter.

For I have been seduced by them.
induced, lured, fetched from afar,
wrenched from out of my everyday life,
and hauled into their chambers where I am made to answer for myself.

I have been wounded by their words,
the way one speaks of being wounded by Love's arrow.
I have been pierced to the heart by something
precious,
beautiful,
deep,
and enigmatic,
by something
that left me breathless,
pursued by questions I cannot still.

I live and breath in the tremulousness of life.
exposed to the questionability of things,
made vulnerable by Love's wounds,
visited in the night by questions of elemental power,
shaken to the core
by voices that will not be stilled."

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Gregory of Nyssa on the Trinity

Saturday, March 10, 2007

In his "Address on Religious Instruction" the church father Gregory of Nyssa has some pretty amazing insights into the Trinity. He begins with the statement from the Nicene Creed that the Son and the Spirit "proceed from the Father", and then conceptualizes the Son as the Word, and the Spirit as Breath (the biblical Greek word for spirit "Pneuma" also means "breath"). Words are used to communicate who we are to another, and the Word is God's self-revelation of himself. The Word of God is also God's vehicle for creation (Genesis says "God spoke" an the Earth was), and for transformation (Hebrews says that the Word of God is like a sword cutting to the bone). He is careful to stress that this should not be understood conceptually only, but that the Word is also a Person. The idea of truth (communicated by word) is not abstract, but personal, Jesus says "I am the truth". The Word of Truth then is creative, transforming, and alive. Because the Word "proceeds from the Father" it is through the Word that God reveals who God is to us, in a sinless man who perfectly reflects as Genesis says "the image of God".

Similarly the Spirit is the "breath". Breathing is the spark of life. God breathed into Adam and he became alive. So the Pneuma of God is what breaths new life into us, so that we are indwelt with God's life. Spirit also implies inspiration, as the prophets often began by saying "the Spirit of the Lord is upon me". So the Spirit is how we encounter God inspiring, convicting, comforting, indwelling, and enlivening us.

One thing I especially like here is how since both the communicative Word and the life imparting Spirit "proceed from the Father" we have God encountered in three persons, but all coming from one single essence. We encounter God through the Word (Jesus) and through the Spirit, but there is only one God that this is all coming from. That is a God who looks like Jesus (his image and Word) and relates to us as the life giving and ministering Spirit.

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The History and Development of Satisfaction Doctrine

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Tracing the development of Satisfaction doctrine is a confusing one, in part because the definition of the word has changed. In common usage today it means gratification (one recalls the song by the Rolling Stones), but the theological meaning is of making restitution: mending what has been broken, paying back what was taken. In Anselm, satisfaction is an alternative to punishment.

"The honor taken away must be repaid, or punishment must follow" (Cur Deus Homo Bk 1 Ch 8)

One makes satisfaction in order to avoid punishment. We can think here of a person paying a fine to avoid being thrown in debtor's prison. If someone else makes this restitution for us and "pays the fine" we are spared punishment. In Anselmian Satisfaction, since we cannot ourselves make satisfaction and restore God's honor since even if we led a perfect life we would only be giving what is our due, we are headed for punishment. So Christ not only lives a sinless life, which is again his due, but also is willing to endure death for the sake of love. This goes beyond the call of duty and thus honors God, restoring God's honor which Anselm saw as the central problem of the Atonement.

The concept of satisfaction changes in Aquinas where it is punishment that makes satisfaction.
First satisfaction is defined as compensation "Satisfaction is compensation for a past offense". Aquinas states then that "there is due satisfaction [ie compensation] when the punishment balances the fault" (Summa XP Q13 A1)

This sounds like penal substitution, but Aquinas is careful to say that he does not mean this to be taken in legal terms

"If we speak of that satisfactory punishment, which one takes upon oneself voluntarily, one may bear another's punishment... If, however, we speak of punishment inflicted on account of sin, inasmuch as it is penal, then each one is punished for his own sin only, because the sinful act is something personal. But if we speak of a punishment that is medicinal, in this way it does happen that one is punished for another's sin." (FS, Q. 87-A8)

What he means then by "satisfactory punishment" as opposed to punishment that is "penal" is essentially the Catholic idea of penance. Aquinas refers to the practice saying, "A satisfactory punishment is imposed upon penitents" (TP, Q49 A3) and defines this idea of "Satisfactory Punishment" (penance) as a compensation of self-inflicted pain in equal measure to the pleasure derived from the sin "punishment may equal the pleasure contained in a sin committed." (XP Q13 A1) One might say we make restitution (satisfaction) through acts of penance similar to how fasting purges the body of toxins.

Aquinas sees penance as having two functions. First to pay a debt, and second "to serve as a remedy for the avoidance of sin" . In this later case he says that "as a remedy against future sin, the satisfaction of one does not profit another, for the flesh of one man is not tamed by another's fast" and again "one man is not freed from guilt by another's contrition"(XP Q13 A2). Since according to Aquinas "Christ bore a satisfactory punishment, not for His, but for our sins." (FS Q87 A7) The penance Christ did has its effect in paying the "debt of punishment" incurred by our sin.

This is a concept similar to Anselm's that we owe a debt of honor to God, with a critical difference: While Anselm said we could never pay this because any good we could do was owed to God anyway, Aquinas says that in addition to our due of obedience we can make up for our debt through acts of penance "man owes God all that he is able to give him...over and above which he can offer something by way of satisfaction". Unlike Anslem, Aquinas claims that we can make satisfaction for our own sin, and that our problem is not our personal sin, but original sin "original sin... is an infection of human nature itself, so that, unlike actual sin, it could not be expiated by the satisfaction of a mere man." (XP Q13 A1) Thus Christ, as the "second Adam" does penance in our place paying the debt of our original sin. Aquinas is careful to stress here that this is done not in legal terms but as an act of charity quoting how we are called to "bear one another's burdens in love"(XP Q13 A2).

As much as I can appreciate the focus on love and inner reform in Aquinas I am not so thrilled with the idea of self-inflicting physical pain (penance) nor do I see how Christ taking the debt of punishment for us is not a contradiction of Aquinas' claim that "one is punished for his own sin only, because the sinful act is something personal". Then again, his Summa Theologica is over 4000 pages of dense Medieval theology(good grief!) , so it is entirely possible that I am missing it somewhere in there.

Aquinas was of course not the first to introduce the idea of penance which had a long tradition in the Latin speaking church due in part to the fact the the word for repentance in Latin is the same as the word for penance. Because of this Biblical passages such as Matthew 3:2 had been translated in Latin as "Do penance for the kingdom of God is at hand".

Both Luther and Erasmus criticized this saying that penance was an incorrect translation of the original Greek word "metanoeite" which means a change of mind and allegiance rather than a feelings of contrition evidenced in outer acts. One meant "turn back" while the other meant "feel bad". As a result Protestantism rejected the idea of penance as a condition for forgiveness saying that forgiveness came "through faith alone by grace alone". It is painfully ironic that while the Reformers so violently rejected the concepts of penance and indulgences, they accepted and understanding of the cross based on these very concepts.

Yet there was another twist. With Calvin the idea of satisfaction changed again. He retained the formula of Aquinas that satisfaction is made through punishment, but instead of meaning that inner restitution was made through penance, Calvin conceived of this in legal terms: the law required punishment in order to be satisfied. Both Anselm and Aquinas would have agreed that it was just to punish the guilty in the absence of restitution. Where they would have disagreed is in saying that another could take the criminal (penal) punishment meant for another. In Cur Deus Homo, Anselm's discussion partner Bozo asks,

"What justice is there in his suffering death for the sinner, who was the most just of all men? What man, if he condemned the innocent to free the guilty, would not himself be judged worthy of condemnation?"

Anselm's answer is that

"God the Father did not treat that man as you seem to suppose, nor put to death the innocent for the guilty" (Cur Deus Homo Bk I Ch 8)



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