Aquinas and Trent: Part 6

Apr 10th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts, Featured Articles

What did Christ do for us through His Passion, according to Aquinas? Was it necessary that He suffer? How do we receive the salvific benefits of Christ’s Passion? Was His Passion sufficient? Does God hate sinners?

Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John the Evangelist

Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John the Evangelist
Ugolino di Nerio (1280 – 1349)

St. Thomas Aquinas on Christ’s Passion

In the last three posts in this series we have considered the three effects of sin, according to Aquinas: corruption of man’s nature, stain in his soul, and the debt of eternal punishment. By these three effects man was cut off from his supernatural end, i.e. being united to God eternally in perfect happiness and love, in what is called the Beatific Vision. Here we turn to Aquinas’ understanding of Christ’s Passion, in redeeming us from sin and its effects, and opening for us the way to the Beatific Vision. In order to understand what Aquinas says about Christ’s Passion, we must first briefly consider what Aquinas says about man’s supernatural end and why grace is needed to attain that end.

Grace and The Beatific Vision

According to Aquinas, God made man with the ultimate purpose of giving to man what the tradition calls the “Beatific Vision,” that is, seeing the Divine Essence.1 Jesus told His disciples, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”2 The Beatific Vision is something the blessed in heaven now enjoy. Concerning the Beatific Vision, Aquinas writes, “The vision of the Divine Essence is granted to all the blessed by a partaking of the Divine light which is shed upon them from the fountain of the Word of God ….”3

According to Aquinas, the human intellect, apart from grace, cannot attain the Beatific Vision. The human intellect can of its own power attain an indirect knowledge of God, as knowledge of a cause can be determined from its effects. In this way we can, by the natural power of human reason, come to know that God exists, and that God is good, just, perfect, etc. But for Aquinas, the vision of the Divine Essence is natural only to God Himself. Attaining to the vision of the Divine Essence exceeds our natural capacities; no created nature is in itself proportional to the vision of the Divine Essence. This is why the vision of the Divine Essence is man’s supernatural end (finis supaturalis). We need a divine gift by which we may participate in the divine nature, and so enjoy the vision of the Divine Essence. This divine gift, by which our nature is elevated and made proportionate to the divine nature, so that we can have the vision of the Divine Essence, is sanctifying grace.4 If grace were merely “divine favor” in the sense of God looking upon us in a favorable manner, we could never enter heaven, because we could never see the Divine Essence.5 Since grace is necessary for man to enjoy the vision of God’s essence, we may now consider how, for Aquinas, the grace of salvation comes to man through Christ’s Passion and Death.

Was the Passion Necessary?

According to Aquinas, because God is omnipotent, He could have saved man without sending Christ to die for us. Aquinas writes, “God of His omnipotent power could have restored human nature in many other ways.”6 This would not have been contrary to justice, as Aquinas explains:

But if He had willed to free man from sin without any satisfaction, He would not have acted against justice. For a judge, while preserving justice, cannot pardon fault without penalty, if he must visit fault committed against another–for instance, against another man, or against the State, or any Prince in higher authority. But God has no one higher than Himself, for He is the sovereign and common good of the whole universe. Consequently, if He forgive sin, which has the formality of fault in that it is committed against Himself, He wrongs no one: just as anyone else, overlooking a personal trespass, without satisfaction, acts mercifully and not unjustly. And so David exclaimed when he sought mercy: “To Thee only have I sinned” (Psalm 50:6), as if to say: “Thou canst pardon me without injustice.”7

By satisfaction [satisfactione] Aquinas is referring to a voluntary reparation for an offense. Even if Christ had not come, God could have forgiven our debt of punishment, and this would not have been a violation of justice because our debt is precisely to God. A human judge, by contrast, cannot simply forgive the injustice of a criminal without violating justice. That is because the crime committed by the criminal was not against the judge, but against someone or something else. But if a debt is owed only to one man, then this man can freely discharge the debt, without any violation of justice. Man’s debt of [eternal] punishment was owed to God alone, and therefore without any injustice God can forgive this sin even without satisfaction.

Yet there was no more fitting way to save us than through Christ’s Passion, because Christ’s Passion most perfectly demonstrates to us God’s glory, His love, the evil of sin, human dignity, and the perfect example of loving obedience to the Father. Not only that, it also delivers us from sin and merits for us justifying grace and the glory of bliss.8 It was more fitting for Christ to suffer, because Christ’s Passion demonstrates both God’s mercy and His justice:

That man should be delivered by Christ’s Passion was in keeping with both His mercy and His justice. With His justice, because by His Passion Christ made satisfaction for the sin of the human race; and so man was set free by Christ’s justice: and with His mercy, for since man of himself could not satisfy for the sin of all human nature ….9

Through Christ’s Passion, He made satisfaction for the sin of the whole human race. Christ freely suffered humiliation, pain, injustice and even death, out of loving obedience to the Father. This sacrifice of Himself out of love for His Father made reparation for all the sin of the human race, and thereby was in keeping with the order of justice. Likewise, by sending His Son to make such satisfaction for our sins, the Father showed His mercy, because we could not make satisfaction for our sins. So although strictly speaking it was not necessary for Christ to suffer in order to save mankind, yet in another sense it was necessary for Christ to suffer, in order most perfectly to demonstrate to mankind God’s mercy and justice.

Four Ways in Which Christ’s Passion Brought About Our Salvation

According to Aquinas, Christ, from the first instant of His conception, had the fullness of sanctifying grace.10 Not only that, but from the first moment of His conception was the Head of the Church.11 All the graces that come into the Church come from Christ the Head of the Body.12 Aquinas presents four ways in which Christ’s Passion brought about our salvation.

First, Aquinas says that Christ’s Passion brought about our salvation by way of merit.

As stated above (7, 1,9; 8, 1,5), grace was bestowed upon Christ, not only as an individual, but inasmuch as He is the Head of the Church, so that it might overflow into His members; and therefore Christ’s works are referred to Himself and to His members in the same way as the works of any other man in a state of grace are referred to himself. But it is evident that whosoever suffers for justice’s sake, provided that he be in a state of grace, merits his salvation thereby, according to Matthew 5:10: “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’s sake.” Consequently Christ by His Passion merited salvation, not only for Himself, but likewise for all His members.13

Christ had grace in His soul from the first instant of His conception. Otherwise, Christ would have been in a state of original sin.14 But in that first instant of His conception Christ received grace not only as an individual man, but also as the Head of the Church, so that this grace might overflow into His members, i.e. all those who are joined to His Body, the Church. Insofar as we are joined to Christ as members of His Body, the works of Christ the Head of the Body are referred not only to the Head but to all the members of His Body, because this Body is one Body. Furthermore, if anyone in a state of grace suffers for justice’s sake, that person merits blessedness (i.e. the vision of God). Therefore, since Christ was in a state of grace, and Christ suffered for justice’s sake, it follows that Christ merited the Beatific Vision, even though He already had it.15 Hence, since Christ merited the Beatific Vision, and since those who are joined to Him as members of His Body share in His merits, it follows that Christ merited the Beatific Vision for us, and thus that He merited salvation for us.

Aquinas explains the notion of merit elsewhere, writing:

Merit implies a certain equality of justice: hence the Apostle says (Romans 4:4): “Now to him that worketh, the reward is reckoned according to debt.” But when anyone by reason of his unjust will ascribes to himself something beyond his due, it is only just that he be deprived of something else which is his due; thus, “when a man steals a sheep he shall pay back four” (Exodus 22:1). And he is said to deserve it, inasmuch as his unjust will is chastised thereby. So likewise when any man through his just will has stripped himself of what he ought to have, he deserves that something further be granted to him as the reward of his just will. And hence it is written (Luke 14:11): “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”16

Merit is based on justice, according to which reward is due for every obedient act, and punishment is due for every disobedient act, to chastise the unjust will. Aquinas notes that the precept of the Old Law required that the theft be paid back fourfold.17 Aquinas then proceeds to show the four respects in which Christ humbled Himself, thereby paying fourfold for the [extrinsic] glory man had stolen from God through disobedience.18

Second, according to Aquinas, Christ’s Passion brought about our salvation by way of satisfaction.

He properly atones for [satisfacit] an offense who offers something which the offended loves equally, or even more than he detested the offense. But by suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race. First of all, because of the exceeding charity from which He suffered; secondly, on account of the dignity of His life which He laid down in atonement, for it was the life of one who was God and man; thirdly, on account of the extent of the Passion, and the greatness of the grief endured, as stated above (Question 46, Article 6). And therefore Christ’s Passion was not only a sufficient but a superabundant atonement for the sins of the human race; according to 1 John 2:2: “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”19

Aquinas begins here by explaining the meaning of satisfaction. A person makes proper satisfaction for an offense by offering to the offended something that the offended person loves equally or even more than he detested the offense. By giving Himself over to suffering, in love and obedience for the Father, Christ offered to the Father something that the Father loves far more than He detests all the sins of the human race. Why was Christ’s gift so greatly loved by the Father? Because of the greatness of the charity out of which Christ suffered, the great dignity of what He laid down in love for the Father, and the immensity of the grief He endured, which was far greater interiorly than all His bodily suffering.20 How do we benefit from Christ’s satisfaction? Aquinas writes:

The head and members are as one mystic person; and therefore Christ’s satisfaction belongs to all the faithful as being His members.21

Here again, Aquinas explains that we benefit from Christ’s satisfaction by being joined to Him as members of His Body, the Church, of which He is the Head. Through being joined to Him, we become, as it were, one mystic person [quasi una persona mystica]. Just as what belongs to the hand also belongs to the foot or the ear, so what belongs to Christ the Head belongs also to the rest of His Body. And therefore the satisfaction that He offered to the Father belongs also to all the faithful, because we are members of His Body.

Third, according to Aquinas, Christ’s Passion brought about our salvation by way of sacrifice.

The Apostle says (Ephesians 5:2): “He delivered Himself up for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness.” A sacrifice properly so called is something done for that honor which is properly due to God, in order to appease Him: and hence it is that Augustine says (De Civ. Dei x): “A true sacrifice is every good work done in order that we may cling to God in holy fellowship, yet referred to that consummation of happiness wherein we can be truly blessed.” But, as is added in the same place, “Christ offered Himself up for us in the Passion”: and this voluntary enduring of the Passion was most acceptable to God, as coming from charity. Therefore it is manifest that Christ’s Passion was a true sacrifice.22

A sacrifice [sacrificium], says Aquinas, is something done for the honor that is properly due to God, in order to appease Him. This falls under the virtue of religion, which itself falls under the virtue of justice, i.e. giving to each its due.23 But not only does sacrifice fall under the precepts of the natural law, various kinds of sacrifice were also required by the ceremonial precepts of the Old Law.24 These sacrifices, according to Aquinas, directed the minds of the worshipers to God as the source and end of all things. But they also foreshadowed Christ, the chief and perfect sacrifice.25 How does sacrifice differ from satisfaction? Satisfaction can be made by sacrifice, but satisfaction presupposes an offense, whereas sacrifice does not. Sacrifice is what is due to God as God, and only to God. Satisfaction, on the other hand, can be made to any offended party, not only to God.26

Fourth, according to Aquinas, Christ’s Passion brought about our salvation by way of redemption.

Man was held captive on account of sin in two ways: first of all, by the bondage of sin, because (John 8:34): “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin”; and (2 Peter 2:19): “By whom a man is overcome, of the same also he is the slave.” Since, then, the devil had overcome man by inducing him to sin, man was subject to the devil’s bondage. Secondly, as to the debt of punishment, to the payment of which man was held fast by God’s justice: and this, too, is a kind of bondage, since it savors of bondage for a man to suffer what he does not wish, just as it is the free man’s condition to apply himself to what he wills.

Since, then, Christ’s Passion was a sufficient and a superabundant atonement [satisfactio] for the sin and the debt of the human race, it was as a price at the cost of which we were freed from both obligations. For the atonement [satisfactio] by which one satisfies for self or another is called the price, by which he ransoms himself or someone else from sin and its penalty, according to Daniel 4:24: “Redeem thou thy sins with alms.” Now Christ made satisfaction, not by giving money or anything of the sort, but by bestowing what was of greatest price–Himself–for us. And therefore Christ’s Passion is called our redemption.27

Aquinas explains the two ways in which man was held captive on account of sin. In the first way, man was held captive by sin and Satan. By sinning, we make ourselves prone to sin, susceptible to its temptation, less willing to resist it firmly and consistently. Through mortal sin we make ourselves incapable of repenting, unless God provides grace. In this way, by submitting ourselves to sin we make ourselves slaves to it. Furthermore, says Aquinas, in succumbing to Satan’s temptation, we likewise subject ourselves to Satan’s bondage. We put ourselves under the devil by consenting to him.28 The second way that man was held captive on account of sin was by the debt of punishment, which he could not pay.

According to Aquinas, Christ by His Passion redeemed us from both obligations. That is because the satisfaction by which one satisfies is the price by which one one ransoms from sin and its penalty. Since Christ made satisfaction by giving to God what was of maximum worth, namely, Himself, for us, therefore in doing so Christ paid a price that ransomed us both from our bondage to sin and our debt of punishment.

Aquinas sums up the four ways in which Christ’s Passion brought salvation to us, writing:

Christ’s Passion, according as it is compared with His Godhead, operates in an efficient manner: but in so far as it is compared with the will of Christ’s soul it acts in a meritorious manner: considered as being within Christ’s very flesh, it acts by way of satisfaction, inasmuch as we are liberated by it from the debt of punishment; while inasmuch as we are freed from the servitude of guilt, it acts by way of redemption: but in so far as we are reconciled with God it acts by way of sacrifice ….”29

On account of the will of Christ’s soul, His Passion acts by way of merit. On account of the flesh of Christ’s body, His Passion acts by way of satisfaction (inasmuch as by it we are liberated from the debt of punishment), by way of redemption (inasmuch as it frees us from the servitude of guilt [servitute culpae]), and by way of sacrifice (inasmuch as by it we are reconciled to God).

Four Effects of Christ’s Passion

One effect of Christ’s Passion is the forgiveness of our sins. Aquinas writes:

Christ’s Passion is the proper cause of the forgiveness of sins [remissionis peccatorum] in three ways. First of all, by way of exciting our charity [provocantis ad caritatem], because, as the Apostle says (Romans 5:8): “God commendeth His charity towards us: because when as yet we were sinners, according to the time, Christ died for us.” But it is by charity that we procure pardon of our sins, according to Luke 7:47: “Many sins are forgiven her because she hath loved much.” Secondly, Christ’s Passion causes forgiveness of sins by way of redemption [redemptionis]. For since He is our head, then, by the Passion which He endured from love and obedience, He delivered us as His members from our sins, as by the price of His Passion: in the same way as if a man by the good industry of his hands were to redeem himself from a sin committed with his feet. For, just as the natural body is one though made up of diverse members, so the whole Church, Christ’s mystic body, is reckoned as one person with its head, which is Christ. Thirdly, by way of efficiency [efficientiae], inasmuch as Christ’s flesh, wherein He endured the Passion, is the instrument of the Godhead, so that His sufferings and actions operate with Divine power for expelling sin.30

Christ’s Passion causes the forgiveness of our sins in three ways or modes. First, by provoking us to charity. Through His divine demonstration of charity in the Passion, charity is communicated to us and provoked within us. And our sins are forgiven when we love God, because our will is turned back to God in friendship, away from that which we had wrongly loved more than we loved God. Second, as explained above, Christ’s Passion causes the forgiveness of our sins by way of redemption. Since Christ by His Passion offered to His Father such a great gift, therefore since He is the Head and we are the members of His Body, therefore by incorporation into His Body (and only by incorporation into His Body) we participate in what He obtained. Aquinas uses the example of a man who by the good work of his hands was able to redeem himself from a sin committed with his feet. Thirdly, Christ’s Passion causes the forgiveness of our sins in the mode of efficient cause. By this he means that Christ’s flesh, as the instrument of the Godhead, has within it the divine virtue (power) to drive out all evils through His actions and sufferings in His Passion.

Another effect of Christ’s Passion is deliverance from the debt of punishment. Aquinas writes:

Through Christ’s Passion we have been delivered from the debt of punishment in two ways. First of all, directly–namely, inasmuch as Christ’s Passion was sufficient and superabundant satisfaction for the sins of the whole human race: but when sufficient satisfaction has been paid, then the debt of punishment is abolished. In another way–indirectly, that is to say–in so far as Christ’s Passion is the cause of the forgiveness of sin, upon which the debt of punishment rests.31

This short paragraph provides a helpful distinction between the debt of punishment [reatus poenae] and the forgiveness of sins [remissionis peccati]. Christ’s Passion delivers us from the debt of punishment both directly and indirectly. It directly delivers us from the debt of punishment in that through His Passion Christ made superabundant satisfaction [superabundans satisfactio] for the sins of the whole human race, and thereby paid our debt, inasmuch as we are joined to Him as members of His Mystical Body. Christ’s Passion indirectly delivers us from the debt of punishment insofar as it is the cause of the forgiveness of sin [remissionis peccati], on which the debt of punishment is founded. The forgiveness of sin is not merely the payment of our debt of punishment. The debt of eternal punishment is continually caused by the privation of original justice in the will, by which the will is made subject to God. Therefore, in order to remove the debt of punishment, not only must the debt be paid, but the continuing cause of the debt must be remedied. So Christ’s Passion is the cause of the forgiveness of sins, by the gift of grace, whereby our will is again made subject to God in love. We receive this gift of grace by being united to Him as our Head, from whom flow all graces to us as members of His Body.

Another effect of Christ’s Passion is that we are reconciled to God. Aquinas writes:

Christ’s Passion is in two ways the cause of our reconciliation to God. In the first way, inasmuch as it takes away sin by which men became God’s enemies, according to Wisdom 14:9: “To God the wicked and his wickedness are hateful alike”; and Psalm 5:7: “Thou hatest all the workers of iniquity.” In another way, inasmuch as it is a most acceptable sacrifice to God. Now it is the proper effect of sacrifice to appease God: just as man likewise overlooks an offense committed against him on account of some pleasing act of homage shown him. Hence it is written (1 Samuel 26:19): “If the Lord stir thee up against me, let Him accept of sacrifice.” And in like fashion Christ’s voluntary suffering was such a good act that, because of its being found in human nature, God was appeased for every offense of the human race with regard to those who are made one with the crucified Christ in the aforesaid manner (1, ad 4).32

Here Aquinas explains that Christ’s Passion is the cause of our reconciliation to God in two ways. First, Christ’s Passion takes away sin [removet peccatum] by which men are put at enmity with God. Sin is not a stuff or substance. Sin is a privation of the due order in acts, or in the disposition of the will, such that we are turned against God and against the order of Divine justice. One way that Christ removes sin is by turning our heart (i.e. our will) back to the Father in love, such that we are no longer enemies of God, but are reconciled to Him as friends, even sons. The second way in which Christ reconciles us to God is by making perfect satisfaction, in His human nature, to the Father. The debt of punishment that was due to the human race for every offense is thereby canceled, insofar as we are “made one with the crucified Christ”. I will discuss below the way in which we are made one with Christ.

Another effect of Christ’s Passion is that the gate of heaven is opened to us. Aquinas writes:

The shutting of the gate is the obstacle which hinders men from entering in. But it is on account of sin that men were prevented from entering into the heavenly kingdom, since, according to Isaiah 35:8: “It shall be called the holy way, and the unclean shall not pass over it.” Now there is a twofold sin which prevents men from entering into the kingdom of heaven. The first is common to the whole race, for it is our first parents’ sin, and by that sin heaven’s entrance is closed to man. Hence we read in Genesis 3:24 that after our first parents’ sin God “placed . . . cherubim and a flaming sword, turning every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” The other is the personal sin of each one of us, committed by our personal act.

Now by Christ’s Passion we have been delivered not only from the common sin of the whole human race, both as to its guilt and as to the debt of punishment, for which He paid the penalty on our behalf; but, furthermore, from the personal sins of individuals, who share in His Passion by faith and charity and the sacraments of faith. Consequently, then the gate of heaven’s kingdom is thrown open to us through Christ’s Passion. This is precisely what the Apostle says (Hebrews 9:11-12): “Christ being come a high-priest of the good things to come . . . by His own blood entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption.”33

When God sent man out of Eden, He placed a cherubim and a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life [ligni vitae]. According to Aquinas, on account of man’s sin, the gate to heaven was thereby closed. This gate being closed to us was due not only to original sin, common to all mankind descended from Adam, but also to all actual sins committed by each person. By Christ’s Passion we have been delivered from original sin both as to its guilt [culpam] and as to its debt of punishment [reatum poenae]. Here again by the guilt [culpam] of original sin, Aquinas is referring to the privation of original justice in the will, whereby the will was made subject to God. When man receives grace, through union with the crucified Christ, this privation in the will is removed. And likewise by union with Christ the debt of punishment for original sin is canceled. Furthermore, by Christ’s Passion, we have been delivered from the guilt and debt of punishment for our personal sins. Therefore, through Christ’s Passion the gate of heaven has been thrown open to us.

Did God Hate Sinners?

Some people claim that God the Father hated sinners, on account of their sin, and therefore that God the Father unleashed this stored-up wrath upon Christ, temporarily damning Christ on our behalf. But that is not how Aquinas understands Christ’s salvific work. God the Father and Christ the Son are one in their Divine nature, and therefore one in their single Divine will. It is not as though the Father hated us while Christ the Son loved us. Aquinas says, “Christ as God delivered Himself up to death by the same will and action as that by which the Father delivered Him up….”34 Nor is it that the Son in His Divine nature hated us, but that the Son in His human nature loved us. The distinction, for Aquinas, is at a different level. He writes:

God loves all men as to their nature, which He Himself made; yet He hates them with respect to the crimes [culpam] they commit against Him, according to Sirach 12:3: “The Highest hateth sinners.”35

The three Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity eternally love all men in regard to man’s primary human nature [quantum ad naturam]. In other words, the Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity eternally love each and every human being on account of our human nature, which God Himself made in His own image. But the Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity hate [odit] sin, and therefore in regard to human opposition to God [quantum ad culpam], the Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity hate sinful man (i.e. man devoid of sanctifying grace and charity). So the Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity both love and hate sinful man, but in different respects. Yet their love for man is more fundamental than is their hate, because the nature of man is fundamental to man’s wickedness. Sinful man’s opposition to God is made possible by man’s rational nature. But this raises a question. If God has always loved man, even when man was turned against God, how then can Christ’s Passion be rightly said to reconcile man to God? Aquinas answers:

Christ is not said to have reconciled us with God, as if God had begun anew to love us, since it is written (Jeremiah 31:3): “I have loved thee with an everlasting love”; but because the source of hatred was taken away by Christ’s Passion, both through sin being washed away and through compensation being made in the shape of a more pleasing offering.36

The reconciliation of sinners with God through Christ’s Passion was not effected by a change in God, but by a change in man. His Passion removed the cause of hatred [odii causa] in two ways. Our sin was washed away [ablutionem peccati] by His blood; this washing we receive by being joined to Him in His Mystical Body. Furthermore, Christ completely and lovingly offered Himself in His human nature as a sacrifice to God the Father. By such a sacrifice, Christ in His human nature, stands in a highly favored and exalted position before the Father.37 Therefore, by being united with Christ as members of His Mystical Body, we are reconciled to God not because of a change in God, but because we are truly made one with Christ, with whom God is well-pleased.

Sufficiency and Union with Christ

If Christ through His Passion made satisfaction sufficient for the sins of every human being who has ever lived and will live, why then is not every human person saved? Aquinas writes:

It is certain that Christ came into this world not only to take away that sin which is handed on originally to posterity, but also in order to take away all sins subsequently added to it; not that all are taken away (and this is from men’s fault, inasmuch as they do not adhere to Christ, according to John 3:19: “The light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light”), but because He offered what was sufficient for blotting out all sins. Hence it is written (Romans 5:15-16): “But not as the offense, so also the gift . . . For judgment indeed was by one unto condemnation, but grace is of many offenses unto justification.”38

Here Aquinas explains that Christ came into this world to remove both original sin and all actual sins. Not all sins are removed, he says, because men do not adhere [non inhaerent] to Christ. They choose darkness rather than Christ the light who has come into the world. Christ offered Himself up to the Father on behalf of all men, but if men reject Christ, then they are not united to Christ, and so do not partake of the salvific benefits procured by Christ’s Passion. Only by union with Christ do we participate in the salvific benefits of His Passion. Aquinas writes:

Christ by His Passion delivered us from our sins causally–that is, by setting up the cause of our deliverance, from which cause all sins whatsoever, past, present, or to come, could be forgiven: just as if a doctor were to prepare a medicine by which all sicknesses can be cured even in future.

As stated above, since Christ’s Passion preceded, as a kind of universal cause of the forgiveness of sins [remissionis peccatorum], it needs to be applied to each individual for the cleansing [deletionem] of personal sins. Now this is done by baptism and penance and the other sacraments, which derive their power from Christ’s Passion, as shall be shown later (62, 5).39

Aquinas uses the example of a doctor who prepares a medicine by which all sicknesses, even future sicknesses, can be cured. Likewise, through Christ’s Passion, the remedy for all sin (past, present, and future) is provided. But this medicine needs to be applied to each sick person, in order to benefit the sick person. How is this medicine applied? By the sacraments of baptism and penance and the other sacraments, which have their power from Christ’s Passion [habent virtutem ex passione Christi].

When Aquinas is faced with the objection that if all men were freed from the punishment of sin by Christ’s Passion, no one would suffer eternal damnation in hell, he replies:

Christ’s Passion works its effect in them to whom it is applied, through faith and charity and the sacraments of faith. And, consequently, the lost in hell cannot avail themselves of its effects, since they are not united to Christ in the aforesaid manner.40

Here again he shows that Christ’s Passion works its effect in those to whom it is applied, by faith and charity and the sacraments of faith. But the lost in hell cannot be united to Christ by faith and the sacraments, and that is why Christ’s Passion does not free them from eternal punishment.

Aquinas then raises a similar objection. He observes that baptized persons who fall into mortal sin and then receive the sacrament of penance, are given some penance to do. According to the objection, this implies that Christ’s work was not sufficient to pay their debt of punishment, because no one whose debt is already paid should be made to pay anything additional. Aquinas then replies:

As stated above (1, ad 4,5), in order to secure the effects of Christ’s Passion, we must be likened unto Him. Now we are likened unto Him sacramentally in Baptism, according to Romans 6:4: “For we are buried together with Him by baptism into death.” Hence no punishment of satisfaction is imposed upon men at their baptism, since they are fully delivered by Christ’s satisfaction. But because, as it is written (1 Peter 3:18), “Christ died” but “once for our sins,” therefore a man cannot a second time be likened unto Christ’s death by the sacrament of Baptism. Hence it is necessary that those who sin after Baptism be likened unto Christ suffering by some form of punishment or suffering which they endure in their own person; yet, by the co-operation of Christ’s satisfaction, much lighter penalty suffices than one that is proportionate to the sin.41

Here Aquinas explains that in order to secure [consequamur] the effects of Christ’s Passion, it is necessary that we be configured [configurari] to Him. And we are configured to Him sacramentally in Baptism, because in Baptism we are buried together with Him into His death, as the Apostle Paul teaches. Therefore there is no punishment of satisfaction imposed on men at their baptism, because through Christ’s satisfaction, all the punishment for their sin until that time, is canceled by their union with Christ in baptism. But since Christ died but once for sins, therefore we cannot be configured to Him by being baptized again. So those who sin after baptism must be configured to Christ suffering, by some form of temporal punishment [poenalitatis] or suffering [passionis] which they themselves endure. Yet, explains Aquinas, by the cooperation of Christ’s satisfaction [cooperante satisfactione Christi], this penance that penitents must do is much lighter than is deserved for their [post-baptismal] sins. So for Aquinas the requirement of doing penance for post-baptismal sin is not due to Christ’s satisfaction being insufficient, but rather because since Christ died only once, we cannot be baptized again as a remedy for post-baptismal sins, and so must be configured to Him by sharing in His suffering.

Christ, by His Passion has supplied the remedy for all three of the effects of sin. He has paid the debt of punishment. He has procured for us the grace by which our will is made subject to God in charity, and in this way He has removed the corruption of our will, forgiven our sins, and washed away the stain of sin from our souls. We receive this remedy in the sacraments, and especially baptism as the gateway to the other sacraments. In baptism we are joined to Christ as members of His Body of which He is the Head and from whom all graces flow. Concerning Christ’s baptism by John, Aquinas writes:

[T]he entrance to the heavenly kingdom was opened to us by the baptism of Christ in a special manner, which entrance had been closed to the first man through sin. Hence, when Christ was baptized, the heavens were opened, to show that the way to heaven is open to the baptized.42

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.

  1. This should not be construed as implying that any creature can comprehend (i.e. fully or exhaustively understand) the Divine Essence. According to Aquinas, not even the soul of Christ comprehends the Divine Essence. See Summa Theologica III Q.10 a.1 []
  2. St. Matthew 5:8 []
  3. Summa Theologica III Q.10 a.4 co. []
  4. This is why for Aquinas the Beatific Vision is man’s supernatural end. In saying that the Beatific Vision is man’s supernatural end, Aquinas is not simply saying that God is supernatural. He is saying that this end (i.e. the Beatific Vision) exceeds our natural capacities. It is beyond our nature, and in that sense it is supernatural. The Beatific Vision is also beyond the natural capacity of each angel. This is also why, for Aquinas, even the angels needed grace in order to enjoy the Beautific Vision, as I discussed here. []
  5. See Summa Theologica I-II Q.110 a.1 in which Aquinas discusses the three senses of the term ‘grace’. []
  6. Summa Theologica III Q.1 a.2 co. []
  7. Summa Theologica III Q.46 a.2 ad 3 []
  8. Summa Theologica III Q.46 a.3 co. []
  9. Summa Theologica III Q.46 a.1 ad 3 []
  10. Summa Theologica III Q.7 aa. 7, 9 []
  11. Summa Theologica III Q.8 a.1 []
  12. In fact, according to Aquinas, from the first moment of Christ’s conception He was the Head of all men, but not all in the same way.

    Hence we must say that if we take the whole time of the world in general, Christ is the Head of all men, but diversely. For, first and principally, He is the Head of such as are united to Him by glory; secondly, of those who are actually united to Him by charity; thirdly, of those who are actually united to Him by faith; fourthly, of those who are united to Him merely in potentiality, which is not yet reduced to act, yet will be reduced to act according to Divine predestination; fifthly, of those who are united to Him in potentiality, which will never be reduced to act; such are those men existing in the world, who are not predestined, who, however, on their departure from this world, wholly cease to be members of Christ, as being no longer in potentiality to be united to Christ. Summa Theologica III Q.8 a.3

    []

  13. ST III Q.48 a.1 co. []
  14. See my discussion on original sin in Part 2 of this series. []
  15. Aquinas writes:

    Now the soul of Christ, since it is united to the Word in person, is more closely joined to the Word of God than any other creature. Hence it more fully receives the light in which God is seen by the Word Himself than any other creature. And therefore more perfectly than the rest of creatures it sees the First Truth itself, which is the Essence of God….  Summa Theologica III Q.10 a.4 co.

    []

  16. Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.6 co. []
  17. This is why Zaccheus told Jesus that he would pay back four times as much as he had defrauded. cf. St. Luke 19:8 []
  18. cf. Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.6 []
  19. Summa Theologica III Q.48 a.2 co. []
  20. Aquinas writes:

    Christ grieved not only over the loss of His own bodily life, but also over the sins of all others. And this grief in Christ surpassed all grief of every contrite heart, both because it flowed from a greater wisdom and charity, by which the pang of contrition is intensified, and because He grieved at the one time for all sins, according to Isaiah 53:4: “Surely He hath carried our sorrows.” Summa Theologica III Q.46 a.6 ad 4

    []

  21. Summa Theologica III Q.48 a.2 ad 1 []
  22. Summa Theologica III Q.48 a.3 co. []
  23. See Summa Theologica II-II Q.85 a.1 co. []
  24. Besides the ceremonial precepts of the Old Law, there were also the moral precepts and the judicial precepts. See Summa Theologica I-II Q.99 []
  25. Consequently the chief sacrifice is that whereby Christ Himself “delivered Himself . . . to God for an odor of sweetness” (Ephesians 5:2). And for this reason all the other sacrifices of the Old Law were offered up in order to foreshadow this one individual and paramount sacrifice–the imperfect forecasting the perfect. Hence the Apostle says (Hebrews 10:11) that the priest of the Old Law “often” offered “the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but” Christ offered “one sacrifice for sins, for ever.” And since the reason of the figure is taken from that which the figure represents, therefore the reasons of the figurative sacrifices of the Old Law should be taken from the true sacrifice of Christ.  Summa Theologica I-II Q.102 a.3 co.

    []

  26. For an excellent treatment of this subject see Matthew Levering’s Christ’s Fulfillment of Torah and Temple: Salvation According to Thomas Aquinas (University of Notre Dame Press, 2002). []
  27. Summa Theologica III Q.48 a.4 []
  28. Summa Theologica III Q.48 a.4 ad 2. Aquinas explains elsewhere [Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.2] that because man had sinned against God, God with justice left man under the devil’s power. []
  29. Summa Theologica III Q.48 a.6 ad 3 []
  30. Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.1 co. []
  31. Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.3 co. []
  32. Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.4 []
  33. Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.5 co. []
  34. Summa Theologica III Q.47 a.3 ad 2 []
  35. Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.4 ad 1 []
  36. Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.4 ad 2 []
  37. Indeed, Christ in His human nature is seated at the right hand of the Father. []
  38. Summa Theologica III Q.1 a.4 co. []
  39. Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.1 ad 3,4 []
  40. Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.3 ad 1. Two paragraphs later he writes, “Christ’s satisfaction works its effect in us inasmuch as we are incorporated with Him, as the members with their head….” Summa Theologica Q.49 a.3 ad 3 []
  41. Summa Theologica III Q.49 a.3 ad 2 []
  42. Summa Theologica III Q.39 a.5 co. []
Tags: , , , , ,

62 comments
Leave a comment »

  1. To better understand this topic compare what R.C. Sproul says in this video, with what St. Augustine says here about what it means for Christ to bear the curse.

    Sproul seems to interpret Christ bearing the curse as God the Father hating (lit. damning) the Son, and pouring out His wrath for sin on the Son. But that’s not how St. Augustine or St. Thomas understand the curse. That would either make the Father guilty of the greatest evil of all time (pouring out the punishment for all sin on an innocent man, knowing that he is innocent), or if Christ were really guilty and deserved all that punishment, then such suffering would be of no benefit to us. St. Thomas says:

    Christ as God delivered Himself up to death by the same will and action as that by which the Father delivered Him up; but as man He gave Himself up by a will inspired of the Father. Consequently there is no contrariety in the Father delivering Him up and in Christ delivering Himself up. (ST III Q.47 a.3 ad 2)

    There Aquinas explains that there is no contrariety between the Father and the Son during Christ’s Passion, no loss of love from the Father to the Son or the Son to the Father. The Father wholly and entirely loved His Son during the entire Passion. By one and the same divine will and action, the Father allowed the Son to be crucified and the Son allowed Himself to be crucified. (See ST III Q.47 a.3)

  2. I’m still digesting your post, which I greatly enjoyed. But a statement in your comment seems to be a false dichotomy. You wrote: “Sproul seems to interpret Christ bearing the curse as God the Father hating (lit. damning) the Son, and pouring out His wrath for sin on the Son….That would either make the Father guilty of the greatest evil of all time (pouring out the punishment for all sin on an innocent man, knowing that he is innocent), or if Christ were really guilty and deserved all that punishment, then such suffering would be of no benefit to us.”

    I’m not sure I agree with Sproul here either, but it seems the means to your conclusion is faulty because there appears to be a third option that splits the horns. The third option is that the Father poured out all that wrath on Jesus because Jesus’s love compelled Him to stand in the place of those who should have received it. If that is possible, then the dichotomy breaks down.

    Indeed, this is exactly where I thought you were going in your post in the section on whether the cross was necessary. As you pointed out, our sins are an offense to God. Thus we are debtors to God. But just as the lender can forgive the borrower’s debt , God could have simply forgiven our debts outright (am I reading you correctly here?). Instead, of merely canceling the debt, God paid it himself. This reading of the atonement would be consistent with the third option above and cause the dichotomy to break down.

  3. Ryan,

    Thanks for your comment. The dilemma is between the Father knowingly pouring out His wrath on His innocent Son, or knowingly pouring out His wrath on His guilty Son. The option of the Father knowingly pouring out His wrath on His innocent Son who loves us and wants to stand in our place, does not split the horns, but is a more specific case under the first horn of the dilemma. If the Father poured out His wrath on His innocent Son, knowing that His Son was innocent, then the Father would be unjust, whether or not the Son out of love wanted to take our place. The Son’s love for man does not change the fact that it is unjust to punish an innocent person knowing that he is innocent. The Father can receive a gift of satisfaction from Christ, without being unjust. But to punish the innocent Christ, knowing that He is innocent, would be unjust.

    Not only that, but if the Father has wrath for men while the Son has love for men, this conflicts with the doctrine of the Trinity. The Father and the Son cannot be at odds. If Christ loves men, then so does the Father. Or, if the Father has wrath for men, then so does Christ. And, if the Father has wrath for the Son, then the Son must have no less wrath for Himself.

    According to Aquinas, God could have simply forgiven our debts outright. In ST III Q.47 a.3, Aquinas is arguing that the Father has *some* role in Christ’s Passion. Aquinas is dealing there with objections that argue that the Father had *no* role in Christ’s Passion. But Aquinas is very careful here. God does not cause [moral] evil, not even to bring about a great good. A good end does not justify an evil means. See Summa Theologica I Q.49 a.2, where Aquinas argues that God is not the cause of [moral] evil. Now, if we were to rank moral evils, right up at the top would be knowingly killing God. (This is why Dante puts Judas right down with Lucifer.) So, God the Father cannot be the cause of this evil per se. This is why Aquinas says that God the Father delivered up [tradiderit] i.e. handed over, Christ to the Passion. (ST III Q.47 a.3) That is a very different depiction of the Father’s role from that in which God the Father is pouring out His own wrath on Christ.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  4. I don’t intend to be argumentative here. So please take my reply in the spirit I intend (one of searching for truth, as opposed to merely defeating an interlocutor).

    As for the two horns of the dilemma, you maintain that the third-option I proffered is a merely a type of the first horn, namely that Jesus was innocent. Your argument posits that if Jesus was innocent (that is to say, undeserving of God’s wrath), then God would be unjust to visit wrath upon him. But suppose Jesus agreed to receive God’s wrath on behalf of those who deserve it. Why is it unjust to give someone something they requested? For example, suppose an adult is convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison. The adult’s parent wants to serve the child’s time. And the judge grants the parents request. Is it unjust to sentence to parent? There are two answers to this question (it seems to me) depending on the perspective we use. First, from the perspective of the parent it isn’t unjust to him because he requested it. He cannot complain of some injustice. So from the perspective of the one requesting to stand in the shoes of the convict, that stand-in cannot complain of injustice if their request is granted. Second, from the perspective of the victims of the convict’s crime it may be unjust because the convict isn’t receiving the appropriate punishment. In this retributive sense, justice isn’t meted out on the one who deserves it.

    Turning to the atonement with these two senses in mind, the first sense is Christ’s standing-in-out-place. How could it be unjust to Christ? In the second sense, the victim of our crimes (we’re the convicts, and our crime is sin) is God himself. (It may not be appropriate to speak of God as the *victim* of our sins, but I think you get my point.) So if God is willing to atone for our past sins in this method, how is it unjust?

  5. Hello Ryan,

    Why is it unjust to give someone something they requested?

    We have to distinguish between will and nature. Just because someone requests something (with his will), does not mean that it is just to give it to him (given his nature). Whether or not it is just to give it to him depends upon what he asks for, and his nature. Socrates gives the example of a man from whom you have borrowed a knife. Normally, it is just to give back to someone what you have borrowed from that person. But this knife-owner comes to your front-door in a raging fury, say, having just caught his wife in an act of adultery, and demanding back his knife. Should you give it to him? No, not at that moment. Why? Because of his emotional state. It would be unjust to give him back his knife at that moment. So according to his will (i.e. his request) it might seem you should give it back to him, but given his state, you should definitely not give it to him. A person can request something that you should not give to him. All sorts of sexual examples come to mind. Anyone who thinks that a request is sufficient to make fulfilling that request just, should not walk through a red light district. Consent does not entail a moral green light, because consent is not sufficient. The notion that consent is sufficient is a kind of Kantianism that prescinds from the natures of the persons involved, and from the order of Divine justice.

    First, from the perspective of the parent it isn’t unjust to him because he requested it.

    That’s Kantianism. When Saul asked his armor bearer to kill him, the armor bearer rightly refused. (1 Sam 31:4) It would have been unjust for the armor bearer to kill Saul, even though Saul was requesting it. (You can think of other ‘assisted suicide’ cases.) We have to distinguish between will and nature, and the role each plays in the morality of an action.

    To punish an innocent person, knowing that he is innocent, is unjust, whether or not the person *wills* that he be punished. Giving to someone more good than he is due, is compatible with justice because justice does not restrict mercy. But, giving to someone less good (or more evil) than he is due is not compatible with justice. And what he is due is not based only on what he requests. Therefore, punishing an innocent person, knowing that he is innocent, is unjust, whether or not the person *wills* that he be punished.

    A parent could justly be punished for a child’s crimes only insofar as the parent was responsible for the child’s evil behavior. With regard to punishment, justice doesn’t merely demand that *someone* be punished, but that the guilty person be punished. Otherwise justice is blind not merely in the proper sense of being impartial, but in the sense of treating humanity as an indefinite amorphous mass deserving some magnitude of blind fury. But on the Day of Judgment, what is presented is not the total debt due for all men’s sins. Rather, the Just Judge judges according to each man’s works. In other words, justice ‘sees’ each man, and what he deserves. Justice does not vent wrath blindly, as though anyone could jump in to block the blind stream of wrath.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. Awesome. This is a great presentation. Thank you for sharing it.

  7. Bryan,

    Thanks for your reply. Good points. I’m persuaded.

  8. This is good stuff, I’m glad more Catholics are bringing it up. It is especially important to show that Catholic tradition (esp via St Thomas) shows a more excellent way than what other ‘theories’ (eg Penal Substitution) can offer, not to mention more Scriptural and Logical.

    As I’ve said before, it is my dream/goal for Protestant-Catholic apologetics to get these key issues (largely ignored/misunderstood) to the front of the discussion. This will result in far greater progress than tossing verses back and forth at each other.

  9. Hi! I’ve just found your site and thankful for it. It’s been 7yrs since I came to believe and I have studied hard since – mostly Reformed theology as that is where my Episcopal priest and mentor is. However, I have not been able to accept the Reformed understanding of atonement or of how we are saved. (Most Protestants I’ve met are happy with “Christ died for your sins, accept that, put you faith and trust in Him – and you’re saved!) Perhaps there is some fault in me that causes me to need more information (too little faith? too much reliance on reason?) At any rate, I DO need to understand where possible and will accept the mysteries where understanding is not possible. This post is an area where I have struggled for understanding and find it just outside my reach. The scapegoat atonement analogy is the only one that makes sense to me. So thank you for all your efforts.

    Now, I have tried to get this (all the above), really, but please help me understand why the Father would find the suffering of the Son (even voluntarily offered in charity) to be pleasing? The Father loves the suffering of the Son more than He hates our sins? How is this much better than the wrathful punishing of an innocent in our place. Forgive me, but why would the Father think Christ’s passion a good thing (especially given that He could have forgiven our sins without it?) As a parent, I would not be pleased with my child’s needless suffering.

    “And in like fashion Christ’s voluntary suffering was such a good act that, because of its being found in human nature, God was appeased for every offense of the human race with regard to those who are made one with the crucified Christ in the aforesaid manner (1, ad 4).32″ Why would God be appeased by this? Still a case of innocent suffering – and, in keeping with the unity of the Godhead, isn’t this God appeasing God? Obviously there would be no point in that – so I must be missing something.

    Lastly, for the moment, the concept of penance, mild or severe, does seem to be a requirement for works for salvation – making Christ’s satisfaction insufficient. (That is where limited atonement actually makes intellectual sense.)

    I am strongly drawn to the Roman Catholic Church (but I don’t think I can get in). Nonetheless, I find more coherency in RC theology, usually, than in Reformed. I pray you can help me with the above – even a year after your post!

  10. Hello Linda, (re: #9)

    Welcome to Called To Communion. I’m glad you found us. You wrote:

    Now, I have tried to get this (all the above), really, but please help me understand why the Father would find the suffering of the Son (even voluntarily offered in charity) to be pleasing? The Father loves the suffering of the Son more than He hates our sins? How is this much better than the wrathful punishing of an innocent in our place. Forgive me, but why would the Father think Christ’s passion a good thing (especially given that He could have forgiven our sins without it?) As a parent, I would not be pleased with my child’s needless suffering.

    Suffering itself is not a good, and God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone. “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies.” (Ez 18:32) But, greater love can be shown through sacrifice and suffering, precisely because in them greater self-giving is made possible. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) And it is the Son’s great love (in His human nature) for the Father, (and for us on account of the Father’s love for us), in His self-giving act of sacrifice in His Passion and Death, that is pleasing to the Father. It is not the suffering per se that pleases the Father, but the great love shown in and through the suffering. I explained this a bit more in “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement.”

    Lastly, for the moment, the concept of penance, mild or severe, does seem to be a requirement for works for salvation – making Christ’s satisfaction insufficient. (That is where limited atonement actually makes intellectual sense.)

    Let me recommend that you read through my post titled “St. Thomas Aquinas on Penance,” and if you still have questions about how Christ’s atonement is compatible with the Catholic doctrine of penance, please don’t hesitate to ask.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  11. Linda,

    I also recommend reading Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter from 1984, titled Salvifici doloris, especially section IV which is titled “Jesus Christ: Suffering Conquered by Love.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  12. Thank you Bryan. I will need to reread the Pope’s letter – many times I think, but thank you for the link. Soooo,
    “Man suffers on account of evil, which is a certain lack, limitation or distortion of good. We could say that man suffers because of a good in which he does not share, from which in a certain sense he is cut off, or of which he has deprived himself. He particularly suffers when he a ought”—in the normal order of things—to have a share in this good and does not have it.”

    and

    “In his suffering, sins are cancelled out precisely because he alone as the only-begotten Son could take them upon himself, accept them with that love for the Father which overcomes the evil of every sin; in a certain sense he annihilates this evil in the spiritual space of the relationship between God and humanity, and fills this space with good.”

    Evil is the absence or distortion of good, especially a good that ought to be. In His incarnate life and especially in His Passion, Jesus voluntarily willed to enter into and take on all the sin of the world and the effects of sin on the world (suffering and death and loss of eternal life) and, having taken this on/in Himself, in consubstantial loving relation with the Father (and I’d assume the Spirit), overcame all evil separating us from God and filled the gap with His superabundant goodness – to the point that the all the evil ever done is blotted out, overcome and nullified by His Goodness. – the image that comes to mind is of a bright light blasting away all darkness or fierce fire burning up the dross.

    Thus, by faith, we are united to Christ and returned with Him to the Father.

    Or is it the door is re-opened to eternal life for us? and then we put our trust in Christ and must live rightly to attain eternal life?

    Am I on the right track? This seems akin to Christus Victor vs. punished-in-our-place theories of the atonement – which makes a lot of thoughtful people quite mistaken.

    I haven’t had the chance to read your other link yet – hope to this afternoon.

  13. Bryan,

    You use similar language in a few of the above comments that I don’t find to be very convincing. You say:

    “The Son’s love for man does not change the fact that it is unjust to punish an innocent person knowing that he is innocent. The Father can receive a gift of satisfaction from Christ, without being unjust. But to punish the innocent Christ, knowing that He is innocent, would be unjust.”

    AND

    “To punish an innocent person, knowing that he is innocent, is unjust, whether or not the person *wills* that he be punished.”

    To my understanding the Reformed Position is not that an innocent person is punished. Rather, a guilty person is punished. In fact, on the Reformed view, the guiltiest person of all time suffered on the cross because the bore all the sins of the elect. So, your argument seems to be based on a false premise that Jesus was not guilty when he was punished, but the reformers hold that he WAS GUILTY when he was punished.

    Whether or not you believe it is just to transfer guilt from one party to another is a different issue. And Paul in Philemon 18 gives us reason to believe that this is a scriptural concept.

  14. @JohnD (#13): On the contrary, Phlm. 18 shows that payment can be made for a debt to justice without anyone being punished. That is what redemption is; the captive is redeemed by the voluntary payment of another. If anything, it shows that justice in love does *not* require punishment.

  15. JohnD, (re: #13)

    If Christ were truly guilty of all the sins of the elect, then He would need someone pure and holy to redeem Him, to make atonement for Him. Otherwise if truly guilty people do not need a righteous person to redeem them, then all guilty sinners (all less guilty than this guiltiest person of all time) could, like this guiltiest one, redeem themselves through some less severe suffering, and the incarnation would thus be superfluous.

    Not only that, but in 1 Peter 3:18 St. Peter says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, …” If He was truly guilty, then He would not be just. In Acts 3 St. Peter says, that the people had “disowned the Holy and Righteous One.” If Christ were the guiltiest of sinners, St. Peter would not then rightly call Him “the Holy and Righteous One.” The Apostle John refers to Jesus as “Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1) But if were guilty of all the sins of the elect, He could not be called “the righteous.” Likewise, the author of Hebrews says that Christ our High Priest was “holy, innocent …” (Hebrews 7:26) And St. Paul says that Christ is the “the righteous Judge.” (2 Tim 4:8) If He were the guiltiest person of all time, then He wouldn’t be holy, innocent, or righteous. And in Acts 22 Ananias says to Saul, “The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One.” But if Christ were the guiltiest of sinners, Ananias should have said, “God has appointed you to see the most unrighteous one.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. John D (#13),

    My goodness, can you not see that you are saying something blasphemous about our Lord? Sit back and think for a minute about what you are saying. And no, the Reformers did not teach the quirky, modern, evangelical Protestant penal substitution view you are advocating. Listen to Calvin when commenting on Jesus’ use of the words from Psalm 22 on the cross: “Yet we do not suggest that God was ever inimical or angry toward him. How could he be angry toward his beloved Son, in whom his heart reposed? How could Christ by his intercession appease the Father toward others, if he were himself hateful to God? (Institutes, 2.16.11) Calvin did not hold the awful view that you find “Reformed” preachers and even evangelical theologians advocating today.

  17. Bryan,

    You seem to be working under the same false premise as before when you say:
    “If Christ were truly guilty of all the sins of the elect, then He would need someone pure and holy to redeem Him, to make atonement for Him. Otherwise if truly guilty people do not need a righteous person to redeem them, then all guilty sinners (all less guilty than this guiltiest person of all time) could, like this guiltiest one, redeem themselves through some less severe suffering, and the incarnation would thus be superfluous.”

    The point is not that guilty men redeem themselves. The Reformed position, as I understand it, is that guilty people are given the due punishment they deserve. Thus, the Calvinist might say that Christ BECAME the guiltiest man of all time when he was crucified, and in so doing he suffered the punishment due for all of the sins of the elect.

    The Scripture you quote can be explained on the Reformed view simply by making the distinction that Jesus who knew know sin was made to be sin on behalf of the elect by imputation. A Calvinist might frame it: Jesus Christ was perfectly holy and righteous His entire life up until the moment when the guilt of the sins of the elect was transferred to His account. Then, after enduring the infinite punishment that only an infinite being could withstand, he rose from the dead in His glorified body that was once again without blemish.

  18. JohnD (re: #17)

    Of course I know you are not saying that guilty men “redeem themselves.” Nor do I believe that guilty men redeem themselves. The problem I’m raising is the form of an argument that shows a false implication of the claim that Christ became truly guilty. If Christ were truly guilty on the cross, then He would need a redeemer. But if He, though truly guilty, did not need a redeemer, then neither do other truly guilty people. And then the incarnation becomes superfluous. And if He were truly guilty, then He deserved punishment, in which case His punishment would not take the place of anyone else, but would be an instance of one more guilty person receiving his due.

    Regarding 2 Cor 5:21, see comment #29 in the “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” thread. There St. Augustine explains that the meaning of the verse is that Christ becomes a sin offering, not that Christ becomes sin itself.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  19. John D. # 17
    Hi John. You said .“Thus, the Calvinist might say that Christ BECAME the guiltiest man of all time when he was crucified, and in so doing he suffered the punishment due for all of the sins of the elect.”

    If what you say is true then God became guilty of sin. (Christ = God) that I am sure you would say is an impossibility. God can never become sinful or be guilty of sin. Christ gave Himself as sacrifice for all the sins of the world as an OFFERING to the Father. It was a most perfect and pleasing offering to the Father, thus fulfilling and completing all of the sacrifices of the old testament which in themselves was an offering to the Father but not the most perfect offering.

    Blessings
    Nelson

  20. Bryan,

    I’m with you on the clarification of your argument, but that is why I had to point out your comment here is odd:

    “To punish an innocent person, knowing that he is innocent, is unjust, whether or not the person *wills* that he be punished.”

    “The Son’s love for man does not change the fact that it is unjust to punish an innocent person knowing that he is innocent. The Father can receive a gift of satisfaction from Christ, without being unjust. But to punish the innocent Christ, knowing that He is innocent, would be unjust.”

    This not what the Reformed say. They say that guilt was transferred to Christ, and thus man with the guilt was punished at the crucifixion. So, the question then becomes do you affirm that all guilt transfers are unjust?

    I know you deny that such a thing occurred (the sins of the elect being imputed to Christ). But, do you deny that such a thing is necessarily unjust if indeed it were the case?

    Your reductio ad absurdum is useless if it knocks down a position the Reformed do not affirm. So, unless you’re prepared to say that all guilt transfers to innocent parties are unjust, then your above comments have little force.

  21. Nelson,

    You said, “If what you say is true then God became guilty of sin.”

    First, I am not committing myself to this position, I am just trying to represent the Reformed one accurately, since I don’t like when people knock down straw men. Second, the Reformed do not say that Christ became “guilty of sin” (if by that you mean guilty of committing sin). Rather, the guilt of the sins of the elect was transferred to Christ so He suffered as though He committed the sins, but still remained sinless.

  22. JohnD,

    The point remains, if God the Father punishes the Son for the sins of the “elect” (as Reformed folks of your ilk seem to mean it), it’s the opposite of justice.

    He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord. Proverbs 17:15NASB

    And I don’t favor your interpretive translation of II Cor. 5:21 any more than Bryan does (never you mind St. Augustine)… ;)

    What say you?

    IC XC

  23. John D Re: 21

    I think I see what your saying. Possibly we are closer than we think. To make my position clearer I will give an example of what I mean.

    Suppose you commit some infraction of the law, the guilty party so to speak. The judge fines you say, $500.00 or 30 days in jail. You do not have the money and are unable to pay the penalty. I decide to help you out of your dilemma by making an offering and paying the penalty myself, so that you are free to go and are not required to pay the debt. I really am not guilty of breaking the law but my offering to pay the debt has set you free. The judge accepts my payment of your dept.

    In this case it would seem that I was the law breaker, as I paid the price of your transgression, however I never was the transgressor. This is an analogy as to how Christ has paid our dept to God. His offering to make payment for our transgression met the judge’s (God’s) requirement perfectly whereas we were completely unable to pay the debt. He assumed our dept ( guilt) by paying what we were unable to pay.

    If this is what you are saying, then we are in agreement. Thus you might say that Christ assumed our guilt as though He committed the sin though in fact He did not and remained sinless. His offering to God cleared our debt in God’s eye. His sacrifice was the penalty we were to pay but He paid it instead.

    Blessings
    Nelson

  24. Nelson,

    I would argue that if the debt was paid, why is someone (the innocent party) still punished? Is it a payment or a punishment that God the Father is after in the scenario… it’s hard to use analogies for the atonement, because we run into problems like this… IMHO.

    Spoils

  25. Spoils23m Re: 24

    Of course you are right any analogy concerning the atonement will never do it justice. I do not believe that Christ`s sacrifice was a punishment and I don`t think that I inferred that. It was a perfect offering to the Father as a payment for the sins of mankind. God does not punish Himself, but offers to Himself through the Son, satisfaction ( for justice) for the sins of humanity and a way to reunite God and humanity. Humanity could not offer to the Father any means of satisfaction as it was a transgression against almighty God and required an almighty satisfaction. Jesus fulfilled that obligation perfectly as He was the Son of God.

    Blessings
    Nelson

  26. Nelson (re: #23),

    1. The Reformed camp says that Christ paid the debt for our sins by assuming the guilt of them and suffering the punishment due to them. Therefore, the elect, who are in Christ, are without blemish before God (Romans 8:3).

    2. You said:

    “His offering to God cleared our debt in God’s eye. His sacrifice was the penalty we were to pay but He paid it instead.”

    If you mean that literally, then I was not aware the Catholic Church taught this. I thought the Anselm-Thomistic view of merit/satisfaction was that Christ did an action so good that it appeased the Father enough to offer salvation to all who are “in Christ” (through baptism initially). There is nothing in that explanation that constitutes the debt being paid in any literal sense, rather the Father just overlooks it for some.

    But I honestly wasn’t arguing FOR or AGAINST either view here. Just that Bryan Cross was attacking a straw man when he says it’s unjust to punish an innocent man.

  27. Spoils (re: #22),

    You said: “The point remains, if God the Father punishes the Son for the sins of the “elect” (as Reformed folks of your ilk seem to mean it), it’s the opposite of justice.”

    Says who? This is the very point that Bryan was assuming in his comments that I critiqued above. You need to show from the Bible that this is the case. Otherwise, you trap yourself in a dilemma of saying you can use reason to tell you what justice is apart from God’s revelation.

    You seem to recognize this and present this verse from Proverbs:

    “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.” Proverbs 17:15NASB

    So, it is wrong for men to acquit the guilty and condemn the innocent. Both Catholics and Reformed folks agree. I don’t think God applies this rule to Himself in this verse since otherwise there would be no one to justify in the New Covenant. All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God (Romans 3). Also, the context of Proverbs 17 seems to talk more about human behavior, whereas Proverbs 16:1-11 focuses more on the ways of the LORD.

    You also said: “And I don’t favor your interpretive translation of II Cor. 5:21 any more than Bryan does (never you mind St. Augustine)… ;)”

    I am not committing myself to any specific interpretation of that verse. I was pointing out how the Reformed Christian might interpret it. And you are correct about Augustine. However, Augustine also said many Calvinist-like things. For example, he interpreted 1 Timothy 2:4 to mean the LORD desires to save “all kinds of men” not every single man in the world.

    To reiterate: The Reformed would argue that when the guilt of the sins of the elect are imputed to Christ, he becomes the guilty scapegoat and appropriately is condemned in their place.

  28. ohn D re: # 23

    You quoted me thus:

    “His offering to God cleared our debt in God’s eye. His sacrifice was the penalty we were to pay but He paid it instead.”
    If you mean that literally, then I was not aware the Catholic Church taught this. I thought the Anselm-Thomistic view of merit/satisfaction was that Christ did an action so good that it appeased the Father enough to offer salvation to all who are “in Christ” (through baptism initially). There is nothing in that explanation that constitutes the debt being paid in any literal sense, rather the Father just overlooks it for some.

    Here is the Catholic position on the Atonement taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia..

    Anselm’s answer to the question ( of atonement) is simply the need of satisfaction of sin. No sin, as he views the matter, can be forgiven without satisfaction. A debt to Divine justice has been incurred; and that debt must needs be paid. But man could not make this satisfaction for himself; the debt is something far greater than he can pay; and, moreover, all the service that he can offer to God is already due on other titles. The suggestion that some innocent man, or angel, might possibly pay the debt incurred by sinners is rejected, on the ground that in any case this would put the sinner under obligation to his deliverer, and he would thus become the servant of a mere creature. The only way in which the satisfaction could be made, and men could be set free from sin, was by the coming of a Redeemer who is both God and man. His death makes full satisfaction to the Divine Justice, for it is something greater than all the sins of all mankind……For the notion of satisfaction for sin was already present in the whole system of ecclesiastical penance, though it had been left for Anselm to use it in illustration of the doctrine of the Atonement. It may be added that the same idea underlies the old Jewish “sin-offerings” as well as the similar rites that are found in many ancient religions. It is specially prominent in the rites and prayers used on the Day of Atonement. And this, it may be added, is now the ordinary acceptance of the word; to “atone” is to give satisfaction, or make amends, for an offence or an injury…. ….But, as might be expected from the isolation of the doctrine and the loss of other portions of Catholic teaching, the truth thus preserved was sometimes insensibly obscured or distorted. It will be enough to note here the presence of two mistaken tendencies.

    The first is indicated in the above words of Pattison in which the Atonement is specially connected with the thought of the wrath of God. It is true of course that sin incurs the anger of the Just Judge, and that this is averted when the debt due to Divine Justice is paid by satisfaction. But it must not be thought that God is only moved to mercy and reconciled to us as a result of this satisfaction. This false conception of the Reconciliation is expressly rejected by St. Augustine (In Joannem, Tract. cx, section 6). God’s merciful love is the cause, not the result of that satisfaction.

    The second mistake is the tendency to treat the Passion of Christ as being literally a case of vicarious punishment. This is at best a distorted view of the truth that His Atoning Sacrifice took the place of our punishment, and that He took upon Himself the sufferings and death that were due to our sins.

    In the Catholic theology of the Atonement that great doctrine has been faintly set forth in figures taken from man’s laws and customs. It is represented as the payment of a price, or a ransom, or as the offering of satisfaction for a debt. But we can never rest in these material figures as though they were literal and adequate. As both Abelard and Bernard remind us, the Atonement is the work of love. It is essentially a sacrifice, the one supreme sacrifice of which the rest were but types and figures. And, as St. Augustine teaches us, the outward rite of Sacrifice is the sacrament, or sacred sign, of the invisible sacrifice of the heart. It was by this inward sacrifice of obedience unto death, by this perfect love with which He laid down his life for His friends, that Christ paid the debt to justice, and taught us by His example, and drew all things to Himself; it was by this that He wrought our Atonement and Reconciliation with God, “making peace through the blood of His Cross”.

    I think that this quotation from the encyclopedia fairly states the position of satisfaction and the payment of the debt and that God has not just overlooked it for some as you indicate.

    Blessings
    Nelson

  29. God is Agape, therefore, so is His Son Whom He sent, to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. For God so Agape the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Agape], that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. The Agape that is God was pitted against the sin of the world or we mighty say that the Love of God in the Man Christ Jesus was on trial on the cross against the violence of the sin of all of humanity, and He, as the Son of Man, vanquished the idolatrous self serving sin of humanity in that He rose triumphantly from the death of idolatrous sin within the Power of the Love of God that was in His Spirit and One within the Spirit of His Father. Oh My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: Nevertheless not my will be done, but thy will be done.

    There was no other Way for God to destroy the idolatrous nature of sin that has warped the convoluted minds of all the little gods of Adam: except by the sacrificial love of a Son. Everyone is right in their own eyes, and the righteousness of the Love of God in His only Begotten Son, lays fallow in the hearts of even His people who are called by His Name. The Agape that is Christ Jesus is the antithesis of sin. And this is the Love that overcomes the world.

    This is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you: That God is Light, and Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in the darkness [of our minds], we lie, and do not the Truth. But if we Walk in the Light, as He is in the Light, we have Communion one with another, and the Blood of Jesus Christ, His Son cleanses us from all of [our unrighteousness of self serving] sin.

    We little gods, judge and hold others in our appraisal of sin, but the Almighty God, in His Love and Mercy, sets the repentant prisoner free from his self idolatry!

    And He took the cup, and gave thank. Then Jesus gave it to them saying: Drink from it all of you; for this is My Blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for many for the remission [aphesis obliteration] of sin.

    Robert Glenn

  30. JohnD,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.

    You wrote (in response to my comments on justice):
    “Says who? This is the very point that Bryan was assuming in his comments that I critiqued above. You need to show from the Bible that this is the case. Otherwise, you trap yourself in a dilemma of saying you can use reason to tell you what justice is apart from God’s revelation.”

    I appreciate your attempt to force me into a Sola Scripturist position via your commitment to what seems to be some manner of Reformed Presuppositionalism, but, alas, if I am a presuppositionalist at all, I am a Catholic Presuppositionalist. What does that mean? It means that I start with the “presupposition” the the Church is what She claims to be. My position does not have to boil down to the hopelessly doomed IP, via Sola Scriptura, that Michael Liccione writes so wonderfully about. My appeal to the Holy Writ doesn’t trap me in the way that you seem to indicate it will, rather, it’s perfectly consistent with my worldview, my presuppositions… :)

    You wrote: (regarding my quoting Proverbs 17:15):
    “So, it is wrong for men to acquit the guilty and condemn the innocent. Both Catholics and Reformed folks agree.”

    Where does the verse mention that it’s wrong “for men” but not wrong in general? Seems like “eisegesis” to me. Your point is hardly “perspicuous.” The objection here seems to be about the morality of acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent. I choose to interpret the verse in a way that doesn’t do violence to reason nor to the character of God. If God does what God finds to be an abomination, then “god” is merely a hypocrite. You can insert the idea that God is merely speaking about something He thinks that men shouldn’t do, but it’s not at all perspicuous, it’s “eisegetical,” and makes “god” a bit of a hypocrite, more like the Allah of some Fundamentalist sects of Islam, than the God of historic Christianity.

    You write (continuing to expand on why you think the verse I quoted *cannot* apply to morality in general, and applies only to non-deities):
    “I don’t think God applies this rule to Himself in this verse since otherwise there would be no one to justify in the New Covenant. All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God (Romans 3). Also, the context of Proverbs 17 seems to talk more about human behavior, whereas Proverbs 16:1-11 focuses more on the ways of the LORD.”

    You have a prior commitment to a particular understanding of the Atonement relates to a specific understanding of justification by faith as it is believed in certain quarters of “Reformedom,” I get that, I do… I just don’t agree with you. :)

    Your understanding of justification, one replete with references to alien righteousnesses being forensically/legally “transferred” to the “accounts” of wholly-undeserving parties is most certainly alien to me, and to the pages of the Holy Writ.

    You wrote (concerning II Cor. 5:21):
    “I am not committing myself to any specific interpretation of that verse. I was pointing out how the Reformed Christian might interpret it. And you are correct about Augustine. However, Augustine also said many Calvinist-like things. For example, he interpreted 1 Timothy 2:4 to mean the LORD desires to save “all kinds of men” not every single man in the world.”

    From where I sit, you, sort of, are. You, too, seem to need “hamartia” to mean “sin” to fit within your framework. Christ must have the sins of the elect “imputed” (which you seem to want to mean “transferred,” though it doesn’t at all mean that) to His “account,” in this way He is “made sin.” I think “sin-offering” is the far better understanding of how “hamartia” should be understood given the OT background of what sin-offerings were, and how they worked.

    Christ is the “scapegoat” of the elect? Can you tell me something? Was the scapegoat sacrificed to YHWH? There were certainly sin-offerings made to God, but… I can’t seem to remember the “scapegoat” being sacrificed to God. The “scapegoat” would have made a horrible sacrifice, as it was unclean, from what I understand. Perhaps you can enlighten me on that point?

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding you, but… you seem to use “logizomai” (reckoned, counted) to mean “transferred to.” I just don’t think that it means anything like something being transferred from one party to another undeserving party. Scripture never ever teaches that Christ’s personal righteousness is “transferred” to anyone’s account. Not ever. Yet the Scripture seems to speak quite a bit about God being well able to justify folks just the same. ;) No worries, if your scheme isn’t true… if it’s absent from the pages of Scripture (which it most certainly is), God seems to be able to justify folks just fine. :)

    You wrote:
    “To reiterate: The Reformed would argue that when the guilt of the sins of the elect are imputed to Christ, he becomes the guilty scapegoat and appropriately is condemned in their place”

    Not all Reformed believe this in the way that you do. Please re-read what Dr. Paul Owen wrote to you regarding how your understanding was not even Calvin’s.

    Also… the scapegoat was not sacrificed to God. It’s also good to remember that NO PLACE in Scripture speaks about Christ’s personal righteousness being “transferred” to anyone’s “account.”

    I hope you’ve had a lovely Sunday.

    IC XC
    Spoils

  31. Spoils (re:30),

    Thanks for the thorough reply. I am not going to respond to everything, but if there is something specific you would like me to address that I do not below, please point it out.

    1) I did not say your appeal to the Holy Writ trapped you. My main point, which I’m not sure if you missed or not, is that Bryan Cross knocked down a straw man when he said it is unjust to punish an innocent man for our sins. This argument has no force against a Reformed Christian since they hold that Christ assumed the guilt first which resulted in a just punishment. If Bryan wants to say all guilt transfers are unjust, then that would be a forceful argument, but he has not attempted to do so.

    2) “If God does what God finds to be an abomination, then “god” is merely a hypocrite.” You are downplaying the creator/creature distinction. Remember, God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. God tells Abraham to kill his own Son. If I told my Dad to kill my brother that would be unjust.

    3) The point remains that if Proverbs 17:15 applies to God, then who is left to justify? If none are righteous in themselves, prior to being infused with sanctifying grace, then who can be justified according to Catholic theology? Thus, it seems awkward for Reformed or Catholic folks to say this verse applies to God.

    4) I have not studied with Old Testament sacrifices and typology, but it was my understanding that Christ fulfilled the role of the scapegoat and the role of the sacrificial lamb. The priest confessed the sins of the Israelites on the head of the scapegoat before it was sent out of the land. I suppose the Reformed would say this prefigures imputation.

    This might surprise you, but I do not consider myself a Reformed Christian. I was just trying to accurately represent their beliefs.

  32. Nelson (re: #28),

    Thanks for the reply. I enjoyed the Catholic Encyclopedia excerpt. However, I still don’t think you can shoehorn this previous statement of yours into Catholic theology. Again, you said:

    “His sacrifice was the penalty we were to pay but He paid it instead.”

    It appears in the article you quoted they refer to the debt due to Justice, which seemingly implies that this debt does necessarily need to be paid by punishment. If that’s the case, then there is a sense in which Catholics can say “Christ paid our debt” if we mean by that “Christ paid the debt to Justice through satisfaction.” However, if you call it a penalty that he paid in our stead then that does not seem to square with Catholic orthodoxy. That is, unless you interpret ‘penalty’ in some metaphoric sense?

    Perhaps I’m straining at gnats here..

  33. Nelson,

    Also, if you call it a “penalty” then it may be interpreted as a “tax” which falls under Congress’s taxing power and thus can make us by health insurance =)

  34. John D. Re: 32/33

    LOL on your health Insurance scheme … I was meaning penalty in the manner I used it when I used the analogy of you receiving a penalty ( fine) from a judge and I paid your fine ( penalty) I did not mean penalty as if I served your time in jail. Jesus did not become sin for us but made an offering to the Father which was pleasing to Him. The offering that He made was His life. Jesus said that no one takes His life but that He gives it freely. I maybe should have used a different word than penalty as it can certainly cause a misunderstanding. See the below quotation again.

    “The second mistake is the tendency to treat the Passion of Christ as being literally a case of vicarious punishment. This is at best a distorted view of the truth that His Atoning Sacrifice took the place of our punishment, and that He took upon Himself the sufferings and death that were due to our sins.”

    I am not a scholar or theologian so please excuse me if I caused you to misunderstand me. Thank you for interacting with me. It was a good exercise. \

    Blessings
    Nelson

  35. JohnD,

    Thanks for responding.

    You wrote:
    “If Bryan wants to say all guilt transfers are unjust, then that would be a forceful argument, but he has not attempted to do so.”

    Does this make Christ actually “guilty” or just “forensically” so? Because if He becomes actually guilty, the sin offering is impure, and if He is merely forensically guilty, the the entire thing seems to be a legal fiction from where I sit. Either way… Christ is called the “spotless Lamb.” And God is no mere blind Judge, but He is Abba, Creator of all things seen and unseen. This just makes no sense to me…

    You wrote:
    “Remember, ‘God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. ‘God tells Abraham to kill his own Son. If I told my Dad to kill my brother that would be unjust.”

    Interesting take. So God can do what He pleases? Pull the rug out from under someone who thinks that they are elect, saved by faith alone and grace alone, etc? It would be wrong for us to break our solemn promises, but not God? He doesn’t even have to respect His own solemn Word (the Holy Writ), I guess, does He? Wow… who would want to worship a God like that?

    You wrote:
    “The point remains that if Proverbs 17:15 applies to God, then who is left to justify? If none are righteous in themselves, prior to being infused with sanctifying grace, then who can be justified according to Catholic theology? Thus, it seems awkward for Reformed or Catholic folks to say this verse applies to God.”

    You are interpreting the verse based on an understanding of St. Paul that I do not share. You seem to assume that Jesus *must* be a penal substitute in the way some folks seem to mean it for justification to be reality for anyone. Jesus *does not* have to be a penal substitute for justification to be a reality. I am try to tell you that the Bible *does not* speak of Jesus being a scapegoat, a penal substitute,, etc… that His personal righteousness *is never* spoken of as being “transferred” to anyone’s “account” (or what have you). These are *not* taught in the Bible. You seem to assume them, and then dictate to me what Proverbs 17:15 *must* mean given that understanding. I am saying that this understanding is false. Do you see that?

    You wrote:
    “I have not studied with Old Testament sacrifices and typology, but it was my understanding that Christ fulfilled the role of the scapegoat and the role of the sacrificial lamb. The priest confessed the sins of the Israelites on the head of the scapegoat before it was sent out of the land. I suppose the Reformed would say this prefigures imputation.”

    Was the scapegoat offered to YHWH or no? Can you see why the scapegoat would be considered a poor offering to YHWH? Think it through…

    Imputation, as you’re trying to express it, seems to mean something akin to “transfer.” “Logizomai” doesn’t mean anything like transfer. I don’t know how I can make this any clearer. If you can show something from the Holy Writ that receives a transfer of Christ’s alien righteousness, I will withdraw this objection. :)

    If you want to accurately represent Reformed beliefs, I suggest reading more of Dr. Paul Owen’s work, and less of the Reformed Baptist Internet apologists…

    IC XC

  36. In a post titled “Did God Die on the Cross?” and dated “March 25, 2013,” Ligonier posted the following by R.C. Sproul:

    Some say, “It was the second person of the Trinity Who died.” That would be a mutation within the very being of God, because when we look at the Trinity we say that the three are one in essence, and that though there are personal distinctions among the persons of the Godhead, those distinctions are not essential in the sense that they are differences in being. Death is something that would involve a change in one’s being.

    We should shrink in horror from the idea that God actually died on the cross. The atonement was made by the human nature of Christ. Somehow people tend to think that this lessens the dignity or the value of the substitutionary act, as if we were somehow implicitly denying the deity of Christ. God forbid. It’s the God-man Who dies, but death is something that is experienced only by the human nature, because the divine nature isn’t capable of experiencing death.

    Sproul is here rightly concerned to protect the doctrine of the immutability of the divine nature. But he thinks that in order to protect this doctrine, it cannot be the case that the Second Person of the Trinity died on the cross. Therefore Sproul claims that the atonement “was made by the human nature of Christ.” This would entail either (a) that no Person suffered, died, and made atonement for our sins, but only some impersonal, created thing did all that for us, or (b) that a non-divine person suffered, died, and made atonement for us. The latter position is a form of the heresy of Nestorianism, condemned at the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in AD 431. The former position would nullify the efficacy of the atonement for our sins for the same reason that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins (Heb. 10:4); the sacrifice of Christ by which He made satisfaction for our sins is of such great value and worth precisely because the Lamb who was slain for our sins is God, not a mere creature.

    Sproul adds that “It’s the God-man Who dies.” But this just raises the following dilemma. Either the “God-man” is the same Person as the Second Person of the Trinity, or the “God-man” is not the same Person as “Second Person of the Trinity.” If the former horn of the dilemma, then if the “God-man” died, then the “Second Person of the Trinity” died, and Sproul is here contradicting what he said in the first excerpted paragraph. But if the latter horn of the dilemma, then [either (a) or (b)], or (c) the First or Third Person of the Trinity suffered, died, and made atonement for us. The consequence of both horns of that dilemma are deeply problematic, for obvious reasons.

    By contrast, the Catholic Church teaches that it was not a nature that suffered, died and made atonement, but the Second Person of the Trinity who suffered, died, and made atonement for us in His human nature. We say in the Nicene Creed:

    For us men and for our salvation
    he came down from heaven,
    and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
    and became man.
    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
    he suffered death and was buried,

    The same Person who “came down from heaven” and “was incarnate of the Virgin Mary” is the same Person who “was crucified under Pontius Pilate” and “suffered death and was buried.” That Person is the Second Person of the Trinity, not an impersonal nature or created thing. When we say that Christ suffered death, we do not mean that there was a change in the divine nature, but that He endured the separation of His soul from His body. Canon 12 of the Council of Ephesus (which condemned Nestorianism) reads: “If anyone does not confess that the Word of God suffered in the flesh, and tasted death in the flesh, and was made the firstborn from the dead [Col. 1:18] according to which as God He is both the life and the life-giver, let him be anathema.”

    So what lies behind the reason for Sproul’s claims that the Second Person of the Trinity did not die, and that a mere human nature suffered, died, and made atonement for us? It seems to me that denying that the Second Person of the Trinity suffered and died for us on the cross is the result of multiple factors. One factor, I think, is Protestantism’s denial (or general unwillingness to affirm) that Mary is the Theotokos (Mother of God). If she gave birth only to a human nature, then only a human nature suffered and died on the cross. But if she gave birth to the Second Person of the Trinity, then the Second Person of the Trinity suffered, died, and made atonement for us. Another factor is Protestant adherence to sola scriptura, according to which councils, including the Council of Ephesus, have no authority, and are ultimately unnecessary: “the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.” (Westminster Confession of Faith I.6)

  37. And if the second Person of the Godhead could not die without doing harm to the unity of the divine nature, then why is it not also true that the Father cannot damn the Son and vent upon him his wrath for that very reason?

  38. Bryan,
    Regarding your commentary in #36, I just wonder if you’re reading too much into the passage you quote. Is it not true that Christ being one person sharing two natures can still be said to *be* or to *do* or to *experience* something in one of those natures without at the same time denying that the whole person is involved? I’ve recently been reading John of Damascus at length and he is very careful to say what I perceive to be the exact same thing as in the above passage: Christ is one person but he suffered and died in his human nature…even though we are correct to say that “God suffered” or “God died” insofar as there is a divine nature united to the human nature that actually did suffer or die. Correct me if my understanding is not clear enough, but it just seems to be on the surface (and granted I did not read the entire article, only your post here) there isn’t anything terribly unorthodox here. Genuinely interested in your reply.

    Peace,
    Jeff

  39. I think Sproul is out of step with Chapter 8 of the WCF which states clearly:

    ” The Lord Jesus, in His human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, above measure, having in Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell; to the end that, being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth, He might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a Mediator and Surety.Which office He took not unto Himself, but was thereunto called by His Father, who put all power and judgment into His hand, and gave Him commandment to execute the same.

    This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake; which that He might discharge, He was made under the law,[23] and did perfectly fulfil it; endured most grievous torments immediately in His soul,[25] and most painful sufferings in His body; was crucified, and died…”

    “Lord Jesus” does not refer to a nature but to the 2nd person of the eternal Trinity.

    And Bryan, why you are commenting here, I will ask you directly: do you hold that all guilt transfers are unjust? If not, then it seems your argument in the 1st comment is really of nor force. If so, then I challenge you to substantiate that claim. I’ll repeat your argument here:

    “That would either make the Father guilty of the greatest evil of all time (pouring out the punishment for all sin on an innocent man, knowing that he is innocent), or if Christ were really guilty and deserved all that punishment, then such suffering would be of no benefit to us.”

  40. While I agree with Bryan’s assessment (#36) of the theological objections that might lead to Sproul’s position, Sproul’s confusion seems to be more metaphysical than theological. He asserts “though there are personal distinctions among the persons of the Godhead, those distinctions are not essential in the sense that they are differences in being. Death is something that would involve a change in one’s being.” There is so much confusion in those two sentences that it’s hard to know where to begin.

    In the first place, Sproul’s argument that the personal distinctions are not “essential in the sense that they are differences in being” is just wrong. The personal distinctions are both natural and necessary. The essence (or Godhead, as Sproul uses the term) is not some fourth thing that exists apart from the three Persons. Moreover, the distinctions are real distinctions, not with respect to the essence, but with respect to one another. If Sproul means to say that the real distinctions between the Persons do not divide the essence, then who would deny this? But by saying that they aren’t differences in being, Sproul seems precariously close to saying that they aren’t real distinctions at all, and one wonders how he can avoid Sabellianism (or if he even does). So I think that Sproul’s problem first and foremost is that he doesn’t have the right metaphysical framework to affirm the reality of the persons in the first place, which leads him to equate the divine personhood (being) with the divine essence.

    To see the problem with this, one need only extend Sproul’s argument to the Incarnation. The Incarnation was surely a change in being if there ever was one! If Sproul is arguing that any change in being of one Person of the Trinity is forbidden because the being of the Godhead is common, then he would equally have to argue that none of the Persons can be Incarnated individually either or alternatively argue that the Incarnation entailed no change in the being of the Word of God. Certainly there was no change in the Word of God according to His divinity, but to say that there was no change in His Person is to deny the reality of the Incarnation. Death of the Incarnate Word is logically posterior to that fundamental change.

    I point this out in detail to illustrate that the problems with those who err in doctrine frequently go back to very fundamental errors about who God is. And the root of those problems is often a perceived “respect” for divine attributes that ends up instead denying something that God is really capable of doing. For example, the Arian respect for the divine transcendence (a real property of divinity) led them to believe that He could not beget a Son of his own essence (a false conclusion that denies a real divine power). The Nestorian respect for divine impassibility (a real property of divinity) led them to believe that the Word of God could not actually become flesh in His own personal being but could only unite Himself to it in a prosopic union (a false conclusion that denies a real divine power). Similarly, the Reformed concern for divine sovereignty (a real property of divinity) leads them to believe that God must necessarily override human will to save it from sin (a false conclusion that denies a real divine power).

    Of course, these people are not generally malicious in this assertion; if you asked them, they would assuredly say that they are respecting divinity and that we orthodox Christians are the ones disrespecting God’s transcendence, impassibility, sovereignty, etc. And they would point to the passages of Scripture speaking of God’s transcendence, impassibility, sovereignty, etc. and argue that their incorrect philosophical concept is being taught there. This is why I have sympathy for their motives; they really do think that they are defending Scripture, because they cannot rid themselves of an incorrect philosophical concept of God. This is where the lessons of the Church and the Councils provide a much-needed brake on philosophical speculation. Where philosophical speculation on divine attributes could get out of hand, as it does in Arian, Nestorian, or Reformed theology, the dogma and practice of the Church keeps us home and safe.

  41. Jason (re: #37)

    Agreed.

    JeffB (re: #38)

    Is it not true that Christ being one person sharing two natures can still be said to *be* or to *do* or to *experience* something in one of those natures without at the same time denying that the whole person is involved?

    No, persons as such do not have parts. It is not a *part* of the Second Person who subsists in His human nature. So “whole” and “part” are incorrectly applied to the *Person* (qua Person) of Christ.

    I’ve recently been reading John of Damascus at length and he is very careful to say what I perceive to be the exact same thing as in the above passage: Christ is one person but he suffered and died in his human nature…even though we are correct to say that “God suffered” or “God died” insofar as there is a divine nature united to the human nature that actually did suffer or die. Correct me if my understanding is not clear enough, but it just seems to be on the surface (and granted I did not read the entire article, only your post here) there isn’t anything terribly unorthodox here. Genuinely interested in your reply.

    The position of St. John of Damascus is orthodox. But Sproul’s position is not, for the reasons I laid out in comment #36.

    JohnD (re: #39)

    I think Sproul is out of step with Chapter 8 of the WCF

    I’m inclined to agree with you.

    And Bryan, [while] you are commenting here, I will ask you directly: do you hold that all guilt transfers are unjust?

    Guilt cannot be transferred, for the reason I explained in comment #83 of the “Habitual Sin and the Grace of the Sacraments” thread. The disorder of my free acts is always necessarily due to my choice, and cannot rightly be attributed to someone else. The culpability for an action cannot be separated from the free willing of the agent, because that’s just what culpability is, the responsibility for wrongdoing on the part of the one who freely caused it.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  42. Bryan,
    Thanks for your reply. I’m having difficulty understanding your objection though to what Sproul says. It seems you are taking his statement about the second person of the Trinity and the fact that he says it was the human nature that died as implying that he is saying somehow the whole person of Christ was not involved but only a part. Is that correct? The article you quoted and which you linked to (and which I have now read) is, I at least would think it fair to say, virtually nothing more than a sound bite on an issue like this for which whole volumes have been written. John of Damascus (who I mentioned) has the opportunity to attack the issue from every angle again and again (almost to the point of excess!) in An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, and since I recently read this work and have it fresh in mind, Sproul’s statements don’t seem to me to be phrased meaningfully differently.

    Sproul seems in context here to simply be distinguishing the divine nature from the human nature in the sense of emphasizing that it was not God in His unchangeable essence but God in the person of Christ, united to a human nature that died. Earlier Sproul says:

    “If we say that God died on the cross, and if by that we mean that the divine nature perished, we have stepped over the edge into serious heresy.”

    To me, perhaps willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and to interpret his statements in the most generous way possible (without accepting clear falsehoods as fact of course), I don’t perceive any weakness in his Trinitarian or Incarnational theology.

    Compare with the following from JofD:

    “…the Lord of Glory is said to have been crucified, although His divine nature never endured the Cross..”

    and

    “For the Lord of Glory is one and the same with Him Who is in nature and in truth the Son of Man, that is, Who became man, and both His wonders and His sufferings are known to us, although His wonders were worked in His divine capacity, and His sufferings endured as man.”

    Both the above are from Book 3, Chap 3. Below is from Book 3, Chap 4

    “For Christ, which name implies both natures, is spoken of as at once God and man, created and uncreated, subject to suffering and incapable of suffering: and when He is named Son of God and God, in reference to only one of His natures, He still keeps the properties of the co-existing nature, that is, the flesh, being spoken of as God who suffers, and as the Lord of Glory crucified, not in respect of His being God but in respect of His being at the same time man. Likewise also when He is called Man and Son of Man, He still keeps the properties and glories of the divine nature, a child before the ages, and man who knew no beginning; it is not, however, as child or man but as God that He is before the ages, and became a child in the end.”

    and lastly from Book 3, Chap 26

    “The Word of God then itself endured all in the flesh, while His divine nature which alone was passionless remained void of passion. For since the one Christ, Who is a compound of divinity and humanity, and exists in divinity and humanity, truly suffered, that part which is capable of passion suffered as it was natural it should, but that part which was void of passion did not share in the suffering.”

    and

    “Observe, further that we say that God suffered in the flesh, but never that His divinity suffered in the flesh, or that God suffered through the flesh.”

    So my point is not to make a federal case out of this, but reading the above from JofD, it seemed perfectly natural for me to read Sproul’s short piece in a way compatible with JofD, giving him the benefit of the doubt as to his orthodoxy. If he is actually *not* saying what I interpreted, I absolutely agree with you and even apart from this particular case, your comment about theological errors rising up for those who want to oppose Mary as Theotokos is spot on. Perhaps you, with greater experience reading or analyzing Sproul, have reason to read between the lines more than I did and have good evidence that his theology is weak in this area. I would defer with respect to you in such a case…I simply wanted to make the point that given statements like those above from JofD, I at least thought I could generously read Sproul in a way compatible with orthodoxy.

    Thank you for your continued great work on this site.
    Peace,
    Jeff

  43. JeffB (re: #42)

    I’m having difficulty understanding your objection though to what Sproul says. It seems you are taking his statement about the second person of the Trinity and the fact that he says it was the human nature that died as implying that he is saying somehow the whole person of Christ was not involved but only a part. Is that correct?

    No. I’m not taking his statements [that the Second Person of the Trinity didn’t die, and that the atonement was made by the human nature of Christ] as implying anything about parts or wholes of anything.

    The article you quoted and which you linked to (and which I have now read) is, I at least would think it fair to say, virtually nothing more than a sound bite on an issue like this for which whole volumes have been written. John of Damascus (who I mentioned) has the opportunity to attack the issue from every angle again and again (almost to the point of excess!) in An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, and since I recently read this work and have it fresh in mind, Sproul’s statements don’t seem to me to be phrased meaningfully differently.

    To deny that it was God who died on the cross, and to claim instead that it was a human nature that died and made atonement, is Nestorianism, for the same reason that claiming that Mary is the mother of a human nature is Nestorianism. That’s “meaningfully different” from Chalcedonian orthodoxy.

    Sproul seems in context here to simply be distinguishing the divine nature from the human nature in the sense of emphasizing that it was not God in His unchangeable essence but God in the person of Christ, united to a human nature that died.

    If that’s what he had said, it wouldn’t have been unorthodox. But he said that the Second Person did not die, and that it was a human nature that made atonement for us.

    Earlier Sproul says:

    “If we say that God died on the cross, and if by that we mean that the divine nature perished, we have stepped over the edge into serious heresy.”

    To me, perhaps willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and to interpret his statements in the most generous way possible (without accepting clear falsehoods as fact of course), I don’t perceive any weakness in his Trinitarian or Incarnational theology.

    Well, do you agree with him that the Second Person did not die, and that it was not the Second Person, but a human nature, that made atonement for our sins?

    Compare with the following from JofD: ….

    As I said before, those statements are orthodox. John of Damascus never denies that the Second Person died, or claims that it was only a nature that made atonement for our sins.

    So my point is not to make a federal case out of this, but reading the above from JofD, it seemed perfectly natural for me to read Sproul’s short piece in a way compatible with JofD, giving him the benefit of the doubt as to his orthodoxy.

    I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt when there is some ambiguity. But here Sproul directly and explicitly says that it was not the Second Person who died, and that it was His human nature that made atonement. There is no need to “read between the lines.” Not only that, but many people in previous years have pointed out problems with this same excerpt, which was first published in 2007. Instead of offering a clarification or retraction, Ligonier (run by Sproul) republished this week the very same excerpt they posted last year, without any qualification or retraction.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  44. Jeff (#42):
    Maybe it will help to formulate an orthodox statement to respond to Sproul’s heterodox (heretical) statement.
    Sproul says, in your quotation:

    If we say that God died on the cross, and if by that we mean that the divine nature perished, we have stepped over the edge into serious heresy.

    If that is the error on the left, then the following is Sproul’s error on the right:

    If we say that God did NOT die on the cross, and if by that we mean that the Second Person of the Trinity did not suffer and die, then we have stepped over the edge into serious heresy.

    Sproul’s problem is not the orthodox of the first statement, but the second. Sproul correctly denies that the divine nature perished; that’s not the problem. But he also denies that the Second Person of the Trinity suffered and died. Instead, we have to affirm both that the Second Person of the Trinity suffered and died and that He did so according to His human nature.

    I don’t mean to beat up on you, but if you’re going to read a document called an “exact exposition” of orthodox faith, then you need to draw distinctions more carefully. These passages explicitly contradict Sproul, and you’re focusing only on the half of the sentence that appears to support your argument. Note the following:

    the Lord of Glory is said to have been crucified

    when He is named Son of God and God, in reference to only one of His natures, He still keeps the properties of the co-existing nature, that is, the flesh, being spoken of as God who suffers, and as the Lord of Glory crucified, not in respect of His being God but in respect of His being at the same time man

    The Word of God then itself endured all in the flesh, while His divine nature which alone was passionless remained void of passion. For since the one Christ, Who is a compound of divinity and humanity, and exists in divinity and humanity, truly suffered…

    Observe, further that we say that God suffered in the flesh, but never that His divinity suffered in the flesh, or that God suffered through the flesh.

    Note that every one of these passages says that God, the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, suffered in the flesh. That is exactly what Sproul denies.

    Where you’ve erred (and I don’t blame you for it, because it’s hard to study the Fathers on your own without instruction) is in reading “said to” as referring purely to expression. Speaking of one nature what is said of the other is known as the communicatio idiomatum, the communication of attributes. You are treating “said to” as if it means “God is said to die on the cross, but technically speaking, only the human nature dies on the cross,” in which case Sproul would be perfectly orthodox. In other words, he would be saying that while we speak loosely of God dying on the cross or that we can make a figure of speech in which what is attributed to either nature is attributed to the union of them, we need to be careful that we don’t mean to say that God really died on the cross, but only His human nature.

    This is exactly what St. John Damascene does NOT say. He says explicitly that Christ “still keeps the properties of the co-existing nature” even when we speak of one, so that we communicate the attributes because they really are in the same Person. Christ, the Person, has properties of both natures in His person, so that He really is both God and man. Sproul’s version of the God-man is a Nestorian hybrid between the Word of God and the assumed man. Thus, when speaking technically, we can “speak of” the attributes of the flesh about the hybrid (the union of the two) but not of the other element of the union. This is the same thing Nestorius says: when we are speaking technically, we have to say that Mary was the Christ-bearer, not the God-bearer, because we can only technically say things either of the proper person (either the Word or the assumed man) or the union of persons (Christ).

    That is what the Damascene Doctor vehemently denies; he says that we properly speak of both natures being present simultaneously because they really are, not by some figure of speech, but by the Word of God being the very same person as Christ. “For the Lord of Glory is one and the same with Him Who is in nature and in truth the Son of Man.”

    While the study of the Fathers is certainly laudable, let me suggest that you get a little firmer grounding in Christology before diving right in. Leo Donald Davis’s book The First Seven Ecumenical Councils might be a good place to start; it’s cheap, and it’s a nice survey.

  45. Brian and Jonathan,
    Thanks for the feedback. It’s entirely possible that I am not demanding enough precision from Sproul’s sound bite. However, it seems to me (as both of you have pointed out) that it’s the word “person” that is the key. My opinion (and it’s merely an opinion, nothing more) is that Sproul is using “person” when he says “second person of the Trinity” as a means of distinguishing a particular subsistence within the divine essence (he was speaking about the Father in the previous paragraph and now moves on to the Son). When speaking of this subsistence he is saying that such subsistence cannot die because that would imply the divine nature could die and/or that somehow a “part” of God could be separated out. I do not (in my opinion) interpret Sproul as denying that this subsistence united flesh to itself and in that flesh experienced death (while not in it’s divinity dying); I simply see him addressing a potential idea that someone might raise that the divine nature (or a “part”, if someone improperly thought of things that way, of the divine nature) could die.

    When he later says that “The atonement was made by the human nature of Christ,” that statement seems consistent to me (in my opinion) with JofD and that Sproul is not asserting that a mere human nature died; rather it was the human nature of Christ, who by definition is not merely a human nature but a human nature united with a divine nature. He clarifies that this is what he means by referring to the God-man.

    Do my statements above seem to reflect a misunderstanding of Christology? If you think my explanation of my interpretation of what he was saying actually demonstrates an unorthodox opinion, I’d be genuinely happy to help receive clarification. But thus far, it seems that I am understanding the concepts just fine and that it’s a question of interpretation of Sproul’s statements themselves. My point, not meant to be disrespectful in any way as I appreciate this site very much and its role in my own move from Reformed to Catholic, is simply that taking a very short statement in a non-technical essay and extracting Nestorianism from it *seems* to me (my opinion) a bit unfair. It’s a subject fraught with difficulties of expression (think how long the Athanasian creed is!). I don’t see the approach here as different from Protestants extracting universalism from one liners about the salvation of Muslims in the catechism. That’s why I said that I would defer with respect to those who perhaps knew better Sproul’s writings and what he intended to convey and could (as I said) “read between the lines” to fairly extract Nestorianism from his statement which I am only reading here in isolation. I am familiar with Sproul and Ligonier (and once seriously explored attending RTS in Orlando) so perhaps I just find it hard to believe that given an opportunity to expand on what he says here that he would really turn out to be unorthodox. Again, all of this is merely my opinion and nothing more.

    I appreciate the opportunity to express that opinion and seriously if you think I am expressing Christology incorrectly above (though to the best of my abilities, I believe I am rightly dividing JofD), please feel free to say so.
    Peace and best wishes for the Easter season,
    Jeff

  46. JeffB,

    My opinion (and it’s merely an opinion, nothing more) is that Sproul is using “person” when he says “second person of the Trinity” as a means of distinguishing a particular subsistence within the divine essence (he was speaking about the Father in the previous paragraph and now moves on to the Son). When speaking of this subsistence he is saying that such subsistence cannot die because that would imply the divine nature could die and/or that somehow a “part” of God could be separated out. I do not (in my opinion) interpret Sproul as denying that this subsistence united flesh to itself and in that flesh experienced death

    Whose death did this subsistence experience? If it wasn’t His own, then it was either someone else’s (that’s Nestorianism) or it was something else’s (that denies the incarnation). But if it was His own, then it is not true that “such a subsistence cannot die.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  47. Brian,
    I mean that subsistence in its divine nature.

    I agree with you that the statement about the second person of the Trinity taken by itself would seem to be improperly denying that the one unique subsistence composed of both divine and human natures died, but as I explained, I think the surrounding context and clarifications indicate only that he meant this in the sense that the divine nature itself did not die or cease to exist. I don’t personally feel I have the time for more fruitful followups but will continue reading and appreciate this brief dialog.

    Peace,
    Jeff

  48. JeffB,

    I mean that subsistence in its divine nature.

    That qualification changes everything.

    It is possible, as you say, that Sproul meant to say that in His divine nature the Second Person of the Trinity cannot die. It is possible that he meant to say that Christ made atonement for us in His human nature. But that’s not what he actually said, and philosopher-theologians with his training have the necessary skill (and responsibility) to say what they mean and not say what they don’t mean. My criticism is not of his motives, or even of his [personal] Christology, but of what he actually said in this document he published in 2007, posted online in 2012, and reposted again in 2013 after it was criticized widely in 2012. If he has expressed Chalcedonian Christology elsewhere, then I’m very glad for that. But that doesn’t make true what he says here, even if the error is due to sloppiness; nor does it justify posting and reposting an excerpt that is Christologically heterodox. (See James 3:1)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  49. Ditto to what Bryan said. “Subsistence” and “person” mean the same thing in the Trinitarian context. If you assert a different subsistence from the Word of God, the Trinitarian Person, then you do so on pain of Nestorianism. There is only one person, one subsistence, in Christ, and that is the Word of God.

    I’m really having trouble understanding how you can even think that St. John Damascene teaches to the contrary. Where does he ever say that the natures are different persons or subsistences? Does he not say that the Word of God, the Lord of Glory, suffered and died on the cross?

  50. Jonathan,
    I indicated in #47 that I do not wish to continue discussion on the issue I raised and that is still true. However, since your two comments (particularly the first) have been bothering me, I wanted to express my sentiments as an addendum. I do not impugn your motives and will assume that your comments were offered with every good intention, but they came across to me as insulting and condescending. One reason I don’t comment often is that when comments involve me personally, I have difficulty separating out my emotions. That sensitivity is obviously my problem not yours, but in the hope of having more fruitful and friendly future interactions, I just wanted to suggest that you try to understand and respond to what someone actually says or ask for clarifications as to where they are coming from if needed in order to craft an appropriate response, rather than launching into a commentary on someone’s intellectual abilities in the first reply. I’m simply telling you as directly as I can but with no ill feelings how your comments came across to me. I don’t claim any special capabilities nor do I wish to flaunt my degrees or what books I’ve read…but suffice it to say that I believe I have the analytical abilities and intellectual honesty to read and understand with precision and with discernment. If I have subsequently offended *you* in this comment, please accept my apology and feel free to email so that any remaining misunderstandings can be smoothed out. I look forward to future conversations and I hope you don’t mind my relieving the tension I have felt by getting that off my chest.

    As before, best wishes for a blessed Easter,
    Jeff

  51. Jeff (#50):
    My comment was in the moderation queue when your #47 came across, so I had no idea that was coming. As to the point, I certainly don’t mean to impugn either your intellectual honesty or your analytical abilities by telling you that you’re wrong. :-) It happens.

    I made a mistake the other day in an area that I didn’t understand as well as I thought, and Bryan helpfully pointed out the error to me, so I’m the better for it. That doesn’t make me dumb or dishonest, or even generally misinformed or ignorant. But I was misinformed on that particular subject, and I was happy to hear from someone who knew better on the subject.

    In this case, while I am no patristics scholar, I am very well-read in patristics scholarship, meaning the academic texts and not just the popular level summaries. So I am in a good position to know generally when someone is right or wrong. I’m not trying to embarrass you or to call you out by any means; it’s just part of studying anything like this that you’ll probably make some mistakes. I did, and this is the sort of thing on which people corrected me, and I learned from it. I hope that you will take my comments in that spirit, and I hope it doesn’t discourage you from continuing to participate in these kinds of discussions, because there’s almost no better place to learn outside of formal education.

    Blessings,
    Jonathan

  52. Bryan (re: #41),

    So, rather than affirming that all guilt transfers are unjust, it appears that you have affirmed that all guilt transfers are (metaphysically?) impossible.

    If that is your position, how do you interpret Philemon 18-19? Does Paul not freely assume the guilt/culpability for his Onesimus’s wrongdoings?

  53. JohnD, (re: #52)

    So, rather than affirming that all guilt transfers are unjust, it appears that you have affirmed that all guilt transfers are (metaphysically?) impossible.

    Correct.

    If that is your position, how do you interpret Philemon 18-19? Does Paul not freely assume the guilt/culpability for his Onesimus’s wrongdoings?

    There is an important difference between guilt and debt (or reatus culpa and reatus poena). (That distinction is discussed briefly in the article above.) The guilt of sin is an intrinsic disorder of the will. The debt of sin is an extrinsic disorder of injustice in the relation between the person and God. Guilt cannot be transferred, but one person can pay a debt for someone else. See comments #44 – #48 in the “Catholic and Reformed Conceptions of the Atonement” thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  54. So, let us suppose Onesimus engaged in a wrongdoing, the penalty for which was a physical punishment. Suppose Paul returns to find this out and offers to be “pierced for Onesimus’ transgressions.”

    Would this be just or unjust? If unjust, then why? If the particular payment of physical punishment makes it unjust, then why would a non-physical punishment [dollar payment?] be ethical?

    I know the text doesn’t take us this far, but just some interesting hypothetical situations.

  55. @JohnD (#54):
    If the particular payment of physical punishment makes it unjust, then why would a non-physical punishment [dollar payment?] be ethical?

    That’s a good question. From the perspective of the person inflicting the punishment, it is unjust. From the perspective of the person making the offer, it is just to suffer for another’s good. This is why the Crucifixion was both unjust for the people inflicting the punishment but just for Christ to allow Himself to suffer, even at the cost of His own life (Acts 2:22-23).

  56. JohnD (re: #54),

    Would this be just or unjust? If unjust, then why? If the particular payment of physical punishment makes it unjust, then why would a non-physical punishment [dollar payment?] be ethical?

    As I explained in comments #1-5 above, it would be unjust for the person who knows St. Paul is innocent to punish St. Paul. But it would not be unjust for St. Paul to give to Philemon some good that outweighs in its goodness the harm done to Philemon by Onesimus. Giving a good is not unjust.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  57. Bryan (re: #56),

    Thanks for the reply. You have affirmed that it would be unjust for the person who knows St. Paul is innocent to physically punish him instead of Onesimus even if St. Paul voluntarily takes this position.

    However, what if the punishment required a dollar payment instead? Would it still be unjust for Philemon to accept money from St. Paul?

  58. JohnD (re: #57)

    However, what if the punishment required a dollar payment instead? Would it still be unjust for Philemon to accept money from St. Paul?

    It would not be unjust for Philemon to accept money from St. Paul, to pay a debt owed by Onesimus. It is not unjust to accept a gift, even if that gift is for the payment of a debt owed by another.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  59. […] Christ as our High Priest offered up to the Father a gift that was more pleasing than all our sins were displeasing. Jesus came to offer a sacrifice as a representative on our behalf. He made satisfaction to the Father for our sins and paid our infinite debt by offering Himself out of love as a sacrifice of infinite value, which turned away and appeased God’s wrath. This sacrifice entailed shedding His blood, as blood is the life-force of the creature and represents one’s very life (Leviticus 17:10-11). Christ redeemed or purchased us out of bondage by pouring out His precious blood unto death (1 Peter 1:18-19). […]

  60. Bryan,

    In your comment #1, you link to Augustine’s Contra Faustum, Book XIV. I was reading this, and this passage caught my eye:

    7. The believer in the true doctrine of the gospel will understand that Christ is not reproached by Moses when he speaks of Him as cursed, not in His divine majesty, but as hanging on the tree as our substitute, bearing our punishment, any more than He is praised by the Manichæans when they deny that He had a mortal body, so as to suffer real death.

    I can understand why someone would read that and believe that Augustine was professing something like the Reformed Penal Substitution. Could you comment on this?

  61. Chris, (re: #60)

    What is needed here is the distinction between the formal and the material aspects of an act. Imagine that a man accidentally touches a downed power line, and dies from electrocution. Imagine that another man is on death row for serial murder, and his sentence is execution by the electric chair. He too dies by electrocution. In one sense the first man (who accidentally touched the downed wire) suffered the same punishment as the second man: electrocution. That’s the material aspect, and it is the same for both men. But the first man was not being punished (let’s leave out, for the sake of argument, the possibility that God was punishing him), while the second man was in fact being punished. That’s the formal aspect. The second man’s punishment was formally punishment, while the first man’s was not. So properly speaking (i.e. including the formal aspect that gives the event its species) the first man was not punished, but the second was punished.

    Likewise, Christ bore our punishment by suffering death, doing so not by being formally punished, but by bearing materially the same consequence (i.e. death) that we endure on account of Adam’s sin. Not only did He take on our human nature in the incarnation, He took on certain aspects of our fallen condition (i.e. loss of the preternatural gifts of impassibility and immortality). That’s the sense in which He bore our punishment; not in the sense that God poured out divine wrath on Christ, formally punishing Him for sins we committed.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  62. […] Elsewhere Bryan Cross summarized the entire dilemma Sproul has created for himself: […]

Leave Comment

Subscribe without commenting