20 December 2009

Rorate Sunday

Well it seems that Sunday is the only day that I manage to post anything here lately. The thesis writing is progressing, though. I've written about 18 pages of what will eventually be a 60+ page thesis. The working title is,

Distinguishing St. Thomas Aquinas's Doctrine
of Vicarious Satisfaction from Penal Substitution

Rather a long subtitle, I know, by I wanted to be specific. I'm almost finished with the first section, in which I first review the New Testament's statements about the Cross of Christ (it is clearly presented as a vicarious redemptive sacrifice). Then, I offer a summary of St. Anselm's influential satisfaction-theory of the atonement, focusing on his understanding of satisfaction as precisely in contrast to punishment (i.e., for Anselm, justice is served either by punishment or by satisfaction). The final part of this first section is then to set out the contrasting position of the Protestant Revolutionaries (especially Calvin), for whom satisfaction is punishment. This is the theory known as penal substitution, wherein justice is said to be satisfied precisely when punishment is inflicted. I do not dwell on Luther and Calvin here, but rather take up the more interesting case of Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the most influential Catholic theologians of the 20th century, whose idea that Christ's descent into hell was an experience of damnation as such amounts to a restatement of penal substitution (a horrific and most impious idea).

That's my progress so far, minus the part on von Balthasar. If I can get that finished in the next few days I can send it off to grad. schools by the Jan. 2 deadline and then the pressure will be off for a little while.

The second section of the thesis is on St. Thomas's systematic doctrine of the Cross of Christ as a work of vicarious satisfaction. Interestingly enough, Thomas walks a bit of a via media between Anselm on the one hand, and the penal substitution folks on the other. For him, the cross is not a punishment (poena) simply speaking, but it is poena satisfactoria.

Section three turns from Thomas's systematic texts to his biblical commentaries to see how he understands the Scriptural passages often used as proof of penal substitution by its proponents, specifically the Old Testament images of the Passover Lamb, the Scapegoat of the Day of Atonement ritual, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, and the Cup of God's wrath. In the new Testament, especially difficult verses are from 2 Cor. "God made him who knew no sin to be sin," Gal. 3 "Christ was made a curse," 1 Pet. "He bore our sins in his body on the tree," and especially Christ's cry of abandonment upon the Cross.

Perhaps I'll upload the first section when I finish it this week, as I'd be glad of any comments / critiques / suggestions.


Somebody Calls Me Nana said...

Wow - you've said a mouthful! Keep up the good work - but give yourself a little bit of Christmas break!
1-2-3 Mom

big daddy said...

I wonder if our understanding of Christ's atonement isn't significantly affected by the radical individualism of our society. We have a difficult time believing, really, that MANKIND is separated from God - original sin, that MANKIND deserves punishment, that Christ accepted MANKIND's condition of separation (somehow, without sin obviously) and bore MANKIND's judgement. The analogy of penal substitution is always explained and understood in terms of MY separation, MY punishment, MY judgement, and it is obviously grossly unjust understood in those terms. Maybe God doesn't see it that way.

John said...

I agree about the difficulty raised by modern individualism - it's also the problem that Ratzinger highlights in "Jesus of Nazareth" when he talks about atonement.

But I still want to get away from the idea that Christ accepted any kind of separation, even a non-sinful one, and similarly with the idea of Christ bearing a judgment (although whether or not I agree with that I suppose depends on what is meant by judgment).