Thursday, April 23, 2009

Theology of the Atonement: Catholic Distinctiveness Over Against the Calvinist "Penal Substitution" Model

St. Anselm

A Protestant contributor to the CHNI forum wrote:
Penal Substitution...Wikipedia says.

Penal substitution is a theory of the atonement within Christian theology, especially associated with the Reformed tradition. It argues that Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished (penalised) in the place of sinners (substitution), thus satisfying the demands of justice so God can justly forgive the sins. It is thus a specific understanding of substitutionary atonement, where the substitutionary nature of Jesus' death is understood in the sense of a substitutionary punishment.
This is rejected by the Orthodox who speak more of substitutionary atonement based on the love of God more than the anger of God.

So is God the father so angry at us that he has to beat the snot out of his son in order to be appeased? Crude, I know, but this has become the measuring stick of the new Calvinists such as John Piper and Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill church in Seattle.

My understand[ing] is the western church...including the RCC is more in line with the Calvinists on this issue than the Orthodox. Is this true? Sounds platonic to me.

* * * * *

It's not true. Orthodox apologetics, insofar as it outwardly disagrees with Catholicism, often tries to contend that we are closer to Protestantism than to Orthodoxy. One must read both sides. One can't just read Orthodox treatments of Catholicism in order to understand Catholicism. One should read a Catholic treatment of a topic and an Orthodox treatment and decide which is more cogent and plausible. Read what proponents say about themselves; not what critics say about their opponents.

Hence, a Catholic apologist (Nick) has engaged in a lengthy debate with an anti-Catholic Calvinist apologist on this very issue. See many installments on his blog. Here is a second article denying that it is the Catholic view. See also The Catholic Encyclopedia: "Doctrine of the Atonement". Note particularly from the latter article:
In their general conception on the atonement the Reformers and their followers happily preserved the Catholic doctrine, at least in its main lines. And in their explanation of the merit of Christ's sufferings and death we may see the influence of St. Thomas and the other great Schoolmen. 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.
See also:

The "Ransom Theory" of Atonement in the Fathers: Development in the Doctrine of the Work of Christ


nannykim said...

The last link is not working in this article

Dave Armstrong said...

Looks like it is a Haloscan casualty (old links to discussion n my comboxes).