Friday, February 19, 2010

In Which Anselm Attempts an Answer

Boniface has kindly alerted me to the fact of a new comment in my old Why Do So Many Catholics Believe in Penal Substitution? post.

Ben G. asks:

Can Catholics still believe in the ransom theory of the atonement, even in the belief that Satan had rights over man, and that Christ paid Satan what was therefore his due? Has this theory, which I know is very patristic, ever been condemned since St. Anselm's refutation?

I also wanted to know if this poses a problem for Catholic dogma. I made the argument to a Protestant that our doctrine of justification couldn't possibly be false, because God couldn't permit his Church to be in error for over a thousand years on the subject. And yet if the idea that Christ paid a ransom to Satan is false, and it was indeed taught by Irenaeus, Leo, Gregory, Augustine, and other important Church teachers for a thousand years (before Anselm), wouldn't this do damage to Church dogma?

God bless you all.

P.S. what happened to the awaited samples from Anselm's paper? :-)

Okay. First of all, sorry for not following through on the samples from the paper. I decided to hold out on that one for now because that work is tied up in applications for graduate schools, which I don't want to compromise.

The way I am reading Ben's comments above, it seems to me that he is after the dogmatic status of the Catholic Church's doctrine of the atonement.

A good place to start is always with Dr. Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, a truly excellent and useful book, which I highly recommend.

I have only the German edition on hand at the moment, so my apologies if I butcher some of this, but you should look at the

Second Main Part of his work: The Doctrine of God the Redeemer.
Second Section: The attributes of the human nature of Christ.
Second Part: The doctrine of the work of the Redeemer.
Second Chapter: The reality of the Redemption through the three offices of Christ.

In this chapter, Ott devotes paragraphs 7-11 to the priestly office of Christ, in which he ranks the authoritative level of various statements about Christ's work of redemption (i.e. the atonement).

7. The reality of the priestly office of Christ: "The God-man Jesus Christ is High-priest." De fide.

8. The exercise of the priestly office of Christ or the sacrifice of Christ: "Christ offered himself on the cross as a true and proper sacrifice to God." De fide.

9. The soteriological meaning of the sacrifice of Christ: Ransom and Reconciliation: "Christ ransomed us through his sacrificial death on the cross and reconciled us to God." De fide.

In this section, Ott devotes a couple of sub-paragraphs to what he refers to as inadequate patristic theories, choosing Irenaeus and Origen as examples. This falls into the category of speculative theology, i.e. the attempt to use reason to illuminate the Church's doctrine, especially by means of analogies. It's perfectly reasonable to talk about man being ransomed from slavery to the devil, but whether it's been condemned by the Church or not (I don't know of any formal condemnation), you tell me whether you think that it's true to say that the devil acquired rights in justice over man, when he clearly stole him from man's rightful master (God), or, whether it is really worthy of Christ to say that he tricked the devil into killing him. There's no harm in admitting that some of the more widely speculative things said by the Fathers should be left behind.

10. The vicarious satisfaction of Christ: "Christ, through his passion and death vicariously made satisfaction to God for the sins of mankind." Sent. fidei proxima.

Notice first of all the reduced dogmatic rank of this statement. It is listed as an opinion proximate to the faith. This is, however, still the highest non-infallible rank there is. It refers to doctrines which are regarded almost universally by theologians (today, that would have to read: by Catholic theologians who are truly orthodox) as truths of revelation, but which the Church has still not finally declared as such.

It is important to note, too, that this doctrine, in more or less developed form, also appears almost universally in the Church Fathers, of East and West. The term "satisfaction" is already introduced by Tertullian in the second century in the context of the sacrament of Penance, and St. Cyprian of Carthage is already applying it to Christ's work on the cross in the third century. Hence, a formal declaration by the Church that this is the truth of the matter would not be a rejection of the common teaching of the Fathers.

Also, that the Church has not finally declared it to be dogmatic does not mean that there have been no magisterial statements about it. Trent says that Christ "by his most holy passion on the wood of the cross... made satisfaction to God the Father for us (pro nobis Deo Patri satisfecit)." D 799. And the First Vatican Council, which was abruptly cut short in 1870 when the Italian army occupied the papal states and captured Rome itself, intended to raise the doctrine of the vicarious satisfaction of Christ to a formal dogma.

Ven. Pope Pius XII, in Mediator Dei (1947), writes:

73. Certainly, no one was better fitted to make satisfaction to Almighty God for all the sins of men than was Christ. Therefore, He desired to be immolated upon the cross "as a propitiation for our sins, not for ours only but also for those of the whole world" and likewise He daily offers Himself upon our altars for our redemption, that we may be rescued from eternal damnation and admitted into the company of the elect.

35. The mystery of the divine redemption is primarily and by its very nature a mystery of love, that is, of the perfect love of Christ for His heavenly Father to Whom the sacrifice of the Cross, offered in a spirit of love and obedience, presents the most abundant and infinite satisfaction due for the sins of the human race; "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" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III, q. 48, a. 2).

36. It is also a mystery of the love of the Most Holy Trinity and of the divine Redeemer towards all men. Because they were entirely unable to make adequate satisfaction for their sins, Christ, through the infinite treasure of His merits acquired for us by the shedding of His precious Blood, was able to restore completely that pact of friendship between God and man which had been broken, first by the grievous fall of Adam in the earthly paradise and then by the countless sins of the chosen people.

37. Since our divine Redeemer as our lawful and perfect Mediator, out of His ardent love for us, restored complete harmony between the duties and obligations of the human race and the rights of God, He is therefore responsible for the existence of that wonderful reconciliation of divine justice and divine mercy which constitutes the sublime mystery of our salvation. On this point the Angelic Doctor wisely comments: "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 sins 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, God gave him His Son to satisfy for him. And this came of a more copious mercy than if he had forgiven sins without satisfaction: Hence St. Paul says: 'God, who is rich in mercy, by reason of His very great love wherewith He has loved us even when we were dead by reason of our sins, brought us to life together with Christ'" (Summa Theologiae III, q. 46, a. 1, ad 3).

The Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus proposed by Pope Pius XI in Miserentissimus Redemptor (1928) includes the lines: "And now, to make amends for the outrage offered to the Divine honor, we offer to Thee the same satisfaction which Thou didst once offer to Thy Father on the Cross and which Thou dost continually renew on our altars..."

Let me try to summarize. Some of the things said by some of the Church Fathers in their speculative reasoning about the doctrine of Christ atonement are plainly unreasonable. Anselm showed that clearly. The essential truth about Christ's death, i.e. that it was a vicarious redemptive sacrifice that obtained for man the forgiveness of his sins and reconcilation with God is universally taught by the Fathers, Doctors, Magisterium, etc. That this redemptive sacrifice was efficacious through the mode of satisfaction is implicitly or explicitly taught by many, and is fully compatible with the teaching of those who did not explain it in this way. Anselm's contribution was mostly in the systemization of this thought. So he has not overturned the previous teaching, but rather cleared away some of the problematic aspects, and brought out more forcefully the inner truth. The Magisterium has widely endorsed the doctrine of vicarious satisfaction, although more in the form taught by Aquinas than Anselm, and this only in non-infallible statements. One might, I suppose, make a case that the constant repetition of this doctrine by the ordinary Magisterium over so many centuries is sufficient to regard it as infallible.

Oops, I forgot Ott's paragraph 11. The merit of Christ: "Christ, through his Passion and death merited a reward from God." De fide.

"Christ merited for himself exaltation (his resurrection, the glorification of his body, his ascension)," and "Christ merited for fallen man all supernatural graces." Sent. cert.

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