Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vicarious - yes; Satisfaction - huh?

I was looking through some old files and came across the following excerpt a friend sent me, which he believed to be proof of a Patristic belief in "Vicarious Satisfaction":
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XIII

“If Phinees, when he waxed zealous and slew the evil-doer, staved the wrath of God, shall not Jesus, who slew not another, but gave up Himself for a ransom, put away the wrath which is against mankind?…Further; if the lamb under Moses drove the destroyer far away, did not much rather the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world, deliver us from our sins? The blood of a silly sheep gave salvation; and shall not the Blood of the Only-begotten much rather save?…Jesus then really suffered for all men; for the Cross was no illusion, otherwise our redemption is an illusion also…These things the Saviour endured, and made peace through the Blood of His Cross, for things in heaven, and things in earth. For we were enemies of God through sin, and God had appointed the sinner to die. There must needs therefore have happened one of two things; either that God, in His truth, should destroy all men, or that in His loving-kindness He should cancel the sentence. But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins in His body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto righteousness.”

“Note carefully in the above the words, “I gave to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for the blood shall make atonement for the soul.” He [Moses] says clearly that the blood of the victims slain is a propitiation in the place of human life. And the law about sacrifices suggests that it should be so regarded, if it is carefully considered. For it requires him who is sacrificing always to lay his hands on the head of the victim, and to bear the animal to the priest held by its head, as one offering a sacrifice on behalf of himself. Thus he says in each case: “He shall bring it before the Lord. And he shall lay his hands on the head of the gift.” Such is the ritual in every case, no sacrifice is ever brought up otherwise. And so the argument holds that the victims are brought in place of the lives of them who bring them…While then the better, the great and worthy and divine sacrifice was not yet available for men, it was necessary for them by the offering of animals to pay a ransom for their own life, and this was fitly a life that represented their own nature. Thus did the holy men of old, anticipating by the Holy Spirit that a holy victim, dear to God and great, would one day come for men, as the offering for the sins of the world, believing that as prophets they must perform in symbol his sacrifice, and shew forth in type what was yet to be. But when that which was perfect was come, in accordance with the predictions of the prophets, the former sacrifices ceased at once because of the better and true Sacrifice.

“This Sacrifice was the Christ of God, from far distant times foretold as coming to men, to be sacrificed like a sheep for the whole human race. As Isaiah the prophet says of him: “As a sheep he was led to slaughter, and as a lamb dumb before her shearers.” And he adds: “He bears our sins and is pained for us; yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and he was made sick on account of our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripe we are healed. …And the Lord hath given him up for our iniquities …for he did no sin himself, nor was guile found in his mouth.'’ Jeremiah, another Hebrew prophet, speaks similarly in the person of Christ: “I was led as a lamb to the slaughter.” John Baptist sets the seal on their predictions at the appearance of our Saviour. For beholding Him, and pointing Him out to those present as the one foretold by the prophets, he cried: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.'’

“Since then according to the witness of the prophets the great and precious ransom has been found for Jews and Greeks alike, the propitiation for the whole world, the life given for the life of all men, the pure offering for every stain and sin, the Lamb of God, the holy sheep dear to God, the Lamb that was foretold, by Whose inspired and mystic teaching all we Gentiles have procured the forgiveness of our former sins, and such Jews as hope in Him are freed from the curse of Moses, daily celebrating His memorial, the remembrance of His Body and Blood, and are admitted to a greater sacrifice than that of the ancient law, we do not reckon it right to fall back upon the first beggarly elements, which are symbols and likenesses but do not contain the truth itself. And any Jews, of course, who have taken refuge in Christ, even if they attend no longer to the ordinances of Moses, but live according to the new covenant, are free from the curse ordained by Moses, for the Lamb of God has surely not only taken on Himself the sin of the world, but also the curse involved in the breach of the commandments of Moses as well. The Lamb of God is made thus both sin and curse—sin for the sinners in the world, and curse for those remaining in all the things written in Moses’ law. And so the Apostle says: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us”; and “Him that knew no sin, for our sakes he made sin.”For what is there that the Offering for the whole world could not effect, the Life given for the life of sinners, Who was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a lamb to the sacrifice, and all this for us and on our behalf? And this was why those ancient men of God, as they had not yet the reality, held fast to their symbols.

Do you think this teaches a vicarious "satisfaction" as understood by Western Christians? I don't. I see here standard Orthodox teaching.

shall not Jesus, who slew not another, but gave up Himself for a ransom, put away the wrath which is against mankind?

Does Christ, by virtue of His holy self-sacrifice, stave off the wrath of God? Yes. How? By removing the reason for God's wrath - i.e. our sins and the code that condemns sin. When would that wrath have poured out on men? On the Last Day. "Wrath" poured out beforehand is either 1) chastisement that leads to repentance, or 2) in the case of someone dying apart from repentance it is that person being reserved in Hades for future judgment. These words do not mean that Christ suffered God's wrath for our sins, but rather condemned our sins to death in His own Body and thus removed what actually gave reason for wrath. See the difference: suffering wrath so that there is none left for us, versus suffering death so that the cause of wrath comes to an end.

But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins in His body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto righteousness.

The sentence from God was that sinners should die. Why? Because sin and death are one, just as righteousness and life are one. Also because our sinning is warfare against God and against His image within us. Does Christ by dying take on God's wrath? Yes. Does He satisfy God's wrath? Wrong question. The death of man is not something that needs to be satisfied on God's end, as if it were an appeal to one of God's divine attributes. God's wrath is not about God but about man, and thus does not need to be satisfied or propitiated (a word often wrongly used to translate hilasterion, when "expiated" is proper).

God's wrath (sentencing sinners to die) is prophetic, in that it reveals the true existential reality of man's own sins and sinfulness, including the end of such a situation. God's wrath, in conjunction with His barring man from the Tree of Life and the eternal life that came from eating it, is preservative for man, allowing him to be reformed and redeemed spiritually in his nature and person (unlike the Devil and the other rebellious angels). And God's wrath is corrective, in that man carrying the weight of that sentence's slow effect upon him while living in a world that proclaims the glory of God is given opportunity to freely return to God (esp. in light of the Word of the Gospel), just as man freely has taken opportunity to sin and die.

So God's wrath is not satisfied, but rather achieves its purpose in Christ - the proclamation of man's true condition, and the fulfillment of his return to God in blessed communion, which itself is the opposite of death, namely righteous-life.

“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.'’

St. John the Baptist does not say that Christ takes away the wrath of the world, but the sins. Wrath will come, but those in Christ have passed over from death to life, and thus from their sins to a life that is ontologically righteous, for it is communion with the blessed Trinity.

For what is there that the Offering for the whole world could not effect, the Life given for the life of sinners,

Vicarious Death and Communion of Life is what sinners need, not vicarious satisfaction. For sinners need to be sinners no more, that is, they need their sins destroyed and new life imparted. This removes wrath. This is the pass-over from death to life, from sin to righteousness, from the wrath that will come from the Face of God to the blessedness that will come from the appearance of God.

Now it may seem like splitting hairs, Christ dying to satisfy God's decree that man die vs. Christ dying to save man from the need for wrath in the first place. But it is not splitting hairs, for the first depicts God as One who needs our death in order to be placated and pacified toward man. The second knows God not to delight in the death of the sinner, but does all in His power to give man every opportunity for return, even making the way of his return and effecting the necessary escape route and supplying the requisite power and Grace to accomplish all through faith without prior earnings or deservings.

So we see that Christ stands in our place, offering His Life in place of ours, so that we might be spared from the eternal condemnation of death (which itself is the power of estrangement and enslavement, with our sins as its shackles, and the Devil the usurping Prince and harsh Taskmaster), and through His death gains the blessed purgation of our sins and in His immaculate Body and precious Blood the bridge of His Hypostatic Union to Life in God.

Just some thoughts, fwiw.


Anonymous said...

Good post with lots of enlightening insights! I have seen Father Stephen post many such blog entries about the wrath of God, His anger, etc. The common Orthodox answer is that it's just anthropomorphic talk and God doesn't really have wrath or anger as we know it, etc. I totally understand the clear distinction you are making in this post about the formative Western, Anselmic, Punitive view of God's wrath *needing* to be vented/someone *must* be punished for sin. I understand that that view is a problematic and spurious view of the Scriptures.

That said, my struggle is yet with the Scriptures that do talk about God's anger and His wrath. Jesus got angry, made a whip and drove the suckers out of the temple - I'm not saying "Go ye and do likewise, pick up thy whip and follow" - I'm saying that He did get angry. God did vent His wrath against sin & iniquity when He wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah. So, would you say that the Orthodox view of God's wrath/anger (that *is* in the Scriptures) is actually just the inverse/flip side of His mercy? St. Paul saying we were "by nature children of wrath" like everyone else really just means . . . what? I'm not trying to say "haha, gotcha Orthodoxy!" I'm simply trying to process this. Thanks for the good post!

Deacon Benjamin Harju said...

God's anger and wrath are anthropomorphisms in that they seem like human emotions, but in fact are something higher and harder to describe. Our anger and wrath tend to come from our passions. God's anger and wrath is not a matter of passions, for God has no passions!

That being said, when God is described as being angry or wrathful, we should understand these as deliberate and intentional acts of God, not passionate reactions.

Christ driving out the moneychangers is actually described as zeal, not anger. Zeal is defined as "a feeling of strong eagerness." Even if we admit anger, it simply means that God did not approve of what they were doing and He let them know with forcefulness.

Did God "vent His wrath" against Sodom and Gomorrah? Genesis 18, "And the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” And Genesis 19, "For we will destroy this place, because the outcry against them has grown great before the face of the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it."

God is not literally 'venting' anything in these cases (a term implying the passions are boiling over), but is responding to the outcry against the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah - an outcry likely made by those poor and wretched who were mistreated by Sodom and Gomorrah's evil inhabitants. However, God may be metaphorically or poetically "venting" in many cases in Scripture (consider Jer. 6:11), but not literally.

Deacon Benjamin Harju said...

Is God's wrath/anger the inverse of His mercy? I don't know. I suppose that would mean you either get mercy or wrath from God. That's too narrow for me. His mercy is an aspect of His righteousness, as is His justice, as is His wrath, as is His faithful-love, etc.

How are we by nature children of wrath? - in context (Eph 2) the reason for being "children of wrath" is that in this passage man willingly walked according to the lusts of the flesh in accord with the power of the Devil. Two things are set forth: 1) the assumption that man has passions and 2) that man was giving himself over to them in accord with the Devil. These provide the logic for "being by nature children of wrath" in this passage. See St. John Chrysostom's sermon on this section at New Advent. In this way being a child of wrath here is similar to the application of wrath upon Sodom and Gomorrah. This passage is _not_ saying that God hates everyone because of the Fall and would have vented His fury on them had Christ not taken the brunt of it on the cross!

God has a willing, intentional, and tactical wrath regarding sin, not a selfish or self-serving wrath. His wrath is against sin and those who unite with it. His desire is to save all, though He forces no one. Wrath is not an emotional fury that needs to be satisfied or pacified or spent. Rather wrath is God's method of restricting sin, chastising mankind to further our return to Him, and finally accomplishing His good purpose behind creation while at the same time honoring His creature's freedom to join Him or reject Him. In this sense God's wrath is just part of His love for us - love that does all it can to draw us to Him and to warn from sin, but love that also respects our freedom (an integral part of being made in God's image).

Remember, man is created for communion with God. Wrath makes abundantly clear what our existence really is apart from communion with God. Wrath helps us sinners to see the difference between life in communion with God and life apart from communion (which is not properly life, but death). And sometimes wrath upon others (Sodom and Gomorrah) is a warning to everyone else. In the end, though, those who reject communion with God will experience the full incompatibility between them and God when they find themselves raised to everlasting life, but shut out of the blessedness of the kingdom. They will be resurrected, but not regenerated or sanctified through communion, so they will suffer horribly from the face of God, while those in Christ will enjoy blessedness from the face of God.

Anonymous said...

I have much to learn! Thanks for the reply. I had never realized that "zeal" was the reason for the cleansing of the temple - despite having read all 4 accounts in the Gospels many times. Always illuminating!

After reading your reply (twice) I picked up Volume V of Kittel's TDNT and looked up "orge." I am going to read it (p.383-447) before commenting further on God's wrath. It is very clear that my current, ingrained concept of God's wrath isn't correct. Yet at the same time, I'm unsure also of the Orthodox view. Thanks again for your wisdom.

Deacon Benjamin Harju said...


John 2,16 To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me."

I think I am a little unclear about what you are seeking. You say, "I'm not trying to say "haha, gotcha Orthodoxy!" Okay, but if you were, what would be the "I gotcha" part?

As far as I can articulate, God's wrath is very real, just as is His mercy. God does not change. Man changes, usually through the use of his free will. When man orients himself against God (in sin), he experiences God in wrath. When man orients himself properly regarding God (in faithful love) he experiences God in mercy and blessedness. God is constant, man is not and thus has different experiences of God.

To put it in the context of communion with God, when man is out of communion with God he experiences God as wrathful. When man is in communion with God he experiences God as blessedness and mercy. God, for His part, does not change Himself but rather does all to change man's situation. Hence He sends His Son to reunite humanity in communion with Himself through the Incarnation and to free men from their sins and from bondage to mortality and the Devil through the cross and resurrection. God is constant, man is not.

I hope this makes clearer how the Orthodox view God's wrath. His wrath is very real, but it is explained more on an ontological and existential level, not just a moral issue stemming from the notion that something about God changed regarding man.

Deacon Benjamin Harju said...


I'm going to pull this thread into a new post, because I want to make a further point, but I don't want to re-write what I've written here.