Participatory atonement 2: Medieval era

An accurate understanding of the atonement was practically lost during the early to late medieval era. In the 12th century Anselm’s satisfaction theory and Abelard’s moral influence theory competed; Anselm’s model however, became dominant.

Peter Lombard attempted to reconcile competing theories, [1] favouring exemplary and participatory views. Penal substitution was essential to Reformation theology as a single legal satisfaction ‘once, for all’, eliminating human involvement in the process of salvation. [2] Emphasis was placed on God’s wrath and the need for violent appeasement of His anger.[3]

Penal substitution became the standard view for Reformation groups down to the 20th century,[4] though unorthodox groups such as the Anabaptists and Socinians rejected it for exemplary or participatory models.[5] [6] [7] The Catholic Church was also influenced by penal substitution. [8]

*  1080-c.1147: Robert Pullan;[9] exemplary [10]

*  d. 1142: Peter Abelard; exemplary, participatory [11] [12]

*  1100-1160: Peter Lombard; exemplary, participatory [13] [14] [15]

*  1265-1308: Duns Scotus; exemplary [16] [17] [18]

*  d. 1562: Laelius Socinus; exemplary [19] [20]

*  1527-1700: Anabaptists; exemplary [21]


[1] ‘Peter Lombard accumulated and tried to reconcile the most widely divergent opinions. He expresses the view that the death of Jesus was both a ransom paid to the devil and a manifestation of love.’, Sabatier, ‘The Doctrine of the Atonement: And Its Historical Evolution and Religion; and, Religion and Modern Culture ‘, p. 75 (1904).

[2] ‘The Magisterial Reformers made penal expiation central and set forth the once-for-all, finished work of the cross as the foundation of justification by faith alone. Luther preached it with unprecedented force (under the influence of Gal. 3); he taught that the satisfaction of divine justice and the propitiation of God’s wrath is the basis of our deliverance from sin, death, and the devil (Eißler 128–29). Calvin marshaled the biblical evidence (Isa. 53 as a key).’, Blocher, ‘Atonement’, in Vanhoozer et al. (eds.), ‘Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible’, p. 73 (2005).

[3]The Reformers introduced another view of the atonement, generally called the penal substitutionary theory. In some ways, it was similar to Anselm’s satisfaction theory, but with this major difference: Instead of grounding the atonement in the honor of God—that of which God had been robbed by the sin of humanity—the Reformers grounded it in the justice of God. Because he is holy, God hates sin with wrathful anger and acts against it by condemning and punishing sin. Thus, an eternal penalty must be paid for sin. Humanity could not atone for its own sin, but Christ did: as the substitute for humanity, he died as a sacrifice to pay the penalty, suffered the divine wrath against sin, and removed its condemnation forever.’, Allison, ‘History of the Doctrine of the Atonement’, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology ( 11.2.11), 2007).

[4] ‘The penal substitutionary view has come to characterize the standard Reformed/Calvinist approach to the atonement.’, Beilby, Boyd, & Eddy (eds.), ‘The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views’, p. 17 (2006).

[5] ‘Although this theory became the standard view of the atonement among Protestants, it did not go unchallenged. The heretical Socinians developed a view similar in some ways to Abelard’s moral influence theory; it is called the example theory of the atonement.’, Allison, ‘History of the Doctrine of the Atonement’, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology ( 11.2.13), 2007).

[6] ‘And they insist that Christ’s atonement requires following in his footsteps and conforming one’s own will to the divine‘, Roth & Stayer, ‘A companion to Anabaptism and spiritualism, 1521-1700’, p. 268 (2007); a comment on an Anabaptist list of articles of faith.

[7] ‘While Anabaptists stressed Christ’s example in the way of martyrdom, Luther’s and Calvin’s doctrine of atonement became the heart of the evangelical message, and its so-called “crucicentrism,” down, for example, to John Stott.’, Blocher, ‘Atonement’, in Vanhoozer et al. (eds.), ‘Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible’, p. 73 (2005).

[8] ‘Until the middle of the twentieth century, Roman Catholics also commonly held penal substitution as one element in complex theologies.’, ibid., p. 73.

[9] Also known as Pullen, Pullan or Pully.

[10] ‘Appeal might be made to a thinker like the English theologian Robert Pullan, who rejected the ransom view and in good Abelardian fashion stressed the noetic aspect that Christ “by the greatness of the price” made known to us “the greatness of his love and of our sin” (Sent. viii.4.13).’, Bromiley, ‘Atone; Atonement’, in Bromiley (ed.), ‘International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia’, volume 1, p. 357 (1992 ed.).

[11]Abelard is known as the pioneer of the subjective, moral influence, view (though he did express the objective and penal one when commenting on Rom. 4:25; as quoted by Tobias Eißler 124n30).’, Blocher, ‘Atonement’, in Vanhoozer et al. (eds.), ‘Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible’, p. 73 (2005).

[12] ‘The main point for him was the teaching of Christ and the response it evoked. Christ became man in order that He might enlighten the world by His wisdom and excite it to love for Himself (Ep. ad Rom., Opera [ed Cousin], II, 207). His death was both a lesson and also an example. Its intended effect was the kindling of a responsive gratitude and love which “should not be afraid to endure anything for his sake” (pp. 766f). When the sinner was stimulated to amendment of life in this way, God could remit eternal punishment in virtue of the conversion rather than any objective or external equivalent (p. 628). The work of Christ was thus a demonstration of divine love which removed the obstacle between God and man, not by a work for man, but by the effect in him.’, Bromiley, ‘Atone; Atonement’, in Bromiley (ed.), ‘International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia’, volume 1, p. 357 (1992 ed.).

[13] ‘Peter Lombard, though far from having Anselm’s vision, is almost equally explicit in tracing the moral element in the sacrifice of Christ’s death‘, Williams, ‘Broadchalke Sermon-Essays on Nature, Mediation, Atonement, Absolution, Etc’, p. 254 (1867).

[14] ‘As Peter Lombard, a twelfth-century theologian, wrote: So great a pledge of love having been given us we too are moved and kindled to love God who did such great things for us; and by this we are justified, that is, being loosened from our sins we are made just. The death of Christ therefore justifies us, inasmuch as through it charity is excited in our hearts.’, Bartlett, ‘Cross purposes: the violent grammar of Christian atonement’, p. 221 (2001).

[15] ‘But a more representative treatment is that of Lombard, who combines several aspects. Thus a ransom is paid and the devil is caught as in a mousetrap (Sermo i.30.2). Yet Christ’s death is also seen from the standpoint of satisfaction or merit (Sent. iii.18.2). It exerts a moral influence too, for by it we “are moved and kindled to love God who did such great things for us” (19.1).’, Bromiley, ‘Atone; Atonement’, in Bromiley (ed.), ‘International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia’, volume 1, p. 357 (1992 ed.).

[16] ‘A third general group of theories is known as the moral-influence theory. Its roots, though not its completed form, go back to Duns Scotus (d.1308) (qv).’, Colby & Williams (eds.), ‘The New International Encyclopaedia’, volume 2, p. (1930).

[17] ‘Thus Scotus did not see that Christ’s death was a punishment or that God’s justice necessarily demanded it. He could regard it as in fact a (nonsubstitutionary) satisfaction, but only because God in love freely willed to accept it as such (a doctrine known as acceptilation). Nor did it have to be infinite in scope but merely sufficient to merit initial grace for man, for which implicit faith was enough on man’s part.’, ibid., p. 357.

[18] ‘There is, however, no hint that Scotus accepts any sort of penal theory of the atonement here.’, Cross, ‘Duns Scotus’, p. 205 (1999).

[19] ‘Atonement is secured instead by penitence and a will to obey. The role of Christ’s death is that of an example of obedience.’, ibid., p. 358.

[20] ‘In reaction against the exaggerations of this ‘penal theory’ arose the doctrine, first defended by the Socinians, which denied the objective efficacy of the Cross and looked upon the death of Christ as primarily an example to His followers. Notable modern exponents of this view in England were B. *Jowett and H. *Rashdall.’, Cross & Livingstone, ‘The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church’, p. 125 (3rd rev. ed. 2005).

[21] ‘Unlike the so-called magisterial Reformation, the Radical Reformation gave pride of place to discipleship and the imitation of Christ rather than to justification and union with Christ.’, Horton, ‘Lord and servant: a covenant Christology’, p. 184 (2005).

 

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