“The Atonement in Paul” by Douglas Campbell

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6 Responses to “The Atonement in Paul” by Douglas Campbell

  1. Mark Armitage says:

    I think that these criticisms of the “contractual model of atonement” apply equally well to scholastic soteriology, with its emphasis on merit, satisfaction, and a rather narrow understanding of sacrifice. The sixteenth century debates over justification and salvation do sometimes come across as a series of disagreements over divergent understandings of different contractual models.


  2. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I think you may be right, Mark. The spanner is the predestinarianism that underlies much of Western reflection: how can one proclaim the unconditionality of divine love, when that love only intends some of mankind?


  3. Edward says:

    Just a word in defense of scholastic soteriology. I understand that some of the terminology used by the scholastics can sound very technical and contractual. Nevertheless, one must understand that what lay beneath the use of such terms was a very non-legalistic and, indeed, participatory view of salvation. Consider, for instance, the term “merit.” This term was not intended to imply that man had to earn brownie points before God in order to save himself. Rather, it was intended to preserve the notion that, in order to see God, man himself must be righteous and pure. This idea is held unanimously by all of the Fathers. Even those Fathers, such as Sts. Gregory of Nyssa and Isaac of Syria, who held to some form of universal salvation, believed that none would be restored to God without an interior purification.
    The term “satisfaction” as used by St. Anselm should never be confused with the later use of this term by the reformers, tied as it is with the notion of penal substitution. I would argue that St. Anselm’s notion of atonement is “liturgical” in character. Man, through sin, fails to give God the worship that is His due, i.e., as a result of the fall, man has become incapable of offering himself in love to God. God’s response is to come down to man and take on human flesh in the Person of Christ. In Christ, man makes the perfect offering to God. The scholastics would argue as well that this offering need not have been a bloody one. Nevertheless, in order to show the depth of His love for us, Christ offers His very life to the Father on our behalf. Only Christ’s sacrifice is fully satisfactory. Only His sacrifice is fully pleasing to the Father. But by entering into the mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, our sacrifice is joined to His and takes on the character of His sacrifice. In this way, the Church makes up, as St. Paul says, “what is lacking in the sacrifice of Christ.” Christ does not die in our place, as though His death means that we do not have to die. Rather, His death makes possible our own death to sin. His resurrection makes possible our own rising to new life.



    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thank you, Ed, for that word. It’s also important for us to remember that scholasticism covers a broad range of theologians/philosophers over a period of several centuries. Generalizations are perilous, though irresistible. We must deal with one theologian at a time. As we draw closer to the 16th century I suspect that we find Latin theologians who are more vulnerable to the Reformation critique, particularly with regards to merit. Trent will recover a more Augustinian understanding of merit.

      Yet that being said, I think it’s very difficult to speak of merit without intimating a form of works-righteousness. The nuances and qualifications of theologians are difficult to convey in catechetical teaching and preaching.


    • Mark Armitage says:

      I agree that there is a strong case for arguing that Anselm understands satisfaction in a what you rightly term a “liturgical” way (I seem to recall that EL Mascall makes this point). And I think there is an equally strong case for arguing that Aquinas understands merit (together with the other models of atonement which he considers) in a participatory way. And the best 19th and 20th century Thomists – such as MJ Scheeben and E Mersch – clearly interpret Aquinas through a very patristic lens of which Aquinas would, I’m sure, have strongly approved. But I’m not convinced that scholasticism and neo-scholasticism in general have always understood the terminology in the way that the “A-list” Thomists do.


  4. PJ says:

    I’m not sure how a God who exhibits righteous anger is any more or less “pagan” than a God who is effusive, superabundant goodness. Both visions can be found in the pagan philosophical-religious tradition. One could easily argue (and some surely have) that given the many (apparent) manifestations of God’s wrath against sin in the history of Israel prior to the advent of Christ, any attempt to “smooth over” these “rough spots” (a subjective judgment, of course) is the influence of Platonizing — that is, pagan — tendencies. I also think that framing the debate in terms of loaded terms like “conditional love” versus “unconditional love” is a bit unhelpful.


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