The Patristic Doctrine of the Atonement

This lecture is very much worth your attention. Ben Myers criticism of Gustav Aulen’s presentation of Christus Victor is important, I think.

I wonder how Orthodox patristic scholars might respond to Dr Myer’s lecture.

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20 Responses to The Patristic Doctrine of the Atonement

  1. I think Orthodox patristic scholars would laud his presentation but lament his inability to answer some of the questions posed by audience members at the end, e.g. why do all suffer sin and death after the atonement, etc. I think these answers are clear from the apostolic Churches, as we think in sacramental and convenantal terms, that is, participation in Christ, conformity to Christ. I suffer after the atonement because my suffering now has meaning, my death now has meaning, my askesis now has meaning, but only in, with, and through the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of my God and Savior Jesus Christ.

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    • Triple Yes – Excellent!

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    • Nicholas says:

      Lament, perhaps, but I appreciated the honesty of his answer to that question. This is exactly the problem with a great deal of theology today. Because it is separated from the mystical life of the Church, it is not seen as addressing any real problem! Either Christ did not “work” and God is dead and atheism is the answer, or Christ did work, but on some abstract notion of guilt or condemnation that isn’t going to really affect us until the afterlife. The real answer is exactly what you said.

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  2. Wow! That was good.The second to the last question was particularly salient. How does one successfully weave paleontological theory into this model? But I have to say, after reading Gustaf Aulen’s “Christus Victor” a few years ago and not having the theological depth of discernment to grasp it’s more subtle nuances, was one of the reasons I started hanging out here trying to grasp Patristic cognizance. This is simply a fantastic resource and I can’t wait to dig deeper still.
    Thanks!!!!

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  3. tgbelt says:

    I loved Ben’s presentation, and I gravitated to some of the same questions mentioned here. My immediate response to the question about why, if the Incarnation is the event where divine and human being are united and salvation is secured, we still suffer, i.e., why the consequences of the Incarnation are not universally effective. The answer that came to mind also drew on the metaphysics of participation, specifically, the conviction that our participation in the saving effects of the Incarnation are equally personally appropriated–i.e., we have to choose.

    Tom

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    • In the scholastic tradition, we distinguish between the objective and subjective redemption. The subjective redemption is precisely what tgbelt says, the redemption as personally appropriated, i.e. believed in, hoped for, and lived out through love.

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  4. Jonathan says:

    Wow, great lecture. But that last question was a sucker punch. What a bunch of baloney, or I guess materialism is the technical word. Strike-you-blind 190-proof hide-the-still-from-the-feds moonshining materialism.

    About why we still undergo suffering and death, I don’t think it impinges the Atonement “model” presented here to note that we don’t have a good idea of what these things are, we just assume we do because we can point to instances so easily and they are so experiential, so immediate. But that doesn’t mean we actually understand what these are instances of. To even begin to do that you need mediation, critical distance. Which is why people, for example, read novels and poems and plays. So when Myers says in one of his very honest answers, “. . . why is it I only love God three minutes a week, on average?” — this has to be my favorite moment, by the way — one response could be: You love him much more than you think you do.

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    • Jonathan says:

      er. . . just to be clear, I meant the last question, and not at all the answer, was bad. Myers’ answer was fine as far as it went, I just wish he would’ve called out the materialist assumption. I can’t stand that move, an annoyingly common one. Of course our physical attributes matter, but they can’t be all that matter. If that were so, biology would collapse, conceptually, into physics. Indeed, there are no humans. No dolphins or apes or ants either, or trees or mountains or smiles or poetry or stars or ice cream. All that’s “really” there is. . . whatever physicists say there is, membranes or subatomic particles whirling around their shadowy antitheses in a giant simulation heading for heat death.

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      • For me, the whole gist of the presentation hangs on Proposition 8 –

        “When Chris’s human nature succumbs to death, the fullness of divine life enters the privation state of death. As a result, the privation is filled, i.e. cancelled out. In the death of Christ, death dies. (The mechanism.)” This echoes wonderfully John 1:5 – “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – Talk about heat death!

        And of course the resurrection in a sense, is the transformation of that darkness [death] into light. As “alienus dilectus” puts it above – “that is, participation in Christ, conformity to Christ. I suffer after the atonement because my suffering now has meaning, my death now has meaning, my askesis now has meaning, but only in, with, and through the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of my God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

        Beautiful!

        ….and in the meantime, we’ve got to wait – God’s not through building his family yet. “The Dance” needs to be BIG, really BIG to even come close to expressing the Triune Love they have/ had before the foundation of the world.

        Propositions 9 & 10 smoothly connect Universalism into the formula but I know that some might scream “that’s bogus mathematics” – some will never come to repentance in this life nor in a Purgatorial state. But as Talbott aptly puts it – The love of God is ultimately [inescapable] – Ha!

        I like to think of Atonement theories as being synonymous with taking a birds-eye view of a color divided piechart, where over lapping analogous colors take on tertiary meaning and significance – Penal Substitution, Ransom, Governmental, and ultimately, Christus Victor are all parts of a layered cultural discernment of The Cross.

        Yea, “materialist assumptions” and those who overuse them, always try to hold hostage the metaphysical mechanisms inherent in atonement schemata. Whereas the qualifiable and quantifiable evidence comes from the self-sacrafical Cruciform Love demonstrated by followers of the Master redeemer – Matthew 12:33

        I am curious though about his official stance on “Spiritual Warfare”. He seems to be suggesting that the, Devil, demons, serpents, Satan, etc.. are potentially psychological/cultural projections contrived to communicate the deeper spiritual truths of the atonement, especially in Gustaf Aulen’s case where he critiques Patristic explinations in which the Devil is a real sentient trans-physical being triumphantly defeated at The Cross.

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        • tgbelt says:

          Regarding your final paragraph there, I had the same question. DBH takes seriously the reality of immaterial agencies exercising influence within the world and opposing God.

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          • Jonathan says:

            But isn’t this a materialist misstep? For the Christian or the Platonist, there is no mere psychology, nothing can be “just in your head.” That’s the whole point of realism, as far as I grasp it.

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  5. Jonathan says:

    I’m wondering now, does one need to talk about a universal human nature (not that I think it difficult to do so legitimately), or might it be better to think in terms of an All-Unity, encompassing more than just the human thing, along the lines of Solovyov and S L Frank — and I think Bulgakov, though I don’t know his work well. (Theological) anthropology is not necessarily the right place to start and end. Myers uses “good” and “very good” in those last propositions — but these are the blessings in Genesis conferred on all creation, not just on humankind. It is of course fashionable to say this, but can a sort of anthropocentrism derail a model of Atonement? If there is a decent point lurking in that loaded final question, that might be it. Anthropology is crucial, for sure, but could be we have to think our way to the human being after starting with the total creation.

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    • Good question. Bulgakov talks about the natural (non-human) world as the “peripheral body” of humankind. Man is the “microcosm that extends into the macrocosm.” He also uses the language of “all-unity,” and “multi-unity” to describe the “natural” integration of all things.

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      • tgbelt says:

        Yep. I wondered as Ben spoke of a single human nature if he had Bulgkakov (World Soul) in mind. Rather than think of each individual human being as a separate or distinct “spirit,” as though each of us has his “own” spirit (Casper the friendly ghost comes to mind!), perhaps we each share a single, spiritual reality to which we individually mis/relate.

        Tom

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  6. Nicholas says:

    His answer to the question about universalism was very thought-provoking. He mentioned two possibilities for what exactly apokatastasis means. First, that all people (and all of Creation) are eventually repent and are brought into the love of God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Second, that all of being is brought into the Kingdom, but that parts of Creation may be missing, having faded into non-being.

    I hope I’m stating this precisely enough, but that second seems very similar to what C.S. Lewis or Fr. Robert Capon say about hell. Hell is just occupying no (or very little) space in the Kingdom. Is this a plausible reading of Gregory of Nyssa?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Nicholas, my impression is that the majority scholarly reading of Gregory of Nyssa is that he taught the ultimate reconciliation and salvation of all rational beings. The minority reading, on the other hand, interprets him more along traditional lines.

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  7. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I would like to suggest that, for me, the great weakness of Myer’s presentation is the absence of the Church. The patristic doctrine of the atonement cannot be abstracted from the Church’s eucharistic-ascetical life. When it is, it becomes mere theory that does not touch the existential reality of human being.

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    • Attempting to hang in the discussion here – Yes, I think you’re absolutely right Fr Kimel. In that LATC Conference forum he’s presenting a Grand Metaphysical Picture of Atonement but in his smaller more personal style in some of the videos I’ve now watched online associated with his work at “Leichardt Uniting” in Australia, he dresses that very issue eloquently. But I think the model should potentially have a “Step 13” where the eucharistic-ascetical life is then celebrated.

      Dr Ben Myers Apostle’s Creed “… and He will come to judge …
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pq3NrkxY-qs

      Dr Ben Myers: The Apostles’ Creed “I believe in the Holy …
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dqks9fEi8E

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