Atonement Theory 3

 “Anselm used the analogy of Medieval Feudal society to illustrate his theory.”

The Recapitulation Theory is another variation of the “Christus Victor” model and also dates to the very early Church.  In the recapitulation view of the atonement, Christ is seen as the new Adam who succeeds where Adam failed.  Christ undoes the wrong that Adam did and, because of his union with humanity, leads humankind on to union with God and eternal life.  This theory is found throughout the writings of the early Church Fathers.   Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296–373), the hero of the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, wrote the classic treatise On The Incarnation of the Logos in AD 318 which explains the overall Recapitulation view very well.

The “Christus Victor” Theory and its variants dominated Christian theology for a thousand years until Anselm of Canterbury moved the Latin West toward the “Satisfaction” theory in the 11th century.

The third atonement theory, the Satisfaction Theory, was developed by the 11th century theologian Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109).  According to this theory, mankind owes a debt not to Satan, but to the sovereign God himself.  Anselm used the analogy of Medieval Feudal society to illustrate his theory.  A sovereign may well be able to forgive an insult or an injury in his private capacity, but because he is a sovereign, he cannot if the state has been dishonored. Anselm argued that the insult given to God is so great that only a perfect sacrifice could satisfy, and that Jesus, being both God and man, was this perfect sacrifice. Therefore, the doctrine would be that Jesus gave himself as a “ransom for many”, to God the Father himself.

The next atonement theory, which was a development by the Reformers (including Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Melanchthon) is based on Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory.  It is the widely held Protestant Penal Substitution Theory which, instead of considering sin as an affront to God’s honor, sees sin as the breaking of God’s moral law. Placing a particular emphasis on Romans 6:23 (‘the wages of sin is death’), Penal Substitution sees sinful man as being subject to God’s wrath with the essence of Jesus’ saving work being his substitution in the sinner’s place, bearing the curse in the place of man (cf., Galatians 3:13).

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