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REDEMPTION (from Lat. redemptio, derived from redemere, "to buy back") literally means liberation by payment of a price or ransom. The term is used metaphorically and by extension in a number of religions to signify the salvation from doom or perdition that is wrought by a savior or by the individual himself. Like the concepts of salvation, sacrifice, and justification, the concept of redemption belongs to a cluster of religious notions that converge upon the meanings of making good, new, or free, or delivering from sickness, famine, death, mortality, life itself, rebirth, war, one's own self, sin and guilt, anguish, even boredom and nausea. Redemption bears the closest conceptual kinship to salvation, sharing with it the intentionality of the need or desire to suppress an essential lack in human existence and to be delivered from all its disabling circumstances. This deliverance requires various forms of divine help, succor, or intervention to be achieved, which often secures for the believer an access to the dunamis of the spirit and to its outpourings, thereby leading to charismatic gifts. Redemption may be of God's or of humanity's doing. In a certain sense, redemption makes possible a recovery of paradise lost, of a primordial blissful state. In another sense, it points to new creation or ontological newness in the future. Creation is in many religions a highly sacrificial act that requires prior destruction, as in the dismemberment of Prajāpati's body in Hinduism or the thorough destruction of the shaman's body in northern Asian religions. These acts signify reconstruction-participation in divine fecundity or, respectively, multi-fecundation by the god Prajāpati, equivalent to partnership in the world. To be redeemed may mean to be divinized, either by the reenactment of the primordial creative act (preceded by a descent) or through the theandric, sacrificial action of a savior (sōtēr ). In both cases, grace plays an important role; forgiveness also may be redemptive to the extent that it is provoked by, or calls for, repentance.

In Judaism, the psalmist's "God of my salvation" (Heb. Goʾel, "redeemer," from the verb gaʾal, used to refer to the redeeming of relatives from slavery, of property from foreign possessions, etc.) is a savior from distress and disaster, yet sometimes is himself in need of salvation (salvator salvandus ). Says Job: "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust" (Jb. 19:25). And the Psalm: "Truly no man can redeem himself!" (Ps. 49:7). "Israel, hope in the Lord. He will redeem you from all your sins" (Ps. 130:78). In Judaism the concept of redemption is closely associated with repentance.

Liberation from exile (Dt. 15:15), restoration of freedom (Is. 62:12, 63:4), and the vision of a just society have always been signs of divine redemption for the people of Israel. Messianic Judaism projected the new heaven and the new earth, the final restoration and reintegration in peace and harmony of the people of Israel into a remote, utopian future, an ultimate event that, however, was to be preceded by apocalyptic, catastrophical changes; in this respect, the liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt and the Sinai covenant are complementary to each other. Yet there are in the Old Testament elements of realized eschatology, of "redemption here and now," beliefs that were carried over by various sects (the Ebionites, Essenes, Nazarenes) into Christianity. While having an indubitable eschatological dimension, redemption cannot be reduced to it. And, the extent that it is involved with sacrifice, redemption shares with sacrifice either an active or a passive character. Redemption points to both liberation and repurchase.

This mystery of redemption is best illustrated in Christianity: Christ suffered on the cross in order to satisfy retributive justice. The meaning of redemption in the New Testament is chiefly that of the deliverance of humanity from sin, death, and God's anger, through the death and resurrection of Christ. A certain Greek influence makes itself felt through Paul, who took in the notion of ransom (lutron, from luō, "to loose") and thus pointed to the Greek custom of emancipating slaves through payment. "Jesus Christ gave himself for us, to ransom us from all our guilt, a people set apart for himself." (Ti. 2:14); and "that flock he won for himself at the price of his own blood" (Acts 20:28). Also in 1 Corinthians : "A great price was paid to ransom you; glorify God by making your bodies shrines of his presence" (6:20); and "A price was paid to redeem you" (7:23).

Yet lutron must not be taken literally, as denoting a particular commercial price, a barter; it may mean any instrument of deliverance without there being a question of paying a ransom. (One must exercise prudence, as Thomas Aquinas did, and use the word price as that which is payable to God, not to the devil.) Going beyond the juridical notion of punishment and ransom, Paul emphasized the gratuitous aspect of redemption as an act of love: Christ's passion and death take on their supreme redemptive value due to the voluntary nature of the sacrifice, the free acceptance of suffering. Obedience to the divine Father's decree is the proof of love; price here equals liberating satisfaction, deliverance from the double slavery of sin and punishment. The exaltation of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit signify the decisive act of salvation history (Heilsgeschichte ), which ushers in the new age proclaimed by the prophets (Is. 65:17). Works of satisfaction for sinfasting, almsgiving, prayer, and works of mercyall have redemptive value, not only for Christianity, but for other religions as well. Functional equivalents of the Judeo-Christian notion of redemption can be found in many other religions, especially in ethically oriented ones that stress the virtues of action. Salvation is of course the primary and essential goal. But to gain it many primitive cults devised severe and sometimes complicated rituals and ceremonies of redemption.

The Egyptian Pyramid Texts of 2400 bce looked upon salvation as both a mystery and a technique. Osiris, slain by his brother Seth, is rescued by Isis and brought back to life by means of a secret and complicated ritual; he becomes the one savior from death and from its consequences. The redeeming efficacy of the mortuary ritual of embalming, in which the devotee is identified with the god, was believed to stem from Osiris' primordial experience, which, by being reenacted, made salvation possible.

The primitive vegetation-gods were redeemer gods who required the sacrifice of a symbolic part of the crop to save the whole and allow its use by humans. The agrarian sacrifices of the Romans were meant to appease the wrath of the gods and bring about plentiful crops. The sacrifice of an animal instead of a human was believed to cure illness. According to Ovid, the Romans sacrificed to the manes, or spirits of the ancestors. In Babylon, as in ancient Israel, the sacrifice of the firstborn or vicarious forms of it played an important role in the process of redemption by transmitting the tension and effecting the link between primordial time (Urzeit ) and the eschaton (Endzeit ). The idea that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons appears in the gveda, even before the notion of karman was unfolded. To be cleansed of paternal sin, the son has to break violently away from his past; this is viewed as a split between the ascetic and erotic parts of man, located respectively in a mental seed (above the navel), and a lower seed (below the navel). The alchemic function of yoga tends to transform animal instinct into soma, the mental type of seed. Blood functions here as mediator between semen and soma. The sacrifice of wild beasts as well as the taming of the cows are symbolic of this sought-for individual regeneration.

The Vedic sacrifice is more beneficial to the gods than to the individual; indeed, it strengthens the gods, but their prosperity in turn reverberates on humans; thus it is said that the gods nourish you if you nourish them. Agni, the god of fire and sacrifice, behaves like a demon and tries to burn everything down, but placated by sacrifice, he resurrects humankind from ashes. Hence sacrificial food is a bribe to the gods. In the post-Vedic, ascetic mythology, sacrifice becomes a two-edged sword, for Hindu mythology, even demons can be redeemed. The bhakti spirit generates entire cycles of its own, in which even apparently malevolent acts of God are regarded as being of ultimate benefit to humanity; hence the practice of a magic of friendship or of friendliness as means of redemption.

In Zoroastrianism, the redemption of humankind, viewed as both individual and universal eschatology, is linked with the hope of seeing that Ohrmazd, having been released from his entanglement with darkness and evil, emerges victorious from the war over Ahriman. The haoma ritual, a central act of worship, actualizes such a god-centered redemption. The theological trend in Sasanid Zoroastrianism exhibits a belief in the redemption of the world through the individual's efforts to make the gods dwell in his body while chasing the demons out of it. Mazdaism admits of a cosmical redemption besides individual deliverance, which is supposed to occur at the end of time at the hand of Saoshyant, the savior.

Buddism is a religion fully bent on salvation. In Mahāyāna Buddism the doctrine of the Buddha and the bodhisattva shows the great vows required by the spiritual discipline of enlightenment to be a devotion to the principle that the merit and knowledge acquired by the individual on this path be wholly transferred upon all beings, high and low, and not jealously accumulated for one's self. This "activity without attachment" involves a free restraint from entering upon nirvāa, exercised for the sake of one's fellow beings. In Japanese Buddhism the principle of salvation by self-power (jiriki ) is contrasted by salvation through "another" (tariki ), that is, through the power of the Buddha Amida. In Zen, devotion, fervor, and depth are all equally redeeming inner attitudes. Some types of mysticism have been categorized as redemptive: for instance, true gnosticisms rely on the dispelling of ignorance, as, for example, the gnosticism of al-insanal-kamil ("the perfect human being") and the dispensers of the individual's proper spirituality in Hinduism. Some others cannot be so categorized; Hasidic mysticism, for example, is self-redemptive, noneschatological, and nonmessianic.

There are three main ways of redemption in mystical religions: through illumination, as in Zen Buddhism, or through a dispelling of ignorance of the gnostic type, as in Islam; through membership and participation in the community (the Buddhist sagha, the Christian ekklēsia, the Muslim ummah ); or, in secular types of religiosity by a redirection of the libido, a reordering of the soul's powers in a harmonious use of the personality, which may mean either a widening or a narrowing of consciousness.

Ancient Mexican religions knew a variety of redemptive types, among which was a form of plain self-redemption from diseases such as leprosy, cancer, buboes, or bubonic plague, and from spiritual sins such as falsehood, adultery, or drunkenness. The Aztec religion favors redemption from existence itself during one's very lifetime, the highest aim being identification with divinity. One example of such a "perfect redemption" (Joachim Wach) is the return of the high priest Quetzalcoatl after his beatification achieved by encounter with the divinity.

In African traditional religions, the need for redemption is expressed in myths of the Baganda peoples: terms such as kununula ("to buy back, to ransom, to redeem") and kulokola ("to save, to rescue") point to deadly misfortunes from which the spirits of the departed (lubaale, "deity of the below") may rescue one. Redemption is far more directed toward the reintegration of the cosmic, social, and political order in the present moment of the community than toward the afterlife, in spite of the general belief in immortality.

See Also



Brandon, S. G. F., ed. The Savior God. Manchester, 1963.

Florovskii, Georgii Vasilevitch. Creation and Redemption. Belmont, Mass., 1976.

Knudson, Albert C. The Doctrine of Redemption. New York, 1933.

O'Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley, Calif., 1976.

Przyluski, Jean. "Erlösung im Buddhismus." Eranos-Jahrbuch (Zurich) (1937): 93136.

Schär, Hans. Erlösungsvorstellungen und ihre psychologischen Aspekte. Zurich, 1950.

Toutain, Jules. "L'idée religieuse de la rédemption." In Annuaires de l'École des Hautes Études (Sciences Religieuses), Section 5. Paris, 19161917.

Trinité, Philippe de la. What Is Redemption? New York, 1961.

Werblowsky, R. J. Zwi. Types of Redemption. Leiden, 1970.

New Sources

Arnault, Lynne. "Cruelty, Horror, and the Will to Redemption." Hypatia 18 (spring 2003): 155189.

Ferdinando, Keith. The Triumph of Christ in African Perspective: A Study of Demonology and Redemption in the African Context. Carlisle, U.K., 1999.

Gorringe, Timothy. A Theology of the Built Environment: Justice, Empowerment, Redemption. New York, 2002.

Koenig, John. The Feast of World's Redemption: Eucharistic Origins and Christian Mission. Harrisburg, Pa., 2000.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Women and Redemption: A Theological Study. Minneapolis, Minn., 1998.

Ileana Marcoulesco (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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