Expiation (In Theology)

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The concept, expiation, may be considered as it is applied to the work of Christ (in soteriology) or as it is applied to certain works and orientations of Christian spirituality.

Soteriology. Christ's redemptive work is many sided. Some of its aspects correspond to those of the sin it has destroyed. Sin is not only an aversion from God, but also an illicit conversion to a created reality; it gives rise to guilt and penalty. Expiation is an aversion counter to the illicit conversion, and works on the penalty aspect of sin; it is an aversion from a created reality through voluntary suffering and removes the cause of the sinner's alienation from God in order to restore him to holiness and divine favor.

Christ, the Suffering Servant, the new Adam, expiated the penalty of men's sins by His suffering and death, and effected the at-one-ment of man with God. He thereby revealed God's infinite love and mercy, satisfied the divine justice (so exacting because so intimately related to the divine love), and manifested the villainy of sin.

Since there are no consequences of sin in Christ, vicarious expiation does not mean that Christ was punished in man's place; a penalty is a punishment only when paid by the guilty one, and an element of punishment is that it is against the will of the person punished. There is no substitution here of persons but of effects. Christ freely accepted out of love and obedience sufferings that are the penalty exacted for men's sins, but not their punishment.

This doctrine, found in the teaching of the Church[H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer (Freiburg 1963) 1690, 1691, 1740, 1743, 3438; Pius XI, Miserentissimus Redemptor, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 20 (1928) 169170], is well summed up by Pius XII in Haurietis aquas: "The mystery of the divine Redemption is first and foremost a mystery of love . Since men could in no way expiate their sins, Christ by shedding His precious blood was able to restore and perfect the bond of friendship between God and men " [ Acta Apostolicae Sedis 48 (1956) 321322].

The interpretation of Christ's Person as the Suffering Servant and of His work as a universal expiation valid for all of mankind, since all of mankind is somehow present in Christ, is found both in the Greek and Latin Fathers. The doctrine found in Origen (Comm. in Rom. 3.8; Patrologia Graeca 14:946951), Athanasius (Inc. 9; Patrologia Graeca 25:111), and Eusebius of Caesarea (Demonstr. evangel. 10.1; Patrologia Graeca 22:724725) is well expressed by St. Cyril of Alexandria: "Christ having suffered for us, how could God any longer demand from us the penalty of our sins?" (Ador. 3; Patrologia Graeca 68:297). In St. Augustine one finds the whole Latin tradition clearly affirmed: "By His death, that one most true sacrifice offered on our behalf, He purged, abolished, and extinguished whatever guilt we had" (Trin. 4.13.17; Patrologia Latina 42:899).

Although vicarious satisfaction is for Anselm in the Cur Deus homo, the essence of Redemption, he does not omit the expiatory aspect. Christ's death was a piacular sacrifice, but not a punishment inflicted by a vindictive God.

For St. Thomas, he who has sinned deserves to be punished, to suffer something contrary to his will (Summa theologiae 3a, 86.4). But this penalty, to expiate sin, must be freely accepted. What is most important is not the suffering, but the love with which it is accepted (Summa theologiae 3a, 14.1 ad 1). Christ expiated for men because "the head and members are but one mystical person" (Summa theologiae 3a, 48.2 ad 1).

For the reformers and, more so, for Calvin in whom the doctrine is definitively formulated, Christ's Passion was a punishment substituted for that of guilty mankind. " Christ took upon Himself and suffered the punishment that by the righteous judgment of God hung over all sinners, and by this expiation the Father has been satisfied" [Institutes of the Christian Religion 2.16; ed. J. T. McNeill, tr. F. L. Battles, 2 v. (Philadelphia 1960) 1:505]. This doctrine, although not generally accepted in contemporary Protestantism, where more emphasis has been given to the divine mystery of love, can still be found in some 19th-century theologians [see R. W. Dale, The Atonement (London 1875); J. Denney, The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation (New York 1918)].

Since the Reformation some preachers of the 18th and 19th centuries, such as Bossuet, Bourdaloue, Montsabré, Wiseman, and Faber, have obscured the mystery of Redemption by a too great stress on the penal element [see Philippe de la Trinité, What is Redemption? tr. A. Armstrong (New York 1961) 1637].

Although the great theologians of the 17th and 18th centuries avoided such views, some modern theologians have held that the redemptive value of Christ's death is found primarily in the penal element. C. Pesch [Das Sühneleiden unseres göttlichen Erlöses (Freiburg 1916)] was, because of such a doctrine, strongly attacked by J. Rivière, for whom the primal value of Christ's death is to be found in His love. Suffering and love are to one another as matter and form.

Expiation of itself cannot explain the whole of Redemption, but it is an essential element in the salvific work of Christ. It has been absorbed in the satisfaction theory, where it plays the role of an essential material element.

Bibliography: j. riviÈre, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 13.2:19122004. l. moraldi, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932) 4.2:202645. g. jacquemet, Catholicisme 4:961963. p. neuenzeit, h. fries, ed., Handbuch theologischer Grundbegriffe, 2 v. (Munich 196263) 2:586596. d. bertetto, Il mistero della colpa secondo S. Tommaso (Alba 1953). p. eder, Sühne (Basil 1962). p. grech, The Atonement and God: The Main Theories in Modern English Theology (Rome 1955). p. hartmann, Le Sens plénier de la réparation du péché (Louvain 1955). t. h. hughes, The Atonement (London 1949). e. l. kendall, A Living Sacrifice (London 1960). d. lewis, De necessitate passionis ac mortis Christi ad satisfaciendum pro genere humano, secundum s. Thomam (Rome 1958). r. t. a. murphy, The Dereliction of Christ on the Cross (Washington 1940). j. m. o'leary, The Development of the Doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas on the Passion and Death of our Lord (Chicago 1952). e. quarello, Peccato e castigo nella teologia cattolica contemporanea (Turin 1958). l. richard, Le Mystère de la Rédemption (Tournai 1959). h. e. w. turner, The Patristic Doctrine of Redemption (London 1952). Basilio de San Pablo, "Irenismo en soteriología," in Semana Española de Teologia, eleventh, 1951 (Madrid 1952) 455503. g. graystone, "Modern Theories of the Atonement," The Irish Theological Quarterly 20 (Dublin 1953) 225252, 366388. n. ladomerszky, "Essai d'étude sur le dogme de la Rédemption dans la théologie contemporaine," Euntes docete 2 (1949) 321348. g. oggioni, "Il mistero della redenzione," in Problemi e orientamenti di teologia dommatica, 2 v. (Milan 1957) 2:237343. j. riviÈre, "Un Dossier patristique de l'expiation," Revue des Sciences Religieuses 2 (1922) 303315. J. solano, "Actualidades cristológicosoteriológicas," Estudios eclesiásticos 24 (1950) 4369; "El sentido de la muerte redentora de N.S. Jesu Cristo y algunas corrientes modernos," ibid. 20 (1964) 399414.

[l. richard]

In Spiritual theology. The Church, from its beginning, canonized the sentiment that led repentant man to offer God works of expiation, to satisfy for his own sins and the sins of others. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross was sufficient to satisfy divine justice for all of man's sins. But the followers of Christ are invited to share in their master's work of Redemption by offering to God in Christ's name their good deeds and their penitential works freely assumed, not for themselves only but others also. For it is held that within the Mystical Body the fruit of expiation can be communicated to others, a thought that has inspired many loving and generous souls to voluntary suffering and penitential discipline not for their own sins alone. Through their incorporation in christ by Baptism, the Christians' own deeds participated in the merits of the Redeemer. Thus every follower of Christ can, by his own actions, extend the forgiving effects of the Savior's suffering and death.

This teaching of the Christian revelation has attracted many people to a life of expiation. Led by a desire to share the work of the Redeemer, they have imposed on themselves a way of mortification, sometimes extreme. Martyrs went to their death gladly with this in view. Virgins dedicated themselves to a life of prayer and fasting in order to bring to needy sinners the justifying effects of Christ's sacrifice. The penances of the early hermits had the same motivation. From these beginnings came monastic life, which organized the practices of those who sought a life of expiation in union with the Savior. Each of the many religious communities in the Church has an expiatory function, in that they offer their members opportunities to practice virtue to win forgiveness of their own and others' sins.

Spiritual writers agree that some expiatory practices are necessary in the life of every Christian. Devotional practices and penitential works, such as attendance at Mass and observance of special times of fast and abstinence, as well as other penitential works, are part of the program of expiation that the Church offers its members. In modern times the popes constantly remind the faithful of their need for expiation by prayer and good deeds, [see, for example, the apostolic constitution Poenitemini of Pope Paul VI (Feb. 17, 1966) ch. 12]. Expiatory prayers are enriched with indulgences, and the devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to Our Lady of Lourdes, and of Fatima, which are recommended by the popes, have a strong element of expiation.

See Also: atonement; reparation; satisfaction of christ.

Bibliography: p. pourrat, Christian Spirituality, tr. w. h. mitchell et al., 4 v (Westminister, Md. 195355) 1:3648,, 74129. v. taylor, Forgiveness and Reconciliation (2d ed. New York 1946; repr. 1960). pius xi, Miserentissimus Redemptor (encyclical, May 8, 1928) Acta Apostolicae Sedis 20 (Rome 1928) 165178. pius xii, Fulgens corona (encyclical, Sept. 8, 1953) Acta Apostolicae Sedis 45 (Rome 1953) 577592. The Raccolta (New York 1952) 173183.

[p. f. mulhern]