Redemption (Theology of)

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The term "Redemption" in Christian theology refers to the mystery of God's deliverance of mankind from the evil of sin and His restoration of man to the state of grace by an act of divine power and merciful love. This redemptive act spans the whole of man's history from the time of his first sin and fall from grace. "God wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth" (1 Tm 2.4).


The salvific act of God as it encounters men has progressive realizations and various manifestations. God works His saving will in history in an ever-expanding power of action and clarity of revelation. In the Old Testament, the first realization and revelation of God's redemptive act, a Redemption is promised in Gn 3.15 (see proto-evangelium) and has the beginnings of its realization in the call of Abraham, the election of Moses, the Exodus from Egypt, the covenant of Sinai, the life of the people of God in the Promised Land, the exile and the return of the people, and their waiting in hope for the Messiah of God to come and give "help to Israel as he spoke to Abraham and to his posterity forever" (Lk1.5455).

Salvation history traces a pattern of God's redemptive activity and will provide many of the theological categories within which Christian theology will reflect upon the decisive and definitive Redemption that God works in behalf of mankind in and through Christ. Although a complete theology of Redemption must include all that can be known of God's act of deliverance and restoration, Christian theology has concentrated on the revelation of the New Testament, which marks the "fullness of time" in salvation history when "God sent his Son, born of a woman that he might redeem that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Gal 4.4).

For the NT writers, Redemption may refer to the purpose of Christ's work in its total accomplishment (e.g., Rom 8.23; Eph 4.30; Rv 5.9) or in its partial accomplishment here on earth (e.g., Eph 1.7; Col 1.14). The term also designates the plan of Christ's work (e.g., Rom 3.24; Ti 2.14). Finally, Redemption and its cognate forms can refer to the very accomplishing of the work of Christ in terms of what is done and how the work is effective.

This article considers Redemption chiefly as a process in which the redeeming activity of God is mediated in and through the life and death and Resurrection of the Incarnate Word. The investigations are polarized to the side of Redemption as it is something objective. This is to say that the Redemption is considered as the decisive and definite act of God in Christ on behalf of mankind so that, as regards the divine activity in this order of things, Redemption is accomplished "for once and for all." In the consideration of Redemption as objective, the focus is on God's efficient activity rather than on man's reception of and response to the redemptive act of God. The objective of this article is to present a doctrinal survey that indicates the main lines of theological reflection upon this mystery. This article is not an effort to construct an integral theology of the Redemption according to any one soteriological theory. The Redemption is a mystery properly so called. In certain epochs and according to certain schools of theology, different aspects of the mystery have been put in relief while others have been passed over almost unnoticed. No single theory of the Redemption has ever been total or complete. The investigation proceeds, in general, through scriptural themes and dogmatic formulations by the Church, the doctrinal context of the Redemption, and finally, theories of the Redemption considered within the doctrinal context.


These themes and formulations serve as points of departure for the reflections of the Church and the articles of faith toward which are addressed the theological questions for an intelligence of the mystery.

Scriptural themes. There are seven themes that can be derived from the NT as theological points of departure for the inquiring Christian who asks the question: how and by what means is man delivered from the evil of sin and restored to grace with God? Although not all these themes are equally central in the mystery, each of them, nonetheless, provides a clue for insight into the various aspects of the mystery.

First, Redemption is revealed as achieved by the very fact that the Word of God assumes human nature and becomes the mediator between God and man. The theme is derived from the Fourth Gospel. The sources are also Pauline (e.g., 1 Tm 2.5; Heb 8.6; 9.15). Compare the re-establishment of all things in Christ (Eph 1.10; Col1.1520) and the Christ-Adam parallel (Rom 5.1219; 1 Cor 15.2122, 4549).

Second, Redemption is accomplished through Christ's giving His life as a price of purchase, or ransom, as it were (Mk 10.45; 1 Cor 6.20; 7.23; 1 Tm 2.6; Ti 2.14; 1 Pt 1.1819; Rv 5.9).

Third, Redemption is effected through the sufferings and death of Christ undergone because of sin and in behalf of sinners (Jn 1.29; Rom 4.25; 5.621; 1 Cor 15.3; 2 Cor 5.15; Gal 2.20; Eph 5.2; Col 2.1314).

Fourth, Redemption is performed through the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross (from the account of the institution of the Eucharist in the Synoptic Gospels; the Epistle to the Hebrews; Rom 3.25; 1 Cor 5.7; Eph5.2;1 Jn 4.10). (see sacrifice of the cross.)

Fifth, Redemption is acquired through Christ's victory over the devil (Jn 14.30; Col 1.13; 2.15; 1 Jn 3.8), sin and death (Rom 5.21; 6.623; 8.3; 1 Cor 15.2058).

Sixth, Redemption is attained through the obedience of Christ (Jn 10.18; 14.31; Phil 2.511).

Seventh, Redemption is carried out by the resurrection of christ (Rom 1.4; 4.25; 1 Cor 15; 2 Cor 5.15) and His intercession in heaven with the Father (Rom8.34; Heb 7.25).

These themes are scattered throughout the NT. The texts cited are simply some examples in the Scriptures whence these themes can be derived. They converge on the central truth of Christian revelationman's deliverance from sin and his restoration to union with God by means of Christ's coming, His life, and especially His death and Resurrection. The NT authors scarcely go beyond the statement of the mystery. They illustrate various aspects of the mystery with comparisons to similar things in the world of man.

The Redemption wrought by God in Christ is something absolutely and entirely unique. Faith in the redemption accomplished by Christ was a living experience far richer than their attempted formulations of the experience. The writers formulated their experience not to set out ideas in a system, but rather to set out ideas in various contexts and on different occasions in order to foster the faith and sustain this living experience in the infant Church.

God invites man to participate in the mystery and intends that man read out of his living experience of the mystery some understanding of the reasons why. This is precisely what happened in the Church when these scriptural themes became the points of departure for the subsequent theological reflections made within the living experience of the Redemption [see redemption (in the bible)].

Dogmatic formulations. Definitions of the Church are usually formulated in response to questions raised in controversy or in answer to a heresy.

Before the Council of Trent. There are no salient pronouncements on the subject of the Redemption by the authoritative teaching Church before the Council of Trent. No serious controversies arose in the Church over the redemptive work of Christ before the Council of Trent. It is true that the logic of the early Christological heresies and Pelagianism could have had repercussions in the doctrine of the Redemption, but unorthodoxy did not press its principles into applications in this field of the faith. The Church was satisfied to aim its anathemas at the principles themselves.

The creeds can be considered the earliest formulations of the faith on the Redemption. Employed for catechetical and baptismal purposes, the creeds are statements of the fundamental articles of the faith with a minimum of doctrinal development. In the earliest creeds, the belief in Christ as savior is professed. There is a recital of the great events of His life: Christ is born, is crucified, is buried, and rising on the third day sits at the right hand of the Father. Forgiveness of sins and life eternal are confessed, at least in an implied manner, as the fruits of the life and death and Resurrection of the Savior (cf. H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 16).

As such, creeds develop further; one may note that a reason is assigned for the coming of the Savior. Thus in the nicene creed: "For us men and for our salvation He came down and was enfleshed, made man, suffered, and rose on the third day, [and] ascended into heaven" (ibid. 125). The Creed of Constantinople (381) goes one doctrinal step further by inserting: " crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate" (ibid. 150).

Until the time of the Council of Trent, the faith of the Church relative to the Redemption appears in certain doctrinal pronouncements, but it does so incidentally, with other subjects. The doctrine is usually expressed in the terminology of the Scriptures or of the creeds and without any real doctrinal advance (cf. ibid. 539, 700, 801, 852). It is in the 14th century that the concept of merit as applied to Christ's sufferings and death begins to appear in the ecclesiastical documents (cf. H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 1027, 1347).

Council of Trent and After. Significant doctrinal advances were made within the formulations issued by the Council of Trent. In defining the hereditary character of original sin, the council employed the notion of merit to explain the forgiveness of sins (ibid. 1513). The concept of satisfaction is also adjoined to the notion of merit to explain the manner in which man is redeemed by Christ (ibid. 1529). This notion of satisfaction for sins offered to God in the sufferings of Christ is mentioned again in the council's treatment of the Sacrament of Penance (ibid. 168990; cf. 1713). (see satisfaction of christ).

The meaning of merit and satisfaction as applied to the Redemption will be taken up later. Only the employment of these concepts is noted here. J. Rivière remarks: "In these passages there is no question of a doctrinal definition. This was not called for. Nevertheless, by the very fact of being included in the solemn decree of justification the two categories of merit and satisfaction which were already current in the schools as describing the work of Christ acquired a kind of official character" (Dictionnaire de théologie catholique 13.2:1919).

The sacrificial character of the Redemption was affirmed by the council in its defense of the Holy Mass against the objections of the reformers (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 173942).

While the council was still in session, Pope Paul IV in 1555 condemned the proposition of the Socinians: "Jesus Christ did not submit to the most cruel death of the cross to redeem us from sins and from eternal death and to reunite us with the Father unto eternal life" (ibid. 1880).

This formula affirms the objective character of the Redemption against those who would see in the Passion of Christ only the value of an examplean opinion to be proposed again by certain 19th-century liberal Protestant theologians.

Modern Times. Vatican Council I included in its program a general schema on Christian doctrine in which the doctrine of the Redemption was to have had a prominent place. The schema included a canon that would have declared heretical the affirmation that Christ could not and did not truly and properly satisfy for sins; that vicarious satisfaction of one mediator for all men is repugnant to divine justice. These canons do not have the authority of a pronouncement of the Church, but they manifest the thinking of the Church current at that period.

Summary. In great part these formulations from the magisterium are paraphrases of the themes derived from the text of Scripture. The teaching Church puts particular insistence on the role of the sufferings and death of Christ in the work of Redemption, but not more emphasis than the NT itself does (see 1 Cor 1.2325; 2.2).

In the mind of the Church, the death of Christ has the value of a supreme lesson for and example to mankind. But more than that. Christ's sacrificial death is objectively and sovereignly efficacious in the work of delivering man from the evil of sin and of re-establishing the union between God and man.

There is a doctrinal advance in Trent's explanation of that efficacy by way of the theological categories of merit and satisfaction. The council did not canonize any particular theory of merit or of satisfaction in relation to the work of the Redemption. Neither did it sanction any theory of sacrifice. The council and the subsequent official teaching of the Church do, however, direct that authentic Catholic theology will explain the manner of the Redemption within some valid conception of merit and satisfaction. That is, the work of Christ somehow earns or acquires the deliverance from sin and the reunion of man with God; Christ in His sacrificial death in some real way compensates for the evil of sin and thereby becomes for man "God-given wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor 1.30).

In employing these categories of merit and satisfaction, the Church has interpreted the data of revelation and sanctioned some principal currents of doctrine in tradition.


The thought of the Fathers of the Church on the mystery of the Redemption is unsystematic. It is difficult (if not impossible) to summarize their doctrine briefly, accurately, and without distortion. Their thought is not always clear-cut or precise.

Problems in patristic thought and method. The Fathers' doctrine on the Redemption contains fixed elements derived from the Scripture, the creeds, and the liturgy. In the early Church, especially among the Greeks, the decisive moment of the Redemption in the life of the Incarnate Word is never pinpointed. In the West, the sufferings and death of Christ very soon became the events that specially focus the act of Redemption, whereas in the theology of the East, one finds a moving viewpoint according to which it is sometimes the very fact of the Incarnation in which Redemption is accomplished, sometimes the total life of Christ. Yet even in the East there is a marked emphasis on the death of Christ.

In the Scriptures, the Redemption is something God does in and through Christ for the salvation of sinful men. But Redemption is also something that Christ, as man, offers to God on man's behalf. The Redemption is a work that takes place in God and in man with an effectivity, apparently, in opposite directions. The Greek Fathers tend to emphasize the first conception; the Latin Fathers, the second. Though both conceptions might be affirmed side by side, an emphasis on one tends to become an underestimation of the other.

Furthermore, a writer's general approach to the Christian religion will exercise a determining influence on his doctrine of the Redemption. If Christianity is conceived of primarily as a code of conduct, Redemption through the teaching, example, and inspiration of Christ will become a key concept. If Christianity is considered a cult rather than a code, Redemption will take place through some religious event or experience in which the faithful are to participate.

In the West, cult is considered generally after the manner of an exchange. Christ offers His humanity in loving obedience to the Father in the event of His sacrificial death to obtain from the Father for sinful mankind forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The faithful participate objectively in this exchange because Christ performs the work in the name of all mankind.

In the East, cult is a mystical transplantation rather than a sacrificial exchange. Man does not so much achieve something as experience something in cultic action. The Word of God is made flesh, and by living in human history He releases into the world of men a new dynamism that is able to effect a moral reorientation and a mystical transfiguration. As a power of moral reorientation, the Christian dynamism is able to rescue man from the power of evil. As a power of transfiguration, it is able to cure him of his involvement in sin, his weakness and death, and all the other deprivations consequent to the Fall. The faithful participate objectively in this power because it has been made available to the experience of all in the life of the Church. Such divergent conceptions will set a theology of Redemption on different courses.

Summary. Historians of doctrine both Catholic and non-Catholic trace different patterns of thought and divergent lines of progress in the development of the doctrine in tradition. Each author can adduce long lists of impressive names and pages of patristic dicta to support his conclusions.

The monumental work of J. Rivière was an effort to defend a fundamental unity of doctrine in tradition against the works of A. Ritschl, L. A. Sabatier, and A. von Harnack. For the theology of Ritschl, see E. Bertrand, Une Nouvelle conception de la rédemption (Paris 1891); for Sabatier, The Doctrine of the Atonement and Its Historical Evolution, tr. V. Leuliette (London 1904); for Von Harnack, History of Dogma, tr. N. Buchanan et al., 7 v. (New York 1961) 3:310315; 5:5560.

These authors underlined the discordance between Scripture and tradition, between the Greek and Latin Fathers, and between primitive Christianity and the Middle Ages. The disunity is certainly not so serious and sharp as Rivière's adversaries contend. But neither is there such an obvious unity as Rivière seemed to propose amid the multiplicity of divergent ideas found in the writings of the Fathers [see G. Oggioni in Problemi e orientamenti di teologia dommatica (Milan 1957) 2:312314, 318].

Rivière ably defended a unity in the tradition of the East and of the West, of the ancient and the modern in exposing a line of doctrinal development that leads to a theory of vicarious moral satisfaction. But he did this at the expense of failing to integrate into a theology of the Redemption other important scriptural themes and significant developments in tradition. In a section entitled "Definitive Organization in the Catholic Church," Rivière wrote, "Upon the basis of the Anselmian system, with some superficial modifications, the Catholic dogma of the Redemption rapidly took the form which it has today" (Dictionnaire de théologie catholique 13.2:1947). Today most Catholic theologians find that judgment deficient and one-sided. There has been an extensive renewal of biblical studies in the Church and a return of theology to a critical study of the sources of the faith. This renewal and return are exerting a full and fruitful influence in the theology of the Redemption. It is being seen with an evergreater clarity that a theology of the Redemption that pays exclusive attention to the death of Christ and explains its redemptive value chiefly in terms of a moral satisfaction offered God for the sins of men is an unbalanced and impoverished theology. Besides, it is a theology not altogether faithful to the rich data in Scripture and tradition.


The doctrine of the Redemption is presently in the process of an awakened and rapidly unfolding development. The development is the result of an effort to integrate the modern scholarship in Scripture and the more recent critical studies in the history of doctrine. The development is also in terms of an extension of the field of inquiry as new questions, new methodology, and new contexts are introduced into the investigations. In view of this recent theological unfolding, it is not out of place to examine the doctrinal context of the Redemption.

By "context" is meant the galaxy of subjects, issues, and multirelated divine and human facts that are to be related and integrated into a comprehensive theology of the Redemption. By "doctrinal" it is implied that what is said of these matters is verifiable in the commonly accepted doctrines of reputable theologians, biblical exegetes, and other scholars.

There are other reasons to examine this doctrinal context. First, the context provides a framework in which to organize the reflections of the more important Fathers of the Church. Second, the context affords a frame of reference in which to situate the systems of the theologians as well as those areas of present doctrinal development.

The Redemption is the mystery of God's redeeming act in and through Christ whereby mankind is delivered from the evil of sin and reunited in grace with God. This general definition implies three fundamental and distinct subjects related in the mystery: first, the redeeming activity of God in and through Christ; second, the evil of sin; third, the reunion in grace. These subjects in their theological implications are the three dimensions, as it were, of the doctrinal context of objective Redemption.

Divine Redeeming Act. The Redemption must be considered as an act accomplished both by God and by Christ. There are two phases, as it were, in the salvific act of God's merciful love.

Redeeming Act of God through Christ. The origin of the Redemption is the absolutely free love and mercy of god, who wills to incarnate His Son and send Him into the world and into human history to deliver mankind from the evil of sin and to reunite man with Himself. This statement indicates that the initiative in the redeeming act is with God. The motive is God's free love and mercy offering for man's Redemption, nothing less than the gift of Himself. The means by which the redeeming act is accomplished is the Word made flesh in His human life. The purpose is to deliver man from the evil of sin in order to unite man with God. God's act is a deliverance from something and into something. It is a deliverance acquisition. God enables Christ as man to undertake and accomplish the work of deliverance and reunion by inspiring Christ with that love and obedience whereby the Word Incarnate freely performs in His life and in His humanity that work of liberation and atonement.

This affirmation declares that the divine redeeming activity is essentially performed by means of the human acts of the Word Incarnate motivated by love and obedience. As human acts performed in His humanity, these acts operate in the physical order. As inspired by love and obedience, these acts are operative in the moral order. Consequently, there are two parallel effectivities able to be considered in Christ's acts: a physical effectivity and a moral effectivity. As physical, Christ's acts are related to the effects that the very acts themselves produce as a result of their own operative efficiency. As moral, Christ's acts obtain a moral right that God acts to produce some effect. God raises Christ from the dead in order that the crucified and risen Lord might be able to communicate to mankind His grace of deliverance and reunion. This proposition proposes that the act of God resurrecting Christ is an essential part of the activity of God redeeming, so that the sufferings and death of Christ are not to be considered as redemptive independently of the Resurrection. It implies besides that it is by means of the Death-Resurrection event, two aspects of one mystery, that Christ, "who was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification" (Rom 4.25), becomes for mankind "God-given wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor 1.30).

Redeeming Act of Christ. Although the divine redeeming activity has its first and eternal origin in the love of the Blessed Trinity for sinful man (Eph 2.4), in a second moment and in "the fullness of time God sent his Son that he might redeem that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Gal 4.45). Christ is the mediator of God's redeeming activity, becoming Himself for mankind the cause of their deliverance from sin and the cause of their reunion with God in grace.

The Incarnate Word exercises this function of mediating the redemptive act of God in four ways: first, in the fact of His becoming man; second, in the mediation of His life as messiah-king, as prophet-teacher, and as high priest; third, in the mediation of His death as victor, as redeemer, as priest-victim; fourth, in the mediation of His Resurrection as savior and as intercessor.

In the very fact of the Word of God's becoming man there is an assumption by the Word not only of a human nature but also of a redemptive history. The incarnation is an actual and decisive event, an intervention in the current of human history. It is an event capable in itself of interrupting the processes of human history and of setting history on the course of a new direction.

The redeeming activity of God is mediated by Christ as messiah-king. Christ establishes the kingdom of god and the new covenant by making disciples and winning their faith, love, and loyalty. In making disciples and in giving them the new law, Christ establishes the lines of that community in which deliverance from the evil of sin and reunion with God might take place and, when realized in the members, might be lived in freedom.

As prophet-teacher, Christ instructs mankind in the way of God's salvific will, in the way of response to God. Christ points out the way of life and the way of death; what is true and what is a lie. Christ becomes for mankind the way, the truth, and the life in order that men might know how they are to be delivered from evil and from what evil they are to be liberated; how to be reunited with God and what the realities and terms of that union are.

As high priest, Christ establishes the new priesthood and the new cult so that by means of the acts of cult, mankind might be enabled and inspired to hate the evil of sin and love the goodness of God.

The redeeming activity is mediated by Christ in His death as victor, as redeemer, and as priest-victim. This area of the doctrinal context bears the burden of the traditional theology of the Redemption. At this point should be set out, along general lines, the doctrine that, as variously interpreted by the theologians, is used to support their doctrinal theories.

Christ is considered as victor in His death from two points of view. In the first place, Christ is seen as victorious over the powers of evil itself. For although the death of Christ was plotted by Jews, pronounced by Pilate, and executed by Roman legionnaires, behind these men were the forces of evil itself. Our Lord Himself speaks not simply of His human assassins but of the "prince of this world" (Jn 14.30) and the "power of darkness" (Lk 22.53). Under this attack of His enemies and even in the agony of His sufferings, Christ is victorious in His supreme resolution lovingly and obediently to do as the Father commanded (Jn 14.31). Christ dies but to rise on the third day.

Second, Christ is victor in His death because by the power of His obedient charity He is able to vanquish the objections and the revulsions of His human nature in the terrors of the crucifixion. It is in the real and historical circumstances of His death that Christ finds the opportunity for the full expression of His loving obedience (cf. Jn 15.13). It is in the actual circumstances of His sufferings that Christ's human nature becomes fully actuated by the mighty power of His grace. As redeemer, Christ, in accepting His death out of love and obedience, accomplishes in behalf of mankind that work by means of which man is delivered from his complicity in and his liability to and his oppression by sin and death. As priest-victim, Christ offers Himself in the bloody sacrifice of the cross, thereby reconciling sinful mankind to God.

How Christ as victor, redeemer, and priest-victim mediates the deliverance of man from sin and reunites him with God will be taken up shortly. How the victory affects man, how the work of deliverance is accomplished, and how the sacrifice is a reconciliationall these questions are answered variously in the theological systems.

The redeeming activity is mediated, finally, by Christ as savior and intercessor. It is the grace of the crucified and risen Savior, the grace formed in Him by the death-Resurrection event, which is to be communicated to the faithful. This grace when shared will make those "in Christ" die to the flesh and be transformed to live to Christ in the grace of His Resurrection and in the grace of the Spirit. Moreover, Redemption is mediated by the risen Christ insofar as it is the risen Christ in the grace of His Resurrection who is the efficient cause of man's justification (cf. Rom 4.25; 6.111; 8.23; St. Thomas, Summa theologiae 3a, 56.12).

Summary. The redemptive act is performed by God in and through Christ. The act of redeeming has its origin in God, who loves man and wills to be merciful to him. This act of God is mediated by means of the activity of the Incarnation. The redeeming activity of the Word made flesh is manifold and mediated by His very assumption of human nature, by the redemptive roles He exercised in His life, death and Resurrection and Ascension to the Father. It is this totality that accomplishes once and for all the work that is able to deliver man from the evil of sin and to reunite him in grace with God.

Evil of sin. The second dimension of the doctrinal context is the subject the evil of sin. A theology of Redemption must explain how the salvific activity of God mediated through Christ is directed to the deliverance of man from sin in all the actual or possible aspects of evil in sin (see sin).

As introduction, it is to be remarked that sin is taken here in a biblical conception that names as sin anything defecting from what God wills to be realized in man. This conception of sin is altogether objective. It prescinds from the subject's attitude toward, or even knowledge of, the fact of this defect. It is assumed, however, that such an objective defect from God's will enters the world of man by a deliberate abuse of intellect and will. Sin is introduced by man's knowing and willing refusal to acknowledge God and by his failure to choose the good that God wills for him. It is this conscious and deliberate refusal and failure that introduces the evil of sin into man's history, into his society, into his person, and consequently into his activity toward his destiny. The evil of sin, therefore, has four main aspects: evil in relation to man's destiny; evil in relation to his person; evil in relation to his society; evil in relation to his history.

In Relation to Man's Destiny. The evil of sin is related to man's destiny as a condition of fallen nature. This condition is caused by man's alienating himself from God in the act of his free choice. This act of free choice is an act of alienation when man, in his freedom, refuses to love and obey God. This act of alienation causes a state of alienation that implies, first, a loss of the supernatural gifts of grace; second, a withdrawal of his life from God as his final destiny; third, a choice of what he determines for himself to be his destiny.

From a moral point of view, man's act of alienating himself from God can be understood as an act dishonoring God, or as an act violating God's just will, or as an act injuring God's supreme majesty, or as an act offending God's infinite goodness. The state of man's alienation may be considered as a debt, since man is in default of payment to God of what is His due, or as a fault, inasmuch as man's refusal of love and obedience is a rupture of the right order between God and man.

It should be noticed that when the evil of sin is described either as the human act and state of alienation or as dishonor, offense, debt, and fault the identical reality is being described. These are two viewpoints on the same thing. God's honor is verified in man's free love and obedience. Man pays his debt to God in retaining his gifts of grace. Man will never default if he seeks God above all things. The act of alienation and its consequent state describe a physical condition of man theologically considered. Dishonor, offense, debt, and fault describe those same realities in a transposition of understanding into the moral order.

In Relation to Man's Person. The evil of sin in relation to man's person is, in the first place, damaging. The immediate result of man's alienation from God is his loss of the gifts of grace. Implied in his act of refusal to love God is a withdrawal of his life from God as his final destiny. In this act of withdrawal there is contained a choice of self. This act of choice in which a man determines for himself what will be good for him introduces within his person a condition of disintegration and disability so that his very nature as man is in a damaged condition.

There is a disintegration, an "infirmity," in what man is, because, having rejected what God wills for him, man is without that principle that must integrate both the various powers of activity within himself and his activity in relation to his fellow men. God's will determines man's nature to be what it is (cf. Summa theologiae 1a, 19.4). It is man's correspondence with that divine will that alone is the principle of social and personal integration. Without this principle, men are left to the devices of their own wills and to the autonomous desires of their own persons. Man is led in life by what St. Paul would call the spirit of the flesh (cf. Rom 7.1325; 8.513). Governed solely by his own will, man is in bondage to sin. He comes to fear himself and his fellow men (cf. Rom 8.15; 7.1325). The refusal to obey God's will is a refusal of freedom. "Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin" (Jn 8.34; cf. Rom 6.1523). The damaged condition of man becomes a disability, a "weakness," besides. Once a man has lost the gifts of grace, he is unable to accomplish what God wills him to achieve. As alienated from God's will, man has cut himself off from the sources of "life" that God grants to those united with Him. Man is left only with the resources of his nature now disintegrated. In Pauline terms, he is reduced to the existence of the "flesh" and his life becomes "death" (cf. Rom 7.1325; 8.2).

Living without grace and in alienation from God, man has a disabled life. It is unproductive from God's point of view, a succession of nothing to be terminated by physical death without the hope of eternal life. Physical death ratifies and makes final what has been taking place continually: a dying in man's person from the disintegration and the disability. The result of this damage is the fact that a man is without the powers to produce what the very nature of man requires for its own well-being: ordered, purposeful activity that is good for the whole man and for the common good of society. Sin disintegrates and disables man and through him sin disorders society.

In Relation to Society. A society established by men inspired by the "lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 Jn 2.16) becomes a fallen society. Like the sinful men who compose it, society incorporates within itself the alienation from God and damaged condition of men. Society is alienated from God as it seeks its own self-assigned destiny. Society becomes disintegrated as groups within society are at counter purposes. The social body becomes disabled in its efforts, by reason of its lack of unity in the quest for the common good. In Johannine terms, this society is the "world" that is "not from the Father" (1 Jn 2.16), that hates Christ (cf. Jn 15.18), that does not know the Word of God (cf. Jn1.10).

It is such a society, perverted by its sinful members, that in its turn becomes a force of evil to pervert its members. In the dynamism of social influence, man is induced into sinful ways of living as his social milieu endorses his sin and provides him opportunity for the expression of his sinful person. Furthermore, fallen society enforces its mores on its members as it rewards those who adopt its standards and goals. The world loves what is its own (cf. Jn 15.19). "They are of the world; therefore of the world they speak and the world listens to them" (1 Jn 4.5).

Besides inducing its sinful members further into their personal sin, society also seduces its members into sin by engendering its ways of sin, conforming them to this world (Rom 12.2) so that they walk "according to the fashion of this world" (Eph 2.2). This seduction is imperceptible. It happens unconsciously, and without a man's being aware of it he defects from the good God wills for him. Seduced, he becomes like a sheep gone astray (1 Pt 2.25). This seduction also happens previous to the time when a man is competent to exercise his personal freedom. Personal sin mediates sin to society. Social sin and personal sin, as it has a social aspect, mediate sin into history.

In Relation to History. The evil of sin in relation to history is a kind of deviation. This deviation takes place in two historical frames of reference: first, in the history of the race as a whole and, second, in the history of the individual. By history is meant this plain fact: the condition of man and his activity at one point of time in his existence affects his condition and his activity at succeeding points along the line of time.

There is an interlocking of the before and the after in man's historic existence. This interlocking is a process in which the before affects the after in terms of continuity, causality, immanence, and transcendence. There is in the process the effect of continuity, for the after is always, at least in something, contained in the same order of things as the before. What is before is the matrix of what comes after. There is the effect of causality because there is a correlation between the existence of the before and the existence of the after. What is before is the condition of possibility for what comes after. There is the effect of immanence insofar as there is some presence of the before in the after. What is before is a determinant of what comes after. Finally, there is the effect of transcendence inasmuch as the after is able, in something, to go beyond the before by means of the unique contribution of the present, the now.

First, in the actual history of the race, the sin of Adam at the beginning of history causes Adam's condition to be that of fallen man, alienated, damaged in his disintegration and disability. This condition is the beginning of a process in which the before affects the after and in which the after is able to transcend the before.

The first man passes on to those after him a condition like his own. Men are born alienated from God, damaged in view of God's will that man be elevated to grace. Man becomes disintegrated as soon as the choice of self, proceeding from his person deprived of grace and of nature's integrity, becomes actual. This process is repeated as generation follows generation. The process is also transposed to the social order as the social lines of a sinful society at any given point of time are affected by the social dimensions of a previous society in terms of continuity, causality, immanence. The process compounds itself through the effect of transcendence as both men and society make their unique contributions to the alienation and damage of sin. The result is a perpetuation of evil, a process of continual, ever-widening deviation from the will of God.

Second, when the evil of sin is considered in relation to the history of the individual, certain considerations must be introduced. In the context of concrete existence, the human individual may be considered a "person" insofar as he freely disposes of himself by personal decision and possesses his own reality in the act of making a free decision about himself. In this same method of considering man, the individual is also a "nature," that is, all in him that is given and is prior to this personal and free disposal of himself.

Nature is the object-given, the passivity, the reception, the spontaneous in man. Nature is the condition of his possibility. Person is the subject-positing, the activity determining, the man in his freedom to determine himself as a whole in relation to what is good.

The terms "person" and "nature" with this meaning must be distinguished from these same terms as they have been traditionally used in scholastic theology. The use of the terms here is in the context of the modern metaphysics of existence. Some such terms are necessary because there is a need to distinguish between that in man which is given, which is structured and dynamic within him but without his freely disposing himself as such, and that in man which is such as it is by reason of his free disposition of himself. This is the distinction that common sense sees partially in the division between "what I am" and "what I want to be and try to be."

In the personal history of man and in the context of this dualism, nature is prior to person. Nature is acted upon and has its specific activity before a person acts to posit that which the subject freely wishes to be. This dynamism of nature is the necessary presupposition of the conscious, free decision of the person. And although the free decision of person should comprehend and transform the prior and spontaneous act of nature, the act of nature and the determinations already set up in nature come to affect the act of person.

It happens that before person in man is sufficiently awakened and before he is able to dispose of himself as a whole toward what is good simply, and before the inner core of the subject-person is able to posit what he will be and modify what he actually is, nature has already been determined in a deviation toward sin. Nature has already been determined as born alienated from God, damaged in view of God's will concerning the elevation of man to grace. Nature is potentially disintegrated and disabled because, lacking a positive conversion to God, the man is potentially converted to self.

The potential conversion to self becomes actual from three agencies. (1) The spontaneous dynamisms of "nature" tend to the particular good, not to good simply but to what is good in the here and now for the subject. Such tendencies induce the subject into acts of choice toward particular goods. And such a choice becomes equivalent to a choice of self, given the lack of a "personal" conversion to good simply. These acts lay down habituations and sets of determinations that are dynamic elements within the subject when the person is first called upon to make the free decision of person. Consequently, antecedent to the subject's determination of himself by personal decision, dynamic orientations are already there within the subject's nature toward specific self-related values. In the dynamism of these determinations, freedom of personal choice is jeopardized because the determinations of nature tend to specify the act of person in terms of a continuity with nature, a causality from nature and in an immanence of nature. Person penetrates nature with difficulty. Nature must be reformed and person fortified in its own dynamism before free decision succeeds completely in making its way without being deviated by nature. (2) Personal choice is further deviated by the influence on the subject by other sinful persons. (3) Personal determination is deviated by the influence exerted by sinful society. Until a person is able to take up a stand, command and comprehend its freedom, the human subject is related to others and to his society in a relationship of profound dependency. In this dependency nature is open and a person is susceptible to whatever modifications the external personal and social environment introduces. In the concrete circumstances of his human history, a man's personal freedom is jeopardized so that he is not able to overcome what he is by nature through the free decision of person.

Summary and Conclusions. It is in man and in man's world where sin is situated as something real and concrete. Sin in its reality is fundamentally something (or, to put it more accurately, something missing ) in man. But given the facticity of sin in man, one can go on and consider the evil of sin in other categories of intelligibility.

From a moral point of view, the evil of sin is transposed in understanding and is seen as a rupture of the interpersonal relations between God and man. One goes on to speak of how God regards sinful man and how man dares to regard God. One speaks of the rights of the person offended, of the obligation and the manner of making a suitable satisfaction for the offense. The categories of explanation of sin and deliverance from it are contained within the field of amicable, interpersonal relationship.

From a juridical point of view, the evil of sin is transposed into the order of law. Sin is seen as a violation of law incurring the penalties that justice decrees as corrective or vindictive punishments. One speaks of the expiation of crimes, of penalties undergone to avoid the retributive punishments determined by law. The categories of explanation of sin and of man's deliverance from sin are retained within the context of jurisprudence.

These transpositions in the understanding of sin are an enrichment of the conceptions of the fact of sin. The mystery of sin is related to familiar analogies in human affairs. But these conceptions tend to become an impoverishment and, possibly, a distortion of the fact. Sin is a rupture of the relations between God and man. Sin is a violation of law. Nevertheless, the reach and applications of these conceptions fall short of comprehending the totality of aspects in the reality of man's sin. It is never theologically safe to discuss the will of god and His law without looking at the reality and seeing it steadily. God's law is God's will. God's actual will is the cause of the reality of things such as they are.

It is necessary to understand sin not only in the moral and juridical orders but primarily in the physical order of man's actual condition. In this physical order, sin is something done to man. Sin is also something happening to man. If the Redemption is to be the deliverance from this evil, then Redemption must be both something done (completed) and something happening (continued) to deliver him from all the aspects of reality in sin.

Reunion in grace. Like the subject of sin, the reunion in grace has several aspects insofar as the realities of this reunion are transposed into various frames of understanding. The reunion in grace may be considered in relation to the physical order, the moral order, the juridical order.

In the Physical Order. The reunion in grace has the aspect of identity with the deliverance from sin when this reunion is considered in the physical order. As God has determined things, there is no deliverance from sin without a reunion in grace (cf. Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 113.2). If sin be an alienation, mankind is delivered from this evil by the gift that will convert him to God and sustain that conversion. If sin be a damage, man is delivered by the gift that restores the integrity and the ability of his nature. If sin be a social perversion, society is delivered by the gift that reforms the lines of perverted society. If sin be a historical deviation, history is delivered by the gift that reorients the processes of human history.

In this frame of reference, theology must explain how the redeeming activity of Christ is related to the grace of conversion for mankind, the grace of personal restoration, the grace of social reform, and the grace of historical reorientation.

In the Moral Order. Sin is conceived, in the moral order, as an offense against God. Offense is given when several wills regard the same object and there is contrariety of choice and conflict of act between those wills. One person wills and acts contrary to the will and act of another person. This other person is offended if he has equal or superior rights over the subject. God wills that man love and obey Him. In sinning, man refuses this love and obedience. God is offended by this will and act of man for God has absolute rights over man. Man has the obligation to reverence his Creator.

To be reunited to God, man must willingly and with love do that which God loves more than He hates the offense. In this moral frame of reference, theology explains how the work of Christ is something God can love more than He hates the sin of mankind, so that by reason of this compensating work of Christ, satisfaction is made for the offense and grace is given man by God.

Another consideration in the moral order understands sin as a fault or a debt. As a fault, sin is a defection destroying the right order that must obtain between God and man. From this aspect, theology shows how the work of Christ accomplishes a mutual reconciliation through the act of propitiation. As a debt, sin is the refusal of man to offer what he owes to his Creator. From a basis in this understanding, theology proposes how the work of Christ offers a payment or ransom so that man, redeemed from his debt and solvent through Christ's work, may avail himself freely of God's grace for a life of love and obedience.

In the Juridical Order. Sin is understood in the juridical order as a violation of the just law of God that demands that the sinner be punished according to his crimes. From this conception, theology will describe how the work of Christ is an expiation for the penalty due to sins so that, God's justice being satisfied, He may freely and lovingly give the grace of pardon to man.

It will be noticed that when the understanding of sin is transposed into the moral and juridical orders, the redeeming activity appears as a work that Christ as man offers to God on behalf of man. The effectivity of Christ's work has a term in (or at least a direction toward) God. Man comes to God in the Redemption achieved by Christ. However, when sin is seen in the physical order, the redeeming activity is a work done by God in Christ and offered to man. Both the term and the direction of the effectivity are immediately related to man. God comes to man in the Redemption performed by Christ.

These two conceptions of the Redemption point up a significant fact. In the moral order, it is man who must reunite himself to God, for God never ceases to love man. In the physical order, it is God who must reunite Himself to man, because, once man loses this supernatural union with God, there is nothing man can do to regain this union.


In this section and the corresponding one that follows, the more important theories will be situated within the doctrinal context. The first dimension of the context, namely, the divine redeeming activity in and through Christ, will provide the points of departure in this discussion.

Considered first will be the theories based on the Incarnation itself as redemptive. According to such theories, the Incarnation is like a new act of creation; or better, a new moment in the creational act of God when God purposes to create all things anew in Christ. This doctrine is a theme in the writings of St. John and St. Paul. In it the very coming of Christ and His life as a totality are understood as redemptive.

Mystical explanation. St. Irenaeus founds his redemptive theory of recapitulation in Christ on this scriptural basis. His insight was to conceive an identity of pattern and a parallelism of action between the course of man's history, beginning with creation and Adam's sin, and Christ's salvific life. Irenaeus traces a pattern of identity and a parallelism of contrasts in these two courses of history with a remarkable ingenuity. For Irenaeus, Christ recapitulates humanity. Christ is a compendium of human history by summarizing in His life the course of human history as willed by God and by reiterating in His life the human processes, being victorious where man fell in defeat. The conception most notable in Irenaeus is the understanding that Christ comes and shares all the experiences of humanity, sin only excepted. Living our life in the circumstances of our history, Christ conquers the forces of evil at work in the world and thereby reverses the processes of human history. Instead of man's history leading him to sin and death, by the work of Christ, those men who are united with Him are brought to divinization and immortality.

Realistic explanation. Modern theology returns to this idea left in tradition by St. Irenaeus and echoed by Tertullian and St. Methodius. In becoming man, Christ entered the world formed by the history of apartness from God. This alienation causes "sin and death" (in the Pauline eschatological sense of definitive separation from God). Although Christ could not be touched by the moral guilt of sin, He took upon Himself the historic conditions of our sinful existence. He came "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom 8.3) and "did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to, but emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave and being made like unto men" (Phil2.7). He became "one tried as we are in all things except sin" (Heb 4.15) and even "learned obedience from the things that he suffered" (Heb 5.8).

In His Incarnation, Christ as man chose a self-emptying, a condition in which the fullness of His grace was not able to have its full effects. It was the very life history of the Incarnation in the actual unfolding of His life that provided, under God's providence, those opportunities permitting the full expression of His grace and those conditions allowing the Spirit of God to penetrate fully and to possess entirely His created nature. In this abasement, Christ accepted a historic solidarity with the sinful human race (see kenosis).

F. X. Durrwell writes that "the redemption of human nature is a drama unfolding first of all in Christ. It takes place in him as a sanctifying transformation from the state of sinful flesh to the holiness of divine life which is its direct opposite" (The Resurrection 58). This act of God transforming the humanity of Christ in the circumstances of His lifetime from the state of sinful flesh to full participation in the divine life is the redemptive act mediated by Christ to sinful man for the reorientation of his history. The redeeming act of God is not a single, static act. It is a continual irruption into history: into Christ's history first, and then through Him into the history of mankind. The Redemption begins from the first moment of the Incarnation and spans the lifetime of Christ, so that the life of Christ as a unit has the aspect of efficiency in relation to the deliverance from the evil of sin and to the return in grace in their historical dimensions.

Moralistic explanation. Another theological viewpoint that conceives the Incarnation in its totality as the cause of man's Redemption is the so-called moralistic, or exemplarist, theory. This theory considers the life of Christ as the supreme example of how man is to encounter the circumstances of his life and how God is prepared to act to deliver man from sin and to unite man to Himself. In this conception, Redemption is accomplished primarily by God's grace and only secondarily through the revelation, example, and inspiration in the life of Christ. The life of Christ is a work performed by God in humanity to be seen and considered by man and thereby to become the occasion for faith in God's redemptive act. Christ's life is a living lesson of faith and a lesson for living the free gift of faith offered men by God.

The theory stated in such general terms has a scriptural basis and is represented in the writings of the Fathers, particularly: Ignatius, Clement of Alexandria, the apologists in general, Origen, and Augustine. The theory is valid because the example and teaching of Christ are redemptive insofar as there is presented objectively for all mankind the revelation of God's redemptive will and that source of inspiration to motivate men to respond to God's saving grace.

No Catholic theologian will question the fidelity of this theory to Scripture and tradition until it is pressed to the conclusion that the life of Christ has the value only of an example, that the efficacy of His life is exclusively that of revelation and inspiration. Abelard seems to have held this conclusion, and later the Socinians. More recently, it has become the preferred theory of many liberal Protestant theologians, who follow the current of 19th-century rationalism or the existentialist interpretations of Christianity fostered by R. Bultmann [see J. Rivière, The Doctrine of the Atonement 1:1833; L. Malevez, SJ, The Christian Message and Myth, tr. O. Wyon (Westminster, Md. 1958) 67117].

Christ messiah-king and high priest. Although no redemptive theory has been elaborated on the specific doctrine of Christ messiah-king and high priest, modern theology would insist upon integrating into the theology of the Redemption Christ's life activity of making disciples and establishing the foundations of that community of life and cult wherein the deliverance from the evil of sin might take place and the reunion, once begun, might be fostered and sustained. It is Christianity as the community formed by Christ that becomes redemptive of society's perversion. The Christian community by means of the dynamism of social influence counters and corrects the seducing influence of the "world." This is an area of present doctrinal development.


The redeeming activity of God is mediated by Christ in His death as victor, as redeemer, and as victim. This doctrinal statement embraces five of the seven scriptural themes on Redemption. It is, besides, a doctrinal summary of the greater part of the official teaching of the Church. As well, it is a compendium of the central body of doctrine presented by the Fathers and the theologians and is a foundation for several theories of the Redemption. Only the barest outline of these systems is offered here.

Christ as victor. Christ's victory over the devil, "sin and death," is a theme from Scripture, and from the earliest times there was a tradition of developing a theory of the Redemption around this favorite theme or idea. The theme began to be developed as early as St. Ignatius, and it was carried in the current of tradition both in the East and in the West until the time of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Devil's Rights. The theory of the devil's rights, as it has been called, has almost as many variations as there are writers handling it. But fundamental to the doctrine is the representation (this is a product of image-thinking) of a contest between Christ and the devil, who holds man in the bondage of "sin and death." In the theory, sin and death are personifications of the dynamic forces of evil within man's life and the allies of the devil. Christ conquers sin because the devil cannot tempt Christ from His resolution to obey even in the terrors of the Crucifixion. Christ conquers death in His rising from the dead in divine power. As a result of Christ's victory, the devil is a vanquished foe of man. God delivers all those united to Christ the Victor from the power of the evil one.

When the theory of the devil's rights is understood in sympathy with image-thinking, the theory appears to be an effort to explain how the work of Christ delivers man from that evil of sin that is nonpersonal and beyond the evil present only in the disordered and deliberate will of the individual. Such a nonpersonal and transcendent evil is the evil of sin in its social and historical aspects.

Person vs. Nature. A new development in theology would see the victory of Christ in another way. In the actual assumption of the human nature by the Word, Christ's human nature is in the condition of "sinful flesh." This condition allows that, although Christ is personally sinless and although His humanity is endowed with a fullness of grace, He will suffer unto death in His humanity in performing the will of God. This suffering is significant. The very fact that Christ is able to suffer is evidence of the fact that nature in Christ is able to have its own determinations, its own "will" as St. Thomas calls it (cf. Summa theologiae 3a, 18.34). St. Thomas also quotes St. John Damascene to the effect that "the divinity of Christ permitted His humanity to do and to be done to in whatever manner is proper to human nature" (ibid. 3a, 46.8).

Therefore in the terrors of the Crucifixion (and even in the less difficult situations of Christ's life) nature in Christ is able to protest. Pain and sorrow are the signs of nature's objections, of the protest that nature does not want that which both external causes and personal decision force upon it. The Crucifixion was the external condition that nature in Christ violently refused, as is apparent in the agony in the garden (Lk 22.3945). But the mighty act of free decision of Person in Christ, fortified by divine love and obedience, conquers the act of nature in Christ's obedient choice of His death. This act of free decision in Christ has as its first effect a disposition of nature itself. Nature is penetrated by Person, and Person succeeds in having its way. "By sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh [that is, with a nature able to object and protest to what is concretely to be performed to fulfill God's will] he has condemned [conquered] sin in the flesh" (Rom 8.3).

Christ as Redeemer. In the present context, redeeming means specifically the act of delivering from sin. There are three general theories explaining the deliverance of mankind from sin by the death of Christ the Redeemer.

Substitutional Penal Expiation. The evil of sin may be conceived primarily in the juridical order, as a violation of the divine law that decrees rewards for virtue and punishment for vice. Analogies from jurisprudence are employed to illustrate this theory. Redemption is accomplished according to this system by the objective fulfillment of divine laws eternally enacted. Divine law decrees that for sins committed there must be punishment equal to the crime. If the sinner does not repent, the punishment is inflicted upon him. Should he repent, he must voluntarily accept punishment to make up for his evil act. As voluntarily accepted, the punishment becomes satisfaction rather than vindictive punishment.

In the case of man's sin, adequate satisfaction is impossible. Deprived of grace, man is forever unable to love God as he ought. Besides, as the crime of a creature against his Creator, man's sin takes on an infinite magnitude. Since God cannot forgive sins according to His justice until an equitable satisfaction is made, man is hopelessly in his sin and under the threat of punishment. Yet because God loves man, even when he is a sinner (Rom 5.9), God decrees in mercy to send His Son, who in His sufferings and death offers the satisfaction that divine justice demands. Christ, as divine and sinless, offers an infinite satisfaction. Christ, as man, takes our place and suffers the punishment divine justice imposes for the sins of mankind.

Such an explanation can be sustained by plausible interpretations of Scripture. It has been proposed in the writings of many Fathers, theologians, and especially orators. The theory was accepted in great part by the reformers, who recast it somewhat in view of their principle of imputed justice. For the leaders of the Reformation, the sins of all mankind are gathered and burdened on Christ. Christ suffers the condemnation and the punishment once and for all so that man might be free of it. Freed from the judgment on sin, men are imputed just by reason of the death of Christ, which cancels the sentence of condemnation and punishment (see imputation of justice and merit).

At its best, this system of penal substitution proposes to the faithful the doctrine of the inexorability of punishment for sin and the necessity of satisfaction. It presents the cross of Christ as the great manifestation of the evil of sin. But when it affirms that Christ assumed the punishment so that man would not have to suffer it, or that Christ offered satisfaction so that men need not make it, the theory is theologically unsound. When it affirms that God delivered Christ to His cross to manifest to the world not only the evil of sin but also how severely sin is punished, this is nothing less than terrorism.

If sin is inexorably punished (and it is), this is because the sinner himself passes a sentence of suffering upon himself and his world in his very sin, which damages himself and contributes to the perversion of his society and to the deviation of history. God need do nothing but let the laws of man work themselves out. If satisfaction is necessary, it is because even after repentance a man must positively do something to compensate for the evil done in his nature by the act of sin, to his society, and to human history. If the cross of Christ is a manifestation of the evil of sin, this is because it was evil men who hated the Person who would save them from themselves.

But the theory has an insight. It can be said that Christ takes away the punishment due to sin and makes satisfaction in man's place because, by reason of Christ's work, man will not have to suffer the kind of punishment from sin that would have been man's fate if Christ had not come to bring grace and truth to the world. It can be said that Christ makes satisfaction for sin in man's place because, by reason of the grace of Christ for man's person, his society, and his history, man is not required to compensate for the evil perpetrated by his sin in the manner that would have been necessary (indeed, impossible) had not Christ come "to serve and give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10.45).

Vicarious Moral Satisfaction. In this system, the evil of sin is considered in the moral order as an offense of God, destroying the interpersonal relationship between God and man. The theory intends to explain why God loves sinful man and forgives his sins while he is yet a sinner and offers the grace of restoration.

God sends His Son into human nature and inspires in Him an indomitable charity for and obedience to God and a boundless love for mankind. United to mankind by the bonds of flesh and blood and charity, Christ is willed by God to become the head of humanity, so that what Christ does is done for Himself and also in behalf of His members, who are as one mystical person with Him (Summa theologiae 3a, 48.2 ad 1). Christ, in our name and on our behalf, offers God His love and obedience in His sufferings and death. It is this offering that God can love more than He hates the offense of mankind.

Christ, as head of humanity, is given grace not only for Himself but also for His members, and His works are referred to Himself and to others as the works of another man are referred simply to himself (ibid. 3a, 48.2). Consequently, since God gives as a reward for a man's actions that for which He gave him the power to act (ibid. 1a2ae, 114.1), and since God gives grace to Christ for the attainment of salvation, Christ merits glorification for Himself and salvation for all men (ibid. 3a, 48.1; 49.6).

Such is St. Thomas's doctrine simply stated and without the many doctrinal implications to be drawn out by the application of other principles in his thought. This theory avoids all the improprieties of the theory of substitutional juridical satisfaction. The doctrine centers on the love and obedience of Christ as the cause of man's deliverance from sin and his reunion in grace. The efficiency of Christ's loving obedience in the delivering of man from sin is by way of moral compensation or satisfaction. The efficiency of Christ's obedient love in reconciling man with God is by way of merit. Satisfaction and merit are considered as operative in the moral order. Christ performs the redemptive work not in our place but rather in our behalf, as united to us in a moral solidarity.

Representative Physical Satisfaction. The third theory would transpose the understanding of Redemption from the moral order to the physical order. This transposition is encouraged by St. Thomas's doctrine of "capital grace." This doctrine affirms that it is the very grace resident in Christ in its physical entity that becomes the source and cause of grace for all men (ibid. 3a, 8; De ver, 29.4, 5: Comp. theol. 214). Or to put the same fact in another way, it is the Sacred Humanity in its physical entity as "graced" that is the conjoined instrument of God in the production of grace in all mankind (Summa theologiae 3a, 13.2; 19.1; 62.5).

With this doctrine as the premise, this theory affirms that it is the actual event of the Crucifixion that forms the grace in Christ so as to be the source of grace delivering men from the evil of sin. In other words, it is the historic event of Christ's sufferings and death in which the Sacred Humanity becomes in a fullness the instrument of God for the production of that grace which will deliver man from sin.

The act of person in free decision has as its first effect a disposition of the subject himself. Christ's personal act of loving obedience sustained in His sufferings overmasters the act of nature that as nature refuses the cross. The effect of this act within Christ Himself is a victory of transformation of the nature of Christ Himself, so that nature joins with Person in the cry of victory: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Lk 23.46). "It is consummated!" (Jn 19.30). This transformation in Christ is real and pertains to what Christ actually is as man. It is in this transformation that the grace of Christ becomes disposed so as to be the grace for all mankind delivering them from sin. What happened to Christ was physical.

What happened in Christ is also satisfactory in the sense that the redemptive power of Christ and His grace more than offset the power of evil in mankind. "Where the offense has abounded, grace has abounded yet more" (Rom 5.20). God can love what Christ does in loving obedience more than He hates the evil of man's sins because Christ's loving obedience when communicated to mankind actually effects more good in the world than sin causes evil.

What happened in Christ is, furthermore, meritorious, for the transformation in the Sacred Humanity is that very effect which God gave Christ the power to accomplish. Merit is not only a right to a reward for an act performed; merit is also the accomplishment and the possession of the actual effects of one's acts.

Finally, Christ in this transformation is representative rather than vicarious or substitutional. The transformation itself is representative in the order of signs, for what happened in Christ manifests what must happen in man in order that he be delivered from sin, namely, a death to the flesh when person, fortified by grace, resists to death the sinful ways of nature. Christ Himself is representative in the order of physical reality, for Christ, in solidarity with human history, is the event that reorients history's deviation; in solidarity with human society, He is that social Person who is able to reshape the form of social living; in solidarity with men, He is that Person who is able to convert man's person and restore his nature.

Christ as priest-victim. Sacred revelation presents the death of Christ in the context of sacrifice. Christ mediates the redemptive activity of God as priest-victim. Scripture reveals simply the fact that the death of Christ is a sacrifice of reconciliation of man to God. The Sacred Text does not reveal precisely how the death of Christ is to be understood as sacrificial. Neither has the Church designated any precise sacrificial theory in which the faithful are to understand this sacrifice.

When theologians attempt to explain the death of Christ in the context of sacrifice, there are two doctrinal controls that guide their explanations. First, the sacrifice of Christ must be explained in some continuity with the ritual of sacrifice in the Old Law, the figure of things to come. Second, the sacrifice of the cross must be explained in a coherence with the doctrine of Christ's death as redemptive in delivering from sin.

Sacrifice of Expiation. If the theory of the redemptive death is cast in the juridical order, the death of Christ will be understood as a sacrifice of expiation. Theologians who hold this theory see Christ's death in an analogy with the expiatory sacrifices of the Old Law in which (so these writers consider) an animal was symbolically loaded with the sins of the people and then ritually slain. The animal is substituted for sinful man, and man, seeing the death of the animal, may understand what his sins deserve and how severe are God's punishments. By means of this sacrifice, God's anger is appeased and His wrath averted.

The theory has had many adherents among both Catholics and Protestants, especially among the reformers themselves. But biblical research has questioned, indeed attacked, this understanding of the death of Christ in terms of such an expiatory sacrifice. It is affirmed in this theory that the sins of mankind are imputed to Christ. God permits, even wills, that Christ be slain both to appease His anger and to manifest to the world the evil of sin and the fact that God will not forgive without satisfaction being made either by the innocent or by the guilty. It does not matter. This is nothing short of amorality, even immorality. In such an understanding of the Redemption, God does not keep His own command to man to forgive without demanding satisfaction (Mt 5.3848).

Sacrifice of Propitiation. If the redeeming death is understood in the moral order, then the sacrifice of the cross is conceived of as a sacrifice of propitiation or reconciliation. In the OT sacrifices, so this doctrine explains it, there was: a victim (something suitably representing man), an offering (to represent man's gift of himself to God), the act of immolation (some sacred action done to the victim to express man's irrevocable dedication of himself to God), an official priest to offer the sacrifice in the name of the community that participates in the victim offered.

St. Thomas fits these essential sacrificial lines over the offering of Christ on the cross. Christ is a suitable victim representing man, as having His humanity to offer and being the head of humanity. There is an offering in Christ's willingly going to His death. There is an act of immolation in His fatal Crucifixion. Christ Himself is the priest offering what is most acceptable to God. The faithful are able to participate in the victim through Christ's gift of the Eucharist (Summa theologiae 3a, 48.3).

Recent Thought. A more recent trend in Catholic thought finds something more involved in Christ's sacrifice. After investigating the idea of sacrifice in the OT, many theologians are recasting the conception of the immolative act, and in this recasting the significance of sacrifice is somewhat modified. Sacrifice is a ritualistic expression of man's dedication to God. It is, besides, an effort to attain an actual union with the divinity. Man offers himself in sacrifice, and God is understood as actually accepting man by giving him a participation in the divinity in and through the sacrifice itself.

In the moral order the purpose of sacrifice is conceived of as man's effort to please God. In the physical order the purpose of sacrifice is to effect in man what is pleasing to God, to produce in man what is in itself the reconciliation with God.

Transposing the understanding of sacrifice into the physical order, the act of immolation has as its purpose the ending of the form of existence the victim had had hitherto in order that the oblata might become sacred to God. The act of immolation signified a transfer of the profane and human thing to divine ownership. The rite was a sort of consecration, an invitation for God to make it His own and transform it into something divine. The offerers expected God to accept the gift, sanctify it, and impregnate it with His divinity so that all those who partook of it might share in the divine holiness and be in communion with God.

The rite of immolation has two moments. First, there is the act of transfer, when the gift is taken out of the realm of the profane and placed in the realm of the divine. Second, there is the act of transformation, when the gift is sanctified in God's very acceptance of it.

Applying this doctrine to the sacrifice of the cross, the act of transfer is verified in the following manner. Christ's consent to undergo His sufferings is the offering of the victim of sacrifice. The historical event of His Crucifixion presented Christ with that final and full opportunity for the free act of Person to transform nature by bringing nature into full submission to and perfect acceptance of the will of Person. This transformation of nature is the transfer of the Sacred Humanity from the condition of "likeness of sinful flesh." In the death of Christ, the first moment of the immolative act is accomplished.

It is the Resurrection in which the second moment is fulfilled, when God raises Christ from the dead and His humanity is transformed by the fullness of participation in the divine life and the complete possession of the Spirit. "In the light of [this] sacrificial theory, the glorification of Christ appears as a necessary phase of his oblation. It is the completion without which his sacrifice is essentially mutilated and is therefore no sacrificejust as there can be no movement which does not arrive anywhere, and no gift where there is no one to accept it. His glorification not only completes his sacrifice in itself, but also makes it beneficial; in the divinized victim, God communicates himself to the offerer and to all who eat at the altar" (Durrwell, The Resurrection 76).

Redemption mediated by the risen Christ. One last point of the doctrinal context needs be discussed: the mediation of the Redemption through the Resurrection of Christ. St. Thomas considered the Resurrection, as well as the sufferings and death of Christ, as being an integral part of Christ's redemptive work (Summa theologiae 3a, 56). But St. Thomas's contemporaries and his successors made little of this doctrine as long as the theology of Redemption was dominated by the concepts of merit and satisfaction as understood in the juridical and moral orders.

The contribution of modern biblical research to the theology of the Redemption is the growing understanding of the data demonstrating that in the mind of St. Paul the Resurrection is inseparable from the Passion in the work of salvation. Christ "was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification" (Rom 4.25). Following out the line of thought in which the Redemption is conceived of as something happening in the physical order, the Resurrection is the event in human history that reorients its course of deviation. The risen Christ becomes the redemptive source of social reform and the cause of personal conversion and restoration.

The event of the Resurrection reorients the course of human history, for it is an intervention by God through an event that interrupts the course of continuity, causality, and immanence set up in history by sin. In resurrecting Christ, God establishes Him as a new principle of continuity. By the power of the risen Christ, God sends His Spirit into men to enable them to do the same work in history that Christ Himself performed in His lifetime. A new order of things begins. In the Resurrection, Christ has the power to communicate His nature to men, the nature transformed by grace in His Resurrection. A new form of man's existence begins. Through the Resurrection, Christ is enabled to communicate His Person to men in the mystery of Christ (cf. Col 1.24; Eph 3.17; Rom 16.2527). A new immanence of God in Christ begins in man's history.

The risen Christ is the source of social reform as being the head of the Church. Christ engenders in it His Spirit, His life, and His Person, enabling it to deliver men from the evil of sin and reunite them to God through its preaching of Him, through its administration of His sacrifice and Sacraments, and through its life for and service of mankind.

The risen Christ is the source of personal restoration and conversion to God, because the grace formed in the Crucifixion and communicated to Christ's members is a grace enabling them to die to the flesh. As a grace filled with the Spirit in the Resurrection, it is a grace enabling men to live unto God in the fullness of the Spirit. "Jesus Christ our Lord was established Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience to faith among all the nations" (Rom 1.46).

Conclusion. The deliverance of man from the evil of sin and the reunion of man with God are realized in the mystery of the encounter of God's loving act, which in saving man will involve him in his being delivered up for his sins and rising again for justification (cf. Rom4.25). Redemption for sinful mankind is the reproduction within man's person, within his society, and within his history of the pattern of person and nature and life purpose that God established in Christ the Savior.

See Also: soteriology; man, 3; passion of christ, i (in the bible); passion of christ, ii (devotion to), person (in theology).

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[e. l. peterman/eds.]