Satisfaction of Christ
SATISFACTION OF CHRIST
The mode of operation proper to Christ's satisfaction for sin is not a matter of divine and Catholic faith. The theological principle underlying it was first enunciated by Saint anselm of canterbury in his Cur Deus homo. Although the term satisfaction was current before Anselm's time and was even applied to the work of Redemption in the Mozarabic liturgy, the great archbishop of Canterbury was the first theologian to analyze the idea of satisfaction thoroughly and to stress its primary importance in the theology of Redemption. As developed by Saint Thomas Aquinas, the principle is stated thus: "He properly atones for an offense who offers something which the offended one loves as well as or even more than he detests the offense. But by suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race" (Summa theologiae 3a, 48.2). Still further study, particularly from the viewpoint of biblical theology, has made it clear that a theological explanation cannot be given without advertence to the following points.
Divine Initiative in Establishing the Mystery of Christ. The Man Jesus sums up in Himself the whole mystery of God's redemptive love (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer, 624). This mystery "hidden for ages and generations, but now … clearly shown to his saints" (Col 1.26) identifies God's incarnate Son with the cause of sinful humanity. He has so steeped Himself in man's history that all men of all time make one body with Him. He and they together make "one mystic person" before the heavenly Father (Summa theologiae 3a, 48.2 ad 1). Consequently, the works of Christ are related both to Himself and to men, His members, in the same way another man's works are related to himself alone (Summa theologiae 3a, 48.1).
The purpose of the redemptive incarnation of God's Son is to achieve this oneness with a needy human race. "In this has the love of God been shown in our case, that God has sent his only-begotten Son into the world
that we may live through him" (1 Jn 4.9). Satisfaction is unintelligible unless there is a social significance to Christ's life and death (Enchiridion symbolorum 261). It must be meaningful for all who dwell in Him as in one mystic person. This is the mystery that "God foreordained before the world unto our glory" (1 Cor 2.7). God's love for mankind established a solidarity of men in Christ in such a way that mankind's offense was offset by God's own gift (Enchiridion symbolorum 623). "But not like the offense is the gift. For if by the offense of the one many died, much more has the grace of God, and the gift in the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, abounded unto the many" (Rom 5.15).
"Severity of God" as a More Bountiful Mercy. The Biblical notion of God's justice is not identical with the attitude of an angry father nor with the zeal of a righteous judge. The introduction of a dolorous Passion into Christ's work of satisfaction is not a punitive measure of God. Christ, our Savior, could never take the full punishment of sin upon Himself. He, the innocent, well-beloved Son of God, could never really be punished by His Father, not even as a substitute for all the brethren who would make one body with Him (C. gent. 4.55 ad 20).
The Prophets and the Psalmist appeal to the justice of god when yearning for deliverance. Goodness, mercy, fidelity, constancy—all these are aspects of the Biblical notion of God's justice. When Saint Thomas speaks of "the severity of God" that was "unwilling to forgive sin without punishment," he rightly couples this immediately with "His goodness" in giving mankind one who could adequately satisfy in behalf of all those who deserved punishment (Summa theologiae 3a, 47.3 ad 1).
The satisfaction of Christ is called vicarious not because Jesus became a scapegoat actually enduring the punishment for mankind's sins (Summa theologiae 3a, 13.3 ad 2). In giving His own Son as a propitiation for man's sins God was lovingly safeguarding the dignity of even fallen man (Summa theologiae 3a, 46.1 ad 3; 46.3). Man's own Brother made atonement for him (Enchiridion symbolorum 801). Thus the Apostle can say: "But now he has reconciled you in his body of flesh through his death, to present you holy and undefiled and irreproachable before him" (Col 1.22).
Father's Role in Delivering His Son to the Cross. It was this loving justice of God that delivered Jesus to the cross. It was the Father who planned the dolorous Passion of mankind's Savior; it was the Father who inspired the human will of Jesus to surrender lovingly to a sacrificial death; it was the Father who allowed Christ's enemies to have their way with Him when, as Jesus Himself assured Peter, He might have sent 12 legions of angels to deliver His beloved Son (Summa theologiae 3a, 47.3). He did all this so that men might be "justified freely by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God has set forth as a propitiation by his blood through faith, to manifest his justice" (Rom 3.25).
The word propitiation reminds one that Christ's suffering and death were an expiation for an offense or an appeasement of an offended God. Though God's loving justice was not punishing His innocent Son, He did so plan the redemptive Passion as to enable Jesus to express His filial love through experiences that came to mankind historically as punishments for sin, namely, suffering and death (Summa theologiae 3a, 14.3 ad 2). In this respect there is a penal element in Our Lord's work of satisfaction (Collectio Lacensis: Acta et decreta sacrorum conciliorum recentiorum, ed. Jesuits of Maria Laach, 7.543.3). But it is inseparable from the moral value of Christ's love that made that encounter with pain fruitful for all mankind (Summa theologiae 3a, 47.3 ad 3). In Christ all the afflictions in the life of man, when imbued with love, become works of satisfaction (Summa theologiae 3a Supplement, 15.2–3; Enchiridion symbolorum 1690), "for God has not destined us unto wrath, but to gain salvation through Our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us in order that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him" (1 Thes 5.9).
Son's Filial Obedience Prompted by Love. In His sacred Passion Jesus referred to His sufferings as a chalice given to Him by His Father (Jn 18.11). To drink it to its last bitter dregs was a costly experience. "For Jesus in the days of his earthly life, with a loud cry and tears, offered up prayers and supplications to him who was able to save him from death, and was heard because of his reverent submission" (Heb 5.7). He has knowledge of the costliness of obedience, even when prompted by filial love. "And he, Son though he was, learned obedience from the things that he suffered; and when perfected, he became to all who obey him the cause of eternal salvation…" (Heb 5.10).
The formal or constitutive element in Christ's satisfaction for sin is this obedience prompted by love (Summa theologiae 3a, 48.2). This is what makes penal realities, like pain and death, become sacrificial. Without His interior love and obedience Our Lord's sufferings would have been merely a feat of endurance, unworthy of God's acceptance as a redemptive sacrifice (Enchiridion symbolorum 1529).
Obedience is fittingly the dynamic behind Christ's satisfaction. By it mankind's justification is achieved through a reversal of tactics by one representative Man. "For just as by the disobedience of the one man the many were constituted sinners, so also by the obedience of one many will be constituted just" (Rom 5.19).
This obedience reconciled man to God and delivered man from all the punitive aftermath of the first disobedience—enslavement to sin, Satan, the law, and death itself (Enchiridion symbolorum 1347). In inspiring His Son to die for man from obedient love, God remade a new people enriched by His love. "He who has spared not even his own Son but has delivered him for us all, how can he fail to grant us also all things together with him?" (Rom8.32)
Penal Element as a Price of Deliverance. The Scriptural image of innocent bloodshedding as a price or ransom for deliverance (1 Pt 1.19) accentuates the penal element in the work of satisfaction. The external bodily pain and the internal anguish of Jesus, while in no sense accompanied by a consciousness of rejection, contrition, or self-rebuke, are nonetheless the dolorous offspring of sin. There is no suffering in humanity's history that is not originally a punishment for sin (Summa theologiae 3a, 14.1). Christ took these historically punitive evils, associated them with His loving obedience, and converted them into the raw material for sacrificial love (Enchiridion symbolorum 1025–1027).
His sorrow, as a loving work of satisfaction, was the greatest ever endured in the history of mankind. Whether Christ's Passion is considered in the causes of His bodily and mental suffering, or in His exquisite sensitivity to pain, or in the unassuaged purity of His grief, or in the earnestness of His desire for self-emptying, always His sorrow is unmitigated (Summa theologiae 3a, 46.6). This accumulation of sorrow, costly in human endurance, is the "great price" (1 Cor 6.20) of man's deliverance; by it man who was once afar off has been brought near through the blood of Christ (see Eph 2.13).
Price of Deliverance a Superabundant Satisfaction. A rigorously juridical concept of satisfaction can suggest an exchange governed by commutative justice. Excessive humanization of the Creator-creature relationship can effect the theological discussion of whether or not Christ's payment of satisfaction in mankind's name was in the strictest sense a work of justice.
Theologians, generally, observe that a strictly just exchange between a debtor and a recipient of payment must involve goods that are (1) completely the debtor's own, (2) in no way due under another title, and (3) offered so compellingly that the creditor cannot refuse them.
Christ, as Man-God, became a voluntary debtor acting in mankind's name. The same Divine Person who made satisfaction in His humanity accepted it in His divinity. Accordingly, human notions involved in justice transactions do not have unqualified application to the divine-human relationship in Christ's satisfaction. Jesus, man's Savior, was preeminently the perfect religious Man.
Rightly, however, and incontestably His atonement is called superabundant. This is so for three reasons: (1) the dignity of His life, which He laid down for man—the human life of God, (2) the greatness of His charity with its unchanging capacity for merit, and (3) the extensiveness of His suffering, so apt to remove all obstacles, ontological and psychological, preventing man's complete surrender to God (Summa theologiae 3a, 48.2).
Total Victory as the Goal of the Work. Paul the Apostle voiced the instinctive yearning of every Christian in the presence of Christ's work of satisfaction. He yearned to "know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings" (Phil 3.10). Sacrificial love in Christ is always moving toward total deliverance from humiliation and pain. In Christ men's own satisfaction for sin becomes a progressive march toward total victory (Enchiridion symbolorum 1691). Men's fellowship with Him both in suffering and in triumph is a prelude to final glorification with Him.
This fellowship graces men with His entire gospel of sanctified pain (1 Pt 4.12). It enriches men with the total assets of His glorified existence in men's behalf (1 Cor3.22). In Him men are already pledged to multiple sharings in His victory, both in time and in eternity (Eph2.4–8). Even now gladness is men's birthright (Col 1.13,14). Satan is stamped under men's feet with dispatch (Rom 16.20). The burden of the Law has yielded to the sweet yoke of Christ (Rom 7.4–7). Death itself is but a final immolation of love for the sake of full consummation of union with the risen Christ (2 Cor 5.4–5). Men are called to be the happy, holy, victorious people of God (1 Pt 2.5–9).
See Also: jesus christ, articles on; passion of christ, i, ii; reparation, theology of; expiation (in theology)
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[a. p. hennessy]