Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/78

This page needs to be proofread.


ATONEMENT


56


ATONEMENT


redeemed, or bought with a price. "For you are bought with a great price" (I Cor., vi, 20). "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; because thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood" (Apoc, v, 9). Looked at in this light, the Atonement appears as the deliverance from captivity by the pajinent of a ransom. This view is already developed in the second century. "Tlie mighty Word and true Man reasonably redeeming us by His blood, gave Himself a ransom for those who had been brought into bondage. And since the Apostasy unjustly ruled over us, and, whereas we belonged by nature to God Almighty, alienated us against nature and made us his own disciples, the Word of God, being mighty in all things, and failing not in His justice, dealt jvistly even with the Apostasy itself, bujnng back from it the things which were His o^sii" (Irenseus, Adversus HiEreses, V, i). And St. Augustine says in well-knowii words: "Jlen were held captive under the devU, and served the demons, but they were redeemed from capti\'ity. For they could sell them- selves, but they could not redeem themselves. The Redeemer came, and gave the price; He poured forth His blood and bought the whole world. Do you ask what He bought? See what He gave, and find what He bought. The blood of Christ is the price. How much is it worth? What but the whole world? What but all nations?" (Enarratio in Psalm xcv, n. 5).

It cannot be questioned that this theory also con- tains a true principle. For it is founded on the ex- press words of Scripture, and is supported by many of the greatest of the early Fathers and later theo- logians. But unfortunately, at first, and for a long period of theological historj', this truth was some- what obscured by a strange confusion, which would seem to have arisen from the natural tend- ency to take a figure too literally, and to apply it in details which were not contemplated by those who first made use of it. It must not be for- gotten that the account of our deliverance from sin is set forth in figures. Conquest, captivity, and ransom are familiar facts of human history. Man, having jnelded to the temptations of Satan, was like to one overcome in battle. Sin, again, is fitly likened to a state of slaver}-. And when man was set free by the shedding of Christ's precious Blood, this deliverance would naturally recall (even if it had not been so described in Scripture ) the redemption of a captive by the pajmient of a ran- som. But, however useful and ilhuninating in their proper place, figures of this kind are perilous in the hands of those who press them too far, and forget that they are figures. This is what happened here. When a captive is ransomed the price is naturally paid to the conqueror by whom he is held in bondage. Hence, if this figure were taken and interpreted literally in all its details, it would seem that the price of man's ransom must be paid to Satan. The notion is certainly startling, if not revolting. Even if grave reasons pointed in this direction, we might well shrink from drawing the conclusion. And this is in fact so far from being the case that it seems hard to find any rational explanation of such a pay- ment, or any right on which it could be founded. Yet, strange to say, the bold flight of theological speculation was not checked by these misgivings. In the above-cited passage of St. Iren^us, we read that the Word of God "dealt justly even with the Apostasy itself [i. e. Satan], buying back from it the things which were His own ". This curious notion, apparently first mooted by St. Irensus, was taken up by Origen in the next centurj-, and for about a thousand years it played a conspicuous part in the history of theologj'. In the hands of some of the later Fathers and medieval writers, it takes


various forms, and some of its more repulsive features are softened or modified. But the strange notion of some right, or claim, on the part of Satan is still present. A protest was raised by St. Gregorj' of Nazianzus in the fourth century, as miglit be ex- pected from that most accurate of the patristic theologians. But it was not till St. Anselni and Abelard had met it with unanswerable arguments that its power was finally broken. It makes a belated appearance in the pages of Peter Lombard.

(f) But it is not only in connexion with the theory of raasom that we meet with this notion of "rights" on the part of Satan. Some of the Fathers set the matter in a different aspect. Fallen man, it was said, was justly under the dominion of the devil, in punishment for sin. But when Satan brought suf- fering and death on the sinless Saviour, he abused his power and exceeded his right, so that he was now justl}' deprived of his dominion over the captives. This explanation is found especially in the sermons of St. Leo and the "Morals" of St. Gregorj' the Great. Closely allied to this explanation is the singular "mouse-trap" metaphor of St. Augustine. In this daring figure of speech, the Cross is regarded as the trap in which the bait is set and the enemy is caught. "The Redeemer came and the deceiver was overcome. What did our Redeemer do to our Captor? In pajTnent for us He set the trap, His Cross, with His blood for bait. He [Satan] could indeed shed that blood; but he deserved not to drink it. By shedding the blood of One who was not his debtor, he was forced to release his debtors" (Serm. C-X.xx, ยง 2).

(d) These ideas retained their force well into the Middle Ages. But the appearance of St. Anselm's "Cur Deus Homo?" made a new epoch in the theology of the .\tonement. It may be said, indeed, that this book marks an epoch in theological literature and doctrinal development. There are not many works, even among those of the greatest teachers, that can compare in this respect with the treatise of St. An- selni. .4nd, with few exceptions, the books that have done as much to influence and guide the growth of theology are the outcome of some great struggle with heresy; while others, again, only summarize the theological learning of the age. But this little book is at once purely pacific and eminently origi- nal. Xor could any dogmatic treatise well be more simple and unpretending than this luminous dia- logue between the great archbishop and his disciple Boso. There is no parade of learning, and but little in the way of appeal to authorities. The disciple asks and the master answers; and both alike face the great problem before them fearlessly, but at the same time with all due reverence and modesty. Anselm says at the outset that he will not so much show his disciple the truth he needs, as .seek it along with him; and that when he says anything that is not confirmed by higher authority, it must be taken as tentative, and provisional. He adds that, though he may in some measure meet the question, one who is wiser could do it better; and that, whatever man may know or say on this subject, there will alwaj-s remain deeper reasons that are beyond him. In the same spirit he concludes the whole treatise by submitting it to reasonable correction at the hands of others.

It may be safely said that this is precisely what has come to pass. For the theory put forward by Anselm has been modified by the work of later theologians, and confirmed by the testimony of truth. In contrast to some of the other views already noticed, this tlieor>- is remarkably clear and symmetrical. And it is certainly more agreeable to reason than the "mouse-trap" metaphor, or the notion of purchase money paid to Satan. Anselm's answer to the question is simply the need of satis-