The Atonement: An Overview of the Traditional Perspective

St. Anselm of Canterbury, originator of the satisfaction theory of the Atonement

We’ve looked at the Gnostic and Evagrian view of the Atonement.  Before we proceed to look at the various specific theories of the Atonement present in orthodox Christianity, I’d like to take a schematic view of framework against which the Atonement is viewed by the orthodox.

1.  After creating the Pleroma and the physical cosmos, God, at some point, creates the human race.

2.  Humans are initially innocent and free from sin.  Humans, like the angels before them, and like all created intelligences, have free will.

3.  The human race is given a test of obedience, mythologically symbolized by the command to Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

4.  Humans fail the test through the abuse of their God-given free will.  Mythologically, this is depicted as the temptation of Eve by the Serpent (interpreted as Lucifer/Satan), who eats the Forbidden Fruit and gives it to Adam).

5.  As a result of this, they and all their descendants are stained with Original Sin.  Among other things, this means that future humans are not innocent, and even under the best conditions tend towards wrongdoing and evil to some extent.

6.  Also as a result of this, the human race is alienated from God, and incapable, on their own initiative, of pleasing Him or being in communion with Him.

7.  To remedy this, God sends His Son, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, to take human form.  Christ becomes incarnate, is born, lives, teaches, and ultimately dies on the cross.  Three days later, he rises from the dead.  Through this death and resurrection, he atones for the human race and makes it possible for humans to be reconciled to God.

Now the main focus of this sub-series is how, exactly we are to understand point seven.  However, interpreting the Atonement is not possible without consideration of the framework in which it is viewed.  If there is no Fall, there is no need for Atonement; and the whole purpose of this series is to study the intelligibility of traditional accounts of the Fall.  My original goal was to see how the Fall can be viewed in terms of our modern understanding of human origins.

However, once you start unraveling a piece of fabric, the whole thing tends to come loose.  Thus, there are other issues that really have to be dealt with before we can come back to polygenesis.  Specifically, points two through five in the schematic above need to be examined, since there are several aspects of these points that are not obvious at the best, and highly problematic, at worst.  These issues are what we’ll be looking at in then next few posts.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Posted on 22/09/2012, in Catholicism, Christianity, philosophy, religion, theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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