medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill East" <[log in to unmask]>
>>The idea of the Atonement as a Ransom was repudiated in no uncertain
terms by Gregory Nazianzen (Orationes, xlv.22) who said: "Was it paid
to the evil one? Monstrous thought! The devil receives a ransom not
only from God but of God .. To the Father? But we were not in bondage
to him ... And could the Father delight in the death of his Son?"<<
Of course it (although by 'it' I would prefer to mean salvation rather than atonement) can be thought of as a ransom  Following the Church Fathers (a.k.a early Bible teachers :-), the East teaches that Christ, on the Cross, gave "His life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28), (Mark 10:45). The "ransom" is paid to the grave. As the Lord revealed to the Prophet Hosea (Hosea 13:14), "I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death." In a sense, He pays the ransom to the devil who is the keeper of the grave and holds the power of death (Heb. 2:14). "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil."
>>But despite Gregory's objections the idea became popular,...<<
You are right of course to bring in Gregory of Nazianzus (4th century).  Gregory protested that the question of "Who received the payment?" should not be pressed hard. No matter what debt the Devil was owed it could not possibly have included God himself. On the other hand, the Father could not have been the recipient of the ransom, since he was not the one holding us captive. And if the blood of Isaac had not pleased him, why would he desire the blood of his beloved son?
Nazianzus sums up: the Father accepts Christ's sacrifice without having demanded it; the Son offers it to honour him; and the result is the defeat of the Evil One. This is as much as we shall say of Christ; the greater portion shall be reverenced with silence.
Anselm took aim at the exaggerated versions of the ransom theory, but didn't agree to leave the greater portion to silence. He theorised that the payment *was* made to God the Father. In Anselm's formulation, our sins were like an offence against the honour of a mighty ruler. The ruler is not free to simply forgive the transgression; restitution must be made. (This is a crucial new element in the story; earlier Christians believed that God the Father did, in fact, freely forgive us, like the father of the Prodigal Son - that parable deserves serious thought in connection with this discussion.)  No human would be adequate to pay this debt, so God the Son volunteers to do so. "If the Son chose to make over the claim He had on God to man, could the Father justly forbid Him doing so, or refuse to man what the Son willed to give him?" Christ satisfies our debt in this, the "Satisfaction Theory."  Western Christian theology marched on from that point, encountering controversies and developments and revisions, but locked on the idea that Christ's death was directed toward the Father. When Western theologians look back at the centuries before Anselm they can't find his theory anywhere (well, there are some premonitions in Tertullian and Cyprian, but it wasn't the mainstream.)  And Anselm's ideas developed when Christendom had been rent in two remain, still, essentially unknown to the Churches of the East.
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