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PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS ON THE SUBJECT,
AND THE METHOD OF TREATING IT.
THAT Jesus died, the Just for the unjust, to redeem mankind from the bondage of corruption, and restore the broken communion between earth and heaven, is, and ever has been, a fundamental verity of the Christian faith. From that uplifted cross, for eighteen centuries, He has been drawing all men by the 'cords of Adam’ to Himself. Round the altars where that one true Sacrifice, offered once in blood on Calvary, is presented perpetually in a bloodless mystery, from the rising to the setting of the sun, has been gathered through those eighteen centuries of her chequered history the faith, the penitence, the devotion of the Church He purchased by that greatest pledge of love. Yet, even as then among the spectators of the crucifixion there were some who worshipped and some who doubted, and its stillness was broken by the questionings, or the jests, or the mockeries of those for whose
sake it was endured, so it has been till now. And especially has this been the case since the fierce controversies of the Reformation period involved the whole subject in the confusions of a theological warfare, where men darken counsel with many words, and strive rather for a party triumph than for simple truth. Forgetting or greatly underrating, for the most part, the significance of the Incarnation as the centre-point of all Christian belief, the first leaders of the movement in the sixteenth century dragged forward into disproportionate prominence, and often in connection with an erroneous theory of 'imputation, one side and one only of that divine mystery, namely, the doctrine of the Atonement. And hence there has grown up in many quarters a way of looking at that doctrine, and speaking of it, full of difficulties to the devout believer, and offering abundant opportunities for the cavils of the sceptic. It has been so stated as to cloud our most primary conceptions of the attributes of God; and to imply, or seem to imply, a division of will between the Persons of the undivided Trinity, in whom being and will are one. And so men have come to complain that they cannot believe in a justice which strikes the innocent, while it spares the criminal; that they cannot understand a love which waits to forgive till it has exacted rigorous compensation; or recognize the holiness of that displeasure against sin which is content to exhale in displeasure against the Sinless One. Such objections may often be urged in a tone of mockery, or disbelief; but it is not always so. It will not then, I trust, be an unprofitable task to show that the doctrine of atonement held and taught from the beginning in the Catholic
Church is open to no such criticism. An investigation of her teaching, as laid down by the Fathers and later theologians who are the accredited interpreters of her mind, will show that the opinions fairly open to objection are no part of it, but are either those of particular writers or schools only; or such as have prevailed for a season and then passed away, like the notion of a ransom paid to the evil one; or were put forward from the first with an heretical animus, and have never found a home within her pale; or are the doctrines of those who have formally renounced her creed. Meanwhile a few words may be said here, by way of preface, in reference to some common misapprehensions on the subject.
First, then, it must be always borne in mind that in speaking of the avenging justice, or the wrath of God, we mean by such language, which is necessarily more or less metaphorical, simply to express His holiness, in relation to fallen man. Righteousness is the best equivalent in our language for the theological term justitia, which has a far wider scope than is ascribed in ordinary usage to the English word justice, or giving everyone his due, though it of course includes it.* It is not that we have done an injury to God for which He requires a quid pro quo, as in a case of injustice between man and man, or that He is angry as though we had defrauded Him, as when Christ is said, in a hymn of Dr. Watts's, to have smoothed the angry Father's face;' it is no such unworthy and anthropomorphic conception as this that we mean, when we speak of a satisfaction to His justice, or a sacrifice to appease His wrath. It is the perfect holiness of God, which is one with Himself, that is outraged by sin, and then becomes what is frequently called in Scripture His indignation or anger, and expresses itself in the chastisement of the sinner. It is that holiness which is satisfied by the spotless sacrifice of His Son; ‘not,' as St. Bernard says, “His death, but His will in voluntarily dying. We need not doubt that He might, had He so willed, have pardoned us on our repentance, without any sacrifice at all; but He preferred a method of reconciliation which established alike His holiness and His love. We had fallen away, not by any arbitrary external accident, but by a moral perversion of our will; and He therefore chose to redeem us through a moral act, through the perfect oblation of a will obedient to His own. It was a consequence of the Fall, and it is so still, that obedience could only be exercised through suffering; that the right to benefit mankind could only be purchased through enduring their persecution *: and Jesus submitted for our sakes to that law which was the fruit of our sin, and which, while He has not repealed it, for all who love Him He has turned from a curse into a blessing. As others suffer for our sins, so also do they benefit by our suffering for righteousness' sake. It would be superfluous to illustrate this in detail from the familiar history of the Jewish, or the Christian Church. We know full well how the shadow of His cross
* "Justice,' in its narrower sense, as applied to the Incarnation, is generally used by the Fathers in reference to Satan. Thus e.g. St. Augustine says, “Non autem diabolus potentia Dei, sed justitia superandus fuit.” (De Trin. xiii. 13.) On the other hand he says, soon afterwards, “ Quid enim justius quam usque ad mortem Crucis pro justitia perseverare ?" (ib. c. 14.) where obviously what greater evidence of righteousness or holiness ?' is meant.
has more or less deeply fallen on all who prefigured Him under the Old Law, on all who have been preëminent as His followers under the New; making them, after their measure and degree, partakers of His sufferings.
That was no unmeaning record inscribed on the luminous cross which converted the first Christian emperor to the obedience of faith: In hoc signo vinces. It sums up in four short words the work of the Redeemer, and the mission of His earthly Church. On that I need not dwell.
It is more to the purpose to observe, that, even without the limits of His visible kingdom, the same principle had been perceived and exemplified. The well-known passage in Plato's Republic,* which sounds almost like an echo of inspired prophecy in its thrilling description of the perfectly righteous man, whom, because of his righteousness, his fellows will scourge and crucify, is in fact but a summary of the whole experience of mankind. Of the two most religious heathen of whom history tells us, it is remarkable that one was a persecutor and the other a martyr. Socrates died, because he would not purchase safety at the price of his convictions of truth; and his words before his judges, “I must obey God rather than you,” are the key-note of his character and his life. Marcus Aurelius, who, if he had been a Christian, would surely have been a Saint, was born into a corrupted atmosphere, and brought himself to believe it a duty to the Empire to persecute the Church. But, if his position exempted him from suffering at the hands of others, his Meditations contain abundant evi