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The Dogma of Redemption (Part 1 of 7)

by St. Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky

Blessed art thou, Ο place, thou who wast accounted worthy of
The sweat of the Son which fell upon thee!
He mingled His sweat with the earth,
So as to remove Adam’s sweat wherewith he worked the earth.
Blessed is that earth which He sweetened with His sweat,
Which was sickly and was healed when His sweat fell upon it!
Who has ever seen a sick man who by another’s sweat should 
be healed! Praised be He, Who was sent to thee!
Blessed art thou, Ο place, for thou hast gladdened
The Garden of delight through thy prayer.
In that Garden Adam’s will was divided asunder
Against his Creator, because he wrought stealthily and ate.
But [Jesus] entered this Garden and prayed therein and made
to agree [once more] By His prayer that will which in the Garden [of Paradise] was cloven asunder. Lo He prayed: “Not My will, but Thine, be done.” Praised be He, Who was sent to thee!

St. Ephraim the Syrian — Hymns on the Crucifixion VIII, 1-2


Metropolitan AnthonyFor the last thirty years, this basic dogma of our faith, that is, its formulation, has been the subject of constant reformulation. More exactly, it has been subjected to attempts at restoration. These attempts have been undertaken with a gratifying difference to all other such efforts in our creativity-impoverished theological science: this reformulation is directed not against Orthodoxy (or in deviation from it) but, on the contrary, toward true Orthodoxy. It has been undertaken with a desire to free the theological science which is taught in seminaries, and the school catechisms from heterodox contaminations. Just as in other cases, the negative aspect of this reformulation, that is, criticism of the interpretation of the dogma of redemption accepted in our schools, is pursued much more thoroughly — in a more detailed and convincing manner — than the positive aspect, that is, the matter of replacing the corrupt teaching with the correct one. No one has yet given a clear, direct answer to the question of why Christ’s incarnation, sufferings and resurrection are saving for us.1 The reader ought not to think that we are trying to impose our resolution of the matter upon anyone as if it were beyond refutation: let us allow for the possibility that it is incorrect. Still, we maintain that this is the only direct and positive answer yet made to the given dogmatic question. Other authors have either limited themselves to criticism of scholastic teaching (and, in truth, such criticism is often highly valuable both in the depth of its thought and by the wealth of erudition) or, they have offered, in answer to the given question, a general, very poorly defined speculation, for example: “Jesus Christ redeemed us not so much by His suffering as by His very incarnation — and only that.” We will, incidentally, return to this consideration but, meanwhile, let us remain within the general boundaries of contemporary criticism of the catechistic and theological teaching on this dogma offered in our schools.

At the present time, our theological research has sufficiently ascertained: (1) that this [juridical] teaching is borrowed entirely from the non-Orthodox, Roman Catholic teaching as formulated by Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas and Peter of Lombardy;2 (2) that it is not found in the Holy Scripture, nor in the holy fathers, for in neither do we encounter the terms merit and satisfaction, the juridical concepts upon which contemporary scholastic teachings about redemption wholly rest; (3) it has been demonstrated that this teaching cannot be brought into accord with either the doctrine of Divine righteousness or with the doctrine about His mercy, although it lays claims to introduce both these Divine properties.

For those interested in the first two points, we refer to a brief, but valuable article of Archpriest Svetlov, An Analysis of Anselm’s Teaching `Cur Deus Homo’ (Why God Became Man), and also to the master’s dissertation of Archbishop Sergei: The Orthodox Doctrine of Salvation, and the candidate’s dissertation of Hieromonk Taras Kurgansky: Moscow and Kiev Theologians of the 16th and 17th Centuries ( Missionary Survey,1902).3 In this work, he demonstrates how little the works of the Kievan writers, who borrowed from Roman Catholic sources, resemble the works of the Moscow theologians, who wrote in an atmosphere free of the influence of Western theologians.4

The comprehensive dissertation of Archpriest Svetlov; The Significance of the Cross of Christ’s Work, as well as his other works, are also well-grounded refutations of the scholastic theory from the various aforementioned points of view.

The third point of view enumerated above, the immoral aspect of the Western doctrine, has been expressed most emphatically by a professor of the ecclesiastical academy, Archimandrite Ilarion [Troitsky].5 In one introductory lecture, he urged his listeners to take up a campaign against the expressions (and the very ideas): expiatory merits and satisfaction to God’s justice, as being completely alien to the Church, even though they litter our textbooks.6

The teaching about redemption proffered in our school courses and catechisms (I shall never call this a Church teaching) gives occasion to the enemies of Christianity to raise coarse, but difficult to refute, mockeries. Tolstoy, for example, says that, “Your faith teaches that Adam committed all the sins for me, and I must, for some reason pay for him. But, on the other hand, Christ has fulfilled all the virtues in my behalf, and all that remains for me to do is to fill in a receipt for one or the other sum.” Japanese pagans object to our missionaries that: “You preach the most unreasonable faith, that God supposedly was angered at all people because of Eve’s one act of foolishness. But then he executed His totally innocent Son and only then became soothed.” I first spoke out against the excesses of this teaching of satisfaction in an article titled, Reflections Upon the Saving Power of Christ’s Passions.7 A few days later, in the reception room of Metropolitan Isidor, the late Bolotov,8 in his usual raspy whisper, complimented me for the “new perspective in dogmatic theology.” When, in explaining my boldness to him, I observed that the theory of satisfaction is taken by the Roman Catholics not at all from Divine revelation, but from Roman law, he responded, in his raspy whisper, “That is correct, but to be more exact — from the law of feudal knighthood.”

And indeed, scholastic dogmatic theology asserts thus: God was offended by Adam and had to be satisfied by someone’s compensatory, punitive suffering, by someone’s execution. This principle is taken from Roman and feudal ethics and, moreover, it successively penetrated all the laws of feudal society. An offended knight was considered to have lost his worthiness (“honour”) until such time as he revenged himself. Moreover, the revenge had to be obtained in a precisely defined manner. First, it had to be obtained of a nobleman or knight of the same order and rank, even though the offender was but one of the servants of the neighbouring lord; second, the revenge had to be obtained by the shedding of blood, even if it did not prove fatal.

These irrational principles, unworthy even of that epoch when the worth of people (who in this case, were semi-bandits) was measured not so much by their virtues as by their prowess in battle — these undesirable remnants of paganism among the Roman Catholics of the middle ages passed down as the basis of the principles of the duel.9

Medieval and later scholastic theology resolved the matter of salvation in such a barbaric manner. It strove to explicate the very redemption of mankind by Christ’s sufferings from the point of view of a duel. God, the Supreme Being, was offended and insulted by Adam’s disobedience and the failure of the first people to trust in the Divine injunction concerning the tree of knowledge. This is an exceeding offence, and it is punished by the damnation of not only the offenders, but also of their descendants. Nevertheless, the suffering of Adam and the agonizing death which befalls his descendants are insufficient to wash away that terrible offence. In order to accomplish this, the shedding of blood is required, but not the blood of a servant. This could only be accomplished by the blood of a Being equal in rank with the outraged Deity, i.e., the Son of God Who voluntarily took upon Himself the penalty in behalf of man. In that manner, He obtained forgiveness of man from the angered Creator, Who had received satisfaction in the shedding of blood and death of the Son of God. In this, the Lord showed both His mercy and His justice! It is reasonable for skeptics to object that if this interpretation corresponded to revelation, then this conclusion would be stated, on the contrary: in this, the Lord showed mercilessness and injustice.

Scholastic theologians attempt, nevertheless, to object to this with a reference to the voluntary nature of Christ’s sufferings, and to convince their readers that not only did the Divine Son manifest love in accepting the crucifixion, but so did the Father Who subjected Him to it. “The Son’s love is crucified, the Father’s love crucifies.” This is, however, a most unconvincing sophism, a mere play on words.


What kind of love is it that crucifies? And who needs it? We do not doubt for a moment that it would have been impossible for people to be saved if the Lord had not suffered and risen from the dead, but the bond between His passion and our salvation is something altogether different. It is evident that this juridical teaching about the redemption diverges greatly from that of the Church, from the fact that the adherents of the juridical teaching are unable to find a place in the work of our salvation for that event of the Redeemer’s life which, in the liturgical consciousness of the Orthodox Church, is considered to be the more salutary for mankind, and which constitutes the object of the feast of feasts and universal spiritual ecstasy. More consistent supporters of the juridical theory, i.e., the Roman Catholics, by whom it is embraced not only academically, as with us, but also in their church life itself, have demoted the very feast of Pascha and placed it lower than the feast of Christ’s Nativity. Concerning the Russian Orthodox academic theology, the salutary significance of Christ’s Resurrection, so profoundly assimilated in the Church consciousness and by the liturgical poetry, was first elucidated systematically by Professor Nesmelov, for which may he have honour and glory. Honour from the time he first read a lecture about the Resurrection (about 1898) and glory, it would seem, only in the future period of our theological studies, which for the past half century have treated all creative thought with amazing apathy, while playing about with treatments of learned material (which, is occasionally useful) and on the compilation of feeble, inept German monographs (which is an almost useless activity).

Let us suppose, now, that some reader will respond to me: “What right do you have to assert that the juridical theory is alien to the Holy Scripture and to Sacred Tradition? Do we not find there that the Lord and Saviour is called a sacrifice, a purification; His blood is called redeeming; we are purchased by His blood; ransomed by His sacrifice? Moreover, certain of the fathers asserted that the sacrifice was offered to the Father, while others — that it was offered to the devil who had held control over us?10 Does the apostle not say that our sins are nailed down (and consequently abolished) to Christ’s Cross, that the Heavenly Father did not spare His Only-Begotten Son for the sake of our salvation, etc., etc.?” We will be told by those readers who are better informed in the Revelation: “While it is true that there are no expressions in the Scripture such as `satisfaction of God’s justice’ and `redeeming merits of the Son of God,’ did not the scholastics who created them merely summarize those thoughts about the redemption which are to be found in the Scripture and the fathers?”

Such questions were put to me at one of the gatherings of the Kharkov religious instructors [catechists] when I expounded my ideas about the dogma of redemption, which were received with great sympathy. Nevertheless, those ideas so startled some of the highly educated instructors by their unexpected character that, being convinced by them, they said, “We will have to give up all that was crammed into our heads during fourteen years of study in the parochial schools, seminary and academy.” Here, however, the conversation was about merit. But concerning the expressions of the Holy Scripture and fathers just cited, God forbid that we should dare to demote their significance: on the contrary, we will strive not only to bring our further interpretation of the dogma into full accord with them, but also to remove seeming contradictions between the fathers of the Church (e.g., sacrifice offered to the Father or sacrifice offered to the devil), which are so maliciously emphasized by the Protestants and their Russian admirers, but this is a subject for later pages of our work. Let us now pass on to a positive explanation of the dogma of redemption.

…continued here: Part 2 of 4