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The Love of God and the Passion of Christ

March 30, 2009 Length: 41:38

On March 26, 2009, the Fellowship of St. James, publisher of Touchstone and Salvo magazines, hosted a Lenten talk by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, the pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of Christ in the Psalms and Christ in His Saints, both published by Ancient Faith Publishing. The title of the talk was "The Love of God and the Passion of Christ," and it was preceded by an invocation by Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth, pastor of Holy Transfiguration Antiochian Orthodox Church in Warrenville, Illinois.

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On March 26, 2009, the Fellowship of St. James, publisher of Touchstone and Salvo magazines, hosted a Lenten talk by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, the pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of Christ in the Psalms and Christ in His Saints, both published by Conciliar Press. The title of the talk was “The Love of God and the Passion of Christ,” and it was preceded by an invocation by Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth, pastor of Holy Transfiguration Antiochian Orthodox Church in Warrenville, Illinois.

Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth: Please stand as we pray together. Let us pray to the Lord. O Lord, Our God, we bow before you this night in awe at the magnitude, magnificence, and the humility of your love – love that has determined to take the eternal blessedness of the communion of the Holy Spirit and to create man to know and to enter into that love.

We bow before you as your sinful and wandering children, whom You have pursued in this love, even to the cross of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. Grant then, we pray this night, that our hearts would be quieted, humbled, and filled with a responsive love to this great love as we hear the words of your servant tonight.

O Heavenly King, O Comforter, Spirit of Truth who is everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon: I want to start tonight with the consideration of the dominant theology of the atonement. The theology of the atonement has at least been dominant since the 11th Century. It’s associated with the name Anselm of Canterbury, an Italian who was abbot of a Norman monastery and then the second Norman bishop of Canterbury after the Norman Invasion.

Anselm first articulated what’s known as “the satisfaction view” of atonement. In his book Cur Deus Homo, Why Did God Become Man, Anselm suggested that God became man because we owe God a debt of honor. That was a very important word in Norman culture, and a word that suggested why knights ran at one another with the jousts and things of that sort by slapping against the side of the face and fighting duels. Honor. We owe God a debt of honor.

Now, remember, in Norman chivalry, an offense against honor has to be met by someone who has equal honor. Anselm seems to be using this mode of thought when he says this quotation from Cur Deus Homo.

This is the debt which man and angel owe to God, and no one who pays this debt commits sin; but every one who does not pay it sins. This is justice, or uprightness of will, which makes a being just or upright in heart, that is, in will; and this is the sole and complete debt of honor which we owe to God, and which God requires of us.

Now, this debt of honor, for Anselm, creates imbalance in the moral in the moral universe. In other words, when man offended God, God could not simply ignore it, because His honor had been offended. Remember, in Anselm’s world, the preservation of honor is the stability of the society and all relationships within it. In Anselm’s view, the only possible way of repaying the debt was for a being of infinite greatness, equal to God, acting as man on behalf of man, to repay the debt of honor owed to God. Therefore, when Jesus died, He paid a debt to God the Father.

Now, that’s an idea one will actually find in the Western Liturgy, although not in very many places. A thing exalted on Holy Saturday night. I don’t remember exactly how it went. It’s been many years. Now, that’s the common and predominant view of atonement among Christians since the 11th Century. Although, there are variations of it.

Thomas Aquinas refined it, for example. Instead of speaking just of honor, he talks about justice, and that Christ satisfies the justice of God. Other theologians actually speak of the punishment and anger of God, where Christ becomes the substitute for us. I think it’s known as substitutionary penal atonement, which Anselm did not hold. That has always been an extremely rare view among Christians – this substitutionary penal atonement.

The dominant view; the East follows the view of Anselm. That is true not only in the West, by the way, but is also somewhat true in the East. The view I gave you is clearly a Western view, and there are plenty of Eastern Orthodox Christians who reject this view, first of all because it’s Western, and second because they don’t ever realize it’s been taught in the East.

But it has been taught in the East by a very fine Orthodox theologian by the name of David Bentley Hart. He said, “The Orthodox never really had any trouble with Anselm until about World War I.” I’ll give you an example. This is a very fine book, one I’d recommend to everybody, by St. Nicholas Cabasilas, who died in 1391. I will give you a quotation by St. Nicholas Cabasilas, in his book, The Life in Christ.

I was so struck by this when I read it that I went out, looked up the Greek text, wrote it down for myself, just to make sure he actually did say what the translation said, and he does. Just reading through his text, it’s obvious where he’s getting his ideas. He’s translating from Latin. Let me just read a little bit of Nicholas Cabasilas to show you that this idea of Anselm appears in the East. One could cite dozens of authors, but this may be the most dominant one.

Wherefore, since we by our own means and of ourselves were unable to display righteousness, Christ Himself became for us ‘righteousness from God and consecration and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30). He destroys the enmity in His flesh and reconciles us to God (Eph. 2:15-16). This He accomplishes not merely by sharing our nature, nor was it only when He died for us, but at all times and for every man. He was crucified then; now He hospitably entertains us whenever we in penitence seek forgiveness.

He, alone, was able to render all the honor that is due to the Father and make satisfaction for that all has been taken away. The former He achieved by His life, the latter by His death. The death which He died upon the cross to the Father’s glory He brought in to outweigh the injury which we had committed; in addition, He most abundantly made amends for the debt of honor, which we owed by our sins.

We see Anselm’s word honor. We see the word satisfaction, which is Latin. Think of the anaphora in The Book of Common Prayer. Now, this quote, is not in Western theology. This is one of the recognized Eastern Orthodox Fathers.

By His life, He paid all honor with that which it befitted Him to pay and also that with which the Father ought to be honored. He, with so many works, by which He gave the greatest honor to the Father, He also offered His life, which was pure from every sin.

And I don’t need to go further on. There’s two pages there, which as far as I can see, are lifted right out of Anselm and translated into Greek. Now, having introduced this theme, let me subject it to an investigation. Although this line of thought is common in the West and until very recently in the East, after the 11th Century, is not easy to demonstrate that anybody thought of it before the 11th Century.

Now, some Orthodox, and I could name them, but I won’t, because we’ll be publishing this on an Orthodox radio station, would just write this off as pure heresy. I do not think so. I do not regard this theory as heresy, myself. I see it as a line of theological speculation. It does not, in my opinion, contradict Holy Scripture. It is only a theory.

Although, I do not see that this theory of Anselm and Nicholas Cabasilas and Thomas Aquinas and other people contradicts Holy Scripture. I also do not think it has any substantial support in Holy Scripture. It seems to me to jump whole cloth out of the brain of a single thinker. I just mixed a metaphor. We can take that out. It will be very embarrassing.

It just seems to jump out whole from the brain of a single thinker, and everybody says, “Hey, that has a lot of coherence. Let’s buy that.” And neither Anselm, nor Nicholas Cabasilas make any effort to defend it from Holy Scripture. None whatsoever. You have a hard time even arguing it from Holy Scripture, and as far as I can tell, no one attempts to.

Now, let me, for my part, confess to a certain suspicion of any theological idea for which there is support in neither Holy Scripture, nor the first 1000 years of Christian thought. In short, I believe there’s a serious difficulty with this theory of the atonement. Indeed, it seems to me that all the Medieval and Renaissance theories about atonement suffer from a common and easily recognizable misunderstanding.

I take it to be this. We all assume that there is something in God, some need in God, some requirement of God that must be met and satisfied by Christ’s death on the cross. In other words, all these theories say that something in God is the beneficiary of the cross, whether it’s honor, as in Anselm; or as justice, as in Thomas Aquinas; or in His wrath, in certain authors I don’t want to cite by name; or whatever. These theories postulate, in God, some requisite that could only be addressed by the suffering and death of Christ. God or some aspect of God is the beneficiary of that sacrifice.

Now, let me submit, sweet people, that an idea of this sort is very difficult to sustain from Biblical teachings about sacrifice. There are simply too many Scriptural texts insisting over and over again that God does not need sacrifices. It says this repeatedly. No one, perhaps, has better expressed the Biblical teaching on this point than St. Augustine of Hippo, whom I intend to follow very closely in these comments.

Now, why am I following Augustine? Just to show you that what I am saying tonight is not Eastern. In fact, in the first 1000 years of Christian History, I don’t see a hair’s breadth difference between East and West on the question of the atonement. I could demonstrate any of this from the Cappadocians and from the 2nd and 3rd Century apologists, I just happened to pick a Latin Father just to show you that I’m willing to deal with this completely from a Western perspective.

Introducing a brief survey of Biblical checks on the subject of sacrifice, it’s a brief survey, because Augustine said, “I’d wear you out if I cited it all.” I am taking this from Book Ten from The City of God. Augustine says, “And who is so foolish as to suppose that the things offered to God are needed by Him for some uses of His own? Divine Scripture in many places destroys such an idea.” Augustine then goes on to cite several passages from the Psalter to this effect; limiting the number, He says, so as not to become tedious.

This principle assumed by St. Augustine is consistent with his view of sin. Later on in Book Twelve of The City of God, he writes, “God is unchangeable, and entirely immune to injury. Therefore, the vice which makes those who resist Him be called enemies, is not an evil to God, but to themselves.”

However, Augustine goes on to say, “If God does not need sacrifice, man needs to offer it.” “Correct worship is paid to God though it does not profit Him, but man.” Man then, not God, is the beneficiary of any sacrifice offered to God. God does not need to receive sacrifice, but man needs to offer it.

Augustine then goes on to describe what a sacrifice is. “A sacrifice,” he says, “is a symbolic act signifying, embodying, and giving outward expression to an inner gift, the gift of self.” It is “the visible sacrament or sacred sign of an invisible sacrifice. That which in common speech is called a sacrifice is only the symbol of the true sacrifice.” And this is why the Lord does prescribe man’s offering of sacrifice. According to the Psalm Miserere (50 or 51):

For you do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it. You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, these, O God, you will not despise.

Now, Augustine, in his Commentary on the Psalms, comments on this double assertion. “Observe how, in the very words, where by he expresses God’s refusal of sacrifice, he shows that God does not require sacrifice. He does not desire the sacrifice of slaughtered animals, but the sacrifice of the contrite heart.”

Now, finding yet more evidence of this double thesis in the Prophetic books, Augustine concludes his argument. “These two things are distinguished and set forth with ample clarity – that God does not require these sacrifices for their own sake; that He requires the sacrifices, which they symbolize.” And this, for Augustine, is the meaning of the cross.

It was the outward embodiment and expression of Christ’s internal gift of Himself, in love, to God. Elsewhere, it’s playing on an engaging play of words. The word for clean in Latin is mundus. Try to keep that in mind listening to this. “Who is that priest, except He that is both victim and priest? The one, who found nothing clean in the world that He could offer, offered Himself.”

God’s Son, that is to say, became man to do what unaided man was unable to do – to give Himself completely to God in perfect and consummate love, thereby restoring the human race to divine communion. And this is what is meant by the expiation for sins, which was accomplished by Christ’s perfectly blameless life; finished in the utterly sacrificial death, in which He gave Himself to the Father, in love, and thereby restored communion with the human race.

Christ’s Passion then, according to Augustine, satisfied no need in God. Nothing in God was altered by that sacrifice. The Bible nowhere speaks of God’s offended honor, in respect to the cross, nor the demands of His justice, and most emphatically not the appeasement of His anger. One does not appease the anger of God. Christ does not appease the anger of God. Christ gives us deliverance from the anger of God. God is not in a snit. The anger of God is far more serious than that.

In his treatise, De Trinitate, Augustine says, “It was for man’s sake, alone, that the perfect sacrifice was offered. In His sef-oblation, the Lamb of God took away the sins of the world.” It came to pass, thought Augustine, that the bonds of many sins in many dead people should be dissolved through one man’s death, in whom no sin proceeded. This is the reason, moreover, that the death of Christ was victorious, because sin had no hold on Christ. Death had no hold on Him.

“His perfect gift of self in sacrifice overcame, once and forever, man’s objection to death and sin.” This is from Book Ten of The Confession. “He was both victor and victim, priest and sacrifice.” Now, that’s Augustine. I hope to return to Augustine in a little while. Put Augustine on the shelf for just a little bit.

Holy Scripture speaks of a motive with respect to the Passion of Christ. That motive is invariably ascribed to love. When we begin with God’s love for us, you all know the text. I would just be reminding you of the text. “God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He, not with Him, also freely give us all things?” Romans 8:32.

The next text, you probably didn’t know it was from the Bible. I thought it appeared only at football games and things like that. That’s what we, back when I was Anglican pastor, I had people say all the time that they loved the Bible; it had so many good quotations from The Book of Common Prayer.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” It’s talking about the cross, right? “That whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son; that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved.”

Now those verses talk about the Father’s love for us. Let’s talk about the Son’s love for us. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And in that, I now live in the flesh, I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Personal, individual love of Christ; giving Himself up for each of us. That’s Galatians 2:20.


“I am the Good Shepherd. I know mine and am known by mine. As the Father knows me, even so I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep. This command I have from my Father.” There’s the motive. There’s John 10:14, 15, and a little bit of 18. Another text. “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His blood and has made us a kingdom and a priest to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” That’s Revelation 1:5-6. He loved us and washed us from our sins in His blood.

The entire economy of redemption is ascribed to love in the New Testament. Here’s a text from Galatians 1:3-5. “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins that He might deliver us from this present age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Now, that’s God’s love for us. There are other texts as well. There’s more going on in the Passion. The relationship between the Father and the Son is what’s most crucial. I’m using crucial in a theological sense as well. “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father has given me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here,” when He was going off to the Passion.

Now, with that in mind, let’s return to Augustine. After spending his youth imagining that God was, as he says in Book Seven of The Confessions, “Only as a man of excellent wisdom that no one could equal,” Augustine, at first, learned the correct Nicene Christology during the catechumenate that he made under Ambrose at Milan in the year 387.

We also know from Book Eight and Book Ten of The Confessions the author that he was reading at the time – St. Athanasius of Alexandria. I’ve got his two major texts here – the treatise On the Incarnation and from his treatise Against the Arians. Like Athanasius, Augustine approached the mystery of the Incarnation under the perspective of soteriology.

That’s in the Creed, isn’t it? “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven and was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man,” and so forth. Like Athanasius, Augustine approached the mystery of the Incarnation under the perspective of soteriology, redemption; specifically, man’s deliverance from mortality and his liberation to immortality and his movement from death to life.

Now, for Augustine, we hear so much about the transmission of guilt, and that is something very peculiar to Augustine, and had a major influence on Western theology; in addition to that, Augustine still holds the old view about the transmission of sin as the transmission of mortality, the handing on of death.

We see this in Augustine’s analysis of the mediation of Christ. When he speaks of Jesus as our mediator, he does so like Athanasius and Iranaeus before him and before them, the Epistle to the Hebrews, in terms of man’s passage from death to life. How do we pass from death to life? By union with God. That is to say that God’s Son is the mediator. He is the medium between mortality and immortality.

Augustine has way too much fun with this. Augustine, while saying this, remember his Aristotle, and he knows about the distributed middle. It’s that term which links the major to the minor in an argument, and that is what causes a categorical syllogism to hold together. If you want to know more about this, see Clifton after the lecture. Cliff teaches philosophy, and he has memorized Aristotle. He can probably give it to you in the Greek.

Notice here, it’s not just a question, for Augustine, of Jesus being God and man. He is at once mortal and immortal, and that’s the medium. He brings mortality into one person with immortality. “Jesus assumed the first for us,” said Augustine, “in order to give us the second.” That’s from Book One on The Consensus of the Evangelists.

According to the Enchridion Chapter 33 and his commentary on Psalm 103, he says, “Christ took away our mortality through His death and conferred His immortality upon us through His Resurrection.” Now, of course, that is very standard. In Eastern soteriology to the present day, you can pick it up. It’s in St. Maximus the Confessor. It’s in Gregory Palamas. It’s in Vladimir Lossky. Jesus dies to take away our sin. He rises again to take away death. That’s a very common way of expressing it.

“In His Passion,” wrote Augustine, “Christ became the sacrifice, and in His Resurrection, he restored what had been killed and offered as a first fruit to God.” In the Incarnation, as they say, He was born in the flesh in order to die and to rise in the flesh. Augustine still holds that very old, traditional view that the Resurrection of Christ is the cause of our justification. That’s very different from St. Thomas Aquinas.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “The death of Christ on the cross was the efficacious and sufficient cause of our salvation.” Augustine would never give you that. None of the Fathers of the Church would have agreed with that. The Resurrection is absolutely crucial and essential of our justification, in the Fathers of the Church.

Augustine returned to this theme repeatedly. This is from Book Nine of The City of God.  “We need a mediator,” he wrote, “who, united to us here below, by the mortality of His body, should at the same time be able to give us truly Divine help in cleansing and liberating us by means of the immortal righteousness of His Spirit, whereby He remains heavenly even while here on this earth.”

For Augustine then, the redemptive mediation of Christ was enacted, not in the single event of the cross, but in the full Christian mystery – from the first moment of the Incarnation until the final glorification of the Risen Lord. I took that from his treatise Against the Donatists Book Four.

The following is from Chapter 23 of his Tractates on the Gospel of John. Augustine’s perspective on this matter was historical. For him, the mediation between God and man was affected in all those historical events, Christ’s birth, His crucifixion, His death, and His Resurrection, by which He, in our flesh, took away our sinful mortality and conferred upon us His Godly mortality. Watch that in Augustine’s sermons.

Augustine sees that happening in each event of Christ’s life. That’s an underlying theme. In each event in Christ’s life, He’s facing mortality and giving it immortality. Now, that’s obvious and most manifest in those places where He actually raises the dead - Jairus’ daughter in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; the son of the widow of Nain in the Gospel of Luke; the resurrection of Lazarus is extremely important. That’s where it’s most obvious.

But each time He heals; each time He teaches; each time He meets somebody, Christ is crushing mortality and raising up immortality. It’s in every single scene in the Gospels for Augustine. That is what’s going on. Immortality is transforming man’s fallen nature. In Book 18 of The City of God, Augustine says, “All of history should be viewed under the perspective of those things, which the Incarnate Word accomplished in His flesh.”

On the other hand, because Augustine thought of salvation as the attainment of immortality, and that is so solid with all the Fathers of the Church, by the way, it isn’t just Augustine. The salvation consists in the attainment of immortality; the talk about the body, you’ll notice all through the Epistle of the Romans that all the vocabulary of Romans that has to do with soteriology is in future tense every time but once, where he says, “We have been saved in hope.”

The one time he shifts, it’s in hope. All the other times in Romans, it’s “We shall be saved.” When will we be saved? When our bodies rise from the grave. That’s when He comes back to save us. So salvation is the resurrection of the body. We presume that here at All Saints, where we chant those things every Saturday night at Vespers. It’s a very large part of the content of the hymnography.

Now, because Augustine thought of salvation as the attainment of immortality, Augustine believed it was ultimately with the view to the Resurrection that God’s Son assumed our flesh. Now, I’m taking that from Augustine, but the idea here is much earlier. It comes repeatedly, for example, in St. Athanasius in his book On the Preaching to the Gentiles and his treatise Against the Heretics.

“The Christian doctrine and religion,” says Augustine, “is defined by the Resurrection of Christ.” Hence, Augustine called Christ’s Resurrection Solus Christianorum. It’s the salvation of Christians in the sense that the Resurrection is what Christians mean by salvation. In Letter 122, Augustine wrote, “The Risen Christ is the cause and exemplar of our own rising.”

So then Cur Deus Homo, Why Did God Become Man? What the Father sought was not someone who could repair the divine honor, nor satisfy the divine justice, or receive punishment of the divine wrath. What the Father provided was a human being who loved Him perfectly and made the full gift of His being in an adoring sacrifice of thanksgiving.


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