March 18, 2007

Substitutionary Atonement

Gentle Reader: Today, I am going to expose you to another dissenting Catholic phrase: substitutionary atonement. When you hear or read the phrase "substitutionary atonement" your dissen-tar* should be beeping a warning.

Substitutionary atonement means someone else atoned or paid for something bad that you did. Who do you think they are talking about? That's right, Jesus.

A true follower of Jesus will recognize the Truth that Jesus had to die so that our sins could be forgiven, right? Right.

However, a believer in substitutionary atonement may deny that Jesus had to die because of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve: our first parents. They may deny Original Sin. They may also deny that any personal sin they may have either exists or is so bad that anyone needed to atone for it so they may have the opportunity for eternal life. They are not, generally, big fans of the Sacrament of Confession either. Their big focus may be, not personal sin, but, rather, the sins of the world or collective sin. The collective sins of Jesus' era may have killed Jesus but I didn't. I wasn't alive, I wasn't there. I am not in need of salvation so no sacrifice was needed. They say it was not a sacrifice, it was a gift.

They may also deny the Cross. In a lot of parishes where substitutionary atonement believers gather you may be hard pressed to find a crucifix. I, really, challenge you to find a crucifix in said parish with a corpus on it. Why?

If Jesus' substitutionary atonement was in error or unnecessary, why be reminded of it with a visible sign like a crucifix? Or, even more so, a crucifix with the Body of Jesus on it?

What these dissenters fail to realize is that we all killed Jesus. It doesn't matter that we may not have been alive during the original Crucifixion. However, God knew us before we were born. He sees our whole past, present and future simultaneously. He knows what sins we have committed and may commit in future. Every Mass IS the original sacrifice-we ARE at Calvary. Our sins DO kill Him. We need that opportunity for redemption and forgiveness or else we are doomed.

But, do you see how some of this dissenting phraseology may have some kernals of Truth in it? Just enough Truth to hook the unwary or the poorly catechized. Substitutionary atonement may also be a phrase that a perfectly orthodox Catholic uses too.

The Devil is not stupid.

*dissen-tar: a type of radar for picking up dissenting Catholic mumbo-jumbo and activities.


Blogger Ray from MN said...

Is "substitutionary atonement" going on in Catholic parishes?

March 18, 2007 2:55 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...


March 18, 2007 3:44 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Interesting. I'm more familiar with the "substitutionary atonement" being used by Bible-believing Evangelicals who emphasize the just wrath of God against sin and the punishment due to those who don't repent. To be saved, one must accept (among other things) that Christ died in our place, receiving the penalty that was due to each of us. Certainly no "liberal" position. Here is a good article summarizing the belief of many Evangelicals.

I've never been quite certain if this compatible with Catholic doctrine. The Catechism refers to Christ's death as:

601 the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin.

613 both the Paschal sacrifice that accomplishes the definitive redemption of men, through "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world", and the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling him to God through the "blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins".

615 "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous." By his obedience unto death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who "makes himself an offering for sin", when "he bore the sin of many", and who "shall make many to be accounted righteous", for "he shall bear their iniquities". Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father.

Is this the "substitutionary atonement"? While those words might be used to describe the Catholic belief, I think that most Evangelicals use the phrase in a more exclusive sense. The Catholic Church doesn't emphasize this one aspect of Christ's redemptive death to the same extent. Also, Evangelicals tend to refer to the cross as the sacrifice made "once for all for the forgiveness of sins." We Catholics certainly say AMEN! But, we also recognize the calling we have to enter into that sacrifice as a member of the body of Christ. God's grace ennobles us to be able to participate in Jesus sacrifice by offering our sufferings in union with his. This is completely denied by Evangelicals who view justification to be completely externally imputed, leaving our souls unable to cooperate with God's grace.

It certainly cannot be held, as you describe some dissenters believing, that sin is not so bad and Jesus sacrifice was really not necessary. Man's sins, following on original sin, are punishable by death. (CCC 602)

March 19, 2007 10:57 AM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Dan: I would say that the CCC references you cite do refer to substitutionary atonement from the Catholic perspective. However, some "Catholics" pretty much deny all of it which was the point I was trying to make.

The evangelical perspective is interesting. I suspect that this gets to why they have such a problem with our Mass. They erroneously believe we are killing Christ all over again. They believe the Last Supper (reflected in our Mass) only should have happened once and that was it. They don't get the "do this in memory of me" means more then just the one time.

March 19, 2007 11:49 AM  
Blogger onionboy said...

As a former evangelical preacher of 20 years I have never heard anyone speak of substitutionary atonement to deny that personal sin exists or deny original sin. That's two new ones one me.

It is true, in my experience, that substitutionary atonement in the Protestant mind does lead one to deny the efficacious nature of the Rite of Confession and, as dan noted, the idea that we Catholics are killing Jesus over and over at every Mass.

Our parish has a Risen Christ, except during lent, and I don't like it at all. Give me the Corpus any day and let me recall, again and again, the marvelous death, the marvelous substitutionary atonement.

March 19, 2007 9:11 PM  

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