Sources of Atonement Theology


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sources of atonement theology: orthodox, eastern and oriental

These resources explore the meaning of Jesus' death, from the understanding of the Christian community in its first four hundred years, expressed in the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds.  Jesus is God's way of undoing human evil, in a personal, loving way.  His death was the climax of his victorious struggle over the corruption in his own human nature. We call this "Medical Substitution," although it has gone by other names.

Other Books and Articles on Medical Substitutionary Atonement in the Orthodox Tradition

Menaion: Epiphany (Jan.2) says, "Again my Jesus is cleansed in the Jordan, or rather cleanses our sins; for he truly comes to Baptism, wishing to wash out Adam’s record... Christ, has come to make beggared Adam rich through the Spirit... The Law of old and the company of the Prophets say, ‘Christ has come, by baptism refashioning us who had grown old by many offences.

Menaion: Forefeast of the Lights (Jan.3) says, "See, the enlightenment of believers, see, our atonement is about to enter the streams of the river to wash away the stain of humans’ wickedness, and to refashion us who had been crushed."

Matins on the Feast of Ascension (Kiilehua) "In a manifestation of great glory He Who humbled Himself in the flesh hath risen above the heavens; and our fallen nature hath been honored by sitting with the Father"

Prayers on the Day of Assumption/Ascension (Anastasis, Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain) "Lifting up on your shoulders the nature which had been led astray, O Christ, you were taken up and brought it to God the Father... Lifting up our nature which had been slain by sin, O Saviour, you brought it to your own Father... The majesty of him who became poor in the flesh has been raised above the heavens and our fallen nature honoured by sitting with the Father... and having through compassion exalted our fallen nature, you have seated it with the Father. O God, having renewed in yourself Adam’s nature, which had descended to the lower parts of the earth, you took it up to-day above every rule and authority; as you loved it, so you made it sit with you; as you had compassion on it, so You united it to Yourself; as united with it, so you suffered with it; as not subject to suffering, yet you suffered and glorified it with yourself. When you came down from heaven to things on earth and as God raised up with you Adam’s nature which lay below in Hades’ prison, you brought it to heaven by your Assumption, O Christ, and made it sit with you on your Father’s throne, as you are merciful and love humankind."

Oktoechos, Sunday Matins, Tone 1, Canon, Ode 1, Troparion 1, (formalized 9th century) “Having divinely fashioned me out of the dust at the beginning . . . You extended your arms on the Cross, calling from earth my corruptible body, which you assumed from the Virgin” Ode 3, “O Christ, as the hypostatic Life and as compassionate God, Thou hast clothed Thyself with me, the corrupted one, descending, O Master, unto the dust of death, destroying the power of death, and arising on the third day, whereby Thou hast clothed me with incorruption”

An Apology for the Christian Faith, to the Muslims (c.800 AD)

Nikephoros of Constantinople, Contra Eusebium I 401 (c. 758 – April 5, 828) says, 'He did not possess a flesh other than our own, that which fell as a consequence of sin; He did not transform it [in assuming it]... He was made of the same nature as we, but without sin, and through that nature He condemned sin and death.' (cited by John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, 1999, p.49)

Sulayman al-Ghazzi (Solomon of Gaza), Diwan (d. 1027 AD)

Agathon of Homs, Letter of Protest, in Defense of His Resignation (~1050 - 1150 AD)

John Meyendorff, Christ's Humanity: The Paschal Mystery  (St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 31, no.1, 1987: 22 - 30)

John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions: The Church, 450 - 680 AD (Amazon book, Jan 1, 1989) an outstanding Orthodox theologian and historian, makes a historical note on how disciples of Cyril of Alexandria introduced the idea of Jesus taking a cleansed humanity from conception

Kallistos Ware, How Are We Saved: The Understanding of Salvation in the Orthodox Tradition  (1997; Amazon page)

Hieromonk Damascene, What Christ Accomplished on the Cross (Orthodox Christian Information Center, Mar-Apr 2004)

Stephen Thomas, Deification in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition: A Biblical Perspective (Amazon book, Jun 1, 2008) note 'deification as healing' and as 'work of the whole Trinity'

Stephen Freeman, A Common Faith (blog, Jan 15, 2008) quotes early theologians on 'deification'

Steve Hayes, Salvation and Atonement (Khanya blog, Jun 30, 2008) compares Western and Eastern views

Antiochan Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, Saint Athanasius and the ‘Penal Substitutionary’ Atonement Doctrine (blog, 2010; website)

Ivana Noble, The Gift of Redemption: Vladimir Lossky and Raymond Schwager on Anselm of Canterbury (Comunio Viatorum, 2010)

Eric, Reformed Theology is Nestorian (Wicket's Take blog, Dec 18, 2010)

Daniel Marchant, Atonement in Orthodox Soteriology (thesis 2011; pdf file)

Steve Robinson, Love Wins - An Orthodox View (youtube video, Sep 2011) a short video comparing Western and Eastern ways of doing evangelism

Darrell, What is the Eastern Orthodox View of the Atonement? The Recapitulation Theory (Tough Questions Answered blog, Nov 9, 2011)

Father James Bernstein, The Original Christian Gospel (Pravmir, Nov 1, 2011)

Father George Dion. Dragas, T.F. Torrance - A Theologian For Our Times: An Eastern Orthodox Assessment (Grace Communion International, Feb 23, 2013)

Aidan Kimel, St. Athanasius: Theologian of the Cross (Eclectic Orthodoxy, Apr 2, 2013)

Aidan Kimel, St. Athanasius: The Creation of Humanity in the Image of the Image (Eclectic Orthodoxy, Apr 4, 2013)

Aidan Kimel, St. Athanasius: The Fall of Man Into the Body (Eclectic Orthodoxy, Apr 4, 2013)

Aidan Kimel, St. Athanasius: The Nothingness of the World (Eclectic Orthodoxy, Apr 5, 2013)

Aidan Kimel, St. Athanasius: Substitutionary Atonement and the Dilemma of Death (Eclectic Orthodoxy, Apr 13, 2013)

Aidan Kimel, St. Athanasius: The Death of Death in the Death of God (Eclectic Orthodoxy, Apr 15, 2013)

Father Emmanuel Hatzidakis, Jesus: Fallen? The Human Nature of Christ Examined from an Eastern Orthodox Perspective (Amazon book, 2013) is a rich source of patristic quotations, but he takes the "unfallen humanity" view of Jesus' incarnation, which seems to have developed in the 5th century onwards. But Kerolos K. Ibrahim writes in a customer review on Amazon:

"With my deep respect and honor to Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis, this book not only fails to recognize the tragic implications of its theological conclusion (that Christ assumed our unfallen nature), but simply fails to interpret scriptures and the early Church Fathers accurately, especially that of the Greek East. The author misconstrues the meaning of scriptures. Namely, that Christ has been “made a curse for us,” (Gal 3:13) and “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21), and God sent “His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3). The early Church Fathers actually conclude that Christ assumed our fallen nature, although the author somehow states otherwise.

St. Athanasius writes, Christ “transported our errant race into himself, took a servant’s form, putting on that flesh which was enslaved to sin, and coming in the likeness of sinful flesh, ‘became sin for us and a curse.” (Against the Arians - pg. 378) and again, “It was appropriate for the Lord, when He was clothed in human flesh, to put it on in its totality, together with all the passions proper to it, so that just as we say the body was properly His, so also the passions of the body might be said to belong to Him alone.” (Against the Arians - pg. 90-91)

St. Gregory Nazianzen writes, “He was actually subject as a slave to flesh, to birth, and to our human experiences; for our liberation, held captive as we are by sin, He was subject to all that He saved.” (On God and Christ, pg. 94-95) and again, “Receiving an alien “form” He bears the whole of me, along with all that is mine, in Himself, so that He may consume within himself the meaner element, as fire consumes wax or the Sun ground mist, and so that I may share in what is His through the intermingling.” (On God and Christ, pg. 97)

St. Gregory Nyssa, “The Pauline pronouncement that Christ ‘became sin’ means that He united with Himself the sinful human soul and was invested with our sinful nature. (Life of Moses, pg. 62).. “By becoming sin he became also a serpent, which is nothing other than sin.” (Life of Moses, pg. 62)

St. Cyril of Alexandria - “Christ assumed the fallen body united in an ineffable manner with the Word that endows all things with life” (Letters of Cyril of Alexandria, pg. 105)

I do not wish to mention the entire list of mistakes in this book, but the criticism in the work of E. Jerome Van Kuiken, Christ's Humanity in Current and Ancient Controversy: Fallen or Not? further elaborates on additional errors in this book."

Nathaniel McCallum, Original Sin and Orthodoxy: Reflections on Carthage (Ancient Faith blog, Aug 22, 2013) intriguingly credits transmission of "original guilt" not to Augustine's translation of Romans 5:12 but to his view that there was a gap between genesis (conception) and kinesis (motion); although see Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, John P. Galvin, Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives, Volume 2 (Google book) which argues that some facets of Roman Catholic theology (like this point) have been in a state of flux; and see also Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (website, Feb 1, 2009), who also faults Augustine on Romans; but see Nathaniel McCallum, Inherited Guilt in Saints Augustine and Cyril (Academia, 2016) for his re-engagement of the issue

Stephen Freeman, The Scope of Passover and Penal Substitution (Ancient Faith blog, Apr 25, 2014)

Stephen Freeman, Legal Problems (Ancient Faith blog, May 29, 2014)

Matt Ferdelman, Why I Deny Penal Substitutionary Atonement (Journey to Orthodoxy, Dec 29, 2014)

Timothy Copple, The Atonement of Jesus Christ (Orthodox Convert website)

David Bentley Hart, A Gift Exceeding Every Debt: An Eastern Orthodox Appreciation of Anselm's Cur Deus Homo (Scribd) although Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger critiques Anselm

Stephen Freeman, No More Debt (Ancient Faith blog, Apr 13, 2015) an Eastern Orthodox critique of modern finance based on atonement theology

Patrick Henry Reardon, Reclaiming the Atonement: An Orthodox Theology of Redemption, Volume 1: The Incarnation (Amazon book, Dec 22, 2015)

Aidan Kimel, Kallistos Ware and the Fall of the Incarnate Christ (Eclectic Orthodoxy, Jun 13, 2016) see also my comments

Aidan Kimel, John Meyendorff and God's Assumption of Fallen Humanity (Eclectic Orthodoxy, Jun 19, 2016)

Matthew Baker, Seraphim Danckaert, and Nicholas Marinides, On the Tree of the Cross: Georges Florovsky and the Patristic Doctrine of Atonement (Amazon, Aug 1, 2016) a wonderful collection of articles by Orthodox scholars focused on patristic sources

Stephen Freeman, The Seat of Mercy and the End of the Legal View (Ancient Faith blog, Aug 11, 2016) study of the New Testament word "hilasterion" and the cultural shifts in medieval law that gave rise to abstractions like penal substitution

Stephen Freeman, Being Saved - The Ontological Approach (Ancient Faith blog, Aug 12, 2016) why I like the term "medical substitution" for this theology

Aidan Kimel, When Did Jesus Decide to Die? (Eclectic Orthodoxy, Aug 15, 2016)

Stephen Freeman, How Good Is Your Will? Part Two of the Ontological Model (Eclectic Orthodoxy, Aug 16, 2016)

David Bentley Hart, Interview - Crackers and Juice Podcast (ObjectiveBob, Feb 27, 2017) 50 min mark on Calvin; 55:30 min mark on Barth

Fr. Lawrence Farley, David Bentley Hart’s "The New Testament: a Translation" (No Other Foundation blog, Oct 9, 2017) has important comments about the Greek word aionion and the theory of universalism

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Being Saved - The Ontological Approach (Glory to God for All Things blog, May 24, 2019)

sources of atonement theology

These resources explore the foundation of “Medical Substitution” as the best understanding of the Bible, and the original understanding of the church. There are also links to books, web articles, etc. from representatives of the three broad Christian traditions.