Vicarious - yes; Satisfaction - huh?

By Banjamin Harju

I was looking through some old files and came across the following excerpt a friend sent me, which he believed to be proof of a Patristic belief in "Vicarious Satisfaction":

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XIII

“If Phinees, when he waxed zealous and slew the evil-doer, staved the wrath of God, shall not Jesus, who slew not another, but gave up Himself for a ransom, put away the wrath which is against mankind?…Further; if the lamb under Moses drove the destroyer far away, did not much rather the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world, deliver us from our sins? The blood of a silly sheep gave salvation; and shall not the Blood of the Only-begotten much rather save?…Jesus then really suffered for all men; for the Cross was no illusion, otherwise our redemption is an illusion also…These things the Saviour endured, and made peace through the Blood of His Cross, for things in heaven, and things in earth. For we were enemies of God through sin, and God had appointed the sinner to die. There must needs therefore have happened one of two things; either that God, in His truth, should destroy all men, or that in His loving-kindness He should cancel the sentence. But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins in His body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto righteousness.”

“Note carefully in the above the words, “I gave to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for the blood shall make atonement for the soul.” He [Moses] says clearly that the blood of the victims slain is a propitiation in the place of human life. And the law about sacrifices suggests that it should be so regarded, if it is carefully considered. For it requires him who is sacrificing always to lay his hands on the head of the victim, and to bear the animal to the priest held by its head, as one offering a sacrifice on behalf of himself. Thus he says in each case: “He shall bring it before the Lord. And he shall lay his hands on the head of the gift.” Such is the ritual in every case, no sacrifice is ever brought up otherwise. And so the argument holds that the victims are brought in place of the lives of them who bring them…While then the better, the great and worthy and divine sacrifice was not yet available for men, it was necessary for them by the offering of animals to pay a ransom for their own life, and this was fitly a life that represented their own nature. Thus did the holy men of old, anticipating by the Holy Spirit that a holy victim, dear to God and great, would one day come for men, as the offering for the sins of the world, believing that as prophets they must perform in symbol his sacrifice, and shew forth in type what was yet to be. But when that which was perfect was come, in accordance with the predictions of the prophets, the former sacrifices ceased at once because of the better and true Sacrifice.

“This Sacrifice was the Christ of God, from far distant times foretold as coming to men, to be sacrificed like a sheep for the whole human race. As Isaiah the prophet says of him: “As a sheep he was led to slaughter, and as a lamb dumb before her shearers.” And he adds: “He bears our sins and is pained for us; yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and he was made sick on account of our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripe we are healed. …And the Lord hath given him up for our iniquities …for he did no sin himself, nor was guile found in his mouth.'’ Jeremiah, another Hebrew prophet, speaks similarly in the person of Christ: “I was led as a lamb to the slaughter.” John Baptist sets the seal on their predictions at the appearance of our Saviour. For beholding Him, and pointing Him out to those present as the one foretold by the prophets, he cried: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.'’

“Since then according to the witness of the prophets the great and precious ransom has been found for Jews and Greeks alike, the propitiation for the whole world, the life given for the life of all men, the pure offering for every stain and sin, the Lamb of God, the holy sheep dear to God, the Lamb that was foretold, by Whose inspired and mystic teaching all we Gentiles have procured the forgiveness of our former sins, and such Jews as hope in Him are freed from the curse of Moses, daily celebrating His memorial, the remembrance of His Body and Blood, and are admitted to a greater sacrifice than that of the ancient law, we do not reckon it right to fall back upon the first beggarly elements, which are symbols and likenesses but do not contain the truth itself. And any Jews, of course, who have taken refuge in Christ, even if they attend no longer to the ordinances of Moses, but live according to the new covenant, are free from the curse ordained by Moses, for the Lamb of God has surely not only taken on Himself the sin of the world, but also the curse involved in the breach of the commandments of Moses as well. The Lamb of God is made thus both sin and curse—sin for the sinners in the world, and curse for those remaining in all the things written in Moses’ law. And so the Apostle says: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us”; and “Him that knew no sin, for our sakes he made sin.”For what is there that the Offering for the whole world could not effect, the Life given for the life of sinners, Who was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a lamb to the sacrifice, and all this for us and on our behalf? And this was why those ancient men of God, as they had not yet the reality, held fast to their symbols.


Do you think this teaches a vicarious "satisfaction" as understood by Western Christians? I don't. I see here standard Orthodox teaching.

shall not Jesus, who slew not another, but gave up Himself for a ransom, put away the wrath which is against mankind?

Does Christ, by virtue of His holy self-sacrifice, stave off the wrath of God? Yes. How? By removing the reason for God's wrath - i.e. our sins and the code that condemns sin. When would that wrath have poured out on men? On the Last Day. "Wrath" poured out beforehand is either 1) chastisement that leads to repentance, or 2) in the case of someone dying apart from repentance it is that person being reserved in Hades for future judgment. These words do not mean that Christ suffered God's wrath for our sins, but rather condemned our sins to death in His own Body and thus removed what actually gave reason for wrath. See the difference: suffering wrath so that there is none left for us, versus suffering death so that the cause of wrath comes to an end.

But behold the wisdom of God; He preserved both the truth of His sentence, and the exercise of His loving-kindness. Christ took our sins in His body on the tree, that we by His death might die to sin, and live unto righteousness.

The sentence from God was that sinners should die. Why? Because sin and death are one, just as righteousness and life are one. Also because our sinning is warfare against God and against His image within us. Does Christ by dying take on God's wrath? Yes. Does He satisfy God's wrath? Wrong question. The death of man is not something that needs to be satisfied on God's end, as if it were an appeal to one of God's divine attributes. God's wrath is not about God but about man, and thus does not need to be satisfied or propitiated (a word often wrongly used to translate hilasterion, when "expiated" is proper).

God's wrath (sentencing sinners to die) is prophetic, in that it reveals the true existential reality of man's own sins and sinfulness, including the end of such a situation. God's wrath, in conjunction with His barring man from the Tree of Life and the eternal life that came from eating it, is preservative for man, allowing him to be reformed and redeemed spiritually in his nature and person (unlike the Devil and the other rebellious angels). And God's wrath is corrective, in that man carrying the weight of that sentence's slow effect upon him while living in a world that proclaims the glory of God is given opportunity to freely return to God (esp. in light of the Word of the Gospel), just as man freely has taken opportunity to sin and die.

So God's wrath is not satisfied, but rather achieves its purpose in Christ - the proclamation of man's true condition, and the fulfillment of his return to God in blessed communion, which itself is the opposite of death, namely righteous-life.

“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.'’

St. John the Baptist does not say that Christ takes away the wrath of the world, but the sins. Wrath will come, but those in Christ have passed over from death to life, and thus from their sins to a life that is ontologically righteous, for it is communion with the blessed Trinity.

For what is there that the Offering for the whole world could not effect, the Life given for the life of sinners,

Vicarious Death and Communion of Life is what sinners need, not vicarious satisfaction. For sinners need to be sinners no more, that is, they need their sins destroyed and new life imparted. This removes wrath. This is the pass-over from death to life, from sin to righteousness, from the wrath that will come from the Face of God to the blessedness that will come from the appearance of God.

Now it may seem like splitting hairs, Christ dying to satisfy God's decree that man die vs. Christ dying to save man from the need for wrath in the first place. But it is not splitting hairs, for the first depicts God as One who needs our death in order to be placated and pacified toward man. The second knows God not to delight in the death of the sinner, but does all in His power to give man every opportunity for return, even making the way of his return and effecting the necessary escape route and supplying the requisite power and Grace to accomplish all through faith without prior earnings or deservings.

So we see that Christ stands in our place, offering His Life in place of ours, so that we might be spared from the eternal condemnation of death (which itself is the power of estrangement and enslavement, with our sins as its shackles, and the Devil the usurping Prince and harsh Taskmaster), and through His death gains the blessed purgation of our sins and in His immaculate Body and precious Blood the bridge of His Hypostatic Union to Life in God.

Just some thoughts, fwiw.