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"The core Catholic claim"?

In the latest New Yorker, Adam Gopnik has a rather snarky review of a few recent works on Galileo. Towards the end, he offers an explanation of why the Church wouldnt tolerate his views at least as hypothesis:

Whatever might be said to accord faith and Copernicus, religion depends for its myth on a certain sense of scale.... Man must be at the center of a universe on a stable planet, or else the core Catholic claim that the omnipotent ruler of the cosmos could satisfy his sense of justice only by sending his son here to be tortured to death begins to seem a ittle frayed. Scale matters. If Clark Kent had never left Smallville, then the significance of Superman would be much reduced.

There could be some superficial merit in the argument about scale here: Pascal, for example, said that the eternal silence of the universes immensities terrified him. But, notice, it was the silence, not the immensities, that frightened him, and difference in scale was not the most important thing:

Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill.

But what struck me was the ignorance displayed in Gopnik's throwaway summary of the core Catholic claim which seriouslymisrepresents the core Catholic belief in redemption through the death and resurrection of Christ.Many Christians, including even many Catholics, may hold something like that view of the atonement, which in turn, of course, repels many others. Another reason for profound regret at the low level of knowledge and understanding of the faith.

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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I think what is grandiose is not the claim of the Incarnation itself, but the fact that it could only happen once. I tend to think that human beings are only one of a number of intelligent species in the universe up until this point, and the universe will continue to exist for an unimaginably long time. There could be thousand and thousands of intelligent species. And as I understand it, the Catholic belief is that God became man, the second person of the Trinity remains a man, and if there really are thousands of intelligent species, they are going to have to deal with the fact that God became man and only man. Klingons, no matter how much they may hate the human race, are going to have to worship a God who is inextricably bound up with the human race.It has been conjectured that if there are other intelligent species elsewhere in the universe, humanity may have been the only one who experienced a "Fall," and the Incarnation is a mark of shame for the human race. Humans may be the only beings that needed to be redeemed. (Isn't it believed, though, that the Fall affected everything material? If other intelligent living beings exist in the universe, isn't it believed they were affected by the Fall? Certainly there is the idea that animal life on earth was affected.)In any case, I do think the claim that God became man does indeed tend to put humanity at the center of creation. Father Komonchak has pointed out some of the ("heretical") speculations of Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI on Original Sin which would seem to me to leave other intelligent life untouched by the Fall, at least until they come in contact with humans. (I find the concept of the Fall very difficult if not impossible to accept, so I am just speculating here.)Suppose there are other intelligent species, and they find human beings as freaky looking and disgusting as we find many of the alien species in science fiction movies. How would they react to Jesus?

I have found that total and sadly unmerited confidence in his knowledge on a variety of topics is pretty much Adam Gopnik's "thing."

Mr. Nickol: You wrote: "Father Komonchak has pointed out some of the (heretical) speculations of Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI on Original Sin which would seem to me to leave other intelligent life untouched by the Fall, at least until they come in contact with humans." I'm puzzled by this. Could you please indicate where I did this? At today's papal audience, Pope Benedict discussed the creation-accounts and the notion of original sin, but the last time I looked, the text was not yet available on the Vatican website. When it does appear, I may start another thread on it. Meanwhile, let's talk about the atonement, or about the problem of scale.

I don't think this is a case of ignorance. Gopnik is being deliberately tendentious for effect. He knows very well that Catholics themselves don't "claim" that "the omnipotent ruler of the cosmos could satisfy his sense of justice only by sending his son here to be tortured to death"; he just thinks that's what the Gospel story boils down to. Strip away the obcurantism and sentimentality of the Church's own formulation, and this is what your left with: a Father who not only allows his own Son to be tortured to death when he, the Father, could prevent it, but a Father who sends his Son into this world for just that purpose. This is a rival description of the Gospel with its own long tradition, which Gopnik has often alluded to: the tradition of "freethinkers," who see through the woolly-headedness of Christian theology to its essential cruelty. You could patiently explain to Gopnik that this is not, in fact, how Christians understand themselves and their faith, but he has already read such explanations and they have no effect on how he understands Christianity.

I wonder about a human-centered universe sometimes. I always thought (as much as I thought about it at all) that the universe wouldn't be the universe without humans. But when I was last camping in Grand Teton, it felt like the Earth would be a pretty fabulous place even without us here. And I don't know what we mean when we talk about "intelligence" and why that makes us in any way special. I would like to think God cares about wolves and elk and all his other creatures, not just people. And the scale of the universe and all of its threats and dangers reaffirms for me a caring Creator. Someone once said it's like we're walking this narrow path through quicksand and all kinds of dangers are lurking everywhere, but we don't even realize it and most of the time we make it safely through life. That's God, for me.

Father Komonchak,There was a post by Lisa Fullam titled Catholicism and Evolution, and the comment of yours I am referring to is date- and time-stamped 09/03/2010 - 4:48 pm.

But what struck me was the ignorance displayed in Gopniks throwaway summary . . . ______________Sadly there is a lot of ignorance displayed in when it comes to history of the Church and Galileo (in addition to deliberate tendentiousness). Lets be clear about what really happened --Galileo was actually celebrated and congratulated by high officials of the Church for his theory, following Copernicus, that the earth revolved around the sun, and after his death, he was buried with honors in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, near the tomb of Michelangelo, and many elite Florentines. In 1611 he travelled to Rome, where he was feted by cardinals and granted a private audience by Pope Paul V, who assured him of his support and good will.It was only after Galileo, a rather headstrong person, began demanding that everyone accept the Copernican theory without actual scientific proof that he started to get into trouble. (It was not until 1838 that telescopes had progressed to the point of being able to observe the necessary stellar parallax and thereby actually prove the theory scientifically. By the way, Galileo was also zealous in his demands that people accept his theory that the planets orbit the sun in perfect circles, which Kepler and Jesuit astronomers had disproven.)Meanwhile, in addition to this belligerent insistence on accepting heliocentrism as established fact, without the accompanying scientific proof, Galileo made a much larger diplomatic error in then going beyond the realm of science and telling some Biblical scholars and theologians that they needed to reinterpret scripture. It was only after Galileo started to tell some of the theologians their business, that he knew more about theology than did they, that he began to earn the wrath of some in the Church.

From the Holy Father's catechesis today --But our question today is does it make sense in the age of science and technology, to still speak of creation? How should we understand the narratives of Genesis? The Bible is not intended as a manual of the natural sciences; it wants to help us understand the authentic and profound truth of things. The fundamental truth that the stories of Genesis reveal is that the world is not a collection of contrasting forces, but has its origin and its stability in the Logos, the eternal reason of God, who continues to sustain the universe. There is a design of the world that is born from this Reason, the Spirit Creator. Believing that this is at the basis of all things, illuminates every aspect of life and gives us the courage to face the adventure of life with confidence and hope. So the Scripture tells us that the origin of the world, our origin is not irrational or out of necessity, but reason and love and freedom. And this is the alternative: the priority of the irrational, of necessity or the priority of reason, freedom and love. We believe in this position. . . .The stories of creation in Genesis also introduce us to this mysterious area, helping us to know God's plan for man. First of all they affirm that God formed man of the dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7). This means that we are not God, we did not make ourselves, we are the earth, but it also means that we come from good soil, through the work of the Creator. Added to this is another fundamental reality: all human beings are dust, beyond the distinctions of culture and history, beyond any social difference; we are one humanity formed with the sole earth of God . Then there is a second element: the human being originates because God breathes the breath of life into the body he molded from the earth (cf. Gen 2:7). The human being is made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27). And we all carry within us the breath of life from God and every human life - the Bible tells us - is under the special protection of God. This is the deepest reason for the inviolability of human dignity against any attempt to evaluate the person in accordance with utilitarian criteria or those of power. Being the image and likeness of God means that man is not closed in on himself, but has an essential reference in God.

More from the Pope today --I would like to highlight one last instruction from the stories of creation: sin begets sin and the sins of history are interlinked. This aspect pushes us to discuss that which is termed "original sin." What is the meaning of this reality, often difficult to understand? I would like to illustrate some elements. First, we must consider that no man is closed in on itself, no man can live only in and of himself; we receive life from the other and not only at birth, but every day. The human being is relational: I am myself only in you and through you, the relationship of love with the You of God and the you of others. Well, sin upsets or destroys our relationship with God, its presence destroys our relationship with God, the fundamental relationship, when we put ourselves in Gods place. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that with the first sin, man, "chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good."(n. 398).Once the fundamental relationship is upset, the other poles of relationships are compromised or destroyed, sin ruins everything. Now, if the relational structure of humanity is troubled from the start, every man walks into a world marked by the disturbance of this relationship, enters a world disturbed by sin, by which he is marked personally; the initial sin attacks and injures human nature (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 404-406). And man can not get out of this situation alone, he can not redeem himself alone, only the Creator can restore the right relationship. Only if the One from which we have strayed comes to us and takes us by the hand with love, can the right relationship be re-woven. This happens in Jesus Christ, who takes the exact opposite path to that of Adam, as the hymn in the second chapter of the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians describes (2:5-11): while Adam does not recognize his being a creature and wants to put himself in the place of God, Jesus, the Son of God, is in a perfect filial relationship with the Father, he lowers himself, becomes the servant, he travels the path of love humbling himself to death on the Cross, to reorder relations with God. The Cross of Christ becomes the new Tree of Life.Dear brothers and sisters, to live by faith is to recognize the greatness of God and accept our smallness, our condition as creatures letting the Lord fill us with His love. Evil, with its load of pain and suffering, is a mystery that is illuminated by the light of faith, which gives us the certainty of being able to be freed from it, the certainty that it is good to be human.

This is from Jesus; An Experiment in Christology by Edward Schillebeeckx, which I actually read cover to cover, understanding very little. But I did understand this and find it memorable:

In a post-medieval theory of Christian redemption as penal substitution (offering a thoroughly false interpretation of Anselms doctrine of satisfaction), man really was condemned by Gods transcendent righteousness to blind submission and barren culpability: God demands the sacrifice of an innocent Jesus in order to release mankind from its guilt in the sight of God. It is just what the aeroplane hijackers do nowadays with their innocent hostages in order to expose at the bar of world opinion the guilt of society as a whole.

This is from Jesus; An Experiment in Christology by Edward Schillebeeckx, which I actually read cover to cover, understanding very little.What a tragic view he has of God who is Love. Don't worry about not understanding what he wrote -- it looks like the author didn't understand the subject either.

"... Gopniks throwaway summary of the core Catholic claim which seriously misrepresents the core Catholic belief in redemption through the death and resurrection of Christ. Many Christians, including even many Catholics, may hold something like that view of the atonement*****************Father Kopanchak, could you please briefly summarize how you explain Catholic teaching on the atonement? I (and most Catholics I know) were raised to believe precisely what Mr. Gopnik has expressed somewhat crudely - that Jesus "had" to die because in order for God to forgive humanity's sins. We say that "Jesus died for our sins", we have the "sacrifice of the mass", Jesus is the sacrificial lamb etc. The Catechism of the Catholic church essentially states what Gopnik states, but a bit more elegantly. Quotes following are from the CCCChrist's death is both the Paschal sacrifice that accomplishes the definitive redemption of men, through "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world",439 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"."For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous."443 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".444 Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father.445Jesus consummates his sacrifice on the cross616 It is love "to the end"446 that confers on Christ's sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life.447 Now "the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died."448 No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons, and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all. IN BRIEF619 "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures" (I Cor 15:3).620 Our salvation flows from God's initiative of love for us, because "he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (I Jn 4:10). "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor 5:19).621 Jesus freely offered himself for our salvation. Beforehand, during the Last Supper, he both symbolized this offering and made it really present: "This is my body which is given for you" (Lk 22:19).622 The redemption won by Christ consists in this, that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20:28), that is, he "loved [his own] to the end" (Jn 13:1), so that they might be "ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [their] fathers" (I Pt 1:18).623 By his loving obedience to the Father, "unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8), Jesus fulfills the atoning mission (cf. Is 53:10) of the suffering Servant, who will "make many righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities" (Is 53:11; cf. Rom 5:19).

Mr. Nickol: Thanks for the reference. I had forgotten about that discussion.Schillebeeckx is right that the theory of penal substitution distorts Anselm's theory of satisfaction--and I would add, Aquinas's, too. I'd be tempted to call it post-Reformation since it was propagated especially by Protestants although it also infected a good number of Catholic orators of the modern era. Calvin thought that Christ suffered the pains of the damned, a view that Hans Urs von Balthasar, dependent in this, perhaps, on Adriana von Speyer, has attempted to revive. Bender: Schillebeeckx's paragraph describes a theory that he himself did not hold.

What a tragic view he has of God who is Love. Dont worry about not understanding what he wrote it looks like the author didnt understand the subject either.Bender, I don't know how you could misread Schillebeeckx here, even in this totally isolated paragraph. Schillebeeckx is not endorsing this theory, but condemning it in rather scathing terms. I know he was controversial, but he did not claim God was like an airplane hijacker!

It does seem to me that most Catholics believe God had planned that Jesus would be killed here, no matter how you dress it up. I like instead what Ken Overberg SJ wrote - that Jesus came here to be with us not to die for our sins, that he needn't have been murdered (Duns Scotus) ... The Incarnation: God's Gift of Love.

I think the centrality of the earth was more important than the scale of the universe in the old understanding. Certainly, it seemed a happy confirmation of our preeminent place in God's design that he had placed us at the physical center of his creation. No one had a clear idea of the size of the universe or an accurate way of measuring it until quite recently, although it was always large enough to be awesome.Still, there is a curious ambivalence in medieval thought about our central place. The rediscovered Aristotle had considered the heavens as a region of perfection in which, apart from circular motion, all is changeless. On the other hand, the earth is a place of generation and decay, coming to be and passing away, perpetual imperfection. Such a conception accorded well with a culture and a religion that preached, if they did not often practice, renunciation of this world and the setting of all one's hopes on a better world hereafter. So from his lofty vantage point in the Eighth Heaven, Dante views the earth and despises it: "It seemed so poor a thing. Highly I rate that judgement that doth low esteem the world."And yet the earth is the focus of and reason for all the mighty motion of the sky. Each sphere's "influence" bears upon it and affects the lives of men, so perilously placed between heaven and hell. The Incarnation, central event in universal history, occurred on earth, and the Redemption of Man is the point of it all. Poor as it is, the earth has the greatest significance.And the reason for this special attention is that, of all those creatures for whom there still is any hope, the earth and its principal occupant have fallen farthest into unreality, that is, farthest from God. C. S. Lewis put it this way in The Discarded Image: ", as Dante was to say more clearly than anyone else, the spatial order is the opposite of the spiritual, and the material cosmos mirrors, hence reverses, the reality, so that what is truly the rim seems to us the hub." When he gazes on the sky, medieval man is looking into reality from an outpost on the border of chaos.

If DN's postulation "that human beings are only one of a number of intelligent species in the universe up until this point" (I am not disagreeing and have found that idea intriguing for a long time), then I question this:"Catholic belief is that God became man, the second person of the Trinity remains a man, and if there really are thousands of intelligent species, they are going to have to deal with the fact that God became man and only man."I know that DN meant to say "human," but that is not my point.I ask the simple question: why so? If there are indeed "thousands of intelligent species," why are the term and conditions of God's involvement with one of those species, i.e., human beings on planet earth, relevant or necessarily binding on other species?There is absolutely no reason, if there are other intelliegent species, to hold that "... the claim that God became man does indeed tend to put humanity at the center of creation. "That is a leap of wishful thinking that has yet to be demonstrated as being true.

To clarify: I am talking about thousands of intelligent species NOT on earth, whether or not in this corner of the universe.

Bender:Re your comment: "Dont worry about not understanding what he wrote it looks like the author didnt understand the subject either."Too bad Schillebeecks is no longer with us. He might have responded with one of Ed Koch's best comeback lines: "I can explain it to you, but I cannot comprehend it for you."

Be careful, Bender: "It was only after Galileo, a rather headstrong person, began demanding that everyone accept the Copernican theory without actual scientific proof that he started to get into trouble."Absent talking about Copernican theory, what you are describing is what Christians call faith when it comes to the existence of a deity.

Scriptures certainly place humanity at the center of the universe. "You have made us a little less than the angels." "We shall judge angels." Etc. Whatever the composition of the universe, it does not take away from the wondrous visit of Jesus and his inimitable proclamation, offering the pearl of great price and the abundant spiritual life. It is always the regret that many are prevented from this great treasure by some who are false prophets.

Here is an earlier reflection on the question of God's relations with other intelligent life forms:CHRIST IN THE UNIVERSEby: Alice Meynell (1847-1922)WITH this ambiguous earthHis dealings have been told us. These abide:The signal to a maid, the human birth,The lesson, and the young Man crucified. But not a star of allThe innumerable host of stars has heardHow He administered this terrestrial ball.Our race have kept their Lords entrusted Word. Of His earth-visiting feetNone knows the secret, cherished, perilous,The terrible, shamefast, frightened, whispered, sweet,Heart-shattering secret of His way with us. No planet knows that thisOur wayside planet, carrying land and wave,Love and life multiplied, and pain and bliss,Bears, as chief treasure, one forsaken grave. Nor, in our little day,May His devices with the heavens be guessed,His pilgrimage to thread the Milky WayOr His bestowals there be manifest. But in the eternities,Doubtless we shall compare together, hearA million alien Gospels, in what guiseHe trod the Pleiades, the Lyre, the Bear. O, be prepared, my soul!To read the inconceivable, to scanThe myriad forms of God those stars unrollWhen, in our turn, we show to them a Man.("Christ in the Universe" is reprinted from The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. Ed. Nicholson & Lee. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1917.)

I dont know how you could misread Schillebeeckx here, even in this totally isolated paragraph. Probably because I was going on your totally isolated excerpt, which I am now to understand is out of context and actually a critique -- But you did not clarify that in your excerpt.

Anne: one of my all-time favorite threads on dotC is on that subject:

The idea of a loving God torturing his only Son is certainly horrible, but it is not hard to see how such a misunderstanding could creep into Catholic belief.I don't know or, frankly, care what the Church is teaching on certain matters today, but when I was in school, ferocious men in black cassocks taught that God would punish with eternal hellfire thirteen-year-old boys (girls, too, I suppose) who entertained "impure thoughts." The hangingest judge of the Old West would have balked at that, I think. It is blasphemy and child abuse rolled into one. It excuses and even encourages human cruelty everywhere, turning God into Moloch, driving frail human beings to despair, and making it possible to belief that such an entity might even delight in his own Son's pain.And it hardly mends matters, after peddling such poison, to say, "But look here! We have the means of salvation." That's what they told Winston Smith.

Sorry. *believe* for *belief*

Thanks for the beautiful Alice Meynell poem, Katherine.It reminds me of "Jerusalem":And did those feet in ancient timeWalk upon Englands mountains green?And was the Holy Lamb of GodOn Englands pleasant pastures seen?

Ms. Chapman: I don't think I can give a capsule-statement of how I present the Atonement, and perhaps Claire's reference to an earlier discussion on this blog will help. The key, I think, lies less in what Christ suffered than in the love, fidelity, and obedience with which he endured his suffering. It is also crucial to recognize that the drama of Christ's life, death, and resurrection begins with the statement from John's Gospel: "God so loved the world." That is, God's love was the initial motivating force of Incarnation and Atonement. It's not as if Christ had to be punished in our place in order for God to love and forgive us.

Reflecting lately on the incredible emergence of the human being from the first cells of life 4+billion years ago, and reflecting also -- as we've searched for water on Mars --on signs of the possibility of life there, too -- I can readily conceive life on other planets in this vast universe. And I can conceive that remarkable passage from "life" to "soul" -- (I was "taught" by Pius XII in the 40's, that is what must be held in order to accept evolution) -- that that "passage" here -- and elsewhere in the universe -- is actually a beginning of the Incarnation. . . (at the very least, our "souls" we are more like the God we believe in than we are like the earth we came from ) A theology of sin that focuses on "Atonement" -- in its exaggerated modes -- can and does distort our belief in the reality of the God who is Love. But even the creative power of God erupting in ourselves, in the universe, does not free us from the limitations that are the consequence of our emergence from earth, limitations that are the basis of our capacity to sin . . . A teaching of Hell, and the human possibility of doing incredible evil are not contradicted by thinking like this; the possibility is located in our capacity to betray our being created in the image of God. Current attempts to integrate evolution into Christian belief in creation don't go this far . .but we're only a century or two into thinking about it; and two millenia into a profound belief in Jesus, whose tortured image marks our churches and our prayer. Holding his teaching and his end together is the principle work of 'faith" . . .it is not 'arguable'But such a "theology of evolution" is only being hinted at here and there. . . . and may come only after a longer time than the abandonment of heliocentrism.

Here' s a variant of the opening scene of the movie Vertical Limit. Rock-climbing up a cliff, three persons are on a single rope. The Father is highest up the rope, then the Son, then Man. Unfortunately the rope is dangerously frayed, is tearing, and it seems that M will fall off into the abyss; but S gives him a hand. So, in the nail-biting scene, here is S with his arms streched out, one hand holding M, one hand hanging off F. It's untenable, S's muscles are bulging, he is straining like Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger, and something has to give: F tells S to let go of him, S lets go, and S and M together plunge down to their death. But F cannot let that happen, so he scoops up S, as well as M along with him since S and M are still holding hands - S never did let go of M. Finally there's a happy ending with F, S and M now all together.

Jim McC. --The reason why some theologians say that Adam's sin affected other humans on other planets is because those theologians are Platonists.Plato thought that there is a second world of Forms -- single, eternal, perfect "whatnessses" which do not change. However, a Form can become embedded in different portions of matter, thereby yielding *many things of one kind*, things which actually *share* the one Form. Thus your form is my form, and all human beings have the same Form/Whatness -- and that includes Adam, plus all the other humans who have ever existed or will exist, no matter where. At least, that is the thinking of the extreme Platonists. I don't know whether that metaphysical explanation is an offficial Catholic teaching, but as I remember Aquinas held it. (And I wouldn't be surprised it Augustin did, which would explain its populatity with many Protestants.)

I'd love to see an analytic theologian (is there such a thing?) do analyses of the uses of "atone", "ransome", "save", and "redeem".Is the word "atone" or an equivalent used anywhere in Scripture with reference to the Crucifixion? What did the Greek word translated as "redeem' mean? Did it have some sort of commercial meaning or what?

One of the books Gopnik favorably mentions in his review is Galileo's Muse by physicist and mathematician Mark Peterson. There we learn, according to Peterson, that the Copernican controversy was a sideshow. Perhaps more important for Galileo's intellectual development were his lectures on the physical dimensions of Dante's Inferno and the implications of that structure for scaling. An interesting 14 minute youtube intro to the book's thesis is here: discussion reminds me of an observation made by the Dantista John Freccero: "The fact that Lucifer occupies the center of the cosmos should be convincing proof that a geocentric conception of the universe in the Middle Ages implied no great privilege for the human race."There are more things in Galileo's heaven and earth, Gopnik and Brecht, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

"...limitations that are the basis of our capacity to sin . ."Mary Barbara ==Hmmm. Yes, matter limits us, and our bodies can lead us to sin. But I tend to think that it is the wide choices we're capable of that are the biggest problem in attaining virtue. In other words, variety of itself is appealing, as are the various things, behaviors and experiences we are drawn to.Maybe in a primitive society, where there aren't so many choices, this would be less true. But i think that our culture with all the manufactured desires, courtesy of the ad industry among other influences, impell us to excess, including excess in sin. "Holy simplicity" hs something to do with this, i think.

Ann O.,The Greek noun translated as Lat. redemptio or Eng. redemption is apolytrosis. Its ordinary meaning is a ransoming or payment for release of prisoners taken in battle or persons subject to punishment. It occurs several places in the New Testament, but not in passages that mention the Crucifixion explicitly. The uncompounded form lytrosis is used similarly and translated the same. And the agent noun lytrotes = redemptor = redeemer (deliverer) occurs once (Acts 7:35), but referring to Moses, not to Christ.

Galileo and Hell: do the math :) ....

Anne, here's a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer that I like:"Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love onthe hard wood of the cross that everyone might come withinthe reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spiritthat we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring thosewho do not know you to the knowledge and love of you".Catholics have this, in one of the Eucharistic prayers:When we were lost and could not find the way to you, you loved us more than ever; Jesus, your Son, innocent and without sin, gave himself into our hands and was nailed to a cross. Yet before he stretched out his arms between heaven and earth in the everlasting sign of your covenant, he desired to celebrate the Paschal feast in the company of his disciples.

From the OED, under "Atone": Etymology: at one adv. in its combined form as repr. a simple idea, and 16th cent. pronunciation. Short for the phrase set or make at one; compare to back , to forward , to right , etc., and the compounds at-one-maker , at-one making , under at one adv. Assisted by the prior existence of the vb. to one v. = make one, put at one, unite, Latin unre, French unir; whence onement was used already by Wyclif. From the frequent phrases set at one or at onement, the combined atonement began to take the place of onement early in 16th cent., and atone to supplant one vb. about 1550. Atone was not admitted into the Bible in 1611, though atonement had been in since Tyndale.

" the core Catholic claim that the omnipotent ruler of the cosmos could satisfy his sense of justice only by sending his son here to be tortured to death"I detest this caricature but it is one that I find even theologians propagating. Jesus Christ died for us and with us, shared our death and the circumstances of injustice that often surround death. It is at least the height of ingratitude to caricature this as barbaric human sacrifice arranged by a cruel God."And as I understand it, the Catholic belief is that God became man, the second person of the Trinity remains a man, and if there really are thousands of intelligent species, they are going to have to deal with the fact that God became man and only man." No, Thomas Aquinas says the Word could become incarnate in several times and places. He would be the same Word in each of the incarnations.PS Blake's "Jerusalem" does not refer to such speculations but to the legend that the young Jesus was brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea.

In the late 1950's, Fr. Stanislas Lyonnet, S.J., published a number of articles, later gathered into books, on the biblical vocabulary for "sin" and "redemption." The articles are close analyses of the terms and their use in non-biblical writings and in the Old and New Testaments. In the book on redemption, he has chapters on the following vocabulary: "salvation," "liberation" (under which he discusses "redemption"), "purchase" or "acquisition," "expiation," and "sacrifice." It is a pity that these books, published in Latin but then translated into English under the tile Sin, Redemption, and Sacrifice, are not more widely known.

Joseph S,The quote you refute does not deny that Christ died for us. It refutes the belief that God demanded this as satisfaction.

Its not as if Christ had to be punished in our place in order for God to love and forgive us.*************************************************And yet, it seems that the Catholic church in its Catechism does indeed say that Christ "had" to suffer and die as "expiation", as "ransom", in order for God to refrain from damning all of humanity for all of eternity for being sinners - as quoted above. Father, you expressed sorrow and surprise that so many Catholics are "poorly" taught in the faith. But the reality is that most Catholics were (and I am guessing, still are) taught that Jesus was the "perfect" sacrifice to a God for whom "justice" demanded a sacrifice to atone for humanity's sins, in the tradition of animal sacrifice in Israeli worship. Jesus's death would end all of that. Since God is God, no ordinary human being would be of enough importance to satisfy - this sacrifice had to be a perfect human being - the son of God. This concept and the specific language of "redemption", "dying for our sins", the sacrificial "lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world", etc is repeated both literally and metaphorically in the "sacrifice" of the mass. It is not just a difference in emphasis (God of love, emphasized more after Vatican II but barely mentioned before Vatican II, and the God of "justice" - the supreme Judge - emphasized before Vatican II and increasingly today). It seems that there is a divergence between what "ordinary" Catholics are taught (and the nuances and interpretations of the language used), and what college and graduate theology students are taught. More sophisticated teaching has found ways to reinterpret the commonly understood meaning of certain scriptures, to restate the understanding of specific words that most of christianity, including the RCC, has taught about Jesus's suffering and death for a very long time. This is a positive development, but I'm not sure that it reflects the "official" teaching as written in the current CCC nor that it is taught to Catholics in the pews in addition to those in universities. I long ago dismissed what I was taught about God "demanding" Jesus's suffering and death to "redeem" humanity because if that were true, I wanted nothing to do with such a God. I haven't had time yet to read the thread Ann linked to, and probably should have done so before writing this post, but will do so later. Thanks to all who have responded to my questions and comments.

It seems that Gopnik could at least have checked with a (preferably contemporary) Catholic source to see if his depiction was accurate. Or that a fact checker at the New Yorker might have asked for a source.

It seems that there is a divergence between what ordinary Catholics are taught (and the nuances and interpretations of the language used), and what college and graduate theology students are taught. Pope Benedict XVI explained it to the International Theological Commission:"We have heard that our Lord praises the Father because He concealed the great mystery of the Son, the Trinitarian mystery, the Christological mystery, from the wise and the learned, they did not recognize him. Instead he revealed it to the little ones, the npioi, to those who are not learned, who are not very cultured. It was to them that this great mystery was revealed." We didn't know about the moons of Jupiter until 400 years ago, but some presume/pretend to comprehend what was/is in the Mind of the Creator. Nice work, if you can get it.

Ms. Chapman: I just remembered that I did try a statement some years back in Commonweal. You can find it at:

Whenever we talk about the true message of Jesus we should always remember Bernard Haring, the greatest moral theologian of the 20th century. While too many kept quiet and acquiesced Haring stood his ground is opposing the errors of Paul VI and John Paul II.

Beautiful and helpful reflection, Fr. K. ( And if anyone skipped over the link, they missed something worth tucking away for keeps.)

"The problem with the theory of penal substitution was that it tried to reduce the complex NT presentation of the death and resurrection to a single, easily intelligible scheme."It's not something that I can understand and then be done with. I find that I keep forgetting and periodically need to spend some time thinking about until it makes sense again, for a while, then I forget again. "Remind me: why exactly did Jesus have to die on a cross?"

Claire: Your question is precisely the one that St. Anselm was asking in his Cur Deus homo, although it arose long before him. He sought a necessary reason: that otherwise our rescue from sin was impossible. But long before St. Augustine had simply taken it for granted that other ways were possible, and he then set himself to explaining why none other was so fitting to our condition. And St. Thomas Aquinas followed him in this, providing in both of his great Summas multiple reasons for the incarnation and at-onement through the cross and resurrection. In 1 Cor 15:3 Paul quotes from a primitive formula that he says was the one through which the essential Gospel was handed over to him and which he had used in evangelizing the Corinthians. As J.D.G. Dunn recently pointed out, this brings us back to the very early years of Christianity. And the first sentence in this formula is that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." So that the association between Christ's death and dealing with our sins is a very primitive element in the Christian faith. I don't pretend that the link is easy to understand, but to neglect or downplay the link is to offer a different gospel from the one that Paul (and, he said, other apostles) preached.

Thanks to all for the vocabulary analysis and the poems. Complexity, complexity. One must look at all sorts of evidence for theological understandings of the Infinite Mysteries The theologian's project is literally endless. So far, in the West at least, all understandings of infinities of various sorts have led to contradictions, including even mathematical contradictions as well. The theological mysteries also seem to harbor insurmountable contradictions. But unlike the mathematicians who admit the problems in the foundations of math, many theologians seem unwilling to admit the contradictions implicit in their theologies, and, as Anne Chapman shows, they go on repeating old formulas and understandings of the infinite mysteries even after new undeerstandings have shown the old ones to be defective. We're left with contradictions and sometimes even denials that the contradictions exist. We are left with what theologians often call "tensions", (Logicians call them "contradictions".)Just look at the Ratzinger quote Gerelyn just provided. It's a cop out in the face of Ininite Mystery. He says that God revealed the mysteries to "the little ones" (how patronizing), to the unwise, the uneducated because they can deal with the profundities of dogma better than the educated, the 'elite" can. Hmph. I'd like to see what kind of grade Ratzinger would give to a typical farmboy with a grammar school eduction for an essay for one of his graduate courses. I say that if the "little" folks deal with the mysteries better it's because they have the humility to admit their own errors. They are indeed unlike the grand theologians who won't admit their mistakes but continue to assert obviously contradictory understandings -- only never at the same time.The theological mysteries are boundless and inexhaustible, and it's easy, very easy to get lost in them when all we have are limited human ideas. Our underestandings are simply not adequate to the job they're trying to do. I say it's best to admit our contradictions, criticize them, thoroughly and go on from there. Otherwise we end up with what Gopnik and his friends call "balderdash".JAK, will never convince me that Ratzinger , for all his great brilliance and grandfatherly concern, isn't at best highly ambivalent about the value of reasoning and the use of logic. But thank you very much for bringing up these theological questions. It's what Rome should be doing, but isn't.

Ann: Just to clarify. The reference to "little ones" is owed to Jesus. See Matt 11:25--"I praise you, Father, because you have hidden these things from the wise and clever but have revealed them to the little ones." So it's Jesus who's being "patronizing"?

I disagree. For Jesus to call any human "little' is one thing. For Ratzinger to do so is another. And in Gerelyn's quotation while he is indirectly referring to Jesus' remark, he is also speaking fr himself, and that is patronizing.

We disagree about that. If he wants to use Jesus' term, I don't find that any more patronizing than when Jesus used it. His words, as reported, some to me a perfect reflection of what Jesus said and meant, and it would have been a useful reminder to the members of the International Theological Commission.

Agree, Joseph. Quoting one of Jesus' most famous sayings is hardly patronizing.

Cur Deus homo has a wikipedia page, to a page about St Anselm's satisfaction view of atonement, contains an Aquinas section with the, cough, "standard Catholic understanding of atonement", for example: the atonement consisted in Christ's giving to God more "than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race." The entire article has not a single occurrence of the word "love".

I would not want to say this about Jesus, so I guess I must fault Matthew, if it is a fault. Isn't Mt. 11:25 a bit vague? Not the wise and clever vs. the little ones part, but the substance of what the Father has withheld from the first and revealed to the second group. It is identified only as "these things" and "them," and the previous verses do not seem to provide any likely antecedents. It is as if this verse was taken from somewhere else and just plopped down here. So maybe I should absolve Matthew and charge some sleepy copyist. Or is it clearer than I think?

Why don't the Catholic theologians correct the Wikipedia page? This really is an extremely important topic. Or maybe they're trying.

Ann, why don't you set to editing it yourself? You have documents to draw on. Just click on "edit" in the top right part of the page. You won't make it quite right, but you can make it better than it is, while keeping it short and simple, of course...

Hi, John:Imho, Matthew 11 is one of the clearest chapters in the gospels. If any words can be safely ascribed to Jesus, imho, they are the words of that chapter. John the Baptist was in prison, and he heard what Jesus was doing. (Working miracles.) He sent his followers to see what was going on, and Jesus gave them an earful.(Imho, Jesus is saying that little children are not fooled by hypocrites, naked emperors, etc.)I think the series on the Bible that the History Channel will be showing, starting in March, shows Jesus being dunked by John the Baptist, so maybe there will be a dramatization of the lament in Matthew 11, too. -----And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.But whereunto shall I esteem this generation to be like? It is like to children sitting in the market place.Who crying to their companions say: We have piped to you, and you have not danced: we have lamented, and you have not mourned.For John came neither eating nor drinking; and they say: He hath a devil.The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say: Behold a man that is a glutton and a wine drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners. And wisdom is justified by her children.Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein were done the most of his miracles, for that they had not done penance.Woe to thee, Chorazin! woe to thee Bethsaida! for if the works of power which have taken place in you, had taken place in Tyre and Sidon, they had long ago repented in sackcloth and ashes.But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you.And thou Capharnaum, shalt thou be exalted up to heaven? thou shalt go down even unto hell. For if in Sodom had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in thee, perhaps it had remained unto this day.But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.At that time Jesus answered and said: I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones.

Claire ==I'm afraid I'd do more harm than good if I tried to edit it. Years ago I did edit the R. C. Zaehner page, but I have studied his basic theory of mysticism in some detail. I can't say the same for the theology of redemption.You do it :-) You've done a lot of reading about it, and you write particularly clearly.(Where are all these new evangelists? You'd think they'd take advantage of Wikipedia.)

Ann, those new evangelists are probably too busy re-reading the CCC. Sigh.

Mt 11:25-30 is sometimes called the "Johannine thunderbolt," because the language is more similar to that of the Fourth Gospel than to that typical of the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. It has a parallel in Luke's Gospel, and so the scholars trace it to the famous "Q-document."

Joe,thanks for retrieving your article. It says a great deal, in a very helpful way.You write: "The reign of sin and death were absorbed by his love and forgiveness, and a frightful evil was transformed into a transcendent good, an execution became a self-sacrifice."And again: "God in his wisdom and goodness chose not to free humanity from evil by some great act of power; he chose rather that Christ encounter that evil and transform it by his love into the great good that is the salvation of the human race."What these reflections point to, for me, is that we might better think of "redemption," "atonement," "salvation" less as something Jesus did, a "transaction" of some sort, as Jesus himself: he is salvation, at-onement.A focus on the "being" of Jesus may lead to a new appreciation of the Johannine "I am" formulations and the Pauline use of "new Adam" imagery.Thus redemption is not an extrinsic imputation laid upon us, but a new possibility opened to us: to realize with God's grace the new filial existence enabled by the crucified and risen Lord.I try to indicate this approach by saying that Christ did not show the Way, he created the Way in his own body, and now we are called to become incorporate in the body of the Savior.As the quotes I transcribed from your article stress: transformation is required. Just as Christ transformed sin and evil, we must be transformed by our encounter with the person of Christ. Baptism, of course, is the beginning of transformation; and the Eucharist nourishes our ongoing "Christification."

I suspect that discomfort must always drive the explanation for Jesus' crucifixion to a certain extent. His earliest followers had to deal with the disconcerting fact that their messiah was dead. His latter-day followers must face up to the moral problems of the violence of the act and what that says about God.One thing that can be born in mind is that, at the bottom of it all, the reason Jesus had to die on the cross was because the Roman prefect said so. A lot of people die for similar reasons: someone said they had to.

Mt 11: 28-30, is a beautiful invitation by the Son who is said, in the stunning "Johannine" verses preceding it, to know the Father and be able to reveal him to those he chooses. In 28-30 Jesus says: "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light." This bit doesn't appear in Luke or Mark and is generally said to be Matthew's own.

Abe,isn't the "disconcerting fact" with which Jesus' earliest followers had to come to grips the dual one: the Messiah had been crucified and raised? Had he not been raised there would have been no redemption. As Paul insists to the Corinthians: you would still be in your sins.

I suspect that the resurrection narrative was a crucial tool in coming to grips with the crucifixion. But taking the resurrection for granted and viewing the situation from a canonical perspective, I would say, yes: the absence of the messiah without the messiah having done anything decisively messiah-ish would demand a new way of thinking about the function of the messiah.

Abe,what was "decisively messiah-ish" was that "he died for our sins." I grant that this was indeed "a new way of thinking about the function of the messiah." But that relates to what I suggested above: what he did was who he is. Irenaeus says: "he brought all newness, bringing himself."

Another reason for profound regret at the low level of knowledge and understanding of the faith.And not just among the "little ones". The Catechism is unclear. The vocabulary is highly specialized and coded, and words do not mean what they mean in everyday language. It's confusing. A little poking around the internet reveals a bewildering array of contradictory texts, many written by "the very cultured". I like your article very much, Fr K - it's beautiful -, but that's just one text from one person. I can roam the web and pick and choose what rings true to me, but how do I know that I'm not just selecting from a community of like-minded people, and that it's not a somewhat distorted view of the Catholic faith? Where is the Magisterium when we need it?

Claire --If you take everything Jesus says literally, then you see that He too contradicted Himself very clearly sometimes. So what to do? I say look more closely at how language works in all of its frustrating glory, and then see what we're left with. It's why I think that the contemporary understandings of the nature(s) of "language" is so important if we are to make more progress with both philosophy and theology. And that means studying the linguistic analysts and the great progress made by the psychologists in understanding how language works, Yes, this is something of a digression, but I think that Wittgenstein has been proven right in mny disciplines -- that the misuse (or strange us) of language is at the bottom of many of our intellectual problems including some in theology. Just consider how the uses of "atonement" has thrown so many people off.That is not to say that the apparent theological contradictions are not problematic. It *is* to say that apparently it is the will of God that understanding of His messages will not come easily to us. It seems that He *wants* us to struggle. As I see it, He wants the increase in understanding of His Revelations to be the work of many people, a communal project with give and take and revisions when necessary. Sigh.

As I see it, He wants the increase in understanding of His Revelations to be the work of many people, a communal project with give and take and revisions when necessary. Kind of like wikipedia...

Father Imbelli: ..."what was "decisively messiah-ish" was that he died for our sins."So, back to the same conundrum of dozens of posts back - did Jesus "have" to die for our sins in order to be messiah-ish? Isn't that what Gopnik asserts in rather more blunt language? Could not there have been a resurrection if Jesus had died in his bed of old age after a lifetime of teaching through both words and example? Was the torture and death on the cross NECESSARY for God to forgive human sin? It is possible to understand Jesus's understanding and acceptance of the likely consequences to him personally because of what he was saying and doing - consquences that could very well mean torture and death. But what does this have to do with the remission of human sin? As Fr. K noted in his essay, Martin Luther King also knew that his work could result in his personal suffering and possible death and he too accepted this possibility. I may be particularly dense, especially when compared to many of the regular posters on this board, but perhaps I am more representative of the vast majority in some ways - I still really do not see why the church continues to say that Jesus "died for our sins" and still do not understand exactly what it means by this. As Claire noted, the language is "coded", words are defined and interpreted in a multitude of ways, it's not really very clear to the average non-theologian, and non-theologians struggling with concepts quickly discover that different theologians seem to say very different things.

Robert, I think that in saying that, you more or less bring us back full circle to the starting point of this whole problem, which is Jesus' "dying for sins." I think that it's one thing to say that that is the function of the messiah when you have a couple of millennia of theology on the issue behind you, but what I was saying is that for Jesus' first followers to get there might have taken some painful searching.

Agree, Claire and Anne. Very confusing. E.g., take a look at the venerable Catholic Encyclopedia's explanation. (The article has an imprimatur from the great John Farley and a nihil obstat from somebody else.) Information about Satan and the mousetrap theory, etc. Stuff I never heard of. How come it wasn't in the Baltimore Catechism? Or in the high school religion texts? Or mentioned in theology, Christology, etc., in college? Very sad to be mired in "ignorance" along with poor Adam Gopnik, et so many alii., I liked your article, too. It reminded me of the days when even Catholics heard the occasional fire and brimstone sermon -- not from parish priests, but from visiting mission preachers (Redemptorists, usually) or from retreat masters (Jesuits, like the poor man in your anecdote). (I never heard of people being trampled to death, but in high school I heard of a priest who so moved the boys with his retreat conferences that they cried and lined up all around the gym to go to confession.)

Anne Chapman,Thank you for your patient probing questions. I think to reiterate what has several times been suggested: we are seeking some understanding of the mystery of redemption. There are different approaches that give partial insight and that can complement one another. However, there are some that do not do justice to the Gospel. So what Komonchak's article referred to as "penal substitution" does not represent Catholic teaching.I tried to move away from this by suggesting that we not think of redemption or atonement in terms of a "transaction:" something "paid" to another, but rather to focus upon the person whose vision and action transformed evil into good. That is why I singled out Komonchak's use of the language of "transformation" in his article.Here I think there is a profound connection between Eucharist and cross: the offering by Jesus of his body. It reveals his transformative intent.I suggest that it helps to come to grips with "redemption" by always considering it in relation to Eucharist.Let me suggest one further line of reflection. You ask: "was death on the cross necessary for God to forgive sin?" Does it make sense to you to ask: was death on the cross necessary for humans to realize the true magnitude of sin and what it costs God?"Thank you again for helping us ponder the mystery.

Fr Imbelli, don't you think that the current emphasis on economics, capitalism, and the dictatorship of market forces, naturally leads contemporaries to look for explanations couched in terms of a "transaction"?

Claire,I think the notion of redemption/buying back was wide-spread in the ancient world. It is a suggestive model: liberating from slavery. But pressed unilaterally it leads to "paying ransom" to God? to Satan? (the latter then caught in the "mousetrap" sprung by Christ!).And so it needs to be complemented by other approaches and finally to the discernment of the faith community, under the guidance of those who hold teaching authority.

Ms. Chapman: You asked, "Was the torture and death on the cross NECESSARY for God to forgive human sin?"I would say, No, it wasn't necessary. As both Augustine and Aquinas both said (not to mention many others), our salvation could have been accomplished in other ways. If this is true, the question becomes, "Why, then, this way?" And one then embarks on the much more difficult task of trying to find intelligibility in what need not have happened. I sometimes think that it is much easier for people who think the only intelligibility is that of the necessary, as if what is contingent, free, can't be understood. As I mentioned in an earlier post, a linkage between the death of Christ and the forgiveness of sins was made at a very early date--it had to be very early if it was already presented as the basic Gospel to St. Paul upon his conversion. Another point: A Christian, in trying to understand the faith, has to take into account all that the New Testament offers about Christ and his work. That means not leaving out the hard parts, in our discussion, the ones that I quote in my article. It is much easier simply to ignore the difficult texts, but I think the proper task of theologians is to try to take all the data into account.Still another point: In no way did God will the malice that led to the torturous death of Christ. In the whole of the passion-story, the only thing that God directly willed is the love, fidelity, and obedience of Christ. And another: These discussions often are affected by the picture-thinking that has God up there deciding beforehand that certain things would happen or not happen. In other words, we imagine God as involved in our time-sequence and time-consciousness. But there is no before and after in God. So some people fantasize: God looked down and saw Christ suffering in our place, and decided that was enough suffering, and so he decided to forgive, something he would not have been inclined to do without that suffering. It is a terrible travesty of the Good News about the God who so loved the world that he sent his only Son...

St. Thomas had a pithy statement that may help: "Non propter hoc vult Deus hoc fieri, sed Deus vult hoc fieri propter hoc." Imagine two sequential events A and B. Then the dictum means: "It is not because A happened that God willed that B happen, but God wills that B happen because A happened." In the first case, Event A would be the cause of God's willing B, something that Aquinas excluded on the grounds of God's utter transcendence of his creation--that is, that nothing created could be a cause of anything in God. The second case is a terse statement of Aquinas's basic belief that there are secondary causes, all of which are utterly dependent on God's primary causality. Thus, in the second case, A would be the genuine cause of B, and this by God's will. Applied to our discussion, this would mean that it was not because Adam sinned that God willed that the Word became flesh, but God willed that the Word become flesh because Adam sinned. Similarly, Christ's tortured death is not the cause of any change in God. "God so loved the world..."

...was death on the cross necessary for God to forgive sin?Fr. Imbelli --ISTM that our talk of "necessity" might be clarified somewhat by considering a distinction between two kinds of necessity which the Scholastics made. There are necessities due to a thing's nature, and these cannot be otherwise, e.g. the number 3 is necessarily, by its nature larger than 2 and smaller than 4. This is per se necessity, or "antecedent" necessity". Such necessities can be described as absolute or intrinsic necessities. On the other hand, there are "consequent necessities", necessities which follow from some contingent reality or state of affairs, e.g., IF you want to go to the opera, it is necessary that you buy a ticket; IF your life is to continue , it is necessary that the doctor remove remove you gangrenous leg. The word "IF" in those examples reflect a certain contingency, a non-necessity.So what does it mean to say that the cross was "necessary for God to forgive sin"? Are we asking: was it necessary because of what *He* is that He saved us? That is, was it necessary because His very nature required Him to save us? Or did He have some choice about saving us? I was taught that His nature did not require it, but His nature necessarily gave Him the option, the choice whether to save us or not, and He chose to save us. So it was not necessary due to His nature. It was not an a priori necessity as far as what He is.On the other hand, can we say that considering what *we* are (our own nature) that the cross "was necessary" for salvation? I'd say Yes, that the cross was (somehow) necessary for the simple reason that we cannot save ourselves. (This assumes that the cross is salvific, though it dons not explain "how* it saves. That's another problem.) In other words, IF we are to be saved (a contingent event) that it is necessary that God choose to save us In other words, if we consider only what God is, then the redemption was not necessary. But i we consider what *we* are (incapable of saving ourselves) then, yes, the cross was necessary . In other words, the necessity is on our side, not God's, and it is a necessity which happens only after God has chosen to save us. It's an instance of what the scholastics called "consequent necessity" -- because He made a choice, consequently something necessarily happened, we were saved.

It was not because Adam sinned that God willed that the Word became flesh, but God willed that the Word become flesh because Adam sinned. Do you mean that the following does not hold: that Adam sinned; that the resulting situation was not good, and that God, seeing that, decided to fix it by the Word becoming flesh.Do you mean that the following holds instead: that God decided that, should Adam ever sin, then the Word would become flesh - one event following the other as surely as a law of physics. Then Adam sinned. Then the rule was applied and the Word became flesh.I see that it's different, but I'm not sure it helps with anything.

Claire --It seems to me that the "necessity" of Christ's death does not involve any real metaphysical problem. But there is a metaphysical problem involved: the question whether it is *possible* that one innocent person's death can compensate for the sins of others. One might even ask if one can meaningfully frame such a question, because the question seems to assume that one person can assume the moral responsibilities of another. (Yes, questions often do make statements even as they ask questions, for instance, the classic, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" When we confuse a question about a necessity with a question about a possibility we invite confusion.

Perhaps the Father sent his Son into the world simply because he loved the men and women (and everything else) that he had made and wished by an extraordianry demonstration of that love to win us back after we had turned from him. But we, all on our own and because we are a wayward and bloody-minded species, spurned his love and killed his Son, an act that might move even a loving God to high displeasure and thoughts of retribution. But then the Son pleaded with him, for he was now one of us, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And the Father, who could refuse nothing that the Son asked, forgave us this greatest sin, and with it all of our countless others. And blameless Father and faithful Son still love us, such as we are.

Ann writes: " In other words, the necessity is on our side, not Gods;" and I concur. That is part of what I was trying to indicate but suggesting we not think of redemption in "transactional" terms: making some sort of "payment" to God.John Prior writes: "But we, all on our own and because we are a wayward and bloody-minded species, spurned his love and killed his Son . . . And blameless Father and faithful Son still love us, such as we are." The Cross is the measure of the extent and cost of that love; and the Eucharist its sacramental continuation: both of them "necessary" to realize the human transformation required.To a fellow monk, objecting to the argument of his "Cur Deus Homo," Anselm wrote: "nondum cognovisti quanti ponderis sit peccatum" "you have not yet fathomed how terrible sin is."

Firstly thanks to everyone for the great discussion; one of the best I've ever read on CW!I strongly agree with Father K that the torture and death of Christ on a cross was certainly not "necessary" to redeem our sins. That said, Jesus did come to redeem us, however it was His choice in not only how He came, but how He redeemed. Perhaps it's easier to understand in the terms of approachability. God being God, Jesus could have easily come as King, pricked his finger, and voilia, we would have been redeemed. It was because He loved us so much, He not only wanted to show us "how much", but also, be approachable. After all, isn't it much easier to love a baby in a manger than a powerful king? Despite the humility it took for God, our Creator to introduce Himself to us as a baby in a manger, does it not also makes sense that the depth of the sufferings of His passion was also Jesus showing us just how MUCH He loved us; how MUCH He was willing to suffer for us?Something not much practiced or even know among many Catholics today, is that in His suffering, Jesus gave redemptaive value and meaning to suffering, thus, the Catholic Theology of "Redemptive Suffering." Suffering is indeed a great mystery, but via Christ (and Catholic Theology), we do get enough light shed on it to understand that all suffering united to Christ is also redemptive. Christ loved us so much that He invited us also, by uniting our sufferings with His, to participate in the redemption of sin. (see JPII's Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris or something as simple as Scott Hahn's Lighthouse CD on redemptive suffering often found in the back of most Catholic Churches). The Catholic Answer to "Why does God allow suffering" is simply "For a greater good." Look no further than the Crucifix; Deicide to redemption. If man can kill God the Creator and be redeemed, how could we not believe that our own suffering united to Christ doesn't have meaning? When in doubt, Romans 8:28: For all who love God, EVERYTHING works for the greater good.As for more intelligent life in the universe, I would suggest that question is probably outside of our own human intelligence, as some things are simply too big for the limit of the human mind. Even Aquinas, before his death, had a vision of Christ on the Cross, subsequently, never wrote another word expect to say all that he had written was "straw in comparison."If there is any take home msg. of all that has been discussed on this thread, Pope Benedict said it best last week (Bender noted it above): "Sin ruins everything."Consequently, sin needs to be redeemed on an ongoing basis, vis the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and our own "Redemptive Suffering", united to Christ and The Mass. The part that few in our almost totally secular culture get is that sin is also the cause of evil. JPII wrote in one of his last books, Mystery and Identity, that "Suffering Consumes Evil."The good news is that we can all do something about that by living the comandments and "offering up" , both big and small, all of what we "suffer", all made possible by the suffering of Jesus Christ.

Wanted to also share this from the British Poet and Mystic, Caryll Houshlander:Because Christ has changed death to life, and suffering to redemption, the suffering of those who love him will be a communion between them. All that hidden daily suffering that seems insignificant will be redeeming the world, it will be healing the wounds of the world. The acceptance of pain, of old age, of the fear of death, and of death will be our gift of Christ's love to one another; our gift of Christ's life to one another.

To all - I realize that my questions are very simplistic and I wish to thank you again for your patience. As an undergrad, I took required theology and philosophy courses - 12 hours of each. I had close to zero interest in any of them and admit to simply learning enough (without actually understanding it) to feed it back to the professors in a way that would earn an "A" on my exams. Education, like so many other things, can be wasted on the young. Ann Olivier, you are approaching defining the real problem for many: "On the other hand, can we say that considering what *we* are (our own nature) that the cross was necessary for salvation? Id say Yes, that the cross was (somehow) necessary for the simple reason that we cannot save ourselves. (THIS ASSUMES THAT THE CROSS IS SALVIFIC, THOUGH IT DOES NOT EXPLAIN HOW* IT SAVES. Thats another problem"Yes - a BIG problem. Why is the cross "salvific"? "How" does it "save"? In fact, what does it mean that humanity is "saved'? Saved from what? From a judgmental God (Gopnik)? Not from sinning that did not change because Jesus died a horrific death on the cross. Is it not likely that some people, learning of Jesus's teachings and trying to live "the way" taught by Jesus, became more aware of their own sinfulness and change(d) how they live at least a bit? Because of what Jesus TAUGHT not because he died in a particularly nasty fashion? Many of his contemporary followers began to change (be transformed) before Jesuss death. Their understanding of the nature of God and the "law" also changed because of what Jesus taught BEFORE he died. Through his death, Jesus taught that trying to live according to God's will COULD lead to nasty consequences. Clearly his acceptance of these consequences for himself was a powerful "teaching" moment. But is that what "saved" humanity from punishment for sins? Or "redeemed" us? Did God not "forgive" humanity its sins before Jesus' death? Would God have refused to forgive humanity's sins without Jesus's death? If that is true, then we're right back to Gopnik's understanding of Catholic teaching, shared by millions of Catholics and other christians.God created humanity and human nature and is omniscient which means that God knew before he created human beings that they would sin. But then there is the problem of linear time - there is no linear time in God's "world". So what does it mean to say that God knew something before something else? (I wont get into this now, but I admit to also not understanding why God perfection and completeness personified and so no need for any other beings created thinking human beings in the first place, especially knowing that their sinful natures would simply create great suffering and havoc on the earth.)I feel badly about hogging this thread with my simplistic questions. But I have never found anyone in the church who has been willing to discuss them either privately or in standard adult education at the parish level. Few parish priests seem to have given much thought to these questions, and when confronted with them, tend to dismiss the person asking them. It is stunning to find knowledgeable people online who are willing to engage with these questions. Unfortunately, taking theology courses at nearby universities is not financially feasible. After this post, I will cease and desist. I will follow up on some of the reading suggestions, but fear that they might be a bit too advanced for someone like me, without much background in theology.

Anne, your questions are not at all simplistic. I don't understand much about sin and expiation myself, but there is one sentence you wrote that struck me the wrong way. I also lack background, but that has never stopped me from speaking up, so:Through his death, Jesus taught that trying to live according to Gods will COULD lead to nasty consequences.I have never thought of that as a primary teaching. I think that teaching is secondary. What is primary?Jesus identified with us to the point where he stuck to his human condition even on the cross, instead of saving himself by some supernatural act. Through his death, he taught us that he is with us, one of us, "like us in all things but sin", committed to being fully human even when we are murderers. In no other religion is God so intimate with humans. His being so close to us opens up the possibility of us not just following his advice and his general teachings, but coming close to him, being like him, being him. He is "the way" not just by his speeches but by his own self. At least that's my primary understanding of the crucifixion.

Claire: You asked, re the quote from Aquinas I have above:"Do you mean that the following does not hold: that Adam sinned; that the resulting situation was not good, and that God, seeing that, decided to fix it by the Word becoming flesh."Yes, that does not hold. It has God watching things, seeing a development he doesn't like, and acting to fix it. It inserts God into a temporal sequence and gives him second thoughts, caused by a creature's actions."Do you mean that the following holds instead: that God decided that, should Adam ever sin, then the Word would become flesh one event following the other as surely as a law of physics. Then Adam sinned. Then the rule was applied and the Word became flesh."This, too, does not hold. It sets up a conditional possibility for which an iron-clad "law" is set out in advance, and when the possibility is verified, the law operates as surely as a law of physics. But God always acts with supreme freedom, with supreme righteousness, in accord with his supreme wisdom. He created and sustains a universe in which creaturely freedom makes sin possible, in which people sin, in which the subsequent disorder is repaired by the loving fidelity and obedience of Christ. So Christ suffered because of sin and for the sake of sinners, but God does not love and forgive us because Christ suffered.I invoked the Thomist adage against the common view that the pains Christ endured caused God to become benevolent toward sinful humanity, quieted God's anger, etc., as so many theories of the atonement seem to hold. Against this there are such powerful NT statements as 1 Jn 4:10, 19: "God loved us first and sent his Son as a propitiation for our sins"; 2 Cor 5:19: "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not holding their sins against them"; Eph 2:4-5: "God, who is rich in mercy, on account of the exceeding love by which he loved us, even when we were dead in our sings, brought us to life in Christ"; Rom 5:8: "God commends his love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us". Here are two paragraphs from Augustine:

Now there are people who say, "Was there no other way available to God of setting men free from the unhappiness of this mortality, that he should want his only begotten Son, God co-eternal with himself, to become man by putting on a human soul and flesh, and, having become mortal, to suffer death?" And it is not enough to rebut them by maintaining that this way God chose of setting us free through "the mediator between God and men the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5) is good and befitting the divine dignity; we must also show, not indeed that no other possible way was available to God, since all things are equally within his power, but that there neither was nor should have been a more suitable way of curing our unhappy state. Nothing was more needed for raising our hopes and delivering the minds of mortals, disheartened by the very condition of mortality, from despairing of immortality, than a demonstration of how much value God put on us and how much he loved us. And what could be clearer and more wonderful evidence of this than that the Son of God, unchangeably good, remaining in himself what he was and receiving from us what he was not, electing to enter into partnership with our nature without detriment to his own, should first of all endure our ills without any ill deserts of his own, and then once we had been brought in this way to believe how much God loved us and to hope at last for what we had despaired of, should confer his gifts on us with a quite uncalled-for generosity, without any good deserts of ours, indeed with our ill deserts our only preparation? (De Trintiate, Bk. 13, ch. 4, 14)But what is this "justified in his blood" (Room 5:9)? What, I want to know, is the potency of this blood, that believers should be justified in it? Is it really the case that when God the Father was angry with us he saw the death of his Son on our behalf, and was reconciled to us? Does this mean that his Son was already so reconciled to us that he was even prepared to die for us, while the Father was still so angry with us that unless the Son died for us he would not be reconciled to us? And what about something the same teacher of the Gentiles [St. Paul] says elsewhere: "What are we to say to all this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how has he not also made us a gift of all things with him" (Rom 8:13)? Would the Father have not spared his own Son but handed him over for us, if he had not already been reconciled? If fact it seems, doesn't it, as if this text contradicts the former one? There the Son dies for us, and the Father is reconciled to us through his death. But if it comes to that, I observe that the Father loved us not merely before the Son died for us, but before he founded the world, as the Apostle bears witness: "As he chose us in him before the foundation of the world" (Eph 1:4). Nor does the Father's not sparing him mean that the Son was handed over for us against his will, because of Him too it is said, "Who loved me and handed himself over for me (Gal 2:20). Thus the Father and the Son and the Spirit of them both work all things together and equally and in concord. Yet the fact remains that we have been justified in the blood of Christ and reconciled to God through the death of his Son, and how that was done I shall explain here too as best I can and as fully as seems necessary. (De Trinitate, Bk 13, ch. 4, 15)

Augustine then goes on to offer his own explanation.

I'm still having trouble with your 8:22pm comment. One more attempt, then I'll give up and go enjoy the snow.You wrote: " it was not because Adam sinned that God willed that the Word became flesh, but God willed that the Word become flesh because Adam sinned. "Do you mean that the Word becoming flesh is not a consequence of Adam's sin, but that both things happened - Adam sinning, and the Word becoming flesh - and that it is a fitting way to sustain the universe because the Word becoming flesh repairs Adam's sin? That's there is no causality from one to the other, but that they fit together nicely? Like a dovetail joint: you cannot say that one side "causes" the other side to be shaped a certain way, but they fit together. Given the shape of one side, it is necessary that the other side be given the complementary shape.

Yes, that does not hold. It has God watching things, seeing a development he doesnt like, and acting to fix it. It inserts God into a temporal sequence and gives him second thoughts, caused by a creatures actions.Have to disagree, Joseph. God does watch things and he does act to fix the ones he doesn't like. He sewed garments of skin for Eve and Adam. (And presumably killed and skinned animals and tanned their hides.) He watches the sparrows fall and makes the free throws swish in.To accuse Gopnik and "many Catholics" of ignorance about "the core Catholic belief" is harsh, imho. The Jesuit who caused the stampede was ignorant?And Cardinal Farley, who studied "at the Pontifical North American College in Rome" and "was present in Rome during the whole period of the First Vatican Council," and who set his imprimatur to an article about the mousetrap theory, was ignorant? this is a "core Catholic belief," it's strange how few understand it and how poorly and inconsistently it's taught. (But for those of us who don't understand it, at least there's the consolation that the next generation will discard/forget the current theories as easily as the old ones have been discarded/forgotten.)

Here is a link to the section in which St. Thomas Aquinas addressed the question whether it was necessary for Christ to suffer (STheol III, q. 46): draw attention to this comment:

But if God had willed to free man from sin without any satisfaction, He would not have acted against justice. For a judge, while preserving justice, cannot pardon fault without penalty, if he must visit fault committed against another--for instance, against another man, or against the State, or any Prince in higher authority. But God has no one higher than Himself, for He is the sovereign and common good of the whole universe. Consequently, if He forgive sin, which has the formality of fault in that it is committed against Himself, He wrongs no one: just as anyone else, overlooking a personal trespass, without satisfaction, acts mercifully and not unjustly. And so David exclaimed when he sought mercy: "To Thee only have I sinned" (Psalm 50:6), as if to say: "Thou canst pardon me without injustice."

I'd also recommend St. Thomas's consideration of the causality of Christ's resurrection in STheol III, q. 56, art. 1-2, which you can find here: too often, discussions of Christ's redemptive work focus exclusively on his passion and death, to the neglect of his resurrection, which quite falsifies the perspectives of the NT authors.

" But then there is the problem of linear time there is no linear time in Gods world. So what does it mean to say that God knew something before something else?"Anne C. --All human descriptions of God (according to the Scholastics anyway) are at best inadequate to what He is, and our meanings of words apply only analogously to Him. Because of these differences, the Scholastics distinguished many meanings of a given word, e.g., "time".So what does it mean to say that God knew one thing at a time before he knew another thing? Well, the things are known by Him as occuring before and after each other, BUT God knows the before and after in one instant. An analogy would be seeing the beginning and end of a road from some high mountain -- the beginning and end are different points, but they can be seen from the high perspective at the same time. Though this analogy is not a perfect description of God's perfect "instant", it gives us some idea of what God's experience of time is like. They distinguished three different kinds of "time" or duration. There is 1) the linear time of this physical world, 2) the time of the spiritual world (they called it "aeveternity" in which the ordingary sequence of a, then b, then c. . . doesn't hold), and 3) the duration of God which, in Boethius' classic definition, is "the simultaneously whole and perfect possession of interminable life." This can be described as the containment of all instants in one perfect, all-inclusive "instant". Of course, the meaning of "instant" then becomes an analogous meaning relative to the "instants" of our physical time.

Gerelyn: Yes, of course, and God also has a right hand (at which Christ sits) and bowels of mercy, too.Claire: There is causality involved, but not one that goes from Event A to God to Event B, as if Event A "causes" God to send his Son for our salvation. The causality instead is horizontal: Event B occurs because Event A occurred. So, as I've seen it said: Christ suffered on account of sins (because of sins) and on behalf of sinners. And, again, the linkage between the two is not to be imagined as if so necessary that it obliges God, but rather that there are manifold reasons to help us understand why it was fitting that God save us through the Incarnation and the Death and Resurrection of Christ. To say that they "fit together" "like a dovetail joint," is perhaps not a bad way for how Augustine and Aquinas dealt with the issue, that is, not in terms of necessitating reasons but for reasons of fittingness (convenientia.

Anne -Please do keep asking your questions. I too am learning a lot from this discussion. As I see it, many Catholic teachers, including the hierarchy, don't seem to realize just how seriously many, many lay people take these theological difficulties. Some people even anguish over them. And I'm not just talking about the brainy ones. I used to teach philosophy, and I know from experience that sometimes the most profound questions and answers come from kids you might least expect them from. Still waters run deep, and often they run quietly too.So thanks again to Frs. Komonchak and Imbelli. Would that more teachers had their patience. Also, I noticed in one of the Augustine paragraphs JAK quotes above that St. A. comments that there seems to be a contradiction involved in his topic -- not a "tension" but a contradiction. No doubt Augustine's willingness to confront contradictions was one reason he made such theological progress. The current Vatican needs to learn to do that-- admit the problems!!

Ann: The engine of theological progress in the Middle Ages was the technique of the quaestio, a method by which apparent contradictions in the Scriptures or the Fathers were addressed head on. There was Abelard's famous Sic et non (Yes and No) and the pedagogical use of it in a work like Aquinas's Summa theologica. But you really see it operating in the works like Thomas's De veritate and De potentia where he will sometimes give ten or twenty arguments on the one side, Videtur quod non (It seems not), and then as many on the other hand (Sed contra), and then offer his own view, but never finishing until he has responded to the arguments with which his own position disagreed. The questions were genuine ones--this wasn't a pro forma exercise--and they arose precisely out of the fact that the scriptural and patristic authorities seemed to be saying contradictory things. I think the technique could still be very useful--I used to have beginning graduate students construct a quaestio on some contemporary issue they were interested in, and they, and I, found it very useful. One could wish that it were more in use among theologians today, and even on blogs....

"One could wish that it were more in use among theologians today, and even on blogs."Do you mean: giving five reasons why the bishops are wary of the Administration's "accommodation,"before pronouncing the "sed contra?"

Ok. It's not crystal clear, but ok.Yes, Frs I and K are patient and helpful. Thank you. It's hard to deny that, on this kind of questions, they know best better.Whenever I see Ann and Fr K agreeing on something, it makes me happy.

A few years ago, I read this article by Francesca Murphy: Brer Rabbit Christology, New Blackfriars, April 2002, Vol 83, 188-198. (It doesn't seem to be on-line. If I can ever find my copy of it, I'll try to make it available.) But it made me think that when the Fathers make use of "mousetrap" and "fish-hook" and such-like images in talking about the atonement, they should be taken to be aware of the limited nature of their images, and even of their comic use. I had never thought of that before.

Patricia: The Catholic Answer to Why does God allow suffering is simply For a greater good. - not so simple. Recall the Newtown massacre last December. Gerelyn: on the thread about circumcision, you wrote: "Claire, Im convinced youre convinced. If you werent, you wouldnt have bothered telling me you werent." In other words you think that what I say is not what I mean. Would you consider changing your mind on that? Otherwise there is no point in my engaging you on this medium. I would like it if you retracted that sentence. Sometimes I want to react to some of your comments, but then I remember what you wrote, and I refrain. It would be good to exchange opinions sometimes, but you have to be willing to believe that what I write is what I think.

Claire I stand by my above "for a greater good" quote . I certainly don't disagree that Newtown was a horrific tragedy, but so was the crucifixtion if looked at only as the single act of killing Christ without knowing , as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story." As I already wrote above, we killed our Creater. In return, we got redemption. Could anything be more evil than killing God? And yet, by that being "allowed", we were all redeemed.Despite human suffering being one of the great mysteries, we do know, from Catholic Theology/Christ's teachings, that suffering united to Christ has great power, redemptive power , which was in fact, the "greater good", of the Deicide.We couldn't possible know, sans Divine Revelation, how the suffering of Newtown (or any other acts of evil), will play out in the whole economy of salvation history, only that "for those who love God, it will have been for a greater good (Rom 8:28). If looked at only at the macro/human level, yeah, it all sucks. The good news is that because of Christ's suffering, we have hope, hope in knowing that the suffering of Newtown or 911 or the Holocast or any other, big or small, acts of evil have the potential to help redeem the world. Of course it doesn't look "fair", but trust that God is smarter than all of us. The end game is "every soul saved." Our job is to keep our eyes on Christ, pick up crosses, and follow. Only when we finally see the face of God will we know why God allowed what we believed to be so unjust. This may help you a lot. JPII wrote much on this topic.

(Hi, Claire. I want to respond to your comment, but since this interesting and amusing thread isn't the place, I'll do so in a private e-mail.) (If anyone wants a copy, let me know.)

The "how" is forever ponderous, but isn't the "why" more important? And that we know: For God so loved the world. Makes the how seem more a a curiosity than the crux of the matter.Abe--yes, thanks for that.

Patricia: see K 12/17/2012 - 12:34 pm wrote like a parent would. I feel rather guilty about praising him for the second time in one day, but his - rather than your reasoning about some abstract "greater good" - is the Christian, compassionate, human reaction:"My first, and later, reaction was that these deaths were not the result of divine action or call or will, but of the murderous will of a human being. I know, I know, the intent was to state a conviction that even this evil does not fall outside the realm of Gods superintending power and love, but the sentence seemed, and seems, too easy to say, distracting from the monstrousness of the deed, sounding hollow in the face of unfathomed grief, saying too much about the unspeakable.We all look for answers to our many Whys, for reasons. But is this not one of those occasions when reasons are precisely what we will not find? In a couple of places, St. Augustine warned against looking for reasons for an evil will, when it is the absence of reason that makes a will evil. To look for reasons for the failure of reason is, he said, like wanting to see darkness or to hear silence. An eye perceives darkness only when it begins not to see; an ear perceives silence only when it ceases to hear. So when our minds seek to understand what lacks intelligibility, we know it by not knowing it. See darkness, and youll understand sin.This doesnt throw much light on things; in fact it leaves them shrouded in darknesswhich I take it to have been Augustines point: that in the human heart and in the midst of human sociability there are dark caves that no light illumines and no words can utter. Sometimes we ought to admit that were simply dumbin both senses of the word."Or, more concisely, remember: Jesus wept.I know that this thread is about trying to apply some kind of logical, analytical reasoning to mysteries, but I think we need to remember not to take it too far.

Claire I fail to see how quoting Romans 8:28 is "taking it too far," or how Father K and I are in much of a conflict. Are you also arguing that the crucifixition of Christ did not bring about a "greater good?" I also made it more than clear that suffering is indeed a great mystery, consequently, I or anyone else outside of Divinity am unable to tell you at this time what if any "good" will come from Newtown. The main point was "When we love God, and even more so when our sufferings are united to His, God HIMSELF tells us, ALL WILL work for good. Perhaps Thomas A Kempis, author of The Imitation of Christ (2nd most read book after the Bible), said it best:"If, indeed, there were Anything Better or More Useful for Man's Salvation than Suffering, Christ would have shown it by Word and Example."I challenge any of you, including Abe, to offer anything in our humaness that can break us more than human suffering, as it's often in, and only in, the debts of human suffering that many of us fianally, still in our free will, call out to God. It's at that point, that man often realizes he needs God, consequently, the faith for salvation can then be made possible.

Claire --I'm glad you're glad when Fr. K. and I agree, and no doubt he is glad I'm glad you're glad . . . :-) But let me go a bit further and maybe there's some disagreement in all this after all.Not only do I think the so-called "Scholastic method" would be a welcome method for doing theology today, I think it is *essential* today that Rome re-recognize the value of dialectics, and it is essential that Rome even encourage reasoned disputations. Its present squelching of obviously justified challenges only serves to discourage the young from becoming theologians, and it causes the clergy to abandon the faithful who, like Anne, are seriously troubled by the problems. And in my experience there are many who are so troubled. Nothing is perfect, and that includes Vatican II. At VII Aquinas was almost totally ignored, having been dismissed by theologians who found him barren for this age. I do not consider myself a Thomist, but to take that attitude towards Aquinas and the other rationalist theologians exhibits a sort of irrationality that is worthy of the Romantics, not the Roman Catholic intellectual tradition. Unfortunately, the present Pope leans towards Romanticism. (See, I knew I could find something to argue with JAK about :-) Further, not only does the rejection of Aquinas and his dialectical method short-change the faithful, but it is simply inconceivable that the secularists will even *begin* to take the "New Evangelism" seriously as long as Rome persists in its intolerance of dissent. And, rightly, the New Evangelism is directed towards the secularists as well as believers of other faiths. The Enlightenment saw very clearly that criticizing one's own thoughts is a means to truth, and the medievals already knew it. The Vatican needs to learn it again. I don't mean to say that reason is the only method of expanding understanding of theology. But it does seem to me that humility demands a proper respect for reasoning. We all can be wrong.

Patricia, I'm not sure how to respond, but when you write: " its often in, and only in, the debts of human suffering that many of us finally, still in our free will, call out to God. Its at that point, that man often realizes he needs God, consequently, the faith for salvation can then be made possible", and apply it to other people's s sufferings, it brings to mind the Inquisition-like Christians of the past who tried to beat people into conversion. Something in what you write seems a little bit off. Maybe an apparent lack of sympathy for other people's sufferings? Maybe a lack of revulsion at suffering as consequence of evil? I can't quite put my finger on it (and maybe that's because I don't have a good understanding of sin and expiation), but I hope that someone more skilled than me will take you up on it.

That is, if you talk about transforming your own suffering by uniting yourself to Christ, that's all well and good, but if you talk about other people's suffering and claim, like Pangloss, that things will work out for the best, that talk seems hollow. Their suffering belongs to them. In and as of itself, suffering is the product of evil. It can be transformed, but as long as it is not, it deserves only compassion, not abstract reasonings about a hypothetical greater good.But I probably misunderstood what you wrote.

JAK --Yes, the scholastic method could be useful on blogs. But rhetoric was not part of the method, and I fear that most "arguments" on blogs are largely rhetorical appeals. They're don't stick to the subject and are largely name-calling.But how about the theologians here (I mean you and Fr. Imbelli) giving us a demonstration of a theological disputation? Or maybe you could each have a team, the Pros and the Cons. Grant could formulate the question. There was once such a disputation in the School of Philosophy at Cath. U. when I was there. It was in Latin, but great fun watching two students pretend they were medieval masters. The "Nego! Nego!"s really flew. (One of them, Robert Sokolowski, did turn out to be a master of phenomenology.)Here's the site again of the light-hearted question, "Whether Aquinas is fittingly called boring." It's funny, but it shows exactly how Aquinas' and the others' disputations were structured.

Claire for $2.50, you can download Scott Hahn's MP3 on "making sense out of suffering." He explains it as simply as I think is possible, in a "cliff note" kind of way; great place to start. I'm quite sure if you listend to it, redemptive suffering would make a lot more sense. I found a link for you., many Catholics never have much or any understanding of redemptive suffering, for all the obvious reasons. Hats off to you for even trying to understand it rather than outright rejecting it. Trust me it's worth the effort, at least to be familiar with it in a general sense. That's where Scott Hahn will be of great help!

Thank you, Anne Chapman, for your questions, which I share. Also to Gerelyn, Ann, Claire, Frs. K and I, among others. Like Anne, I share these questions; they shape one's image of God at least, and in turn influence prayer life. My ignorance is very clear from reading comments, but those mentions of God's love help foster more positive interpretations.I used to think, well if God allowed the crucifixion to happen to his Son, if he treated him that way, what chance in blazes did I have? And what was so extraordinary about God coming to share our humanity? If God creates man a certain way, why shouldn't God partake of what He made? Why create a world that exempts him alone from experiencing what his creatures have to cope with, instead of being willing to share the conditions he decided for others?That image accords well with a God of penal substitution. I read at mass today, God "died for our sins" in the Nicene Creed. I recall a Good Friday liturgy where parishioners were given a nail and then filed to the front to use a hammer to pound the nail into a large wooden cross. By the end, it was studded with nails as a reminder of our part in causing God's brutal death. Yipes.Gerelyn - "if this is a core Catholic belief, its strange how few understand it and how poorly and inconsistently its taught." Amen.I am starting to read Christianity in Evolution: an exploration by Jack Mahoney SJ (Georgetown Univ Press). I find this far more meaningful:the evolutionary achievement of Jesus was to confront and overcome death in an act of cosmic significance, ushering humanity into the culminating stage of its evolutionary destiny, the full sharing of God's inner life. Previously such doctrines as original sin, the fall, sacrifice, and atonement stemmed from viewing death as the penalty for sin and are shown not only to have serious difficulties in themselves, but also to emerge from a Jewish culture preoccupied with sin and sacrifice that could not otherwise account for death. The death of Jesus on the cross is now seen as saving humanity, not from sin, but from individual extinction and meaninglessness. Death is now seen as a normal process that affects all living things and the religious doctrines connected with explaining it in humans are no longer required or justified.In the end, Rahner's words catch my tired, confused brain: to the effect that whoever does not love the mystery does not know God, but constructs an image in one's own likeness.

Patricia, thank you for not taking offense at my comments. It seems that we are talking past one another. But I appreciate your taking the time to look for a reference.

Carolyn Disco,I see what Father Mahoney is trying to move beyond, But, solely on the basis of the quote you give, I think he may be equally one-sided.My point is that I think there is a dialectic between sin and death, and that fear of death, of vulnerability, often leads us to take "defensive" measures that in turn become death-dealing/sinful. In this regard I've several times appealed to Ernest Becker's "The Denial of Death" as an illuminating study. On the theory that the best defense is a good offense, we often respond to perceived threats by lashing out at the other/Other. Cain serves as paradigmatic instance.When I was in grammar school, "mystery" was often presented as a "red light:" you can't understand it, so don't bother. I try to suggest it's like a blinking "yellow light:" proceed with caution. Rahner's great article, "The Concept of Mystery in Catholic Theology" has been a guide.I think this thread has proceeded with due caution in seeking some understanding of the paschal mystery of faith.

"I challenge any of you, including Abe, to offer anything in our humaness that can break us more than human suffering, as its often in, and only in, the debts of human suffering that many of us fianally, still in our free will, call out to God. Its at that point, that man often realizes he needs God, consequently, the faith for salvation can then be made possible."Well what does your challenge even amount to? I'm fine saying that its suffering that breaks us more than anything, but that doesn't seem like any great realization. The problem is everything that follows after, because it falls into the same trap of valorizing suffering as a key element in God's plan for salvation. It makes suffering be "for something," and in doing so, it runs the risk (unavoidable, I think) of making suffering good.What is so mysterious about suffering? The murder of the children at Newton was not a mystery. Nor was the execution of Jesus. Rather, the reasons for why those tragedies took place are all too obvious, all too familiar. I'm not saying that suffering can't lead to something, that it can't be transformative. What I'm saying is that it's really messed-up to place people's suffering on a pedestal as a means of divinization. What Claire wrote above at 10:46 is dead on, and you never addressed her point.

Claire I would hope that I never take offense at anyone like you with an honest attempt to understand the faith. I will make one last attempt as simply as I can make it. God created man and women. Man sinned against God, consequently, the entire human race was in need of redemption, as God and sin cannot co-exist, meaning none of us would ever be able to spend eternity (heaven) with God owing to our "original sin" obtained via our human blood lines. Being that man is finite, and only God is infinite, only God could "repay the debt of sin" so to speak. Consequently, Jesus sent His son to redeem us. And He chose the cross.From Genesis 3:16 to the end of the New Testament, we encounter pain and suffering, the consequence of sin. Jesus being God, He chose to not only to redeem us, but to redeem us in the greatest of love, total sacrifice. Just as a good mother never leaves the side of her sick child, God, our heavenly father, chose not to ever leave us, both in our joys or in all of our suffering(s). Consequently, His life and passion left nothing, in his humanity, bigger than any of us could ever suffer. That's why He chose to suffer MORE.Not only did He suffer more than any of us ever could, He even invited us INTO His suffering, consequently, out of great love, to even "share" in His redemption, by uniting our sufferings to His sufferings (redemptive suffering).From James to St. Paul's "thorn in his side", to countless references in Scripture, in addition to just about every saint, we are told that suffering, properly understood (and united with Christ), is a great gift. The reason it's a great gift is that it enables profound graces, of which Christ promised, He would always give us sufficient grace for anything of which He allowed. Like many things of faith, it's a great paradox, for sure counter intuitive, albeit true. Before Christ, suffering was "meaningless." Christ gave suffering both meaning and power, the greatest power in fact, redemption.Blessed Henry Suso once wrote:"Suffering is a short pain and a long joy. Suffering gives to the sufferer, pain here, and joy hereinafter. Suffering changes an earthly man into a heavingly man." Copious saints and mystics have written much on the "gift of suffering", suggesting to us, that if we truly understood it's power, a power we will only know on the other side of the veil, we would regret (if it was possible to have regrets in heaven), that we weren't allowed more. In point of fact, we are being asked, with the one we love, Jesus Christ, to help in redeeming the world. This doesn't mean that Christ's sacrifice wasn't enough, only that our with His would be "more."And the really good news of course, is after the short lived life on earth, all suffering ends in eternal joy, in the beatitude of the oneness with God, the ultimate meaning of life, for sure the "end game" of our faith.Lastly I would suggest two things, and being that Lent starts on Wednesday, timing couldn't be better. Pray the rosary, especially the sorrowful mysteries, and meditate on the Stations of the Cross. If prayed in faithful obedience, God will start to reveal some of the mystery. One of the many beauties of the Catholic Faith is that none of us have to be sages to "get it", just faithful. Most of all, meditate on the crucifix, as it contains the entire human condition. There is nothing any of us can ever suffer or experience that Christ, in His great love for us, hasn't suffered more. It's all on the cross.Hope this helps Claire.

Bob Imbelli's comment at 2/8, 5:00 strikes me as very helpful:"I tried to move away from this by suggesting that we not think of redemption or atonement in terms of a transaction: something paid to another, but rather to focus upon the person whose vision and action transformed evil into good."Likewise, his quote from Anselm about the dreadfulness of sin.

"From Genesis 3:16 to the end of the New Testament, we encounter pain and suffering, the consequence of sin."Patrice --The problem is not that we suffer because we have sinned. There is no injustice there. The problem, the injustice, is that innocent creatures -- babies, crickets, horses, Jesus Himself -- suffer, sometimes dreadfully, without having sinned.You need to read Job to understand "the problem of evil". Be sure to take the end seriously -- in the end God punishes Job's "friends" who try to convince him that there is no problem, that suffering is a just result of our having sinned. God doesn't agree, and, in fact, he punishes Job's friends for their fooling themselves, and He *rewards Job mightily* for telling the truth about Him, for saying that He does at least seem to be an evil God. God doesn't want us to avoid this problem -- He wants us to face it and tell the truth as we see it, even though it makes God look evil Hmself.

"Before Christ, suffering was meaningless. Christ gave suffering both meaning and power, the greatest power in fact, redemption."Patrice --Yes, we agree about this. But the suffering is not good in itself, it is good only as means to a good end. It's goodness is derived, not intrinsic. So to call it a gift is not to say that the suffering itself is something to be grateful for -- even Jesus asked to avoid it. It is the *result* of suffering-freely- accepted that is mysteriously good. Suffering then is no longer meaningless, but it is still seems terribly unjust and hence utterly irrational.

Ann: You wrote: "At VII Aquinas was almost totally ignored, having been dismissed by theologians who found him barren for this age. I do not consider myself a Thomist, but to take that attitude towards Aquinas and the other rationalist theologians exhibits a sort of irrationality that is worthy of the Romantics, not the Roman Catholic intellectual tradition. Unfortunately, the present Pope leans towards Romanticism".Thomism was not ignored at the Second Vatican Council. There are twenty-eight references to his works in the conciliar texts, and there was an energetic debate about him and his thought during the preparation of the Council and during its third session. Fr. Congar even could write: "It could be shown that St. Thomas, the Doctor communis, furnished the writers of the dogmatic texts of Vatican II with the bases and the structure of their thought." Congar thought that Gaudium et spes in particular showed a Thomist methodology. I discuss all this in an essay which includes an explanation of why the place and role of St. Thomas was so hotly debated at the Council.

Ann Oliver I never said that "we suffer because we have sinned", only that suffering is a consequense of sin. We are all, in the Body of Christ, in it together. Unlike what many think, sin is NOT personal, we all share in both the reparations and the sins of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our sin affects each other as much as our prayers.Indeed many "good" and faithful people suffer. My point was that all suffering (regardless of how we get there), has value when united with Christ.Job was a pre figurement of Christ; a very good man who suffered much, almost "broke" in his despair (as Jesus in his humaness also asked the Father to take "this cup from me" , albeit Job or Christ (in his huamity), ever lost their faith.Abe, "it runs the risk (unavoidable, I think) of making suffering good."The point is Abe, suffering united to Christ IS good, very good, "redemptive" good. There's a good reason why Christ asked us all to "pick our crosses" and follow Him. That doesn't mean we go out looking to inflict pain and suffering on ourselves, only that we do encounter it, we can know that Christ is with us in it, always, and that is for sure "good."

'Unlike what many think, sin is NOT personal, we all share in both the reparations and the sins of our brothers and sisters in Christ."Patrice --I'm sorry, but according to what i have been taught and read this view is thoroughly at odds with the ancient and continuing teaching of the Church -- sin is *always* personal, and that is why we are responsible for it. We do not share the guilt of others, though I grant you the contemporary secular culture does seem to admit of something called "corporate guilt". But that is not Catholic belief. You are not guilty of my sins, nor I of yours. Yes, consequent on our sinning we can, with the grace of God, be helped to become repentant and we can sometimes influence others in to repent. But guilt is personal. That's why individuals, not groups, go to Hell, whatever that is. See Dante's Inferno for the classic view on this topic.

I don't believe that suffering per se is a consequence of sin. Cruelty and callous indifference to the suffering of other people are consequences of sin, even in the secular order. But mere suffering is a consequence of life or, more exactly, of the life of finite creatures that continue to grow and vary in imperfectly coordinated ways. Some of us are subject to the pain of flat feet because African forests vanished during the Pliocene and our ancestors had to leave the trees where we had lived for millions of years and walk upright on the savannah. Our feet are still trying to catch up. Childbirth is painful because our brains grew larger and the birth canal did not. Microbessinless microbesexploit us and cause diseases which we have not yet developed immunities to or remedies for. Even many of our social ills are more the result of ignorance and shortsightedness than of outright sin. And death is an entirely natural thing in itself, although it can be inflicted, perhaps even self-inflicted, through sin.I don't believe that Adam's disobedience was God's will, any more than mine is. Adam and I must each bear the responsibility. I also don't believe that the Crucifixion was God's will.God's will was the Incarnation. Having made a wonderful world, he did not choose merely to observe it or to play with it like a small boy spinning a top. He desired to immerse himself in it and to share in some sense the experience of his creatures. Why would he want to do that? I have no idea. But I believe he would have done it even if no one had ever sinned.The Cruciixion was our idea and our deed, ours alone. It was a violation of the ancient duty of hospitality and a stunning rejection of God's love, but merciifully mitigated by the victim's plea that "they know not what they do."And in this fateful contest, God proved the more resourceful player and countered our move with the Resurrection.But why, knowing how things would turn out, did he begin at all? Well, we ourselves sometimes do that, accepting a high cost for what we hope will be a greater good. And truly, "image and likeness" aside, he is not just like us and his calculations are not ours.

St. Augustine made two comments in his Enchiridion that are pertinent: "God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to allow evils to exist.""Almighty God, since he is supremely good, would never permit any evil in his works unless he were so omnipotent and good that he could bring good even out of evil."The sentences bear meditation. They're not a "solution" to the problem of evil, but state the terms within which a believer might pose the problem. There is no problem if God is either not almighty or not all-good. Christian faith refuses to choose between these two attributes and seeks understanding within the framework they supply.

I think the Creator is letting us work it out, just as we must let our children work it out. E. O. Wilson: another charming NYT article on evolution from two days ago. Is our little ggggg....grandmother evil for what she is about to do to the insect?

JAK --It seems to me that the manifest presence of great goodness and beauty in the world points to the existence of a good Creator, and this evidence of His nature out-balances the problem of the evil that He has apparently created. No, not all evils are lacks of good. Physical evil is created, and thus must be a product of God. But, ISTM, it remains problematic for two reasons. The first is metaphysical: how can God who is goodness itself and who creates only things which resemble Him somehow, create that which is not good, i.i. evil? Some say that suffering in itself is not wholly evil -- it serves a purpose. But we we look at suffering in itself all we see is something bad. The other problem is the big ethical question of justice: how can a just God cause innocent creatures to suffer? One answer to that is that God Himself suffers with His creatures, that He does not require of them what He does not endure Himself, and this, of course, is a partial explanation of why Christ chose to die on the cross. But this problem doesn't destroy the fact that there is evidence of a good, loving Creator.In the end I think it is a question of which kind of evidence -- the existence of good and the existence of evil -- one finds most persuasive.

I found a 1995 set of notes by the international theological commission about redemption. A partial survey. are a few quotes after a quick scan.Traditionally, howeveras the biblical witness itself revealsall suffering, and indeed death itself, has been understood as springing from sin, the mystery of iniquity in Saint Pauls phrase (2 Thess 2:7). (par. 13 - that's for you, John Prior)The death of Jesus is not the act of a merciless God exacting the supreme sacrifice; it is not a buying back from some alienating power which has enslaved. It is the time and the place where a God who is love and who loves us is made visible. Jesus crucified tells how much God loves us, and affirms that in this gesture of love a human being has given unconditional assent to God's ways. (Part 2, par. 10)All who live in Christ are summoned to become active participants in the continuing process of redemption. Incorporated into the Body of Christ, they carry his work forward and thereby enter into closer union with him. Just as he was a sign of contradiction, so the individual Christian and the whole Church become signs of contradiction as they struggle against the forces of sin and destruction, amidst suffering and temptation. The faithful are united with the Lord by their prayers (2 Cor 1:11; 1 Tim 2:1-4), their works (1 Cor 3:9-14), and their sufferings, all of which have redemptive value when united with, and taken up into, the action of Christ himself. (par. 60)

Gerelyn,Thanks for pointing out that E. O. Wilson article. Mole Rats and Us will make a marvelous book title, if someone will just write the book.

Thank you, Claire. That's an excellent paragraph, that par. 13. It says the limitations of nature (natural catastrophes and such) may give rise to suffering, and so they may. But "limitations" is just one way of looking at the workings of nature, which are a continuing process of becoming that to all appearances is stochastic and undesigned. Only a very great artist could have found a way for his masterpiece to participate in its own creation.Supernovas explode with horrible destructive power, but they seed the universe with elements that life will later use. Plate tectonics disturb and disrupt the earth, and otherwise the dry land would long ago have eroded into the sea, and there would be no daffodils. Asteroid and meteor strikes wipe out whole classes of organisms, making room for new life, including us. Astounding beauty arises and, even more astounding, the ability to perceive it. Is the gain worth the loss? I think so, although I grant that a trilobite might not. But for our purpose here, I think the judgment that counts is, "God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good." Gen 1:31

"Im sorry, but according to what i have been taught and read this view is thoroughly at odds with the ancient and continuing teaching of the Church sin is *always* personal, and that is why we are responsible for it. We do not share the guilt of others"Ann I apologize if I'm writing so badly that you misunderstand much of what I write. I never said we share "guilt" of others' sins. What we share are the consequences, consequently, our sins, for that reason alone, cannot be "personal", at least not in the sense of consequences.We are all one in the Mystical Body of Christ.

Patricia ==Thanks for clarifying your point. It's a very important one, especially when we are considering government policy about many moral issues. Our actions do have consequences in the wider group, but rampant individualism in this country blinds many to the fact.

Off topic: Pope Benedict is resigning!

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