From Fr Pat’s Pastoral Ponderings, June 28, 2009:
Saint Anselm, as we have seen, begins his reflections on soteriology—the theology of salvation—by addressing the question: What is sin? This he identifies as the affront to the honor of God. He then goes on to inquire: What is required to satisfy the offended honor of God. This move from apologetics to theology is known as St. Anselm’s “theory of satisfaction.”
In the history of the theology of salvation, few developments have been more significant than the introduction of “satisfaction” as a category of study. Few likewise, I believe, have proved more troubling.
I concede that some notion of satisfaction was always implicit when Christians thought about “being saved.” That is to say, the very concept of salvation carries with it, at least tacitly, the question, “What was required for us to be saved?”
In fact, that question was raised explicitly in the great Christological controversies of the early Church. For example, a major premise of the orthodox faith affirmed, “Whatever was not assumed was not healed.” This thesis declared that God’s Son, in the Incarnation, took on our full humanity, not selected parts of it. In other words, only the Word’s full assumption of our human nature could satisfy what was needed for human beings to be saved.
This principle, enunciated explicitly at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, was later applied to the question of Christ’s human will by the Third Council of Constantinople in 670. According to this latter council, the work of salvation required a complete agreement of the divine and human wills in Christ. Hence, said the council, a full human will in Christ was required for our salvation. Nothing less would satisfy.
The new component in St. Anselm’s soteriology seems to be this: He introduces the idea that some aspect of God required “satisfaction” by the work of Christ. Specifically, it was the offended honor of God. This was the “debt” that only God’s Son could pay.
I have long suspected that Anselm’s inspiration for this theory may have been a Resurrection chant entitled the Praeconium Paschale. Our earliest extant copy of this text, commonly called (from its first word) the Exultet, is contained in “The Bobbio Missal,” the seventh century manuscript of a Gallican sacramentary. This beautiful and venerable text, which may have been composed two centuries earlier, refers to the salvific work of Christ, “who for us remitted to the eternal Father the debt of Adam”—qui pro nobis aetero Patri Adae debitum solvit.
Although I am familiar with no earlier liturgical text in which the work of salvation was so described, another liturgical hymn, roughly contemporary to “The Bobbio Missal,” spoke of Christ’s work as the remission of a debt, This akathist of Sergius of Constantinople (a monothelite, alas) described Christ as “He that remits the debt of all men”—Ho panton chreolytes ton anthropon (Hymnus Acathistus 266).
This image of a “debt” owed to God is, of course, perfectly biblical. Jesus spoke of God as “a certain creditor who had two debtors” (Luke 7:41). He described the judgment of God as the summoning of the master’s debtors (16:1-12). In the Bible, however, and as understood by the Church Fathers (for instance, Hippolytus, Psalm Titles 4, and Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos 110.3), these texts refer to the mercy of God and to man’s obligation to imitate that mercy. The image was not used in reference to the work of Christ.
It is generally conceded that St. Anselm was the first to think of the burden of sin as a “debt of honor”: Hunc honorem debitum qui Deo non reddit, aufert Deo quod suum est, et Deum exhonorat, et hoc est peccare—“He that does not render to God this honor that is His debt, takes away from God that which is His, and dishonors God, and this is to sin” (Cur Deus Homo 11). And nothing, he went on, “is less tolerable in the order of things than that the creature should take away this debt of honor [debitum honorem] to the Creator, and not render what he owes” (op. cit. 13).
Anselm does not, strictly speaking, find salvation’s “necessity” in God’s will, nor in man. He finds it, rather, in what he calls “the order of things”—in rerum ordine. His references to the Creator and the creature indicate that he means, by this, the order of Creation. Salvation must rectify a problem in the created order.
From Fr Pat’s Pastoral Ponderings, July 26, 2009:
St Nicholas Cabasilas, after elaborating the tripartite structure of soteriology in his comments on the Sacrament of Chrismation, comes to the third and supreme sacrament of Christian Initiation, the Holy Eucharist (The Life in Christ 4.1-2).
Unlike Baptism and Chrismation, Nicholas says, this third initiation rite is repeated for the faithful during the course of their Christian life: “It helps the initiate after their Initiation, when the ray of light derived from the Sacred Mysteries must be revived after being obscured by the darkness of sins. To revive those that fade away and die because of their sins is the work of the Sacred Table alone” (4.3). Our habits of sin make reception of the Holy Eucharist a lifelong necessity.
We all continue to fall, Nicholas explains, nor can we, solely by our own efforts, be reconciled to God. In this respect, he quotes Romans 2:23—“You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?” Nicholas Cabasilas thus—and as though out of the blue—introduces the theme central to the soteriology of St. Anselm: God’s offended honor.
Indeed, Nicholas goes on to explain this point, in lines that are nearly Greek translations from Anselm’s Latin. He speaks of Christ, who “alone was able to render all honor [timen] due to the One who begot Him and make satisfaction [apologesthasthai] for that which was taken away, achieving the former by His life and the latter by His death. To outweigh the injury which we had committed, He introduced the death He died on the Cross unto the Father’s glory, thereby making abundant satisfaction for the debt of honor we owed [opheilometha timen] by reason of our sins” (4.4).
Nicholas is clearly reliant here on Anselm, and it seems important to remark on this reliance. In fact, throughout his treatise on the Incarnation—Cur Deus Homo? —Anselm treats many of the same soteriological themes as Cabasilas and the Church Fathers: The integrity of two natures in Christ (2.7) and the unity of His person (2.9), the freedom of Christ’s will in the Passion (1.8; 2.17), man’s destiny to beatitude (2.1), and the final grace of the bodily resurrection (2.3). Although the soteriology of Anselm seems rather thin beside that of Cabasilas, the latter theologian detects no heresy in it, and, when it suits his purpose, he does not hesitate to incorporate Anselm’s thought into his own reflections.
As we noted above, Nicholas uses Anselm’s “satisfaction theory” in his discussion of the Holy Eucharist. The body of Christ received in the Holy Communion, Nicholas affirms, is the same body in which the Savior “made satisfaction for our sins”: It sweat blood in the agony, received lashes upon the back, was pierced with nails. It is to this very body, which “became the treasury of the fullness of the Godhead,” that the believer is united in the Eucharist (The Life in Christ 4.5).
Although there is also the sacrament (mysterion) of confession which, “when men repent of their sins and confess them to the priests, delivers them from every punishment of God the Judge,” yet even this sacrament is inadequate without participation in the Lord’s table. This is why, says Nicholas, we are to approach that table “frequently,” inasmuch as “it is the only remedy against sin.”
All righteousness before God, Nicholas reminds us, comes through the immolated body of Christ. Human righteousness counts for nothing. “But once men are united to Christ’s flesh and blood by partaking of them, immediately the greatest benefits ensue: the forgiveness of sins and the inheritance of the Kingdom, which are the fruits of Christ’s righteousness.”
In the Holy Eucharist, he goes on, we receive the whole Christ, everything that was assumed in the Incarnation, “soul, mind, will, everything that is human.” These God’s Son took on “in order to be united to the whole of our nature in order to penetrate us and assimilate us into Himself by totally uniting what is proper to Him with what is proper to us.”
“Thus, it is clear,” says Nicholas, “that God infuses Himself into us and mingles Himself with us, changing and transforming us into Him,” as “when iron is united to fire and thereby takes on the properties of fire” (4.6). For Cabasilas the Eucharist extends to men the salvation effected in the Incarnation, on the Cross, and in the Resurrection.
Note: Father Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor of All Saints’ Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois.