The Atonement and Redemption

A Lenten Study
Adopted from: A Systematic Study of the Catholic Religion, by Charles Coppens, S. J.

13No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” 16For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.f 20For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. 21But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. ~ John 3:13-21

There is some confusion today as to how the redemption produces its effect. It is not enough to say that Jesus redeemed us by dying, or even that He was obedient. These are of course true but we must penetrate much more deeply to come to fully understand the truth. In effect only Jesus could repair the damage that had been done to the relationship between God and man by the sin of Adam. This damage had as its effect, two evils.

The first evil which Christ came to repair was that which Adam’s sin had done to God.

The direct purpose for which God became man was to undo the evil done by Adam’s sin. This evil was twofold: a grievous insult to God and grievous loss to mankind. Making amends for an insult is called “atonement”, or “expiation”. God could have pardoned man without requiring any expiation, or with a slight expiation, if He had wished to do so. But right order violated by sin is more perfectly restored by a full, or adequate atonement; this would also be more glorious to God, and, more beneficial to man. An atonement for sin is adequate, if the honor done by it to God is as great as the insult offered to Him by sin. Now the insult was, in a true sense, infinite. For the more exalted of the dignity of the person offended, the greater is the indignity of the offence; but God’s dignity is infinitely exalted; therefore the insult offered to Him by sin is infinite. Now all the good acts of created persons have only a finite value; therefore only a Divine Person can fully expiate sin. But God could not do so in His Divine Nature; for expiation implies an abasement, to be made humble, which is impossible to infinite greatness. Therefore it was most congruous that a Divine Person should make atonement to God in a finite nature.

The atonement was to be made to God, that is, to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in their Divine Nature. For all we know, any of the Divine Persons might have become man; but as men were to be made adopted sons of God, it appears most appropriate that the Son of God should atone for the sin of His adopted brethren. When we say that He made atonement to His Father, we attribute to the Father what is common to the three Divine Persons. They are so completely unified in their nature that they cannot be separated. Also, it’s important to understand, Jesus Christ was not made, against his will to suffer, He made this atonement completely and freely as an act of love. Not as action from a vengeful act of wrath of the father on the son to atone for our sins as some Christian sects teach. God cannot by his very nature act with wrath upon himself.

The second evil which Christ came to repair was that which Adam’s sin had done to man.

The consequences of their sin were most grievous for both the souls and the bodies of Adam and Eve. They did not indeed lose whatever perfections belong strictly to human nature, as part of it, or due to it, or attainable by it; but they lost all their supernatural endowments, — namely sanctifying grace, adoption as children of God, and a right to the beatific vision, — and also those gifts which we have called “supernatural in a wider sense”. For their intellects were darkened, their wills weakened, their concupiscence left unchecked, their death and sufferings decreed. Thus man was changed for the worse in all his powers of body and soul. All these consequences are clearly stated by the Council of Trent, which teaches (Sess. 5, can. 1) that Adam by his sin lost holiness and justice, incurred the anger of God, death, subjection beneath the power of the Devil, and was wholly changed for the worse in soul and body.

These same consequences have descended to every one of Adam’s posterity, all of whom are born deprived of those privileges. His sin was his own individual act; while our sin is the consequence of our origin from Adam, and is therefore called original sin; it is the sin in which we are born. The Council of Trent says (ib. can. 2) that holiness and justice were lost to us also, and that Adam has transfused, not death and poison only into the whole human race, but sin also, which is the death of the soul.

The nature of original sin is as follows: men are now born deprived of sanctifying grace, or without that grace of which they were originally given when God created man in His image and likeness; this privation had its origin in an actual sin, that of Adam; and it is identical with the state to which a Christian is reduced when he commits a mortal sin. This explanation commended itself to the great St. Anselm, who declares that he cannot understand original sin to be anything but the absence, due to time disobedience of Adam, of that robe of justice which ought to be ours. The chief gift bestowed on Adam and Eve by God was sanctifying grace, which made them children of God and gave them the right to heaven. Sanctifying grace is a supernatural gift which is a sharing in the nature of God Himself (theosis) and which raises men to the supernatural order, conferring on them powers entirely above those proper to human nature. Together with sanctifying grace God gave Adam and Eve the supernatural virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The propagation of original sin is explained if we remark that, when God creates the soul and unites it with the body, which has the nature of the race to which it belongs, He abstains, in view of the sin of Adam, from conferring upon that soul the gifts above and beyond nature which He would otherwise have conferred, had Adam had not sinned.

The mystery of original sin consists in the Divine dispensation whereby the fortunes of mankind were placed in the hands of Adam. This does not violate the rights of men; for they have lost none but supernatural gifts, to which they had no right, but was entirely a gift bestowed upon man by God. And the punishment of original sin in the next world is not pain of sense, but privation of the beatific vision, which is not due to any created nature. Therefore God would have done us no injustice, even if, without the fault of any man, He had created us as we are now born, but without stain of sin. Gregory XI censured time contrary doctrine of Baius. Such an imaginary state of man as we have just supposed is called the state of pure or simple nature; but, owing to the Redemption, man is actually in the state of restored nature. The State of Adam and Eve before the fall was the state of original justice.

The most deplorable loss sustained by man was that of sanctifying grace, the sonship of God, and a right to the beatific vision. The loss of sanctifying grace constitutes the state of sin, which makes us slaves of Satan.

The Redemption freed us from this slavery by paying our ransom in the Blood of Christ. He thus became our “Redeemer”, not by the mere effect of His preaching and example, as some heretics have maintained, but by His bloody Death upon the Cross: “We are not redeemed with corruptible things, but with the precious Blood of Christ, as of a Lamb unspotted and undefiled” (1 Pet. I, 18, 19); and “Christ bore our sins in His Body upon the Tree . . . by whose stripes you were healed” (ib. II, 24).

The spotless sacrifice of Christ was sufficient payment to cover the cost of the original sin. To redeem means to fully pay the price, to expiate, to pay a debt that we in our corrupt flesh could not pay. In Christ, our sins were not just “covered up” but were actually forgiven. Some non-Catholic Christians seem to have the understanding that the sacrifice of Christ “covers up” our sins by covering us up with the righteousness of Christ (imputed righteousness).

Sinners though we be, and forced to confess it with grief, yet the Lord doth cover us so completely with the righteousness of Christ that only His righteousness is seen; and we are made the righteousness of God in Him. ~Charles H. Spurgeon, The Heart of the Gospel

The quote above is referring to 2 Corinthians 5:21 which says:

For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

However, covering up sins is not what this is saying, not in the sense of only seeing Jesus and ignoring the sinner. Covering sins is not even found here. There are many places in scripture that speak of not “covering sins” in that we are not to “cover” or conceal our sins from God. There is a place in scripture that does speak of “covering sins” in the positive. 1 Peter 4:8 says the following:

Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.

What this is saying is to cover sins means to forgive them, send away, remit, to really do away with, not simply pretend they are not there. Jesus did not ignore the sin of the woman caught in adultery, he dealt with it in love by telling her to sin no more. The key point of the passage is that the pharisees wanted to stone her, but Jesus refused to condemn. This is grace in action. Grace eliminates the shame and condemnation that would otherwise come from falling short of the glory of God. This is exactly how Christ has also dealt with us. Through his Love, he paid the price of our sin and in turn requires us to turn away from, repent, and sin no more which can only be accomplished by His grace.

The Redemption of Christ sufficiently paid for the sins of both the past, the present and the future. The generations that lived before the Death of Christ were redeemed by His future Sufferings and Death. Therefore, all through the Old Testament, atonement was made by bloody sacrifices, whose value lay in their typifying the future Sacrifice of the Cross.

Since the sacrifices of the Old Law prefigured the Sacrifice of the Cross, they were of course to cease with the accomplishment of the figure. But it had been distinctly prophecied that they would be replaced by a purer Rite, commemorative, instead of prophetic, of the Atonement. This is one of the most remarkable predictions in Holy scripture, and it was made through the latest of the Jewish Prophets, Malachias, about 400 years before Christ. He first predicts the end of the old sacrifices, and then announces the new and purer Rite: “I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of Hosts; and I will not receive a gift at your hand. For from the rising of the Sun even to the going down, My name is great among the gentiles, and in every place there is Sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a clean oblation” (Mal. I, 10, 11). That this Sacrifice of Christ was to be celebrated under the appearances of bread and wine, had been predicted by the Psalmist, who thus addressed the expected Messias: “Thou art a Priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech” (Ps. 110:4). Now the sacrifice of Melchisedech was of bread and wine (Gen. XIV, 18). Christ offered His Sacrifice in the same unbloody manner on the eve of His bloody Death, and bade His Apostles to continue the same rite in commemoration of Him. It is the one Sacrifice of the Cross, by which He offered Himself “an unspotted victim unto God” (Hebr. IX, 14).

Christ was the Priest who offered this Sacrifice; He was also the Victim offered. The Altar was the Cross. He is “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” (Jo. I, 29)10. He continues to offer this Sacrifice in Holy Mass, under the appearances of bread and wine.

In Heaven, He is ever offering to His eternal Father the satisfaction which He made for our sins. But the consummation of the bloody Sacrifice, and therefore the centre of all sacrifice, is the Death of Christ on the Cross: ‘Christ by His own Blood entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption; . . . How much more shall the Blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered Himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works?” (Hebr. IX, 12, 14).

Christ by His Atonement and Redemption Christ has made Himself our permanent Mediator, or Intercessor with His Father: “There is one God and one Mediator of God and man, the Man Jesus” (1 Tim. II, 5), He can use His intercession the more effectively, as He has both the Nature of God and that of man. This has brought about our reconciliation with God: “Who hath reconciled us to Himself by Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. V, 18).

To bring this reconciliation within the reach of all men, the Apostles were sent into the whole world, to “preach the Gospel to every Creature”; which words show that the Redemption was intended to be universal. St. John expressly declares that Christ “is a propitiation for our sins, and, and not for our sins only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 Jo. II, 2)14; and St. Paul: “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. XV, 22).

Jesus made the Apostles co-redeemers with Himself, in that they had received Christ, were one with Christ and thereby members of the body of Christ, and served to bring Christ to the world. It’s not that they added anything to the sacrifice of Christ but that they cooperated with Him by doing His divine will to bring the message of redemption to the entire world. This is the call of all christians, God calls all of us to cooperate with Him in the work of redemption.

Many non-Catholic Christians have a deeply ingrained resistance to the idea that we can cooperate with God for our redemption at all. In their desire to maintain the doctrines of sola gratia and sola fide, some of them go to the extremes of believing that we can do nothing at all to cooperate with God in our redemption because to do so would be tantamount to salvation by works.

As a result, most non-Catholic Christian belief systems contain a very strong element of Quietism. Quietism is a sort of fatalism: It is that heresy which says you can do absolutely nothing to engage in the work of your salvation. Instead each soul is like a leaf on the tide of God’s almighty Providence. Because of this understanding, it is difficult for many non-Catholic Christians to comprehend the idea that God uses human cooperation to accomplish his will in the world. That human cooperation is actually crucial to the Redemption of the world is not part of their perspective.

However, many non-Catholic Christians will concede that we do, in fact, need to respond to God’s grace for it to be effective in our lives. Even at the most basic level, they admit that a person has to “accept Jesus.” As soon as they do, you can point out that this is a form of cooperation with God. At this point the human will and the divine will are united for the work of salvation as Acts 3:19-20 points out.

Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away, and that the Lord may grant you times of refreshment and send you the Messiah already appointed for you, Jesus. ~Acts 3:19-20

God provides sufficient grace to everyone in order to repent. Man then must accept the free gift of grace by accepting that Jesus has indeed come to save him and then turn away, or repent of his past evil ways in order for his heart to be changed by God. This cooperation with God is not just for the individual’s salvation. The New Testament makes it clear that there is more to it than that. So, for example, we affirm that Jesus is the one High Priest in the new covenant, but the New Testament also calls us to share in that priesthood (Rev. 1:5–6; 1 Pet. 2:5,9)16,17. We do this by sharing in Christ’s sufferings (Matt. 16:24; 1 Pet. 4:13)18, 19. Paul calls himself a “co-worker with Christ” (1 Cor. 3:9)20 and says part of this is that he is crucified with Christ and shares in Christ’s sufferings (2 Cor. 1:5; Phil. 3:10).

If the non-Catholic Christian believes the Bible and wants to live the Christian life, he will not only admit that he needs to cooperate with God for his own salvation, but also that this cooperation is part of a larger identification with Christ, and that this identification with Christ is for the salvation of the world. He will also admit that in some mysterious way, the sufferings we endure are part of the way God works to redeem the world.

His Redemption is indeed for the entire world, every human who has ever lived, is living and will live as we have read throughout this study, not just for a select few.

14For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. 15He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. ~2 Corinthians 5:14-15

1My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. 2He is expiation for our sins, and not just for our sins only but for those of the whole world3The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. 4Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: 6whoever claims to abide in him ought to live [just] as he lived. ~1 John 2:1-6

However, not all will accept His Redemption and being deep in darkness will reject the free gift of grace, as we read in the quote at the beginning of this study in John 3:13-21. Some will point to passages in scripture that says that Christ only died for some or ONLY the CHURCH, but not ALL (Matt. 26:28, Matt. 25:32-33, John 10:11,15, Acts 20:28, Eph. 5:25-27, Isaiah 53:12). But, It’s important to remember, scripture must never contradict scripture, if it does, it’s our interpretation that is incorrect. When the bible refers to some or many who will be saved, this is reflecting those who will accept the gift of Redemption as pointed out above. Christ died for ALL (John 1:29, John 3:16, John 4:42, 1 Tim. 4:10, 1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:14), but only SOME will be saved because they have come to believe in the saving power of Christ.

The Truth Will Set You Free


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