Lent 2015, Day Thirty-Four—Augustine (9)

For today’s citation, my last one from Augustine (perhaps!), I turn again to his sermonic material.  This passage comes from a sermon which also contributes to the liturgy of a number of churches for Holy Week.

In other words, he performed the most wonderful exchange with us. Through us, he died; through him, we shall live.

The death of the Lord our God should not be a cause of shame for us; rather, it should be our greatest hope, our greatest glory. In taking upon himself the death that he found in us, he has most faithfully promised to give us life in him, such as we cannot have of ourselves.

He loved us so much that, sinless himself, he suffered for us sinners the punishment we deserved for our sins. How then can he fail to give us the reward we deserve for our righteousness, for he is the source of righteousness? How can he, whose promises are true, fail to reward the saints when he bore the punishment of sinners, though without sin himself?

Jerry Shepherd
March 28, 2015

One thought on “Lent 2015, Day Thirty-Four—Augustine (9)

  1. Hi Jerry,

    Thanks for compiling all of these great quotations by Augustine. I don’t think these quotations are enough to put Augustine in the Penal Substitution camp, though, and neither does Adonis Vidu (himself a penal substitution advocate) who wrote an excellent book called “Atonement, Law, and Justice.” Vidu is refreshingly honest and nuanced about whether or not theologians throughout history can be said to support Penal Substitution. I’ll quote him at length on Augustine (p.38-39):

    “Who punished Jesus? Affirming that humanity justly deserves its fate in death, Augustine stops short of saying that God punished Christ. Throughout his works, Augustine ascribes to the devil the role of the enforcer of divine justice. At the same time he attempts to distinguish God from death (Wis. 1:13), while affirming its justice. Talking about the death of the sinner, he writes that God ‘was not Himself the cause of death; but yet death was inflicted on the sinner, through his most just retribution. Just as the judge inflicts punishment on the guilty; yet it is not the justice of the judge, but the desert of the crime, which is the cause of the punishment (Trin 4.12.15).’ In other words, death due to sin is self-inflicted. It is not God who metes out punishment, but we who bring in upon ourselves.
    While Christ dies the death that is due as punishment to human nature, in his case in cannot be regarded as a punishment, since punishment requires a hard treatment against one’s will; ‘Herein lies the punishment in the death of the body, that the spirit leaves the body against its will, because it left God willingly (Trin 4.13.16).’ But Christ laid down his life willingly and freely; thus ‘the spirit oft the Mediator showed how it was through no punishment of sin that He came to death of the flesh, because He did not leave it [the flesh] against His will, but because He willed, when He willed, as He willed.’
    This is a significant point, for it implies that Christ was not punished by God. If Christ were in fact punished by God, the claim that the devil overextended himself in killing Christ could no longer be made! And it is precisely this claim that Augustine resolutely drives home through book 4 of De Trinitate. The devil “stripped himself” of authority by claiming a sinless Christ over whom he had no authority. And again in book 13, ‘What then, is the righteousness of Jesus Christ? And how was he conquered? Because, when he found in Him nothing worthy of death, yet He slew Him. And certainly it is just, that we whom he held as debtors, should be dismissed free by believing in Him whom he slew without any debt.’ The death of Christ was perpetrated by the devil, who unjustly thought Christ was within his reach (1 Cor 2:8, Col 2.15).
    Clearly, then, this death is a miscarriage of justice. Why, then, could such an unjust death be at the same time a demonstration of divine justice and pleasing to God (Isaiah 53:10)? I think the short answer from Augustine’s perspective, is that Christ’s death was pleasing to God not as death simpliciter, but as the extent of Christ’s obedience to the Father, even in the face of an unjust and cruel death…”
    “…Christ’s death is certainly penal in the sense that all death is penal, not in the sense that the Son is therefore punished by the Father. There are no traces of that idea in Augustine.”

    Vidu is right. Augustine’s main departure from Penal Substitution is that he sees the death of Christ as unjust, not just. Christ redeems us from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13), because he suffers the curse unjustly, so that justice would demand the reversal of the curse through his resurrection. Christ shares our condemnation in his flesh unjustly (Rom 8:3), so that justice would enact the reversal of our condemnation through his resurrection. 1 Peter 2:18-25, commenting on Isaiah 53, is even more explicit that Jesus’ death is unjust, going as far as to say that Jesus’ unjust suffering is the very thing that finds grace with God. Jesus’ death cannot save us unless it is unjust. But if Jesus’ death is unjust, then any formulation in which Jesus dies in order to “satisfy the just wrath of God” is out.

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