Saturday, April 2, 2016

Christus Victor Part III

(This post is part of a series discussing Christ's Crucifixion and the Atonement theories that seek to understand the cross.  Previous posts can be found here and here.)


After establishing who and what Satan is, the next step to understanding the classical view of the Atonement is to explore the state of the human condition in light of Satan. To do this necessitates returning to the book of Genesis and the paradigmatic experience of Adam and Eve with sin. 

Saint Augustine writes in De Natura Boni that sin is not seeking an evil nature, but abandoning a greater good. Therefore, when investigating the first chapters of Genesis, it is important to realize that the Garden of Eden and everything in it, including the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, were all good. After all, Scripture states that every creation of God is good. 

Man did not actively pursue an evil nature in consuming the prohibited apple. The sin instead consisted in not taking the better path. Augustine explains, “His [God’s] command ought not to have been rejected in favor of touching something forbidden, even if it were good…”[1]

Augustine also addresses the inevitable question: Why would God place the tree in the garden in the first place if Adam and Eve could not consume the fruit of it? 

The great theologian explains that by not allowing Adam and Eve to eat the apple from that one tree, God sought to demonstrate the critical lesson that the rational soul is not its own god (the sin of Satan). God desired His children to know the value of obedience, which maintains a proper, temperate order within the soul. 

Disobedience, on the other hand, leads to corruption of the soul. The tree was rightly called the tree of discernment of good and evil because by disobeying God, man knew the penalty of sin; he knew the good of obedience versus the evil of disobedience. Saint Augustine concludes, “…sin is not the seeking after an evil nature, but the rejection of a better one, and it is the deed itself that is evil, not the nature which the sinner uses in an evil way; for evil is the evil use of a good.”[2]

Another great Church theologian, Saint Thomas Aquinas, concurs with Saint Augustine, affirming that the sin of Adam and Eve was their exchange of absolute good for a mutable good. In this decision, Adam and Eve forfeited original justice. Their lower powers, once inclined to reason, were pulled down to lower activities via their disobedience. Now, all descendants of their race must struggle as the higher part of their souls is not rightly inclined to God: their lower powers are not guided by reason, but instead follow the whims of impulse…and the seducing, tempting presence of Satan.[3] 

The Fall of Man thus initiated a rebellion within the very self of man between the passions and reason, and this state of disorder (original sin) is now a shared experience of humanity so that all people have an inclination to sin, a condition that is commonly referred to as concupiscence. 

Furthermore, the Eastern Fathers of the Church stressed how the sin of Adam and Eve led to the loss of immortality. The physical experience of death is the outward sign of moral corruption, the inward consequence of the Fall.[4] 

While Adam and Eve freely chose to sin, they were tempted by Satan personified in the serpent. After their wrongdoing, Satan gained dominion over humankind. Roch A. Kereszty explains in Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology, “Being under the power of the devil means that sinful men and women become the instrument of the devil’s projects; the evil effects of their deeds far exceed human comprehension and intention.”[5]

Now, with these preliminary concepts described, the crux of humanity’s sad state becomes apparent. In the beginning, God created man and woman with the set purpose to be happy. Saint Thomas Aquinas explicates that creation would be useless if man and woman could not achieve this happiness.[6] There is an inherent problem, however. With original sin and its effects (disorder in the soul, concupiscence, and immortality), along with Satan’s powerful presence in the world, how were men and women to obtain a state of happiness? 

Sin corrupted human nature; hence mankind was in need of a redeemer to recreate human nature, to heal it, and to free it from Satan.[7] Thus, the redemption of Christ on the cross was most necessary to wipe away the sin that has been transmitted from the first parents.[8]

[1] Augustine, 91.
[2] Augustine, 91.
[3] Aquinas, 177.
[4] Roch A. Kereszty, Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology (New York: Society of St. Paul/Alba House, 2002), 197.
[5] Kereszty, 198.
[6] Aquinas, 212.
[7] Kereszty, 198.
[8] Aquinas, 167.

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