That satisfaction “which none but God can make and none but man ought to make”

July 15, 2016

rutledgeIn her most recent book, The Crucifixion, Fleming Rutledge devotes a chapter to rescuing St. Anselm, the turn-of-the-second-millennium archbishop of Canterbury, from his modern critics. Anselm, she points out, “has been blamed for everything from the Crusades to the Iraq War. His ‘theory’ of ‘satisfaction’ has been reviled as juridical, feudal, rigid, absolutist, vengeful, sadistic, immoral, and violent.”[1]

His theory, in case you’re wondering, is a relatively early—and certainly the most famous—formulation of what is known as the penal substitution theory of atonement (PSA). I strongly disagree that Anselm “invented” the theory—as if it weren’t writ large across the Bible. In fact, as Fleming writes in a footnote:

Sometimes Anselm is depicted as having single-handedly introduced an illegitimate perspective into Christianity (at the portentous and suspiciously precise date of the turn of the second millennium). This is inaccurate. Anselm’s insights are anticipated by Ambrose, Hilary of Poitiers, and Victorinus, among others… (not to mention Isa. 53:4-6; Rom. 5:12-21; 8:3-4; II Cor 5:21; Gal. 3:10-14; I Pet. 2:24; 3:18; etc.).[2]

Indeed… Let’s not mention all these scripture passages! I love that she includes an “etc.” after seven references.

(For more on PSA and the Bible, New Testament scholar Robert Gagnon, of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, wrote an excellent essay defending penal substitution, arguing that it is the primary way that scripture understands the atonement, and that the Church Fathers themselves embraced it. I blogged about it here.)

I find the following excerpt from Rutledge (and Anselm) helpful (“Boso” is the name of Anselm’s imaginary dialogue partner.):

We can identify the center of Anselm’s logic in 2.6. Here, he urges that the weight of sin is so great… that there is no possibility of atonement or satisfaction unless the price paid is “greater than all the universe besides God.”

Boso. So it appears…

Anselm. Therefore none but God is able to make this satisfaction.

Boso. I cannot deny it.

Anselm. But none but a man ought to do this [he has already established that it is the guilty party, and no one else, who ought to make the restitution].

Boso. Nothing could be more just.

Anselm. If it be necessary, therefore… that [salvation] cannot be effected unless the aforesaid satisfaction be made, which none but God can make and none but man ought to make, it is necessary for the God-man to make it.

Boso. Now blessed be God! We have made a great discovery.[3]

Rutledge has already argued in the chapter that when Anselm uses the word “satisfaction” he means “atonement” or “rectification”—God’s way of putting things right.

Finally, this eloquence:

And here is Anselm himself, speaking through Boso, giving a summary of the achievement of Christ that could hardly be bettered: “He freed us from our sins, and from his own wrath, and from hell, and from the power of the devil, whom he came to vanquish for us, because we were unable to do it, and he purchased fro us the kingdom of heaven; and by doing all the things, he manifested the greatness of his love toward us” (1.5).”[4]

1. Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 146.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., 157-8.

4. Ibid., 164.

4 Responses to “That satisfaction “which none but God can make and none but man ought to make””

  1. veritasvincit Says:

    Thank you for reminding us that penal substitution has always been and must always be part of our faith.

    Jim Lung

  2. betsypc Says:

    Here is a more concise take on it from the Heidelberg Catechism which was written in the 1600’s:

    Q 12: According to God’s righteous judgment we deserve punishment…how then can we escape this punishment and return to God’s favor?
    A: …the claims of his justice must be paid in full, either by ourselves or by another.

    Q13: Can we make this payment ourselves?
    A: Certainly not….

    Q14: Can another creature…pay this debt for us?
    A: No…..

    Q15: What kind of mediator and deliverer should we look for then?
    A: One who is true and righteous human, yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also true God.

    Q16: Why must the mediator be a true and righteous human?
    A: God’s justice demands that human nature, which has sinned must pay for sin; but a sinful human could never pay for others.

    Q17: Why must the mediator also be true God?
    A: So that the mediator, by the power of his divinity, might bear the weight of God’s wrath in his humanity and earn for us and restore to us righteousness and life.

    Q 18: Then who is this mediator–true God and at the same time a true and righteous human?
    A: Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was given to us to completely deliver us and make us right with God.

    Q40: Why did Christ have to suffer death?:
    A: Because God’s justice and truth require it: nothing else could pay for our sins except the death of the Son of God.

    The Heidelberg was my lesson in what all I did not know and understand about basic orthodox Christianity. I was stunned at how much more info the rank and file Christians of the 1600’s were given compared to the random drivel I had learned across my lifetime. A very modern book about the Heidelberg, “Body & Soul” by M. Craig Barnes, left me wishing somebody had taught me these things sooner.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I hear you! I bought a book on the Heidelberg Confession a few months ago. I haven’t read it yet. But I will!


  3. […] The Crucifixion was also featured in a post about substitutionary atonement on Rev. Brent L. White’s blog. […]


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