atonement

atonement

[uh-tohn-muhnt]
atonement, the reconciliation, or "at-one-ment," of sinful humanity with God. In Judaism both the Bible and rabbinical thought reflect the belief that God's chosen people must be pure to remain in communion with God. The Bible prescribed Temple sacrifice for the removal of sin and uncleanliness. The prophets taught that outward sacrifice must be accompanied by interior purification to be complete. With the destruction of the Temple and the consequent cessation of the sacrifice focus came to be placed on the religious life of the individual who sought to be reconciled with God through prayer, repentance, charity, and suffering. In the Jewish calendar, atonement for all but very serious sins came on the Day of Atonement (see Yom Kippur). In Christian theology, various doctrines of atonement have been advanced in history, all of which give central place to the life and death of Jesus. The classical theory of atonement, widely accepted in the early Church, depicted Jesus as the divine victor in a cosmic struggle with the devil for rights over the human soul. In medieval Latin theology emphasis shifted from the divine to the human side of Jesus. The most widely held theory at this time, often called vicarious atonement, was first stated by St. Anselm in Why God Became Human (1197-98): only human beings can rightfully repay the debt which was incurred through their willful disobedience to God, although only God can make the infinite satisfaction necessary to repay it; therefore God must send the God-man, Jesus Christ, to satisfy both these conditions. Anselm's doctrine, slightly altered or elaborated, has become part of Roman Catholic theology and of that of many Protestant churches. In another theory of atonement emphasis is placed on God's unconditional mercy and on the gradual growth toward union with God as inspired by Christ's selfless example. This theory was given its standard form by Peter Abelard in the 12th cent. Here the juridical concept is replaced by an organic and social concept. The tendency today in the Church is not to regard any single interpretation of atonement as all-embracing but to view Christ's atoning work from a variety of vantage points.

See G. Aulén, Christus Victor (tr. 1931); F. W. Dillistone, The Christian Understanding of Atonement (1968).

Atonement, Day of: see Yom Kippur.

Religious concept in which obstacles to reconciliation with God are removed, usually through sacrifice. Most religions have rituals of purification and expiation by which the relation of the individual to the divine is strengthened. In Christianity, atonement is achieved through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and some Protestant churches, penance is a sacrament that allows for personal atonement (see confession). In Judaism the annual Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is the culmination of 10 days centered on repentance.

Learn more about atonement with a free trial on Britannica.com.

The atonement is a doctrine found within both Christianity and Judaism. It describes how sin can be forgiven by God. In Judaism, Atonement is said to be the process of forgiving or pardoning a transgression. This was originally accomplished through rituals performed by a Levite on the holiest day of the Jewish year: Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). In Christian theology the atonement refers to the forgiving or pardoning of sin through the death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion which made possible the reconciliation between God and creation. Within Christianity there are numerous technical theories for how such atonement might work, including the ransom theory, the Abelardian theory, and the Anselmian satisfaction theory.

Etymology

The word atonement gained widespread use in the sixteenth century after William Tyndale recognized that there was not a direct translation of the concept into English. In order to explain the doctrine of Christ's sacrifice, which accomplished both the remission of sin and reconciliation of man to God, Tyndale invented a word that would encompass both actions. He wanted to overcome the inherent limitations of the word "reconciliation" while incorporating the aspects of "propitiation" and forgiveness. It is interesting to note that while Tyndale labored to translate the 1526 English Bible, his proposed word comprises two parts, 'at' and 'onement,' which also means reconciliation, but combines it with something more. Although one thinks of the Jewish Fast of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the Hebrew word is 'kaper' meaning 'a covering', so one can see that 'reconciliation' doesn't precisely contain all the necessary components of the word atonement. Expiation means "to atone for." Reconciliation comes from Latin roots re, meaning "again"; con, meaning "with"; and ultimately, 'sol', a root meaning "seat". Reconciliation, therefore, literally means "to sit again with." While this meaning may appear sufficient, Tyndale thought that if translated as "reconciliation," there would be a pervasive misunderstanding of the word's deeper significance to not just reconcile, but "to cover," so the word was invented.

Atonement in Christianity

Christians have used three different metaphors to understand how the atonement might work. Churches and denominations may vary in which metaphor they consider most accurately fits into their theological perspective, however all Christians emphasise that Jesus is the Saviour of the world and through his death the sins of mankind have been forgiven.

The first metaphor, epitomised by the "ransom to Satan" theory, was used by the fourth-century theologian Gregory of Nyssa based on verses such as Mark 10:45 – "the Son of Man came … to give his life as a ransom for the many". In this metaphor Jesus liberates mankind from slavery to Satan and thus death by giving his own life as a ransom. Victory over Satan consists of swapping the life of the perfect (Jesus), for the lives of the imperfect (mankind). A variation of this view is known as the "Christus Victor" theory, and sees Jesus not used as a ransom but rather defeating Satan in a spiritual battle and thus freeing enslaved mankind by defeating the captor.

The second metaphor, used by the eleventh century theologian Anselm, is called the "satisfaction" theory. In this picture mankind owes a debt not to Satan, but to sovereign God himself. A sovereign may well be able to forgive an insult or an injury in his private capacity, but because he is a sovereign he cannot if the state has been dishonoured. Anselm argued that the insult given to God is so great that only a perfect sacrifice could satisfy and Jesus, being both God and man, was this perfect sacrifice. A variation on this theory is the commonly held Protestant "penal substitution theory," which instead of considering sin as an affront to God’s honour, sees sin as the breaking of God’s moral law. Placing a particular emphasis on Romans 6:23 (the wages of sin is death), penal substitution sees sinful man as being subject to God’s wrath with the essence of Jesus' saving work being his substitution in the sinner's place, bearing the curse in the place of man (Gal. 3:13). A third variation that also falls within this metaphor is Hugo Grotius’ "governmental theory", which sees Jesus receiving a punishment as a public example of the lengths to which God will go to uphold the moral order.

The third metaphor is that of healing, associated with Pierre Abélard in the eleventh century, and Paul Tillich in the twentieth. In this picture Jesus’ death on the cross demonstrates the extent of God’s love for us, and moved by this great act of love mankind responds and is transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. This view is favoured by most liberal theologians as the moral influence view, and also forms the basis for Rene Girard’s "mimetic desire" theory (not to be confused with meme theory).

Main theories in detail

Ransom & Christus Victor

Satisfaction

Substitution

Governmental

Moral influence

Scapegoating

William Tyndale (who invented the word from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts), René Girard, James Alison, Mark Heim, Gerhard Förde see 'In Christianity' in Scapegoat

Other denominational perspectives

Eastern Christianity

Eastern Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism have a substantively different soteriology; this is sometimes cited as the core difference between Eastern and Western Christianity. In contrast to other forms of Christianity, the Orthodox tend to use the word "expiation" with regard to what is accomplished in the sacrificial act. In Orthodox theology, expiation is an act of offering that seeks to change the one making the offering. The Greek word that is translated both into propitiation and expiation is "hilasmos" which means "to make acceptable and enable one to draw close to God". Thus the Orthodox emphasis would be that Christ died, not to appease an angry and vindictive Father, or to avert the wrath of God, but to change people so that they may become more like God (see Theosis).

Roman Catholic views on atonement and reparation

As expressed by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor, in the Roman Catholic tradition the concepts of atonement and redemption are often seen as being inherently related. And atonement is often balanced with specific Acts of Reparation which relate the sufferings and death of Christ to the forgiveness of sins.

Moreover, in Miserentissimus Redemptor the Pontif called acts of reparation a duty for Roman Catholics:

"We are holden to the duty of reparation and expiation by a certain more valid title of justice and of love." ... "Moreover this duty of expiation is laid upon the whole race of men

Pope John Paul II referred to the concept as:

"the unceasing effort to stand beside the endless crosses on which the Son of God continues to be crucified".

Specific Roman Catholic practices such as the Rosary of the Holy Wounds (which does not include the usual rosary mysteries) focus on specific redemptive aspects of Christ's suffering in Calvary.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) expands the doctrine of the atonement complementary to the substitutionary atonement concept, including the following:

  • Suffering in Gethsemane. The Atonement began in Gethsemane and ends with Christ's resurrection. (Luke 22:44; Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-19; Mosiah 3:7; Alma 7:11-13. Christ described this agony in the Doctrine and Covenants as follows: "...how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.... Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit..." (19:15,18).
  • The relationship of justice, mercy, agency, and God's unconditional love. Christ's infinite atonement was required to satisfy the demands of justice based on eternal law, rendering Him Mediator, Redeemer, and Advocate with the Father. Thus, he proffers divine mercy to the truly penitent who voluntarily come unto him, offering them the gift of his grace to "lift them up" and "be perfected in Him" through his merits (2 Nephi 2 and 9; Alma 12, 34, and 42; Moroni 9:25; 10:33; compare Isaiah 55:1-9).
  • No need for infant baptism. Christ's atonement completely resolved the consequence from the fall of Adam of spiritual death for infants, young children and those of innocent mental capacity who die before an age of self-accountability, hence all these are resurrected to eternal life in the resurrection. However, baptism is required of those who are deemed by God to be accountable for their actions.
  • Empathetic purpose. Christ suffered pain and agony not only for the sins of all men, but also to experience their physical pains, illnesses, anguish from addictions, emotional turmoil and depression, "that His bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:12; compare Isaiah 53:4).

"The word (atonement) describes the setting 'at one' of those who have been estranged, and denotes the reconciliation of man to God. Sin is the cause of the estrangement, and therefore the purpose of the atonement is to correct or overcome the consequences of sin." (Bible Dictionary in the LDS version of the King James Bible.)

New Age

New Age writer JJ Dewey synthesizes Western and Eastern religion to contend that "true atonement is a revelation of the truth so illusion passes away and guilt is lifted".

See also

References

External links

Search another word or see atonementon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature