Substitutionary atonement and the Church Fathers
EQ • 143
, it would be important irst to deine what precisely is meant by ‘penal substitution’. An initial distinction that must be made is between the gen-eral idea o ‘substitutionary atonement’ and the more speciic notion o ‘penalsubstitution’. Substitutionary atonement broadly speaks o Christ’s death be-ing vicarious: Christ bearing our sin, suering, sickness, injustice, and broken-ness. Penal substitution is a subset o substitutionary atonement which ocusesspeciically on the
aspects o that vicarious suering, understood in thecontext o ulilling the demands o judicial retributive punishment, and thusappeasing God’s righteous anger. A classic example o the distinction betweenthese two terms can be seen in the Catholic understanding o substitutionary atonement based on Anselm’s idea o satisaction o God’s wounded honour.This is not the same as the Reormed understanding o penal substitution usedin
Pierced for Our Transgressions
, as our authors explicitly state, Anselm did not teach penal substitution. Yes, he brought to prominencethe vocabulary o ‘satisaction’, which became important in later ormu-lations. But in Anselm’s eudal thought-world, it was God’s honour thatneeded to be satisied by substitutionary obedience, not his justice by substitutionary penalty. Thus his omission rom our list o those who haveendorsed penal substitution was not accidental.
What speciically identiies the Reormed notion o penal substitution, asthese authors say, is the idea o
satisfaction of God’s justice by substitutionary pen-alty
. Only when the purpose o substitution is
the satisfaction of God’s retribu-tive justice via penalty
can an author be said to endorse penal substitution as itis understood in Reormed theology. This deinition o penal substitution, usedthroughout
Pierced for our Transgressions
, is not however the same criterion they use to determine whether a patristic author endorses penal substitution. Thepatristic study in
Pierced for Our Transgressions
is based almost exclusively on adoctoral thesis by Garry Williams.
In this dissertation Williams deines his crite-ria or inclusion o a patristic author: ‘An author can be held to teach the Penaldoctrine i he plainly states that the punishment deserved by sin rom God wasborne by Jesus Christ in his death on the Cross.’
So while the deinition o penalsubstitution used by Jeery, Ovey, and Sach is quite narrow, the criterion they adopt rom Williams or classiying a patristic author as teaching penal substitu-tion is quite broad. This broad deinition raises the question as to the working mechanism o the atonement. That is, why exactly would God incarnate su-
3 Steve Jeery, Michael Ovey, Andrew Sach, ‘N. T. Wright on Pierced or ourTransgressions’ http://piercedorourtransgressions.com/content/view/107/51/.4 Garry J. Williams,
A Critical Exposition of Hugo Grotius’s Doctrine of the Atonement in De Satisfactione Christi
, (doctoral thesis, University o Oxord, 1999). Cited in
,32. Hereater cited as
, 68. Quoted in Robert C. Doyle ‘Penal Atonement: theOrthodox Teaching o the Fathers and Three Conversations with John Calvin’,
Reformed Theological Review
, 65:1, (Apr 2006), 39. While Williams’ dissertationremains unavailable in the United States, Doyle’s article provides a good overview.