Abelard rejected the idea that Christ died as a result of God’s vengeance for human disobedience. Abelard was horrified by the novel teaching of his fellow theologian, Anselm (1033–1109), who proposed that Jesus died to satisfy the divine justice of his Father, as a payment of a legal debt required as recompense for sin and to restore God’s honor. Abelard exclaimed: Indeed, how cruel and perverse it seems that [God] should require the blood of the innocent as the price of anything, or that it should in any way please Him that an innocent person should be slain—still less that God should hold the death of His Son in such acceptance that by it He should be reconciled with the whole world. Who, Abelard demanded, would forgive such a God for killing his own son?
Later theologians refer to Abelard’s idea as the moral influence theory of the cross, and it would eventually, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, shape liberal Christianity. The theory, however, was rejected by many of Abelard’s contemporaries. Anselm’s idea of blood sacrifice eventually won the day. Although some in the church attempted to have Abelard tried for heresy, the charges never stuck, and Abelard died in communion with the medieval church.
A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (Bass, Diana Butler)
This is a continuation of my off and on again review of the book above. As I have mentioned before it was not until the 10th century that our current idea of atonement was solidified. The above quote gives some details about that. Anselm was one of the first theologians to suggest that Jesus dies to satisfy God’s wrath and distain for humanity. Abelard was one of the few who dared to question the concept. He was quite startled by this claim but since he was eventually on the losing side of this doctrine little is mentioned about him or this conflict in today’s churches.
The idea of sacrificial atonement as cited above has always troubled me but since it is so deeply embedded in much of current Christian theology I dared not think too hard about it or question it too vocally. To do so might have threatened my membership in the Lutheran denomination that I currently belonged. Now that I have declared my independence from that body I can ask questions like Abelard did centuries before me without a sense of retribution.
My major take from Jesus’ teaching is about a God of love, not one of vengeance. Jesus told us that the most important thing to take from his teachings was to love God as he loves us and to love each other. To me I see little space for a vengeful god in those words. Blood atonement simply makes no sense to me.
Abelard was more fortunate than many in the church who disagreed with beliefs that won out. Many were murdered as heretics and all their works burned. For that reason we will really never know the actual extent of disagreement in much of church history. As Mrs. Bass goes on to mention beginning with the twentieth century these questions have again risen with some seriousness. Thanks heavens for that.
8 thoughts on “Dying For God’s Vengeance….”
i think it is the old testament teaching that requires we know both side of our loving heavenly Father. a red cord runs through it, a scarlet thread. of course, we can reject all that too. the lambs didn´t really have to die, the priests were not really required to be pure before God and actually marked in their bodies by the blood of the lamb. but since it is the old testament promise of a messiah the evangels and other new testament writers clung to in their journey, i will too! God bless you today!
Thanks for the comments. Yes, I’m sure the Old Testament and sacrificing innocents to God had a deep hand in this belief. I am glad to see that there is a resurgence of conflicting opinions. Asking questions is never harmful, even to the church.
there is only one innocent among us, that is God Himself. in all creation there is only One who is to be worshipped. whether or not God requires sacrifice, someone put that belief in all early peoples´ mythologies. i like to think it was the God who created us, so that many more of us would have this belief in our genes and humble ourselves before Him.
I don’t know about thinking of God as innocent; he is more the foundation. Humbling myself before God, it is hard to imagine it being any other way. But that does not mean I can’t see him as my loving father who wants me to do what he set before me. There is much in church history that is man-made and myth/fable. Having that is ok as long as we are able to separate it from God.
i guess it is not God who is on trial, or our beliefs about Him, but we ourselves. and since i know that to be true i know also that this is true: how good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity. God bless you!
Dwelling in unity is at the core of Jesus’ messages. How have we gotten so far away from that basic concept??
it seems that unity among believers disappeared with the ending of the first persecution of the church, in rome, centuries ago. but is it really at the core of Christ´s message? i don´t find that. at least not initially, not in the narrow way. as we mature and become more like Him, we learn what it means to never be offended. and in that way live in harmony with all His creation. but before we can get there He does demand separation from many things and many people. what Jesus said about the separation of the goats and sheep, the wheats and tares…it seems to me that separation was very much a part of His message. but even this part of His message must be balanced with the other parts. i think it is dangerous to pick and choose which parts of His message we will choose to follow. His heart is loving and compassionate, but also jealous for the truth. if we are truly His, we will know that.
i´ve been praying for you all day.
i think i have a little bit of an answer to your question, why can´t we live in unity? i was listening to a sermon on holiness. it was quite beautiful, for about an hour the speaker humbly unfolded his ideas on holy living and how to attain it. then as his sermon wound down he started to point out all the people whose ideas about holiness are “wrong.” it was as if his ego suddenly took the podium. and then he revealed something about himself. when he was a young man he travelled the country, following a man who preached about a second filling of the Holy Spirit. he wanted it desperately. he was even married and told about calling his wife to tell her he would follow this man from new york to chicago where the man spoke next. he never got the second filling but went on to pastor his church and learn to mortify his flesh in order to be holy.
what suddenly occurred to me is this: it was not God this man was seeking, but the things of God.
you are an intelligent man, so i won´t go on to point out the obvious in relation to your question.
God bless you today and everyday…much love in Christ,