I am fascinated to read Augustine on the nature and necessity of Christ's incarnation and death. I am reading from Augustine, On the Trinity, ch. 10. The chapter numbers I focused on were 10-18, while the paragraph numbers were actually 13-23. Readers can and I'd say should read it firsthand HERE:
Augustine focuses on why Jesus died. Was it necessary? Why was it necessary? What did it accomplish? And how does this differ from the Satisfaction theory of Anselm and Penal Substitution theory of John Calvin. [David Guretzki, thanks for putting me on this question].
Here is what I believe I discovered:
But what is meant byjustified in His blood?What power is there in this blood, I beseech you, that they who believe should be justified in it? And what is meant bybeing reconciled by the death of His Son?Was it indeed so, that when God the Father was angry with us, He saw the death of His Son for us, and was appeased towards us? Was then His Son already so far appeased towards us, that He even deigned to die for us; while the Father was still so far angry, that except His Son died for us, He would not be appeased? And what, then, is that which the same teacher of the Gentiles himself says in another place:What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all; how has He not with Him also freely given us all things?Pray, unless the Father had been already appeased, would He have delivered up His own Son, not sparing Him for us? Does not this opinion seem to be as it were contrary to that? In the one, the Son dies for us, and the Father is reconciled to us by His death; in the other, as though the Father first loved us, He Himself on our account does not spare the Son, He Himself for us delivers Him up to death. But I see that the Father lovedus also before, not only before the Son died for us, but before He created the world; the apostlehimself being witness, who says,According as He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world.Nor was the Son delivered up for us as it were unwillingly, the Father Himself not sparing Him; for it is said also concerning Him,Who loved me, and delivered up Himself for me.Therefore together both the Father and the Son, and the Spirit of both, work all things equally and harmoniously; yet we are justified in the blood of Christ, and we are reconciled to God by the death of His Son.
Thereforewe shall be saved from wrath through Him;from the wrath certainly of God, which is nothing else but just retribution. For the wrath of God is not, as is that of man, a perturbation of the mind; but it is the wrath of Him to whom Holy Scripture says in another place,But You, O Lord, mastering Your power, judgest with calmness.
Response by Ben Myers
Nice work, Brad. Just a couple of thoughts to add: in my observation, Augustine's most common way of talking about 'atonement' seems to be with metaphors of healing and medicine. Christ is a medicine that heals our nature. What do we need to be healed from? Aug's usual answer (repeated hundreds of times through his works) is pride. It's specifically the humility of the Son (in both incarnation and crucifixion) that functions as a medicine to heal our pride. (But don't think of pride as just a false attitude - it has a kind of ontological weight; it's a disorder of the soul that pulls us away from God and toward ourselves, i.e. toward nothingness.) Anyway I don't have all the details totally clear in my mind but I would say that seems to be the general picture of how the 'atonement' works in Augustine.
Response by Archimandrite Gerasim Power
This is a very interesting post, Brad! Very refreshing in fact. The Blessed Augustine is quite the enigma to everyone, especially Eastern Orthodox Christians. His theology is at first sight, really way out there.
His understanding of the incarnation tends not to emphasize the idea that Christ would have been incarnate whether we had sinned or not, in order to fulfill God's plan of theosis, and that after the Fall, it took on the quality of a 'rescue mission', so that the plan would continue.
In order to understand anything of his theology, one must first understand the man himself. He was a brilliant rhetorician with exceptional Latin, and a very weak knowledge of Greek. He led a typically dissolute life in the 4th cent. Roman Empire. His very patrician father was rather ill-tempered and stern, his mother, gentle and pious. He was highly educated and also was once a rather duelistic Manichean. His conversion was not only an intense spiritual thing, but also quite emotional, as was he. His love for God was extremely deep, his remorse and contrition over his former way of life, almost overwhelming, his gratitude to God as his Saviour, beyond words. It is in his short, but significant monastic writings (yes he was a monk of sorts), his homilies, and his Confessions that we can get a true picture of just who this guy was and what made him tick - including theologically.
While not, of course, agreeing with many of his theological ideas, I do feel that the Scholastics of the Mediaeval period in the West, not to mention the Protestant Reformers of the 16th, have largely misunderstood, hijacked, and distorted the thoughts of Augustine. Only by really looking at the man himself and his life can we actually get anywhere near understanding his ideas, theological or otherwise. My favourite quote of his, coming from his Confessions, where he totally bares his soul to me really sums up what Augustine of Hippo is all about - and it's among the most beautiful of thoughts:
"You called, You shouted, and You broke through my deafness. You flashed, You shone, and You dispelled my blindness. You breathed Your fragrance on me; I gasped and now I pant for You. I have tasted You, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace, Oh Beauty ever ancient, ever new, how late have I loved You!"
Response by David Guretzki
Some good stuff in this article, but I think you over reach on point 4. Augustine's resistance to wrath as a perturbance in God does not mean that wrath is therefore ad extra to God and somehow now a descriptor of the human. Augustine does in fact still talk about appeasing God's wrath through the mediation of the Son. Rather, he is saying that wrath of humanity is tainted by emotion (that's his Platonism coming through) but for God, wrath is impassioned and therefore just. But it is still IN God and sent by God to abide on humans in their sinfulness. So I think you may be reading in to Augustine a notion of wrath as "natural consequences to sin" where it isn't.
See his Letter 164 to Evodius regarding the Descenus.
It also might be important to note the date of the letter relative to City of God. Augustine did develop.
See also this Brigham Young article on "The Harrowing of Hell." It seems to echo a few things about what I thought about Augustine.
Brad's Final Thoughts
I am grateful to Dr. Ben Myers, Fr. Gerasim and Dr. David Guretzki for their contributions. Between their insights and the further readings they suggested, I have come to the following thoughts and questions, all still tentative and contingent on further study:
1. The big question for me is whether or not Augustine’s position on the descensus requires him to come up with an alternative necessity for the death of Christ that leads to satisfaction motifs. It need not if the death and resurrection itself functions as the mechanism by which God frees us from death.
2. After reading Augustine's Letter to Evodius, I concluded that that Augustine’s version of descensus is much narrower than the Eastern Fathers and Liturgy, which unanimously speaks of Christ's death and descent to metaphorically “raise up Adam [human nature] with himself" by his resurrection. That is, the Eastern decensus seams Christ's death and resurrection together for the ontological salvation of humanity from death.
Augustine's focus in the letter focuses more narrowly on debates within the descensus discussion re: 1 Peter (and there’s a wide range of opinion on this even in the East). But what he seems to hold in common with them is that Christ descends by death into death, but Satan, death and hell cannot hold him. He is victorious over them by the resurrection, SO THAT the elect are raised by grace to their resurrection from death to life by faith (?)--not in some afterlife rescue but here and now (by grace thru baptism?) and at the end of the age (and this seems how the East applies it as well).
So in Augustine's embrace of Christ’s personal victory over death by death, at least in this letter, he follows the other Fathers logic that there is no need for some additional atoning mechanism (eg satisfaction, appeasement) to justify the Father’s forgiveness. His grace initiates the saving act by which Christ assumes human nature, endures the human condition and overcomes it in himself, and does so righteously. My tentative conclusion is that his conservative interpretation of descensus maintains the necessary core: that God cures death by unilateral death, descent and resurrection. His issue with the East will not be on that front, but re: his monergism.