Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Fr. Reardon and Eucharistic Sacrifice

Fr. Reardon is not addressing Eucharistic Sacrifice primarily, but his interepretation of the Apostle Paul speaks to the notion of the Eucharist as a propiatory sacrifice without doubt. Here is what he says,
In classical and Hellenistic Greek, the verb "to propitiate" (hilaskomai), when used with a personal object, normally signified the placating of some irate god or hero. It is a curious fact that since the rediscovery of ancient Greek literature in the West, beginning from the Renaissance, there has grown a strong tendency to impose this pagan meaning of "expiation" on the teaching of the Bible.

Understood in this way, Paul is presumed to teach that Jesus, in His self-sacrifice on the Cross, placated God's wrath against sinful humanity. That is to say, the purpose of the shedding of Christ's blood was to propitiate, to assuage an angry Father.

Let me say that this interpretation of the Apostle Paul is very erroneous and should be rejected for three reasons.

First, this picture is difficult to reconcile with Paul's conviction that God Himself is the One who made the sacrifice. How easily we forget that the Cross did cost God something. He is the One that gave up His only-begotten Son out of love for us. It was Jesus' Father "who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all" (Romans 8:32). Sacrificial victims are expensive, and in this sacrifice the Father Himself bore the price. He gave up, unto death, that which was dearest and most precious to Him. In the death of Jesus, everything about God is love, more love, infinite love. There is not the faintest trace of divine anger in the death of Christ.

Second, in those places where Holy Scripture does speak of propitiating the anger of God, this propitiation is never linked to blood sacrifice. When biblical men are said to soften the divine wrath, it is done with prayer, as in the case of Moses on Mount Sinai, or by the offering of incense, which symbolizes prayer. Because blood sacrifice and the wrath of God are two things the Bible never joins together, I submit that authentic Christian theology should also endeavor to keep them apart.

Moreover, when the Apostle Paul does write of God's anger, it is never in terms of appeasement but of deliverance. At the final judgment, when that divine anger, far from being placated, will consume the realm and servants of sin, Christ will deliver us from it, recognizing us as His faithful servants (1 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 5:9). There will be not the slightest hint of appeasement at that point.

Third, the word hilasterion, which I have translated as the substantive "expiatory," seems to have in Paul's mind a more technical significance. In Hebrews 9:5, the only other place where the word appears in the New Testament, hilasterion designates the top, the cover, of the Ark of the Covenant, where the Almighty is said to throne between and above the Cherubim. In this context, the term is often translated as "mercy seat," and it seems reasonable to think that this is the image that Paul too has in mind.
Now, if the interpretation of the Apostle Paul is wrong in this Romans passage, what does this mean for the Western Church's approach to Eucharistic Sacrifice? In the West, the Eucharist was seen as a propitiatory sacrifice for sins committed after baptism. It is the application of the one sacrifice of Christ in the present. Now the way this has been viewed and expressed has varied through the years of further exploration of the doctrine. What do we make of Fr. Reardon's claims?

The whole article is found here at Orthodoxy Today.


Blogger lexorandi2 said...

Hey Jeffers,

Good question, and I know it's relevant to what you're doing. But there is perhaps another more important question for Protestants, particularly for evangelical/Reformed types: what does this say about how the Gospel is presented in the western churches? If the west is wrong on the nature of the sacrifice, then its view of atonement is skewed, and so is the popular presentation of the Gospel.


P.S. BTW - thanks for mentioning my new blog to your readers.

10:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I understand the point that Fr. Reardon wants to make and that is the obsession with the West's views of God's wrath. But, I am not so sure that he is correct about expiation not being tied to blood.

Take a look at these texts:

Sirach 28:5 If he himself, being flesh, maintains wrath, who will make expiation for his sins?

1 Esdras 9:20 They pledged themselves to put away their wives, and to give rams in expiation of their error.

4 Maccabees 17:22 And through the blood of those devout ones and their death as an expiation, divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been afflicted.

Of course the Apostle John uses a different word for expiation, but I think it is clear that blood is tied to the forgiveness of sins.

On another point, I wonder what Fr. Reardon makes of Jesus' calling out to the Father on the Cross at the point of His being forsaken by the Father. These are just questions and are very important to my area of study just now. This is especially the case in reference to the offering of Christ in the first Eucharistic celebration prior to Jesus' going to the Cross and what actually happened there. A lot to think about!

9:57 am  
Anonymous Mark said...

I think your'e right about Reardon wanting to correct "the obsession with the West's view of God's wrath".

I may be misunderstanding things a bit, but I don't necessarily find the "Western view" of the Eucharistic sacrifice- as an "application of the one sacrifice of Christ in the present",or, more specifically, a "propitiatory sacrifice for sins committed after baptism"- entirely at cross purposes with what Fr. Reardon has written here. He does admit that "the shedding of Jesus' blood on the cross" fulfilled the prophetic meaning and promise of Yom Kippur, where "the high priest sprinkled sacrificed blood on that Hilasterion, because...'of their transgressions of all their sins'".

Or, again, "the life of the flesh is in the blood". The victim slain in sacrifice was not the vicarious recipient of punishment, but the symbol of the loving dedication of the life of the person making the sacrifice. The sacrificial dedication of life is the means by which the sinner is made "at one" with God".

Reardon certainly doesn't deny the place of God's wrath, but, as an Eastern theologian, I think he is objecting to the way the West has identified it with Christ's sacrifice according to theories of penal substitution and by conflating the meanings of satisfaction and punishment. So, for Reardon, expiation is intimately related to the shedding of blood, but it is seen in terms of reconciliation, rather than Divine retribution.

It's interesting that some Anglican Catholic thinkers-C.B. Moss, for example-are not that far removed from Reardon's view of atonement and the necessity of blood shedding-rather than the mere fact of death-as the means of achieving it.


11:55 am  
Anonymous Mike Farley said...

Death is the ultimate penalty and consequence of sin (Gen. 2; Rom. 6:23). So there is an inescapable penal element to sacrficie: an animal substitute (foreshadowing Christ's own death) dies in order to effect atonement.

How about Romans 3:25? It seems that in the flow of thought in Romans as a whole, here is God's answer to the problem of divine wrath that is rasied in 1:18, 2:5 and 3:5. That seems to qualify as a text that combines blood sacrifice as a way of resolving divine wrath.

Reardon's inability to see how God could be angry and full of wrath against sin and sinners and at the same time love them so much as to send his only Son as a sacrifice for sin does not mean that both things cannot be true at the same time. We hardly have sufficient understanding of God to know that He cannot at the same time combine both of these responses to the sin of the world (and it's a strangely rationalistic and very un-apophatic approach to reject an idea because one can't understand how the it relates to something else in God's own experience. As if we can have some a prior knowledge of how God can respond to sin and judge the truth of a belief on that basis!).

6:15 pm  

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