instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, April 18, 2011

No sale

In reply to a comment from A Random Friar on my "Payment without receipt" post, I wrote:
I think we do need to keep the connotation of "buyer" -- Jesus wasn't waving a divine hand and saying, "Fiat redemptio," on the cross.

I also think we need to get rid of the connotation of "seller," largely for the reasons CowPi indicated in his earlier comment. The devil didn't sell us to God, and the Father isn't a slaveholder.
A Random Friar replied:
Tom, I'm a little confused. You said, "I think we do need to keep..." and next para. "I also think we need to get rid of." Was the first sentence to say we do not need to keep?

Anyway, for my part I understand that a tit-for-tat commerce exchange does not work, but the writings seem to use that sort of vocabulary, and not entirely without some sort of justification, if we understand it right.

In a short week, we will be singing in the Exsultet "for Christ has ransomed us with His blood and paid for us the price of Adam's sin to our eternal Father!" Now, this can't be 3(b). 3(d) works fine here. We were not "sold" to the Father, but we were rescued from our state of sin and death.

God could have done it most any way, but I think part of the reason here, besides leaving us a concrete example of what it means to be a Christian, is to remind us: love means sacrifice. Sometimes even to the point of laying down one's life.
On the last point, I agree completely.

On the first point: no, I wrote what I meant.

What I'm trying to get at is that we should understand Jesus' salvific act as a ransom in the sense that it cost Him greatly, but not in the sense that the price He paid was paid to someone -- the words of the Exsultet notwithstanding.

Obviously, the words of the Exsultet will withstand anything I say, but I'd suggest they must be understood in a sense that precludes any thought of the Father trading our blood for His Son's. Taking our ransom or redemption in too thoroughly commercial a sense makes the Father seem petty and bloodthirsty. "Adam has sinned? Well, somebody's going to pay!"

It's easy for people to see that "petty and bloodthirsty" and "all-loving" are mutually exclusive attributes; it's all too common for people to exclude "all-loving," rather than "petty and bloodthirsty," from God as preached by the Church.* So while language along the lines of "Jesus paid our debt to the Father" is orthodox, it is also pastorally problematic to use it with people whose faith in God's loving-kindness is not already firm.

I'll go further: An act of commerce between the Father and the Son is impossible. What we experience as an exchange or trade is experienced within the Godhead as a gift of love (what else, after all, is there within the Godhead?).

* The preference for "petty" over "all-loving" might be explained according to St. Catherine's doctrine that, in approaching God, we pass through servile fear before filial love. If we fear God without loving Him, then of course we'd resolve the contradiction with "petty" rather than "all-loving."