(Some) Patristic Views of Atonement
06/11/2009 - Tur8infanThe following is a list of several patristic quotations (previously posted at the link) that relate to the topic of the atonement. Some affirm limited atonement, some are simply germane to the topic of the atonement without necessarily affirming limited atonement. The last two show that interpreting 1 John 2:1-2 the way that Calvin did was not new to Calvin.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it is not intended to be a representative list. There are a lot of odd statements by the church fathers on the atonement, and a lot of strange theories that some of them adopted. Also, just because they adopted a view of limited atonement (in the sense of understanding that Christ was offered to bear the sins of the elect or in that he redeemed the elect in particular) does not mean that they held to a thoroughly "Calvinist" (what an anachronism to call it that!) understanding of TULIP. This, therefore, provides some patristic views of the atonement.
Ambrose (c. 339-97): Although Christ suffered for all, yet He suffered for us particularly, because He suffered for the Church. Saint Ambrose of Milan, Exposition of the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke, trans. Theodosia Tomkinson (Etna: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1998), Book VI, §25, p. 201.
Latin Text: Et si Christus pro omnibus passus est, pro nobis tamen specialiter passus est; quia pro Ecclesia passus est. Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam, 6.25, PL 15:1675.
Ambrose (c. 339-97): Great, therefore, is the mystery of Christ, before which even angels stood amazed and bewildered. For this cause, then, it is thy duty to worship Him, and, being a servant, thou oughtest not to detract from thy Lord. Ignorance thou mayest not plead, for to this end He came down, that thou mayest believe; if thou believest not, He has not come down for thee, has not suffered for thee. “If I had not come,” saith the Scripture, “and spoken with them, they would have no sin: but now have they no excuse for their sin. He that hateth Me, hateth My Father also.” Who, then, hates Christ, if not he who speaks to His dishonor? — for as it is love’s part to render, so it is hate’s to withdraw honor. He who hates, calls in question; he who loves, pays reverence. NPNF2: Vol.: Volume X, Of the Christian Faith, Book IV, Chapter 2, §27.
Ambrosiaster: The people of God hath its own fulness. In the elect and foreknown, distinguished from the generality of all, there is accounted a certain special universality; so that the whole world seems to be delivered from the whole world, and all men to be taken out of all men. See Works of John Owen, Vol. 10, p. 423.
Latin text: Habet ergo populus Dei plenitudinem suam, et quamvis magna pars hominum, salvantis gratiam aut repellat aut negligat, in electis tamen et praescitis, atque ab omnium generalitate discretis, specialis quaedam censetur universitas, ut de toto mundo totus mundus liberatus, et de omnibus hominibus omnes homines videantur assumpti: De Vocatione Gentium, Liber Primus, Caput III, PL 17:1084.
Jerome (347-420) on Matthew 20:28: He does not say that he gave his life for all, but for many, that is, for all those who would believe. See Turretin, Vol. 2, p. 462.
Latin text: Non dixit animam suam redemptionem dare pro omnibus, sed pro multis, id est, pro his qui credere voluerint. Commentariorum in Evangelium Matthaei, Liber Tertius, PL 26:144-145.
Hilary of Arles (c. 401-449) commenting on 1 John 2:2: When John says that Christ died for the sins of the “whole world,” what he means is that he died for the whole church. Introductory Commentary on 1 John. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 177.
Latin text: et non pro nostris tantum. set etiam pro totius mundi peccatis; Aecclesiam mundi nomine appellat. Expositio In Epistolas Catholiicas, Incipit Epistola Sancti Iohannis Apostoli, Cap. II, v. 2, PL Supp. 3:118.
Augustine (354-430): 2. But alongside of this love we ought also patiently to endure the hatred of the world. For it must of necessity hate those whom it perceives recoiling from that which is loved by itself. But the Lord supplies us with special consolation from His own case, when, after saying, “These things I command you, that ye love one another,” He added, “If the world hate you, know that it hated me before [it hated] you.” Why then should the member exalt itself above the head? Thou refusest to be in the body if thou art unwilling to endure the hatred of the world along with the Head. “If ye were of the world,” He says, “the world would love its own.” He says this, of course, of the whole Church, which, by itself, He frequently also calls by the name of the world: as when it is said, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” And this also: “The Son of man came not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” And John says in his epistle: “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also [for those] of the whole world.” The whole world then is the Church, and yet the whole world hateth the Church. The world therefore hateth the world, the hostile that which is reconciled, the condemned that which is saved, the polluted that which is cleansed.
3. But that world which God is in Christ reconciling unto Himself, which is saved by Christ, and has all its sins freely pardoned by Christ, has been chosen out of the world that is hostile, condemned, and defiled. For out of that mass, which has all perished in Adam, are formed the vessels of mercy, whereof that world of reconciliation is composed, that is hated by the world which belongeth to the vessels of wrath that are formed out of the same mass and fitted to destruction. Finally, after saying, “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own,” He immediately added, “But because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” And so these men were themselves also of that world, and, that they might no longer be of it, were chosen out of it, through no merit of their own, for no good works of theirs had preceded; and not by nature, which through free-will had become totally corrupted at its source: but gratuitously, that is, of actual grace. For He who chose the world out of the world, effected for Himself, instead of finding, what He should choose: for “there is a remnant saved according to the election of grace. And if by grace,” he adds, “then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.” NPNF1: Vol. VII, Tractates on John, Tractate LXXXVII, §2-3, John 15:17-19.
Augustine (354-430): Hence things that are lawful are not all good, but everything unlawful is not good. Just as everyone redeemed by Christ's blood is a human being, but human beings are not all redeemed by Christ's blood, so too everything that is unlawful is not good, but things that are not good are not all unlawful. As we learn from the testimony of the apostle, there are some things that are lawful but are not good. John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Adulterous Marriages, Part 1, Vol. 9, trans. Ray Kearney, O.P., Book One, 15, 16 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p. 153.
Chrysostom (349-407) on Hebrews 9:28. “So Christ was once offered.”: By whom offered? evidently by Himself. Here he says that He is not Priest only, but Victim also, and what is sacrificed. On this account are [the words] “was offered.” “Was once offered” (he says) “to bear the sins of many.” Why “of many,” and not “of all”? Because not all believed, For He died indeed for all, that is His part: for that death was a counterbalance against the destruction of all men. But He did not bear the sins of all men, because they were not willing. NPNF1: Vol. XIV, Epistle to the Hebrews, Homly 17.
Prosper of Aquitaine (d. 463): He is not crucified with Christ who is not a member of the body of Christ. When, therefore, our Saviour is said to be crucified for the redemption of the whole world, because of his true assumption of the human nature, yet may he be said to be crucified only for them unto whom his death was profitable. . . . Diverse from these is their lot who are reckoned amongst them of whom is is said, ‘the world knew him not.’
Latin text: Non est autem crucifixus in Christo, qui non est membrum corporis Christi, nec est membrum corporis Christi, qui non per aquam et Spiritum sanctum induit Christum. Qui ideo in infirmitate nostra communionem subiit mortis, ut nos in virtute ejus haberemus consortium resurrectionis. Cum itaque rectissime dicatur Salvator pro totius mundi redemptione crucifixus, propter veram humanae naturae susceptionem, et propter communem in primo homine omnium perditionem: potest tamen dici pro his tantum crucifixus quibus mors ipsius profuit. . . . Diversa ergo ab istis sors eorum est qui inter illos censentur de quibus dicitur; Mundus eum non cognovit. Responsiones ad Capitula Gallorum, Capitulum IX, Responsio, PL 51:165.
Prosper of Aquitaine (d. 463): Doubtless the propriety of redemption is theirs from whom the prince of this world is cast out. The death of Christ is not to be so laid out for human-kind, that they also should belong unto his redemption who were not to be regenerated.
Latin text: Redemptionis proprietas haud dubie penes illos est, de quibus princeps mundi missus est foras, et jam non vasa diaboli, sed membra sunt Christi. Cujus mors non ita impensa est humano generi, ut ad redemptionem ejus etiam qui regenerandi non erant pertinerint. Responsiones ad Capitula Objectionum Vincentianarum, Capitulum Primum, Responsio, PL 51:178.
Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-466) commenting on Hebrews 9:27-28: As it is appointed for each human being to die once, and the one who accepts death’s decree no longer sins but awaits the examination of what was done in life, so Christ the Lord, after being offered once for us and taking up our sins, will come to us again, with sin no longer in force, that is, with sin no longer occupying a place as far as human beings are concerned. He said himself, remember, when he still had a mortal body, “He committed no sin, nor was guile found in his mouth.” It should be noted, of course, that he bore the sins of many, not of all: not all came to faith, so he removed the sins of the believers only. Robert Charles Hill, Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentary on the Letters of St. Paul, Vol. 2 (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001), p. 175.
Bede (672/673-735) commenting on 1 John 2:1: The Lord intercedes for us not by words but by his dying compassion, because he took upon himself the sins which he was unwilling to condemn his elect for. On 1 John. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 177.
Latin text: Interpellat ergo pro nobis Dominus, non voce, sed miseratione, quia quod damnare in electis noluit, suscipiendo servavit. In Primam Epistolam S. Joannis, Caput II, PL 93:89.
Bede (672/673-735) commenting on 1 John 2:2: In his humanity Christ pleads for our sins before the Father, but in his divinity he has propitiated them for us with the Father. Furthermore, he has not done this only for those who were alive at the time of his death, but also for the whole church which is scattered over the full compass of the world, and it will be valid for everyone, from the very first among the elect until the last one who will be born at the end of time. This verse is therefore a rebuke to the Donatists, who thought that the true church was to be found only in Africa. The Lord pleads for the sins of the whole world, because the church which he has bought with his blood exists in every corner of the globe. On 1 John. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 178.
Latin text: Qui per humanitatem interpellat pro nobis apud Patrem, idem per divinitatem propitiatur nobis cum Patre. . . . Non pro illis solum propitiatio est Dominus, quibus tunc in carne viventibus scribebat Joannes, sed etiam pro omni Ecclesia quae per totam mundi latitudinem diffusa est, primo nimirum electo usque ad ultimum qui in fine mundi nasciturus est porrecta. Quibus verbis Donatistarum schisma reprobat, qui in Africae solum finibus Ecclesiam Christi esse dicebant inclusam. Pro totius ergo mundi peccatis interpellat Dominus, quia per totum mundum est Ecclesia, quam suo sanguine comparavit. In Primam Epistolam S. Joannis, Caput II, PL 93:90.