Again, in my mind, this raises the questions:
1) To whom was the "ransom from death and corruption" paid?
The idea of the "Atonement" as a Ransom was repudiated in no uncertain terms by
Gregory Nazianzen (4th century) who said:"Was it paid to the evil one? Monstrous thought!
The devil receives a ransom not only from God but of God ..
To the Father? But we were not in bondage to him ...
And could the Father delight in the death of his Son?"
Of course salvation can
be thought of as a ransom. Following
the Church Fathers, the East teaches that Christ, on the Cross,
gave "His life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28), (Mark 10:45).
The "ransom" is paid to the grave. As the Lord revealed to the Prophet Hosea
(Hosea 13:14), "I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from
In a sense, He pays the ransom to the devil who is the keeper of the grave and
holds the power of death (Heb. 2:14)."Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity
so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that
is, the devil."
But despite Gregory's objections above the idea became popular. Saint Gregory
protested that the question of "Who received the payment?" should not be pressed
hard. No matter what debt the Devil was owed it could not possibly have included
God himself. On the other hand, the Father could not have been the recipient of
the ransom, since he was not the one holding us captive. And if the blood of
Isaac had not pleased him, why would he desire the blood of his beloved son?
Saint Gregory sums up: "the Father accepts Christ's sacrifice without having
demanded it; the Son offers it to honour him; and the result is the defeat of
the Evil One. This is as much as we shall say of Christ; the greater portion
shall be reverenced with silence."
Anselm took aim at the exaggerated versions of the ransom theory, but didn't
agree to leave the greater portion to silence. He theorised that the payment
*was* made to God the Father. In Anselm's formulation, our sins were like an
offence against the honour of a mighty ruler. The ruler is not free to simply
forgive the transgression; restitution must be made. (This is a crucial new
element in the story; earlier Christians believed that God the Father did, in
fact, freely forgive us, like the father of the Prodigal Son - that parable
deserves serious thought in connection with this discussion.) No human would be
adequate to pay this debt, so God the Son volunteers to do so. "If the Son chose
to make over the claim He had on God to man, could the Father justly forbid Him
doing so, or refuse to man what the Son willed to give him?" Christ satisfies
our debt in this, the "Satisfaction Theory." Western Christian theology marched
on from that point, encountering controversies and developments and revisions,
but locked on the idea that Christ's death was directed toward the Father. When
Western theologians look back at the centuries before Anselm they can't find his
theory anywhere (well, there are some premonitions in Tertullian and Cyprian,
but it wasn't the mainstream.) And Anselm's ideas which developed when
Christendom had been rent in two remain, still, essentially unknown to the
ancient Churches of the East.
It would seem to be important to establish a vocabulary. After all, if there
are Christians who teach that substitutionary atonement is such bedrock
theology, then there must be a vocabulary connected with it which can be traced
through the writings of the first Christians and through the early centuries of
Church authors and teachers. It is just too vague to write: "this is all the
language of atonement." The Church fathers never had any problems coining words
to convey concepts which they considered important to them - they never did so
in the case of "atonement." If they had such a concept they would have found a
concrete way of expressing it.