Are the Holy Fathers of the Desert seen as an authentic source of true Orthodox teaching?
From Histories of the Monks of Upper Egypt and the Life of Onnophrius, Page 38:
Abba Aaron answers:
I will not hide anything from you, my son, regarding your question. Indeed, he said, when I remember the afflictions my good Saviour endured for us until he redeemed our race from the captivity of the Devil__He gave His body and soul for us__I say, Since God took it upon himself to suffer on our behalf, it is right that we too should have every kind of affliction until he has mercy on us on the day of reckoning. And when he had said these things, we rose that day and left and came home.
Yes, for centuries in the early Catholic Church the common teaching was that
"Atonement" was made to the Devil. So it is no surprise at all to find it in your
quote from one of the desert fathers.
But the idea of the "Atonement" as a Ransom to the Devil was gradually repudiated
and we see this in no uncertain terms in Saint 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-atonement-propitiation 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."
But as we know the silence was
broken 700 years later by Anselm the "Scholastic Doctor"
and the West conjured up new theories of substitutionary atonement, utterly convinced
that the major player was a wrathful God in need of appeasement.