Help support New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more all for only $19.99...
The word redemptio is the Latin Vulgate rendering of Hebrew kopher and Greek lytron which, in the Old Testament means generally a ransom-price. In the New Testament, it is the classic term designating the "great price" (1 Corinthians 6:20) which the Redeemer paid for our liberation. Redemption presupposes the original elevation of man to a supernatural state and his downfall from it through sin; and inasmuch as sin calls down the wrath of God and produces man's servitude under evil and Satan, Redemption has reference to both God and man. On God's part, it is the acceptation of satisfactory amends whereby the Divine honour is repaired and the Divine wrath appeased. On man's part, it is both a deliverance from the slavery of sin and a restoration to the former Divine adoption, and this includes the whole process of supernatural life from the first reconciliation to the final salvation. That double result, namely God's satisfaction and man's restoration, is brought about by Christ's vicarious office working through satisfactory and meritorious actions performed in our behalf.
When Christ came, there were throughout the world a deep consciousness of moral depravation and a vague longing for a restorer, pointing to a universally felt need of rehabilitation (see Le Camus, "Life of Christ", I, i). From that subjective sense of need we should not, however, hastily conclude to the objective necessity of Redemption. If, as is commonly held against the Traditionalist School, the low moral condition of mankind under paganism or even under the Jewish Law is, in itself, apart from revelation no proof positive of the existence of original sin, still less could it necessitate Redemption. Working on the data of Revelation concerning both original sin and Redemption, some Greek Fathers, like St. Athanasius (De incarnatione, in P.G., XXV, 105), St. Cyril of Alexandria (Contra Julianum in P.G., LXXV, 925) and St. John Damascene (De fide orthodoxa, in P. G, XCIV, 983), so emphasized the fitness of Redemption as a remedy for original sin as almost to make it appear the sole and necessary means of rehabilitation. Their sayings, though qualified by the oft-repeated statement that Redemption is a voluntary work of mercy, probably induced St. Anselm (Cur Deus homo, I) to pronounce it necessary in the hypothesis of original sin. That view is now commonly rejected, as God was by no means bound to rehabilitate fallen mankind. Even in the event of God decreeing, out of his own free volition, the rehabilitation of man, theologians point out other means besides Redemption, v.g. Divine condonation pure and simple on the sole condition of man's repentance, or, if some measure of satisfaction was required, the mediation of an exalted yet created interagent. In one hypothesis only is Redemption, as described above, deemed absolutely necessary and that is if God should demand an adequate compensation for the sin of mankind. The juridical axiom "honor est in honorante, injuria in injuriato" (honour is measured by the dignity of him who gives it, offence by the dignity of him who receives it) shows that mortal sin bears in a way an infinite malice and that nothing short of a person possessing infinite worth is capable of making full amends for it. True, it has been suggested that such a person might be an angel hypostatically united to God, but, whatever be the merits of this notion in the abstract, St. Paul practically disposes of it with the remark that "both he that sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified, are all of one" (Hebrews 2:11), thus pointing to the God-Man as the real Redeemer.
The real redeemer is Jesus Christ, who, according to the Nicene creed, "for us men and for our salvation descended from Heaven; and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and became man. He was also crucified for us, suffered under Pontius Pilate and was buried". The energetic words of the Greek text [Denzinger-Bannwart, n. 86 (47)], enanthropesanta, pathonta, point to incarnation and sacrifice as the groundwork of Redemption. Incarnation — that is, the personal union of the human nature with the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity — is the necessary basis of Redemption because this, in order to be efficacious, must include as attributions of the one Redeemer both the humiliation of man, without which there would be no satisfaction, and the dignity of God, without which the satisfaction would not be adequate. "For an adequate satisfaction", says St. Thomas, "it is necessary that the act of him who satisfies should possess an infinite value and proceed from one who is both God and Man" (III:1:2 ad 2um). Sacrifice, which always carries with it the idea of suffering and immolation (see Lagrange, "Religions semitiques", 244), is the complement and full expression of Incarnation. Although one single theandric operation, owing to its infinite worth, would have sufficed for Redemption, yet it pleased the Father to demand and the Redeemer to offer His labours, passion, and death (John 10:17-18). St. Thomas (III:46:6 ad 6um) remarks that Christ wishing to liberate man not only by way of power but also by way of justice, sought both the high degree of power which flows from His Godhead and the maximum of suffering which, according to the human standard, would be considered sufficient satisfaction. It is in this double light of incarnation and sacrifice that we should always view the two concrete factors of Redemption, namely, the satisfaction and the merits of Christ.
Satisfaction, or the payment of a debt in full, means, in the moral order, an acceptable reparation of honour offered to the person offended and, of course, implies a penal and painful work. It is the unmistakable teaching of Revelation that Christ offered to His heavenly Father His labours, sufferings, and death as an atonement for our sins. The classical passage of Isaias (52-53), the Messianic character of which is recognized by both Rabbinical interpreters and New Testament writers (see Condamin, "Le livre d'Isaie" Paris, 1905), graphically describes the servant of Jahveh, that is the Messias, Himself innocent yet chastized by God, because He took our iniquities upon Himself, His self-oblation becoming our peace and the sacrifice of His life a payment for our transgressions. The Son of Man proposes Himself as a model of self-sacrificing love because He "is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a redemption for many" (lytron anti pollon) (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45). A similar declaration is repeated on the eve of the Passion at the Last Supper: "Drink ye all of this. For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins" (Matthew 26:27, 28). In view of this and of the very explicit assertion of St. Peter (1 Peter 1:11) and St. John (1 John 2:2) the Modernists are not justified in contending that "the dogma of Christ's expiatory death is not evangelic but Pauline" (prop. xxxviii condemned by the Holy Office in the Decree "Lamentabili" 3 July, 1907). Twice (1 Corinthians 11:23, 15:3) St. Paul disclaims the authorship of the dogma. He is, however, of all the New Testament writers, the best expounder of it. The redeeming sacrifice of Jesus is the theme and burden of the whole Epistle to the Hebrews' and in the other Epistles which the most exacting critics regard as surely Pauline, there is all but a set theory. The main passage is Romans 3:23 sq.: "For all have sinned, and do need the glory of God. Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption, that is in Christ Jesus, Whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to the shewing of his justice, for the remission of former sins." Other texts, like Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:20; and Galatians 3:13, repeat and emphasize the same teaching. The early Fathers, engrossed as they were by the problems of Christology have added but little to the soteriology of the Gospel and St. Paul. It is not true, however, to say with Ritschl (" Die christliche Lehre von der Rechtfertigung und Versohnung", Bonn, 1889), Harnack ("Precis de l'histoire des dogmes", tr. Paris, 1893), Sabatier ("La doctrine de l'expiation et son evolution historique", Paris, 1903) that they viewed Redemption only as the deification of humanity through incarnation and knew nothing of Christ's vicarious satisfaction. "An impartial inquiry", says Riviere, "clearly shows two tendencies: one idealistic, which views salvation more as the supernatural restoration of mankind to an immortal and Divine life, the other realistic, which considers it rather as the expiation of our sins through the death of Christ. The two tendencies run side by side with an occasional contact, but at no time did the former completely absorb the latter, and in course of time, the realistic view became preponderant" (Le dogme de la redemption, p. 209). St. Anselm's famous treatise "Cur Deus homo" may be taken as the first systematic presentation of the doctrine of Redemption, and, apart from the exaggeration noted above, contains the synthesis which became dominant in Catholic theology. Far from being adverse to the satisfactio vicaria popularized by St. Anselm, the early Reformers accepted it without question and even went so far as to suppose that Christ endured the pains of hell in our place. If we except the erratic views of Abelard, Socinus (d. 1562) in his "de Deo servatore" was the first who attempted to replace the traditional dogma of Christ's vicarious satisfaction by a sort of purely ethical exemplarism. He was and is still followed by the Rationalist School which sees in the traditional theory all but defined by the Church, a spirit of vindictiveness unworthy of God and a subversion of justice in substituting the innocent for the guilty. The charge of vindictiveness, a piece of gross anthropomorphism, comes from confounding the sin of revenge and the virtue of justice. The charge of injustice ignores the fact that Jesus, the juridical head of mankind (Ephesians 1:22), voluntarily offered Himself (John 10:15), that we might be saved by the grace of one Saviour even as we had been lost by the fault of the one Adam (Romans 5:15). It would be a crude conception indeed to suppose that the guilt or culpability of men passed from the consciences of men to the conscience of Christ: the penalty alone was voluntarily assumed by the Redeemer and, in paying it, He washed away our sins and restored us to our former supernatural state and destination.
Satisfaction is not the only object and value of Christ's theandric operations and sufferings; for these, beside placating God, also benefit man in several ways. They possess, in the first place, the power of impetration or intercession which is proper to prayer, according to John 11:42: "And I knew that thou hearest me always." However, as satisfaction is the main factor of Redemption with regard to God's honour, so man's restoration is due principally to the merits of Christ. That merit, or the quality which makes human acts worthy of a reward at the hands of another, attaches to the works of the Redeemer, is apparent from the easily ascertained presence in them of the usual conditions of merit, namely
The objects of Christ's merits for us are the supernatural gifts lost by sin, that is, grace (John 1:14-16) and salvation (1 Corinthians 15:22); the preternatural gifts enjoyed by our first parents in the state of innocence are not, at least in this world, restored by the merits of Redemption, as Christ wishes us to suffer with Him in order that we may be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17). St. Thomas explaining how Christ's merits pass on to us, says: Christ merits for others as other men in the state of grace merit for themselves (III:48:1). With us merits are essentially personal. Not so with Christ who, being the head of our race (Ephesians 4:15-5:23), has, on that score, the unique prerogative of communicating to the subordinate personal members the Divine life whose source He is. "The same motion of the Holy Ghost", says Schwalm, "which impels us individually through the various stages of grace toward life eternal, impels Christ but as the leader of all; and so the same law of efficacious Divine motion governs the individuality of our merits and the universality of Christ's merits" (Le Christ, 422). It is true that the Redeemer associates others to Himself "For the perfecting of the saints, . . . for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12), but their subordinate merit is only a matter of fitness and creates no right, whereas Christ, on the sole ground of His dignity and mission can claim for us a participation in His Divine privileges.
All admit, in Christ's meritorious actions, a moral influence moving God to confer on us the grace through which we merit. Is that influence merely moral or does it effectively concur in the production of grace? From such passages as Luke 6:19, "virtue went out from him", the Greek Fathers insist much on the dynamis zoopoios or vis vivifica, of the Sacred Humanity, and St. Thomas (III:48:6) speaks of a sort of efficientia whereby the actions and passions of Christ, as vehicle of the Divine power, cause grace by way of instrumental force. Those two modes of action do not exclude each other: the same act or set of acts of Christ may be and probably is endowed with twofold efficiency, meritorious on account of Christ's personal dignity, dynamic on account of His investment with Divine power.
Redemption is styled by the "Catechism of the Council of Trent" (1, v, 15) "complete, integral in all points, perfect and truly admirable". Such is the teaching of St. Paul: "where sin abounded, grace did more abound" (Romans 5:20), that is, evil as the effects of sin are, they are more than compensated by the fruits of Redemption. Commenting on that passage St. Chrysostom (Hom. X in Rom., in P.G., LX, 477) compares our liability to a drop of water and Christ's payment to the vast ocean. The true reason for the adequacy and even superabundance of Redemption is given by St. Cyril of Alexandria: "One died for all . . . but there was in that one more value than in all men together, more even than in the whole creation, for, beside being a perfect man, He remained the only son of God" (Quod unus sit Christus, in P.G., LXXV, 135fi). St. Anselm (Cur Deus homo, II, xviii) is probably the first writer who used the word "infinite," in connection with the value of Redemption: "ut sufficere possit ad solvendum quod pro peccatis totius mundi debetur et plus in infinitum". This way of speaking was strongly opposed by John Duns Scotus and his school on the double plea that the Humanity of Christ is finite and that the qualification of infinite would make all Christ's actions equal and place each of them on the same level with His sublime surrender in the Garden and on Calvary. However the word and the idea passed into current theology and were even officially adopted by Clement VI (Extravag. Com. Unigenitus, V, IX, 2), the reason given by the latter, "propter unionem ad Verbum", being the identical one adduced by the Fathers.
If It is true that; according to the axiom "actiones sunt suppositorum", the value of actions is measured by the dignity of the person who performs them and whose expression and coefficient they are, then the theandric operations must be styled and are infinite because they proceed from an infinite person. Scotus's theory wherein the infinite intrinsic worth of the theandric operations is replaced by the extrinsic acceptation of God, is not altogether proof against the charge of Nestorianism leveled at it by Catholics like Schwane and Rationalists like Harnack. His arguments proceed from a double confusion between the person and the nature, between the agent and the objective conditions of the act. The Sacred Humanity of Christ is, no doubt the immediate principle of Christ's satisfactions and merits, but that principle (principium quo) being subordinate to the Person of the Word (principium quod), borrows from it the ultimate and fixed value, in the present case infinite, of the actions it performs. On the other hand, there is in Christ's actions, as in our own, a double aspect, the personal and the objective: in the first aspect only are they uniform and equal while, viewed objectively, they must needs vary with the nature, circumstances, and finality of the act.
From the adequacy and even superabundance of Redemption as viewed in Christ our Head, it might be inferred that there is neither need nor use of personal effort on our part towards the performance of satisfactory works or the acquisition of merits. But the inference would be fallacious. The law of cooperation, which obtains all through the providential order, governs this matter particularly. It is only through, and in the measure of, our co-operation that we appropriate to ourselves the satisfactions and merits of Christ. When Luther, after denying human liberty on which all good works rest, was driven to the makeshift of "fiducial faith" as the sole means of appropriating the fruits of Redemption, he not only fell short of, but also ran counter to, the plain teaching of the New Testament calling upon us to deny ourselves and carry our cross (Matthew 16:24), to walk in the footsteps of the Crucified (1 Peter 2:21), to suffer with Christ in order to be glorified with Him (Rom. viii, 17), in a word to fill up those things that are wanting to the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24). Far from detracting from the perfection of Redemption, our daily efforts toward the imitation of Christ are the test of its efficacy and the fruits of its fecundity. "All our glory", says the Council of Trent, "is in Christ in whom we live, and merit, and satisfy, doing worthy fruits of penance which from Him derive their virtue, by Him are presented to the Father, and through Him find acceptance with God" (Sess. XIV, c. viii)
Whether the effects of Redemption reached out to the angelic world or to the earthly paradise is a disputed point among theologians. When the question is limited to fallen man it has a clear answer in such passages as I John, ii, 2; 1 Timothy 2:4 and 4:10; 2 Corinthians 5:16, etc.; all bearing out the Redeemer's intention to include in His saving work the universality of men without exception. Some apparently restrictive texts like Matthew 20:28 and 26:28; Rom., v, 15; Hebrews 9:28, where the words "many" (Multi), "more" (plures), are used in reference to the extent of Redemption, should be interpreted in the sense of the Greek phrase no pollon, which means the generality of men, or by way of comparison, not between a portion of mankind included in, and another left out of, Redemption, but between Adam and Christ. In the determination of the many problems that arose from time to time in this difficult matter, the Church was guided by the principle laid down in the Synod of Quierzy [Denzinger-Bannwart n. 319 (282)] and the Council of Trent [Sess. VI, c. iii, Denzinger-Bannwart, n. 795 (677)] wherein a sharp line is drawn between the power of Redemption and its actual application in particular cases. The universal power has been maintained against the Predestinarians and Calvinists who limited Redemption to the predestinated (cf. the councils named above), and against the Jansenists who restricted it to the faithful or those who actually come to faith [prop. 4 and 5, condemned by Alexander VIII, in Denzinger-Bannwart, 1294-5 (1161-2)] and the latter's contention that it is a Semi-Pelagian error to say that Christ died for all men has been declared heretical [Denzinger-Bannwart, n.1096 (970)].
The opinion of Vasquez and a few theologians, who placed children dying without baptism outside the pale of Redemption, is commonly rejected in Catholic schools. In such cases no tangible effects of Redemption can be shown, but this is no reason for pronouncing them outside the redeeming virtue of Christ. They are not excluded by any Biblical text. Vasquez appeals to 1 Timothy 2:3-6, to the effect that those children, not having any means or even possibility to come to the knowledge of the truth, do not seem to be included in the saving will of God. If applied to infants at all, the text would exclude likewise those who, as a matter of fact, receive baptism. It is not likely that Redemption would seek adults laden with personal sins and omit infants labouring under original sin only. Far better say with St. Augustine: "Numquid parvuli homines non sunt, ut non pertineat ad eos quod dictum est: vult omnes salvos fieri?" (Contra Julianum, IV, xiii). With regard to the de facto application of Redemption in particular cases, it is subject to many conditions, the principal being human liberty and the general laws which govern the world both natural and supernatural. The Universalists' contention that all should finally be saved lest Redemption be a failure is not only unsupported by, but also opposed to, the New Dispensation which far from suppressing the general laws of the natural order, places in the way of salvation many indispensable conditions or laws of a freely established supernatural order. Neither should we be moved by the reproaches of failure often flung at Redemption on the plea that, after nineteen centuries of Christianity, a comparatively small portion of mankind has heard the voice of the Good Shepherd (John 10:16) and a still smaller fraction has entered the true fold. It was not within God's plan to illumine the world with the light of the Incarnate Word at once, since he waited thousands of years to send the Desired of the Nations. The laws of progress which obtain everywhere else govern also the Kingdom of God. We have no criterion whereby we can tell with certainty the success or failure of Redemption, and the mysterious influence of the Redeemer may reach farther than we think in the present as it certainly has a retroactive effect upon the past. There can be no other meaning to the very comprehensive terms of Revelation. The graces accorded by God to the countless generations preceding the Christian era, whether Jews or Pagans, were, by anticipation, the graces of Redemption. There is little sense in the trite dilemma that Redemption could benefit neither those who were already saved nor those who were forever lost, for the just of the Old Law owed their salvation to the anticipated merits of the coming Messias and the damned lost their souls because they spurned the graces of illumination and good will which God granted them in prevision of the saving works of the Redeemer.
Besides the names Jesus, Saviour, Redeemer, which directly express the work of Redemption, there are other titles commonly attributed to Christ because of certain functions or offices which are either implied in or connected with Redemption, the principal being Priest, Prophet, King and Judge.
What is the Priesthood of the Incarnate Son? It is the office He assumed for the Redemption of the world by the oblation of Himself in the vestment of our manhood. He is Altar, Victim and Priest by an eternal consecration of Himself. This is the priesthood forever after the order of Melchisedek who was without beginning of days or end of life — a type of the eternal priesthood of the son of God.
As sacrifice, if not by the nature of things, at least by the positive ordinance of God, is part of Redemption, the Redeemer must be a priest, for it is the function of the priest to offer sacrifice. In an endeavour to induce the newly converted Jews to abandon the defective Aaronic priesthood and to cling to the Great High Priest who entered heaven, St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews, extols the dignity of Christ's sacerdotal office. His consecration as a priest took place, not from all eternity and through the procession of the Word from the Father, as some of the theologians seem to imply, but in the fulness of time and through the Incarnation, the mysterious unction which made Him priest being none else than the Hypostatic Union. His great sacrificial act was performed on Calvary by the oblation of Himself on the Cross, is continued on earth by the Sacrifice of the Mass and consummated in heaven through the sacrificial intention of the priest and the glorified wounds of the victim. The Christian priesthood, to which is committed the dispensation of the mysteries of God, is not a substitute for, but the prolongation of, the priesthood of Christ: He continues to be the offerer and the oblation; all that the consecrated and consecrating priests do in their ministerial capacity, is to "show forth the death of the Lord" and apply the merits of His Sacrifice.
The title of Prophet applied by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15) to the coming Messias and recognized as a valid claim by those who heard Jesus (Luke 7:10), means not only the foretelling of future events, but also in a general way the mission of teaching men in the name of God. Christ was a Prophet in both senses. His prophecies concerning Himself, His disciples, His Church, and the Jewish nation, are treated in manuals of apologetics (see McIlvaine, "Evidences of Christianity", lect. V-VI, Lescoeur, "Jésus-Christ", 12e conféer.: Le Prophète). His teaching power (Matthew 7:29), a necessary attribute of His Divinity, was also an integrant part of Redemption. He who came "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10) should possess every quality, Divine and human, that goes to make the efficient teacher. What Isaias (55:4) foretold, "Behold I have given him for a witness to the people, for a leader and a master to the Gentiles", finds its full realization in the history of Christ. A perfect knowledge of the things of God and of man's needs, Divine authority and human sympathy, precept and example combine to elicit from all generations the praise bestowed on Him by His hearers — "never did man speak like this man" (John 7:46).
The kingly title frequently bestowed on the Messias by the Old Testament writers (Psalm 2; Isaiah 9:6, etc.) and openly claimed by Jesus in Pilate's Court (John 18:37) belongs to Him not only in virtue of the Hypostatic Union but also by way of conquest and as a result of Redemption (Luke 1:32). Whether or not the temporal dominion of the universe belonged to His royal power, it is certain that He understood His Kingdom to be of a higher order than the kingdoms of the world (John 18:36). The spiritual kingship of Christ is essentially characterized by its final object which is the supernatural welfare of men, its ways and means which are the Church and the sacraments, its members who are only such as, through grace, have acquired the title of adopted children of God. Supreme and universal, it is subordinate to no other and knows no limitations of either time or place. While the kingly functions of Christ are not always performed visibly as in earthly kingdoms, it would be wrong to think of His Kingdom as a merely ideal system of thought. Whether viewed in this world or in the next, the "Kingdom of God" is essentially hierarchic, its first and last stage, that is, its constitution in the Church and its consummation in the final judgment, being official and visible acts of the King.
The Judicial office so emphatically asserted in the New Testament (Matthew 25:31; 26:64; John 5:22 sq.; Acts 10:42) and early symbols [Denzinger-Bannwart, nn. 1-41 (1-13)] belongs to Christ in virtue of His Divinity and Hypostatic Union and also as a reward of Redemption. Seated at the right hand of God, in token not only of rest after the labours of His mortal life or of glory after the humiliations of His Passion or of happiness after the ordeal of Golgotha, but also of true judicial power (St. Augustine, On Faith and the Creed), He judges the living and the dead. His verdict inaugurated in each individual conscience will become final at the particular judgment and receive a solemn and definitive recognition at the assizes of the last judgment. (See ATONEMENT.)
OXENHAM, The Atonement (London, 1881); RIVIERE, Le dogme de la Redemption (Paris 1905); HUGON, Le mystere de la Redemption (Paris, 1910); GRIMAL, Le sacerdoce et 1e sacrifice (Paris, 1911); HUNTER, Outlines of dogmatic theology (New York 1894); WILHELM AND SCANNELL, Manual of Catholic theology (London, ;901); TANQUERET, Synopsis theologiae dogmaticae specialis (Rome, Tournai Paris, 1909); with a good bibliography II, 404, and passim; RITTER, Christus der Erloser (Linz, 1903); MUTH, Heilstadt Christi als stelloertretende Genugthuung (Ratisbon, 1904).
APA citation. (1911). Redemption. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12677d.htm
MLA citation. "Redemption." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12677d.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by William O'Meara.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at newadvent.org. Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.