This is Part II of guest blogger Matt Nagle’s response to Michael Taylor on the nature of the Atonement. You can find Part I here:
|Hans Memling, Hell (1845)|
The real Achilles heel of penal substitution, however, is hell. Why? Well if hell is ultimately the just punishment that man deserves for sin, and if Christ was punished in our place, then it would seem to follow that He would need to be damned to hell to rightly endure our punishment. Taylor makes several points in answer to this critique, and after dancing around the issue of hell and God’s wrath, he writes that “those in hell suffer individually for their own sins. Christ did not suffer for his own sins, but rather for the sins of his people, none of whom will ever go to hell.”
I suppose I see where he gets this point about none of Christ’s people going to hell, given that he is coming at it from a Calvinist point of view. However, the point of Joe Heschmeyer’s objection is that, hypothetically, we would all deserve hell if God had not forgiven us, which from all eternity He willed to be accomplished on the Cross, so it would seem to follow that (in a penal substitution model) Christ would need to suffer the hell fo the damned to redeem us. Thus, I don’t see how this initial response answer Heschmeyer’s objection.
Taylor then claims: “Any single soul in hell will only endure the wrath that God, in his justice, has decreed for him/her. But Christ suffered for the collective guilt of the elect, which means that Christ suffered infinitely *more* than any individual will ever suffer in hell.” The elect, without the mercy of God, wouldn’t be the elect. In other words, without God’s mercy the elect would go to hell; therefore to suffer the collective guilt of the elect would entail being damned to hell.
In regards to the notion of Christ being “damned in our place,” Taylor writes: “My own view is that in order to be damned in our place, Christ would have needed to go to hell in order to suffer there. Biblically, I don’t think there is enough evidence to say that he went to hell at all, much less that he suffered there.” The Catholic position does say He went to hell (see 1 Peter 3:18-20 and the Apostles’ Creed), but it needs to be clarified that it is not the hell of the damned but Sheol, the limbo of the just. For a scriptural proof of such a place see Luke 16:19-31, which speaks of the bosom of Abraham. Anyways, there is no evidence in Scripture or the Tradition (unless you count Hans Urs von Balthasar, and for the record I think he is dead wrong on this topic) to support a notion of Christ descending into the hell of the damned.
Now perhaps a proponent of penal substitution like Taylor will say Christ suffered the same as, if not more than, any soul in hell. Well Taylor himself answers that one:
That said, did Christ suffer the same intensity of wrath and an equally intense separation from God as any single soul in hell? I think a good case can be made for saying at least this much. But is this identical to damnation? My intuition is that it is not, and for the simple reason that hell is the absence of hope, but death is not. Christ, therefore, could still hope that he would be vindicated and knew that he would, given his multiple predictions of his resurrection.
I won’t beat a dead horse, with all due respect Taylor dances around the whole issue – if we deserved hell, then penal substitution would seem to necessitate Christ’s suffering the punishments of hell.
Finally, let’s look at the Trinitarian issues surrounding penal substitution. Joe Heschmeyer writes, “Penal substitution introduces a rupture into the Trinity, in which there’s a divorce between the Father and the Son. That sort of rupture isn’t possible, if we properly understand the Trinity as eternal, simple and unchanging.” Taylor begins his response by writing that:
it simply is not the case that God the Father ever hated God the Son. PSA does not claim that God hated the Son; rather the object of his hatred was sin itself, which Jesus became. To be more specific, God hated our sin, not his Son. But he punished his Son because he hated our sin and because he loved us, not because he hated his Son.
While I certainly agree with Taylor that God the Father never hated the Son, punishment properly so called is exercised on a guilty party who is unwilling to offer satisfaction. If the “guilty” party is willing and motivated by charity, then it is satisfaction. I’ll cite St. Thomas to hammer this point one last time (ST, III, 48, 2, reply to objection 1):
The head and members are as one mystic person; and therefore Christ’s satisfaction belongs to all the faithful as being His members. Also, in so far as any two men are one in charity, the one can atone for the other as shall be shown later (XP, 13, 2). But the same reason does not hold good of confession and contrition, because atonement consists in an outward action, for which helps may be used, among which friends are to be computed.
Now the Redemption is interesting because this Jesus Christ true God and true man, absolutely sinless, who wishes to atone for our sins. For that to be the case we need Christ as Head of the mystical body, the Church and there needs to be a union of charity.
However, the crux of Taylor’s complaint is that Heschmeyer’s objection confuses the economic and the immanent Trinity. Taylor writes:
Joe Heschmeyer, citing, Bryan Cross said that God would be “divided against himself” if he were pouring out his wrath upon the Son. But this very same kind of objection could be leveled against any number of things the Son did that the Father did not do. Was God “divided against himself” when the Son died on the cross, but the Father and Spirit did not? Was God “divided against himself,” when the Son was born of a virgin, but the Father and the Spirit were not? To all these question we answer, “of course not.” This is because we understand the distinct roles and functions of each person of the Trinity and how the Incarnation makes it possible for the Son to do things the Father and the Spirit cannot do, but to do them in complete harmony with the will of the one, true God.
Time for some Catechism: “The whole divine economy is the common work of the three divine persons. For as the Trinity has only one and the same nature, so too does it have only one and the same operation…However, each divine person performs the common work according to his unique personal property” (CCC 258). Now it is true that the economic Trinity reveals the immanent Trinity to us, but it is also true that “the theologia [immanent Trinity] illuminates the whole oikonomia [economic Trinity]. God’s work reveals who He is in Himself; the mystery of his inmost being enlightens our understanding of all His works” [CCC 236].
So if I understand Heschmeyer and Cross’s objection, they are saying that because the distinctions of the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another, the notion of God the Father pouring out His wrath on God the Son seems to be inconsistent with regards to the immanent Trinity. If (as Heschmeyer stated) in the inner life of God (of the Immanent Trinity) “the Father gives everything (but His Fatherhood) to the Son, as Lover and Beloved, Begetter and Begotten” then the notion of God pouring out His wrath and punishing His Son would introduce a contradiction into what we know of the inner life of the Trinity.
Now Taylor sees the Economic Trinity as having “distinct roles or functions, even as they perform those united in will and purpose. Thus God the Son can offer himself to God the Father, through God the Spirit.” I would agree the Son can offer Himself to God the Father, Through God the Holy Spirit – but punishment, or any sense of the Father’s wrath being poured out upon the Son is wholly inconsistent with the Immanent Trinity.
There are more objections Taylor raises but this is long enough, perhaps I’ll write another response to the remainder of the objection. I’ll conclude by saying that the Redemption is not simple, Taylor was right in that. It is a mystery and it does admit of many aspects. But unequivocally, penal substitution can’t be one because it is full of inconsistencies.