Bookmark and Share
My Photo


    Opinions expressed on the Insight Scoop weblog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Ignatius Press. Links on this weblog to articles do not necessarily imply agreement by the author or by Ignatius Press with the contents of the articles. Links are provided to foster discussion of important issues. Readers should make their own evaluations of the contents of such articles.


« Palin and the New Feminism | Main | Heretical Aussie priests lauds "avatars," Arians, and the "Cosmic Christ" »

Saturday, November 01, 2008



It seems to me that an often overlooked factor in Protestants' confusion over, or denial of, the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory is their theology of the Atonement. Not all Protestants share the same Atonement theology, and views can vary widely among the denominations; but the understanding which is most popular among the bulk of Protestants, and which has taken an especially strong hold in the popular Christian understanding of English speaking peoples, is that Christ's suffering and death (and even his descent into Hell, depending with whom you discuss it) were a substitutionary punishment that paid, once and for all, any debt of punishment and eternal separation from God otherwise due to those sinners saved by Him.

For one who holds that view, and many Protestants hold it passionately, the idea that the soul of a deceased "saved" Christian (i.e. a soul destined for Heaven) could have any remaining debt of punishment requiring a painful expiation, or some other form of remittance, e.g. the application of an indulgence, prior to the soul's entrance into Heaven, seems non-sensical and a kind of double-jeopardy: Christ paid the price, and the "saved soul" in Purgatory would be unjustly paying it again (if somehow it could pay that debt, which Protestants deny).

The same principles are at play in the skepticism or disregard that many Protestants have for the Catholic notion of "salvific suffering" in our earthly lives: once again, they must ask, how can a person's suffering play any role in his eternal savlation? Only Christ's suffering could do that, according to them, and His suffering-work was finished forever at the time of His Resurrection from the dead. Perhaps a sinner's personal suffering, as an evil endured patiently, can lead to greater sanctity in his earthly life, but for them, it can never be understood as a factor in his eternal destiny.

For one who embraces this view, the Cross of Christ, while awesome in its implications, is only awful and horrid and dark in itself -- no wonder the cruxifix is a mostly unwelcome sight to those who from the start of their Christian formation have understood it so bleakly. It is identity with the furious wrath of God the Father poured out on the Son, become somehow Sin-itself, from whom the Father turns His face.


The Catholic doctrine of the Atonement, at least properly and historically, has never been expressed so narrowly by the Magisterium. A treatment of the subject, or even a summary, can't fit properly in the narrow confines of a blog comment. Suffice it to say that the Western Catholic model allows full inclusion of the principles of propitiation (and impetration), appeasement, and satisfaction, while at the same time viewing the Paschal Mystery as the holiest and most briliant of oblations, a victory over Satan and death; and ultimately the Cross, as terrible an immolation as it was, is identified with the infinite charity and generosity of the Man-God Jesus Christ who takes upon Himself our common misery, enduring both physical and spiritual torment, which men have suffered justly since the fall of our first parents. Now men become God's adopted sons in Christ can live and suffer with and in the God who has truly lived and suffered among them -- this is the life of Divine Grace in the soul, our living participation in the Mystical Body -- the Incarnation being the first and essential principle of the Redemption. The mercy of God is not predicated on the satisfaction wrought by Christ in His Passion and Death, but rather God's mercy is the cause and fountain of the infinite satisfaction and mertis of Christ Crucified.

Further reading on this topic:

(1) Any and all of the Church's public prayers which touch upon this subject, most importantly the Prefaces of Holy Mass and other prayers in the Canon (see especially the ordinary prayers of Mass in the extraordinary form).

(2) The great English-language work on this subject, from the 19th Century, by Henry Nutcombe Oxenham: The Catholic Doctrine of the Atonement.

(3) A related work of one of Mr. Oxenham's Protestant contemporaries, John McLeod Campbell: The Nature of the Atonement.

(4) A helpful article from the Original Catholic Encyclopedia: Doctrine of the Atonement.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Ignatius Insight


Ignatius Press

Catholic World Report


Blogs & Sites We Like

June 2018

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Blog powered by Typepad