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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Faustus Socinus on Penal Substitution--Part Three

Today, I continue my series on Faustus Socinus' (1539-1604) objections to the Penal Substitutionary Theory (PST) of the atonement. Socinus was a radical Reformer of the 16th century and the father of the Unitarian movement. He wrote De Jesu Christo Servatore (The Savior Jesus Christ) in 1574 in reply to advocates of the PST (I am using the translation by Alan W. Gomes, "Faustus Socinus’ De Jesu Christo Servatore, Part III: Historical Introduction, Translation and Critical Notes." Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Fuller Theological Seminary, June 1990).

In chapters 3 and 4 of Socinus' work, he argues that it is unjust to punish an innocent person in place of the guilty.

1. A monetary penalty is not the same as a corporal penalty.

Admittedly, monetary penalties due for the fault of one person can be assumed legally by another person. This is because one person's money is just as effective as another's. When a person transfers the monetary penalty of another to himself, it is regarded as if that person had given that money, quite justly, to the transgressor. That person certainly would have had every right to give the money to the transgressor, and the end result would have been exactly the same. But death or any other corporal punishment of one person cannot be undertaken legally by another. Neither law nor custom has ever permitted one, whom-ever he might be, to endure corporal punishment for someone else (p. 47).

2. Sometimes vengeance is exercised against the innocent but this is savage and unjust.

Blinded by anger and lust for revenge, people occasionally brutalize the innocent also. This happens especially when, for whatever reason, they cannot take revenge on the one who harmed them (e.g., the person may have eluded them). But it never has happened, nor ever will, that someone sends away the culprit and takes out revenge on some innocent person instead. If human beings, however uncivilized and savage, do not willingly release the guilty only to punish the innocent in their place, then it is quite obvious that such action is not only completely opposed to any standard of justice: it is worse than inhuman and savage (p. 47).

3. Jesus cannot be said to share in the sin of mankind as a result of becoming man anymore than any human being can be held responsible for the actions of another human being simply because they are both men.

Nor was this innocent man [Jesus] associated with the guilty in such a way that the guilty can be said to have undergone those penalties. For what connection is there between Christ and other human beings that does not also exist between any two people in physical terms and in so far as they are all human beings? Therefore, just as others can by no means be said to suffer what one person suffers in his own body, neither can we be regarded as having borne those evils which Christ bore in his body (pp. 49-50).

4. Human reason and the universal practice of man shows that it is unjust to punish an innocent person.

The light of reason, with which God has presented us, clearly shows that the bodily punishment which one person owes neither can nor should be paid by another person. This is shown in the laws, the consistent customs, and the significant consensus of all nations and periods of history (p. 50).

5. The Bible itself says that God will not punish the innocent for the crimes of the guilty.

The best known passage on this subject is Ezekiel 18. Here he states plainly and in detail that he is unwilling to punish the iniquities of the sons in the fathers, nor will he punish the iniquities of the fathers in the sons if the sons have not been wicked as their fathers were wicked. He concludes: “The soul which sins will die. The son will not bear the iniquity of the father; neither will the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous will be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon him.” This same principle appears also in the Mosaic law (Deut. 24:16) as well as in 2 Kgs. 14: 50.

The son is the person most closely connected with his father. In fact, he is so closely related that he can not only be called a part of him, but can even be called the father's “alter ego.” And yet, according to God's view, the son ought not to pay the penalties for the crimes of his father nor, in turn, the father for the son. We should be ashamed to say that this same God, in opposition to all fairness, forgot himself, as it were, and demanded the complete penalty for iniquities from one human being out of all other human beings, with whom this one person has no other connection except that this person, like them, is a human being. Nothing more foolish or wicked—not to mention impious and abominable, since we are talking about God—could be contrived
(pp. 50-51)!

6. It is the height of injustice to allow the guilty to go unpunished and to punish instead the one innocent of the crimes.

If God wished to exercise mercy toward the human race and to commend his goodness and generosity to us, why would he not forgive people their wicked deeds without any cost, as indeed he was able to do? But if he really wanted bring glory to his name by demonstrating his vengeance and harshness in avenging wrongs and punishing transgressions (which, as I pointed out, is not justice in the proper sense of the term), why did he not avenge and punish the very ones who had transgressed, who did their best to diminish his majesty? For what kind of vengeance or punishment of sin is it, to send away those who sinned without punishment, while at the same time subjecting one who committed no wrong to the most severe punishments (p. 51)?

It is the height of injustice (and in fact iniquity and viciousness) to establish a justice in God which indeed exacts punishment for transgressions but from someone other than the guilty party. For God to have punished someone who was not guilty with the punishment we deserved does not merely fail to show or commend to us his perfect mercy or his punitive justice: it utterly destroys both. In addition, it robs God himself of all genuine justice, i.e., of fairness and uprightness (p. 53).

7. Penal substitution contradicts both mercy and justice.

You might argue that God wanted to exercise each of his attributes, viz. mercy and justice, at the same time and to commend them both to us. On the one hand, he appears merciful in that he does not exact the punishment for our transgressions from us. On the other hand, he is shown to be just, because he nevertheless punishes our sins.

If you wish to affirm, as your teachers are accustomed to do, that God has perfectly exercised that punitive “justice” and mercy toward us in this fashion, I say that this is not only patently false but even impossible, as I demonstrated toward the beginning of this response. This is because perfect mercy demands that the one who is guilty should be forgiven completely. But perfect punitive justice demands that the very same person who transgressed should be punished with the due penalty. It is impossible and contradictory for someone to be completely forgiven and at the same time punished with the de-served penalty
(pp. 51-52).

8. The death of Jesus in history could not pay the penalty of eternal death.

We must admit that since eternal death was owed for our sins, and since Christ hardly experienced that, nor could he have done so, whatever he did suffer or could have suffered did not entail paying the penalties we deserved for our sins. Consequently, we must also admit that he could not have paid to divine justice the penalties for our transgressions (p. 67).

Since you say that Christ took upon himself all our transgressions just as if he himself had committed them all, I do not see how he could satisfy divine justice without bearing all the penalties that the divine law demanded that we suffer. . . .

So as not to belabor the point, let us admit that the valuation of the penalty increases with the dignity of the person. Is the value so increased that, no matter what percentage of the penalty the worthy person gives, it is completely equivalent, regardless of how serious the punishment would have been if endured by a less worthy or even a worthless person? If an eminent person is punished with banishment or imprisonment for a mere hour or day, is that the same as if an ordinary person had been punished with unending banishment or imprisonment? What if that eminent man were subjected to this brief punishment in order to be raised afterwards to the highest glory, infinitely greater than he had before? The so-called punishments that Christ endured for our sakes, however serious in themselves, are nonetheless relatively much less serious in comparison with what we deserved to endure than the banishment of a day or an hour is in comparison to continual banishment
(p. 69).

9. To say that Jesus suffered spiritual separation (death) from God is blasphemy.

But the punishments that Christ endured not only differ in terms of duration from what God could have justly inflicted on us, but they are also qualitatively different. Even though there are those who dare to affirm that Christ suffered the penalties of the damned, that view should be rejected. Besides the many usual arguments employed against such an idea, we should reject it especially because Christ did not at all experience the despairing of divine grace and help, which is the proper penalty of the damned. Christ indeed complained loudly that he had been abandoned by God, but this was not because he even slightly despaired of God's power to help or of his kindness. To even think such a thought is the height of blasphemy! No, Christ spoke in this way to influence God to come to his aid, that is, to grant him freedom from his torments and from death (p. 70).

10. If Jesus was divine, then he need not have suffered as much as he did.

You might counter this argument by again drawing upon the dissimilarity between Christ and us, saying that Christ, being eternal God, is completely different than us mere humans. And for that reason you would contend that however light the punishments of Christ, they are reckoned as equivalent to our punishments, however heavy. I say in response that if your contention were true, Christ need not have suffered such bitter tortures and such a horrible death. Even though God could have made full satisfaction to his justice by exacting some extremely light penalty from Christ, he wished to cruelly torment him instead. You have, in effect, accused God of injustice and savagery (p. 71).

11. If Jesus were divine, then he could not have suffered at all.

The only basis on which to ascribe infinite power to Christ's sufferings would be that he is eternal God. But Christ, in so far as he was eternal God, could not experience any suffering. Therefore, the fact that Christ is eternal God cannot bestow his infinite power to the sufferings. To give infinite power to the suf-ferings it is not enough simply for Christ to be eternal God: he must also suffer in so far as he is eternal God (p. 72).
I will continue in chapter 4 of De Jesu Christo Servatore in a future post.

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