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Friday, July 2, 2010

Faustus Socinus on Penal Substitution--Part Four

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 Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Fuller Theological Seminary, June 1990).

I am continuing with the arguments presented by Socinus in chapter four of his classic work.

12. Even if Jesus had a divine nature [which Socinus denies], his sufferings, which were only in his human nature, would be of no more value than any other human being.

Many biblical expositors say that Christ was composed of a divine and human nature, just as a human being is composed of body and soul. And just as in the case of a human being we acknowledge that some operations are of the body and others of the soul, even so these commentators acknowledge some operations in Christ to be of the human nature and others of the divine nature. Although the same individual, consisting of body and soul, is the one who performs an action, nevertheless the power behind the actions of the body is one thing, and the power of the soul's actions is another. Many actions or operations of the body, because they are completely peculiar to the body, cannot be influenced at all by the soul or mind. Nor can such operations of the body be regarded as furnished with any greater power than if that same action could take place apart from a thinking soul and mind [e.g., in an animal] . . . .

In the case of Christ's passion the conclusion is all the more forceful, since while both the body and the soul can suffer, the divine nature cannot suffer at all; only the human nature can suffer. If a blow, inflicted on the body of a human being, has no greater power per se than if that same blow had been inflicted on some beast, it is much more true that whatever Christ suffered could have in itself no greater power than if some mere man had experienced the identical suffering . . . .

The divine nature cannot be injured, troubled ordisturbed by the afflictions of the human nature, nor can it be genuinely involved in such disturbances in any way.

You yourself admit that Christ's divine nature suffered only through the “communication of attributes.” Apparently your doctrine of satis-faction has not blinded you to such an extent that you cannot clearly see that the divine nature cannot literally suffer. Therefore, that infinite power which you claim is supplied by the divine nature does not literally belong to Christ's sufferings through the communication of attributes, either
(pp. 72-73).

13. Even if the divine nature could suffer, it would not mean that the sufferings are of infinite value.

The question here is whether Christ's sufferings are of infinite worth. If we consider all of God's works one by one, we will find that none of them are of infinite worth, however valuable they may be. Even the angels are not of infinite worth, since they have certain ordained ends and limits, from which they derive their value, as it were. It is only in God himself, and in whatever naturally and continually inheres in him (if one can speak in this way about God) that you will find infinite value. Therefore, even if we wish to understand the term “passion” in this context to refer to the very feeling of suffering, we still could not conclude that the divine passions are of infinite value. That is because such sufferings do not inhere in God either continually or naturally (pp. 75-76).

14. Even if the sufferings of Jesus, because of his divinity, were deemed to be of infinite value, they would only pay the penalty owed by one man not all of humanity.

Perhaps we might say that the infinity of time which could not rightly be demanded of us (since our transgressions were only temporary) takes the place of the infinite price which each of us owed but were unable to pay. Assuming that we may be freed from our guilt through payment made by someone else on our behalf, why was not each one of us bound to pay an infinity of price in place of an infinity of time through someone else, to the degree that we could not do so on our own?

In that case, then, the infinite value which is allegedly found in Christ's sufferings, because the divine nature suffered, could have paid for one person at most. And so, only one of us could have been freed from our liability to eternal death by his power. This conclusion is true if, as it was said, any of us were liable, on our own, to pay an infinite price. Consequently, it would be necessary for there to be just as many prices of infinite value paid as there are people for whom a payment is to be made. Just one infinite price would not be enough if all of us are to be freed from our liability through a transaction based on a payment made through another for what we ourselves were owing.

Now, you might assume, quite contrary to reason, that we should regard the infinite value which accrues to the sufferings of Christ through the divine nature as sufficient to cover all of the infinities of punishment which each of us ought to have paid. But then you must also assume that any suffering of Christ could bring about this same effect. Some of the so-called Scholastic doctors have contrived just such a doctrine. They say that one drop of Christ's blood would be sufficient—and more than sufficient—to redeem the human race. But if that is true, I fail to see, as I remarked recently, how God could escape the charge of either ignorance or savageness. After all: when he could have given salvation by subjecting Christ to only minimal suffering, he chose instead to inflict a horrible and accursed death on him, which came after serious and innumerable evils
(pp. 76-77).

15. Even if the divine nature could suffer (which it can't), it would not avail to satisfy the penalty for sin because that penalty is owed by humanity (not divinity) and must be paid by the human nature.

Even if the divine nature in Christ could suffer somehow, it could not contribute toward satisfaction. Satisfaction to divine justice had to be made by the human nature alone, not by the divine nature in any way.

This fact would seem to rule out the power which you allege that the divine nature (which itself experienced no suffering) bestowed on the sufferings of the human nature. For if that infinite power does not arise from the human nature but is bestowed on the sufferings by his divine nature, I fail to see how satisfaction could have been made to divine justice. Divine justice not only requires that human nature itself should make satisfaction, but divine justice also utterly demands that the power of satisfaction should come from human nature.

An analogy will clarify this. Suppose the law requires someone to carry a burden on his own shoulders as punishment for some infraction of the law. If the person indeed has the burden placed on his shoulders but at the same time receives help from another person who comes along and lends assistance, either by bearing some of the weight or by offering support in any way, then satisfaction is not made to the law. Likewise, if the human nature indeed suffered but was at the same time continually sustained by the divine nature so that it could bear the punishment, then satisfaction was not made to the divine law, which determined the penalties to be endured by the human nature. Nor will satisfaction have genuinely been made to the law if the one who should bear the burden is helped extraordinarily by consuming some food or drink that produces superhuman strength, or by any other source introduced from without.

The law that decreed the punishment careful-ly takes into account the typical strength of a human being, and metes out punishment to harm the offender as the seriousness of the crime warrants. If the offender's strength ismiraculously increased, then the offender does not yet feel the affliction that the law intends. Consequently, a fair judge would never allow a guilty person to be strength-ened and supported in this way. But suppose that the transgressor is furnished with ex-traordinary strength that far and away ex-ceeds the strength people typically possess, so that the burden which is heavy for everyone else is not particularly heavy for this individual. Since the force of the burden cannot—or rather, should not—be diminished, the fair judge, complying with the spirit of the law rather than its letter, will increase the burden. The judge will do this because the intent of the law is that the transgressor should experience the weight of the burden that the transgression demands.

...If this human nature is strengthened from a source outside itself, so that it experienced the punishment much less—or even somewhat less—than the law required, the human nature will not have made satisfaction to the law in any way
(pp. 79-81).

16. Since the PST holds that Jesus suffered the penalty due to man for his sin, and since the human nature of Jesus did not experience eternal death, then the penalty for man's sin was not paid.

But your view demands that Christ experienced less punishment than our sins required. The penalty decreed against the transgressions of human nature was eternal death. Even though this human nature ought to have been afflicted with this extremely serious penalty, Christ nevertheless did not experience this in any way—notwithstanding your assertion that he endured all the penalties for our transgressions.

On account of the help of the divine nature,coming from without, the human nature not only failed to experience eternal death but was even raised after paying a penalty for three days. It was raised to eternal life and granted the highest and unspeakable glory and power
(pp. 81-82).

17. Even if somehow the death of Jesus did satisfy the penalty owed to the Father, who paid the penalty owed to the Son, since he is also God in this theory and would need to be propitiated as much as the Father would?

Now, if the son made satisfaction to the Father—that is, if he paid what was owed to him—then who will give the son what was owed to him?

I suspect that you will reply as follows: satisfaction made to the Father is also made to the son, since they both have the same will. But such a response is obviously futile. In the case of literal and complete satisfaction, such as we are contemplating here, no consideration is given to the will, but to the matter itself. The punishment is determined and considered according to the rigor of the law, not according to the intent of the one who is to receive satisfaction.

Besides, when the matter itself is considered and the rigor of the law taken seriously, it does not necessarily follow that the son receives satisfaction along with the Father. The son could have paid nothing at all to the Father if whatever is or becomes the possession of one necessarily is in fact the possession of the other. The son always truly possessed whatever the Father receives. And whatever the son has is always in turn the continual property of the Father. Indeed, if what I am sure you yourselves regard as completely false were in fact true, then the son could not have genuinely paid anything to the Father. No payment can truly exist when the one who makes the payment gives the very payment which one necessarily receives immediately by actual right and from the nature of the case
(p. 83).

18. If the Son is God, equal to the Father, then the Son cannot pay anything to the Father, since the Father already has what the Son has.

No one could dispute, then, that the son could not give anything to the Father, since whatever the son has also truly belongs to the Father. Christ himself said that all things that were his are the Father's (Jn. 17:10). If you would have it that one person in the Godhead has something, besides the personal property that the other does not have, then you aredividing rather than distinguishing God's essence, contrary to your own teaching. Besides, no one would ever think that the person of the son handed over in payment his own personal property to the person of the Father in satisfaction for our sins (pp. 83-84).

19. If the Son shares the divine essence with the Father, and the Son made satisfaction for the sins of mankind to God, then he made satisfaction to himself which is non-sensical.

It assumes that he, to whom satisfaction ought to have been made, will have made satisfaction to himself. Or, it assumes that he gave himself the power to make satisfaction. Or, it assumes that the person making satis-faction was so joined to the person who ought to receive satisfaction that he was possessing absolutely all things in common with him, from which the power of making satisfaction to him could arise.

It is necessary for the person making satisfaction, or the person who helps accomplish satisfaction, to be absolutely distinct from the one who is to receive satisfaction. At the very least, the one making satisfaction should be separate enough to have some possession of his own from which satisfaction can receive or effect power. Common sense itself clearly teaches this, so that if you insist on saying that Christ paid all the penalties for our sins to God on our behalf, you are forced to choose between one of the following conclusions: (1) you must deny that Christ himself is eternal God and Jehovah, or (2) you must affirm that the extent to which he was eternal God and Jehovah could not coincide with making that payment
(p. 85).

In a future post, I will examine the arguments against the PST put forth by Socinus in chapter five of his book.


  1. Keep up the great work, Ken! This is rather obscure, but superb, stuff.

  2. Thank you for your research. You make me think!

  3. Ken,

    I think Christians could answer all this by just saying that we aren't capable of understanding it all and should just trust.

    But the problem with that is that you could do that with anything you don't understand, but that doesn't mean it isn't actually wrong and truly does make no sense.

    I don't know if I'm making sense or not-ha. But we believe Jesus's death means forgiveness, etc. because Paul said it did, right? I mean didn't Jesus basically say, "Stop sinning. Be good."?

    Did the gospels also say Jesus's death meant all these things?

    In other words, why do we believe Jesus's death had a certain meaning or power?

  4. Ken, these are devastating arguments against the Reformer's PST. You make me more than curious about two further questions. Since the Reformer's were, eh, reforming the church, which previous Christian scholar argued for the PST, if any? Also, how did the Protestants respond to these arguments?

  5. John,

    Anselm and Aquinas laid the groundwork for the PST. The Reformers built upon their foundation to develop the doctrine. The two primary responders to Socinus were John Owen and Francis Turretin. I think both failed.

    Socinus has been largely ignored because his works have never been published in English (conspiracy?). I have only recently been able to read them through the Ph.D. dissertation of Alan Gomes who translated De Jesu Christo Servatore. I wish Gomes would translate all of Socinus' works and publish them. Frankly, this would be an excellent project for a book publishing company.