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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Faustus Socinus on Penal Substitution--Part Five

Faustus Socinus (1539-1604), an Italian theologian, is one of the most important figures of the 16th century Reformation. He took the rejection of Roman Catholic doctrines much further than Martin Luther, John Calvin or any of the other Reformers. He rejected the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the Satisfaction theories of the atonement. While he is sometimes called a "rationalist" by his opponents, he did not reject the divine origin of the Bible but merely believed that its teachings could not contradict sound reason (See Alan W. Gomes, "Some Observations On The Theological Method Of Faustus Socinus," Westminster Theological Journal, 70 [2008]: 49-71).

Socinus wrote De Jesu Christo Servatore (The Savior Jesus Christ) in 1574 and it was published in 1598. In this work he laid out a number of arguments against the Satisfaction Theories of the Atonement including the Penal Substitutionary Theory (PST) of the Atonement. His treatment of the subject is so thorough that some have said that every argument against the PST has its origin in the writings of Socinus. Unfortunately, his writings have not been readily available in English translation. So much of his teaching for the English reader has to be gleaned from secondary sources, usually written by those who opposed his views. Recently, Alan W. Gomes, did an English translation of De Jesu Christo Servatore as a Ph.D dissertation and he graciously sent me a copy (Faustus Socinus’ De Jesu Christo Servatore, Part III: Historical Introduction, Translation and Critical Notes. Pasadena: Fuller Theological Seminary, June 1990). My quotations from Socinus will be from Gomes' translation.

In chapter five of Socinus' classic work, he argues against the Calvinist view that Jesus kept the law in the elect's place. Calvin's argument is that not only was Jesus' death vicarious but his life was as well. In other words, he kept the law perfectly in place of the elect (active obedience) and then he died for the sins of the elect (passive obedience). Just as he died in the place of the elect, he lived righteously in their place as well. It is this righteous life of obedience that is imputed or credited to the elect as their own righteousness.

Socinus, on the other hand, maintains that since Jesus was human, he was obliged as much as any other man to keep the Law and thus his obedience brought reward to him only and not to others.

He writes:

Christ, because he was a human being, made under the law (as Paul says), was obliged to obey the eternal and unchangeable divine law no less than other human beings. . . . And since he himself was obliged to keep the divine law, he was no more able than any other human being to make satisfaction for others by obeying it (p. 86).
But how does this relate to others? His voluntary submission certainly received its adequate (and more than adequate) recompense: he was exalted by God, being given the name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee of heaven, earth and hell should bow. Paul makes it exceedingly clear (Phil. 2:6 ff.) that God gave him this reward not only for his voluntary submission (which is how you interpret the Apostle's words) but also for obedience to the point of death on the cross. One cannot reasonably infer from this passage of Paul that Christ did not indeed merit a reward for himself (pp. 86-87).
If you argue that he gained merit for us as God and in the power of the divine nature, that would be ridiculous. As we said, God, or the divine nature, does not merit but bestows, paying deserved rewards for any so-called merits (p. 90).

Socinus holds that Jesus as a human being kept the law perfectly and God rewarded him by exalting him. His obedience could not be substituted in the place of another anymore than his death could be substituted in another's place. Jesus did not do more than God required thereby earning an abundance of merit that could then be applied to someone else. He writes:

Christ did nothing that God had not commanded him to do. If we are talking about observing the divine law, everything Christ did was enjoined on him by that very law. Because he was a human being, he was obliged to keep the law no less than other human beings. If we should consider the unique deeds he performed, while yet mortal, over and beyond what the law requires of everyone, even these unique deeds had been enjoined on him by God. We greatly praise his obedience by saying that he was obedient even to the point of death on the cross. But obedience is not possible where there is no commandment (p. 89).

I will discuss chapter six in Socinus' work in a future post.

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