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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Faustus Socinus on Penal Substitution--Part Six

Today, I continue my series on Faustus Socinus'(1539-1604) critique of the Penal Substitutionary Theory (PST) of the Atonement. Socinus was a 16th century Reformer who took a radical approach to the Reformation. He agreed with the other Reformers that the Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) was the only basis for religious authority. However, he differed from the Calvinists and Lutherans in that he rejected anything in Scripture which was contrary to reason. He believed that the Bible rightly understood would not contradict human reason. This has caused some to argue that Socinus was simply a "rationalist," in other words he made reason his supreme authority. This is not entirely accurate. As Alan Gomes says:
Socinus held that there are truths in Scripture that are above reason. For example, miracles are above reason, and are credible. But the Bible contains nothing that is contrary to reason. Harnack further observes that Socinus held—in contradistinction to the Nominalists—that Christianity is not contra rationem but supra rationem. As noted earlier, Socinus will give no quarter to the notion that the Bible contains either doctrinal contradictions or doctrinal errors that are false per se ("Some Observations On The Theological Method of Faustus Socinus," Westminster Theological Journal 70 [2008]: 58).

I came to the same conclusion as Socinus (although not via his writings)that if the Bible is really the Word of God it cannot contradict reason. Assuming that God created man with reason and expected him to use it, and if reason is part of natural revelation, then natural revelation cannot contradict special revelation (i.e., the Bible). As I have pointed out in many posts, the idea that the death of an innocent person could justly be substituted for the sins of guilty people makes no sense. It is contrary to human reason and to any human sense of moral justice. This was the final straw that led to my de-conversion from Evangelical Christianity.

Socinus wrote the most definitive refutation of the PST--De Jesu Christo Servatore. Unfortunately, this work as well as most of Socinus' other works have not been translated into English (I will not say this is due to a conspiracy but the "orthodox" have historically been known to suppress books that are written by those they consider to be heretical). Recently, Alan Gomes translation of Part III of DJCS has become available to me and I hope this will eventually be published (It can be read on-line here). I have five prior posts on this document and will continue with a discussion of chapter six today.

Socinus argues in chapter six that Jesus Christ could not literally merit salvation for mankind through his life or his death. God could choose to accept what Jesus did as adequate but it would not be due to the intrinsic worth of Jesus' life and death but simply by the sovereign grace of God. Socinus maintains that this is really what the Reformed are saying: they believe that Christ made satisfaction because God decreed it to be satisfaction. God accepted Christ's obedience in place of satisfaction, but not because this obedience has the power to make satisfaction per se. (p. 96). He says John Calvin admitted as much when he said:
Christ could not gain any merit apart from God's good pleasure. He had been appointed to this work, so that he might placate God's wrath by his sacrifice and wipe away our transgressions by his obedience. In summary, since the merit of Christ depends on the sole grace of God, which established this way of salvation for us, his merit is opposed no less suitably than grace to all human forms of righteousness (p. 96).

Socinus says that Calvin's statement makes it clear that Calvin not only thought that Christ was obedient because God willed it, but also that he could not gain any merit by his obedience unless God had decreed that he should gain merit (pp. 96-97).

Socinus claims that as a result, Calvin and PST defenders are caught in a contradiction. He writes:
For this proposition opposes itself and self-destructs: “Christ literally and properly merited salvation for us, not per se but through the grace of God.” If literal and proper merit had occurred, then God's grace is thereby excluded. But if Christ did not gain merit per se but through the grace of God, then he did not at the same time gain literal and proper merit (p. 97).

This is one of the reasons why he rejects the PST because it is self-contradictory. In a future post, I will discuss chapter 7 in Socinus' work, De Jesu Christo Servatore.

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