Penal Substitution in the Church Fathers


Here are voices from both the East and West over the course of the 4th to 7th centuries. In my opinion, it is clear that the Fathers believed that the penal consequence of our sin, namely,  the curse of death, was visited by God upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ our God had no sin of his own, and yet he faces the penal consequences of having sinned. This does not entail the straw man which posits the Father got emotionally disturbed and poured out His holy and undiluted fury upon the Son, but it does mean more than merely a positive righteousness which merited salvation. There is also the matter of satisfying divine justice by allowing Christ to pay off the debt of death precisely by dying. Continue reading

Patristic Testimony on Prayers to Saints, Veneration of Martyrs, Purgatory, and the Sacrifice of the Mass


In my discussions with Protestant brethren, I continue to hear the idea that crazy things such as praying to Saints for intercession, venerating the dead pieces of human bodies, a process of post mortem pains to satisfy residual purgatorial punishment, and the Altar of the Church upon which Christ is sacrificed as a propitiation on behalf of the living and the dead are late Medieval inventions which have no place in the early Christian church. However, the historical record would strongly refute this erroneous conception. Here below I will provide statements from extremely credible early Church Fathers who lived in far distant regions from each other, showing how universal and traditional these beliefs and activities were already beginning in the middle of the 4th-century. In so doing, we capture the beliefs of Christians in North Africa, Egypt, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Antioch, Syria, Rome, and Milan. Continue reading

Does Paul Say That God Punished Jesus? A Second Look

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Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin has put out another article which seeks to undermine the doctrine of Penal Substitution. In this article, he opens up with what he believes is a summary of the doctrine – “..that the Father ‘poured out his wrath’ on Christ as He hung on the cross”.  As my previous article responding to Akin made clear, there is a good way to hold to Penal Substitution, and I don’t think it has been interacted with in in Akin’s critiques. In this latest one, Akin focuses on the writings of St. Paul, particularly 2 Cor 5:21, Gal 3:13, and Romans 8:3-4. I recommend any to read it fully, and then compare what Akin has to say about these passages versus St. John Chrysostom and St. Thomas Aquinas. Chrysostom was born in Antioch (349 AD) to Greek parents, and grew to be a great orator (aka the Golden-Tongue) and expositor of Sacred Scripture. In fact, there are good grounds to believe that St. Thomas Aquinas said he would rather have St. Chrysostom’s commentary on St. Matthew than have the riches that would come from selling the city of Paris to the King of France. So here, the theologians of theologians, the Angelic Doctor himself, gives praise to the expository genius of this great 4th-century Saint from Antioch. And then following this, I will give Aquinas’ commentary on the Epistle to the Galatian churches. Continue reading

Did God Punish Jesus on the Cross? A Second Look


A rather gifted Catholic apologist, Jimmy Akin, has just released an article entitled “Did God Punish Jesus on the Cross“? This, of course, was not meant to be an exhaustive argument against “Penal Substitution“, but I have a few comments to make on this which are related, and after writing them out, I realized they were deserving of an article form.

In the first place, it appears to me that when Mr. Akin says “penal sub“, he means the idea that God the Father breaks up his perfect union of charity in the Holy Spirit with His Son in order to inflict upon him hatred and damnation. If that is what he means, then sure, such a belief is completely contradictory to the Gospel. I can’t read his mind, and the article doesn’t make clear one way or the other. Today we hear many Catholics, especially Eastern Orthodox, rightly rejecting this idea as a Protestant heresy, but do not adequately give, in turn, a valid interpretation of something akin to Penal Substitution. After all, the Scripture does say that Christ became a curse for us (Gal 3). It would seem many wish to say that Christ’s crucifixion was merely an event with ontologically overcomes death for human nature, leaving all notions of punishment to abstractions or language-devices. This is popularly known as the Christus Victor atonement model. A tendency exists to want to relegate atonement to idea of medicine and nature-repair, particularly in the modern East.

Therefore, the reader of Akin’s article is left with more questions than answers. How did Christ pay our debt? He paid it with His blood. That is the constant teaching throughout the ages. We might want to theologize on this in the way St. Anselm or St. Thomas Aquinas do, which says that Christ’s humbling Himself to be a slave and then being hoisted upon the cross to die an ignominious death out of charity for His Father and the human race merits an infinite value which cancels out the infinite demerits of sins of the world. But it remains that he *died*, and specifically for the reason to bear our curse (Gal 3) in order to satisfy divine justice. As far as I’m concerned, this is the Patristic teaching, and it is beautifully articulated in St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ“, from which I will link in the comments, and will provide a few snippets, and some commentary, below.


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