Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pappa Ratzinger on "expiation"

In our Bible study at St Matthew's, Comanche, we are using Pope Benedict's second book on Jesus as our study guide. We used the first book in our study last year. I am appreciative of all the new things that have been covered that I've either never heard of or never thought about much before.

Some examples: the synoptic gospels "extends the timeline" to the eschaton when Jesus talks about the "time of the Gentiles" being fulfilled (i.e., the Gospel must first be preached to the whole world, then the end will come). The evangelical urgency of the apostolic era (especially St Paul's journeys) was due more to a desire to hasten Christ's return rather than a motive to maximize the number of Christians in the world.

According to Josephus, the Christian community had fled to the wilderness beyond the Jordan before the Jewish War and the destruction of Jerusalem occurred. The Christians did not defend the Temple because they understood that the era of the Temple was over, or superseded. Jesus is the new Temple, as it were. Likewise, in St Paul's arguments with the Judaizers (see Galatians especially), the issue of the Temple never came up, even though " a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7). Even the Judaizers understood that the era of the Temple was over.

Lastly, his treatment of the term expiation is absolutely masterful. Here is the passage:

"The Greek word that is here translated as 'expiation' is hilasterion, of which the Hebrew equivalent is kapporet. This word designated the covering of the Ark of the Covenant. This is the place over which YHWH appears in a cloud, the place of the mysterious presence of God. This holy place is sprinkled with the blood of the bull killed as a sin-offering on the Day of Atonement--the Yom ha-Kippurim (cf. Lev 16) 'whose life is offered up to God in place of the life forfeited by sinful men' (Wilckens, Theologie des Neuen Testaments II/1, p. 235). The thinking here is that the blood of the victim, into which all human sins are absorbed, actually touches the Divinity and is thereby cleansed -- and in the process, human beings, represented by the blood, are also purified through this contact with God: an astonishing idea both in its grandeur and its incompleteness, and idea that could not remain the last word in the history of religions or the last word in the faith of Israel.

"When Paul applies the word hilasterion to Jesus [in Romans 3:23-25], designating him as the seal of the Ark of the Covenant and thus as the locus of the presence of the living God, the entire Old Testament theology of worship (and with it all the theologies of worship in the history of religions) is 'preserved and surpassed' (aufgehoben) and raised to a completely new level. Jesus himself is the presence of the living God. God and man, God and the world, touch one another in him. The meaning of the ritual of the Day of Atonement is accomplished in him. In his self-offering on the Cross, Jesus, as it were, brings all the sin of the world deep within the love of God and wipes it away. Accepting the Cross, entering into fellowship with Christ, means entering the realm of transformation and expiation" (pp. 39-40).


FrGregACCA said...

Yes, indeed. Let us therefore consign all Anselmian understandings of the work of Christ to their well-deserved place on the ash heap of theological history.

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

You mean St. Anselm of Canterbury, Doctor of the Church? Besides, "understandings" have their rightful place if they are not hereies. The Church has never defined one official understanding (or explanation) of the Atonement.

FrGregACCA said...