Confused About Eastern Orthodox Concept Regarding Jesus' Death

I have come into contact with a person who is a member of an Eastern Orthodox Church. She has made a few statements that I find troubling but piqued my interest. She has said that the Catholic Church’s view on why Jesus died is incorrect and then said that Jesus did not die in order to appease an angry God the Father.

The reason I am troubled is because I have never heard of this concept of an “angry God the Father”; at least in the context of Jesus’ death. The reason my interest is piqued is because I wonder if my Catholic beliefs are far removed from my Eastern Orthodox friend’s beliefs.

This has come up on another forum and I don’t know much about this person, other than what she has claimed and that she is Eastern Orthodox. She rarely posts, but she posts charitably and so I feel that I should try to understand her POV.

I could use some help with this. Any thoughts?

The Western teaching is that Jesus died to satisfy some sort of divine justice. Adam’s sin is so great that nothing can pay back the debt we owe to God, not the multitude of animal sacrifices offered at the temple, nothing. That is, except Jesus Christ as the sacrifice.

The Eastern teaching is that human nature became subject to sin and death after the Fall. Christ conquered death by his own death so that man is freed from sin and death.

I believe the (traditional) Western teaching is known as the Satisfaction Theory of Atonement and was first put on paper by St. Anselm of Ontological Argument fame.

The traditional Eastern Catholic/Orthodox theory that you explained so nicely is (I believe) known as the Christus Victor theory of atonement, and was a belief held by the Eastern Father from the very early days of the Church.

Saint Anselm of Canterbury lived and wrote in the 11th century, actually after the great unfortunate tragedy of the schism … I see that he was declared a Doctor of the Latin church in 1720AD.

One would think that that Latin Catholic church had some theory before this, but I am at a loss to know what it may have been.

Unless it was in agreement with the east.

I was always of the belief that atonement came from St. Augustine.

I seem to recall reading St. John Chrysostom making reference to it.

Personally I find it troubling, and much prefer the idea of Christ Victorious myself.

Why does he have to be either, or? Why can he not be both?

"He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world"

"O Death, where is thy sting? O Sheol where is thy victory? For the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law, but thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ"

Perhaps St. Anselm’s theory WAS the theory of the West, and he merely put it on paper. Or maybe you’re right and they agreed with the East.

Not sure :shrug: What I DO know is that Anselm’s theory seems to have been the most popular Western theory from when he established it until very recent times.

I agree. Look at the Divine Liturgy and we speak of the Sacrifice throughout the anaphora. I believe the sacrifice, atonement is accurate. I’m troubled by emphasis on it though. Too much emphasis and you turn the Father into a pagan God who requires blood (blood that happens to belong to his son) in order to allow humanity to continue its existence.
Rather we should look at the atonement in light of the Old Testament sacrifices - the ones of which God said “I would rather have obedience than a sacrifice.”

I always thought the Catholic Encyclopedia gave a pretty balanced treatment to the various historical theories on the Atonement here:

C.S. Lewis says something in “Mere Christianity” to the effect that what specifically happened in the atonement is unimportant so long as we believe that the atonement was indeed accomplished by Christ. I tend to agree with Lewis on this point.

It’s interesting to ponder though. But Atonement literally means at-one-ment, and, I think, this is the essence of the New Covenant in any case, the need for reconciliation, then communion, with God.

Your concerns of overemphasis that reminds you of the blood thirst required of the pagan gods are heard, but I do not know if I am personally aware of such.

(It is my observation either correct, or incorrect), that the Church of the West seems to focus on the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Church of the East seems to focus on the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. If so, maybe we need the balance of both.

God’s peace.


I lean towards atonement. Can’t understand the Eucharist without eating the sacrificial Lamb.

Why not look at it from the point of view of Theosis? Jesus said that if we love him, he remains in us and us in Him, as he is loved by the Father and he is in the Father as the Father is in Him. By the Eucharist we are brought into Christ and through Him we are brought to the Father. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus.

Yes, but reconciliation with the Father begins with the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, and perfect union with the Father becomes theosis through the perfect faith and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God’s peace


Ah. This makes sense. I think that many Catholics do focus on the Crucifixion and this is also true of Protestants. But, in my view (as a Catholic), both the Crucifixion and Resurrection are important and both are required for our justification.

Thank you! I have a problem comprehending most of what is written on NewAdvent but I did get through the entire section and it explained a lot. First, it shows how those in the Church have struggled to understand and explain the Passion of Christ and I appreciate those efforts. I have taken Church teaching for granted. Second, it explains Atonement; a term I admit I had never run across before this thread.

I like the conclusion:

As both Abelard and Bernard remind us, the Atonement is the work of love. It is essentially a sacrifice, the one supreme sacrifice of which the rest were but types and figures. And, as St. Augustine teaches us, the outward rite of Sacrifice is the sacrament, or sacred sign, of the invisible sacrifice of the heart. It was by this inward sacrifice of obedience unto death, by this perfect love with which He laid down his life for His friends, that Christ paid the debt to justice, and taught us by His example, and drew all things to Himself; it was by this that He wrought our Atonement and Reconciliation with God, “making peace through the blood of His Cross”.

It is love. It seems that everything goes back to this and that makes sense because God is Love. I now appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice even more.

IMO the Atonement can do two main things with the help of the grace that it won, with the grace that it is: 1) it convicts me of sin; it’s hard to go around presuming my own righteousness (which I prefer to do) when someone had to actually die for me because of my unrighteousness-my sin-and, simultaneously, 2) it convinces me of the sheer love and acceptance and forgiveness of God in* spite* of my unrighteousness.

He knew all along what we need-which is Himself, the cornerstone the builders rejected, the cornerstone our first parents mistrusted and spurned at the Fall, the One mankind “hated without reason”.

The Atonement proves God’s existence, His *trustworthiness, *His unconditional love. Our part is only to accept the package-to accept Him, reversing the decision, within ourselves, that A&E made, no longer lost but becoming found once again.

Both the crucifixion and resurrection are undeniably necessary. But I believe mercytruth is correct that the emphasis on that goes with the emphasis on atonement/Christ victorious.

I believe this is the folly or Original Sin. Even if we are personally not responsible for committing any sin we are guilty of offending the Father. We need Christ because while we were created in the image and likeness of God, we lost the likeness through Adam’s sin. Thus Christ’s divinity added to our wounded nature perfects us worthy of the Father.

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