Is the theory of participatory atonement compatible with the Catholic faith? As I understand it, it says the atonement consists of participating in the death and resurrection of Christ through the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist. Basically, we are given new identities when we are baptized and this clears up our sins. I may not be explaining this correctly. Anyways, anyone?
Here is a more detailed explanation: consequently.org/papers/pa.pdf
In light of the above considerations we would seem to have ample justification for exploring new conceptions of the atonement. In what follows we will do just that, not by introducing a new model, but by rehabilitating an old model that has been undeservedly neglected: the participatory model. There are hints of the participatory model in the recent philosophical discussion of the atonement, but the model has not received the detailed attention that it deserves.
St. Paul and the Language of Participation
The participatory model of the atonement goes back not to Calvin, Luther, Abelard
,]Aquinas or Anselm, but to Paul. Consider the following excerpt from a summary of Paul’s thought by the New Testament scholar Morna Hooker:
The sin of Adam was reversed and the possibility of restoration opened up
when Christ lived and died in obedience and was raised from life to death.
Those who are ‘baptized’ into him are able to share his death to sin (Rom. 6:
4-11) and his status of righteousness before God (2 Cor. 5: 21). Since Adam’s
sin brought corruption to the world, restoration involved the whole universe
Draft only, please do not cite
(Rom. 8: 19-22; Col. 1: 15-20) … [Christ] shared our humanity, and all that
means in terms of weakness… in order that we might share in his sonship and
righteousness. To do this, however, Christians must share in his death and
Resurrection, dying to the realm of flesh and rising to life in the Spirit. Thus
Paul speaks of being crucified with Christ in order that Christ may live in him
(Gal. 2: 19-20). The process of death and resurrection is symbolized by
baptism (Rom. 6: 3-4). By baptism ‘into Christ’, believers are united ‘with him’,
so that they now live ‘in him’. These phrases (in particular ‘in Christ’) express
the close relationship between Christ and believers that is so important for
Paul. (Hooker 2000: 522; see also Hooker 1994 and Campbell 1994).
From the perspective of philosophical discussions of the atonement this is a remarkable
passage, for it contains no trace of exemplary and deontic language. Christ’s death is not
presented as something we must emulate, nor is it presented as persuading God to forgive us, as constituting restitution for our debts, as punishment for our misdeeds. Instead, the passage portrays Paul as focused on ontological and relational matters. This focus is encapsulated in Paul’s frequent references to Christ as ‘the Second Adam’, a phrase that is code for Paul’s notion that Christ’s death brings about a new human nature (a new Adam) (Rom. 8:19-22; Col. 1:15-20); we are quite literally born again in the sense that we are literally new creatures (Gal.2:20).
This new identity, grounded in the Christian’s participation in the death and resurrection
of Christ as the Second Adam, is symbolized – and perhaps even constituted—by the rites of Baptism and the Eucharist. Baptism symbolizes death to the old self and rebirth, participating in new life “in Christ”; the Eucharist involves partaking in the blood and body of Christ. These rites are thoroughly participatory. Participatory language also infuses Paul’s conception of the Church, which he describes as the body of Christ. Paul describes the Spirit as marrying the Christian to Christ so that “the two become one flesh” (Rom. 7: 1-4; I Cor. 6:15-18).
How does participation deal with sin? According to Paul, our change of identity liberates us
from sin: since we are no longer bound by (or under the sway of ) sin, we are free to participate in a restored relationship with God. In fact, Paul seems to think that we in some way participate in Christ’s relationship with God (cf. Romans 6:8–11: the Christian is “alive to God in Christ Jesus”). The central point to note here is that Paul’s conception of sin is not, primarily, deontic. Paul doesn’t see Christ’s death and resurrection as the salve for a troubled conscience—indeed, Paul is adamant that his conscience was clear (Acts 23:1, 2 Cor. 1:12). Instead, he regards Christ’s death as dealing with sin as part of the human (indeed: cosmic) condition. The participatory strand in Paul’s theology takes sin to be a problem of our identity.The atonement does not merely adjust our “moral standing” but instead inaugurates a change in the kind of beings we are. But one might ask: isn’t there some sense in which sin is a deontic problem? How does the participatory model deal with sin as a problem of moral culpability? We are not sure how best to answer this question, but there are a couple of lines of thought one might pursue. One might develop a hybrid model of the atonement, where participation in Christ’s death and resurrection deals with sin as a relational and ontological problem, and some form of the deontic model deals
with sin as a deontic problem. While there is certainly room for such hybridisation, we are more inclined to adopt the view that the atonement deals with sin as a deontic problem as a by-product of dealing with the sinner: if the sinner is the “old person,” and the old person died with Christ on the cross, then there is no one who ought to be regarded
as guilty for their sin; indeed, there is no longer anyone who ought to feelguilty for their sin.
The moral debt we owe to God (if such there be) is not punished or forgiven, nor is satisfaction or reparation made for it. Instead, it is dealt with by changing the identity of the sinner: strictly speaking, the person who is in the wrong before God no longer exists. We think that this is an advantage of the model. God’s forgiveness cannot be coerced or merited, even by Godself.
That, in outline, is the participatory model. Of course, there is much more that could (and should) be said here, but we believe that enough has been said to warrant taking this model as a serious and credible alternative to those models that currently dominate the discussion. Its biblical credentials are clear, as are its theological credentials: it doesn’t involve any problematic intra-Trinitarian transactions; it does justice to a relational and ontological conception of sin; and —unlike other models of the atonement—it forges a deep connection between the atonement and the death and resurrection of Christ.
I would agree that the Catholic standpoint supports all sin before baptism vanquished by baptism and lesser sins, post-baptism are healed with the Eucharist. The desire to sin, however, remains.
As is inherently obvious.