Penal substitution


Thought I had posited this question yesterday, but cannot it trace it.
Yesterday I read an article - a critique on Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of Christ” - maintaining it calls for penal substitution. Upon that I read another article on penal substition which frankly, was shocking in contents.
Can anybody elaborate on this subject, as I fail to get the finer point, evidently.



Your post made me curious, so I went looking.

Did the article you read say that the movie “calls for penal substitution” or that it ascribes to the idea of penal substitution.

Penal substitution as I understand it means that Jesus died as a substitue for all humanity. He bore our punichment. (This is not the teaching of the Church).

Here is an article that explains it.


Thanks your reply. Yes, it is very interesting and it is not what I understand to be orthodox RC teaching. I believe the question is foremost raging within Protestantism. Still, it seems to touch society as a whole.
I’ve been a bit busy though the last few days, as I’m located in Greece - we have a bit of crisis on our hands here. But as soon as that abates I’ll come back on this matter and post further. I also need to re-read the original article again.
Thanks again for the dialogue and God bless!


Here is an example I came up with:

Lets say a group of kids crash the family car, the Father is upset about this and needs to spank the kids…but the mother steps in…

-Protestants would say the mother would have to receive the equivalent beating that the children deserved and thus the Father would be satisfied. [substitution]

-Catholics on the other hand reject that notion because the Father could never act in such a way towards His wife. Rather, the wife stepped in and spent all day in a hot-sweaty kitchen to prepare the Father a nice multi-course home cooked meal. The Father was so pleased at this act that He in turn decided not to discipline the children, only requiring a simple apology.
The penal substitution view above is the historical/classical Protestant understanding still held today by most Reformed (Calvinist) and Lutherans though more and more protestants of other backgrounds are rejecting this idea of penal substitution and siding with the Catholic understanding.


It’s also called the “substituionary atonement.”

I think our faith should be centered in Christ Jesus, rather than a theory about how He saves us.


While this is true in general there are “theories” that are simply unacceptable and heretical. The classical protestant idea of Jesus being punished in our place by the Father is nothing short of blasphemy.


You have:eek: more than" a bit of a crisis"!! :byzsoc: :gopray: :gopray: :crossrc: for you and for all in Greece at this very scary time!!


You have more than" a bit of a crisis"!! for you and for all in Greece at this very scary time!!

Yes, it’s an unprecedented disaster. On the fire front things are quieting down somewhat - but leaving the local population largely destitute - these not being the kind of people, keeping their money safely in a Swiss bank account. The political fall-out’s only just started.

I didn’t handle this subject as well as I habitually might have done (keeping links) - for which my sincere apologies - I erroneously assumed I might easily be able to retrace my steps.
I found the original article, the review of the Mel Gibson movies (they eye of the beholder, if you ask me), but the article that set me off, remains illusive.
But the idea was that “Right wing American Evangelicals” subscribe to penal substitution (apparently). This was linked to their views on social ethics (vengance, death penalty, redemption of ‘violence’, and what have you). In short, it was a reaction, typical of the present crypto Marxist knee-jerk, explaining everything in a political, dialectic context. I have made it my job, to expose this behavior, and I was wondering just how widespread this idea is. As it turns out I’m probably in the wrong place.
Thanks all very much for the dialogue and advice. God keep us all (we need it!)


Isaiah 53:5
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought

There’s a decent explanation of the penal substitution versus the satisfaction theory of our atonement on wikipedia. Here’s a snippet:

“The classic Anselmian formulation of the satisfaction view should be distinguished from penal substitution. Both are forms of satisfaction doctrine in that they speak of how Christ’s death was satisfactory, but penal substitution and Anselmian satisfaction both offer different understandings of how Christ’s death was satisfactory. Anselm speaks of human sin as defrauding God of the honour he is due. Christ’s death, the ultimate act of obedience, brings God great honour. As it was beyond the call of duty for Christ, it is more honour than he was obliged to give. Christ’s surplus can therefore repay our deficit. Hence Christ’s death is substitutionary; he pays the honour instead of us. Penal substitution differs in that it sees Christ’s death not as repaying God for lost honour but rather paying the penalty of death that had always been the moral consequence for sin (e.g. Genesis 2:17; Romans 6:23). The key difference here is that for Anselm, satisfaction is an alternative to punishment, “The honor taken away must be repaid, or punishment must follow” (Cur Deus Homo Bk 1 Ch 8). By Christ satisfying our debt of honor to God, we avoid punishment. In Calvinist Penal Substitution, it is the punishment which satisfies the demands of justice.
Another distinction must be made between penal substitution (Christ punished instead of us) and substitutionary atonement (Christ suffers for us). Both affirm the substitutionary and vicarious nature of the atonement, but penal substitution offers a specific explanation as to what the suffering is for: punishment. Nearly all of the Church Fathers, including Justin Martyr, Athanasius and Augustine teach substitutionary atonement. Indeed, the doctrine was clearly articulated by the prophet Isaiah in 800 BC. However the specific interpretation as to what this suffering for sinners meant differed. The early Church Fathers, including Athanasius and Augustine taught that through Christ’s suffering in humanity’s place, he overcame and liberated us from death and the devil. Thus while the idea of substitutionary atonement is present in nearly all atonement theories, the specific idea of satisfaction and later penal substitution are later developments in the Latin church.”

Hope that helps.



David-- you beat me to the punch! The author’s conflation of Anselm and Calvin does great injustice to Anselm’s thought. Reading Cur Deus Homo should make it obvious that he’s not-- and in fact completely opposes-- Calvin’s theory of penal substitution.

For instance, notice bk. 1 ch. 8:

Boso. Be it so; let nothing be referred to the Divine nature, which is spoken of Christ after the manner of human weakness; but how will it ever be made out a just or reasonable thing that God should treat or suffer to be treated in such a manner, that man whom the Father called his beloved Son in whom he was well pleased, and whom the Son made himself? For what justice is there in his suffering death for the sinner, who was the most just of all men? What man, if he condemned the innocent to free the guilty, would not himself be judged worthy of condemnation? And so the matter seems to return to the same incongruity which is mentioned above. For if he could not save sinners in any other way than by condemning the just, where is his omnipotence? If, however, he could, but did not wish to, how shall we sustain his wisdom and justice?

Anselm… God the Father did not treat that man as you seem to suppose, nor put to death the innocent for the guilty. For the Father did not compel him to suffer death, or even allow him to be slain, against his will, but of his own accord he endured death for the salvation of men.

If you examine Calvin’s theory, you’ll see it is the opposite-- Calvin must in some way impute guilt to Christ so that God the Father may arraign Him as a guilty party before the bar, in order that He may be punished by the Father with the punishment qua punishment for our sins, and suffer the tortures of hell at the hands of an angry God.

If anyone wants quotes from Calvin, that link is where he discusses it. I can pick out quotes systematically later if anyone wants.



Okay, but now I’m a bit confused. Every Tuesday and Friday we pray in the Rosary, first decade: “Jesus sees the sins of all mankind, whose guilt He has taken upon Himself. He sees the wrath of the Father which his sufferings must appease.” So how are we to understand that, if penal substitution is “heretical”?


It shouldnt be a surprise considering it is Wiki.
Anyway thanks for the quote.

If anyone wants quotes from Calvin, that link is where he discusses it. I can pick out quotes systematically later if anyone wants.

I made a thread on this a while back:

Also, it is clear at least some of the original Lutherans believed “Christ’s descent into hell” was part of the penal substitution model as well:
1] It has also been disputed among some theologians who have subscribed to the Augsburg Confession concerning this article: When and in what manner the Lord Christ, according to our simple Christian faith, descended to hell: whether this was done before or after His death; also, whether it occurred according to the soul alone, or according to the divinity alone, or with body and soul, spiritually or bodily; also, whether this article belongs to the passion or to the glorious victory and triumph of Christ.
(Lutheran Book of Concord, Formula of Concord ch 9)


See my post number 4 above. The wrath of the Father is NEVER unleashed on the Son, the Son is NEVER punished.

closed #14

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