The Doctrine of Redemption

Saint Anselm argued that since God is infinite the offence to him implicit in humanity's sin is also infinitely important. The right thus damaged must be restored, because God is a God of order and justice; indeed, he is justice itself. But the measure of the offence demands an infinite reparation, which man is not capable of making. He can offend infinitely - his capacity extends that far - but he cannot produce an infinite reparation; what he, as a finite being, gives will always be only finite. His powers of destruction extend further than his power to reconstruct, Thus between all the reparations that man may attempt and the greatness of his guilt there remains an infinite gulf which he can never bridge. Any gesture of expiation can only demonstrate his powerlessness to close the infinite gulf which he himself opened up.

Is order to be destroyed for ever, then, and man to remain eternally imprisoned in the abyss of his guilt? Anselm's answer runs thus: God himself removes the injustice; not (as he could) by a simple amnesty, which cannot after all overcome from inside what has happened, but by the infinite Being's himself becoming man and then as a man - who thus belongs to the race of the offenders yet possesses the power, denied to man, of infinite reparation - making the required expiation. Thus the redemption takes place entirely through grace and at the same time entirely as the restoration of right.

Anselm's view has put a decisive stamp on the second millennium of Western Christendom, which takes it for granted that Christ had to die on the cross in order to make good the infinite offence which had been committed and in this way to restore the damaged order of things. It will always command respect as an attempt to synthesise the individual elements in the biblical evidence in one great all-embracing system. It is not hard to see that in spite of all the philosophical and juridical terminology employed, the guiding thread remains that truth which the Bible expresses in that little word "For", in which it makes clear that we as men live not only directly from God but from one another, and in the last analysis from the One who lived for all.

But it cannot be denied that the perfectly logical divine-cum-human legal system erected by Anselm distorts the perspectives and with its rigid logic can make the image of God appear in a sinister light. Things look immediately different when, in place of the division into work and person, it becomes clear that with Jesus Christ it is not a question of a piece of work separate from himself, of a feat which God must demand because he himself is under an obligation to the concept of order; that with him it is not a question of having humanity, but of being human. And how different things look further on when one picks up the Pauline key, which teaches us to understand Christ as the "last man" (1 Cor 1:45) - the final man, who takes man into his future, which consists of his being not just man but one with God.

Christian faith believes in Jesus as the exemplary man (this is probably the best way to translate the Pauline concept of the "last Adam.") But precisely because he is the exemplary, the authoritative man, he oversteps the bounds of humanity; only thus and only thereby is he the truly exemplary man. For man is the more himself the more he is with "the other". He only comes to himself by moving away from himself. Only through "the other" and through "being" with "the other" does he come to himself.

If the "other" is just anyone he can also cause man to lose himself. Man is finally intended for the other, the truly other, for God; he is all the more himself the more he is with the quite other, with God. Accordingly he is completely himself when he has ceased to stand in himself, to shut himself off in himself and to assert himself, when in fact he is pure openness to God. To put it again in different terms: man comes to himself by moving out beyond himself. Jesus Christ is he who has moved right out beyond himself and thus is the man who has truly come to himself.

The Rubicon of becoming man, of "hominization", was first crossed by the step from animal to logos, from mere life to mind. Man came into existence out of the "clay" at the moment when a creature was no longer merely "there" but, over and above just being there and filling his needs, was aware of the whole. But this step, trough which "logos", understanding, mind, first came into this world, is only completed when the logos itself, the whole creative meaning, and man merge into each other.
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Man's full "hominization" presupposes God's becoming man; only by this event is the Rubicon dividing the "animal" from the "logical" finally crossed for ever and the highest possible development accorded to the process which began when a creature of dust and earth looked out beyond itself and its environment and was able to address God as "You".

It is openness to the whole, to the infinite, that makes man complete. Man is man by reaching out infinitely beyond himself and he is consequently more of a man the less enclosed he is in himself, the less "limited" he is. For that man is most man, indeed the true man, who is most unlimited, who not only has contact with the infinite - the infinite being! - but is one with him: Jesus Christ. In him "hominization" has reached its true goal.

If Jesus is the exemplary man, in whom the true figure of man, God's intention for him, comes fully to light, then he cannot be destined to be merely an absolute exception, a curiosity, in which God demonstrates to us just what is possible. His existence concerns all mankind. The New Testament makes this perceptible by calling him an "Adam"; in the Bible this word expresses the unity of the whole creature "man", so that one can speak of the biblical idea of a "corporate personality"> So if Jesus is called "Adam" this implies that he is intended to gather the whole creature "Adam" in himself. But this means that the reality which Paul calls, in a way that is largely incomprehensible to us today, the "body of Christ" is an intrinsic postulate of this existence, which cannot remain an exception but must "draw to itself" the whole of mankind (cf John 12.32)

It must be regarded as an important service of Teilhard de Chardin's that he rethought these ideas from the angle of the modern view of the world and, in spite of a not entirely unobjectionable tendency towards the biological approach, nevertheless on the whole grasped them correctly and in any case made them accessible once again. Let us listen to his own words: the human monad "can only be absolutely itself by ceasing to be alone."

In the background is the idea that in the cosmos, alongside the two orders or classes of the infinitely small and the infinitely big, there is a third order, which determines the real drift of evolution, namely the order of the infinitely complex. It is the real goal of the ascending powers of growth or becoming; it reaches a first peak in the genesis of living things and then continues to advance to those highly complex creations which give the cosmos a new centre.

"Imperceptible and accidental as the position which they hold may be in the history of the heavenly bodies, in the last analysis the planets are nothing less than the vital points of the universe. It is through them that the axis now runs, on them is henceforth concentrated the main effort of an evolution aiming principally at the production of large molecules." (Chardin)

The examination of the world by the dynamic criterion of complexity thus signifies "a complete inversion of values. A reversal of the perspective."

Man is so far the maximum in complexity. But even he as mere man-monad cannot represent an end; his growth itself demands a further advance in complexity. "At the same time as he represents an individual centred on himself (that is, a "person"), does not Man also represent an element in relation to some new and higher synthesis?" (Chardin). That is to say, man is indeed on the one hand already an end that can no longer be reversed, no longer be melted down again; yet in the juxtaposition of individual men he is not yet at the goal but shows himself to be an element, as it were, that longs for a whole which will embrace it without destroying it.

Let us look at a further text, in order to see in what directions such ideas lead: "Contrary to the appearances still accepted by Physics, the Great Stability is not below - in the infra-elemental - but above - in the ultra-synthetic." (Chardin).

So it must be discovered that "If things hold and hold together, it is only by virtue of 'complexification' from the top." I think that we are confronted here with a crucial statement; at this point the dynamic view of the world destroys the positivistic conception, so near to all of us, that stability is located only in the "mass", in hard material. That the world is in the last resort put together and held together "from above" here becomes evident in a way that is particularly striking because we are so little accustomed to it.

This leads to a further passage in Teilhard de Chardin which it is worth quoting in order to give at least some indication here, by means of a few fragmentary excerpts, of his general outlook. "The Universal Energy must be a Thinking Energy if it is not to be less highly evolved than the ends animated by its action. And consequently ... the attributes of cosmic value with which it is surrounded in our modern eyes do not affect in the slightest the necessity obliging us to recognise in it a transcendent form of Personality." From here it is possible to understand the final aim of the whole movement as Teilhard understands it: the cosmic drift moves "in the direction of an incredible "mono-molecular' state, so to speak , in which each ego is destined to attain its climax in a sort of mysterious super-ego."

As an "I", man is indeed an end, but the whole tendency of his being and of his own existence shows him also to be a creature belonging to a "super-I" that does not blot him out but encompasses him; only such an association can bring out the form of the future man, in which humanity will achieve complete fulfilment of itself.

One can safely say that here the tendency of Pauline Christology is in essentials grasped from the modern angle and rendered comprehensible again, even if the vocabulary employed is certainly rather too biological.

Faith sees in Jesus the man in whom - on the biological plane - the next evolutionary leap, as it were, has been accomplished; the man in whom the breakthrough out of the limited scope of humanity, out of its monadic enclosure, has occurred; the man in whom personalisation and socialisation no longer exclude each other but support each other; the man in whom perfect unity - "The body of Christ", says Saint Paul, and even more pointedly "You are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:33) - and perfect individuality are one; the man in whom humanity comes in contact with its future and in the highest extent itself becomes its future, because through him it makes contact with God himself, shares in him and thus realises its most intrinsic possibility.

From here onwards faith in Christ will see the beginning of a movement in which dismembered humanity is gathered together more and more into the being of one single Adam, one single body - the man to come. It will see in him that movement to the future of man in which he is completely "socialised", incorporated in one single being, but in such a way that the separate individual is not extinguished but brought completely to himself.

Johannine theology points in the same direction. One has only to recall the words: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (John 12.32). This sentence is intended to explain the meaning of Christ's death on the cross; it thus expresses, since the cross forms the centre of Johannine theology, the direction in which the whole Gospel is intended to point. The event of the crucifixion appears there as a process of opening, in which the scattered man-monads are drawn into the embrace of Jesus Christ, into the wide span of his outstretched arms, in order to arrive,, in this union, at their goal, the goal of humanity. But if this is so, then Christ as the man to come is not man for himself but essentially man for others; it is precisely his complete openness that makes him the man of the future.

John concludes his portrait of the earthly Jesus with the image of an existence whose walls are torn down, which knows no more firm boundaries but is essentially openness. "One of the soldiers thrust a lance into his side and immediately blood and water came out" John 19:34). For John, the picture of the pierced side forms not only the climax of the crucifixion scene but of the whole story of Jesus. Now, after the lance-thrust that ends his earthly life, his existence is completely open; now he is entirely "for", now he is truly no longer a single individual but "Adam", from whose side Eve, a new mankind is formed.

The open side of the new Adam repeats the creative mystery of the "open side" of man: it is the beginning of a new definitive community of men with one another, a community symbolised here by blood and water, in which John points to the basic Christian sacraments of baptism and Eucharist and through them to the Church as the sign of the new community of men. The fully opened Christ, who completes the transformation of being into reception and transmission, is thus visible as what at the deepest level he always was; as "Son". So Jesus on the cross has truly entered on his hour, as once again John says.

But the whole thing also shows what demands the talk of the man to come involves, and how little it really has to do with the cheerful romanticism of progress. For to be the man for others, the man who is open and thereby opens up a new beginning, means being the man in the sacrifice, sacrificed man. The future of man hangs on the cross - the redemption of man is the cross. And he can only come to himself by letting the walls of his existence be broken down, by looking on him who has been pierced (John 19:37), and by following him who as the pierced and opened one has opened the path into the future.

This means in the end that Christianity, which as belief in the creation acknowledges the primacy of the logos, the creative meaning as beginning and origin, also acknowledges it" in a specific way as the end, the future, the coming one. Indeed, in this gaze at him who is coming lies the real historical dynamism of the Christian approach, which in the Old and New Testaments perfects faith into hope of the promise.

Christian faith is not just a backward gaze at what has happened in the past, an anchorage in a source that lies behind us in time; a conception of this sort would finally end in mere romanticism and reaction. Nor is it just gazing out at the eternal; that would be Platonism and metaphysics. It is also above all things a looking forward, a reaching-out of hope. Not only that, certainly; hope would become utopianism, with only man's own product as the goal.

It is true hope precisely because it is located at the intersection of all three dimensions: the past, that is, the breakthrough that has already taken place; the present of the eternal, which makes divided time like unity; and him who is to come, in whom God and world will touch each other and thus God in world, world in God will truly be the omega of history.

Since Abraham and until the return of the Lord, faith advances to meet him who is coming. But in Christ the countenance of him who is to come is already revealed: it will be the man who can embrace all men because he has lost himself and them to God. For this reason the emblem of him who is to come must be the cross, and his face in this era of the world must be a countenance of blood and wounds: the "last man", that is, the real, the future man reveals himself in this age in the last men; whoever wishes to stand on his side must therefore stand on their side (cf Matt 25:31-46)