By FATHER KENNETH DOYLE
Q. I wonder about Jesus being a "sacrifice" for the expiation of sins. Why did God the Father "require" that Christ be a "sacrifice" for the forgiveness of the sins of mankind? (Louisville, Kentucky)
A. I don't believe that God the Father "required" that Jesus die such a gruesome death to redeem us from our sins. But your question reflects a theological debate that has gone on for centuries.
On one side is the 11th-century thinker St. Anselm, who championed what was known as "satisfaction" theology. Anselm believed that Christ's sacrificial death was necessary to free mankind from sin and that the blood of Jesus was "payment" for that sin.
But isn't God all-powerful and couldn't he have done anything he wanted to? He could certainly have acted, as the father of the prodigal son did in the Gospel, by simply forgiving humanity outright and restoring us to his good graces.
In contrast to Anselm, I prefer to side with St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas said that while any manner God chose would have sufficed for our salvation, the passion of Christ was the perfect means because "man knows thereby how much God loves him and is thereby stirred to love him in return" (Summa III, 46, art. 3). So, to my way of thinking, we are in no way compelled to believe that God deliberately willed the suffering of his son.
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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.