Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Rational Explanation for Atonement: Christus Victor, the Divine Human

How did Jesus save humanity?  In Western Christianity, among Catholics and Protestants it is assumed that Jesus saved humanity by becoming a substitute for God's wrath.  He took the punishment for our sins, and we are simply saved by believing in this without any change to our lives.  This is false for several reasons:
1.  Instead of being a God of love, God becomes wrathful desiring punishment.
2.  It presupposes that there are are least two separate beings to the Divinity.
3.  It removes responsibility for one's own actions.  Religion becomes a matter of belief alone.
This view is often called "vicarious atonement" and is also known as the "satisfaction theory."  It provides a legalistic explanation for the atonement, and often people are deceived into thinking that any work or deed is no longer necessary and thus ignore the Old Testament, as well as inconvenient passages of the New Testament.

However, this is not the way it always was.  What many people do not know is that for the first 1,000 years of the Christian Church they did not believe that Jesus saved humanity in this way.  Instead, they believed Jesus saved humanity by simply conquering all sin, death, and the power of hell over mankind.  This is also still the doctrine of the more ancient Orthodox churches.  In modern times this view is now known as "Christus Victor":
Christus Victor (Christ the Victor) is a view of the atonement taken from the title of Gustaf Aulén's groundbreaking book, first published in 1931, where he drew attention back to the early church's Ransom theory. In Christus Victor, the atonement is viewed as divine conflict and victory over the hostile powers that hold humanity in subjection. Aulén argues that the classic Ransom theory is not so much a rational systematic theory as it is a drama, a passion story of God triumphing over the powers and liberating humanity from the bondage of sin. As Gustav Aulén writes, "the work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil."
The Ransom Theory was predominant in the early church and for the first thousand years of church history and supported by all Greek Church Fathers from Irenaeus to John of Damascus. To mention only the most important names Origen, Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and John Chrysostom. The Christus Victor view was also dominant among the Latin Fathers of the Patristic period including Ambrose, Augustine, Leo the Great, and Gregory the Great.
A major shift occurred when Anselm of Canterbury published his Cur Deos Homo around 1097 AD which marks the point where the predominate understanding of the atonement shifted from the ransom theory to the Satisfaction Doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church and subsequently the Protestant Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church still holds to the Ransom or Christus Victor view. This is built upon the understanding of the atonement put forward by Irenaeus, called "recapitulation".
As the term Christus Victor indicates, the idea of “ransom” should not be seen in terms (as Anselm did) of a business transaction, but more of a rescue or liberation of humanity from the slavery of sin. Unlike the Satisfaction or Penal-substitution views of the atonement rooted in the idea of Christ paying the penalty of sin to satisfy the demands of justice, the Christus Victor view is rooted in the incarnation and how Christ entered into human misery and wickedness and thus redeemed it. Irenaeus called this "Recapitulation" (re-creation). As it is often expressed: "Jesus became what we are so that we could become what he is".
One well known Christian theologian and minister, Greg Boyd, has adopted this more ancient theology and has written a good article summing up support for it from both the Old and New Testament in The “Christus Victor” View of the Atonement.  For the New Testament, his main argument is expressed in the following paragraph:
According to the New Testament, the central thing Jesus did was drive out the “prince of this world” (Jn 12:31). He came to “destroy the works of the devil” (I Jn 3:8). He came to “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” in order to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15). Jesus lived, died and rose again to establish a new reign that would ultimately “put all his enemies under his feet” (I Cor 15:25). Though “the strong man” was “fully armed,” one who was “stronger than he” had finally arrived who could attack and overpower him” (Lk 11:21-22). While the cosmic “thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus came into the world to vanquish the thief so that all “may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them…” (Col 2:15). In a word, Jesus came to end the cosmic war that had been raging from time immemorial and to set Satan’s captives free ( Lk 4:18; Eph 4:8).
Another site, A Better Atonement: Christus Victor, expressed it in this way:
Christ’s death is God’s victory over sin and death. God conquers death by fully entering into it. God conquers Satan by using the very means employed by the Evil One.
Thus, the crucifixion is not a necessary transaction to appease a wrathful and justice-demanding deity, but an act of divine love.
God entered fully into the bondage of death, turned it inside out by making it a moment of victory, and thereby liberates humanity to live lives of love without the fear of death.

Despite Christus Victor or the Ransom Theory being the older and more correct view of original Christianity, there is still no rational explanation for how God saved humanity by becoming incarnate in human form.  Notice the following sentence in the above passage on the book on Christus Victor by Aulen, which I will quote again:
Aulén argues that the classic Ransom theory is not so much a rational systematic theory as it is a drama, a passion story of God triumphing over the powers and liberating humanity from the bondage of sin. 
Despite being the original doctrine, Christus Victor still does not give a rational explanation for how God saved humanity by becoming incarnate in human form.  That it is the correct view is supported by all of scripture.  Some of course use the metaphor of a ransom which is why it is often called the "Ransom" theory of atonement.  In other words, scripture described what happened, without giving the why or how.  This is why it is really hard to find a book explaining the theology.  Since explanations are lacking, it is thus described as a "drama."

In ancient times, the testimony of Jesus rising from the dead was a good enough testimony - if He can do that, He can deliver each person from sin into eternal life.  But in the modern rational world, this is not good enough for many.  Many demand a rational explanation for salvation, something that is logical which makes sense.  So is there a rational explanation for salvation?  Yes there is, but it does not come from the Orthodox church.  Instead, it comes from revelations received in waking heavenly visions from a scientist of the 18th century, Emanuel Swedenborg.
To be given a rational explanation, one must become aware that our material world is but one dimension of reality; beyond this dimension, outside of time and space, there are the spiritual realities of heaven and hell.  So salvation here means the elevation of a man towards heaven.  If one does not acknowledge the spiritual world in which there is a heaven and hell, spiritual salvation is not going to make any sense.  The spiritual reality of heaven and hell were described in detail by Emanuel Swedenborg in his work Heaven and Hell, and some of what he experienced has recently been confirmed by those who have had a Near Death Experience (NDE).

Each human being at birth is assigned two angelic spirits which try to lead man towards heaven, and there are two evil spirits assigned which lead man towards hell.  This is what gives man what people call "free will."  This is why man has laws and animal do not, for animals act only according to instinct and do not have a spiritual soul that survives after death.  The spiritual world has a direct impact on our lives and influences our every state of mind, in what Swedenborg calls a spiritual conjunction:
"With every man there are good spirits and evil spirits; by good spirits man has conjunction with heaven, and by evil spirits with hell. These spirits are in the world of spirits, which world is in the midst between heaven and hell... These spirits when they come to a man, enter into all his memory, and thence into all his thought; evil spirits into the things of the memory and thought that are evil, but good spirits into the things of the memory and thought that are good. The spirits do not know at all that they are with man, but when they are with him they believe that all things of his memory and thought are their own; neither do they see the man, because the things which are in our solar world do not fall into their sight." (Heaven and Hell, n. 291)
In the doctrine of the New Church, there is conjunction with heaven through Divine good flowing into the will, and Divine truth flowing into the thought.  False religions, or religions when they decline, always tend to place emphasis on belief and faith alone, but not on works and deeds of love.  It is living a life of love which saves, and the truths of faith are only a means to reforming one's life to live a life of love.  A faith of the lips, or knowledges of memory alone, is not faith.  Only truths that are conjoined to a life of love can be called faith.

Modern thought is that everything we think or will comes from our own self.  This is not true: everything we think or will comes by influx into our body through the mind through the spiritual world, by means of good or evil spirits.


Heaven and hell must remain in constant equilibrium in order for each person to have spiritual freedom.  If it does not remain in balance, this will have a general affect on the state of the free will of the human race.  When each person is first born, they are first held in bondage by evil spirits, which manifests in each person as the pride and esteem they have in their own self ego:
"That spirits who communicate with hell are also adjoined to man, is because man is born into evils of every kind, and so his first life is only from them; for this reason, unless there were adjoined to man spirits like himself, he could not live, nor indeed could he be withdrawn from his evils and be reformed. Wherefore he is held in his own life by evil spirits, and is withheld from it by good spirits; by means of both he is also in equilibrium; and because he is in equilibrium, he is in his freedom, and can be withdrawn from evils and inclined to good, and good can also be implanted in him — which could not by any means be done if he were not in freedom; nor can freedom be given him unless spirits from hell act on one side and spirits from heaven on the other, and man be in the midst. It has also been shown that man, so far as he partakes of what is hereditary and thence of self, would have no life if he were not allowed to be in evil, and none also if he were not in freedom; and moreover that he cannot be forced to good, and that what is forced does not abide; as also that the good which man receives in freedom, is implanted in his will and becomes as his own; and that hence it is that man has communication with hell and communication with heaven." (Heaven and Hell, n. 293)
And here is the interesting explanation given as to why God allows evil: evil exists so that there might be salvation, and salvation can only come in a state of free will:
"That man cannot be reformed unless he has freedom, is because he is born into evils of every kind, which yet must be removed in order that he may be saved; nor can they be removed unless he sees them in himself and acknowledges them, and afterward ceases to will them, and at length holds them in aversion; then they are first removed. This cannot be effected unless man be both in good and in evil, for from good he may see evils, but cannot from evil see goods. The spiritual goods which man is capable of thinking, he learns from childhood from the reading of the Word and from preaching; and moral and civil goods he learns from a life in the world. This is the first reason why man ought to be in freedom. Another reason is, because nothing is appropriated to man except what is done from the affection of love." (Heaven and Hell, n. 598)

So far, so good.  But what happens when the majority of humanity declines so that the majority fall towards the evil of the selfish ego?  Heaven and hell get out of balance, and this is where something interesting happens: this is what is described in scripture as the "Last Judgment" or "End of the World."  However "end of the world" is not a good translation, in reality it mentions "end of the age."  This last judgment does not take place in the physical material world, but in the spiritual world, specifically in the middle region between heaven and hell:
"That the equilibrium between heaven and hell begins to perish at the end of the church, may be evident from this, that heaven and hell are from the human race... and that when few men come into heaven, and many into hell, evil on the one part increases over good on the other; for in proportion as hell increases, evil increases, and all man's evil is from hell, and all his good from heaven. Because evil increases over good at the end of the church, therefore all are then judged by the Lord, the evil are separated from the good, and all things are reduced to order, and a new heaven is established, and also a new church on earth, and thus the equilibrium is restored." (The Final Judgment, n. 34)


This is a point that many people miss, because they always place the final judgment at some unknown time in the future.  Final judgments are periodic, and it is during these judgments that the Divine descends to separate the good from the evil in the spiritual world and provide new revelations of the truth on earth.  During the time of Jesus, God decided to do something He never did before: descend to the point of becoming incarnate in human form.  That a final judgment occurred at the time of Jesus, Jesus himself declares in several passages:
The prince of this world is judged. (John 16:11)
The final judgment was also declared when Jesus said the kingdom of heaven was at hand when He began His ministry.  And how did this manifest?  He cast out demons from people, releasing captives from the bondage of hell.
But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges.But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. (Matt. 12:24-28)
And here is this interesting passage, showing that the power of hell had began to rise not only over humanity, but even the lower heavens:
And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.  And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. (Luke 10:17-18)
That a final judgment occurred in the spiritual world by the coming of Jesus, is also shown in this passage:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. (John 5:25)
What, a resurrection of the dead?  This occur at the time of Jesus?  Yes it did:
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. (Matt. 27:50-53)
Who were these people who arose?  They were the spirits in prison, to whom Jesus preached between the time of the crucifixion and His resurrection (1 Pet. 3:19).  While Swedenborg was shown that Jesus rose as to His physical body, the resurrection of men into the heavenly kingdom is a resurrection of the spiritual body.  At this time many of these saints appeared to others through means of visions.  The "holy city" is not Jerusalem as many presume, but rather the holy city of heaven into which they were elevated.


Here is the last point that most proponents of the Christus Victor model miss.  It explains how Jesus conquered all of hell, and it explains why God had to become incarnate in human form.  It logically follows from the above points.  For by becoming incarnate, born as a human, Jesus as to His soul was Divine, one and the same with Jehovah, but as to His human form He could be tempted to sin.  This temptation occurred because He was now born into a lower state between heaven and hell, and what happened is now Jehovah could fight against all of hell through His human form.  With humans, there are two evil spirits assigned at birth.  With Jesus, it was different: as His love for the human race was so infinite, all the power of hell was assigned to him at birth to counteract it, to maintain the law of equilibrium.  Thus in Jesus Christ, a spiritual battle arose between Jehovah and all of hell.  Swedenborg describes this as follows:
"It is known in the church that the Lord conquered death, by which is meant hell, and that He afterwards ascended with glory into heaven: but it is not yet known, that the Lord conquered death or hell by combats, which are temptations, and at the same time glorified His Human by them; and that the passion of the cross was the last combat or temptation by which He conquered and glorified. These temptations are much treated of in the Prophets and in David, but not so much in the Evangelists. In the latter, the temptations which He endured from childhood up, are described in a summary by His temptations in the wilderness, and by His being afterwards tempted of the Devil; and the last, by the things which He suffered in Gethsemane and upon the cross. Concerning His temptations in the wilderness, and afterwards by the Devil, see Matt. iv. 1-11; Mark i. 12, 13; and Luke iv. 1-13. But by these are meant all His temptations, even to the last of them. He revealed no more concerning them to His disciples: for it is said in Isaiah, He was oppressed and He was afflicted; yet He opened not His mouth. He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth (liii. 7). Concerning His temptations in Gethsemane, see Matt. xxvi. 36-44, Mark xiv. 32-42, and Luke xxii. 39-46; and concerning the temptations on the cross, Matt, xxvii. 33-56, Mark xv. 22-38, Luke xxiii. 33-49, and John xix. 17-37. Temptations are nothing else than combats against the hells. " (Doctrine of the Lord, n. 12)
The temptations of Jesus continued until Jesus conquered to the point of making His very human body one with the Divine, which is why He had to rise as the body from the tomb.  This is the Doctrine of the Divine Human, which explains salvation. This is one of the hidden meanings of the Eucharist or Communion.  By making His human Divine, he conquered all of hell, and reordered the spiritual world:
"To redeem signifies to liberate from damnation, to deliver from eternal death, to rescue from hell, and take away captives and prisoners out of the hand of the devil. This was done by the Lord by subjugating the hells, and founding a new heaven. Man could not otherwise have been saved, because the spiritual world has such a connection with the natural world that they cannot be separated. This connection is principally with the interiors of men, which are called their souls and minds; those of the good with the souls and minds of angels, and those of the evil with the souls and minds of infernal spirits." (True Christian Religion, n. 118)

So how come many Christians, including those who believe in Christus Victor, and those of the Orthodox church, miss this explanation?  They miss this because many sects believe Mary, the mother of Jesus, was born perfect.  They miss this because they believe Jesus was born perfect, not recognizing that initially His soul had not completely transformed his lower human nature.  They miss it because of theological disputes over the centuries which debated on the human nature of Christ.  These beliefs and others has completely falsified the view of the atonement, for it was through the infirm human, by inheriting our nature, that salvation occurred.  There are so many falsifications of modern Christianity, that it is necessary to have a new revelation.  To accept it, one must acknowledge one's own falsehoods that one has been taught.

The doctrine of the Divine Human, explained in detail in the revelations given to Swedenborg, gives a rational explanation for salvation through Jesus Christ.  This is how the Christus Victor model works.  This is the true meaning of atonement.  This is the original gospel of Christianity that has been lost to modern churches.  This is not a mysterious faith, but a rational faith, free to anyone who wishes to examine it.  Without it, Christianity remains a mystery, or a religion of logical contradictions.  With it, one now has a rational doctrine to begin a new spiritual life: for as Jesus conquered the hells, so His spirit can flow into each one of us to resist the sins and temptations of hell that seek to turn us away from God and heaven.  It begins with repentance, by acknowledging one's sins.  Conjunction with heaven then occurs when one lives by the good according to the truths that he or she learns, especially from the Word.  Amen.