Satisfaction and Chalcedonian Christology

When one ponders the doctrines of Christianity in search of the central issue in and the meaningful reason for this religion, one most assuredly comes to see that it is the possibility of a fulfilling relationship between God and humanity that sets itself up as most important. As a result the key issue of all ages in the church is the issue of how, if at all, this type of relationship is possible. Scripture clearly teaches that such a relationship is possible and even gives a clear teaching on how it is possible. In simple terms, God can and does create an avenue, through which humanity can fellowship with Him, through His Son, Jesus Christ. The question throughout the history of the church is how this is possible. How does God affect this fellowship through His Son? Furthermore, why is such a deed on God's part necessary? This is the focus of the following pages. We wish to discover first, what is the nature of the rift between God and His creation, second, what is required for the rift to be patched, and third, what must be true of Christ if He is to be the one to patch the rift. In particular we will look at man's fall, its cure and the Chalcedonian formulation of Christology in order to see if Chalcedon presents the church with a Christ who can save.

The Fall

Central in any attempt to determine the validity of a Christological theory is an understanding of man's fall and what must occur in order to reverse the effects of that fall. Addressing this very issue Irenaeus states, "It was impossible that the very humanity which had once been conquered and shattered by its disobedience should reconstitute itself and obtain the prize which belongs to victory. Furthermore, it was impossible for a humanity which had fallen under the domination of sin to lay hold on to salvation." [1] In other words, the fall was of such a nature that humanity became helpless to save itself. Its effect was a complete severing of any hope for personal and beneficial fellowship with God. Paul taught that all of humanity is at war with God. It was while we were enemies with God that we were reconciled to God (Rom 5:10).

The question is, "why is this so?" Anselm's answer is that humanity has stolen God's honor from him in that we are disobedient. Every creature owes to God obedience and when we are disobedient we rob God of what is due to Him, namely His honor. This is sin and "everyone who sins must repay to God the honor that he has taken away, and this is the satisfaction that every sinner ought to make to God." [2] Unfortunately, such a satisfaction cannot be made by humanity. A particular dialog between Anselm and Boso makes this quite clear:

  • Anselm. Tell me, then, what will you pay to God for your sin?
    Boso. Repentance, a contrite and humble heart, fastings and all sorts of bodily labors, mercy in giving and forgiving, and obedience.

  • A. In all this what do you give to God?

    B. Do I not honor God...?

    A. When you pay what you owe to God, even if you have not sinned, you must not count this as part of the debt you owe for sin. But you owe God all those things you have mentioned.... What do you give God that you do not owe him, to whose command you owe all that you are and have and can do?

    B. I do not dare now to say that in all these things I give God anything that I do not owe.

    A. What, then, will you pay God for your sins?

    B. If I owe him myself and all that I can do, even when I do not sin, lest I should sin, I have nothing to repay him for sin.

    A. Then what will become of you? How are you to be saved? [3]
  • This is a critical question. According to Anselm, we have robbed God of His due honor and are therefore justly in debt to him. However, even if we had not sinned there is still a debt that we owe to Him, namely, obedience in all He has given us. Consequently we are without any means of paying our debt to God because anything we could give Him we already owe Him.
  • In its totality the fall has effected humanity in that it has conquered us and shattered us, placed us under the domination of sin, made us the enemies of God and left us with a debt owed that we are incapable of paying. By what means can this ill be cured?

    A Cure for the Fall

    Here we must deal with the words 'satisfaction' and 'satisfy.' It is the contention here that the cure for the fall is found in satisfaction made for sins. This is also Anselm's position and yet we will show that Anselm's theory of satisfaction, while reasonably persuasive and appealing, is not the same as a biblical understanding of satisfaction. This is not to say that God's honor has not been offended. On the contrary, God's honor has been offended even to the point of creating a violent reaction from God. It is not simply a possession of God or a characteristic of God that has been sinned against by us. Instead, we have sinned against the very person of God, and as a result, His wrath is full against us. It is therefore, God in His righteous anger that must be satisfied. He has become angry at humanity because humanity has sinned against Him, and the nature of God's anger is that it must be spent. Furthermore, in order to be spent it must have an object upon which to spend itself. This object is humanity. In our hopeless unregenerate state we are the proper objects of God's wrath and we must receive the full brunt of that wrath. Stott argues this well: "God is 'provoked' to jealous anger over his people by their sins. Once kindled, his anger 'burns' and is not easily quenched. He 'unleashes' it, 'pours' it out, 'spends' it." [4]

    Although Anselm is wrong in making God's honor that which must be satisfied, when he talks about a debt owed to God, he is right to say that we do not have the resources to pay this debt. That is why the wages of sin is death. Our disobedience toward God is so grievous in nature that it kindles God's wrath against us, and that wrath is only quenched by our death. And so when we ask, what is the cure for the fall, we answer that it is the complete satisfaction of God's wrath. And yet we are loath to be able to satisfy God's wrath and remain alive so as to enjoy fellowship with Him. Therefore, if the fall is to be dealt with so that we might live despite our sin and enjoy fellowship with God there must be an individual who can in himself satisfy the complete wrath of God due all people and yet live.

    Chalcedonian Christology

    Throughout the history of the Church it has always been held that that individual is Christ. The question, which has been under investigation, is "what things must be true of Christ if he is to be capable of doing this deed?" Traditionally the Christology of Chalcedon has been held up as the creedal answer to that question. In the following pages we will consider Chalcedon and seek to discover whether the Christ of Chalcedon can save us.

    In A.D. 451, as a response to the monophysitism supported by the Robber Council of A.D. 449, the Emperor Marcian convoked the Council of Chalcedon. In dealing with this heresy the Council of Chalcedon set forth a new creed in which all the Christological heresies were addressed. It argued against the Docetist that Christ was "perfect in manness," against Paul of Samosata that the Logos was 'begotten of the Father before the ages' and had a "personal subsistence," against the Sabellians that the Son and the Father are distinct persons, against the Arians that the Lord was "perfect deity, truly God, and consubstantial with the Father," against Apollinarius "that Jesus had a rational soul that is a spirit," against Nestorius that Mary was theotokos, and Christ is one divine person "not parted or divided" and "whose natures are in union," and against the Eutychians that "in Christ were two natures without confusion and without change, the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in one person." [5]

    The important points to note for our discussion is that Christ was said to be truly divine and truly human having both a divine nature and human nature which were without division and without change. In other words these two natures existed together always from the point of conception through the death, burial, and resurrection. At no point did the human nature exist without the divine nature These natures were by no means confused our mixed into one another so as to form a third type of being; instead they remained distinct. Furthermore, these two natures had their union in one person. In other words there were not two persons in Christ "but one and the same Son and Only-begotten, God, Word, the Lord Jesus Christ." [6]

    According to the supporters of Chalcedon and Nicaea these distinctions concerning Christ were essential for the salvation of humanity. Cyril wrote concerning Christ, "He was born from the Father before the ages, as to his deity, but at the end of the days the same one was born, for our sake and the sake of our salvation, from Mary the Virgin, as to his humanity." [7] According to Cyril the humanity of Christ must be affirmed for salvation. If He who was born from the Father before all ages was not born as to his humanity then there is no salvation for lost humanity. It is necessary that the one who will satisfy the wrath of God be a representative of humanity as Adam was a representative of humanity. For this reason Paul wrote, "just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin...for if by the transgression of the one many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ abound to many (Rom 5:12,15 NASB). According to Paul in order for grace to abound to us, like death abounded to us through Adam, it must come through a man. Therefore, Christ must be fully human. In light of our inability as noted above to satisfy God's wrath we read Pope Leo I's statement: "we would not be able to overcome the author of sin and of death unless he whom sin could not stain nor death hold took on our nature and made it his own." [8] In this manner he echoes the sentiments of Phil 2:7: Christ "emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men." Vitally important to Leo's statement is that "he whom sin could not stain nor death hold took on our nature and made it his own." As we have shown, no human is capable of satisfying the wrath of God because of the sin debt we all owe to God and yet we see here that a human must satisfy God's wrath if true satisfaction is to take place and we are to benefit from it. Consequently, Christ could be no mere human. Instead he must be a human capable of taking on the full force and might of God's wrath and yet not be destroyed by such an assault. But who can do such a thing?

    Anselm talks about a debt that is owed to God and if when we read the following statements of his we consider the debt to be death via God's wrath he is very helpful in answering our question. Speaking of satisfaction he states, "this cannot be done unless there is someone to pay to God for human sin something greater than everything that exists, except God." Satisfaction cannot occur unless there is someone who will suffer the complete wrath of God by dying the death of all the elect, which is paying "to God for human sin something greater than everything that exists." "If he is to give something of his own to God which surpasses everything that is beneath God, it is also necessary for him to be greater than everything that is not God." If Christ is to suffer the complete wrath of God he must be able to die many deaths at once and therefore he must be greater than all things that are not God for all created things can die but only once. "But there is nothing above everything that is not God, save God himself. Then no one but God can make satisfaction." No one but God can take on the full force and might of God's wrath and yet not be destroyed by such an assault. "If then as is certain, ... this cannot happen unless the aforesaid satisfaction is made, while no one save God can make it and no one save man ought to make it, it is necessary for a God-Man to make it." [9]

    This is he who satisfies God's wrath or is "displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith" (Rom 3:25). He is of two natures, a divine nature so that he is able to do what must be done, namely, receive the just punishment of sinners and a human nature so that he will be a second Adam through whom the grace of God abounds.

    It must also be affirmed that this same one that Chalcedon and Scripture teach finds the expression of his two natures in one person and that being the person of the Son of God. This union of the perfect manness and perfect deity is said to take place enhypostatically in the person of the Son. The human nature in anhypostatic, that is, it has no person in that it has no human person and yet it has always had a person in that it has never existed separate from the enhypostatic union of the two natures in the Son of God.

    Why is this so important? If the human nature ever existed apart from the divine nature so that the divine nature assumed a pre-existent human nature as its temple then we would have to accept that the human nature was born from the union of man and woman and thus is subject to original sin and also possess a person. Consequently, Christ would not be able to satisfy the wrath of God because he would be subject to death and overcome by it due to his participation in the sin of Adam. He therefore, would not be the second Adam through whom grace abounds to many.

    Therefore, once Leontius of Byzantium verbalized the enhypostatic union implicit in Chalcedon, the Christ of Chalcedon is affirmed as that which is necessary for salvation. He meets man's need by representing him as the second Adam and by satisfying the wrath of God that would have been poured out upon the world.


    [1] Irenaeus Adversus haereses 3.18.2, ed. and trans. Richard A. Norris, Sources of Early Christian Thought: The Christological Controversy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 49.

    [2] Anselm of Canterbury, Cur Dues Homo 1.11, ed. and trans. Eugene R. Fairweather, A Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Ockham ( Philadelphia: Westminster Press), 119.

    [3] Ibid., 1.20, 136-137.

    [4] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1986), 126.

    [5] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 608-9.

    [6] The Symbol of Chalcedon in The Creeds of Christendom ed. by Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 62.

    [7] Cyril of Alexandria Letter to John of Antioch, ed. and trans. Richard A. Norris, Sources of Early Christian Thought: The Christological Controversy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 142.

    [8] Leo I Letter to Flavian of Constantinople 2, ed. and trans. Richard A. Norris, Sources of Early Christian Thought: The Christological Controversy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 146.

    [9] Anselm, Cur Dues Homo 2.6, 150-1.

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