Reclaiming all Paul’s Rs: Apostolic Atonement by Way of the Eastern Fathers

Polarizing claims are frequently made concerning language that expresses the atonement. Since Aulén’s Christus Victor, seemingly irreconcilable constructs have crystallized: the Eastern metaphor of rescue over against Western pictures of sacrifice or law-court; the conquest of death over against reparation for sin; human frailty over against God’s just anger. St. Paul’s letters, variously read, prove fertile field for these different views of how the Son lived and died pro nobis. We see such polemics not only in Western scholars who defend sacrificial and/or Anselmian constructs, but also in Orthodox or pro-Eastern writers eschewing a wrathful God and substitutionary atonement. Addressing this quandary, C. S. Lewis advises: “whatever you do, do not start quarreling with other people because they use a different formula from yours.” As faithful scholars, however, we must go beyond this live-and-let-live attitude and weigh the merits of the case. In this paper, I will argue that we are meant to have our cake and eat it, too. To this end, I will attempt to recover all the “Pauline Rs”— Redemption, Reparation, Righteousness, Representation, Rescue, Recapitulation and Reconciliation— with the help commentary on St. Paul’s letters by St. John Chrysostom and other ancient theologians. Let us appreciate the full panoply of soteriological pictures, rather casting these as opposites or alternatives. My talk includes a foray into an untranslated sermon by St. John Chrysostom on the Ascension, which refers to key soteriological passages in the Pauline letters.