8 replies, 6 voices Last updated by  jsdebeer 1 year, 1 month ago
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    One of the issues I have, coming out of Protestantism is understanding the wrath of God. Penal substitution is an enormous doctrine among my Protestant friends, to the point that if you don’t believe it, you don’t really believe the gospel. I held to that position myself for some time.

    It was the Orthodox that gently encouraged me to rethink the matter, as they repudiate the idea or a wrathful, vengeful God, demanding innocent blood for the sake of the guilty.

    I have never quite understood how salvation works without penal substitution, I have only managed to get as far as acknowledging that it really does make God a monster. But I am unclear too, on the differences between the Orthodox belief, and the Catholic belief, and indeed, I am unsure if the Catholic belief is different from the Protestant one.



    I need to run rather quickly to a mid-Mass meeting, but I will put something briefly down to get things started. Elizabeth, you will agree as a Protestant that God’s gift of Jesus was given freely, right? And that all the graces, insights, protection, and providence he gives us, again, is freely given, yes? There is no argument there. Grace is a gift freely given. And why has he done all this? Out of love. God is love! There is no love without God. We can have all knowledge, all prophecy, all understanding, but without love, we are a clanging gong and a crashing symbol. How can this love freely given – as Jesus himself said, he went to the cross “for the joy set before him” – how can it all be wrapped up in wrath and anger? Wrath and anger is quite the opposite of love.

    In Titus 3:3-7 it says:

    For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water[a] of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

    Goodness, loving kindness, mercy, and grace. Those are not the words we would use about an angry and wrathful God.


    Howard Hampson
    @Howard the Pilgrim

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Here is a good answer from James Akin of Catholic Answers regarding penal substitution.

    Regarding substitutionary atonement, this may be conceived in more than one way. In the broadest sense, Christ atoned for us and, in some capacity, substituted for us due to our inability to make our own atonement. The question is: In what sense did he substitute for us?

    A theory that is common in some parts of Protestantism is known as penal substitution. According to this theory–which only appeared in Church history with the rise of Protestantism–God poured out his wrath on Jesus Christ instead of on us.

    The doctrine is not taught in the Bible and is manifestly contrary to the nature of God, who is all goodness and who cannot punish the innocent, all-holy Son of God. This understanding of substitutionary atonement is not compatible with the Catholic faith. One can only say that Christ “took our punishment” in a poetic rather than in a literal sense.

    An understanding of substitutionary atonement that is compatible with the Catholic faith is known as vicarious satisfaction. According to this view, Christ allowed himself to be killed by men (not by God) and by allowing himself to be killed he offered his life to God as a sacrifice of love. Because of the infinite merit of the sacrifice (due to his divinity), the Father accepted the sacrifice as making satisfaction for the sins of the world. Christ thus made satisfaction for us vicariously but was not “punished by God,” who due to his omniscience cannot regard an infinitely holy Son as anything other than infinitely holy.

    With regard to the question, Is God angry with us?  Any parent knows that one gets angry with one’s children from time to time.  But no, God is not angry with us all the time.  Jesus got angry in the Gospels.  Anger in and of itself is not necessarily bad.  I too am running off to Mass so more later, probably this evening.



    Anger, I have been told, is a symptom, a sign, of a perceived injustice. When I have looked at my anger and traced its origin, I can see this is true. Anger tells us something is wrong. When God is angry in Scripture, it is generally because his people are being pig-headed, stubborn, rebellious, apathetic, and willful. In essence, it is the same reason good parents get angry with their children; because in spite of our teaching them, they just won’t listen, and we see them about to do something that will hurt themselves, or their character, or their chances. When we see injustice against someone we love, or against ourselves, or when people are actually unjust towards themselves, we get frustrated and angry. But good people don’t lash out in anger, although anger will cause them to take action ideally for the good of all those involved.

    I like what Howard pointed out, that Christ allowed himself to be killed for love of us, and His Father also allowed this. That perfect sacrifice once offered was so perfect and was given with such perfect love that it suffices for the atonement of sin and reconciles us to God. Its goal was reconciliation and its motive was pure love. God wasn’t “beating on his son” out of wrath towards us. He was giving up his son in great love and mercy so that wrath could be avoided. God is both merciful and just. Justice had to be achieved, but the cost was to Himself and not to us. That is love.

    An excellent discussion on this issue can be found here.  It is from divinemercy.org and discusses this exact question in lieu of the writings of St. Faustina. Good stuff!


    David W. Emery
    @David W. Emery

    Elizabeth, penal substitution is a theory invented by John Calvin, who styled God as a self-centered, aloof Creator who cares little for what he has created; it was simply the amusement of a moment. Like the Orthodox, Catholics repudiate both Calvinism and penal substitution. Here is how we see Christ’s sacrifice:

    While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man — though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.– Romans 5:6–8

    If God were angry with us, why wouldn’t he punish us rather than redeem us? But we know from 1 John 4:8 that he is pure love, and love simply doesn’t act out of anger. Instead, according to that same Johannine passage, verses 9–10:

    In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.

    What, then, of the Son? Matthew 3:17, at his baptism: “…and behold, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Matthew 17:5, at his transfiguration: “…a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’” Therefore God loves both his eternally begotten Son and all of mankind, whom he created in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). And if he loves both, how can he be wreaking vengeance on the one and coddling the other? That is not love, but inconsistency and perversion.

    God, then, is not a monster; neither is he perverted. It is we who are perverted if we think otherwise. We Catholics believe that God wants to bring us all to a higher level of life with and in him, which we call salvation. God himself made this possible by becoming incarnate, becoming one of us. Indeed, as we read in the Letter to the Hebrews:

    It was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren.… Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.– Hebrews 2:10–11, 14–18

    I believe that you will find the Catholic approach both more sensible, more humane, and more biblical than Calvin’s view of God as a pitiless monster.




    Thank you both. Tremendously helpful stuff.


    dave armstrong
    @Dave Armstrong

    Hi Elizabeth,

    This article of mine may be of some possible use to you in thinking through these issues:

    God’s “Punishing” of Descendants: Unjust?



    Elizabeth, just as an aside, when I was attending the Presbyterian Church I decided to read through Calvins’s Institutes. I got through two of the four volumes and couldn’t get over what an angry, domineering, arrogant man he seemed.  They are so obviously and entirely different from the Catholic Catechism. The difference was like night and day. It became very clear that the Catholic Church had an authority which they didn’t have to yell about. They just quietly spoke and I listened.



    According to this view, Christ allowed himself to be killed by men (not by God) and by allowing himself to be killed he offered his life to God as a sacrifice of love.

    Christ, according to the biblical idiom, is both the Lamb of God, that is, the sacrifice, and the high priest who offers the sacrifice.  As the others have pointed out, this allows us to see the Crucifixion for what it is, namely, an act of pure love by which Christ offers himself to the Father as a worthy sacrifice for the salvation of the world.

    Jennie, I find it interesting that Calvin came across so angry in his Institutes.  I have not read them, but I have read a letter of Martin Luther’s, and it was filled with a violent anger against the Church.

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