Father Thomas Hopko, the former Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, relates an unusual anecdote. He describes sitting in on the Lesbian Christology session at the American Academy of Religion, where he heard a scholar severely criticize the notion that God the Father would need to deliberately punish and beat God the Son to satisfy the Father’s own appetite for wrath. The presenter shouted: “This is absolute madness!” Hopko remarks how he wanted to shout out, “I agree with you!” The story can be heard at the eleven minute mark in Hopko’s characteristically forceful lecture (available for free though the indispensable AFR ), entitled Understanding the Cross of Christ (ht: Siedell ).
In the lecture, Hopko is careful to point out that the satisfaction theology he is criticizing is a debasement of St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo ; but its vulgarized, popular form requires his addressing the caricature. Hopko admits there is an inescapably substitutionary aspect to the Atonement - but the East, he insists, never sees it in terms of punishment. As Hopko would surely admit, the lecture is only a beginning, and leaves many questions unanswered. For most American Christians, this is unfamiliar turf.
If only the Orthodox view of the Atonement could be explored further, say, in a symposium with some heavyweight theologians and Biblical scholars. But wait! Just such a symposium has been arranged, put on by Princeton’s vibrant Florovsky Society entitled On the Tree of the Cross: The Patristic Doctrine of the Atonement . Register soon, as it’s happening in Princeton next Friday and Saturday, Feb. 11 and 12th, 2011.
Needless to say, the Atonement is a mystery best viewed through multiple window panes. Try, for example, the theology window at the Princeton University Chapel which includes not only Aquinas, Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards , but Paul and Athanasius as well. If such local beauty is not enough to draw you to the symposium, remember that in Princeton, First Things readers always drink free. Just tell any bartender you’re a subscriber. I may be lying about that.