A rather gifted Catholic apologist, Jimmy Akin, has just released an article entitled “Did God Punish Jesus on the Cross“? This, of course, was not meant to be an exhaustive argument against “Penal Substitution“, but I have a few comments to make on this which are related, and after writing them out, I realized they were deserving of an article form.
In the first place, it appears to me that when Mr. Akin says “penal sub“, he means the idea that God the Father breaks up his perfect union of charity in the Holy Spirit with His Son in order to inflict upon him hatred and damnation. If that is what he means, then sure, such a belief is completely contradictory to the Gospel. I can’t read his mind, and the article doesn’t make clear one way or the other. Today we hear many Catholics, especially Eastern Orthodox, rightly rejecting this idea as a Protestant heresy, but do not adequately give, in turn, a valid interpretation of something akin to Penal Substitution. After all, the Scripture does say that Christ became a curse for us (Gal 3). It would seem many wish to say that Christ’s crucifixion was merely an event with ontologically overcomes death for human nature, leaving all notions of punishment to abstractions or language-devices. This is popularly known as the Christus Victor atonement model. A tendency exists to want to relegate atonement to idea of medicine and nature-repair, particularly in the modern East.
Therefore, the reader of Akin’s article is left with more questions than answers. How did Christ pay our debt? He paid it with His blood. That is the constant teaching throughout the ages. We might want to theologize on this in the way St. Anselm or St. Thomas Aquinas do, which says that Christ’s humbling Himself to be a slave and then being hoisted upon the cross to die an ignominious death out of charity for His Father and the human race merits an infinite value which cancels out the infinite demerits of sins of the world. But it remains that he *died*, and specifically for the reason to bear our curse (Gal 3) in order to satisfy divine justice. As far as I’m concerned, this is the Patristic teaching, and it is beautifully articulated in St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ“, from which I will link in the comments, and will provide a few snippets, and some commentary, below.