Incarnation instead of Atonement
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Franciscan alternative orthodoxy emphasizes incarnation instead of redemption. For the Franciscans, Christmas is more significant than Easter. Christmas is already Easter! Since God became a human being, then it’s good to be human, and we’re already “saved.” Franciscans never believed in the sacrificial atonement theory because it wasn’t necessary. Christ was Plan A, not Plan B. Atonement implies that God had a plan, we messed it up, and then God had to come back in to mop-up our mistakes.
As I mentioned earlier this month, Franciscan John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) said the plan from the beginning was to reveal Godself as Christ. Jesus didn’t come as a remedy for sin—as if God would need blood before God could love what God created. The idea that God, who is love, would demand the sacrifice of his beloved Son in order to be able to love what God created is the conundrum that reveals how unsatisfying that quid pro quo logic really is.
Franciscans believe that Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity. It didn’t need changing: God has organically, inherently loved what God created from the moment God created. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. This sets everything on an utterly positive foundation. Rather than being an ogre, God is Love. Rather than being sinners in the hands of an angry God, we are inherently and forever loved by God, no matter what we do or don’t do.
This is such an essential and foundational element in healthy Christianity that we will spend a whole week of meditations later in the year trying to clarify it. For now, just realize that the Church in the thirteenth century was broad-minded enough to accept this alternative orthodoxy as a minority position.
Gateway to Silence:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking, disc 3 (CAC: 2012), CD, MP3 download; and
Returning to Essentials: Teaching an Alternative Orthodoxy, disc 2 (CAC: 2015), CD, MP3 download.