The Cross: An Orthodox-Protestant Comparison

St. Athanasius the Great ca. 293-373

And that the words ‘Why have You forsaken Me?’ are His, according to the foregoing explanations (though He suffered nothing, for the Word was impassible), is notwithstanding declared by the Evangelists; since the Lord became man, and these things are done and said as from a man, that He might Himself lighten these very sufferings of the flesh, and free it from them. Whence neither can the Lord be forsaken by the Father, who is ever in the Father, both before He spoke, and when He uttered this cry. Nor is it lawful to say that the Lord was in terror, at whom the keepers of hell’s gates shuddered and set open hell, and the graves did gape, and many bodies of the saints arose and appeared to their own people. Therefore be every heretic dumb, nor dare to ascribe terror to the Lord whom death, as a serpent, flees, at whom demons tremble, and the sea is in alarm; for whom the heavens are rent and all the powers are shaken. For behold when He says, ‘Why have You forsaken Me?’ the Father showed that He was ever and even then in Him; for the earth knowing its Lord who spoke, straightway trembled, and the veil was rent, and the sun was hidden, and the rocks were torn asunder, and the graves, as I have said, did gape, and the dead in them arose; and, what is wonderful, they who were then present and had before denied Him, then seeing these signs, confessed that ‘truly He was the Son of God’. (Four Discourses Against the Arians Bk. 3.29)

St. Hilary of Poitiers ca. 300-386

Yet, I suppose, you will arm yourself also for your godless contention with these words of the Lord, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me ? Perhaps you think that after the disgrace of the cross, the favour of His Father’s help departed from Him, and hence His cry that He was left alone in His weakness. But if you regard the contempt, the weakness, the cross of Christ as a disgrace, you should remember His words, Verily I say unto you, From henceforth you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of Heaven.

But, they say, the cross was a dishonour to Him; yet it is because of the cross that we can now see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, that He Who was born man of the womb of the Virgin has returned in His Majesty with the clouds of heaven. Your irreverence blinds you to the natural relations of cause and event: not only does the spirit of godlessness and error, with which you are filled, hide from your understanding the mystery of faith, but the obtuseness of heresy drags you below the level of ordinary human intelligence. For it stands to reason that whatever we fear, we avoid: that a weak nature is a prey to terror by its very feebleness: that whatever feels pain possesses a nature always liable to pain: that whatever dishonours is always a degradation. On what reasonable principle, then, do you hold that our Lord Jesus Christ feared that towards which He pressed: or awed the brave, yet trembled Himself with weakness: or stopped the pain of wounds, yet felt the pain of His own: or was dishonoured by the degradation of the cross, yet through the cross sat down by God on high, and returned to His Kingdom? (On the Holy Trinity Bk. 10.31,33)

St. Gregory the Theologian ca. 329-389

Take, in the next place, the subjection by which you subject the Son to the Father. What, you say, is He not now subject, or must He, if He is God, be subject to God? You are fashioning your argument as if it concerned some robber, or some hostile deity. But look at it in this manner: that as for my sake He was called a curse, Who destroyed my curse; and sin, who takes away the sin of the world; and became a new Adam to take the place of the old, just so He makes my disobedience His own as Head of the whole body. As long then as I am disobedient and rebellious, both by denial of God and by my passions, so long Christ also is called disobedient on my account. But when all things shall be subdued unto Him on the one hand by acknowledgment of Him, and on the other by a reformation, then He Himself also will have fulfilled His submission, bringing me whom He has saved to God. For this, according to my view, is the subjection of Christ; namely, the fulfilling of the Father’s Will. But as the Son subjects all to the Father, so does the Father to the Son; the One by His Work, the Other by His good pleasure, as we have already said. And thus He Who subjects presents to God that which he has subjected, making our condition His own. Of the same kind, it appears to me, is the expression, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” It was not He who was forsaken either by the Father, or by His own Godhead, as some have thought, as if It were afraid of the Passion, and therefore withdrew Itself from Him in His Sufferings (for who compelled Him either to be born on earth at all, or to be lifted up on the Cross?) But as I said, He was in His own Person representing us. For we were the forsaken and despised before, but now by the Sufferings of Him Who could not suffer, we were taken up and saved. Similarly, He makes His own our folly and our transgressions; and says what follows in the Psalm, for it is very evident that the Twenty-first Psalm refers to Christ. (Fourth Theological Oration, Oration 30.5)

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

And for this reason, even after this He speaks, that they might learn that He was still alive, and that He Himself did this, and that they might become by this also more gentle, and He says, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? Matt. 27:46 that unto His last breath they might see that He honors His Father, and is no adversary of God. Wherefore also He uttered a certain cry from the prophet, even to His last hour bearing witness to the Old Testament, and not simply a cry from the prophet, but also in Hebrew, so as to be plain and intelligible to them, and by all things He shows how He is of one mind with Him that begot Him. (Homilies on Matthew 88)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

The cry My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? is the utterance of Adam, who trampled on the commandment given to him and disregarded God’s Law; thus did God abandon human nature, which had become accursed. When the Only-begotten Word of God came to restore fallen man, the abandonment entailed by that curse and corruption had to come to an end. My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? is the voice of Him Who destroyed our forsakenness, as if He were imploring the Father to be gracious to mankind. When, as man, He asks for something, it is for us; as God, He was in need of nothing. (Second Oration to the Empresses on the True Faith, 18, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXXVI, col. 1357A.)

Pope St. Leo the Great ca. 400-461

Hence it is that the Lord Jesus Christ, our Head, representing all the members of His body in Himself, and speaking for those whom He was redeeming in the punishment of the cross, uttered that cry which He had once uttered in the psalm, O God, My God, look upon Me: why have You forsaken Me ? That cry, dearly-beloved, is a lesson, not a complaint. For since in Christ there is one person of God and man, and He could not have been forsaken by Him, from Whom He could not be separated, it is on behalf of us, trembling and weak ones, that He asks why the flesh that is afraid to suffer has not been heard. For when the Passion was beginning, to cure and correct our weak fear He had said, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will but as You; and again, Father, if this cup cannot pass except I drink it, Your will be done Matt. 26:39, 42 . As therefore He had conquered the tremblings of the flesh, and had now accepted the Father’s will, and trampling all dread of death under foot, was then carrying out the work of His design, why at the very time of His triumph over such a victory does He seek the cause and reason of His being forsaken, that is, not heard, save to show that the feeling which He entertained in excuse of His human fears is quite different from the deliberate choice which, in accordance with the Father’s eternal decree, He had made for the reconciliation of the world? And thus the very cry of Unheard is the exposition of a mighty Mystery, because the Redeemer’s power would have conferred nothing on mankind if our weakness in Him had obtained what it sought. Let these words dearly-beloved, suffice today, lest we burden you by the length of our discourse: let us put off the rest till Wednesday. The Lord shall hear you if you pray that we may keep our promise through the bounty of Him Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. (Homily 67.7)

St. John Damascene ca. 676-749

Further, these words, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me Matt. 27:46? He said as making our personality His own. For neither would God be regarded with us as His Father, unless one were to discriminate with subtle imaginings of the mind between that which is seen and that which is thought, nor was He ever forsaken by His divinity: nay, it was we who were forsaken and disregarded. So that it was as appropriating our personality that He offered these prayers. (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Bk. 3.24)

Excerpted from “Book Review: The Orthodox Way” http://orthodoxinfo.com/phronema/review_tow.aspx

Amen. Amen. Amen. I believe, I believe, I believe and confess to the last breath, that this is the life-giving body that your only-begotten Son, our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ took from our Lady, the Lady of us all, the holy Theotokos Saint Mary. He made it one with his divinity without mingling, without confusion and without alteration. He witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate. He gave it up for us upon the holy wood of the Cross, of His own will, for us all. Truly I believe that His divinity parted not from His humanity for a single moment nor a twinkling of an eye. Given for us for salvation, remission of sins and eternal life to those who partake of him. I believe, I believe, I believe that this is so in truth. Amen. (Coptic Liturgy of St. Basil, The Confession)

*A Jewish Contextual Note*

The person who is dying, whose soul is ebbing from its home in the body, is draped in a tallit. The bystanders help them to wash their hands ritually, three times over the right, three times over the left. The dying person then does a little Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) either verbally or in their thoughts, reflecting on their life, asking for forgiveness for having wronged people, etc., and if they are able to, they recite Psalms 4, 6, 121, 145. As they feel themselves at the door of death, they recite Psalm 22 and 29 (13th-century Rabbi Moshe ibn Nachmon, quoted in Choch’mat Ahdam, No. 151). Quoted from Death By Rabbi Gershon Winkler

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Martin Luther: So then, gaze at the heavenly picture of Christ, who descended into hell for your sake and was forsaken by God as one eternally damned when he spoke the words on the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!” – “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In that picture your hell is defeated and your uncertain election is made sure. (Luther, Martin. “Treatise on Preparing to Die.”)

John Calvin: Nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death. In order to interpose between us and God’s anger, and satisfy his righteous judgment, it was necessary that he should feel the weight of divine vengeance. Whence also it was necessary that he should engage, as it were, at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death…Hence there is nothing strange in its being said that he descended to hell, seeing he endured the death which is inflicted on the wicked by an angry God. It is frivolous and ridiculous to object that in this way the order is perverted, it being absurd that an event which preceded burial should be placed after it. But after explaining what Christ endured in the sight of man, the Creed appropriately adds the invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he endured before God, to teach us that not only was the body of Christ given up as the price of redemption, but that there was a greater and more excellent price—that he bore in his soul the tortures of condemned and ruined man. (Calvin, John. “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” Book 3:Chapter 16.

Charles Hodge: The penalty of the divine law is said to be eternal death. Therefore if Christ suffered the penalty of the law He must have suffered death eternal; or, as others say, He must have endured the same kind of sufferings as those who are cast off from God and die eternally are called upon to suffer. (Hodge, Charles. “Systematic Theology.” Vol. 2, Part 3, Ch 6, Sec 3)

John MacArthur: To [Jesus] was imputed the guilt of their sins, and He was suffering the punishment for those sins on their behalf. And the very essence of that punishment was the outpouring of God’s wrath against sinners. In some mysterious way during those awful hours on the cross, the Father poured out the full measure of His wrath against sin, and the recipient of that wrath was God’s own beloved Son. In this lies the true meaning of the cross. (MacArthur, John. “The Murder of Jesus.” Pg. 219)

R.C. Sproul: What prevents us from seeing God is our heart. Our impurity. But Jesus had no impurity. And Thomas said He was pure in heart. So obviously He had some, some experience of the beauty of the Father. Until that moment that my sin was placed upon Him. And the one who was pure was pure no more. And God cursed Him. It was if there was a cry from Heaven – excuse my language but I can be no more accurate than to say – it was as if Jesus heard the words ‘God damn you’, because that’s what it meant to be cursed, to be damned, to be under the anathema of the Father. As I said I don’t understand that, but I know that it’s true. (R.C. Sproul. Together for the Gospel. April 17, 2008. Louisville, KY. Session V – The Curse Motif of the Atonement. Minute 55:01)

John Piper: Hell is all about echoing faintly the glory of Calvary. That’s the meaning of hell in this room right now. To help you feel in some emotional measure the magnificence of what Christ did for you when he bore not only your eternal suffering, but millions of people’s eternal suffering when His Father put our curse on Him. What a Saviour is echoed in the flames of hell. So that’s what I mean when I say hell is an echo of the glory of God, and an echo of the Savior’s sufferings, and therefore an echo of the infinite love of God for our souls. (John Piper. Resolved Conference 2008. Session 8 – The Echo and Insufficiency of Hell. Min 40:00)

H/T Jay Dyer http://jaysanalysis.com/2010/04/12/quotes-from-calvinist-theologians-proving-ariannestorianism/

Comments

  1. You nailed it brother!

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