Sunday, November 12, 2006

"Atonement & the Flesh of Christ" - Dr. Mary Healy

Atonement & the Flesh of Christ"
Presented by Dr. Mary Healy
Love & Sacrifice: 2006 Letter & Spirit Conference
Pittsburgh, PA
October 28, 2006

Dr. Mary Healy's talk focuses primarily on the incorporation of concepts regarding the significance of Christ’s flesh into concepts of atonement, as presented by Father Hoffmann (see the linked page's footnote). Dr. Healy describes this as centering in on the problem of soteriology; specifically, how can we justify why God would save us as He did: through the cross? She describes the formal steps of atonement for Hoffmann and why flesh is itself required in the sacrifice of Christ.

Dr. Healy starts by stating that we must justify why the Father would sacrifice His Son on the cross. For Dr. Healy, this centers on three formal steps of atonement, as presented by Father Hoffman. First, it is God Himself who always seeks atonement from human beings. Second, though the desire for atonement starts with God, the sinner, the one requiring atonement, is not merely the recipient of atonement with God. It is a two-way street; the sinner must act in trying to make reparations, through his or her own free will. Third, God’s passion (ie. pathos) is heavily involved; His wrath is ever-present in desiring the restoration of His covenant with us.

For Father Hoffman, what happens in atonement is that a repentant sinner traverses sin in the opposite direction. That is, sin is rewound as now bearing suffering. Further, God forgives by giving the sinner the ability to bear the suffering and to restore communion. Bilateral reciprocity is required. Sin is abolished by being borne back in. In sin, we experience Hell, because of our separation from Christ. However, in Jesus, this is rewound as sin is abolished by one who never sinned.

Dr. Healy deals with the problem of why God chose the cross for our atonement. In the context of the tri-partite form of atonement from Father Hoffman this becomes obvious. Christ acted for us all, on behalf of us all. He acted in a “pro-structure of being,” in a sincere gift of self. For Dr. Healy, the cross is within the Trinity and represents atonement to the Father.

In integrating the concept of Christ’s flesh into atonement for us, Dr. Healy describes the significance of Christ’s suffering. For Dr. Healy, the suffering present in the Agony in the Garden is not enough. Christ needed to suffer externally--in the flesh--as well, as in the ancient form of animal sacrifice.

This also culminates in three points about flesh within the context of atonement which are particularly important to Dr. Healy. First, in speaking of flesh and sin, Dr. Healy speaks of the fact that flesh does not merely mean our material bodies, but our whole being as viewed from the external, worldly view; this includes our human frailty. Flesh is fundamentally good, and yet the place where our sinful inclinations reside. In Christ’s Incarnation, in what Dr. Healy describes as His “Infleshment,” Christ became fully human, not merely in terms of his body. Christ’s flesh that naturally shrank back was also the vessel for salvation when He ultimately did not shrink back. Second, in speaking of flesh and sacrifice, Dr. Healy speaks of the fact that Christ’s flesh was something that could be destroyed, fully turned over to the Father, and restored (in the resurrection). In this way, Christ’s flesh provided a suitable sacrifice. Jesus, in the flesh, in stating “this is my body” (Mark 14:22) made a choice for holiness, for the common good, rather than sin. (This is directly contrary to the many views prevalent today regarding the flesh, which orient themselves towards sin: “This is my body, and I will do what I want [abortion, contraception, homosexuality, etc.] with it.”) Jesus, the Last Adam, rewound the sin of the first Adam. Third, in speaking of the flesh and spousal communion, Dr. Healy points to the fact that Christ’s flesh and solidarity with Trinity makes possible communion with God. She looks to the Bible (in Romans 12, Ephesians 5:22 and 1 Corinthians 7:4) and to Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body which describe sin as adulterous to our spousal communion with God. Atonement is restoration to the marital communion. Ultimately, in these three ways, Christ atones for us by sacrificing himself, not just spiritually, but in the flesh.

This is the fifth in a series of my summaries of various scholastic papers which were presented (and have not been published as of yet) at the "Love & Sacrifice: 2006 Letter & Spirit Conference," which I attended in Pittsburgh, PA. -- Tom Reagan