The word 'atonement' is derived from 'at-onement' and thus refers to the state of being at one with something. The Christian doctrine of the atonement is that Jesus Christ provides for human beings the means to be made one with or reconciled to God, especially through his death on the cross. The doctrine assumes that human beings are alienated from God by sin and thus in need of reconciliation. There are two general approaches to the atonement. Subjective theories see the function of the atonement as epistemological (granting us knowledge of God's love and forgiveness) and volitional (motivating us to respond). While this approach is coherent, it seems to lose the unique nature of Christ's work insofar as the life of any virtuous individual could grant a comparable understanding of the love of God and motivation to respond to it - why would the crucified one have to be divine? Objective theories view the atonement as a unique work that provides the actual means of reconciliation to God. The philosophical challenge to this view is to explain this work in a metaphysically and morally plausible way. The most famous attempt to do this is found in Anselm's satisfaction theory in Cur Deus Homo ('Why God Became Human'). According to Anselm, human sin offends God, whose justice and honour require an infinite recompense. Humanity, however, is unable to provide payment, which leaves infinite (eternal) punishment as the only option. God the Son then becomes incarnate so that, as human, he can justly pay the debt, while, as divine, he is able to pay the debt. Critics object that the image of God paying a debt to himself does nothing to explain the logic (or morality) of the atonement. If a rich man were owed money, he might simply forgive the debt, but surely he would not be obliged to pay himself back on the debtor's behalf. Further, while one might find penal substitution to be the more apt analogy, this complicates things even more, for while I may justly pay your fine surely I cannot be justly tortured and killed to fulfil your sentence.
   Further reading: Anselm of Canterbury 2000; Brümmer 2005; Gunton 1989; Hill, Charles 2004; Swinburne 1989a

Christian Philosophy . . 2015.

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  • ATONEMENT — (Heb. כִּפִֻּרים, kippurim, from the verb כפר). The English word atonement ( at one ment ) significantly conveys the underlying Judaic concept of atonement, i.e., reconciliation with God. Both the Bible and rabbinical theology reflect the belief… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Atonement — A*tone ment, n. 1. (Literally, a setting at one.) Reconciliation; restoration of friendly relations; agreement; concord. [Archaic] [1913 Webster] By whom we have now received the atonement. Rom. v. 11. [1913 Webster] He desires to make atonement… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • atonement — ► NOUN 1) amends for a wrong or injury. 2) (the Atonement) Christian Theology the reconciliation of God and mankind through the death of Jesus Christ …   English terms dictionary

  • atonement — [ə tōn′mənt] n. 1. the act of atoning 2. satisfaction given for wrongdoing, injury, etc.; amends; expiation 3. Obs. agreement or reconciliation the Atonement Christian Theol. the redeeming of humanity and its reconciliation with God through the… …   English World dictionary

  • atonement — index compensation, expiation, reparation (indemnification), restitution, retribution, trover Burton s Legal Thesaurus …   Law dictionary

  • atonement — Satisfaction or reparation of a wrong or injury; to make up for errors or deficiencies. (Dictionary of Canadian Bankruptcy Terms) United Glossary of Bankruptcy Terms 2012 …   Glossary of Bankruptcy

  • atonement — 1510s, condition of being at one (with others), from ATONE (Cf. atone) + MENT (Cf. ment). Meaning reconciliation (especially of sinners with God) is from 1520s; that of propitiation of an offended party is from 1610s …   Etymology dictionary

  • atonement — expiation (see under EXPIATE) Analogous words: compensating or compensation, offsetting (see corresponding verbs at COMPENSATE): conciliation, propitiation, appeasement (see corresponding verbs at PACIFY): *reparation, amends …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • atonement — [n] compensation amends, expiation, indemnification, payment, penance, propitiation, recompense, redemption, redress, reparation, restitution, satisfaction; concepts 126,337 …   New thesaurus

  • Atonement — The atonement is a doctrine found within both Christianity and Judaism. It describes how sin can be forgiven by God. In Judaism, Atonement is said to be the process of forgiving or pardoning a transgression. This was originally accomplished… …   Wikipedia

  • atonement — /euh tohn meuhnt/, n. 1. satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; amends. 2. (sometimes cap.) Theol. the doctrine concerning the reconciliation of God and humankind, esp. as accomplished through the life, suffering, and death of Christ.… …   Universalium

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