Holy Week with Herbert: No Atonement Theories Necessary

Jason Micheli —  March 25, 2016 — 4 Comments

As a Thomistic alternative to my normal Barthian tendencies, I’m observing Holy Week this year by reading the theological essays of Herbert McCabe.

A Dominican philosopher, McCabe has revolutionized my thinking about the faith and prompted me to get back in to reading Aquinas this past year.

This is from his essay ‘Freedom’ in the volume God Matters, which was published shortly after McCabe’s death.


‘The story of Jesus is what the eternal trinitarian life of God looks like when it is projected on to the screen of history, and this means on the screen not only of human history but of sinful human history.

The obedience of Jesus to the Father, his obedience to his mission, is just what the eternal procession of the Son from the Father appears as in history. His obedience consists in nothing else but being in history,  human.

Jesus did nothing but be the Son as human; that his life was so colorful, eventful, and tragic is simply because of what being human involves in our world.

We for the most part shy off being human because if we are really human we will be crucified.

If we didn’t know that before, we know it now; the crucifixion of Jesus was simply the dramatic manifestation of the sort of world we have made, the showing up of the world, the unmasking of what we call, traditionally, original sin.

There is no need whatever for peculiar theories about the Father deliberately putting his Son to death.

There is no need for any theory about the death of Jesus.

It doesn’t need any explanation once you know that he was human in our world.

Jesus died in obedience to the Father’s will simply in the sense that the Father will the Son to be human in our world.’


Jason Micheli


4 responses to Holy Week with Herbert: No Atonement Theories Necessary

  1. But that’s not what the Bible says. I’m going to choose to believe the Bible first and man’s philosophies only in light of what the Bible says.

    Ephesians 2:13
    But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

    Hebrews 10

    Hebrews 13:20-21
    20 Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us[a] that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

    1 John 1:6-8
    6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

  2. But Lisa, you’re simply parroting 2000 year old sayings. Bought by the blood of Christ? What on earth does that mean?

    What does blood have to do with love, love in action, empathy, compassion, and service to others?

    It “feels good” to say “I believe the bible” and “I’m saved” — but it is ultimately meaningless. Jesus, best I can tell, asks us to love people unconditionally. I don’t think he cares one bit about our theology of the cross, or ecclesiology, or our belief systems. I don’t think he cares one bit if we think we’re “saved” or if we call ourselves “Christians” or if we’re “members of a church” or if we say all kinds of holy sounding bible verses. Not one bit.

    I think the only thing Jesus cares about is how we love others, and love God. And if the cross points us to that reality, then the cross is part of the story.

  3. Love these quotes from McCabe. Thanks for posting them.

  4. “Jesus did nothing but be the Son as human; that his life was so colorful, eventful, and tragic is simply because of what being human involves in our world.”

    Was the world’s evil forming a perfect storm upon Jesus simply “the world showing up”? All the pieces were there, but it reads as if they were arranged with precision in order to produce a suffering for the ages.

    It could have been just as human to have perished at Herod’s sword as an infant.

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