Peter Abelard on Justification as God’s Love and Redemption

Peter Abelard
Peter Abelard

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It seems to us that we have been justified by the blood of Christ and reconciled to God in this way:

Through this unique act of grace manifested to us – in that his Son has taken upon himself our nature and persevered herein in teaching us by word and example even unto death 0 he has more fully bound himself by love; with the result that our hearts should be enkindled by such a gift of divine grace, and true charity should not now shrink from enduring anything for him.

And we do not doubt that the ancient Fathers, waiting in faith for this same gift, were aroused to very great love of God in the same way as men of this dispensation of grace, since it is written:

“And they that went before and they that followed cried, saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.'”, etc…

Yet everyone becomes more righteous – by which we mean a greater lover of the Lord – after the Passion of Christ than before, since a realized gift inspires greater love than one which is only hoped for. Wherefore, our redemption through Christ’s sufferings is that deeper affection in us which not only frees us slavery to sin, but also wins for us the true liberty of sons of God, so that we do all things out of love rather than fear – love to him who has shown us such grace that no greater can be found, as he himself asserts, saying, “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. Of this love the Lord says elsewhere, “I am come to cast fire on the earth, and what will I, but that it blaze forth?” So does he bear witness that he came for the express purpose of spreading this true liberty of love amongst men. The apostle, closely examining this great fact, exclaims further on: “Because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us. For why did Christ…” And a few verses later, “God commendeth his charity towards us; because when as yet…” But these utterances we shall expound more fully when we come to them. Now as befits brevity of exposition, let the foregoing suffice as a summary of our understanding of the manner of our redemption.

He makes the point that Abelard takes a starting for justification as a supreme manifestation of God’s love while Anselm makes the case for justification based on a forensic satisfaction view, akin to that which was developed during the Reformation.

There are a couple of papers which discusses Abelard which you might find interesting, here and here.

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One Reply to “Peter Abelard on Justification as God’s Love and Redemption”

  1. I think that both viewpoints are correct rather than opposing paradigms to view justification. We are born with original sin that makes us, by nature, rebellions and obstinate. In this regard, we are born with a legal standing of “sinful” and “damned.” When we receive our salvation, our legal standing changes. We haven’t done anything to merit this change. In fact, we are still just as guilty of our crimes. However, God willingly forgets them out of his love for us.

    I think the two gentleman that the author quotes can do a better job of defending these positions than I can do now.

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