Saturday, February 21, 2015

Letter to an online friend (My Apologia Pro Vita Sua)

May I give a story, rather than an argument?

The history of philosophy is an intellectual laboratory. [Friend],  I am thankful that you have found a way out of despair through Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Kierkegaard, and that you have found "the Living Word." My journey has been different. When I read these thinkers, I am left in exactly the opposite state: despair.

In my experience, when I see that I am lost, I have a choice: I can either keep driving forward, and hope that there will eventually be a way to my destination, or I can back up, see where I took a wrong turn, and get back on track.

My putterings in the intellectual laboratory have convinced me that the late middle ages was the fork in the road that led to places with names like Descartes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Nietzsche, Clifford and Rand, among others. While it is informative to sight-see in those locales, they are not my destination: they are not places where I can settle and flourish. Their inhabitants can be very stimulating folk, but I find that in order to communicate with them, I cannot use my "heart" language. Thus, we never do completely understand one another, and my soul becomes increasingly isolated and depressed when I think that I might be exiled forever in those places.

That is why I have decided to do an about face, and march against the intellectual flow. (If you read "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," by Ursula LeGuin, you'll get a glimpse of what it has been like.) Since charting this course, I have met a number of wonderful companions who are also retracing the steps of (post) modernist thought. Furthermore, I have come to better understand how the "fork in the road" came to be constructed in the first place. We have not yet reached our Destination, but we have been heartened by the Food and Drink and cool Waters that are available in the towns along the way...towns with names like Boethius, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas, Bonaventure.

Yes, I often write blogs and posts and even make quick trips back to "rescue the perishing;" to try to show the inhabitants of (Post) Modernia that they, too, are welcome to join our pilgrimage to the City. When I do, some jeer, some accuse me of being an intellectual fossil or an antediluvean dotard. They say I am not "with it" and that I am only concerned with my own salvation. But the truth is, I am only concerned with what is True and Good and Beautiful, and that my hunger and thirst for it is leading me to Him in Whom faith and reason coincide. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Item for Bucket List: Learn to Code

This is one of the things I need to do when I retire. I feel so illiterate not knowing how to code.

Top 10 Ways to Teach Yourself to Code

Top 10 Ways to Teach Yourself to Code
Programming is one of the most valuable skills you can pick up in these modern times, whether for career prospects or to stretch your brain and create something awesome. If you're just getting started on your coding journey, here are ten tips and resources to set you off on the right foot.

10. Figure Out Why You Want to Learn to Code

Top 10 Ways to Teach Yourself to Code
The direction you go in will depend in large part on why you want to learn to code in the first place and how much time you have to devote to learning. If you want to be a professional programmer, signing up college courses might be your best bet. (Google has a list of suggested skills and courses for would-be software engineers.) If you want to build websites or games for fun (and possibly profit) in your spare time, interactive tutorials might be better. Bloc has a comparison of course options based on workload, cost, and reason you're picking up programming. And if you're still deciding on a tech career, Switch will recommend one based on your interests.

9. Choose the Right Language

Top 10 Ways to Teach Yourself to Code
There's no one "best" programming language, and once you've learned one, it's fairly easy to pick up another, so don't get hung too up on choosing your first language. That said, some languages are more beginner-friendly than others. The language you choose to start with might depend, again, on your purpose. (For example, if you want to write an iOS app, you'll need to learn Swift.) There's a case for starting with C if you're serious about programming, although higher-level languages, like Python, are easier to jump into right away. Here's an infographic comparing a few popular programming languages.

8. Start Small (and Be Patient)1

No matter which language or learning method you choose, you should start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). When David Sinsky taught himself to code in eight weeks, for example, he spent one weekend getting an introductory grasp of Python and one weekend getting an introductory understanding of Django—going through the tutorial, deleting all of the tutorial code, and working through the tutorial again from scratch. Start with the basics and be patient with yourself as you progress. To take your first coding project from start to finish, break down the project into simple steps. And if one method of learning isn't working for you (e.g., books), try another method before giving up.

7. Try a Kids App4

Top 10 Ways to Teach Yourself to Code
Even toddlers are learning to code these days. That's actually a great thing for all of us. Although many of the programs designed to teach kids to code are very simplistic, many of them, like Scratch, are suitable for all ages. It doesn't matter how old you are; even kids' animation apps can get you started with the basics of programming (edX has a new course on Programming in Scratch, by the way).

6. Use Free Online Training Sites

Top 10 Ways to Teach Yourself to Code
Free online training sites like Codecademy and other Hour of Code participants can help you write your first computer program. Tutorials from KhanAcademy, Codecademy,, and many other organizations will introduce you to the basics of programming—all while creating a new game, site, or other project. Find the resources you need according to the language you're learning with Bento. These are good starting points, but you'll need to take the initiative to further or continue your learning after these introductions.

5. Take a Coding Course

Top 10 Ways to Teach Yourself to Code
Online computer science courses offer a bit more of rounded educational experience compared to online training sites focusing on one language. These courses are designed to teach you fundamental skills over several months in college-level classes. I can't personally recommend Harvard's CS50 (which you can take for free) enough, but there are many others you can take (many listed on our Lifehacker U series). You can even build a college-level computer science education with this selection of fifteen online courses.

4. Grab Some Free Programming Books

Top 10 Ways to Teach Yourself to Code
When you get stuck on a problem or just need to look something up, reference books come in very handy. There's a huge collection of over 500 free programming books posted on GitHub, and another collection of Ebooks covering 24 programming languages.

3. Play Coding Games

Top 10 Ways to Teach Yourself to Code
Often the best way to learn is through games. While plenty of coding tutorials have you building simple or complex games yourself, a couple of teaching sites are literally games: Code Combat and CodinGame are two you might have fun with.

2. Get a Mentor (or Teach Someone Else)

The programming community is full of people who are willing to help the next generation of programmers. Hack.pledge() is one site that will connect you to a mentor, or you can sign up to mentor someone else. Even just planning to teach what you've learned can help you retain the information better.

1. Hack Someone Else's Code

Top 10 Ways to Teach Yourself to Code
When you reverse engineer someone else's code, testing each line to see how it works, you get a better understanding of the big picture. Thanks to tons of open source code, you can learn just about anything—and keep learning through the incremental-hacking cycle. Just remember to share your code back with the community if you improve on a program.
Photo by takito (Shutterstock).

Monday, February 02, 2015

The Day the Purpose of College Changed

AN excellent article in the Chronicle:
I've lived this shift, beginning as a student with the classical philosophy of education, and then teaching under the Reagan philosophy. I pity younger generations. Mine may have been the last to have a glimpse of what real education is about.

The Day the Purpose of College Changed

After February 28, 1967, the main reason to go was to get a job

1967: As governor of California, Ronald Reagan argues that taxpayers should not be "subsidizing intellectual curiosity."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

W.H. Auden's Syllabus, English125, Univeristy of Michigan, 1941-42

W. H. Auden's syllabus will make your college courses look like a piece of cake


UPDATE: Professor Goldfarb has since gotten in touch with us to let us know that Auden's course was indeed taught over the course of a single semester.

Hey, kids, think you've got it tough?
Poet W. H. Auden was a professor at the University of Michigan during the 1941-42 academic year, teaching "Fate and the Individual in European Literature." His syllabus required over 6,000 pages of reading including Dante's "The Divine Comedy," Dostoevsky's "The Brother's Karamazov" and Melville's "Moby-Dick."

Which would be awesome, were it not required for a single college course.

The syllabus (first unearthed by the blog "more than 95 theses") identifies the reading list as being for the "first semester," but
Professor Lisa Goldfarb, Associate Professor and Associate Dean at NYU's Gallatin School (and who is in the midst of writing essays on Auden), cautioned that the indication of "first semester" suggests that the course would have continued into the second.

Nevertheless, 3,000 pages of Shakespeare and Sophocles in four months still sounds dense.

"What I find fascinating about the syllabus is how much it reflects Auden's own overlapping interests in literature across genres - drama, lyric poetry, fiction - philosophy, and music," Goldfarb said. "He also includes so many of the figures he wrote about in his own prose and those to whom he refers in his poetry: especially "The Tempest" of Shakespeare; Kierkegaard, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Melville, Rilke, as well as the opera libretti on the syllabus.

"By including such texts across disciplines - classical and modern literature, philosophy, music, anthropology, criticism - Auden seems to have aimed to educate his students deeply and broadly. He probably would have enjoyed working with students on the texts he so dearly loved."

Auden't most famous academic post, perhaps, was at the New School, where he began teaching in 1946. The Shakespeare lectures he delivered there were published in a single volume in 1972.

reproduced by permission of the Estate of W. H. Auden)

Friday, January 23, 2015

U.S. vs. Parliamentary System? or, Why I Hate the Taste of Lame Duck

Americans increasingly love the taste of lame duck. I for one, wish I could dine at a Parliamentary Buffet.

U.S. or parliamentary system? One is nearly gridlock-proof — and it ain’t ours

One in a series of articles. You can read the whole series here.
Imperfect Union: The Constitutional roots of the mess we're in

In “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” Washington-based scholar/pundits Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann remark several times that the way to look at the dysfunction and gridlock of recent years is that the U.S. political parties are behaving more and more like parties in a parliamentary system, but the American system does not work with that style of partisan behavior.

Because of their structures, parliamentary systems are relatively gridlock-proof. Our system — absent the grease of partisan cooperation and compromise — is particularly gridlock-prone.
A parliamentary system is designed to put one party into legislative and executive control and give that party (or a coalition of parties constituting a parliamentary majority) the tools to both enact and implement its program. The job of the out-of-power party is to criticize and oppose the in-power party, to describe its alternative ideas for how to run the country and to explain why the country should put the in-party out and the out-party in in the next election.

The point of the Ornstein-Mann observation is that in the typical parliamentary system, the opposition party can criticize and oppose all they want — in fact, that’s what they’re supposed to do. But the party or coalition in power — by rule — has the votes it needs to pass its bills and the executive authority to implement them (since the executive branch is headed by the prime minister, who is both a member of Parliament and the leader of the governing party).

But in the American-style system, with a bicameral Congress and an independently elected president who can veto bills with which he disagrees, it is very often the case, as at present, that no party has the votes to pass its bills without the compromise/cooperation of the other party.

Wait for the election

“On big issues — taxes and revenues and health care — as the president himself said, we are not going to agree,” Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second ranking Republican in the House, said early this year. “That’s for the election” to decide.
Angry Democrat
MinnPost illustration by Jaime Anderson
That was February. The election was nine months away. The winners wouldn’t take office for 11 months. Cantor clearly suggests that if it takes 11 months of gridlock before the electorate can issue fresh instructions, well, it’s just going to take 11 months of gridlock.

Of course, if the most recent horserace polling is right, the likeliest outcome of the November election will be that we will have a Democrat in the White House, a Republican majority in the House and the Senate balanced on the partisan head of a pin. What would Cantor recommend should happen then? Postpone those issues two more years (or maybe four) until the next election?

My friend Doug Tice of the Star Tribune editorial board noted in a piece last year that the electorate used to put one party in full power quite often. Wrote Tice:
Between 1900 and the end of Lyndon Johnson's tenure, one party or the other controlled the whole federal government — the White House and both houses of Congress — for 54 of 68 years, about 80 percent of the time. Since then, we've had one-party government for just 14 of 44 years, less than one-third of the time.
Note that this is a change in the behavior of the electorate. This change has coincided with a different set of normative changes in the less-collaborative, uncompromising behaviors of the two national parties (and Mann and Ornstein decided in their book that these behaviors are much more common on the Republican side of the spectrum). If not for this change, we likely wouldn’t be trying to figure out the causes of and cures for the gridlock that afflicts Washington.

But those normative changes have occurred. Our system has no mechanism to force either the electorate or the parties to behave differently. And what if those new norms are the new normal, (and, for now, they are)? Our system — because of its basic structure and its many choke points — is going to have continuing trouble governing.

The typical parliamentary system can’t guarantee it, but under that system “letting the election decide” has a much better likelihood of working, and in a comparatively short time frame.
I don’t mean to over-romanticize the advantages of parliamentarianism. It has its faults. When I was a young man, Americans liked to laugh at the parliamentary system as it malfunctioned in Italy, seeming to bring about a new government every couple of months. Recently, Greece was spectacle of a parliamentary system run amok, when no party got a mandate but the biggest blocs of votes were obtained by a party of the far (almost communist) left and a party of the (almost fascist) right, who had no hope of forming a durable government.

The overall idea of this series is to consider the sources of gridlock and some of the other stresses and strains in U.S. politics and government, whether the sources are recent normative changes, basic structural issues or something in between.

No blamefest

Perhaps some of the rhetoric above gives the impression the series that follows will be some sort of ungrateful blamefest against the Framers and the Constitution. Maybe a little, but not really.
Angry Republican
MinnPost illustration by Jaime Anderson
Since 1787, the USA has grown and prospered to a staggering degree, unparalleled in human history, and that ain’t nothing at which to sneeze nor for which to be ungrateful. There are dark chapters within the tale. But the point is not to disparage that history nor the creators of the system of government that helped make it possible.

My belief is that the Framers were mostly great men who did about the best that could be expected at inventing a new form of democracy while working around the various “third rail” issues of the time (like slavery) and compromising around the factional disputes that could otherwise have scuttled the whole project (like the fear of the small states that they would be pushed around by the bigs, which is why, for example, to this very day, we have a Senate in which Wyoming’s 563,000 citizens have equal say with California’s 37 million).

I should also, while I’m being humble about my main argument, acknowledge that one can easily exaggerate how dysfunctional our system has become. I try to bear in mind that things are not as dysfunctional as in the 1850s, when the country actually broke up over differences for which the political system could not come up with acceptable solutions or compromises. Sorry, but not even the fight over Obamacare, not even the constant threat of a government shutdown, not even a downgrade in the U.S. credit rating brought about by the failure of Congress to strike a budget and deficit deal, none of these compare with the Civil War as evidence of a system that is no longer working properly.
Things are not that bad. But perhaps the current gridlock in some ways is the worst dysfunction since then. The country has several pretty serious issues that need to be addressed by the government (pause here for someone to say that we don’t need the government to do more, we need it to do less, which is, of course, a great example of how we end up doing neither more nor less but continue to assert our philosophical differences until we get to at least the brink of disaster every time — and then, often, the deal that is reached only pushes the brink off a few months into the future).
I know that the Constitution has the status of sacred text. I know that it is also almost impossible to amend. So in describing the relative advantages and disadvantages between a parliamentary and a presidential system, I know that the chance is nil that the United States would consider the kind of fundamental structural changes necessary to move in the parliamentary direction.

But, just in case you never went over the comparison, the next installment of “Imperfect Union” will summarize a few key differences between the two systems.

Some appealing features of a parliamentary system

Some appealing features of a parliamentary system
MinnPost illustration by Jaime Anderson 
Many parliamentary systems include a tradition that the Brits call the “Question Period” wherein the prime minister and his cabinet members face tough questions from members of the opposition party.
One in a series of articles. You can read the whole series here.

Frustrated with the current state of our politics?

In yesterday’s post I suggested a parliamentary system has some advantages over an American-style setup in avoiding the kind of political gridlock we are enduring today.

So what are the basic differences between the two systems? And what parliamentary features might look appealing to gridlock-frustrated Americans? Here’s a rundown.

Snap elections/fixed election dates: In the United States, except for rare occasions like replacing a deceased officeholder or something like the recent Wisconsin recall effort against Gov. Scott Walker (which is available only in some states and requires a big petition drive), we are used to fixed election days on a Tuesday in November of even-numbered years. (By the way, weird aside: Voting on Tuesdays in November goes back only to 1845. In the early days, election days were much more scattered — even for president, many states voted on different days and the results could roll in over a long period.)

But most parliamentary systems have the ability to call a new election in the middle of a term. This could occur because the existing government has lost the “confidence” of the House (meaning it can’t get its bills passed, perhaps because the governing coalition has fallen apart) or because the government believes it is popular and, by calling a “snap election,” is able to get a fresh mandate and perhaps a bigger majority. Which system seems better?

Short campaigns/long campaigns: A U.S. presidential campaign is by far the longest such in the world. This cycle, Tim Pawlenty announced his presidential candidacy in May of 2011. Mitt Romney made his bid official on June 2, which means that by Election Day he will have been running for 17 months. Most systems, even those with presidential candidates, don’t come close and don’t have the drawn-out primary schedule. But the shortest campaigns occur in the parliamentary systems. In Canada, for example, the entire campaign is limited to two months.

Known candidates, known cabinets, known policies vs. creative ambiguity: One reason the parliamentary version of a campaign can be short is that there are generally no primaries. The major parties each have a leader who is already in the Parliament and has either been serving as prime minister or has been describing, as the opposition leader, what her party would do differently if she became prime minister. The opposition also often has a “shadow cabinet,” made up of leading voices in the out party, and the public can be reasonably confident that those shadow cabinet members would become the actual cabinet members if their party wins. In our system — and Mitt Romney seems to be raising this to a record height — a presidential candidate can get a year into his campaign and still keep his policy cards close to his vest. As far as who would be in his cabinet, the electorate doesn’t know that until the two and a half months between Election Day and Inauguration Day.

Question hour vs. press conferences:
Many parliamentary systems include a tradition that the Brits call the “Question Period” wherein the prime minister and his cabinet members face tough questions from members of the opposition party. A president never faces such questioning. The closest we have in U.S. tradition is the White House news conference, which is generally less frequent, less combative (since the reporter-questioners have to play the objectivity game while the opposition party members assuredly do not) and much more in the control of the president (who, if he doesn’t feel like being held accountable for recent developments, simply doesn’t schedule a press conference). In the British system, a question period is expected to be held almost every day that Parliament is in session.

High crimes and misdemeanors vs. loss of confidence: A president who loses the confidence of the Congress or even of the country is still expected to serve out his four-year term. There have been occasions when a president lasted a year or two or even three years in a severely weakened state. But in our system, the only way to get him out of office is with a two-thirds vote of the Senate to convict him on a charge of high crimes or misdemeanors, a standard so high it’s never been met. In a parliamentary system, a prime minister who suffers a “vote of no confidence” must resign or face the electorate within a matter of weeks.

Long transition vs. next day: Speaking of those two and a half months of lame duckery, when the government is nearly frozen, in the parliamentary system there is no lag. In many cases, the new prime minister and cabinet members start governing the day after the election. When the shape and extent of the 2008 financial crisis began to come into clear view in the fall of 2008, the U.S. was led by a president who had long since lost the country's confidence. (President G.W. Bush's approval ratings were under water during almost his entire second-term and fell below 30 percent even before the economy tanked. By October, when the financial system was on the edge of meltdown, when decisions had to be made ab out bailouts, when TARP was passed, Bush was a double lame-duck, both because of the loss of confidence in him and because he would not be in office to follow through on the laws he signed.) As you may know, for most of U.S. history the lag between the election and inauguration of a new president used to last five months, with inauguration in March. In 1861, the secession of the southern states began after the election but before the inauguration of President Lincoln. In 1933, a nation that had endured more than three years of Depression waiting for a new president, ratified the 20th amendment, which shortened the transition to three months.
It’s possible — I can’t really tell — that I’ve stacked the deck in the differences I’ve chosen or the way I’ve described them that makes the parliamentary structure looks superior to ours. If so I apologize. I do confess that I’m interested in sparking fresh thinking about the strengths and weakness of our system, which is a challenge since we are indoctrinated to believe it to be the model for the world. As I mentioned in a previous installment, new democracies that have designed systems over recent years have pretty much all chosen other models than ours, which says something about how the U.S. system looks to those who haven’t been raised on it and are considering alternatives.
Of course, the fact that our system is built for gridlock might not seem like such a disadvantage to those who believe that the less the government does, the better. For a philosophical take on that issue, I turned to political scientist Jane Mansbridge of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, who was invited to give a prestigious poly-sci lecture (named for father of the Constitution, James Madison) and chose the topic “The Importance of Getting Things Done.” The interview with Mansbridge will be the topic of the next installment. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

26 Pictures Will Make You Re-Evaluate Your Entire Existence

What is man, that thou art mindful of him?

26 Pictures Will Make You Re-Evaluate Your Entire Existence

The universe, man… THE UNIVERSE.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Penal substitution, Waldenstrom, expiation and propitiation

My response to the prompt, "Penal substitution. What are the problems with it or why is it not enough as a suitable explanation for the Crucifixion?"
Quid Est Veritas FB page, January 16, 2015:

Penal substitution pits one Person of the Trinity against another, and so "breaks" the Trinity. It teaches that the Father rejects His Son. If that is the case, then what hope do we sinful creatures have? I prefer Thomas McCall's explanation of Matt. 27:46 in his book, "Forsaken." He argues that Jesus is quoting Psalm 22, which should be read in its entirety. Verse 24 says,
"For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him."
This reading makes it impossible to claim that the Father "turns his face away" from Christ on the cross, contra what Stuart Townsend would have us sing in his popular song, "How Deep the Father's Love For Us."

Finally, IMO penal substitution gives a faulty picture of God's nature. Nowhere in scripture do we see God as essentially wrathful, but rather we read "God is love." In his sermon, "Be Reconciled to God," Swedish Pietist P.P. Waldenstrom (1838 –1917) outlined the reasons why the official Lutheran belief in the atonement was all wrong for those who live as citizens of the Kingdom of God:

1) "That through our fall no change has entered the heart of God.
2) That because of this it was no severity or anger against man which through the fall rose up in the way of man’s redemption
3) That the change, which occurred in the fall, was a change in man alone, in that he became sinful and thus fell away from God and from the life which is in him.
4) That for this reason an atonement indeed is needed for man’s salvation, but not an atonement which appeases God and presents him as being once again gracious but (an atonement) which removes man’s sin and makes him once again righteous, and
5) That this atonement is in Jesus Christ." (Covenant Roots: Sources &; Affirmations. p. 119-120).

In other words, the death of Christ does not change God from a wrathful God to a loving God. God has always been gracious and loving. And yes, God has hated sin but God has not hated us! It wasn’t humanity that God was wrathful about, but sin.

how does the atonement function? (or more specifically, the Crucifixion?)

The blood of Christ cleanses us from our sins. Christ's sacrifice is an expiation, not a propitiation. I think ἱλασμός is better translated as "sin offering" or "means of forgiveness," rather than "propitiation" ("sacrifice that appeases wrath").

A Comparison of Catholic and Reformed Notions of Atonement.

For future reference: here is a great comparison of Catholic and Reformed notions of Atonement.

The Reformed conception of the Atonement is that in Christ’s Passion and death, God the Father poured out all of His wrath for the sins of the elect, on Christ the Son. In Christ’s Passion and death, Christ bore the punishment of the Father’s wrath that the elect deserved for their sins. In the Reformed conception, this is what it means to bear the curse, to bear the Father’s wrath for sin. In Reformed thought, at Christ’s Passion and death, God the Father transferred all the sins (past, present, and future) of all the elect onto His Son. Then God the Father hated, cursed and damned His Son, who was evil in the Father’s sight on account of all the sins of the elect being concentrated in the Son. (R.C. Sproul says that here.) In doing so, God the Father punished Christ for all the sins of the elect of all time. Because the sins of the elect are now paid for, through Christ’s having already been punished for them, the elect can never be punished for any sin they might ever commit, because every sin they might ever commit has already been punished. For that reason Reformed theology is required to maintain that Christ died only for the elect. Otherwise, if Christ died for everyone, this would entail universal salvation, since it would entail that all the sins of all people, have already been punished, and therefore cannot be punished again.
The Catholic conception of Christ’s Passion and Atonement is that Christ offered Himself up in self-sacrificial love to the Father, obedient even unto death, for the sins of all men. In His human will He offered to God a sacrifice of love that was more pleasing to the Father than the combined sins of all men of all time are displeasing to Him, and thus made satisfaction for our sins. The Father was never angry with Christ. Nor did the Father pour out His wrath on the Son. The Passion is Christ’s greatest act of love, the greatest revelation of the heart of God, and the glory of Christ.1 So when Christ was on the cross, God the Father was not pouring out His wrath on His Son; in Christ’s act of self-sacrifice in loving obedience to the Father, Christ was most lovable in the eyes of the Father. Rather, in Christ’s Passion we humans poured out our enmity with God on Christ, by what we did to Him in His body and soul. And He freely chose to let us do all this to Him. Deeper still, even our present sins contributed to His suffering, because He, in solidarity with us, grieved over all the sins of the world, not just the sins of the elect. Hence, St. Francis of Assisi said, “Nor did demons crucify Him; it is you who have crucified Him and crucify Him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.”2 The Passion is a revelation of the love of God, not the wrath of God. The fundamental difference can be depicted simply in the following drawing:3
One problem with the Reformed conception is that it would either make the Father guilty of the greatest evil of all time (pouring out the punishment for all sin on an innocent man, knowing that he is innocent), or if Christ were truly guilty and deserved all that punishment, then His suffering would be of no benefit to us.

A second problem with the Reformed conception is the following dilemma. If God the Father was pouring out His wrath on the Second Person of the Trinity, then God was divided against Himself, God the Father hating His own Word. God could hate the Son only if the Son were another being, that is, if polytheism or Arianism were true. But if God loved the Son, then it must be another person (besides the Son) whom God was hating during Christ’s Passion. And hence that entails Nestorianism, i.e. that Christ was two persons, one divine and the other human. He loved the divine Son but hated the human Jesus. Hence the Reformed conception conflicts with the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. The Father and the Son cannot be at odds. If Christ loves men, then so does the Father. Or, if the Father has wrath for men, then so does Christ. And, if the Father has wrath for the Son, then the Son must have no less wrath for Himself.
St. Thomas Aquinas says:
Christ as God delivered Himself up to death by the same will and action as that by which the Father delivered Him up; but as man He gave Himself up by a will inspired of the Father. Consequently there is no contrariety in the Father delivering Him up and in Christ delivering Himself up. 4
There St. Thomas explains that there is no contrariety between the Father and the Son during Christ’s Passion, no loss of love from the Father to the Son or the Son to the Father. The Father wholly and entirely loved His Son during the entire Passion. By one and the same divine will and action, the Father allowed the Son to be crucified and the Son allowed Himself to be crucified.5
One question, from the Reformed point of view, is: How then were our sins paid for, if Christ was not punished by the Father? Christ made atonement for the sins of all men by offering to God a sacrifice of love that was more pleasing to the Father than the combined sins of all men of all time are displeasing to Him. Hence through the cross Christ merited grace for the salvation of all men. Those who refuse His grace do not do so because Christ did not die for them or did not win sufficient grace for them on the cross, but because of their own free choice.
A second question, from the Reformed point of view, is this: St. Paul tells us, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a true.”6 How should we understand the curse, if God the Father is not pouring out His wrath on His Son? St. Augustine explains clearly in his reply to Faustus, that what it means that Christ was cursed is that Christ suffered death.7 Christ took our sin in the sense that He willingly bore its consequence, namely, death, because death is the consequence of sin and its curse. Death is not natural. But Christ took the likeness of sinful man in that He subjected Himself to death, even death on a cross for our sake.
A third question, from the Reformed point of view, is this: How then should we understand Isaiah 53? What does it mean that:
Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. .. And the Lord was pleased to bruise him in infirmity: if he shall lay down his life for sin, he shall see a long-lived seed, and the will of the Lord shall be prosperous in his hand. Because his soul hath laboured, he shall see and be filled: by his knowledge shall this my just servant justify many, and he shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53;4-6, 10-11)
This means that Christ carried in His body the sufferings that sin has brought into the world, and that Christ suffered in His soul over all the sins of the world, and their offense against God. He bore our iniquities not in the sense that God punished Him for what we did, but in the sense that He grieved over them all, in solidarity with us.  That is what it means that the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He suffered the consequences of sin (i.e. suffering, grief, death), by entering into solidarity with us, entering into our fallen world, and allowing Himself to suffer in it with us, for us, even by our hands.8
If one watches the film The Passion of the Christ from the point of view of the Catholic conception of the atonement, the experience is very different from watching it from the point of view of the Reformed conception of the atonement. The film is available online, in 12 parts of ten minutes each; below is the first part. Try watching it from the Catholic point of view of the atonement.
  1. This is why Christ retained His five wounds in His resurrected body. And this is why Catholics show Christ on the cross, in the crucifix, because this is Christ’s glory. We, with St. Paul, glory in Christ crucified. (1 Cor 1:23-24) []
  2. CCC 598 []
  3. Of course in the Reformed system Christ also self-sacrificially loves the Father. But what effects propitiation in the Reformed system is the complete pouring out of God’s wrath upon the Son. In Catholic doctrine, by contrast, God does not pour out His wrath for our sins onto His Son, and what effects propitiation is Christ’s positive gift of love to the Father. Hence the illustration depicts what effects propitiation in the respective theological systems. It is not intended to be an exhaustive illustration of all that is going on during Christ’s Passion. []
  4. See ST III Q.47 a.3 ad 2 []
  5. For a fuller explanation of what Christ did for us through His Passion, according to St Thomas Aquinas, see “Aquinas and Trent 6.” []
  6. Gal 3:13 []
  7. Contra Faustus, XIV. []
  8. For additional reading on the Catholic understanding of the atonement see Philippe De La Trinitaté’s What is Redemption?, and Jean Rivière’s The Doctrine of the Atonement Volume 1 and Volume 2. []