10.1) Mankind enslaved by Satan–
And redeemed (purchased back!) by Christ
What is the meaning of the word “redemption” as used in the Bible? It comes from the Latin redemptio, corresponding exactly to the Greek apolutrosis, which means, literally, “buying back a slave or captive by paying a ransom.”
But when St. Paul says that all have sinned and have since been made just “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3.24), what exactly is his point? Who has been paid off? Paul says that everyone is “under the Power of Sin” (Rom. 3.9). But let’s face it, Sin is a personification, not a real person. How can an abstraction of this sort be paid a ransom? Well, let’s remember what Paul goes on to say, that Sin came into the World through Adam, and Death came through Sin (Rom. 5.12). But that gets us no further, since Death is just as much a non-person person as Sin.
However, now that we know from the New Biography of Satan that it was really Satan who caused Adam to sin, Satan must be the real person who stands behind the abstract personifications of Sin and Death. Satan must “own” Mankind, and Jesus must have bought the whole Race back.
But why would Satan sell? Answer: he had to be tricked.
* * *
We are entering into the subject of “the Devil’s rights.”1 As we know from the preceding history, at one time the Devil actually did have rights over Mankind—or, at least, he had duties, which implied rights. But once he was “re-analyzed” as having lost any position that
he had had as “an Angel in good standing,” and cast out of Heaven, roaming at large in a state of furious anger against God and resentment against Adam and Eve and their descendants, everything changed. What rights could he possibly have now?
That Satan actually had rights of possession over the entire Human Race is (or should be) a weird and horrifying idea, which, like the equally repugnant idea of inherited guilt from Adam’s sin, has been laid in large measure at the door of St. Augustine. But the idea had appeared already in the Eastern Church. Gregory of Nyssa, a Greek contemporary of Augustine–he lived from around 331 to about 396—maintained that we had freely sold ourselves to Satan, and, in order to buy us back, the Son of God became Man and concealed His Divine identity. In light of this, it becomes obvious that when Satan accosted Jesus in the Desert, he was not primarily interested in tempting Him to some kind of fault, but was rather checking Him out to see if He really was the Son of God! And Satan, being completely taken in by the ruse of Christ’s incarnation, came to the wrong conclusion. When, subsequently, Satan procured the death of Jesus—an innocent man who, unlike all other men, did not deserve to die–this death constituted the paying of an adequate ransom, which resulted in the “redemption” of Mankind (Gregory of Nyssa, Great Catechism cc. 21-26, NPNF 2.5).
Augustine’s version of this idea was that, because Adam sinned, the whole Human Race was justly handed over to the Devil, to remain in a state of servitude, with no future prospects except death and damnation. But Humanity was justly extricated from the Devil’s power when the Devil inflicted death on a man who did not deserve it, namely, Jesus Christ. He concludes, “In this redemption, Christ’s Blood was given as a price for us. By accepting it, however, the Devil was not enriched, but bound, so that we might be loosened from his bonds” (Trinity 13.15; cf. NPNF 1.3).
Augustine does not mention Christ’s ploy of deceiving Satan concerning His dual identity of God and Man, but this idea soon surfaced in the West, in a sermon of St. Leo the Great (Sermon 62.3, NPNF
2.12). Leo was pope a generation after Augustine’s death, serving from 440 to 461.
The notion of the Redemption of Mankind as a paying-off to the Devil was generally accepted until it was repudiated by St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, at the beginning of the High Middle Ages. Anselm, who died in the year 1109, denied that a ransom was paid to the Devil at all, since the Devil’s hold over Mankind had been acquired unjustly. Rather, according to Anselm the Redemption consisted of Christ, as Man, making satisfaction to God.
Not all later authors followed this solution, but it came to prevail, even among some who still believed that Jesus deliberately concealed His Divinity from the Devil. In fact, Anselm himself shared this notion–and obviously approved of it–of the Divine deception of the Devil.
* * *
The idea that Satan acquired rights over the Human Race because of the sin of Adam and Eve was the only major theological elaboration of the Biography of Satan from the Patristic Age that was refuted and rejected in the Middle Ages. Other Patristic myths, notably the identification of Satan with the Serpent of Eden and with the King of Babylon in his prideful persona of the Morning Star—Lucifer—were left in place.
The result was that Satan continued to play a vital role in the history of Mankind. He was the “person” responsible for the downfall of the Human Race, who remained active in the World as a constant force to secure the damnation of as many Human souls as possible after they had been redeemed by Christ.
There are occasional references to Satan’s being “bound” and out of commission, following the decree of Revelation 20.2-3, that Satan would be held in the Bottomless Abyss for a thousand years (see chap. 6.2), and, as we will see, this is Dante’s portrayal of him (chap. 12.1). But in general Satan is envisaged as completely unfettered in his bitter opposition to Humanity.
10.1 1C. W. Marx, The Devil’s Rights and the Redemption in the Literature of Medieval England (Cambridge 1995).