Original interview here.
A guest commentary by Father Bernward Deneke FSSP on statements made by Archbishop Robert Zollitsch about the "sacrifice of Jesus"
Last Holy Saturday, the Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, the Freiburg Archbishop Robert Zollitsch had still the time to take part in a TV interview in the middle of his certainly multitudinous obligations. The discussion in the programme arrived at, along with the only too well known themes, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Many Christians can have been only happy about the Archbishop’s clear proclamation of the empty tomb. At the same time, they showed themselves to be not a little disturbed about the meaning which the ecclesiastical dignitary gave to this central event of salvation history.
Now it is certainly appropriate, even necessary, to offer to the religiously uprooted people in our days help in understanding such a mystery as the death of the Son of God. And that these are not to be immediately dissected under the dogmatic microscope, set on the theological gold weighing scales, and then judged after closest and most rigorous criteria is to be understood in itself.
The question is only how far one can go to bring closer to the faith those standing at a distance, and whether one can not merely temporarily exclude the essential content of Christian revelation but may also even explicitly deny it.
What exactly did Archbishop Zollitsch express? When asked by his interlocutor, whether one could still say that Jesus died for the sins of the people, he replied, Jesus was "did not die for the sins of the people because God needed a sacrificial offering, like a scapegoat," He had much more "shown solidarity with us as humanity, with our suffering, with our death unto the last".
The idea that the Incarnate God truly has borne with us our sufferings is moving and with which Christians have always been familiar. To express it, you can also use the somewhat flat-sounding fashion and nondescript word "solidarity" that is an artificial entity from the Goethe era, and means as much as "firm commitment".
But Zollitsch’s words give rise to the question of whether Jesus has suffered not only with us but especially for us. The connection of the suffering Son of God with the Old Testament scapegoat may be problematic, but what about the name of Christ as the "Lamb of God, which bears and takes away the sin(s) of the world " (cf. Jn 1.29)? And His own statements and those of His Apostles, which clearly emphasis His death as a sacrifice for our sins?
The question must also have preoccupied the television journalist, because afterwards he added: "You would now no longer describe it in such a way that God gave his own son, because we humans were so sinful? You would no longer describe it like this?"
And here the amazing response from the Archbishop of Freiburg: "No. God had given his own Son in solidarity with us unto this last death agony and to show: so much are you worth to me, I go with you, and I am totally with you in every situation". The word 'no' is here too much - and therefore, what the archbishop says on the death of the Lord is decidedly too little!
Fed by the plethora of Old and New Testament revelation, and supported by the continuous preaching of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the Death on the Cross of Jesus obtains our salvation as satisfaction, as victim, as merit and as ransom. It is beyond the scope of this contribution to deal more precisely with this and it is rather only supported by scriptural citations and witnesses from tradition. The crucial point can be briefly cited: The Lord has in His suffering and death performed a true sacrifice for our sins and thereby has become the efficient cause of our salvation.
His "solidarity" - if one wishes to use this word - goes far beyond just "taking up what I have been blamed for, including the evil that I have caused, and also to take it back into the world of God and hence to show me the way out of sin, guilt and from death to life "(Archbishop Zollitsch). Christ is not merely assisting overcoming suffering, a therapeutic companion in need, a helper in the search for meaning. Rather, "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. " (Isa 53.5). He has blotted out the handwriting of the decree that was against us, which is imputed to Him in His Passion on the Cross (cf. Col 2.14). His life He gave as a “a redemption for many "(Matt. 20.28), and so we are actually ransomed “ with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled” (cf. 1 Pet 1.18 f.).
We are deprived of these iron truths where the solidarity of the suffering of Jesus with us is affirmed, but no praise can be heard for the wonderful deliverance from the bondage of sin, Satan and death. People ask especially for this message precisely in our often God remote era.