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Related to atonement: Day of Atonement


the reconciliation, or "at-one-ment," of sinful humanity with God. In Judaism both the Bible and rabbinical thought reflect the belief that God's chosen people must be pure to remain in communion with God. The Bible prescribed Temple sacrifice for the removal of sin and uncleanliness. The prophets taught that outward sacrifice must be accompanied by interior purification to be complete. With the destruction of the Temple and the consequent cessation of the sacrifice focus came to be placed on the religious life of the individual who sought to be reconciled with God through prayer, repentance, charity, and suffering. In the Jewish calendar, atonement for all but very serious sins came on the Day of Atonement (see Yom KippurYom Kippur
[Heb.,=day of atonement], in Judaism, the most sacred holy day, falling on the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tishri (usually late September or early October). It is a day of fasting and prayer for forgiveness for sins committed during the year.
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). In Christian theology, various doctrines of atonement have been advanced in history, all of which give central place to the life and death of Jesus. The classical theory of atonement, widely accepted in the early Church, depicted Jesus as the divine victor in a cosmic struggle with the devil for rights over the human soul. In medieval Latin theology emphasis shifted from the divine to the human side of Jesus. The most widely held theory at this time, often called vicarious atonement, was first stated by St. AnselmAnselm, Saint
, 1033?–1109, prelate in Normandy and England, archbishop of Canterbury, Doctor of the Church (1720), b. Aosta, Piedmont. After a carefree youth of travel and schooling in Burgundy he became a disciple and companion of Lanfranc, the famed theologian and prior
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 in Why God Became Human (1197–98): only human beings can rightfully repay the debt which was incurred through their willful disobedience to God, although only God can make the infinite satisfaction necessary to repay it; therefore God must send the God-man, Jesus Christ, to satisfy both these conditions. Anselm's doctrine, slightly altered or elaborated, has become part of Roman Catholic theology and of that of many Protestant churches. In another theory of atonement emphasis is placed on God's unconditional mercy and on the gradual growth toward union with God as inspired by Christ's selfless example. This theory was given its standard form by Peter AbelardAbelard, Peter
, Fr. Pierre Abélard , 1079–1142, French philosopher and teacher, b. Le Pallet, near Nantes. Life

Abelard went (c.1100) to Paris to study under William of Champeaux at the school of Notre Dame and soon attacked the ultrarealist
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 in the 12th cent. Here the juridical concept is replaced by an organic and social concept. The tendency today in the Church is not to regard any single interpretation of atonement as all-embracing but to view Christ's atoning work from a variety of vantage points.


See G. Aulén, Christus Victor (tr. 1931); F. W. Dillistone, The Christian Understanding of Atonement (1968).

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Murgatroyd, Sir Despard
atones for each of his daily crimes by performing a good deed every afternoon. [Br. Opera: Gilbert and Sullivan Ruddigore]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. Christian theol
a. the reconciliation of man with God through the life, sufferings, and sacrificial death of Christ
b. the sufferings and death of Christ
2. Christian Science the state in which the attributes of God are exemplified in man
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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