Let me disappoint the reader, in case he is looking for a fight to watch. I mostly agree with Fr. Reardon's point. The idea of Christ's Atonement as placating the anger of God, to a degree that separates (in anyone's mind) the Trinity into three Gods with independent wills, with the Father as the bad cop and the Son as the good cop (and who knows where the Holy Spirit fits in?), would certainly be more in keeping with pagan polytheism than with Christianity. The main point that Fr. Reardon has made is that God the Father is the One who paid the terrible price in the suffering of His beloved Son.
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. (Rom. 8:32,33)
The offering up of Christ to take away the sins of the world was, from the beginning, the will of the entire Trinity.
With that major agreement in mind, I am left questioning a couple of items. First of all, I must ask, who out there is preaching the angry god version of Christianity? I have heard converts to the Orthodox Church talk about how they were saved from the "Western" idea that God took "pleasure" in the suffering of His Son, because He was so irate that somebody just had to die. I must ask, how did they train their minds to remember something that has never existed?
Who, among all the "Western" theologians (Wyatt Earp? Jessie James? Who?) has ever taught this pagan gospel? Certainly not Augustine, nor Anselm nor even the much vilified Calvin, ever taught such a notion. How is it "Western" theology? To his credit, however, Fr. Reardon never even uses that word, western. But, he does say that somebody has been teaching this, and I cannot think of anyone in the west who fits the wild bill (sorry- I couldn't resist).
My other item, in this case a disagreement, is with the distinction between juridical and liturgical. Fr. Reardon summarizes his position with the words, "The Cross was the supreme altar, and Good Friday was preeminently the Day of the Atonement. The removal of sins was not accomplished by a juridical act, but a liturgical act performed in great love."
The word juridical, like the word forensic, suggests to some a court of law that is separated from the world of worship and devotion. In our own society such a court is secular, as different from a church as anything can be. Therefore, it is easy for modern people to assume that the difference between juridical and liturgical has always existed, and that it is a proper and true separation. This is why some modern writers make too clean and absolute a break between religious sacrifice and satisfaction. What does justice have to do with it?
This is where the word "wrath" is relevant. Human anger is distorted through sin, and always an emotion, a passion that the Impassible God cannot have. But, which is the metaphor? What we attribute to God or what we see in man? Which is the image, even if a distorted image because of sin, and which is the archetype? God made man in His own image and likeness, and so even anger has its pure reality. God is love, and the reality we call anger is an eternal, unchanging attribute of Divine Nature that is revealed in Scripture to be hatred for evil and sin.
Applied to the human race and our greatest need, that anger is mostly remedial in nature, God's love and compassion causing His great and costly expression of love to free us. But, it is uncompromising, in that God is righteous and holy. How can He justify the ungodly without compromising His own righteous character? Can God wink at sin, and merely overlook it? If He did, would that help to transform us into the image of His Son, or would it harden us in our sinfulness?
The answer, again from the Epistle of St. Paul to Church in Rome, was the cross.
To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Rom. 3:26)
By the cross God is both just and the justifier of the saints, by which I mean (in accord with Holy Scripture), all who believe in Jesus. This brings us back to the problem with erecting an absolute wall between a juridical act and a liturgical offering. The Law is not Roman, and it is not Greek. The Law is not pagan, and it is not secular. The Law is the Law of God.
The term "Hebrew Law" was used in the same body of comments that referred us to Fr. Reardon's essay. That is correct if by the word "Hebrew" we mean revealed. The Law, when the time arrived to make it known fully, came by a prophet named Moses, and it is called the Torah. The Torah is comprehensive, or exhaustive. It is the Law for religion, including sacrifices of blood at the altar. It is the Law also that governs all of life, including not only the moral laws that all Christians recognize as universally binding to this day, but even details of civil and criminal law.
Even the building codes for a house are found in that Law ("When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence." Deut. 22:8). It is the Law that forbade slavery (Deut. 23:15,16), but also told the priests exactly how to offer sacrifices, whether of blood or incense.
In short, the Law that exists in the Biblical context of the prophets is the Torah. The judges, when disputes and matters of justice arose, were the priests, the sons of Aaron. The Law taught how to judge disputes between men, and also how to offer the bloody sacrifices of atonement so that the people could be forgiven (Lev. 17:11). The entire language of sacrifice and of justice is the language of the Suffering Servant passage (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). If anything is a sure and certain doctrine of the New Testament (and much is), it is that the Suffering Servant in the book of Isaiah is Jesus Christ, the One Who prolonged His days after being made a sacrifice for sin.
Therefore, because of the Hebrew context of the Gospel as it was foretold in the Law and the Prophets, no clear or absolute distinction can be made between a juridical act and a liturgical offering.