The prison authorities profess three objects: (a) Retribution (a euphemism for vengeance), (b) Deterrence (a euphemism for Terrorism) and (c) Reform … They achieve the first atrociously. They fail in the second … the third is irreconcilable with the first.G. B. Shaw
In Part II we have an overview, however partial and impressionistic, of developments in atonement theology and criminal justice during the eight centuries between Anselm and Moberly. Before sketching the present situation, and attempting a theological appraisal, I shall briefly review the argument.
Attitudes to crime and punishment in the West are, beyond argument, rooted deep in the Christian Scriptures. Here, alongside the ordinary punishments of criminal law, we find notions of expiation and atonement. In the texts of the Old Testament these run in and out of each other, and are not conceptually distinguished. In dealing with crime, which is also sin, a person must make both reparation and sacrifice. Murder is the great exception. For what would now be called ‘first-degree murder’ only capital punishment will do. The language which is used to theorise this is largely that of pollution.
The New Testament rests on these foundations. It exists as an attempt to interpret a judicial murder as a salvific event. Categories of sacrifice, possibly of scapegoating, are used to interpret it, but this attempt serves not to legitimate such practices but to critique them once and for all. ‘No one understood Paul before Marcion’, said Harnack, in a famous aphorism, ‘and Marcion misunderstood him.’ Augustine, called the Doctor gratiae by the Schoolmen, was the interpreter of Paul for both Scholastics and Reformers, but, if Krister Stendahl is right, he too misunderstood him.