Soteriology (Gr. σωτηρίας λόγος, doctrine of salvation) treats of the work of Christ as man's Redeemer, and its logical study requires that we should consecutively look at the deeds. Christ has wrought for the salvation of the world, and at their application, through faith, to individuals. The former is called Objective Soteriology, the latter Subjective Soteriology.
a. Objective. — Under this head are included the incarnation of Christ, his holy life, obedience unto death, the intermediate state, resurrection, exaltation to heaven. Christ's coming again, the threefold office of Christ, and the work of the Holy Ghost — all of these entering into the work of atonement.
b. Subjective. — Under this head are discussed the several steps which constitute the way of salvation, the demands upon the sinner, and how he is enabled to satisfy these demands. These are, desire for salvation, saving faith, true repentance, good works, Christian sanctification, the work of grace (necessity, extent, character, result).
Soteriology received little theoretical investigation in the ancient Church compared with that bestowed upon the Trinity and original sin. The chief defect in the patristic soteriology is that the distinction between justification and sanctification was not always so carefully drawn as to preserve the doctrine of atonement in its integrity. The holiness of the Christian is sometimes represented as cooperating with the death of Christ in constituting the ground of the remission of sin.
The papal statements during the Middle Ages were too influential to allow of an improvement in soteriologv, and the Church was holding a theory of salvation wholly opposed to that which prevailed in the fourth century. Anselm interrupted this dogmatic decline, and set the Church onc more upon the true path of investigation. The leading features of his theory are:
1. Sin is an offense against the divine honor.
2. This offense cannot be waived, but must be satisfied for.
3. Man cannot make this satisfaction except by personal endless suffering.
4. God must, therefore, make it for him, if he is to be saved.
5. God does make it in the incarnation and atonement of the Son of God. The soteriology of Anselm exerted but little influence upon Roman Catholic Christendom, but Luther's assertion of justification by faith alone caused soteriology to become the center of dogmatic controversy between Protestant and Papist. The principal point of dispute between the Council of Trent and the Protestant theologians related to the appropriate place of sanctification. The Roman divine maintained that holiness of heart is necessary to the forgiveness of sin, as a meritorious cause; while the Protestant threw out the human element altogether, and claimed that the blood of Christ is the only meritorious cause and ground of forgiveness.
In the Protestant Church discussions have been excited by the Socinian opposition and the Grotian modification.
For the historical examination of this subject, see Baur [F.C.], Die christl. Lehre von der Versohnung (1838); Ritschi, Die christl. Lehre von der Rechtf. und Versohnung (1870), vol. 1. For other phases, see the Dogmatics of Lange, Martensen, Nitzsch; Evangelical Quar. Rev. Oct. 1868; Edwards, Justification and Wisdom in Redemption; Hodge, Theology, vol. 2; Grotius, Sacrifice of Christ; Pressensd, Sur la Redemption, in Bulletin Theol. 1867, 1 sq.; Schoberlein, art. Erlosung, in Herzog, 4, 129-140; Shedd, Hist. of Doct. p. 201-386.