Another concise argument from William, this time theological, criticizing the ransom theory of atonement while preserving the truth in it:
Dominus redemit nos a diabolo; ergo per pretium datum diabolo, et dedit se pretium; ergo dedit se diabolo.
[The ‘Ransom’ argument.] “God redeemed us from the Devil. Therefore, [He redeemed us] at a cost paid to the Devil. And He gave Himself as the cost. Therefore, He gave Himself to the Devil.”
Hec argumentatio non valet: ‘Dominus redemit nos per pretium datum diabolo; ergo dedit pretium diabolo’. Et est ibi fallacia secundum consequens, quia fit ibi processus a superiori ad inferius affirmando, quia redimere pretio dato superius est ad dare pretium diabolo, quoniam diabolus detinuit homines in carcere tanquam custos. Custodi autem carceris non solvitur pretium, sed domino carceris. Deus enim est dominus inferni; et ita pretium illud erat dandum et reddendum Deo Patri.
[William’s reply.] “This argument is invalid…It commits the fallacy of [affirming] the consequent, since it proceeds by affirmation from the higher to the lower [i.e., from the general to the specific]. For redeeming at a given cost is higher [i.e. more general] than giving the price to the Devil, since the Devil detained men in prison as a jailkeeper. But you don’t pay bail to the jailkeeper, but to the master of the prison. For God is Master of Hell, and so the price was to be given and repaid to God the Father.”
First, William disputes the validity of the argument. I think the fallacy William is identifying is assuming that “redeemed from the Devil” must mean “redeemed by paying the Devil,” when that’s only one possible interpretation. So “affirmation from the higher to the lower” means “inferring a specific claim from a more general claim,” which is fallacious. He calls it an instance of “the fallacy of the consequent,” and I think he has in mind reasoning like this:
- If God redeemed us by paying the Devil (specific claim), He redeemed us from the Devil (general claim).
- God redeemed us from the Devil.
- Therefore, God redeemed us by paying the Devil.
Which is obviously fallacious. So given that God redeemed humanity from the Devil, it doesn’t follow that God ransomed humanity from the Devil.
(I don’t think the part of the argument William quotes commits this fallacy, though. Maybe he just put it there as a placeholder.)
Second, William gives us a reason to doubt that the “ransom” interpretation is the correct one: we’re only under the devil’s power because God put us there as a punishment for our sins. Christ did redeem us from the Devil; but He did so by paying God, not the Devil. We really did give ourselves over to the Devil, but as our jailkeeper, not our owner. The fact that Christ’s death redeemed us from the Devil is not sufficient reason to think that Christ’s death was an atonement paid to the Devil, and not to God. On the other hand, the fact that the atonement was a debt paid to God doesn’t mean that Christ’s death didn’t free us from the dominion of the Devil.