I ran headlong into my lack of explicit theological training today while studying Hebrews. (Yes, I’m still working on my revised study guide.) Now I’m certain that I’ve run into the word “piacular” before. The reason I can be so certain is that this is the second time I’m reading James Moffatt’s commentary on Hebrews in the ICC.
In discussing the view of sacrifice in Hebrews he states that the author takes the “piacular view.” He then quotes John Calvin. My Latin isn’t up to such a translation, so I went to a translation of the Institutes that I possess (ii. 15. 6) to get it in English:
… end and use to be, that as a Mediator, free from all taint, he may by his own holiness procure the favour of God for us. But because a deserved curse obstructs the entrance, and God in his character of Judge is hostile to us, expiation must necessarily intervene, that as a priest employed to appease the wrath of God, he may reinstate us in his favour. Wherefore, in order that Christ might fulfil this office, it behoved him to appear with a sacrifice. For even under the law of the priesthood it was forbidden to enter the sanctuary without blood, to teach the worshipper that however the priest might interpose to deprecate, God could not be propitiated without the expiation of sin. On this subject the Apostle discourses at length in the Epistle to the Hebrews, from the seventh almost to the end of the tenth chapter.
I have included one elision Moffatt made in the quote, between the first “intervene” and the final sentence beginning with “On.” I don’t think that makes a difference. In fact, the final bit before the elision, “piaculum intervenire necesse est” is part of my problem. Now of course the Latin definition need not match the English, but they seem to match in the dictionaries available to me.
After another quote, which he says parallels Calvin, Moffatt continues:
The interpretation of Calvin confuses Paul’s doctrine of expiation with the piacular view of our author.
I’ve read the section through a couple of times and I’m not sure I’m getting this. The difference Moffatt seems to be highlighting is that God, according to Calvin, is hostile to the universe through the curse, whereas the author of Hebrews sees no such thing. He is rather concerned with God’s wrath against apostates. On the next page (xxxvi) he adds, “What engrosses the writer is the need not so much of a medium between God and the material universe, as of a medium between his holiness and human sin (see on 12:23).”
I see a sense of the difference Moffatt is trying to make here, though I don’t completely understand it. At the same time, I’m not sure I see that the author of Hebrews has made the distinction Moffatt says he has.