I’m thinking this morning about how language has created new dogma in the English-speaking world. Early translators needed an English word to express καταλλαγή. Unwilling to adopt the Latinate word “reconciliation” (which nevertheless has since become a normal English word) in the sixteenth century William Tyndale invented a new word with no precedent: “At-One-ment.” Short for the act of making those opposed to be at one with each other. This new word “atonement” pops up in history in the 1510s, followed in the 1540s by a naturally-developing verb “to atone.”
But the theological ferment of the sixteenth century was bound to imbue this newly-minted word with Calvinistic significance; so that instead of simply referring to uniting people who have been at odds, it gained a new freight of penal satisfaction for legal offenses against God.
This concept has become so embedded in the word “atonement” that for not a few people today it refers almost exclusively to capital punishment, blood sacrifice, or substitutionary punishment.
I have my doubts as to whether this notion could ever have evolved other than in newly-Protestant England: under the influence of Anselm of Canterbury, Calvinism, the Puritans, and the burgeoning innovations of an embryonic new religion, eager to distinguish itself from its Roman Catholic past.