Sacrifice

The word "sacrifice" is derived from two Latin words: sacer, meaning holy, and facere, to make. Throughout all the varying forms used to accomplish or symbolize this purpose, the underlying desire is to attain a more perfect union (at-one-ment) or communion with the one to whom the thing sacrificed is offered. All primitive peoples seem to have practised some form of sacrificial ceremony. As the human race in its lowest states believed in both good and bad deities, savage tribes sometimes offered human beings to ward off evil from the clan, while with the less savage tribes it was the custom to kill only animals. If the tutelary deity was regarded as an ancestor or member of the clan, a sin, according to the standards of conduct then prevailing, was supposed to break the alliance with him; hence the kinship must be reestablished through a sacrificial offering of some kind.

The substitution of animal for human sacrifices showed that mankind had gained a higher idea of Deity, and the story of Abraham and Isaac probably symbolizes this transition. Abraham was also the first monotheist of whom we have record. Many early people had been accustomed to drink the blood of their sacrifices, so Moses showed the Hebrews a higher idea when he forbade this, as we read in the seventeenth chapter of Leviticus. However, even the early Hebrews regarded their God, Jehovah, as a corporeal being, so most of their sacrifices were for the purpose of pacifying His supposed anger at their sins; in other words, to propitiate Him. A marked exception to this was the Passover, which was a eucharistic ceremony,—one of thanksgiving. We can see in all these primitive methods that the form of sacrifice was determined by the concept of Deity entertained by the worshipers; and that so long as God was believed to be a person, subject to anger, jealousy, and revenge, or as a stern though just judge, a sort of taskmaster, the motive for the sacrifice was fear. And this view has led many good Christian people to regard Jesus' crucifixion as a merely expiatory and vicarious sacrifice for the human race.

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Reflection
September 6, 1913
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