Beginnings 3 (RJS)

Bouteneff ds3.JPG

For many Christians the creation narratives in Genesis 1-2 and the fall in Genesis 3 are key passages in conversations concerning science and faith. The significance of our knowledge of the age of the earth and the theory of evolution hinges on the interpretation of these passages as literal, figurative, mythical,  or mytho-historical. The impact is not in the narratives themselves, but in their implication for key doctrines. One useful approach to this problem is to look carefully at the early Christian interpretations of the creation narratives.

The third chapter of Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives by Peter Bouteneff deals with the second century apologists – Ignatius (ok ~ 1st century), Justin, Melito, Theophilus, and most importantly Irenaeus of Lyon. Here we will highlight only Justin and Irenaeus – and concentrate only on their views of Adam and Eve and the primordial sin. In many respects the doctrine of Original Sin is the key conflict in the science and faith debate for many Christians.  Adam as primordial man – through whom sin entered into the world, and death through sin – is a central figure.  But is is not clear that Adam and Eve as unique individuals played such a key role in the thinking of the early church fathers.

How much stock do you think that we should put in the readings and interpretations of the early church fathers? Did they simply err and it took ca. 300 years  until Jerome and Augustine, or ca. 1400 years  until Luther, Calvin and the reformers to get the gospel right?

 

Both Justin and Irenaeus have a Christ-centered view of  history and a Christ centered approach to the scriptures – primarily the OT;  they both preach the crucified and risen Lord; they both have a trinitarian outlook – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; they both describe salvation through Christ alone. Justin died for his faith.  Irenaeus may have – but whether he did or not he was certainly willing to face death for his faith.

Justin Martyr (ca. 110 – 165 AD) considered Christ the key to the OT and read the OT in the light of Christ Crucified. He saw the cross in everything. One notable example is in his interpretation of Exodus 17:8-16 where he finds significance in Moses’s outstretched arms making the form of a cross:

For it was not because Moses so prayed that the people were stronger, but because, while one who bore the name of Jesus (Joshua) was in the forefront of the battle, he himself made the sign of the cross. (Dial. 90)

Justin refers to Gen 1-3 several times in his Dialogue with Trypho.  Adam is seen as the first man and, with Eve, the first sinner.  There is no doubt that Justin took the primeval history in Genesis 1-11 both literally and figuratively.

[Jesus was born of a virgin] in order that, when the event should take place,it might be known as the operation of the power and will of the Maker of all things; just as Eve was made from one of Adam’s ribs, and as all living beings were created in the beginning by the word of God. (Dial 84)

Justin does not discuss Adam as the type for Christ despite the fact that he saw types of the cross in everything.  Justin also makes it clear that he does not interpret the sin of Adam as infecting the entire human race. Adam and Eve were the first – and all who follow also sin and become like Adam and Eve, judged and condemned and in need of Christ. Speaking of Jesus and his baptism by John Justin says: (Dial 88)

Now, we know that he did not go to the river because He stood in need of baptism, or of the descent of the Spirit like a dove; even as He submitted to be born and to be crucified, not because He needed such things, but because of the human race, which from Adam had fallen under the power of death and the guile of the serpent, and each one of which had committed personal transgression.

In Dial. 124 Justin says:

But as my discourse is not intended to touch on this point, but to prove to you that the Holy Ghost reproaches men because they were made like God, free from suffering and death, provided that they kept His commandments, and were deemed deserving of the name of His sons, and yet they, becoming like Adam and Eve, work out death for themselves; let the interpretation of the Psalm be held just as you wish, yet thereby it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming “gods,” and of having power to become sons of the Highest; and shall be each by himself judged and condemned like Adam and Eve. Now I have proved at length that Christ is called God.

A literal interpretation of Genesis is part of Justin’s hermeneutic – but Original Sin is not a part of his anthropology or Christology. Adam sinned and all sin of their own free will.

Irenaeus of Lyon (ca. 120-140? – ca. 202?) also read the OT with Christ at the center – and coined the term “Old Testament” (in Greek of course).  The subject of Genesis, creation, and Adam and Eve comes up fairly often in the writings of Irenaeus – especially his best known work “Against Heresies” (AH). As a counter to Gnostic heresies Irenaeus was emphatic on creation ex nihilo – out of nothing.

For Irenaeus, the key was that God does not work from preexisting matter; God creates and shapes matter in a single act in a manner unexplained by Scripture and best left unexplored (AH 2.28.7) (p. 77)

Like Justin, Irenaeus interpreted Gen 1-3 literally – but his interpretation was shaped by his understanding of recapitulation in Christ. Fall and redemption are not bookends in Irenaeus’s  view of history rather:

For him, Adam is not the real beginning nor is Christ the end. Rather, the passion and resurrection of Christ are the recapitulating center and underlying sense of trajectory of human personhood. (p.81)

In the divine scheme of things, Christ comes first, then Adam. In effect the crucified and risen Lord comes first, and Adam is made with reference to him.The nature of the recapitulation, which puts Christ at the center of the human trajectory from creation to salvation, is therefore such that Irenaeus can speak of Adam as being made in the image of the incarnate Christ (AH 4.33.4)(p. 82).

Irenaeus viewed Adam and his sin gently – the blame is transferred to the serpent. In AH 4.40.3 we read that the apostate angel and the enemy is cast from God’s presence as the one who brought about the transgression.  God had compassion on the man, he removed his anger from the man, and cast it upon the serpent – whose head was crushed by the seed of the woman in the recapitulation of the crucified and risen Lord.  As for Justin, Original Sin is not a part of Irenaeus’s anthropology or Christology.

Both Justin and Irenaeus read the creation narratives with a christ-centered focus using hermeneutical methods considered appropriate in their day and age.  Both, along with their contemporaries not considered here, read the narratives literally and figuratively.  Neither found “Original Sin” in the narratives.

Is this significant for the way we think about the gospel and the creation narratives today? Or is it irrelevant?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

  • Jeremiah Daniels

    Obviously, not everyone is going to believe that the early Christian writers are worth reading.
    But, I’m not one of those people.
    We ought to pay attention to what Christians have believed. Those things can inspire our own understanding in both positive and negative ways.
    Positively, they can tell us what worked.
    Negatively, they can tell us what did not work.

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS,
    It is easy to get caught on the horns of an either-or dilemma here, and far too many in the liturgical traditions do that by saying either we believe in Tradition or we don’t. It seems to me that we have to believe that God’s Spirit guided the Church all along (unlike both the dispensational and the more radical wing of anabaptism which saw the church go under with Constantine), and that therefore the thrust toward clarifying the guts of the gospel, so prominent in Justin and Irenaeus, was both necessary and important. The conclusions of the Church deserve our deepest respect. And that means also the Reformation — where there is a fork in the road for many. These voices are not infallible; they are noble and have shaped the story of the Church.
    The absence of original sin, for me, shows that the idea was not prominent in their days; it also makes me wait for those who did begin to think along those lines; and when they appear I want to listen to their voices.

  • Scott M

    It strikes me that the idea of transmitted or inherited guilt is the same sort of theological error as the theology that relied on the idea that the earth was the center of the universe. In addition to its conflict with science, it produces a host of other theological problems I’ve outlined elsewhere, not least (to me) the state of an infant. While the idea has its roots in some of the thoughts Augustine brought into his theological explorations from the neoplatonic idea of ‘seminal reasons’, it really didn’t take root even in the West until centuries later. While there is ample room for theological exploration, the theology and perspective that develops around the idea of original sin as transmitted guilt does not seem to me to be consistent with what we are able to see of the faith delivered to us by the apostles. And its opposition to the modern discoveries of science are making that fact manifest. Although their perspective on origins was, of course different than a modern one, the faith and theology of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (and really the consensus of the church for centuries) remains compatible with the things we now know. One would expect that of truth.

  • Percival

    My feeling on reading this is that these early writers were unduly influenced by the Greek philosophical world view. The way they saw symbols in things that were not ever meant as symbols (Moses and his arms in the shape of a cross) or the way they eternalized historical events (Adam was made in the image of the incarnate Christ) – these make me wonder what in the future will our spiritual descendants see as strange interpretations? In other words, they SEEM irrelevant to me, but for those who think any non-historical interpretations are outside the pale, well, the pale just moved a little father out.

  • Scott M

    Percival, they were explicitly combating the Greek worldview, far from being unduly influenced by it. The whole idea of matter being eternal and God shaping it into creation, matter being evil while spirit was good, etc. were ideas flowing from Greek influence. The idea of transmitted guilt is another such example. These early Fathers were specifically fighting such things. Heck, Irenaeus was the disciple of Polycarp who was the disciple of John! If John, who stood against the earliest gnostics (those influenced by Greek philosophy), couldn’t transmit his teaching through just one intermediary, how in the world are we supposed to understand John at all today, two thousand years later.

  • Percival

    Scott M,
    Is it not possible to combat Greek ideas from within a Greek world view? Many false ideas are opposed by other false ideas. I’m no expert in this area, so my impression of Justin and Irenaeus from this reading is that they were certainly more Greek than I am. I’m glad I don’t have to accept their writings as inspired and authoritative.
    I don’t think that we can assume that Irenaeus had the same world view as the Jewish apostles in every interpretation. By the way, which “John” was that? I believe that is still a matter of dispute as well. I think there are at least 2 candidates for this John-Polycarp link. (Though I believe there is only one “Polycarp” and his brother “Monocarp”) ; )

  • http://jhimm.net/wabi_sabi jhimm

    why do we always insist on making interpretation and doctrine so complicated?
    Jesus chose fisherman, and other simple men, with little or no education to spread his gospel.
    if they could do this job to his satisfaction, then the doctrine which flows out of the message they preached cannot be all that complicated.
    IF they could do this job to HIS satisfaction, THEN the doctrine which flows out of the message they preached CANNOT BE all that complicated.
    i’m sure what the ancient church fathers said about Genesis was brilliant. there is no compelling reason to believe it wasn’t, except if it contradicts with our own pet theologian whose words been using as a hammer against other believers for most of our lives.

  • MattR

    We can’t ignore these early church fathers. No, they are not infallible, but certainly represent a tradition closest to Christ and the apostles (as already mentioned, Irenaeus was linked to Polycarp who was directly linked to John).
    In my opinion, it’s hard to read their interpretations in our literal vs. metaphorical categories… they seem to be something completely different. Maybe the closest we can come is to say they read Scripture through the lens of narrative… truthful, but not literal as we would define it (historical/factual).
    And I take very seriously the fact that Irenaeus especially seems to embrace a view of salvation as recapitulation, and both seem to not believe in original sin as known today.
    Notice, they both believe in sin… just not in the idea of original sin.
    I do wish we would get away from a view of redemption based primarily on original sin, and follow these early fathers towards a more holistic and Christ centered (as opposed to sin centered) view.

  • David D

    Scott,
    This is indeed one of those tension areas we struggle with as followers of Christ. At what point in the life of the individual does sin create the need for redemption? I don’t believe we will ever come up with an answer this side of heaven we would all be comfortable. Whatever the answer, there is a point in the life of man when he realizes his separation from God and a need for redemption. I agree, we need to listen to other voices and engage in dialogue.

  • Scott W

    This discussion needs to be put in the historical theological perspective,in which the Augustinian understanding of “Original Sin” was a novelty at the time, and itself needs to be exegeted against Augustine’s own personal struggles, his Manichean background, and the sociopolitical context of the Western Roman at the time. Elaine Pagel’s book, ‘Adam, Eve, and the Serpent’ does a good job in giving us glimpse on all these issues.

  • Josh

    I would argue, Percival, that Justin and Irenaeus were no more influenced by a Greek worldview than your interpretation of them is influenced by a modern, post-Enlightenment worldview. And while you don’t have to accept their writings as authoritative, I also don’t think you can dismiss them because you feel they are reading the text through a certain cultural or philosophical lens. Every Christian throughout history has looked at Scripture through some sort of lens.
    By the way, nice job on the Polycarp/Monocarp crack.

  • Mike

    Well said, Josh.

  • RJS

    Scot (#2),
    I expect that you are making the point that I (we) need to read and interact with Augustine as well…and I expect (unfortunately) that you are right. One conclusion I have come to is that if we believe in God – then we are compelled to believe that the Spirit has been active in the church continually from the beginning. This doesn’t mean inerrant tradition or changing truth – but it does mean that we should listen carefully to all of the voices.

  • Travis

    jhimm @ 7, “Jesus chose fisherman, and other simple men, with little or no education to spread his gospel.”
    And Paul…?

  • BenB

    Scot,
    I really liked your response in #2.
    RJS,
    Check out the Eastern Orthodox Church’s stand on this, it still does not hold to an Augustinian Original Sin, but it does seem to have a concept of Original Sin (though it is much different). Everything is wrapped up in Incarnation and Theosis (and Recapitulation). Much like Irenaeus, but I feel they’ve come somewhere since Irenaeus.
    In answer to your question, I think we’ve always had the “Gospel Right.” The Gospel has little do with Original Sin and everything to do with Jesus Christ. Now I think that the Early Church Fathers can give us a lot of help on issues, but I also think that as time progressed we were able to do more. Especially today with the wealth of knowledge we have attained about 2nd Temple Judaism, which was totally ignored and scorned by the Early Church fathers.

  • Scott M

    Not just Paul. I’ve noticed that a lot of people have an ahistorical view of the culture and place. Jesus did not call the twelve from the ranks of the ‘power elite’ in Israel. (That’s hardly true of all of his disciples outside the twelve. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea are just two examples.) However, the picture many seem to have of the twelve is from some stereotype (perhaps enlightenment driven) of the ancient as ‘primitive’ and some glorification of the ‘common’ or ‘simple’ man. First, through the synagogue network, the base level of education among the Jews, even in the first century, was much higher than in the pagan world. It wasn’t the same sort of education we have today, but it should hardly be discounted. Further, they were not just fishermen. Some of them were already disciples of John when Jesus called them. Zebedee, it seems, had a small fleet of fishing vessels. They twelve were from more complicated and developed backgrounds than tends to be credited to them. We know that many of the other followers outside the twelve were even wealthy, especially some of the women. And Paul, of course, was among the educated elite of the ancient world and a brilliant man to boot.
    As was Jesus — brilliant that is. I think Dallas Willard has a point here. Too many modern Christians seem to discount the sheer weight of Jesus’ intelligence. He was a very smart man and called a lot of smart followers.
    Even so, the NT record is clear. They did not understand how the Scriptures spoke of Jesus until he opened their minds and taught them after the Resurrection. What they in turn proclaimed, taught, passed on (traditioned) is what they learned from him and through the Holy Spirit. Change that, and whatever else you have, it’s not the same faith. Of course, people then disagree over what exactly that faith is or was. If it has not been somewhere always retained and passed on, then it is lost and seems to me unrecoverable. You can’t then say that is was somehow preserved in ‘scripture’. A text must be interpreted and if the interpretation has not been passed on somewhere, if it has not been ‘traditioned’ (the biblical word), then whatever it is that any of us believe, it’s not the faith given to the apostles. That’s particularly true if John couldn’t even tradition it to Polycarp or Polycarp couldn’t tradition it to Irenaeus.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Percival #6
    “Though I believe there is only one “Polycarp” and his brother “Monocarp”
    Sigh… and that is the problem with so many threads at Jesus Creed. There is too much carping going on. :-)
    Nice one!

  • Luke

    RJS,
    This was a fantastic post. I was captivated the whole way through! I always knew there was early church fathers’ (re: pre-Augustine) evidence that nobody was talking about. Now I know why.
    While I agree with Scot that the Spirit guided the church all along, that still does not confirm that our western tradition has it all right (western tradition started with Augustine). I mean, it’s not like they didn’t talk about the origin of sin pre-Augustine, Scot. They had no concept of the Augustinian view. Also, just because your tradition places so much value on it still does not automatically make it 100% correct. The view I see most people taking of church history is the same view the majority-text adherents have: God works through the majority and his Spirit wouldn’t allow his truth to be suppressed in the smallest of voices.
    Have these people even read the Bible? This is a philosophical assumption that is totally against the Bible. So while I believe the Spirit has guided the church, that does not mean that the Spirit has always worked through the majority. What I see is cherry-pickin and an ignoring of the evidence on the part of most modern-day theologians in regards to original sin.

  • RJS

    BenB,
    Bouteneff is a theology professor at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary so he comes at this from an Orthodox perspective. This is clear in his book – and it is a good book. His book is organized to look first at the OT and the context of second temple Judaism and its influence on thinking about the creation narratives (post 1), then at Paul and the other NT authors and their use of the creation narratives (post 2). Then he moves into the early church fathers, and we will have a few posts here I expect.
    I think this is a useful way to think through the issues – it doesn’t discount later thinkers but reads each in context. I find it interesting to look at the various paths taken, which may include twists and turns meandering along. I see no reason to think that anyone era is more perfectly guided than any other.

  • Scott M

    None of what I say should be understood as a statement that somehow you have to believe exactly the right things or understand God precisely correctly in order to be undergoing the process of salvation. I see in Jesus (and frankly in much of Scripture) a God who is eager to save, who is constantly reaching out and embracing, who exhibits unfailing and unchanging love to all of us. Period.
    However, if salvation is growing to know God, growing in communion with God, becoming one with God and with others, then I want to try to rid myself of false ideas about God that stand as barriers to communion with him. I want to worship God as he is.
    And this is where Christian pluralism just isn’t helpful at all. I’m confident that God is saving everyone who would be saved and working through every branch of Christendom in the Spirit. Heck, I think he’s doing the best he can through any worldview or perspective a person may hold. After all, he is not willing that any should perish. It’s just that many of them don’t offer very good tools to actually know and grow in communion with the God made known in Jesus. All of the perspectives in Christian pluralism offer a less darkened view than, say, some forms of oppressive and fearful ancestor worship.
    But they simply do not describe God in the same way. Some of them directly contradict each other in their description of the persons of God. I’m certain that all efforts to describe and comprehend God fall short. I’m a big fan of apophatic approaches. But there are some pretty basic things here. Do we have the sort of God for whom guilt is a transmitted or inherited thing or not? Do we have a God who might hold wrath toward a person at one moment in time and then change and hold love toward them instead? Do we have a God who on some internal whim has decided to create some for ‘damnation’ and others for ‘salvation’? Do we have a God who is concerned about his infinite honor and must be satisfied or a God like the father of the prodigal or the God acted out by Hosea who embraces shame out of love? Do we have a God who has a problem forgiving or a problem being around sin?
    It’s not about who is in or who is out. God judges that through his love — a love which is also a consuming fire. Rather, is the God I’m worshiping the God who is? Or I am worshiping, to some extent, my own incorrect idea about God? If the goal is to become one with God through the grace of the Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection then it follows we will have to shed our false ideas about God to know the reality.
    In this context, the Augustinian neoplatonic idea of the transmission of sin through seminal reasons is clearly inconsistent with the world as it is. I have absolutely no doubt about that. I’m the son of a geneticist and though not one myself, actually understand an awful lot of the things RJS has discussed. Further, it’s not like Augustine introduced the idea and it began to spread immediately. As far as I can tell, the idea had very little impact on the church until centuries later and I’m not sure that Augustine would be very happy with the way it is often used today. On the other hand, besides not introducing all sorts of theological problems like that status of infants, the older idea of ancestral sin, which has consistently been held within the church somewhere at any and every point of history, does not share the problems with our more developed understanding of the world around us that the idea of transmitted guilt has. Given that it’s been held from the earliest years and can consistently be traced in the church all the way to the present era, why not embrace this perspective on the ancestral sin or at least a perspective that flows from it and extends it rather than an opposing view that is late developing and inconsistent in the thread of the life of the church.
    It seems almost like a no-brainer to me.

  • Peggy

    Michael (and Percival) … indeed there is too much carping: some “poly-carp” about so many issues at once, I can’t follow the discussion; while others “mono-carp” a single issue until that dead horse is no longer recognizable as a horse. ;^)

  • Scott W

    http://www.drury.edu/ess/values/chrysostom.html
    “…for nearly the first four hundred years of our era, Christians had regarded freedom as the primary message of Genesis 1-3 — freedom in its many forms, including free will; freedom from social and sexual obligations such as marriage and business; freedom from tyrannical government and from fate; and self-mastery as the source of such freedom.”
    “Of course, this changes with Augustine and his doctrine of original sin, in parallel with what Pagels characterizes as “the most extraordinary social and political transformation in the history of Christianity,” — namely, the transformation of Christianity from a “countercultural” religion at odds with “the world,” and especially the Roman Empire, into the religion of the Empire.”
    For the defiant Christians hounded as criminals by the Roman government a central question was: Are human beings capable of governing themselves? And to this question they emphatically answered ‘yes.’ But following the conversion of the emperor Constantine in 313 CE, most Christians gradually came to say “no.” Early Christian spokesmen, like Jews before them and, for example, the American colonists long after, had claimed to find in the biblical account of creation divine sanction for declaring their independence from governments that they considered corrupt and arbitrary. For in the Hebrew account of creation God gave the power of earthly rule to adam — not to the king or emperor, but simply to ‘mankind’ (and some even thought this might include women). (28, with reference to: Vita Adae et Evae 22.1-2; Jubilees 2.14)

  • Joe B

    “…is the God I’m worshiping the God who is? Or I am worshiping, to some extent, my own incorrect idea about God?”
    Scott McK’s question here sums up a huge, writhing question of faith. I’m not going to attempt to post an essay here worthy of the question. Instead I’m going to make a half-baked, unedited comment that sums up my disillusionment with Christendom both in church and in the blogosphere.
    Yes, you and a billion others are worshipping a golden calf, a God constructed with arguments and paper and and ink and words. “The Logos was God”, Jesus the life-giving spirit. But instead we worship the gramma that killeth, not the spirit that giveth life. Because we like gramma. Mere words that are smaller than ourselves, and before them we bow.
    “If the goal is to become one with God through the grace of the Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection then it follows we will have to shed our false ideas about God to know the reality.”
    We are NOT going to know the reality-of-God-as-he-is through our naked orgy of words and arguments and books and reviews and catechisms and creeds. If we change our course to know God, it will be by receiving the Holy Spirit, living in the spirit, and being led by the spirit. “Those who are led by the spirit of god, these are the sons of God.” NOT those who decode the secret message of God with their theological decoder rings.
    There are books and blogs and words enough to last until the end of time. Wonderful fabulous books and blogs and words. But if we don’t all repent and rise in the spirit of God, they are of no value at all. Aaron cast an idol in gold, then carefully instructed the Israelites how to spin what they said about it: “This is the god who brought us up out of Egypt.”
    Bull crap. It’s not God, it’s an idol you made yourself, Aaron. And the same gos or that vast tapestry of words we spin in church and in the whole Christian intelligentsia-sphere. “Knowing God as he really is”?? Bull crap. It is the work of our hands. We do not know God by refining and defining hammering him until we are satisfied. We know him by falling before him and serving him.
    It is time to repent.
    IMHO.

  • RJS

    Joe B,
    Scott M is not Scot McKnight or even Scott McK. He’s a completely different person.
    And a suggestion to shut up, turn off brain, and just repent doesn’t cut it and doesn’t help.

  • Joe B

    Thanks RJS, I had actually thought that Scott M was Scott McKnight. How silly.
    And you’re probably right, repentance and humility before the Almighty really are about the same thing as turning off our brains. It’s obvious but I had kinda missed that.
    Repentance and humble faith are dumb. Persuasive words of wisdom…that’s smart. Got it.
    But if you don’t mind too much, I’m just going to gonna repent anyway.

  • RJS

    Joe B,
    Repentance and humble faith are not dumb and we all need repentance.
    The tone of your first comment gave the impression that it was intended to belittle many of us, including both ScottM and me, since I wrote the post in the first place, for thinking through and wrestling with the nature of our faith and the implications of our faith. That attitude, whether you intended it or not, is damaging and counterproductive.

  • http://communityofjesus.blogspot.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    I think Scot’s book, A Community Called Atonement is helpful in an indirect way, in seeing how we need the breadth of theologies throughout the church’s history, on atonement. We need to consider them together as we read Scripture.
    Even if one is off in the way it was formulated, maybe out of balance, that doesn’t mean that it’s not getting at a truth that needs to be understood, and that we need to work on, perhaps, to keep better understanding.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Odd that Athanasius isn’t mentioned here. His treatise “The Incarnation of the Word of God” is important for the pre-Augustinian view of human nature and sin. (My summary here: http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog/?p=747) Athanasius says some interesting things about Adam, including the idea that Adam was “by nature mortal” but that mortality was Divinely stayed before the fall. Sin results in a sort of lack of access to God’s sustaining power, allowing man’s “brutish” nature to control. The atonement is God’s final victory over this dissolution, giving man again access to God’s presence so that man can acheive his telos of becoming like God (“theosis”).
    Personally, I think there’s no reason — scientific, historical, or otherwise — to oppose the Christus Victor and satisfaction views of the atonement or to oppose the Patristic view of Adam as diverted from theosis against the Augustinian view of Adam as fallen from innocence. All of these are important ways in which the Spirit has lead the Church to reflect on the mystery of human nature, the incarnation, and the atonement. (A great book on the various threads of atonement theory, BTW: Hans Boersma, “Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross.”)
    What we need to do, and what many theologians of various types are now doing, is to think about what these traditional models of Adam and the atonement mean in light of current scientific knowledge. We don’t discard the Tradition, we allow it shape how we think theologically about the world, and in the process we shape and extend the unfolding Tradition. Given that we’re only in the beginning decades of serious theological reflection on biological evolution from within historically Orthodox Christianity, it’s not surprising that we don’t yet know what shape the Tradition will take. Maybe we need to have some patience, to live with some tension, during our brief time with it.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    Chronology.
    Athanasius is ca. 292-373 AD, we’re only at ca. 202… Next Origen, then Athanasius and the Cappadocians.

  • dopderbeck

    Ah.. Always getting ahead of myself.


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