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Creation and Salvation – Irenaeus and Athanasius 5

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The Fall - the Need for Re-Creation

In the philosophies of the third and fourth centuries, creation came out of great ruptures (e.g. wars in heaven).  Against this, Athanasius maintained that physicality is not the issue for the creature before God.  The problem – that is, the fall – occurs after creation.  Thus it is humanity’s disobedience that gives rise to the rupture between God and man: an ethical rather than ontological problem.

The fall was a rejection of the Word, in consequence of which mankind no longer knew God and instead pursued false images (idols), not the true Image.Since God’s intention for creation is His fellowship with man in His Image, then this disruption affects the whole cosmos.  The fall is thus ‘the work of God… being undone’ - de-creation.

Time and again Athanasius stresses how ‘supremely unfitting’ and ‘unthinkable’ it would be for the ‘All Good’ ‘Father of Truth’ to allow His creation to run such a ruinous path.  He also notes that humanity has no resources within itself to remedy the situation.  Thus God’s commitment to creation demands a reversal of the fall.  Without redemption, God’s “consistency of character with all” is compromised.  Or as Irenaeus had said, God must act lest He “be conquered [and] His wisdom lessened.” Since the fall was a ‘de-creation’ so redemption must be a re-creation.  And if this is so, then the Creator Himself must be the Redeemer.  Thus, creation and redemption are held together by the One Divine Word.

The Fall - the Need for Recapitulation

Where Athanasius speaks of re-creation, Irenaeus speaks of recapitulation.

Recapitulation (anakephalaiosis; see especially Ephesians 1:10; also Romans 13:9) has been variously understood: to sum up, to go over the same ground again, to unite under a single head, to restore to the original, to bring to a climax.  All of these capture something of Irenaeus’ meaning though I prefer the picture of 'a spiral climb'.  It means going over the same ground but thereby raising it to a higher plane.  Fundamentally, redemption is described as God “recapitulating in Himself His own handiwork." (Adv.H., III.22.1)

Thus “what we had lost in Adam – namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God – that we might recover in Christ Jesus.” (Adv. H., III.18.1)  Christ achieves this by taking the very flesh of Adam (Adv. H. V.1.3) – the head of the old humanity – and, going over the ground of Adam’s history.  E.g:

just as Adam had no earthly father, so too Christ (III.18.7); just as Eve was disobedient, so Mary is obedient (V.19.1); just as Adam was tempted through food and failed, so Christ was tempted through fasting and succeeded (V.21.2); just as Adam was disobedient with the tree, so Christ is obedient on the tree (V.16.3) etc. etc.

Christ achieves victory where Adam failed.

“He has therefore, in His work of recapitulation, summed up all things… in order that, as our species went down to death through a vanquished man, so we may ascend to life through a victorious one; and as through a man death received the palm [of victory] against us, so again by a man we may receive the palm against death.” Adv. H. V.21.1

Thus Christ can become the Head of the true spiritual humanity to which we must belong. This is, of course, not an innovation of Irenaeus’, but the plain teaching of the Scriptures –  Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, 44-50.

What's important for out purposes is the fact that God’s creative work has moved in this direction from the beginning.  Adam is always heading towards Christ.  Eden is always heading towards the New Jerusalem, etc, etc.  Christ’s incarnate work is completely ‘of-a-piece’ with His creation.  The goal of all God’s ways with the creation has ever been to sum up everything under the Heavenly Man, Christ (Eph 1:10)

Thus, the humanity of Adam, for Irenaeus, was ‘sketched out’ expressly as that which must be filled out by Christ.

“The Word – the Creator of all – prefigured in Adam the future economy of His own incarnation.  God first sketched out the ensouled human being, with a view to his being saved by the spiritual human being.  Since the Saviour was already in existence, the one who was to be saved had to come into existence, or the Saviour would have been Saviour of no one." (Adv.H. III.22.3)

Notice that Adam was always 'to be saved' and that Christ is ‘Saviour’ even before the fall.  Thus Minns must be right when he says of Irenaeus’ theology:

“Adam’s sin conditions the salvation to be worked by the incarnate Word but it does not call it into existence.  For the earth creature does not come to be in the image and likeness of God until God becomes flesh, until the human being in whose image Adam was created stands on the earth.” (D. Minns, Irenaeus,  p87)

For Irenaeus, Christ’s work is not simply the answer to sin (though it certainly accomplished this).  Christ’s incarnate work inhabits and realizes the one dynamic story of creation’s fulfilment moving from Adam to Christ, from flesh to spirit, from Eden to the New Jerusalem.  Salvation is not a response to the fall and it's not paradise restored.  Salvation is the drawing into God of what has been made through the Son.  And what has been made has always been destined for this redemption.

Thus, creation and redemption are not just held together by One Divine Word, they are also held together as one divine work.


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