Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Athanasius on Recapitulation and Penal Substitutionary Atonement


[The following post was originally published on 11/13/09.]

Theologians who deny that Jesus on His Cross effected Penal Substitutionary Atonement for sinners [more on that HERE] often argue against Penal Substitution by: 1. Claiming that a Penal Substitutionary model of the Atonement was unknown in the ancient Church, and was only conceived during the Reformation period; 2. Setting other models of the Atonement against Penal Substitution.

In this post, it is my intention to offer some quotes from ATHANASIUS [taken from my “Doctrine of the Work of Christ” class notes, which were given by Dr. Stephen Wellum] in order to demonstrate that: 1. Penal Substitutionary Atonement WAS taught in the ancient Church; 2. Penal Substitutionary Atonement is ENTIRELY CONSISTENT with the Recapitulation model of the Atonement (one of the primary models often set as a rival against Penal Substitution by today’s scholars).

First, it must be noted that formulations of the doctrine of Penal Substitution do take on greater clarity over time: so that when desiring to learn the nuances of Penal Substitution, the Christian student may find greater help in turning to Charles Hodge than to Athanasius. But this reality of ‘greater clarity over time’ is true of writings concerning other fundamental Christian doctrines as well– for example, the Christian student may find greater help in turning to Athanasius rather than to some earlier theologians in order to learn about the doctrine of the Trinity. The main reason that teachings on fundamental doctrines tend to become clearer over time is that as heretics [such as Arius or the Gnostics, for example] attack these doctrines, the Church must respond with great precision to define the limits of the Faith.

“Recapitulation” (mentioned in the second paragraph above) concerns the idea of Jesus as the new Adam, taking humanity into Himself in order to bring incorruptibility, immortality, and even a kind of divinity to His people. In his book Against Heresies Irenaeus defines recapitulation as “having passed through every stage of life, restoring to all communion with God.” Irenaeus writes:
The Son of God “when he became incarnate, and was made man… commenced afresh [i.e. summed up in himself) the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam—namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God—that we might recover in Christ Jesus” (3.18.1). “But what he did appear, that he also was: God recapitulated in himself the ancient formulation of man, that he might kill sin, deprive death of its power, and vivify man; and therefore his works are true” (3.18.7). “So did he who was the Word, recapitulating Adam in himself, rightly receive a birth, enabling him to gather up Adam [into himself]… making a recapitulation in himself… that the very same formation should be summed up [recapitulated] in Christ” (3.21.10). [From class notes by Dr. Wellum.]
Athanasius held a similar “Recapitulation” view as that described above, but instead of concluding that such a view results in the Incarnation rendering Penal Substitution unnecessary (as some scholars seem to do today), Athanasius taught Recapitulation as the basis for Substitution. In his De incarnatione Dei Athanasius writes:
Jesus “surrendered his body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This he did out of sheer love for us, so that in his death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in his body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men” (2.8). In this way did he become “in dying a sufficient exchange for all” (2.9). “For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all” (2.9). Christ, the incarnate Word, himself offered “the sacrifice on behalf of all, surrendering his own temple [body] to death in place of all, to settle man’s account with death and free him from the primal transgression” (4.20). If then, “any honest Christian wants to know why he suffered death on the cross and not in some other way, we answer thus: in no other way was it expedient for us, indeed the Lord offered for our sakes the one death that was supremely good. He had come to bear the curse that was on us; and how could he ‘become a curse’ otherwise than by accepting the accursed death? And that death is the cross, for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree’” (4.25). [Emphases added.]
Similarly, in his Orations Against the Arians Athanasius writes:
“Christ endured death for us, inasmuch as he offered himself for the purpose to God” (1.41). He “takes our sufferings upon himself, and presents them to the Father, entreating for us that they be satisfied in him” (4.6). “Laden with guilt the world was condemned of law, but the Logos assumed the condemnation, and suffering in the flesh gave salvation to all” (1.60). [Emphases added.]
The bold-faced portions above– speaking of Christ dying “instead of,” in “exchange for,” and “on behalf of” all of us– clearly employ Substitutionary language. That this is a kind of PENAL Substitution is obvious as Athanasius writes that Christ died “to settle man’s account with death,” “to bear the curse that was on us,” and that He “assumed the condemnation” that we deserved. Again, the ideas of Penal Substitution are not presented in such a systematic fashion as they occur in later church history, but they ARE there.

Recapitulation is not seen as a rival to Penal Substitution, but as the basis for Penal Substitution– Christ can die for us because He IS us; the Incarnate Word is the true and ultimate humanity, passing through the stages of human life, restoring all to communion with God by His perfect life, His obedience to the point of death on behalf of sinners, and by His resurrection.

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