In the sub-Apostolic period there was a rise of contrary opinions against the orthodox Christian religious doctrine. Athanasius and Irenaeus were main significant contributors who protected the continuity of redemption and creation. Both of them positioned Christ at the centre of the belief and thought. Their commitment towards Christ let them concentrate on the Christ’s creation and redemption. They believed Christ’s work to be the ultimate divine act in the divine world. Therefore both of the theologians were Christ centric.
To compare and contrast their view on atonement and incarnation, it will be easier if their contemporary time of confusions is analyzed. The questions regarding Christ as divine god and his centrality of redemption were questioned. Marcion or Arius created the most severe threat against the theology of Athanasius or Irenaeus (Wilhite, 2015). Valentines proposes that Christ is nothing but an emanation of fullness or ‘pleroma’ against the belief that the fullness resides in him. Irenaeus fought against this Gnosticism and Athanasius fought mainly against the Arianism (Gavrilyuk, 2013).
In the second century, Irenaeus (130 AD to 202 AD) was the main architect of the ‘four gospel canon’ (Vainio, 2016). He realized that just banishing the heretical doctrines were not enough to protect the Christian movement. He analyzed and developed his own theologies of recapitulation in order to protect the orthodox Christian practice (Hollen, 2015).
Though in 4th century Christianity established itself as a lawful religion but within the doctrines there were many conflicts. To settle the conflicts and reestablish the unified orthodox Christianity Athanasius’s (293 AD to 373 AD) contribution was significant (Husin & Awang, 2015). He also fought against the heretical teachings through his entire life. He revered a significant position in the history of church because of his defense of Christianity against the powerful heretical destructions. He fought against the challenges that the heretical practice imposed upon the Christian belief of God’s existence.
Irenaeus’ doctrine on atonement is developed on his beliefs on man’s from paradise and his idea on redemption. He developed a parallel comparison between Christ and Adam while describing his theory on redemption. He believed that the redemption is depended on two aspects of human’s solidarity with Adam and with Christ. He described the atonement as the repairing the huge corruption and sin that the human kind caused and this was the primary reason that influenced Christ for the incarnation, life and death (McGrath, 2016).
For Athanasius, Christ’s incarnation is related to his doctrine of atonement (Torrance, 2016). The fall of Adam marked the destruction humanity. Humans’ involvement in exploitation, violence, murder, idolatry, depravity and oppression led to the destruction of humanity (Walsh, 2014). The humans who are considered to be the bearers of the image of the God of Imago Dei are committing so much crime that results in Christ’s incarnation. He believed that only repentance or forgiveness could not save the humankind from the fallen condition. There was an extreme need for human kind’s regeneration, which was only possible through Christ’s incarnation (Van Kuiken, 2017). The new birth was capable of regain the human kind’s faith of the Holy Spirit. Through the incarnation and covering of the atonement the humans who will turn to the God will be promised protection and purification from all the sins.
In ‘De Incarnatione’, Athanasius merged recapitulation and satisfaction together. His method was can be considered as the mix of Irenaeus and Anselm. Both of them explained incarnation is the whole of Christ’s divine work. However Athanasius he did not follow Irenaeus’ recapitulation in its entirety. Athanasius was more focused on Christ’s resurrection than his birth. He did not follow that mechanism of human nature’s transformation as Christ’s reconstitution of such various phases of human life like infancy or childhood. So Athanasius differed from Irenaeus’ use of the term ‘recapitulation’ for Christ’s birth (Edwards, 2016). He did not believe that Christ’s birth is the restoration of human nature from immorality or corruption so he is not using all of Irenaeus’ doctrine regarding recapitulation. The doctrine of atonement which Athanasius developed was basic contours of both Irenaeus and Anselm. Apart from some particularities of Irenaeus’ recapitulation, Athanasius applied Anselm’s claim on Christ’s death. Anselm claimed that the death of the Christ is the amalgamation of God’s receiving of humans’ debt that they caused through the sins they committed during their lifetimes. In the second chapter of ‘De Incarnatione’ this merger of different doctrines can be observed. Along with this combination, in the third chapter Athanasius claimed that incarnation was absolutely inevitable so that the human kind could know the power of God. Therefore the atonement doctrine of Athanasius was an amalgamation of Irenaeus’ recapitulation, Anselm’s doctrine on Christ’s death and his own theology of Christ’s death. Christ’s reincarnation is in deep connection with the part of recapitulation doctrine. Christ’s very act of resurrection was for his urge to unite with the human kind and his resurrection resulted in the restoration of basic human nature. He believed that Christ was resurrected I order to save the human kind from sin and corruption. He used a metaphorical example was used to explain his argument. He stated that when a king comes to visit a large city he generally chooses a normal house and resides there. Because of his staying the whole city feels honored in such a manner that the nemesis halts from molesting the house. He claims this metaphor can be used in case of Christ as well. He had come to the human kingdom chose a mortal body among many and the enemies’ plan of causing harm had failed. Athanasius believed that the presence of Christ in a single body represents the whole of the human race and the positive power is being shared by all the humans. As God took the shelter of a human body the whole of humanity was being honored and protected from the ills. The moment the god reincarnated in a human body the process of corruption of death was reversed. Athanasius believed that the purpose of satisfaction was also fulfilled by Christ’s incarnation. Athanasius’ doctrine of atonement deals with both the human kind’s guilt and fallen nature; in it the recreation of humanity and maintaining the divine power in it was served.
The incarnation of Christ serves two purposes, as claimed by Athanasius. The primary purpose of the incarnation was to restore humanity and the secondary purpose was to the humans pay the debt because of sickness of death. Christ’s incarnation fulfilled the first purpose by the union of divine and human through Christ’s birth. The second purpose was served through Christ’s death. So it is evident that the doctrines of recapitulation and satisfaction were incorporated in Athanasius’ doctrine. Athanasius claimed that the end of Christ’s incarnation was marked by his death.
There are differences in the doctrines of Athanasius and Irenaeus related to Christ’s death. Athanasius held the death of the Christ as the centre of faith. The problems created by corruption and death can only be solved by the incarnation. Death is the punishment for transgression and all the sins committed by human kind. Therefore his doctrine of atonement has many aspects as it is centered on substitution of death. Athanasius theology thus can claims to be more developed that the theology of Irenaeus.
Athanasius and Irenaeus both differ on the concept of Imago Dei or the image of God. The theological doctrine that says the humans are created in the likeness of God (McNamara, 2015). Athanasius’ perception of Imago Di is in connection with his understanding of Christ’s incarnation. He believed that incarnation was designed and developed in order to teach the humanity about the God’s presence. Human kind’s corruption and sin caused pain for Athanasius and it is the ignorance of humans towards God that led to the incarnation. He said that God has no other way but to reestablish his image so that the humans could know the God again. The image of him which was already established was easier to adapt because he was the image of the God (Deane-Drummond, 2015).
For Irenaeus the Imago Dei was a significant aspect of the recapitulation (Smedt & Cruz, 2014). For him Christ is not just the image of God that recreated human kind, but the renewal of whole of the men’s image. Athanasius again used another metaphor in order to express his thoughts on Imago Dei which is different from Irenaeus. He compared the recapitulation with the painting which is worn out and like the repaint the Christ has come to renew the mankind.
Many of Athanasius’ theories are influenced by Irenaeus’ theories. Though Athanasius took elements from Irenaesus’ recapitulation he differed from it at certain parts. In ‘De Incarnatione’ the influence of Irenaseus is visible however at places Athanasius took help of other theologies in order to contradict and modify the thoughts to make it more powerful and aligned to his belief for the contemporary time and the coming millennium. Keeping aside the few differences, both of their theories worked collaboratively for a common purpose which is to fight against the destructive heretical practice of that time and reestablish human kind’s faith on God.
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