Atonement & the Image of God: The Patristic Atonement Model – Notes on Ben Myers – LATC15 Presentation

Ben Myers – well known for his Faith-Theology blog – lecturer in Systematic Theology at Charles Sturt Univsersity’s School of Theology presented a paper at LATC tonight titled – Atonement and the Image of God: The Patristic Model of Atonement.

Ben Myers – Author of Christ the Stranger, Salvation in my Pocket, and Milton’s Theology of Freedom.

Here are my notes (sort of incomplete notes) on his lecture and the Q & A time after the lecture

Atonement and the Image of God

Ben Myers

The Patristic Atonement Model

No Explanation?

  • The how of the operation remains a mystery – or so say most modern theologians. Most are content to settle for a restatement rather than an explanation.
  • Gustaf Aulen – the Patristic Model has no mechanism; it defies systematization
    • The teaching is internally contradictory
    • The Anselmian model is disreputable b/c its structure is too rational
    • Christus Victor is not a model at all….
    • Anti-Mechanism

Thesis: Christian antiquity did indeed develop a model of atonement – and it does indeed have a mechanism behind it.

The Model – 12 Steps

  1. Humanity, created in the image of God is loved by God.
    1. Assumption 1: There is one human nature. All individual human beings participate in this universal (realism).
  2. But human nature has succumbed to the power of death.
    1. Assumption 2: Death is and a positive quality but a privation of being (privation).
  3. Divine impassibility.
  4. ???
  5. What is God to do?
  6. In Christ, God becomes incarnate: the divine nature is united with human nature.
    1. Assumption 4: Exactly how this union occurs is unknowable. (Hypostatic Union)
  7. In this union each nature retains its own distinctiveness while participating in the properties of the other.
  8. In Christ’s death – death dies (the mechanism).
  9. Christ resurrection is the inevitable consequence of his death.
  10. What happens to human nature in Christ happens to humanity as a whole (because of m1) (The universal effect)
  11. Human nature is now freed from the power of death and is restored to its created position. This is a good thing. (The solution)
  12. Human nature is now united to God and receives far surpassing its created position. This is a very good thing. (The surplus)

Divine Impassability

  • Divine impassibility is the reason for the incarnation (see Athanasius)
    • For this reason he takes on a body capable of death – to snatch humanity out of the grip of death.
    • Communication of properties makes it so that God can be capable of tasting death…It was God’s body that suffered and no one elses.
    • The problem that the incarnation solves is the problem of impassibility
      • God is “touched” by suffering without being changed by it.
    • The Son’s human nature is the doorway into death – but who “steps through the word is the eternal logos.”

Death and the Devil

  • Assumption: Death is a privation of being.
    • Non-being is defeated when it comes into contact with the Divine Being.
      • e. light darkness disappears when light comes on
    • That evil & death is a privation is axiomatic w/in Patristics & early theologians
    • The atonement is not a struggle b/w God and Satan
      • The struggle w/ demons is strictly b/w us and Satan/Demons
    • The point of these metaphors is not to show that Christ defeats the devil
      • The mechanism behind these metaphors is about the possibility of the impassible nature going into death and defeating it from within.
    • Gregory of Nyssa – The Fishook Passage
      • The real problem is not Satan but Death
      • Death is not a positive power, but a privation of life
    • The Mechanism – Divinity touches death and death is no more (i.e. putting being into non-being)
      • Death is an absence that Christ fills

Realism and Human Nature

  • The view that humanity is essentially one – universal human nature that all humans participate in –
    • Use metaphors and analogies to depict this
      • Ireneaus – Single book Metaphor
      • Athanasius – A Town that a King lives in
      • Gregory – Kitchen and yeast in the dough or a curdling agent for milk
    • They assert this view – and don’t give much of an explanation for this assumption
    • See Athansius – On Incarnation, pg 9, sacrifice language is “one and the many” language.
      • Not a depiction of the mechanism but a depiction of the universal effects
      • This answers the question – not how it works – but for whom it works.
    • The Language of sacrifice is used to depict how Jesus death counts for us.

The Solution and the Surplus

  • Christ wraps himself in our falling human nature – takes us higher than we started.
  • Dying human nature is infused with Divine life.
  • The surplus factor belongs to the atonement model proper.
    • It communicates human qualities to divine nature
    • It communicates divine qualities to human nature – thus elevating it.
  • We rise up to an honor that is above our nature (when we were created).

Questions

 

Q1- I’m interested in this assumption that there is one human nature that all individual human beings participate in. Could you elaborate a little bit upon what you think forms the background for this philosophical assumption…

  • OT Models (Adam & Humanity, Sacrifice & One Representing Many)
  • NT Pauline Descriptions of Adam & 2nd Adam
  • Ireneus sees human nature as being instantiated throughout history, beginning with Adam, Israel, and Finally Christ. Human nature is a thing that unfolds through time.
  • Some others see human nature as a more abstract universal. (Almost in a Platonic way.)

Q2- Where does Sin fit into this Patristic Model?

  • I’m not persuaded that there is an integration with Anselmian models.
  • In Patristic theology the emphasis is on the problem brought about by Sin i.e. Death – not on sin itself.

Q3-What are the implications of the realism assumption. How can the son assume sinful human nature? Assuming that he can – why isn’t incarnation in itself enough for atonement?

  • Because there was a fall with death – there must be a death in the life of Christ or else Christ cannot lift us up from it.

Q4- Given modern discussions about anthropology – the idea that there is no one thing which we man by “human nature” i.e. the plurality of the human species – how does this idea that there is a universal nature affect your view?

  • I don’t quite see how you can hold to the gospel without having some way of talking about humanity as a whole. The NT itself has ways about talking about the whole of humanity.
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