Tag Archives: Irenaeus

LATC 2018 – Nature, Grace, and the Christological Ground of Humanity

Rought notes on Marc Cortez’s LATC 2018 Plenary Talk

Christology as basis for establishing anthropology20180118_113512

  • Hedgie the Hedgehog
    • Why should Hedgie be seen as paradigmatic?
  • Establishing that JC is perfect human – how can we make the jump to making claims about true humanity….

Irenaeus as a conversation partner for thinking why JC should be the basis for our theological anthropology

  • Humans are made in the image of God
  • Jesus is the True image of God

How does Irenaeus unpack this? What are the implications? Four Claims

  1. TA must be rooted in the embodied humanity of Christ
  2. TA must be rooted in the eternal identity of the son
  3. TA must recognize the ontological and epistemological priority of Christ over Adam
  4. TA must be studied in such a way that does not completely bifurcate nature and grace (I did not fully catch this 4th point)


Claim 1

  • The very idea of an image requires an embodied form – the son must have a visible and determinate form
  • The body is intrinsic to the Imago Dei – Man not a part was made in the likeness of God. The perfect man consists of the comingling of soul and flesh
  • The fashioning of the human flesh is intimately connected to Christ – Humanity is patterned according to the pattern of the incarnate Christ
  • The imago is Christological in the sense that we see the reality that all persons are directed towards the Triune God
  • No biblical passages prove this but there is biblical warrant


Claim 2

  • What does it mean for I to claim that human nature in the manger is logically prior to the humanity in Genesis 1?
    • Means archetype of humanity exists eternally even though it has not been instantiated
    • Maybe it’s a divine idea – maybe Christ is the historical idealization of that idea
    • I never posits an eternal idea…. The archetype of humanity is always the person of JC himself (Does a Gnostic background inform why he never did this?)
  • Schleiermacher & James Dunn
    • Jesus just is the idea of humanity – the driving person behind the act of creation
    • This however may overshadow the son’s existence in eternity
  • The Son’s identity has been shaped eternally in virtue of the incarnation


Claim 3

  • Adam does not simply prefigure Christ – Adam was consequent on Christ – his humanity has been shaped by the archetype which is Christ
  • There is at least one sense in which Christ is ontologically dependent upon Adam
  • For JC to be fully Human he had to receive his humanity from Adam – to claim J could have received a different kind of humanity – would be problematic for our salvation – he would be instantiating a new kind of humanity rather than recapitulating the humanity which started with Adam
  • How come – looking at the ontologically secondary being (Adam) wouldn’t be a good way to figure out what humanity is all about?
  • I thinks we need to maintain C’s epistemological priority?
    • I says because Adam wasn’t perfect…. They are not yet complete and hadn’t fully grown yet
    • Even though Humanity was created in the image in the beginning we don’t truly see what humanity is until the advent of Christ
    • “Adam and Even give only a dim impression of what it means to be in the image of God.” – Boersma
  • Does this approach do justice to the canonical form of the biblical message about Humanity?
    • Don’t we already know what it means to be human when JC is born? The logic of cannon and creed seems to indicate we already know what it means to be human prior to the incarnation
  • We can know other things about humans….
    • Studying humanity in general can and should provide some insight into humanity (learn about the Mona lisa by studying a replica) – move is complicated by falleness of humanity (someone wrote all over the mona lisa)
    • The developmental account does not denigrate the fact that we can know something about humanity from stages prior to the incarnation. (Studying Marc Cortez as a 7th grader can give you some info about Marc Cortez today). This means we shouldn’t neglect the study of Humanity in its history prior to Christ


Claim 4

  • Doesn’t lead us to distinguish between Nature and Grace
  • This developmental model provides some basis for interdisciplinary studies of human nature
  • In addition to understanding humanity through the lens of the natural – we are required to study humanity in the state of Grace too



Although Hedgie might be the cutest hedgehog to ever walk the earth – it seems reasonable to claim that not hedgehog forms the epistemological or ontological basis for all other hedgehogs.


On I’s view of the Imago Dei we have something very different with the embodied humanity of JC. We have the actualization in history – the archetype – of humanity. For I that is the only adequate ground upon which to base a theological conception of the human person.


Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension

The church is no stranger to theologies of ascent. Julie Canlis, lecturer at Regent College, suggests that Calvin’s voice ought to join the chorus of such theologies. In Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension, Canlis argues that Calvin’s voice isn’t drowned out in this chorus but that it sticks out for various reasons, the primary reason being that his theology of ascent is grounded in the concept of participation in Christ.

Canlis suggests that Calvin’s understanding of Christian piety ought to be understood through the concept of Trinitarian koinonia. This koinonia begins with Christ. Christ makes 51nsdxz0m4l-_sy344_bo1204203200_a double movement, that of descent and ascent. In Christ God has come as man to humanity to stand in our place and as man Christ leads us back to the Father. According to Canlis, “The entire Christian life is an outworking of this ascent – the appropriate response to God’s descent to us – that has already taken place in Christ.” (3)  Whether one is talking about desire for God, prayer, obedience, vocation, or worship, or ascent, all has been accomplished for humanity vicariously through Christ. Canlis devotes six chapters to unpacking Calvin’s understanding of this vicarious ascent in Christ.

She begins with a survey of various theologies of ascent, including the works of Plato, Plotinus, Origen, Augustine, and Aquinas. These thinkers all tell the story of humanity’s self-empowered (though sometimes assisted by grace) journey towards the divine, in which the individual is the primary agent of ascent. Calvin breaks the mold, making Christ the primary agent of ascent:  ascent is not something that fallen humanity does, rather it is something that humans participate in.

She expands upon the theme of participation by beginning with creation. creation’s existence is infused with relationality. In fact, “Communion is the groundwork of creation, the purpose of anthropology, and the telos toward which all creation strains.” (54) However, humanity has exchanged communion for independence. This is the essence of sin. The solution to the problem of sin would be to reestablish humanity’s existence in communion with God.

Following the chapter on creation, Canlis devotes a chapter to exploring how Christ’s double movement of descent and ascent addresses the problems of fallen humanity. The Son descends fully into humanity, in order that humanity may participate in him. He then ascends, taking humanity up into participation in God’s own life. How is this participation applied to humans? Her fourth chapter is devoted to showing that the appropriation of Christ’s ascent happens through union with Christ, which is enacted by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit not only makes that union objectively true, but the Spirit’s actions in the Lord’s Supper is also the means of grounding and reconstituting that union. (171) The Lord’s Supper is the concretization of the relationship of union and ascent between Christ and Christians.

The fifth chapter is devoted to putting Calvin in conversation with Irenaeus. She argues that neither Calvin nor Irenaeus presents a picture of participation in Christ as something in which humans become less than fully human; rather, through participation in the divine life, humans experience a more deeply human reality. She doesn’t argue for Irenaeus’ direct influence upon Calvin, but notes that there are many important similarities.

Canlis’ final chapter is dedicated to unpacking the implications of the idea that for Calvin “ascent was not ascent of the individual soul but humanity’s participation in the triune communion” which is opened up by Jesus’ ascent. (230) She suggests that Calvin’s theology might have much to contribute to ecumenical dialogue, that it might provide a robust pneumatology that has normally been lacking in Reformed theology, and it might serve as an antidote to the individualistic and reductionistic spirituality so prevalent in our day.

There is much to appreciate in this book. Canlis does a fine job of showing that the concept of mystical ascent into the life of God need not be foreign to Reformed Christianity. Simultaneously, she shows that Calvin’s theology makes a unique contribution to this strand of Christian spirituality. She has also done a fine job in showing how important participation in Christ is to the rest of Calvin’s theology. Calvin’s doctrines of creation, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist, the Trinity, and Eschatology cannot be understood apart from the concept of participation.

To say that Canlis has succeeded in these areas is not to say the book does not have its shortcomings. First, one might wonder whether her understanding of the Christian life is too individualistic. Yes, the Christian life might be grounded in participation in Christ, but her interpretation of Calvin on this point does not require that a Christian be in communion with other Christians. The topic of communion with other Christians is surprisingly absent in her discussion of the Lord’s Supper. Second, we may wonder why Canlis doesn’t do more to address her indebtedness to Torranceian theology. Her understanding of the descent/ascent, vicarious humanity of Christ, and grace are explicitly Torranceian. Torrance’s reading of these concepts in Calvin are rather controversial (to say the least), yet she does not address this controversy at any point.

Despite these shortcomings,  Canlis ought to be commended for writing a book that makes an important contribution to mystical spirituality from a distinctly reformed position.

Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension by Julie Canlis (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010), xii + 286 pp.

Atonement & Ascension – Notes on Michael Horton’s LATC15 Presentation

Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westmister California. He is author of The Christian Faith and editor of Modern Reformation magazine, and co-host of the White Horse Inn. At LATC 15 he presented a wonderful paper on Atonement and Ascension – with special attention being paid to Patristic and Reformation theology.


Atonement and Ascension

Michael Horton


Ascension is as constitutive as atonement for the redemption of humanity.

  • The Ascension highlights what he has saved us for.

A Tale of Two Ascensions

  • Origen’s or Irenaeus?
    • Origen’s Doctrine of Ascension
      • It is the ascent of mind rather than the body – this thesis is founded upon his cosmology which originates in 1st Principles
      • This world was created as a “school” to gain back our “wings”
      • Logos casts of his body – passes from physical to ethereal body
      • To Origin – all rational creatures will be saved and restored to their original goal of contemplation of God.
      • He has a tri-partite ontology: Body, Soul, Spirit
        • Applies this to Scripture as well
      • In Medieval Theology – the doctrine goes back and forth between internalization & marginalization
      • In Renaissance – Resurgence of Platonism & Origen – Resurgence of a split between Flesh & Spirit.
    • Irenaeus Doctrine of Ascension
      • The body of Christ did ascend to the height above – giving to the Father his human nature as the first fruits of the resurrection of humanity. – Christ carried our flesh into heaven.
      • The Reformation – critical of the Origenest trajectory. Contra the ascent of mind.
    • Von Balthasar: Protestants can’t follow Irenaeus when it comes to Ascension
      • Horton Disagrees

Recapitulation – the Two Adams

  • Protestant theology reflected the Irenean concern about the redemption of the whole of human nature.
  • Ireneaus – Recapitulation : Father sends son to be reunited in his workmanship…
    • First covenant with Adam & Gospel covenant
    • A consummation is never a return to a beginning but an entrance into a state of glory to which no human has ever known
      • This is not an allegory referring to something else
    • Calvin says – it is the Son’s union with us and our union with him
    • Takes Adam’s place in obeying the father
      • Calvin – How does Christ abolish sin? Incarnation & course of whole life lived
    • Sin Calvin says does not spring from a lower faculty (the impulses of the senses)
    • What Adam lost is communion with God.
    • Its not just in his divinity that Christ is life-giving – in his human nature too.
    • Origen concerned with ascent of mind – Ireneaus focuses on His descent to us and our ascent in Christ.
      • Calvin follows Ireneaus’ emphasis on the Humanity of Christ
      • The Reformed view – Christ is the mediator in accord with both natures. The exaltation is a state gained, or a reward, for his obedience.
      • Christ earns his exaltation through his obedience
        • B/c of this our humanity is exalted above its prior dignity.
      • This exaltation does not change the divine nature as such
    • Explaining away Christ’s ascension in bodily form diminishes the importance of Pentecost
      • For Zwingli – omnipresence of divinity
      • For Luther – omnipresence of flesh
      • For Calvin – H.S. – Spirit is not the replacement for Christ but the way to Christ

Deification & Ascension

  • Deification needs the Ascension
    • Deification – we keep the same nature
      • Renders us like unto Christ
    • Contra Origenist views of deification
  • Spirit lifts us up into the life of God
  • Glorification & Deification are interchangeable for the Reformers.
  • Glorification is our true humanization.
  • Like Ireneaus – Calvin fleshes out ascent and descent in thoroughly Trinitarian terms
    • Christ Descends to us
    • Calvin says that there is a manner of Descent by which Christ lifts us up into himself.
    • Spirit raises us up in Christ after Christ has accomplished what needed to be accomplished in our humanity
  • Calvin – If we are members of Christ we must be raised to heaven
  • To be made like God is not to be less human but more fully so.
    • Christ is son by nature, we are sons by adoption
  • The end of the gospel is to render us eventually conformable to God, and if we may speak this way to deify us.
    • Though this does not mean a change in our nature – not a loss of who we are as human beings.
    • Calvin is fond of the image of “ingrafting” to explain this
  • To be united with Christ is to be in communion with his body. (Church)
    • The mystical union is so real – Calvin can say that this is the highest honor of the church.
    • Not until we are together with him is he “complete.” (Totus Christus)
    • Day by day Christ grows into one body with us until he becomes one with us.
  • The identification of the ascension and resurrection of the dead (i.e. us) into one event.
    • This follows from the fleshly ascension of the resurrected Christ


  • Contra Von Balthasar – Protestant theology can indeed follow Irenaeus on ascension.
  • The ascension forces us to lay our metaphysical cards on the table.
  • With the asecntion it is not only God with us and God for us but us with God.