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The Concept of Redemption in the Patristic Tradition

Updated: May 29, 2020

1. Introduction

A systematic study of Redemption begins with Anselm of Canterbury in his famous treatise, Cur Deus homo. Nevertheless, the theologians of the ancient Church already furnish a great abundance of affirmations about the saving work of Christ which develop the treasure of the Holy Scripture. The Swiss Benedictine, Basil Studer, author of the best, recent monograph about Redemption in the Patristic Tradition, holds that the theology of the Fathers, “is fundamentally nothing other than soteriology: a doctrine about the salvation by God in Jesus Christ.”{footnote}B. Studer, Soteriologie. In der Schrift und Patristik (Handbuch der Dogmengeschichte III/2a), Freiburg i. Br. 1978, 224.{/footnote}

In the era of the Fathers, we find a great progress in the systematic formulation of Christology and of Trinitarian doctrine. In the doctrinal battles of the ancient Church, the salvation motive is well present: the importance of Jesus Christ, truly man and truly God, is essential for our salvation; Jesus Christ, in his human nature, has a real body and a rational soul in order to redeem our whole human being; if the Holy Spirit is not a divine Person, we would not have any real communion with God. In the Creed of Nicaea, we confess that Christ was made flesh “for the sake of us men and for the purpose of our salvation.” Soteriology is quasi omnipresent, but its systematic expression normally remains implicit only.{footnote}Cf. A. Grillm eier, Die Wirkung des Heilshandelns Gottes in Christus, in Mysterium salutis III/2, Einsiedeln etc. 1969, 327-392 (374f).{/footnote} With the exception of a few theologians who are a bit more explicit (such as Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine), the Fathers do not define what they intend by “Redemption.”{footnote}Cf. Studer (note 1) 57.{/footnote}

In presenting a global overview, our point of departure might be a systematic description of Redemption. Such a panoramic view would employ the main systematic concepts (such as mediation, ransom, sacrifice, satisfaction, merit) and study their presence in the ancient Church. Another approach to the Patristic doctrine of Redemption as a whole, would be a narrative approach structured about the focal events of the life of Christ (such as the Incarnation, the death on the Cross, the descent into hell, and the Resurrection). A third systematic method to attain an overall impression would be a study of the three ministries of Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King (in fact, the formulation of this trilogy begins in the time of the Fathers). A fourth method could be the study of the work of Christ as the New Adam, contrasted with the primordial sin of our forefather.{footnote}Cf. M. Hauke, Mary, “Helpmate of the Redeemer.” Mary’s Cooperation in Salvation as a Research Theme, in AA. VV., Mary at the Foot of the Cross III, New Bedford, MA 2003, 25-53 (47-53).{/footnote}

Besides these systematic approaches, we could follow one of those whose direct point of departure is not a concept, but the sources themselves, and try to summarize in a very general way the content of the Patristic tradition concerning our topic. The best known recent example is that of the English Anglican theologian, H.E.W. Turner, in his 1952 monograph about the “The Patristic Doctrine of Redemption.” Turner tries to present the doctrine of Redemption under four headings: Christ as illuminator, Victor, Donator of deification, and Priest who offers Himself as Sacrifice of expiation.{footnote}H.E.W. Turner, The Patristic Doctrine of Redemption, London 1952 (here used in its French translation: Jésus le Sauveur. Essai sur la doctrine patristique de la Rédemption, Paris 1965). The Turner’s outline is accepted for instance by Grillm eier (note 2) 373-383; Studer (note 1) 58.{/footnote}

This conference proposes a combination of the various methods in order to individuate the central topics. Evidently, we cannot pretend anything approximating an exhaustive treatment. We shall begin with two comprehensive terms from the centre of Patristic doctrine: recapitulation and mediation. After examining these two comprehensive terms, we shall turn our attention to the redemptive events of the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection. Then, we will consider some special aspects of Redemption, such as ransom, liberation (from sin, death, and devil), satisfaction, merit, saving example, and deification. For every topic, we shall also contemplate, at least very briefly, the relation of the saving work of Christ with the Mother of God.

2. Comprehensive Terms

2. 1 The Concept of Recapitulation

A very important soteriological concept comprehending the whole work of salvation: “recapitulation,” was developed by St. Irenaeus. The Greek term anakephalaíosis is used in rhetoric to indicate the summary of a speech. The prefix ana can mean a repetition (“once more”), but also an event coming from above which achieves a perfection. “Recapitulation,” therefore, signifies the renewal of an origin and a completion, a conducting toward the goal. The word also contains the basic meaning of “head” (kefale).{footnote}A precise philological analysis of the term can be found in E. Scharl , Recapitulatio mundi. Der Rekapitulationsbegriff des hl. Irenäus und seine Anwendung auf die Körperwelt (Freiburger Theologische Studien 60), Freiburg i. Br. 1941, 6-7. See also A. Walker, The Recapitulation Theme in St. Irenaeus, in Diakonia (Bronx, NY) 12 (1977) 244-256; J. McHugh, A Reconsideration of Ephesians 1.10b in the Light of Irenaeus, in M.D. Hooker-S.G. Wilson (eds.), Paul and Paulinism, London 1982, 302-309; M. Hauke, Heilsverlust in Adam. Stationen griechischer Erbsündenlehre: Irenäus-Origenes-Kappadozier, Paderborn 1993, 261-267 (with additional specialized bibliography). For the theological use of anakephalaíosis in the whole Greek Patristic period see the illustrated references in G.W.H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexikon, Oxford 111987, 106.{/footnote} The theological use of anakephalaíosis by Irenaeus was prepared in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. There, the Apostle observes that all the things have been “recapitulated” or “gathered together” by Jesus Christ.{footnote}Ephesians 1:10.{/footnote} They are brought together because they have received Christ as their “head.”{footnote}Cf. Ephesians 1:22.{/footnote}

In Irenaeus, we find all the meanings of the Greek term. The Bishop of Lyons uses the concept of recapitulation against Gnosticism which regarded creation as the fruit of a primordial catastrophe or even opposed (as did Marcion) God the Creator to God the Redeemer, and the Old Testament to the New Covenant. In Irenaeus, anakephalaíosis means, first of all, the restoration, the renewing of the first friendship of man with God in Paradise. The holy origin, spoiled by the sin of the first Adam, is renewed in Jesus Christ, the New Adam. For this reason, Irenaeus speaks of the “recapitulation of Adam.”{footnote}Irenaeus, Adversus haereses III,21,10 (SC 211, 428).{/footnote} The Redeemer links the end of human history with its beginning{footnote}Irenaeus, Adv. haer. IV,34,4; III,22,3 (SC 100, 858; 211, 438) etc.{/footnote} and gathers together the whole of mankind in Himself.{footnote}Irenaeus, Adv. haer. III,18,1; 21,9 (SC 211, 342; 426) etc.{/footnote} In this way, the Savior becomes the Head of all things.{footnote}Irenaeus, Adv. haer. V,20,2; III,19,3 (SC 153, 260; 211, 380) etc.{/footnote}

The restoration and gathering together under a head, is also a completion which conducts the whole of creation to its incorruptible end.{footnote}Irenaeus, Adv. haer. IV,38,1 (SC 100, 946-948) etc.{/footnote} Jesus Christ strengthens man’s likeness with God which, in the original state of Paradise, was still fragile.{footnote}Irenaeus, Adv. haer. V,16,2 (SC 153, 216).{/footnote} Thus, the Son of God renews the first beginning of salvation history but, at the same time, he guides it towards a higher level than before. The restoration of Paradise and its perfection are united in the same concept of recapitulation. The “recapitulation of Adam” begins with the origin of Christ from the Virgin Mary, just as the origin of the first Adam from virginal soil.{footnote}Irenaeus, Adv. haer. III,18,7; 21,10 (SC 211, 368; 428).{/footnote} In the centre of the soteriology of Irenaeus we find Incarnation, whereas the parallelism with Adam is also developed in the comments on the temptation of Christ and on His obedience on the Cross, which heals the disobedience of the first Adam.{footnote}Cf. Hauke, Heilsverlust (note 6), 263-264.{/footnote} The comparison between Adam and Christ is completed by the parallel between Eve and Mary. To establish the link between the first and the Second Eve, Irenaeus does not use the term anakephalaíosis, reserved for the renewal of Paradise by Jesus Christ, but a similar expression: “recirculation” which in Greek must have been anakúklesis. In the recirculation of Eve in Mary, “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience; for what Eve bound by her unbelief, Mary loosed by her faith.”{footnote}Irenaeus, Adv. haer. III,22,4 (SC 211,440). For more references, see Hauke, Heilsverlust (note 6), 265-267; M. O’Carr oll , Theotokos. A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Eugene, OR 2000, 189-191.{/footnote} The obedience of Christ on the Cross was prepared by the faithful fiat of the Holy Virgin. The recapitulation of Adam in Christ occurs together with the recirculation of Eve in Mary.

Irenaeus has given a precise sense to the term “recapitulation”; but in this way, he only focalizes a doctrine already present before him and hinted at in the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians.{footnote}See also J. Pelikan, The Christian Tradition. A History of the Development of Doctrine I. The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Chicago- London 1971, 144: “Liturgical sources and the writings of other church fathers suggest that in this doctrine of recapitulation, as in his teaching generally, Irenaeus was reflecting the mind of the Christian community, even though his own mind may have elaborated and embellished the seminal ideas present in the belief, teaching, and confession of the church.”{/footnote} The comparison between Eve and Mary is prepared by the work of St. Justin who hints at the importance of the Annunciation: “in the same way as the disobedience caused by the serpent was initiated, so it was fitting that its destruction should also follow the same course.”{footnote}Justin, Dialogus cum Tryphone 100,4-6 (ed. Goodspeed 215). Cf. Hauke, Heilsverlust (note 6), 117; O’Carr oll (note 17) 211.{/footnote} In this way, Mary is strictly linked to the central event that is the Incarnation: the salvation of mankind already begins, when the Divine Word becomes flesh.{footnote}Cf. Hauke, Heilsverlust (note 6), 263.{/footnote} Irenaeus stresses the relation of the Holy Virgin with the saving activity of Christ when he states that Mary, by her obedience, became “cause of salvation … to the whole human race.”{footnote}Irenaeus, Adv. haer. III,22,4 (SC 211, 440). For the systematic and historical context of this affirmation, see also (with more bibliography) M. Hauke, La cooperazione attiva di Maria alla Redenzione. Prospettiva storica (patristica, medievale, moderna, contemporanea), in Immaculata Mediatrix 6 (2006) 157-189 (165) (German version: Die aktive Mitwirkung Mariens an der Erlösung. Ein geschichtlicher Durchblick, in A. von Brandenstein- Zeppelin-A. von Stockhausen-J.H. Benirschke [eds.], Die göttliche Vernunft und die inkarnierte Liebe. Festschrift zum 80. Geburtstag Seiner Heiligkeit Papst Benedikts XVI., Weilheim-Bierbronnen 2007, 13-48 [22]).{/footnote} In this affirmation we find a culminating point of the ancient doctrine about Mary as New Eve, an important, recurring theme of Patristic theology.{footnote}Cf. L. Cignell i, Maria Nuova Eva nella Patristica greca (sec. II-V), Assisi 1966; L. Gamb ero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought, San Francisco 1999, passim (Italian original Maria nel pensiero dei padri della Chiesa, Cinisello Balsamo 1991); O’Carr oll (note 17), 140-141.{/footnote}

2. 2 The Mediation of Christ

Whereas the concept of “recapitulation” is only hinted at in the New Testament, the “mediation” of Christ is described with greater precision in the biblical texts.

According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus Christ is the mediator of the new alliance (Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). He is the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, an expression which embraces the humanity and the divinity of the eternal Son of God. The First Epistle to Timothy describes the “man Christ Jesus” as the “unique mediator between God and mankind” who has given Himself as a ransom (1 Tim 2:5-6).{footnote}For the biblical doctrine of mediation, see for example the synthesis in B. Sesboüé, Gesù Cristo l’unico mediatore I, Cinisello Balsamo 1991, 98-102 (French original Jésus-Christ l’unique médiateur I, Paris 1988{/footnote}

Irenaeus, the first Church Father to reflect at length on the mediation of Christ, points to the unity of the human nature and the divinity in the same subject, the incarnate Son of God: “He … united man to God. If man had not defeated his enemy, the enemy would not have been defeated in a just way. On the other hand, if salvation had not come from God, we could not have enjoyed it in a stable manner … It was necessary … that the ‘mediator between God and mankind’-because of his kinship with both the parties-restored the friendship and concord, so that God assumed man and man gave himself to God.”{footnote}Irenaeus, Adversus haereses III,18,7 (SC 211, 364-366). Cf. Sesboüé (note 23) 103-105.{/footnote}

Thus, mediation comports a descending and an ascending aspect (God saves man and man gives himself to God): the Lord made “God descend to man by the Spirit and … man ascend to God by the Incarnation.”{footnote}Irenaeus, Adv. haer. V,1,1 (SC 193, 20).{/footnote} In this way there comes about a holy change: “This is, in fact, the reason why the Word become flesh and the Son of God Son of man: that he who unites himself to the Word of God and accepts adoption becomes a son of God.”{footnote}Irenaeus, Adv. haer. III,19,1 (SC 211, 374).{/footnote}

The mediation of Christ, based on the two natures, is also stressed by Tertullian and Origen.{footnote}Cf. Origen, De principiis II,6,1 (SC 252, 308-311).{/footnote} Tertullian coined the important adage: “the flesh is the hinge of salvation” (caro salutis est cardo),{footnote}Tertullian, De resurrectione carnis 8,2 (CChr.SL 1,2, 931).{/footnote} or in other words: the humanity of Christ is the centre for the communication of God’s gifts to mankind.

The most fully developed doctrine about the mediation of Christ is to be found in Augustine who, to some extent, anticipates and prepares the medieval synthesis of Thomas Aquinas.{footnote}Cf. Studer (note 1) 160-162; J. Auer, Jesus Christus-Heiland der Welt; Maria-Christi Mutter im Heilsplan Gottes (Kleine Katholische Dogmatik IV/2), Regensburg 1988, 87-89; Sesboüé (note 23) 105-109.{/footnote} The Pauline text about Jesus Christ as unique Mediator (1 Tim 2:5) is one of the most cited passages in the works of the greatest Church Father{footnote}Cf. É. Portalié, Augustin, in DThC I/2, 2268-2472 (2367); Studer (note 1) 161.{/footnote} and furnishes the central theme of his soteriology.{footnote}Cf. Auer (note 29) 87; Studer (note 1)160.{/footnote} This evidence can be found for instance in the Enchiridion, a work of his maturity, where he attempts a synthesis of the Christian faith. Its main theme is reconciliation with God through the sacrifice of Christ, the Mediator.{footnote}See for instance Augustine, Enchiridion 33; 41 (CChr.SL 46, 68; 73).{/footnote} Here we find an excellent synthesis of the doctrine of mediation:

We could not be redeemed, even through the one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, if He were not also God. Now when Adam was created, he, being a righteous man, had no need of a mediator. But when sin had fixed a wide gulf between God and the human race, it was expedient that a Mediator, who alone among men was born, lived, and died without sin, should reconcile us to God, and procure even for our bodies a resurrection to eternal life, in order that the pride of man might be exposed and cured through the humility of God; that man might be shown how far he had departed from God, when God became incarnate to bring him back; that an example might be set to disobedient man in the life of obedience of the God-Man; that the fountain of grace might be opened by the Only-begotten taking upon Himself the form of a servant, a form which had no antecedent merit; that an earnest of that resurrection of the body which is promised to the redeemed might be given in the resurrection of the Redeemer; that the devil might be subdued by the same nature which it was his boast to have deceived, and yet man not glorified, lest pride should again spring up; and, in fine, with a view to all the advantages which the thoughtful can perceive and describe, or perceive without being able to describe, as flowing from the transcendent mystery of the person of the Mediator.{footnote}Augustine, Ench. 108 (CChr.SL 46, 107-108) (translation from www.{/footnote}

Augustine accentuates, in a clear way, that Jesus Christ is Mediator as man (mediator homo), who in His humanity is linked to the divine Person of the Son by the Incarnation. It is not enough to speculate about the divine Word in the reflection of the Neo-Platonist philosophers who wanted to construct their systems without the Incarnate Mediator.{footnote}Cf. Augustine, De Trinitate XIII,19,24 (CChr.SL 50 A, 416).{/footnote} To avoid these philosophical deviations, Augustine uses the term mediator normally in the biblical sense of redemptor and reconciliator.{footnote}Cf. Studer (note 1) 161.{/footnote} Nowadays, we can find similar errors in the pluralistic “theology of religions” which isolate the operation of the divine Word from historical engagement as the Incarnate Word and from the saving community of the Church.{footnote}Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Declaration Dominus Jesus (2000).{/footnote} According to Augustine, we can speak of the universal mediation of Christ also in the sense that the gift of grace is offered to all human beings, even if only predestined persons really accept grace and become definitively saved.{footnote}Cf. Augustine, De peccat. merit. I,28,55 (CSEL 60, 54-55); Studer (note 1) 173-174.{/footnote} Jesus Christ has offered His life on the Cross for the mankind of all times.{footnote}Cf. e.g., for the late Augustin, Contra Iulianum VI,4,8; A. Trapè, Introduzione generale, in Sant’Agostino, Grazia e libertà (Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana XX), Roma 1987, IX-CCIII (CLIII-CLIV).{/footnote} In this way, His human mediation has a universal effect. The mediation of Christ comprehends not only the Incarnation, but also His saving Passion and his glorious Resurrection.{footnote}Cf. Auer (note 29) 89.{/footnote}

Clearness concerning the doctrine of Christ’s mediation had been favored by the condemnation of Arius at the Council of Nicaea (325). According to Arius, the divine Word is not divine in the strict sense, but the most excellent being created at the beginning of times; the Word is collocated ontologically as an intermediate between God and the inferior creatures.{footnote}Cf. Studer (note 1) 118.{/footnote} Catholic theologians, for instance, St. Augustine, stress the fact that Christ as Mediator is not an “intermediate” being between God and us, but truly God and truly man at the same time.{footnote}Cf. Studer (note 1) 161.{/footnote}

The culminating point of the reflection about the mediation of Christ in the Greek Fathers can be found in the works of Cyril of Alexandria, the great theologian of the hypostatic union, which manifests itself in the title “Theotokos,” defined by the Council of Ephesus (431) against Nestorius. According to Cyril, Jesus Christ is our Mediator because He has the same essence with the Father and with us, existing “naturally” (phusikós) in the Father and in us.{footnote}Cyril of Alexandria, In Joh. 3,3 (PG 73, 429 B-C); cf. Studer (note 1) 194-195.{/footnote} The Incarnation of the Word has linked God and mankind in order to bridge the intervening divide. Cyril says that the hypostatic union is the basis for being sons of God by grace.{footnote}Cyril of Alexandria, Incarn. 700 A (SC 97, 256).{/footnote} This stress, nevertheless, does not lessen the importance of the entire work of salvation for Redemption. In a precious text about the priesthood of Christ, Cyril distinguishes three aspects of mediation:

Jesus Christ, in His humanity, offered Himself to the Father as an immaculate sacrifice; next, by His resurrection, He presents rebellious mankind purified in His blood and transformed to the newness of life by the Holy Spirit; as Priest and Mediator, He obtains every good thing for us by His intercession with the Father communicating divine and spiritual gifts.{footnote}Cyril of Alexandria, In Joh. 11,8 (PG 74, 505-511); cf. Studer (note 1) 197-198.{/footnote}

The most famous Marian sermon of antiquity, which probably concluded the Council of Ephesus, is attributed to Cyril of Alexandria. This notable text ascribes to the Mother of God, an association with the universal activity of Christ the Mediator, for instance in the following invocations: “Through thee … the fallen creature is raised to heaven … through thee, churches are founded throughout the world, through thee, peoples are led to conversion.”{footnote}Cyril of Alexandria, Hom. IV contra Nestorium (PG 77, 992 B-C; ACO I/1, 2, 102-103); cf. O’Carr oll (note 17) 113{/footnote}

The dogmatic definition of the title “Theotokos” sparked an ever-increasing Marian devotion which became more aware of the universal mediation of the Blessed Virgin, particularly underscored in the eighth century by St. Germanus of Constantinople.{footnote}Cf. E. Perniola, La mariologia di san Germano, patriarca di Costantinopoli, Roma 1954, 135-175; O’Carr oll (note 17) 156-157. 240.{/footnote} The word “Mediatrix,” in various linguistic forms (such as mesítes or mesiteuoúsa), begins to appear after the fifth century.{footnote}Cf. O’Carr oll (note 17) 240.{/footnote} The first testimony comes from Basil of Seleucia, in the context of the Annunciation: “Hail full of grace: appointed as Mediatrix (mesitéuousa) of God and man, so that the walls of enmity should be torn down, and heavenly and earthly things come together as one.”{footnote}Basil of Seleucia, In SS. Deiparae Ann. (PG 85, 444 A-B); cf. O’Carr oll (note 17) 240{/footnote} As with the concept of “recirculation,” the Greek use of mediation terminology, in connection with Mary, focuses attention on the event of the Incarnation, paralleling analogous stress in Patristic Christology.

3. Saving Events

3. 1 Incarnation

The saving work of Christ embraces His whole life on earth, from His Incarnation to His death on the Cross, and is completed by Resurrection. In liberal Protestant research on the history of dogma during the nineteenth century, especially that of Adolph von Harnack, the concept of the so-called “physical” doctrine of Redemption was introduced. According to this influential view, the “physical” event of Incarnation, that is, the union between the divine and the human natures (physis) in the Person of Christ, is the decisive, redemptive event in the Eastern Fathers, particularly in Gregory of Nyssa, but as already anticipated by Irenaeus and Athanasius. Only Western theology, as in Augustine, regarded the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross as the decisive event, whereas Incarnation was only seen as a presupposition.{footnote}Cf. A. von Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte II-III, Tübingen 41909, 41910; reprint Darmstadt 1983, II 45-47. 166-170; III 53-54; R.M. Hübner, Die Einheit des Leibes Christi bei Gregor von Nyssa. Untersuchungen zum Ursprung der „physischen” Erlösungslehre, Leiden 1974, 3-25.{/footnote} Whereas Augustine, according to this view, presents a “moral” concept of satisfaction which includes the human will, the Greek theologians teach a “physical” or “mystical” redemption, where everything is already saved by the mystery of hypostatic union, without the sacrifice on the Cross. The “mystical” approach of the Eastern Fathers is linked to the theology of St. John, whereas the “juridical” conception of the Latin theologians is influenced by the letters of St. Paul.

Can this schematic view be verified by the ancient sources? In Patristic theology, we can discover varying accents in the description of the redemptive work of Christ. There can be an approach which reflects the importance of Incarnation more, such as the Gospel of John, or the role of the Cross, such as the letters of Paul. These diverse accents, alas, do not justify any arbitrary opposition between “physical” or “moral” Redemption, between the Greeks and Augustine. A typical example of erroneous interpretation is the so-called “Greek” concept of “Incarnation” (enanthrópesis). It is not correct, in fact, to identify this word simply with that single event when Christ’s human nature was created and assumed by the eternal Word. To realize this, it is enough to consider, for example, a passage of Gregory of Nazianzus, among the most renowned of the Fathers in the Byzantine world.{footnote}Cf. Hauke, Heilsverlust (note 6) 503.{/footnote} In one of his great poems, Gregory says: “The Incarnation of Christ is a new formation of me, when God suffers in his flesh my suffering, the God who has restored everything for everyone in a vicarious way.”{footnote}Carm. I,2,34, v. 189-191 (PG 37, 959 A).{/footnote}

It is evident here, that the concept of “Incarnation” also embraces the death of the incarnate God on the Cross. Recent research on the soteriology of Gregory of Nazianzus has shown that, among the saving events, he lays principal stress on the Cross (and Resurrection).{footnote}Cf. Hauke, Heilsverlust (note 6) 561.{/footnote} This situation, at least the terminology, is typical for the Greek Fathers: the concept of “Incarnation” can connote the whole life of Christ until His glorification by Resurrection.{footnote}Cf. J.-P. Jossua, Le Salut. Incarnation ou Mystère Pascal. Chez les Pères de l’Église de saint Irénée à saint Léon le Grand, Paris 1968, 16-18.{/footnote} Sometimes there is really a greater stress on the Incarnation than on the Easter event. For instance, Gregory of Nyssa proposes a radical theory of Apokatastasis: the salvation of all rational creatures is described as a necessary process guiding everyone into the heavenly Paradise.{footnote}Cf. Hauke, Heilsverlust (note 6) 621-623. 674-675.{/footnote} But such a thesis cannot be demonstrated from the writings of earlier authors, such as Irenaeus or Athanasius, who accentuate Incarnation against Gnosticism and Arianism.

When speaking soteriologically of “Incarnation,” we do not intend an isolated event which is only a “presupposition” of the Redemption, but rather the beginning of the redemptive process itself, a process including the Cross and the Resurrection. A well-known example of such underscoring of the Incarnation is Irenaeus. For the Bishop of Lyons, the principal trait of man’s original state in Paradise is “life,” whereas the main characteristic of man’s fallen condition after the first sin is “death.” “Life” and “death” do not only refer to the body, but also and primarily to man’s spiritual situation: participation in the life of God and its loss by Adam’s sin for all his descendants.{footnote}Hauke, Heilsverlust (note 6) 213-214. 235-240.{/footnote} For Paradise, the concept of “life” is more important than “grace,” whereas for the fallen condition, the idea of “death” has a greater importance than “sin.”

The Incarnation of the Son of God was denied by Gnosticism and Arianism, two heresies which greatly determined the course of the doctrinal struggle in the ancient Church. For this reason, Jesus’ real humanity (against the Gnostics) and His real divinity (against the Arians) had to be underscored. Especially in the second century, the Church opposed Docetism and Gnosticism, whereas the Council of Nicaea, in the early fourth century, condemned Arius. The Council of Ephesus in the fifth century, with its definition of the title “Theotokos,” stressed the hypostatic union in Christ against the separation of the two natures proposed by Nestorius. Later in the same century the Council of Chalcedon, culminating point of ancient Christology, refutes Monophysism and teaches a union of the two natures which neither confuses nor separates them. These battles on the Christological constitution of Christ naturally concentrated theological attention on Incarnation and on the person of Christ, whereas the distinctive features of His saving work were not explicated in the ancient Councils.{footnote}For the historical development of the Christological dogma, see A. Grillm eier, Christ in Christian Tradition I, II/1, II/2, II/4, London 1975, 1987, 1995, 1996 (German original); A. Amato, Gesù il Signore. Saggio di cristologia, Bologna 1999, 215-367.{/footnote}

For this reason also, the figure of Mary is expressly contemplated only in the horizon of Incarnation. Her association with the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is not yet an explicit object of study. This kind of soteriological study will only begin in medieval times-first in the East, and then still more, in the West.{footnote}Cf. Hauke, Cooperazione attiva (note 21) 168-170.{/footnote} Nevertheless, we should not undervalue for soteriological study, the importance of Incarnation, which virtually embraces the saving events to follow upon it. Mary’s role as New Eve under the Cross is prepared by Her virginal obedience which made possible the event of Incarnation.

The Fathers, beginning with Justin and Irenaeus, stress clearly the saving role of Mary’s consent at the Annunciation. St. Jerome employs the lapidary adage: “Death through Eve, life through Mary.”{footnote}Jerome, Ep. 22,21 (CSEL 54, 173).{/footnote} The maternity of Mary, who bears the Son of God, has as its final effect the spiritual life of the adopted children of God. In this sense, we find from the fourth century the title “Mother of the living,” attributed to Eve in the book of Genesis (Gen 3:20), applied to Mary. Epiphanius of Salamis states: “from Eve “comes the origin of all mankind on earth. The Virgin Mary, on the contrary, has really introduced life itself into the world by having begotten the One who lives, and so She has become the Mother of the living.”{footnote}Epiphanius, Adv. Haer. 78,18 (PG 42, 728 C). Cf. also O’Carr oll (note 17) 135. 140.{/footnote}

3. 2 The Death on the Cross

The death of the Savior on the Cross is decisive even for those theologians who focus their attention on the Incarnation. Irenaeus, for instance, describes the Passion of Christ with his theory of “recapitulation”: by his obedience on the wood Jesus cured the primordial disobedience at the wood;{footnote}Irenaeus, Adv. haer. V,16,3 (SC 153, 218).{/footnote} through the “economy of the Cross” we rediscover the Word of God lost by Adam’s sin.{footnote}Irenaeus, Adv. haer. V,17,4 (SC 153, 232). Cf. Hauke, Heilsverlust (note 6) 264.{/footnote}

A problematic tendency begins with the Patristic reception of the platonic idea according to which the universe is structured by the Greek letter chi,{footnote}Cf. Plato, Timaios 36b-c.{/footnote} a cosmological speculation interpreted as a figure of the Cross present everywhere in the world. This idea already is noticeable in Justin,{footnote}Justin, I Apol. 60 (ed. Goodspeed 69).{/footnote} but is strongly emphasized by Gregory of Nyssa where its significance relegates to second place the importance of Redemption, based on the historical event of the Passion.{footnote}Cf. D.L. Balas, The Meaning of the „Cross” (De Tridui Spatio p. 298,19- 303,12), in A. Spira-C. Klock (eds.), The Easter Sermons of Gregory of Nyssa. Translation and Commentary, Cambridge, Mass. 1981, 305-318; Hauke, Heilsverlust (note 6) 675-676; G. Maspero, Croce, in L.F. Mateo- Seco-G. Maspero (eds.), Gregorio di Nissa. Dizionario, Roma 2007, 177- 180.{/footnote} According to Gregory of Nyssa, the death of Christ was “necessary” because the Cross is already inscribed in the cosmos. Here we encounter a quasi Gnostic speculation leading to the Apokatastasis which logically follows with ontological necessity.{footnote}Cf. Hauke, Heilsverlust (note 6) 621-623. 675.{/footnote}

A better presentation of the importance of the Cross can be found especially in Augustine: according to him the redemptive work of Christ “for us” is based, first of all, on the Passion and the death of Christ. He does not deny the importance of Incarnation and Resurrection, but under the influence of Saint Paul, he gives a certain prominence to the Cross. The Passion of Christ is seen as victory over death, sin, and the devil, as sacrifice of reconciliation and as justification of the sinner.{footnote}Cf. Studer (note 1) 166-171.{/footnote}

In the time of the Fathers, we find only a very few hints about the importance of Mary’s compassion under the Cross.{footnote}See Gamb ero (note 22) (index s.v. “Mary-Calvary”).{/footnote} An observation of Origen could be interpreted as a reference to the spiritual maternity of Mary, but this topic is only developed in later times.{footnote}Origen, In Joh. com. I,6 (PG 14, 32 A-B; GCS Origenes X, 8-9); cf. O’Carr oll (note 17) 275; A.M. Apoll onio, La consacrazione a Maria, in Immaculata Mediatrix 1 (3/2001) 49-101 (64-66).{/footnote} The saving obedience of Mary as New Eve is not yet extended to the Passion, but remains centered on the Annunciation and, thus, on Incarnation.

3. 3 The Resurrection of Christ

In regard to the Resurrection of Christ, the Patristic tradition repeats the biblical affirmations, reflects on the apologetic importance of the event, and illustrates its consequences for the Resurrection of redeemed mankind at the end of time.{footnote}Cf. R. Staats, Auferstehung II/2 Alte Kirche, in TRE (= Theologische

Realenzyklopädie) 4 (1979) 513-529; H. Crouzel-V. Grossi, Risurrezione

dei morti, in DPAC (= Dizionario patristico e di antichità cristiane) II (1984)


As a typical example setting the saving importance of the Resurrection of Christ in relief, the homilies of Leo the Great are worth examination. According to Leo, Easter signals victory over the evil powers and the glorification of the Lord. It shows what will be made manifest at the end of time in redeemed mankind.{footnote}Leo, Sermo 65,4; 67,7; 72,6; 74,1 (PL 54, 363 B-C; 372 A-C; 393 C-D; 397 B-C); cf. Studer (note 1) 209-210.{/footnote} In this description, we note how the Resurrection of Christ acts

as efficient cause of our salvation, but also as an exemplary cause,as this feature is expressed in the terminology later adopted by Thomas Aquinas.{footnote}Cf. Thomas Aquinas, STh III q. 56 a. 2 ad 4; a. 1 ad 3; Compendium theologiae 239; J. Galot, Gesù Liberatore (Cristologia II), Firenze 1983, 402-404.{/footnote} The saving aspect of the Resurrection of Christ is presented with special vigor by Augustine, who attributes to it, two effects: “The resurrection of souls is effected by the eternal and unchangeable substance of the Father and Son. But the Resurrection of bodies is effected through the new dispensation or economy based on the Son’s humanity, a dispensation which

is temporal, not co-eternal with the Father.”{footnote}Augustine, Tract. in Jo. 23,13 (PL 35, 1591); cf. Galot, Gesù Liberatore (note 71) 399-400.{/footnote} Or in other words:

it is Christ as God who brings to pass the spiritual resurrection of souls; whereas the bodily resurrection at the end of the time, originates from Christ in His humanity. In the Augustinian context, it is sufficiently clear that saving efficacy on souls is not wanting in the humanity of Christ: it is the incarnate Word who produces the resurrection of souls; yet, He does so as God and not as man. Hence, the Resurrection of Christ does not appear with sufficient clarity as the fountain of our salvation.{footnote}So the interpretation of Galot, Gesù Liberatore (note 71) 400{/footnote}

During the age of the Fathers, some voices were heard saying that the resurrected Christ appeared also to His Mother, Mary,{footnote}Cf. J. Michl-A. Stöger, Auferstehung I. Biblisch, in Marienlexikon 1 (1988) 268 (Ephraem, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Paulinus of Nola, Sedulius).{/footnote} but this fact cannot be regarded as cooperation in His saving activity. Such an association in the work of the resurrected Christ, nevertheless, can be shown by Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven, a tradition which manifests itself with special vigor from the fifth century. A link between assumption and mediation is shown by Theotechnus of Livias, around the year 600. He is the first certain source to affirm the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. The immaculate origin of Mary, from the very first moment of Her life, and Her Assumption into heavenly glory, makes Her capable of interceding on our behalf: She became “ambassador (presbís) of mankind to the immaculate King who has erased the condemnation leveled against us”;{footnote}Theotechnus of Livias, Laus in Assumptionem 17 (ed. Wenger 280).{/footnote} She has been assumed into heaven as “Mediatrix of all” (presbís pánton).{footnote}Op. cit., 31 (ed. Wenger 288); cf. M. Hauke, Urstand, Fall und Erbsünde. In der nachaugustinischen Ära bis zum Beginn der Scholastik: Die griechischeTheologie (Handbuch der Dogmengeschichte II/3a, Teil 2), Freiburg i. Br.2007, 138.{/footnote}

4. Special Aspects of Redemption

4. 1 The Ransom and the Liberation From the Power of Satan

The Redemption wrought by Christ liberates us from sin, death, and the devil. More than most modern authors, the theologians of the ancient Church underscore the victory over Satan.{footnote}Cf. e.g. the presentation about Christ as victor in Turner (note 5) 53-74.{/footnote} Some theologians, such as Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, indulge an erroneous interpretation of the “ransom” which Christ has paid “for the many” (Mk 10:45 parr.): according to these writers, the ransom (the “price” for liberation) had been paid to the devil.{footnote}Cf. Sesboüé, Gesù Cristo (note 23) 176-177.{/footnote} Gregory of Nyssa especially, describes Redemption as a quasi commercial “deceit”: Satan contracts to free his human prisoners, if he can possess Jesus in return, but with this “bait” of the divine “fishing-gear” he swallows the “hook” of divinity and is beaten in the deal.{footnote}{/footnote} This theory, however, is not typical of the entire era of the Fathers. Gregory of Nazianzus energetically refutes such ideas: the precious Blood of Christ is not offered to the devil-which would be unjust to do-but to the Father, even if the Father did not need this price; the ransom was given “to establish the economy of our Redemption and that man should be sanctified by the humanity of God ….”{footnote}Gregory of Nyssa, Oratio catechetica 22,1-24,6 (ed. Srawley 85-94); cf. Hauke, Heilsverlust (note 6) 622.{/footnote} Cyril of Alexandria (like other Greek theologians before him) presents the death of Christ (who is God and man in virtue of the hypostatic union) as the sufficient price offered to the Father for the sins of the whole human race.{footnote}Cf. Cyril of Alexandria, De recta fide ad reginas I,7 (PG 76, 1208 B); cf. Studer (note 1) 199.{/footnote}

Augustine does not refer the ransom to Satan, but develops a thesis about the “right of the devil” which provides a better synthesis than the presentation of Gregory of Nyssa:

“By the justice of God in some sense, the human race was delivered into the power of the devil … But the way in which man was thus delivered into the power of the devil, ought not to be so understood as if God did this, or commanded this to be done; but rather that He only permitted it, yet even that justly. For when He abandoned the sinner, the author of the sin immediately entered. … the devil was to be overcome, not by the power of God, but by His righteousness. … What, then, is the righteousness by which the devil was conquered? What, except the righteousness of Jesus Christ? And how was he conquered? Because, when he found in Him nothing worthy of death, yet he slew Him. … And … He conquered the devil first by righteousness, and afterwards by power: namely, by righteousness, because He had no sin, and was slain by him most unjustly; but by power, because having been dead He lived again, never afterwards to die.”{footnote}Augustine, De Trinitate XIII,12, 16-14, 18 (CChr.SL 50 A, 402-407). English translation in{/footnote} The main biblical text which associates Mary with Christ’s victory over the devil is the Protoevangelium (Gen 3:15). Its Messianic interpretation is already evident in the Septuagint which translates the neutral Hebrew pronoun, linked to the “offspring” who crushes the head of the serpent, with the masculine pronoun “He” (autos in Greek), this in reference to the neutral noun (sperma). In the Greek translation (just as in the Hebrew original), Mary is opposed to the serpent in enmity. It is the “seed” of the woman who bruises the head of the serpent; but the “woman” is often interpreted as the Mother of God who participates in the victory of the Redeemer. Already, the first Fathers who give a Christological reading to the Protoevangelium, e.g., Justin and Irenaeus, link the biblical passage to the parallelism between Eve and Mary. Whereas there is some controversy about the Christological interpretation of Genesis 3:15 in Justin,{footnote}Cf. R. Laurentin, L’interprétation de Genèse 3.15 dans la tradition jusqu’au début du XIIIe siècle, in Études Mariales 12 (1954) 77-157 (92-93); H.-L. Barth, Ipsa conteret. Maria die Schlangenzertreterin : Philologische und theologische Überlegungen zum Protoevangelium (Gen 3,15), Rupperichteroth 2000, 140-143 (in favor of the Messianic reading).{/footnote} there can be no doubt about Irenaeus. According to him, Jesus has recapitulated our struggle as “seed” of the woman and crushed the head of the serpent;{footnote}Cf. Irenaeus, Adv. haer. V,21,1 (SC 153, 260-262).{/footnote} the messianic reading is thus combined with the collective interpretation of the woman’s “seed” who triumphs over the devil. The enemy would not have been defeated, if Jesus Christ was not born of the Virgin Mary.{footnote}Ibid.{/footnote} The enmity was “recapitulated” in the Lord “who became man by the woman.”{footnote}Irenaeus, Adv. haer. IV,40,3 (SC 100, 982); see also III,23,7 (SC 211, 462); Laurentin, Genèse 3.15 (note 83), 93-97.{/footnote} It is the Lord who “crushes” the head of the serpent; but the Virgin Mary, the “woman” radically opposed to the devil, cannot be separated from the saving work of Christ. The later texts in the Greek Orient do not go further than these pointers of Irenaeus.{footnote}Cf. Laurentin, Genèse 3.15 (note 83), 106-107.{/footnote}

We should also consider the Syrian area, linguistically near to the Hebrew language, where Ephraem can refer the crushing of the devilish head not only to Christ, but also to the Blessed Virgin: “As the serpent has wounded the heel of Eve, the foot of Mary has bruised him.”{footnote}Ephraem, Diatessaron 10,13 (SC 121, 191); cf. Laurentin, Genèse 3.15 (note 83), 138 (without the cited reference); M. Lochbr unner, Ephräm der Syrer, in Marienlexikon 2 (1989) 370-373 (372); Gamb ero (note 22) (it.) 123.{/footnote}

In the Latin speaking world, we have to consider the translation of the Vulgate which refers the crushing of the devilish head to the Virgin Mary (ipsa conteret). It is not certain whether this translation comes from Jerome (who some years earlier referred the personal pronoun to Christ-ipse conteret), or whether it entered into the Vulgate later on.{footnote}Cf. Laurentin, Genèse 3.15 (note 83), 119, with reference to Jerome, Quaestiones hebraice in libro Geneseos 3,15 (PL 23, 943); Barth (note 83) 133, note 294.{/footnote} The female interpretation of the personal pronoun circulates even before the Vulgate: the first trace is already in Philo of Alexandria, Hebrew exegete during the first part of the first century, who commented the Septuagint version(!).{footnote}Philo, Legum allegoriae 3,188. Cf. Barth (note 83) 135.{/footnote} The Latin poet, Prudentius, even before the appearance of the Vulgate, read the biblical text with the words Ipsa calcabit.{footnote}Prudentius, Cathemerinon, hymn. 3, vv. 127-128 (PL 59, 805; CChr.SL 126,15).{/footnote} According to the context in Prudentius, Mary crushes the head of the serpent because She bore the Messiah who defeated the devil.{footnote}Ibid., vv. 129-152 (PL 59, 805-807; CChr.SL 126, 15-16).{/footnote} The basis of the victory is the saving work of Christ, and only secondarily is the victory also attributed to Mary. In this way, the use of the female pronoun ipsa does not differ essentially from the Greek interpretations in the ancient Church. Nor should we forget that Prudentius also attributes the honor of crushing the head of the serpent to St. Agnes, who by her martyrdom, gains her victory over the evil powers.{footnote}Prudentius, Peristephanon 14, 112-118 (CSEL 61, 431); cf. Laurentin, Genèse 3.15 (note 83) 99. 119.{/footnote} Augustine read in his Vetus Latina version Ipsa tuum observabit caput, referring the personal pronoun also to the “woman.” The “woman,” that is the Church, should beware of the devilish serpent and combat the evil powers of superciliousness.{footnote}Cf. Augustine, Enarratio in Ps. 35,18 (PL 36, 354); other texts and a short interpretation in Laurentin, Genèse 3.15 (note 83) 100-101. 120.{/footnote} In the time of the Fathers, even in the area influenced by the Vulgate, with the exception of Ephraem, we do not encounter the interpretation which attributes the “crushing” of the serpent’s head directly to Mary.{footnote}For the Fathers, see also the short overview in L. Scheffc zyk, Protoevangelium II. Dogmengeschichte, in Marienlexikon 5 (1993) 343-344.{/footnote} This accent manifests itself only in the Middle Ages, beginning in the eleventh century, with Fulbert of Chartres.{footnote}Cf. Laurentin, Genèse 3.15 (note 83), 102-103.{/footnote}, Patristic theology already links the virginal Mother of God strictly to the redemptive victory of Christ. It also invites us to evaluate the relation of Mary with the entire “offspring” of Eve, the holy Church, which has Christ as its Head.

4. 2 Sacrifice and Satisfaction