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History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 100-325.
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§ 146. The Humanity of Christ.


Passing now to the doctrine of the Saviour’s Humanity, we find this asserted by IGNATIUS as clearly and forcibly as his divinity. Of the Gnostic Docetists of his day, who made Christ a spectre, he says, they are bodiless spectres themselves, whom we should fear as wild beasts in human shape, because they tear away the foundation of our hope.10151015    Ep. ad Smyrn. c. 2-5.015 He attaches great importance to the flesh, that is, the full reality of the human nature of Christ, his true birth from the virgin, and his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate; he calls him God incarnate;10161016    ἐν σαρκὶ γενόμενος θεός (ad Ephes. c. 7); also ἔνωσις σαρκὸς καὶ πνεύματος. Comp. Rom. 1:3, 4; 9:5; 1 John 4:1-3016 therefore is his death the fountain of life.

Irenaeus refutes Docetism at length. Christ, he contends against the Gnostics, must be a man, like us, if he would redeem us from corruption and make us perfect. As sin and death came into the world by a man, so they could be blotted out legitimately and to our advantage only by a man; though of course not by one who should be a mere descendant of Adam, and thus himself in need of redemption, but by a second Adam, supernaturally begotten, a new progenitor of our race, as divine as he is human. A new birth unto life must take the place of the old birth unto death. As the completer, also, Christ must enter into fellowship with us, to be our teacher and pattern. He made himself equal with man, that man, by his likeness to the Son, might become precious in the Father’s sight. Irenaeus conceived the humanity of Christ not as a mere corporeality, though he often contends for this alone against the Gnostics, but as true humanity, embracing body, soul, and spirit. He places Christ in the same relation to the regenerate race, which Adam bears to the natural, and regards him as the absolute, universal man, the prototype and summing up10171017    ἀνακεφαλαίωσις, recapitulatio, a term frequently used by Irenaeus. Comp. Rom. 13:9; Eph. 1:10.017 of the whole race. Connected with this is his beautiful thought, found also in Hippolytus in the tenth book of the Philosophumena, that Christ made the circuit of all the stages of human life, to redeem and sanctify all. To apply this to advanced age, he singularly extended the life of Jesus to fifty years, and endeavored to prove this view from the Gospels, against the Valentinians.10181018    Adv. Haer. II. 22, § 4-6. He appeals to tradition and to the loose conjecture of the Jews that Christ was near fifty years, John 8:57. The Valentinian Gnostics allowed only thirty years to Christ, corresponding to the number of their aeons.018 The full communion of Christ with men involved his participation in all their evils and sufferings, his death, and his descent into the abode of the dead.

Tertullian advocates the entire yet sinless humanity of Christ against both the Docetistic Gnostics10191019    Adv. Marcionem, and De Carne Christi.019 and the Patripassians.10201020    Adv. Praxean.020 He accuses the former of making Christ who is all truth, a half lie, and by the denial of his flesh resolving all his work in the flesh, his sufferings and his death, into an empty show, and subverting the whole scheme of redemption. Against the Patripassians be argues, that God the Father is incapable of suffering, and is beyond the sphere of finiteness and change. In the humanity, he expressly includes the soul; and this, in his view, comprises the reason also; for he adopts not the trichotomic, but the dychotomic division. The body of Christ, before the exaltation, he conceived to have been even homely, on a misapprehension of Isa. 53:2, where the suffering Messiah is figuratively said to have "no form nor comeliness." This unnatural view agreed with his aversion to art and earthly splendor, but was not commonly held by the Christian people if we are to judge from the oldest representations of Christ under the figure of a beautiful Shepherd carrying the lamb in his arms or on his shoulders.

Clement of Alexandria likewise adopted the notion of the uncomely personal appearance of Jesus, but compensated it with the thought of the moral beauty of his soul. In his effort, however, to idealize the body of the Lord, and raise it above all sensual desires and wants, he almost reaches Gnostic Docetism.

The Christology of Origen is more fully developed in this part, as well as in the article of the divine nature, and peculiarly modified by his Platonizing view of the pre-existence and pre-Adamic fall of souls and their confinement in the prison of corporeity; but he is likewise too idealistic, and inclined to substitute the superhuman for the purely human. He conceives the incarnation as a gradual process, and distinguishes two stages in it—the assumption of the soul, and the assumption of the body. The Logos, before the creation of the world, nay, from the beginning, took to himself a human soul, which had no part in the ante-mundane apostasy, but clave to the Logos in perfect love, and was warmed through by him, as iron by fire. Then this fair soul, married to the Logos, took from the Virgin Mary a true body, yet without sin; not by way of punishment, like the fallen souls, but from love to men, to effect their redemption. Again, Origen distinguishes various forms of the manifestation of this human nature, in which the Lord became all things to all men, to gain all. To the great mass he appeared in the form of a servant; to his confidential disciples and persons of culture, in a radiance of the highest beauty and glory, such as, even before the resurrection, broke forth from his miracles and in the transfiguration on the Mount. In connection with this comes Origen’s view of a gradual spiritualization and deification of the body of Christ, even to the ubiquity which he ascribes to it in its exalted state.10211021    The view of the ubiquity of Christ’s body was adopted by Gregory of Nyssa, revived by Scotus Erigena, but in a pantheistic sense, and by Luther, who made it a support to his doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. See Creeds of Christendom, vol. I. p. 286 sqq.021

On this insufficient ground his opponents charged him with teaching a double Christ (answering to the lower Jesus and the higher Soter of the Gnostics), and a merely temporary validity in the corporeity of the Redeemer.

Origen is the first to apply to Christ the term God-man,10221022    θεάνθρωπος.022 which leads to the true view of the relation of the two natures.



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