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History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 100-325.
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§ 153. Redemption.


Cotta: Histor. doctrinae de redemptione sanguine J. Chr. facta, in Gerhard: Loci theol., vol. IV. p. 105–134.

Ziegler: Hist. dogmatis de redemptione. Gott. 1791. Rationalistic.

K. Baehr.: Die Lehre der Kirche vom Tode Jesu in den drei ersten Jahrh., Sulz b. 1832. Against the orthodox doctrine of the satisfactio vicaria.

F. C. Baur: Die christl. Lehre von der Versöhnung in ihrer geschichtl. Entw. von der aeltesten Zeit bis auf die neueste. Tüb. 1838. 764 pages, (See pp. 23–67). Very learned, critical, and philosophical, but resulting in Hegelian pantheism.

L. Duncker: Des heil. IrenaeusChristologie. Gött. 1843 (p. 217 sqq.; purely objective).

Baumgarten Crusius: Compendium der christl. Dogmengeschichte. Leipz. 2d Part 1846, § 95 sqq. (p. 257 sqq.)

Albrecht Ritschl (Prof. in Göttingen): Die christl. Lehre von der Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung, Bonn, 1870, second revised ed. 1882, sqq., 3 vols. The first vol. (pages 656) contains the history the doctrine, but devotes only a few introductory pages to our period (p. 4), being occupied chiefly with the Anselmic, the orthodox Lutheran and Calvinistic, and the modern German theories of redemption. Ritschl belonged originally to the Tübingen school, but pursues now an independent path, and lays greater stress on the ethical forces in history.


The work of the triune God, in his self-revelation, is the salvation, or redemption and reconciliation of the world: negatively, the emancipation of humanity from the guilt and power of sin and death; positively, the communication of the righteousness and life of fellowship with God. First, the discord between the Creator and the creature must be adjusted; and then man can be carried onward to his destined perfection. Reconciliation with God is the ultimate aim of every religion. In heathenism it was only darkly guessed and felt after, or anticipated in perverted, fleshly forms. In Judaism it was divinely promised, typically foreshadowed, and historically prepared. In Christianity it is revealed in objective reality, according to the eternal counsel of the love and wisdom of God, through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and is being continually applied subjectively to individuals in the church by the Holy Spirit, through the means of grace, on condition of repentance and faith. Christ is, exclusively and absolutely, the Saviour of the world, and the Mediator between God and man.

The apostolic scriptures, in the fulness of their inspiration, everywhere bear witness of this salvation wrought through Christ, as a living fact of experience. But it required time for the profound ideas of a Paul and a John to come up clearly to the view of the church; indeed, to this day they remain unfathomed. Here again experience anticipated theology. The church lived from the first on the atoning sacrifice of Christ. The cross ruled all Christian thought and conduct, and fed the spirit of martyrdom. But the primitive church teachers lived more in the thankful enjoyment of redemption than in logical reflection upon it. We perceive in their exhibitions of this blessed mystery the language rather of enthusiastic feeling than of careful definition and acute analysis. Moreover, this doctrine was never, like Christology and the doctrine of the Trinity, a subject of special controversy within the ancient church. The oecumenical symbols touch it only in general terms. The Apostles’ Creed presents it in the article on the forgiveness of sins on the ground of the divine-human life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Nicene Creed says, a little more definitely, that Christ became man for our salvation,10911091    διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν.091 and died for us, and rose again.

Nevertheless, all the essential elements of the later church doctrine of redemption may be found, either expressed or implied, before the close of the second century. The negative part of the doctrine, the subjection of the devil, the prince of the kingdom of sin and death, was naturally most dwelt on in the patristic period, on account of the existing conflict of Christianity with heathenism, which was regarded as wholly ruled by Satan and demons. Even in the New Testament, particularly in Col. 2:15, Heb. 2:14, and 1 John 3:8, the victory over the devil is made an integral part of the work of Christ. But this view was carried out in the early church in a very peculiar and, to some extent, mythical way; and in this form continued current, until the satisfaction theory of Anselm gave a new turn to the development of the dogma. Satan is supposed to have acquired, by the disobedience of our first parents, a legal claim (whether just or unjust) upon mankind, and held them bound in the chains of sin and death (Comp. Hebr. 2:14, 15). Christ came to our release. The victory over Satan was conceived now as a legal ransom by the payment of a stipulated price, to wit, the death of Christ; now as a cheat upon him,10921092    1 Cor. 2:8, misapprehended.092 either intentional and deserved, or due to his own infatuation.10931093    This strange theory is variously held by Irenaeus, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose, Augustin, Leo the Great and Gregory the Great. See Baur, ch. I. and II. p. 30-118.093

The theological development of the doctrine of the work of Christ began with the struggle against Jewish and heathen influences, and at the same time with the development of the doctrine of the person of Christ, which is inseparable from that of his work, and indeed fundamental to it. Ebionism, with its deistic and legal spirit, could not raise its view above the prophetic office of Christ to the priestly and the kingly, but saw in him only a new teacher and legislator. Gnosticism, from the naturalistic and pantheistic position of heathendom, looked upon redemption as a physical and intellectual process, liberating the spirit from the bonds of matter, the supposed principle of evil; reduced the human life and passion of Christ to a vain show; and could ascribe at best only a symbolical virtue to his death. For this reason even Ignatius, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, in their opposition to docetism, insist most earnestly on the reality of the humanity and death of Jesus, as the source of our reconciliation with God.10941094    Comp. § 146.094

In Justin Martyr appear traces of the doctrine of satisfaction, though in very indefinite terms. He often refers to the Messianic fifty-third chapter of Isaiah..10951095    Apol. I. 50, etc. See von Engelhardt, p. 182.095

The anonymous author of the Epistle to an unknown heathen, Diognetus, which has sometimes been ascribed to Justin, but is probably of much earlier date, has a beautiful and forcible passage on the mystery of redemption, which shows that the root of the matter was apprehended by faith long before a logical analysis was attempted. "When our wickedness" he says,10961096    Ep. ad Diognetum, c. 9.096 "had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward—punishment and death—was impending over us .... God himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities. He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!"

Irenaeus is the first of all the church teachers to give a careful analysis of the work of redemption, and his view is by far the deepest and soundest we find in the first three centuries. Christ, he teaches, as the second Adam, repeated in himself the entire life of man, from childhood to manhood, from birth to death and hades, and as it were summed up that life and brought it under one head,10971097    This as already intimated in a former connection, is the sense of his frequent expression: ἀνακεφαλαιοῦν, ἀνακεφαλαίωσις recapitulare, recapitulatio.097 with the double purpose of restoring humanity from its fall and carrying it to perfection. Redemption comprises the taking away of sin by the perfect obedience of Christ; the destruction of death by victory over the devil; and the communication of a new divine life to man. To accomplish this work, the Redeemer must unite in himself the divine and human natures; for only as God could he do what man could not, and only as man could he do in a legitimate way, what man should. By the voluntary disobedience of Adam the devil gained a power over man, but in an unfair way, by fraud.10981098    Dissuasio.098 By the voluntary obedience of Christ that power was wrested from him by lawful means.10991099    By suadela, persuasion, announcement of truth, not overreaching or deception.099 This took place first in the temptation, in which Christ renewed or recapitulated the struggle of Adam with Satan, but defeated the seducer, and thereby liberated man from his thraldom. But then the whole life of Christ was a continuous victorious conflict with Satan, and a constant obedience to God. This obedience completed itself in the suffering and death on the tree of the cross, and thus blotted out the disobedience which the first Adam had committed on the tree of knowledge. This, however, is only the negative side. To this is added, as already remarked, the communication of a new divine principle of life, and the perfecting of the idea of humanity first effected by Christ.

Origen differs from Irenaeus in considering man, in consequence of sin, the lawful property of Satan, and in representing the victory over Satan as an outwitting of the enemy, who had no claim to the sinless soul of Jesus, and therefore could not keep it in death. The ransom was paid, not to God, but to Satan, who thereby lost his right to man. Here Origen touches on mythical Gnosticism. He contemplates the death of Christ, however, from other points of view also, as an atoning sacrifice of love offered to God for the sins of the world; as the highest proof of perfect obedience to God; and as an example of patience. He singularly extends the virtue of this redemption to the whole spirit world, to fallen angels as well as men, in connection with his hypothesis of a final restoration. The only one of the fathers who accompanies him in this is Gregory of Nyssa.

Athanasius, in his early youth, at the beginning of the next period, wrote the first systematic treatise on redemption and answer to the question "Cur Deus homo?"11001100    λόγος περὶ τῆς ἐνανθρωπήσεως τοῦ λόγου.. It was written before the outbreak of the Arian controversy. The Athanasian authorship has been contested without good reason; but another work with the similar Περὶ τῆς σαρκώσεως τοῦ θεοῦ λόγου, pseudo-Athanasian, and belongs to the younger Apollinaris of Laodicea. See Ritschl, I. 8 sq.100 But it was left for the Latin church, after the epoch-making treatise of Anselm, to develop this important doctrine in its various aspects.



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