Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

This is the rule of our faith, the foundation of our building, and the consolidation of our way of life. God, the Father, uncreated, unlimited, invisible, one God, the creator of the universe—this is the first article of our faith. The second article is the Word of God, the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was revealed by the Prophets in accord with the genre of their prophecies and in accord with the plan of the Father; through him all things have been made. At the end of times, in order to recapitulate all things, he has become a man among men, visible and palpable, so as to destroy death, bring life to light, and effect the reconciliation of God and man. And the third article is the Holy Spirit; through him the Prophets prophesied, our fathers were taught the things of God, and the just were led along the path of righteousness. At the end of times, he has been poured forth in a new manner upon all men, in order to renew them for God over the whole earth. Therefore, the baptism of our new birth is placed under the sign of these three articles. God the Father grants it to us in view of our new birth in his Son through the Holy Spirit. For those who are bearers of the Holy Spirit are led to the Word who is the Son, and the Son leads them to the Father, and the Father confers incorruptibility on us. Without the Spirit it is impossible to see the Word of God, and without the Son one cannot approach the Father. For the Son is the knowledge of the Father, and the knowledge of the Son is had through the Holy Spirit; and the Son gives the Spirit according to the Father’s good pleasure. Through the Spirit, the Father is called Most High, Almighty, and Lord of Hosts. Thus, we come to the knowledge of God: we know that God exists, that he is the creator of heaven and earth and all things, the maker of angels and men, the Lord, through whom all things come into existence, and from whom all things proceed, rich in mercy, grace, compassion, goodness, and justice.


Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, d. c. 202, Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching 6–8: SC 62, pp. 39–44. Tr. Christian Readings, ed. John E. Rotelle (Catholic Book Publishing, New York), IV, p. 7.


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Gibson – Atonement

Dr. Edgar Gibson’s Commentary on the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (Methuen & Co. London, 1904) is a very helpful resource. Dr. Gibson thoroughly examines each article and includes controversies related to how they were articulated. He also does a commendable job of contextualizing the articles within The Great Tradition (i.e. the first five centuries of the Church).

For example, for the second article, he spends quite some time discussing the intricacies of The Atonement. Here’s an excerpt:


These considerations may prove helpful in meeting
some of the most obvious objections which are brought
against the doctrine. It may not be possible out of the
various notices of the Atonement in Scripture to form a
complete and consistent theory that shall be entirely
free from all difficulty. Nor is it necessary that the
attempt to form such a theory should be made. From
time to time various” schemes” have been advanced, and
explanations offered which have been more or less widely
accepted by divines. But none of them can claim the
formal sanction of the Church as a whole. That which
perhaps has been the most widely held of all is the
patristic theory that by the fall Satan gained a “right”
over man, and that man could therefore only be released
by a satisfaction of Satan’s just claim. According to this
view the death of Christ was regarded as the” price” or
” ransom” paid to Satan to satisfy his claim. It has
been said that S. Iremeus was the first to suggest this
view, which is further developed by Origen, and that it
is the common explanation of the necessity for the death
of Christ, which prevailed for nearly a thousand years in
the Church, till the days of S. Anselm, in whose work
Our Deus Homo, it is for the first time expressly and
unreservedly rejected. (p.154)


I highly recommend this resource for anyone interested in Anglican theology and it’s a must-get for anyone pursuing Anglican orders.

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In the words of St. Irenaeus:

“As a man caused the fall, so a man must cause the restoration. He must be a man able to sum up (recapitulare) all the human species in Himself, so as to bear the punishment of all, and to render an obedience that will compensate for their  innumerable acts of disobedience.”


Jaroslav Pelikan in the Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) writes:

“Irenaeus’s doctrine of recapitulation can be read as the most profound theological vindication in the second and third centuries of the universal Christian ideal of the imitation of Christ.  For Irenaeus, the imitation of Christ by the Christian was part of God’s cosmic plan for salvation which began with Christ’s imitation of Adam. The Logos assimilated himself to man and man t0 himself in his life and passion. After his incarnation he passed through every stage of human growth, hallowing each and redeeming each by “being made for them an example of piety, righteousness and submission.” The disobedience of the first Adam was undone through the complete obedience of the second Adam, so that many should be justified and attain salvation” ( p.145)

For Irenaeus then, the Atonement was not an exchange that occurred only at the cross. It began with the “Easter of the Incarnation” in Christ’s condescension to take on human flesh in order to redeem it. However, it was indeed the obedience of his passion, which on the tree of the cross undid the damage done by the tree of disobedience.

According to Pelikan, the early fathers wrote strikingly little on the meaning of the death of Christ. However, what has been preserved through the liturgies of the early church reveals how they understood what happened on Calvary. From a very early date, the concept of Christ’s death as a sacrifice was clearly connected to and articulated in the Eucharistic liturgies.

It seems clear that the early Christians emphasized the resurrection of Christ as the significant moment of salvation. So great was that emphasis in the soteriology of many church fathers that the definition of salvation through Christ’s victory over man’s enemies has been called the “classic” theory of the atonement. To be sure there are other ways to talk about the atonement but CHRIST AS VICTOR was more important in orthodox expositions of salvation and reconciliation than has been realized in the West. In this theory, Christ was the champion of mankind, doing battle with Adam’s conqueror and vanquishing him.

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From the Articles of Religion:

The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

Commentary by the Rev Dr Edgar Gibson:

The subject [of the Atonment] is too vast to receive anything like adequate treatment in the  narrow limits within which it must be confined in such a work as this. All that can be attempted here is to give in briefest form a summary of the teaching of Scripture on the sacrifice of Christ and in connection with it to suggest a few considerations which may be found helpful in removing the objections which are sometimes raised against the doctrine.

(a) That the Article is only following the language of Scripture when it says that Christ suffered “to be a sacrifice” for sin, may be shown from numerous passages, such as the following:

  • 1 Cor. 5: 7: “Our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ.”
  • Eph. 5:2: “Walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odour of a sweet smell.”
  • Heb. 7: 26, 27: “For such an high priest became us, holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily like those high priests to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people: for this He dId once for all, when He offered up Himself
  • Heb. 9:26: “Now once at the end of the world hath He been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Compare also Heb. x.10 seq., and the passages quoted above, concerning propitiation (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2, 4:10).

Again (b) the vicarious character of His suffering seems to be plainly implied in such passages as these:

  • S.Matt. 20:28: “The Son of Man came … to give HIS life a ransom for many.”
  • S. John 10:11-18: See especially v. 15 “I lay down my life for the sheep.”
  • 1 Tim. 2:6: “Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all.”
  • See also 1 Pet. 2:21-25, 3:18; 1 John 3:16 and 8:8, where the Revised Version renders’ peri amartias by the words “as an offering for sin.”
  • Elsewhere we read of the Church as purchased withthe blood of Christ (Acts 20:28)’ of redemption through the blood” (Eph. 1:7 and 1 Pet. 1:18.

(c) For the universal character of redemption and the fact that It was for all men that Christ died,  appeal may be made to S. John 3:16: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have eternal life. The breadth of such language is quite inconsistent with narrower theories that would limit the saving work of Christ to “the elect.” So in 1 John ii 2 we read, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world,” while in the words of S. Paul quoted above we are expressly told that” He gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6), as elsewhere the same apostle states that He is “the Saviour of all men, especially of them that believe” (1 Tim. 4:10).


Gibson details how this article was up for much debate during the crucible of the mid 16th Century. The English Reformers were battling over Anabaptist and Calvinistic distinctives versus Anglican distinctives; that is, they were seeking to conserve the theology prior to the innovations and heresies of the Medieval Church rather than generally conforming to the theologies of the continental reformers.

Gibson says, for example:

“For all actual sins of men.” – Attention is drawn to this assertion of the universality of redemption because in various editions of the Articles the important word ALL has been, without the slightest authority omitted in order to force the article into agreement with the Calvinistic theory of “particular redemption,” i.e. the doctrine that Christ died not for all but only for “the elect.”

Interestingly, ALL is omitted from the 1979’s version of this article. The form originally looked like this:

The Son, which is the Word of
the Father, begotten from ever.
lasting of the Father, the very and
eternal God, of one substance with
the Father, took man’s nature in
the womb of the Blessed Virgin,
of her substance: so that two whole
and perfect natures, that is to say
the Godhead and manhood, were
joined together in one person, never
to be divided, whereof is one Christ,
very God and very man, who truly
sulfered, was crucified, dead, and
buried, to reconcile His Father to
us, and to be a sacrifice, not only
for original guilt, but also for all
actual sins of men

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Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.

But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.

My faith would lay its hand
On that dear head divine
As penitently here I stand,
Confessing guilt is mine.

My soul looks back to see
The burden you did bear
When hanging on the cursed tree;
I know my guilt was there.

Believing, we rejoice
To see the curse remove;
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice
And sing his bleeding love.


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Atonement Theologies

My previous post on the Doctrine Commission’s view on atonement admittedly was a bit obtuse. I’ve been studying the traditional atonement theologies in lieu of preaching this Sunday on John 1:29-45 – a traditional epiphany passage where John the Baptizer reveals the identity of Jesus to the surrounding crowds. He says:

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

What did John the Baptist mean in giving Jesus this title? How did he understand Jesus’ father’s business?

Some argue that John had in mind the warrior lamb of first-century Jewish apocalyptic writing, a figure of immense strength, who in Revelation 5:6 is an image of the Lord Jesus Christ. This would accord with John’s anticipation of the Messiah’s function as judge (Mt. 3:7–12). Even if this be conceded, it is difficult to believe that the sacrificial aspects of the ‘Lamb’ title would have been absent from John’s mind. This phrase implies a specific atonement theology.

I don’t want to go into detail on all the theories here (for a brief overview go to Wikipedia or click here) but I am curious about what the Anglican consensus on this theory has been.

Based on the 1922 Commission’s submission, they propose the Christus Victor position:

Fundamental to the Christian doctrine of the Atonement is the conviction that it is essentially the work of God, who in Christ reconciles mankind to Himself. In subordination to this primary truth of the Divine initiative Christian theology has also emphasised that which Jesus Christ in His Manhood wrought on behalf of mankind towards God; but the Cross is first of all to be understood as a Divine Victory: God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, triumphs decisively over the forces of sin, death, and the devil.

Gustaf Aulen articulated this view in his influential 1931 book Christus Victor. He claimed to be reintroducing the idea that was first professed by the church fathers thereby,  predating Anslem (Satisfaction theory) and Abelard (Moral theory). When you review the writings of Irenaeus, Origin, Nyssa, Chalcedon (to name a few) you see the dynamics of the atonement taking on the form of ransom – the ransom for our souls was paid to the devil by the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the Christ. What was once lost by the trickery of Satan, has been regained through the victory of Christ on the Cross.

From the Chalcedon documents:

It was the devil’s boast that humanity had been deceived by his trickery and so had lost the gifts God had given it; and that it had been stripped of the endowment of immortality and so was subject to the harsh sentence of death. He also boasted that, sunk as he was in evil, he himself derived some consolation from having a partner in crime; and that God had been forced by the principle of justice to alter his verdict on humanity, which he had created in such an honourable state. All this called for the realisation of a secret plan whereby the unalterable God, whose will is indistinguishable from his goodness, might bring the original realisation of his kindness towards us to completion by means of a more hidden mystery, and whereby humanity, which had been led into a state of sin by the craftiness of the devil, might be prevented from perishing contrary to the purpose of God.

The Anglican homily A SERMON OF THE SALVATION OF MANKIND BY ONLY CHRIST OUR  SAVIOUR FROM SIN AND DEATH EVERLASTING aligns with this ransomist/Christus Victor view – though admittedly the cat and mouse game between God and Satan does not show up here:

This reason is satisfied by the great wisdom of God in this mystery of our redemption; who hath so tempered his justice and mercy together, that he would neither by his justice condemn us unto the everlastingo captivity of the devil and his prison of hell, remediless for ever without mercy, nor by his mercy deliver us clearly without justice or payment of a just ransom, but with his endless mercy he joined his most upright and equal justice. His great mercy he shewed unto us in delivering us from our former captivity without requiring of any ransom to be paid or amends to be made upon our parts; which thing by us had been impossible to be done. And, whereas it lay not in us that to do, he provided a ransom for us,that was, the most precious body and blood of his own most dear and best beloved Son Jesu Christ; who,besides his ransom, fulfilled the law for us perfectly. And so the justice of God and his mercy did embrace together, and fulfilled the mystery of our redemption.

At the moment, I’m heading off to Book V of Hooker to learn more from the divine on his view of the atonement. More soon….

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The Commission here attempts the difficult task of drawing together in a brief statement the essence of centuries of Christian debate on why God became man and how his death redeemed us

The preaching of the Cross is the proclamation of a fact far richer than any theory of Atonement. In the history of the Church very various theories have been held, and while affirming the fact of reconciliation to God through Christ, the Church as a whole has never formally accepted any particular explanation of that fact. Thus the doctrine of Atonement has not been defined in the same manner and degree as the doctrine of the Incarnation. But there are certain convictions which must control all Christian thinking on the Atonement. Fundamental to the Christian doctrine of the Atonement is the conviction that it is essentially the work of God, who in Christ reconciles mankind to Himself. In subordination to this primary truth of the Divine initiative Christian theology has also emphasised that which Jesus Christ in His Manhood wrought on behalf of mankind towards God; but the Cross is first of all to be understood as a Divine Victory: God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, triumphs decisively over the forces of sin, death, and the devil. The doctrine of the Atonement is based on the reality of God’s eternal and unchanging love. That love is more than benevolence. It is a holy love, and therefore always actively affirms itself both in condemning sin and also in striving to restore and to remake the sinner. Thus, on the one hand, God’s love upholds the moral order of the universe, which is manifested both in the consequences attendant upon sin, including alienation from God and moral degeneration, and in the conviction of man’s conscience that loss or unhappiness is due to him as a penalty for wrong-doing. The traditional phrase, ‘the wrath of God’, should be interpreted in the light of these considerations. On the other hand, God’s love, by its own characteristic activity of redeeming sinners, completes and transcends the moral order thus manifested. This is the essence of the contrast between ‘the law’ and ‘the Gospel’. The Cross is the supreme instrument of this redemptive activity of God. In it there is at once a revelation of the holiness of God and a real breaking of the power of sin. The sinner is enabled to repent and he can be freely forgiven.

1922 Doctrine Commission, Doctrine in the Church of England (1938), pp. 90–91. 

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