Recapitulation theory of atonement
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Although sometimes absent from summaries of atonement theories, generally overviews of the history of the doctrine of the atonement include a section about the “recapitulation” view of the atonement, which was first clearly formulated by Irenaeus.
One of the main New Testament scriptures upon which this view is based states: "[God's purpose is, in] the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth..." (Ephesians 1:10, RV). The Greek word for 'sum up' were literally rendered 'to recapitulate' in Latin.
In the recapitulation view of the atonement, Christ is seen as the new Adam who succeeds where Adam failed. Christ undoes the wrong that Adam did and, because of his union with humanity, leads humankind on to eternal life (including morality).
Through man’s disobedience the process of the evolution of the human race went wrong, and the course of its wrongness could neither be halted nor reversed by any human means. But in Jesus Christ the whole course of human evolution was perfectly carried out and realised in obedience to the purpose of God.
As highlighted above, Irenaeus is considered to be the first to clearly express a recapitulation view of the atonement, although he is anticipated by Justin Martyr, whom Irenaeus quotes in Against Heresies 4.6.1:
In his book against Marcion, Justin does well say: "I would not have believed the Lord Himself, if He had announced any other than He who is our framer, maker, and nourisher. But because the only-begotten Son came to us from the one God, who both made this world and formed us, and contains and administers all things, summing up His own handiwork in Himself, my faith towards Him is steadfast, and my love to the Father immoveable, God bestowing both upon us." [Emphasis added]
There follows two representative quotes from Irenaeus:
[Christ] was in these last days, according to the time appointed by the Father, united to His own workmanship, inasmuch as He became a man liable to suffering ... He commenced afresh1 the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam—namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God—that we might recover in Christ Jesus.
- 1 So the Syriac. The Latin has, "in seipso recapitulavit," He summed up in Himself.
He has therefore, in His work of recapitulation, summed up all things, both waging war against our enemy, and crushing him who had at the beginning led us away captives in Adam ...the enemy would not have been fairly vanquished, unless it had been a man [born] of woman who conquered him. ... And therefore does the Lord profess Himself to be the Son of man, comprising in Himself that original man out of whom the woman was fashioned, in order that, as our species went down to death through a vanquished man, so we may ascend to life again through a victorious one; and as through a man death received the palm [of victory] against us, so again by a man we may receive the palm against death.
For Irenaeus, the ultimate goal of Christ's work of solidarity with humankind is to make humankind divine. Of Jesus he says, he 'became what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself'. This idea 'has been highly influential in the Greek Orthodox Church', having been taken on by many other Church Fathers, such as Athanasius, Augustine and Clement of Alexandria. This Eastern Orthodox theological development out of the recapitulation view of the atonement is called theosis.
A more contemporary, slightly differing expression of the recapitulation view can be seen in D. E. H. Whiteley's reading of Paul the Apostle's theology. Whiteley favourably quotes Irenaeus' notion that Christ 'became what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself', although he never describes Paul's view of the atonement as a recapitulation; rather, he uses the word 'participation':
...if St. Paul can be said to hold a theory of the modus operandi [of the atonement], it is best described as one of salvation through participation: Christ shared all our experience, sin alone excepted, including death, in order that we, by virtue of our solidarity with him, might share his life.
- E.g. Leon Morris, 'Theories of the Atonement' in Elwell Evangelical Dictionary.
- H. N. Oxenham, ‘‘The Catholic doctrine of the atonement’’ (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1865), p. 114-118
- James Bethune-Baker, An introduction to the early history of Christian doctrine to the time of the Council of Chalcedon (London: Methuen & Co, 1903), p. 333-337
- J. K. Mozley, The doctrine of the atonement (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916), p. 100-101
- R. Mackintosh, Historic theories of the atonement (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1920), p. 89-90
- L. W. Grensted, A Short History of the Doctrine of the Atonement (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1920), p. 57-60
- Robert S. Franks, A history of the doctrine of the work of Christ in its ecclesiastical development vol. 1 (London: Hodder and Stoughton), p. 37ff.
- Gustaf Aulen, Christus Victor (1931) (London: SPCK), p. 16ff., esp. p. 20-22,29
- Michael Green, The Empty Cross of Jesus (Eastbourne: Kingsway, 2004; first published 1984), p. 66-68
- E.g., James Bethune-Baker, An introduction to the early history of Christian doctrine to the time of the Council of Chalcedon (London: Methuen & Co, 1903), p. 334: 'Just as mankind in Adam lost its birthright, so in Christ mankind recovers its original condition'.
- Robert S. Franks, A history of the doctrine of the work of Christ in its ecclesiastical development vol. 1 (London: Hodder and Stoughton), p. 37-38
- William Barclay, Crucified and Crowned (S.C.M, first published 1961), p. 100
- J. K. Mozley, The doctrine of the atonement (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916), p. 100 n. 4
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.18.1 in A. Roberts and J. Donaldson (eds), The Writings of Irenaeus Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1848), p. 337-338
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.21.1 in A. Roberts and J. Donaldson (eds), The Writings of Irenaeus Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1869), p. 110-111
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies Preface to Book 5 in A. Roberts and J. Donaldson (eds), The Writings of Irenaeus Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1869), p. 55
- Michael Green, ‘‘The Empty Cross of Jesus’’ (Eastbourne: Kingsway, 2004; first published 1984), p. 67
- D. E. H. Whietely, The Theology of St Paul (Oxford: Blackwell, 1964), p. 113: 'St. Irenaeus was fundamentally true to the thought of Paul when he said: Factus est quod sumus nos, uti nos perficeret esse quod et ipse.
- D. E. H. Whietely, The Theology of St Paul (Oxford: Blackwell, 1964), p. 130