Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
July 13th, 2016 by Joel Watts

“For us and our salvation” – who is the “us”?

There is a spot in the Creed of 381 that came under discussion yesterday:

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,

How you read that particular line may be influenced by your understanding of Election, or perhaps, your understanding of the Church v. World, wherein we who are saved are now the “us.” But, what if the “us” is indeed corporate and universal?

Gregory and for our salvation

I guess I need to find the other passage where he finishes this thought

St. Gregory of Nyssa writes,

Those who submit to surgery or cautery are angry with their doctors as they smart under the agony of the operation. But if restoration to health follows and the pain passes, then they are grateful to those who effected the cure. In the same way, when after tedious processes the evil is expelled that had been mixed with human nature and had grown up with it, and when there has taken place the restoration to the original state of those who are now lying in wickedness, then will arise a unison of thanksgiving from all creatures, as well as from those who have suffered chastisement in the process of purification as from those who needed no purification at all. Such are the benefits conferred by the great mystery of the divine incarnation. By mingling with humanity, sharing all the distinctive features from nature (birth, nurture, growth) and going right on to the experience of death, he effected all those aforementioned results, freeing humankind from wickedness and healing even the inventor of wickedness himself. For the purification of the disease, however painful, is the healing of infirmity. ADDRESS ON RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION 26. 1

In another place,

For he who exists eternally did not submit to a bodily birth because he wanted to live, but in order to recall us from death to life. Then since what was needed was the ascent of the whole of our nature from death to renewal of life, he stretched out a hand, as it were, to the prostrate body, and in bending down to our dead corpse he came so near to death as to come in contact with our state of mortality and by his own body to bestow on human nature a beginning of the resurrection, by raising up through his power the whole of humanity along with himself. For that humanity that received the Godhead and through the resurrection was raised up with the Godhead came from no other source than from the mass of human nature. CATECHETICAL LECTURES 32. 2

St. John Chrysostom:

“And the Word was made flesh,” he says, “and dwelled among us.” After saying that those who received him “were born of God and became children of God,” he states the basic cause underlying this ineffable honor, which is the fact that the Word became flesh, and the Lord assumed the form of the slave. The one who is a natural Son of God became a Son of man, in order to make children of God out of the children of men. The lofty is mingled with the lowly but suffers no damage to its own glory, while the lowly rises out of the depths of its lowliness. This is what happened with Christ. He in no way diminished his own nature through this descent, but he raised us, who were sitting forever in dishonor and darkness, up to indescribable glory. In somewhat the same way a king who speaks with care and concern to a very poor person in no way shames himself, but he makes the poor person illustrious and admired by all. In a case of transitory human glory, therefore, association with an inferior does no damage to a superior; how much truer is this, then, when it is a question of that pure and blessed essence that has nothing transitory about it (either by means of loss or gain) but possesses all good things unchangeably and in a fixed form forever? So when you hear that “the Word became f1esh,” do not be upset or disturbed. The divine essence did not change into flesh (it is sacrilegious even to think this); no, it remained what it was and assumed the form of the servant. HOMILIES ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 11.11.3

While St. Irenaeus comes before the Creed, his words here, I believe, help define this phrase:

God the Word restored Man in himself, his ancient handiwork, that he might bring death to sin, strip death of its power, and give life to Man. AGAINST HERESIES 3.18.7.4

This phrase, by the way, is found in a similar fashion in the Creed of 325.

I believe it doesn’t point to the Church, or to a specific body of believers — notably, it is far removed from the line on the Church. Rather, this line points to the whole of humanity, not just believers (1 Tim 4.10). While there is a rejection that moves the soul out of sight, I believe that St Gregory and others (specifically those who participated in the 4th century theological dialogue) viewed with great hope the eventual salvation of the many. This doesn’t exclude the reality of a hell — in fact, restorationism (as opposed to universalism) must include a reality of hell.

Anyway, I’ve wondered about this phrase for a while so I took this chance to explore it slightly with the Church Fathers.

____

Maddox, for those interested, details Wesley’s use of the Eastern Fathers (with possible connections to St. Gregory). Further, google the two men. See what pops up. I say this because we are not a cult of John Wesley, and are not limited expressly to him. He gave us the theological tools to go forward, pulling from the first 4 or 5 centuries of Christianity. Even in this, he treated the East better than the West. It may be time for us to include others in our canon of theologians.

  1. John Anthony McGuckin, ed., We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ, Ancient Christian Doctrine 2; ICCS/Accordance electronic ed. 5 vols.; (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 81.
  2. McGuckin, 83-84.
  3. McGuckin, 85.
  4. McGuckin, 87.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

4 Responses to ““For us and our salvation” – who is the “us”?”
  1. Scott Sears says

    Silly wabbit, trixs is for ALL kids, of course! Great reading.

    • Universalism does not run in to a problem at Nicaea. While the creed only affirms the efficacy of Christ’s work for those who can say, “We believe,” it does not make any corresponding negations. (The 325 form does contain an anathema but Universalism is not the concern.) That’s what I like about the Athanasian creed: Something in me (not good I imagine) loves to say, “anathema.”
      Still, I imagine a universalist could recite the Nicene Creed, and, yes, the patriarchs did view something like universalism with hope. There are those occasional troublesome passages such as; “So then he has mercy on whomsoever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomsoever he chooses.” (Romans 9:18) To paraphrase Augustine, we are not given so much hope that any might presume, but we are not given so little that any need despair. Salvation by grace through faith, however, brings assurance. This is no dice roll.
      You have no idea what it means to me that there are those who are well-read enough to know the Eastern patriarchs influence on Wesley. They are all over the place in his writing–usually unattributed. Wesley and Macarius (when’s the last time you heard that name dropped at a clergy gathering) are almost some weird Vulcan mind meld. Keep reading the old stuff. With four thousand years of literature available for our faith, there is a lot of good out there that was not written by Adam Hamilton.

  2. George Plasterer says

    Is there an interpretation of the creed that says “us” and “our” refer only to the church? I do not know, but my reading of this text has been that church is expressing its belief that the Son came “for us” as humanity. It was expressing its solidarity with humanity, even while acknowledging that only part of humanity (of course) acknowledges what God has done. – I also appreciate your exploration of the first centuries of the church. It is a good reminder that the church has not always thought like Augustine or Aquinas. Even if they stand out, justly so, I think, they do not represent all that we mean by the tradition of the church. I went through a period of several years when I did a lot of reading in that area. I was especially taking note of their affirmations of faith, as I recall.

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