Describe What is Meant by the Theological Anthropology of the Fathers
Theological anthropology addresses the relationship between humanity and God and involves mankind’s essence in relation to God, his fall in the sin of Adam, and his redemption by grace in the saving work of Jesus Christ. The discussion on theological anthropology and grace overlap considerably, so I will try to separate them as I’m able.
The Fathers attempted to come to terms with just what constitutes the human person. Clearly, some aspect of the human person is physical, but for there to be any afterlife, something must survive beyond the physical body. In addition, pagan thought had already passed on various notions of an animating principle, the psyche, which inhabited the body, although there was some disagreement of how that habitation took place. For Platonists, the body was a prison, something rather hellish that constrained the human soul. For Aristotle, the body was a composite of soma and psyche, with the latter giving form to the former. Two visions of the human composite emerge in the thought of the Fathers. One, the triadic view, proposes a union of the physical flesh (sarx), an animating soul (psyche), and a rational/moral spirit (pneuma or nous depending on the emphasis). (This latter component was what Apollinaris proposed was replaced in the Incarnation by the divine Logos.) A second, the dyadic view, proposes a body (soma) and soul (psyche) composite in which the animating and rational principles are one, or as Francis Aveling notes in The Catholic Encyclopedia (“Man,” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/
09580c.htm), a human body whose form is a soul. The natural mortality or immortality of the soul was still a question seeking an answer (Moser, “Lecture 4”). In addition, there were differing influences on the Fathers from pagan philosophy that determined whether the body was seen as something negative (as with the Platonists or the Stoics).
Pagans had a very different view of human freedom than the early Fathers. For the Stoics and many of the Greeks, all human endeavors were governed by fate, and humans were simply caught in the repetitive cycle of history (in which all events and human action are predetermined). The Manicheans taught that humans, because they possess a material body created by the evil god, cannot help but fall into sin. Gnostics posed a class system in which some people (pneumatics) were spiritual people (hence, the elect), while others (somatics) were clearly bodily people (hence, hopelessly reprobate), and still others (psychics) could actually gain gnosis and rise above evil. All three of these views negate free will in the individual for most if not all people, and so eliminate the possibility that one could work toward salvation. The Church Fathers, on the other hand, saw a connection between man, made in the image of God, and free will. If God, who embodies certainly the highest expression of freedom in creation, has created man in His image, as Genesis 1:26 proposes, then it is only fitting that man, too, has free will.
As Fr. Mosey notes in Lecture 4, the doctrines of original sin and the original state of mankind were not fully developed until St. Augustine. Because the Fathers of the era were focused on shoring up the notion of human freedom against the Stoic, Manichees, and Gnostics, they may have not been quite ready to deal fully with the corporate sin of Adam. However, Adam was recognized as a type for all sinners, and this perspective in combination with the practice of infant baptism and further reflection on the letters of St. Paul eventually led to the development of the doctrine of original sin. In addition, there was some speculation on the state of mankind before the fall and whether they enjoyed some benefits that mankind lost during the fall (for example, immortality, physical perfection, freedom from suffering) referred to as preternatural gifts, in that they were not part of human nature but not exactly supernatural either.
Describe the Themes of the Church Fathers Concerning Grace
Most of the discussion since the Reformation has focused on the relationships between faith and works, grace and nature, and grace and free will. However, as with most doctrine, the teachings on grace grew slowly out of consideration of scripture and in response to the false teachings of such groups and the Gnostics and the Pelagians. For the early Fathers, Christ’s Incarnation and His saving work were His grace-bearing gift to us. According to the lecture, the Fathers emphasize that the bestowal of grace and gifts is a work of the Trinity, flowing from the Father, by the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Of course, we are baptized in the name of all three, which confirms the unity of the Godhead. In addition, we can see an analogy to the dynamic of the Trinity at work here as well. Everything flows from the Father, finds itself expressed by the Logos, and then proceeds through the two to the Holy Spirit. (That’s more theologizing on my part rather than something expressed by the Fathers.)
The early apologist and Church Father St. Irenaeus formulated much of his theology around the doctrine of recapitulation, in which all humanity is redeemed in Christ’s saving work and is restored to the original state of Adam. As Jaroslav Pelikan notes, “Christ became the example for men, as Adam had been the example for Christ; being the Logos of God, Christ was not only the example, but the exemplar and prototype of the image of God according to which man had been created” (The Christian Tradition, Vol. 1, p. 145).
For Athanasius, this gift divinized us and brought us into participation in the divinity of God. For Ignatius, the bridge or connection that makes the difference for humanity is the flesh that Christ assumed, without which there would’ve been no profit to us. Through the Incarnation, we are adopted through grace to be sons and daughters of God (Mosey, “Lecture 4”). So grace is required for our divinization. The Western Fathers stress the need of grace for our sanctification. Whereas the Eastern Fathers see grace lifting us up to God, the Western Fathers see the healing effects of grace on the wound caused by original sin.
This gift of grace, according to Fathers such as Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, comes to us not merely as a blanket or covering but an indwelling of the Trinity in each Christian. St. Paul’s reference in 1 Corinthians 3 to the body as a temple evokes this notion of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believer, and there’s also the idea of Christ’ life in us in Galatians 2:20. St. Paul also uses the image of giving birth to the one in whom Christ is formed (perhaps relating back to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in the Gospel of John), a theme that is picked up by both Origen and St. Irenaeus. St. Clement of Alexandria also picks up on a Johannine image of darkness and light, describing the illumination of the Christian that takes place at baptism.
The Fathers defended the notion of free will vociferously, and they noted that one aspect of grace is the concept of liberty. As mentioned previously, for man to be truly made in imago Deo, man must have been made free. However, sin destroyed that freedom and enslaved mankind. In Christ’s saving work, we are given a new gift of liberty through grace in faith.
Describe the Themes of the Church Fathers Concerning the Sacraments
Sacramentum is the Latin term employed by Tertullian to translate the Greek word mysterion, a term that had been used generally up to the fourth century to describe Christian beliefs and practices. For St. Paul, the mysterion is something once hidden but now revealed, primarily man’s redemption through Christ. This usage contrasted with the use of term mysterion as used by the Pagans and Gnostics, which indicated a secret and religious initiation. Unlike the useage f the Pagans and Gnostics, the Christian use of the term suggested an action that was hidden in the symbolic act or a hidden meaning in an institution (Mosey, p. 9). The direct translation into Latin would normally be something closer to initia, sacra, arcana or mysteria. However, each of those terms was already common parlance in Rome for many Pagan mystery rites. Tertullian introduced the use of the word sacramentum as a general term for Christian rites (Mosey, p. 9).
We now apply the term sacrament to a very specific set of rites in the Christian faith. The Father did not have such a narrow definition and applied it to rites, doctrine, and discipline. In addition, they had no sacramental theology. Their emphasis was on those initiation rites that affected their communities. Over time, thought about these rites developed and extended to other rites. The Fathers notion of a sacrament involved two elements: symbolism (which conveys multivalent meaning) and sanctification (which bestows holiness). We today would describe it as an outward sign (symbol) of an inward grace (sanctification). In the Patristic era, the Fathers saw these signs of holiness as an indication of a holy reality and an aid to this reality. Certainly, their view has formed and shaped our own. The seven sacraments we now recognize were only differentiated from the overall sacramental reality of the Church in 1547 at the Council of Trent.
The Father recognized early on that initiatory rites were critical to the life of the Church, particularly baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. Tertullian included marriage in this group as well (Mosey, p. 10). Confirmation was (and, in the Eastern Church, still is) very closely connected with baptism. Private penance in some form was mentioned and had always been available to the baptized in some form. Holy orders (Matt. 28:18; John 20:23) and anointing of the sick (Mark 6:13; Jas. 5:14-15) clearly have a scriptural basis, although their sacramental nature wasn’t clearly established for some time. We now see these as sacraments based on the clear traditions and the obvious initiation of these rites by Christ. All of these rites include both the physical, symbolic aspects (laying on of hands, anointing or immersion, recitation of formulas, or sanctification of materials) and all are considered vehicles of grace.
In both the early Church and during the Reformation, the matter of valid baptism came to the forefront. During the Patristic era, the words of the formula were of prime importance, and the notion of one baptism for the forgiveness of sins was so important as to be included in the Nicene-Constantinople creed. The importance of the baptismal formula and its singular effects were to come into debate again during the Reformation. However, the groundwork laid by the Fathers endured. While the doctrine of heretics was clearly a problem, the rites themselves were valid, so long as the correct formula and the correct matter were used (Mosey, 12). The principle ex opere operato was, then, established by the Fathers and persistently held by the Church throughout the ages.