Atonement Theory 5

“… the Recapitulation model places great importance on the teaching that Christ is both fully man and fully God.”

Because of its focus on unification between God and man in the person of Christ, the Recapitulation model places great importance on the teaching that Christ is both fully man and fully God.  If Christ did not have both natures, He would have been incapable of uniting humanity to divinity, which was the entire purpose of the Incarnation.  As Saint Gregory of Nazianzus said in the 4th century, “That which is not assumed is not healed, but that which is united to God is saved.”  The doctrine of the dual nature of Christ was a major topic of the third Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in AD 431.  During this council, the Church answered the Nestorian heresy and affirmed Christ’s humanity and divinity and upheld the title of Theotokos (Mother of God) for Mary.  By giving Mary this title, the Church reinforced the teaching of the dual nature of Christ.  If Mary is the Mother of God, then, by necessity, Christ truly is God.  Additionally, since Mary is both human and Christ’s mother, Christ is also fully human.

The Greek word “hilasmos” is translated as both propitiation and expiation.  In contrast to other forms of Christianity, the Orthodox tend to use the word “expiation” when describing what was accomplished in Christ’s sacrificial act.  According to the Greek-English Lexicon (BDAG) “The unique feature relative to Gr-Rom. usage [of hilasterion] is the initiative taken by God to effect removal of impediments to a relationship with God’s self.”  This gives “hilasmos” the meaning of “God’s initiative to remove all barriers and impediments between man and God”.

Thus, in the Orthodox understanding of “hilasmos”, Christ did not die to appease an angry and vindictive Father, or to avert the wrath of God, which is the sense in which the word “propitiation” is commonly used in Western Latin theology.  Rather, the Orthodox use the word “expiation”, in order to convey the sense that Christ died to change people and remove impediments and barriers to God so that they might become divine, that is to say, that they may become “partakers of the divine nature” of God in his energies or operations. (cf. 2 Pet. 1:4)

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