For, in what way could we be partakers of the adoption of sons, unless we had received from Him through the Son that fellowship which refers to Himself, unless His Word, having been made flesh, had entered into communion with us? Wherefore also He passed through every stage of life, restoring to all communion with God. … For it behoved Him who was to destroy sin, and redeem man under the power of death, that He should Himself be made that very same thing which he was, that is, man; who had been drawn by sin into bondage, but was held by death, so that sin should be destroyed by man, and man should go forth from death. For as by the disobedience of the one man who was originally moulded from virgin soil, the many were made sinners, and forfeited life; so was it necessary that, by the obedience of one man, who was originally born from a virgin, many should be justified and receive salvation. Thus, then, was the Word of God made man, as also Moses says: “God, true are His works.” But if, not having been made flesh, He did appear as if flesh, His work was not a true one. But what He did appear, that He also was: God recapitulated in Himself the ancient formation of man, that He might kill sin, deprive death of its power, and vivify man; and therefore His works are true.
Irenaeus, Ad. Haer. III, 18, 7
The theory of recapitulation stands at the center of Irenaeus’ theological system and describes best the role of Jesus Christ in His Incarnation. It connotes a re-beginning of the human race, now, however, back in the opposite direction where Adam originally found himself upon his creation. Christ reverses the process that hurtled sin-infected man and the entire cosmos that was under his dominion away from true Light, Life and Incorruption towards sin, chaos and death. God gathers up again in His Logos His entire work by fulfilling it according to His original plan through an intimate association with the living Logos in the individual human being, made according to this Image and Likeness of God that is Christ
George Maloney, SJ, Man, the Divine Icon. The Patristic Doctrine of Man Made according to the Image of God (Pecos, NM: Dove Publications, 1973) 43-44
I was supposed to be preparing classes on Saint Irenaeus these last couple of weeks, but my preparation was put on hold due to the necessity of finishing painting the Paschal candle, something that I left far too late! However, I have been conscious of his idea of recapitulation while working on it, of the wonder of our entire humanity being taken up in Christ and thus transformed. Christ does not simply do something for us, but in us; He reconstitutes our entire being, revealing the mystery of humanity to itself, defeating evil in all its manifestations and drawing us up into His Light.
A blessed Easter!
(As an aside: One of the things I have been wondering about in writing on this blog is what to do about inclusive language. This is also a problem in the posts on Zizioulas. I am enough of a – one-time? – feminist to find the generic use of “man” problematic, but I’m not sure that I have the right to edit other people’s work and find constantly inserting sic! rather pedantic. The problem is of course particularly acute when dealing Patristic anthropology and theology, where it is precisely Christ’s taking on of our entire humanity – female as well as male – that is of crucial importance: I think for instance of Gregory of Nazianzus’ “What is unassumed is unhealed”, something that appears to be being undermined in what is sometimes called “New Catholic feminism,” but more on that another time.
While on the subject, it may be worth noting that when I painted the Paschal candle four years ago, I insisted on doing an icon of the Resurrection in which the Risen Christ grasps both Adam and Eve by the hand. I am now less bothered by such “inclusivism,” for what is conveyed is the meeting between the Old Adam and the New Adam and the identification between them. And that is about humanity and has nothing to do with gender. Feminists may find that I’m selling out, but I will also argue tooth and nail with anyone – such as Balthasar and his followers – who tries to assign ontological significance to gender or to suggest that women are any less identified with Christ than anyone else!)