Salvation’s Threefold Cord
It is instructive to observe that the ancient creeds of the Christian Church say nothing about the teachings and miracles of Jesus. In fact, the entire concentration of those creeds is directed to only three aspects of God’s Son: his Incarnation, his Passion and Death, and his Resurrection in glory. All three of those “events” pertain to the redemption of the human race. This is the classical triadic structure of Christian soteriology. The church fathers who took a hand in the crafting of those creeds believed that this triadic structure of redemption corresponds to man’s threefold alienation from God.
First, man is alien to God by reason of creation itself, inasmuch as man has a nature different from God’s. This initial alienation, however, has been redeemed by God’s taking on our human nature in the Incarnation. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14; cf. Colossians 2:9). The Incarnation itself, accordingly, was integral to our redemption. That is to say, we would not be saved unless Jesus Christ were both truly divine and truly human. This was a point made repeatedly by the conciliar fathers who defended the Christian faith against Arius, Nestorius, and the other heretics. The church fathers were persuaded that the Christological heresies were very serious, because they touched on the reality of human redemption.
Moreover, the Word’s assumption of our humanity in the Incarnation was perceived to be the medium by which human beings may become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Those same church fathers expressed this ineffable truth with great boldness, saying, “God became man so that man might become god.” This transformation by grace was the goal of human existence and man’s ultimate reason for being in this world at all.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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