John Meyendorff and God’s Assumption of Fallen Humanity

In his various essays and books, Fr John Meyendorff frequently speaks of God’s assumption of fallen humanity in Jesus Christ. As we asked in our previous post on Met Kallistos Ware, so we ask now of Meyendorff: What does the adjective “fallen” add to our understanding of the Incarnation? If we deleted the word, would it matter? Perhaps the best way to approach Meyendorff’s thought here is to state what the assumption of fallen human nature does not mean.

First, the assumption of fallen human nature  does not mean that Jesus Christ ever separated himself from his Father by failing to choose the Good. It does not mean that Jesus became a sinner. Meyendorff is clear. Not only did Jesus never sin, sin was never a possibility for him: “He—being God—could not commit sin, a personal act, which only a created hypostasis can commit” (“Christ’s Humanity,” p. 24). The sinlessness of Jesus flows necessarily from the hypostatic union and his identity as the eternal Word. Jesus could no more disobey his Father than he could cease being the divine Son and Creator of the universe. Meyendorff appeals to the difficult notion of the gnomic will, as expounded by St Maximus the Confessor. “The expression,” Meyendorff explains,

comes from the Greek gnome, which means ‘opinion,’ implying the hesitation and the inevitable agony which accompanies options and decisions taken blindly in darkness. Gnomic will is therefore implied in the exercise of freedom in the ‘fallen’ world, where man either willingly ignores, or is incapable of finding ‘naturally’ the true will of God and the destination of his own existence. (p. 23)

Since the Fall, human beings have lived in existential uncertainty regarding the Good. We are confronted with choices between relative and apparent goods. We do not apprehend the right and true with intuitive immediacy; we are not sure what we want; hence we must weigh, consider, assess, judge. We make our decisions half-blindfolded, as it were.  We vacillate between one choice or the other. Within this condition of gnome, sin becomes virtually inevitable. Whereas the “will,” i.e., the faculty of volition, belongs to human nature, the deliberative will expresses the created person embedded in history. It is a mode of hypostatic existence. When the eternal Logos became Man, he assumed the natural will; but he did not, and could not, assume the gnomic will, as it is not a constituent of human nature:

Gnome is intrinsically linked with hypostasis, or human person. …. Sin is always a personal action that does not corrupt nature as such. This explains why the Word could fully assume human nature, sin excepted. Sin remains on the level of the gnome, of personal choice. Christ possessed a natural human will, but since the subject of this being was the Logos himself, he could have no gnomic will, the only possible source of sin. (Christ in Eastern Christian Thought, p. 149)

To attribute a gnomic will to Christ would be, in the words of Maximus, “to consider him as a mere man, possessing a will like our own, ignorant, hesitant, and in conflict with himself. … In the Lord’s human nature, which possessed not a simple human hypostasis but a divine hypostasis, there could be no gnome” (p. 149; cf. Ian McFarland, “‘Naturally and by Grace’,” and Paul Blowers, “Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus on Gnomic Will (γνώμη) in Christ“).

The divine hypostasis, therefore, could not sin, even as man. As the subject and agent of his assumed humanity, he was not torn between good and evil, light and darkness. He was not ignorant of the Good and always desired the Good. At this point we may wish to ask Meyendorff how Jesus could be tempted in any vital sense of the word. Unfortunately, he does not appear to have addressed this question. He offers only this explanation: “It is because he was God, not as ‘mere man,’ that Jesus was able to overcome the temptations inherent in fallen humanity” (“New Life in Christ,” p. 495).

But there is one sentence in “Christ’s Humanity” that seems to suggest that Jesus experienced something akin to the gnomic will. While the gospels do not provide reliable access to the self-consciousness of Christ, “they do affirm—by describing several crucial moments of Christ’s ministry—that He felt, that He lacked knowledge, that He agonized and, finally, that He died in a way which is common to the whole of fallen humanity” (p. 26). If Jesus grew in knowledge and wisdom, if he was tempted, if he learned obedience through suffering, does this not suggest that he too must have deliberated upon various courses of action? Or as Joseph Farrell puts it: “As judgment, and therefore, doubt, hesitation and ignorance are proper to human nature, does not the denial of a gnomie to Christ therefore entail a denial of these properties of His human nature as well? Can Christ be truly tempted as we are if there is no possibility of hesitation in His human will?” (Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor, p. 161, n. 15). Just a question.

Second, the assumption of fallen human nature does not mean that Jesus was ever subject to sinful, or blameworthy, human passions, such as covetousness, lust, envy, greed, or disordered desire of any kind. He would then have needed a physician himself. “Christ was not ‘passionate’ in a sinful sense,” states Meyendorff, “but became subject to the ‘irreproachable passions'” (“Christ’s Humanity,” p. 29, n. 39). These blameless passions which the Son made his own include hunger, thirst, fatigue, fear, passibility, corruptibility, and death. Meyendorff thus endorses the judgment of St John of Damascus: “We confess that He assumed all the natural and blameless passions of man. This is because He assumed the whole man and everything that is his, except sin—for this last is not natural and it was not implanted in us by the Creator” (De fid. orth. III.20). Though experiencing these natural passions intrinsic to fallen existence, at no point does our Lord allow them lead him into sin and interior bondage.

Meyendorff does not elaborate on the salvific significance of the Son’s voluntary submission to the innocent passions of mankind, but he does cite the Church’s rejection of the 6th century heresy advanced by Julian of Halicarnassus, commonly referred to as aphtharto­docetism. Julian was a monophysite bishop who maintained that our Lord’s earthly body was necessarily incorruptible and immortal. Corruptibility and mortality are the consequences of freely chosen sin, consequences which all fallen human beings suffer and endure. Given that Jesus was totally free from the dominion of Satan and did not commit a single sin, his body, argues Julian, must have partaken in the same characteristics of Adam’s prelapsarian body. Christ was thus free from the physical necessities that we now endure. If he endured passions, it was because he consciously chose to do so at specific temporal moments throughout his life. In aphthartodocetic fashion, one can imagine Jesus thinking to himself: “I guess I’ll be hungry this morning.” Meyendorff agrees that our Lord’s subjection to the blameless passions was free and voluntary, but he locates that free decision within the Son’s eternal decision to become Man:

The Divine will, which is the reason for the Incarnation, concerned the entire incarnation process, not single moments of the life of Jesus taken separately by themselves. By the will of the Father and with the cooperation of the Spirit, the Logos “became flesh,” i.e. entered the fallen time where “death reigns” (Rom 5:14). There were not several distinct divine decisions: one for the Incarnation itself, another for each of Christ’s actions, and one final one allowing Him to die. In the fallen world, which the Logos entered, death is an overwhelming, pervasive reality determining human existence in every detail: it is the cause of all creatures’ struggle for survival (mostly at the expense of each other) and, in a sense, the cause of their sinfulness. It was that humanity which was assumed by the Logos, who consequently, as man, had to endure suffering, temptations and death; although as God He did not commit sin which is inevitable in the case of human created hypostaseis in the fallen world. (“Christ’s Humanity,” pp. 26-27)

Mortality, corruptibility, and the blameless passions were assumed by the Son in the womb of his mother. Meyendorff sees no reason to posit multiple temporal assents to fallen existence, as if Jesus believed that he was naturally invulnerable to disease, injury, and death. He did not and was not. Christ’s body would not become incorruptible until he was raised from the dead on Easter morning.

We are, I think, now prepared to answer the question, What does Fr John Meyendorff mean when he states that the eternal Son assumed fallen humanity If we are thinking of human nature as the conglomeration of essential properties (i.e., those properties that an entity must have to be classified as human), then the word “fallen” does not add anything and could just as easily be dropped. The Adamic Fall did not alter human nature in an essential way. “Sin is always a personal action that does not corrupt nature as such” (Eastern Christian Thought, p. 149). The prelapsarian state, the postlapsarian state, the glorified state—they are best thought of as three phases in the mode of human existence. Ian McFarland makes this point in a more Western idiom::

But while a human being is equally human whether in Eden, expelled from it, or raised to glory, human nature is marked by certain characteristic features in each of these phases of the economy. Thus, before Adam and Eve sinned, all human beings had an unfallen nature; after this primal transgression and before the parousia all have a fallen one; with the Judgment all will have a fully glorified one. In this way, human nature has a temporally indexed dimension that creates a real solidarity among all members of the race, even though these temporally indexed qualities are not characteristic of human nature as such (i.e. human beings are fully human in all three states). Because Christ came to be among fallen human beings so that he could be (as both Hebrews 2 and 4 agree) tested as they were, it would seem reasonable to suppose that he would need to share the damaged condition of postlapsarian humanity. From this perspective, it seems fitting (though not strictly necessary) that he should have assumed a fallen human nature. (“Fallen or Unfallen?“, pp. 407-408)

Despite the risk of misunderstanding, Meyendorff speaks of the Word assuming, not an abstract, prelapsarian human nature, but the corruptible flesh he received from the Blessed Virgin Mary. Meyendorff wants to draw our attention to the existence of Christ as existentially, concretely, and historically lived. “The Incarnation in all its aspects was an expression of the free will of God,” the French-Russian theologian explains. “But God willed precisely that, as man, Jesus, since his conception in the womb of Mary, would be fully conditioned by what our human, fallen existence is” (“New Life in Christ,” p. 494). The incarned God was not play-acting. He knew human existence from the dramatic inside-out. He knew our joys and our sufferings, because he knew his joys and his sufferings. God unites himself to our fallen human nature, so that in him we fallen human beings might be healed, regenerated, transfigured, glorified:

The true dimension of the humanity of Jesus can only be understood in the context of soteriology. He assumed human nature in its fallen state and He brought it to the Father in its original, transfigured form. This salvation act was done in time, not only in the sense that Jesus grew as a man, going through the normal process of human maturing, but also in the paschal sense. He was the New Passover leading Israel not from Egypt to Canaan, but from death to life: “Christ, Our Passover, was sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7), writes St Paul. “Passover” implies a passage from one situation to another, a radical change, salvation. The Christian Gospel tells us that this change happened precisely in the person of Christ. If He did not assume that fallen humanity which was to be saved, which was to be healed and transformed; if, as some had imagined, He was immune to disease or any death-causing event, and was destined to live indefinitely within fallen time, no true salvation or change would ontologically occur in and through His humanity. That humanity would have to conceived only as a screen, covering a theophany, which would be seen as operating by itself, in a sort of magic exercise of divine omnipotence, with the human nature ceasing to be what we are as soon as Divinity touched it. (“Christ’s Humanity,” pp. 27-28)

Meyendorff understands human nature as a dynamic movement toward the divine, a movement that has been interrupted, misdirected, and stultified by death and demonic oppression. Only the Incarnation of God himself—an incarnation within the conditions and burdens of this broken world—can deliver humanity from evil and restore its ecstastic openness to its Creator. Here is the gospel! In Jesus Christ, the New Adam, Son of God and Son of Man, the living God has come to redeem sinners—not by some juridical or magical act but by taking them through suffering and death into the glory of eternal Pascha.

(Go to “Thomas F. Torrance and the Fallen God”)

This entry was posted in Theology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to John Meyendorff and God’s Assumption of Fallen Humanity

  1. Pingback: John Meyendorff and God’s Assumption of Fallen Humanity — Eclectic Orthodoxy |

  2. The problem I see with Meyendorff’s theology here is that it essentially eviscerates the language of “fallenness” into a sort of dispensationalism. For his theology “fallen” humanity in no way describes humanity itself, but the sort of time period in which one lives. Christ’s flesh is “fallen” in exactly the same way that Adam’s flesh was before the fall; the only difference is one of minutes or millennia. At best is reduces fallenness to a sociological construct: Christ became a man among fallen men.

    In contrast, in Maximus and Augustine, we find that “fallenness” relates to that personal property of union of the person with the divine. It is precisely that property that Adam lost for all humanity and it is precisely what is restored to humanity by the incarnation – since the Son, even as a man, is inseparable from the Father, He cannot be “fallen.” This in no way reduces the scandal of the incarnation. In fact, it heightens it: Christ assumed the consequences of a sin that was not properly His to bear.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thanks for the comment, Nathaniel. Could you elaborate further on how you understand Maximus’s understanding of fallenness and how that is remedied by the Incarnation. Thanks.


      • Sure. As I alluded to above, it is the separation from God via love of sensual pleasure which is the state of “fallenness.” Maximus deals with this extensively in AT 61.

        First, the cause of passability, corruptability and mortality (PCM) is the pleasure/pain dialectic that is transmitted via sexual sexual reproduction. He says we were “tyrannized by unrighteous pleasure and naturally subject to *just* sufferings and to the *thoroughly just* death accompanying them. In order for *unrighteous* pleasure, and the *thoroughly just* death which is its consequence, to be abolished … it was necessary for an *unjust* and likewise *uncaused* suffering and death to be conceived – a death ‘unjust’ in the sense that it by no means followed a life given to passions, and ‘uncaused’ in the sense that it was in no way preceded by pleasure.” (AT 61.87)

        Thus, we are fallen (via the pleasure/pain dialectic) and this results in PCM. What is needed to solve this problem is someone who assumes the consequences (PCM) without the fallenness itself. Thus…

        “His birth from a woman within time was not preconditioned in any way by the pleasure derived from the transgression, but, in his love for humanity he *willingly* appropriated the pain which is the end of human nature, the pain resulting from unrighteous pleasure. He did this in order that, by suffering *unjustly*, he might uproot the principle of our being conceived through unrighteous pleasure, which tyrannizes our human nature. Moreover, he did it so that, with the Lord’s own death being not a penalty exacted for the principle of pleasure, like other human beings, but rather a death specifically directed against that principle, he might erase the *just* finality which human nature encounters in death…” (AT 61.89)

        Meyendorff’s (and Ware’s) problem is that he mostly follows Romanides on original sin. As a result of this, his whole sense of “fallenness” arises from a sort of Pelagian context where fallenness doesn’t really mean anything at all (except for perhaps time or social solidarity). But this isn’t the case. And it never was traditionally in the Greek theological world (again, see Cyril’s Commentary on Luke; he deals with this there as well).

        “Fallenness”, traditionally, refers to that “root” (to borrow Augustine’s phrase) of sin which is passed on through each generation and which justly causes our PCM. Notice: fallenness refers to the cause, not the consequence of the cause. What is needed is for someone to assume the latter without the former (per Maximus and Augustine).

        Thus, Christ assumes the consequences of our fallenness but without the fallenness itself. The shift of “fallen” to what Christ assumes comes in those who wish to deny the antecedent cause, and is thus a marker of Pelagian sympathies. For those who follow Romanides, it is because in Romanides death is the cause of sin not sin, death. But this gets the entire Greek legacy on this topic exactly backwards.

        Insofar as people want to talk about Christ inheriting fallen humanity, I’m fine with it so long as they also admit that we inherit not just the consequences of Adam’s sin but also the sin itself. But if this is the case, why shift to a novel use of fallenness altogether? This is precisely Florovsky’s take.

        Liked by 1 person

        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          What is the role of, or need for, the resurrection in this scheme? From a differently angle – why a divine person is necessary for this? The theotokos could have accomplished the same, no?


          • Resurrection declares Christ “to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness.” The resurrection is proof that the scheme worked and a deposit of the general resurrection. If Christ is not raised, then God left his righteous one to corrupt in the grave and salvation is a sham.

            The Theotokos was, like the rest of us, born according the pleasure/pain dialectic. For Maximus, it would be impossible for her to save us apart from Christ.


  3. Bill says:

    Our Lord was born with original sin on his soul, i.e., the lack of sanctifying grace, the blessedness we get during our baptisms? Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception partly because if the Blessed Virgin Mary had been born with original sin on her soul, Christ would have inherited that flaw from her.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Bill, I’m quite sure that the Roman Catholic Church would never say that Christ was conceived without sanctifying grace. And though Meyendorff does not employ this language, I’m sure that he would deny that Christ ever knew the alienation from God that the absence of sanctifying grace implies.


      • Bill says:

        Father, I’m sure the Catholic Church would never say that Christ was born without sanctifying grace. But to me, the title of your fine post suggests that Fr. Meyendorff believes that the fall has harmed Our Lord’s human nature. In my opinion, that nature is, always has been, and always will be perfect. What did I misinterpret when I read your post?


    • “Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception partly because if the Blessed Virgin Mary had been born with original sin on her soul, Christ would have inherited that flaw from her.”

      Although some Catholics claim this, it doesn’t appear anywhere in the definition of the IC nor in any of the significant theologians that produce the dogma (such as Scotus). It is also nonsensical, because the long-standing teaching of both the Greek and Latin is that the corruption of original sin is passed by sexual reproduction. Being that Christ is born of a virgin, there was never any question of him inheriting corruption from Mary.


  4. Bill says:

    Father, in your post’s title, were you using “fallen human nature” as a general phrase the describes mankind but not Christ’s human nature?


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Bill, I guess my article wasn’t as clear as it should have been. Sigh. Such is the life of a blogger.

      Anyway, I think that when Fr John speaks of the Son assuming “fallen” human nature, he is thinking principally in terms of its mortality and corruptibility. Mortality is what we now inherit due to the Fall, and it is this mortality, and the consequent quest for survival, that is the reason for the pattern of sinfulness that now characterizes human existence.

      Does that help?


      • Bill says:


        Thank you. Yes, it does help. But I wonder whether Our Blessed Lord died because He chose freely to do that, not because the fall affected His human nature. Sure, His mother died partly because she was, and is still, a human person like you and me. She needed a Savior, too. That’s why I think Christ, God the Son, redeemed her before He Incarnated. You might say God the Father thought, “I want my Son to have a perfect mother because He’s perfect. He’s is a divine Person only who took a human nature. The Blessed Virgin is my masterpiece, the holiest human person I’ll ever create. So my Son deserves only the best, and that’s who I gave Him. She’s human, not divine. She’s also the holiest human person ever.”

        I’m trying to write precisely about about the difference between Our Lord’s human and human personhood because I would hate to imply Nestorianism, the heresy the Council of Ephesus condemned in 431. Though I’m oversimplifying, Nestorius thought, if you will, that two persons, a divine one and a human one, were wandering around in Our Savior’s sacred body.


  5. Bill says:

    Father, don’t worry about slight unclarity. Be glad you don’t do what I do. You don’t obsess about saying exactly what you mean. As I may have told you when we e-mailed each other about the Historical Introduction to the Council of Ephesus, ambiguity and vagueness frustrate me. In fact, I noticed ambiguity even when some my philosophy professors did that only after pointed it out to them. You’re excelling, dammit. And I’ll bet you wouldn’t dare nitpick enough to do what I planned to try for fun. In an All for a Dollar store, would you hand the cashier some money and exclaim, “Here’s a dollar. Now give me everything in the place?” 🙂 Obsessive compulsive disorder comes in handy. 😉


  6. Bill says:

    Everyone, since I’m no theologian, please feel free to take my theological thoughts with a pillar of salt. Since I want to tell you only what the Catholic Church teaches, blame any theological oddities on me, not on the Church I belong to. I’m only a theologically well-read layman. Fr. Kimel is the theology expert here at his blog. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take care of my botanical babies. My Venus Flytraps are demanding their late dinner. 🙂


  7. 407kwac says:

    Nathaniel, it seems to me Scripture affirms both that death enters human experience through Adam’s sin, and also that the fear of death makes fallen humankind since Adam (and this being all of our experience) subject to sin’s bondage. It’s interesting to notice in Genesis in the Garden, it is the serpent’s deception which leads to the lack of an appropriate fear of death (an experiential unknown) that gets Adam and Eve in trouble in the first place, whereas subsequent to death’s entry into human experience, it is the fear of death (as known reality) that keeps us in sin’s bondage. (Can you comment about where St. Paul writes in Romans 5:14 that after the fall of Adam, death reigned “even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of Adam’s sin” (my emphasis)–presumably because Adam sinned before death entered the world, but from the time of Adam on, humans commit personal sin especially as a result of how they are affected by the power of death? Would you also comment on how the teaching in Hebrews 2:15 fits into your interpretation of St. Maximus commentary where it states it is through the “fear of death” we are subject to the devil’s bondage (i.e., sin)? It seems to me Romanides’ interpretation also derives from Scripture as it relates much more immediately to our actual present concrete experience in this world, none of us having experienced Paradise as Adam and Eve did. As you say, it is this fallen reality into which Christ enters in solidarity with sinners, without committing personal sin Himself.




    • In the case of the garden, it was not fear of death which caused them to sin. In fact, Satan lied to them and told them they would not die to alleviate their fear (Genesis 3:4).

      Regarding death reigning even over those who do not commit personal sin, let’s go all the way back to Origen:

      (19) “And through sin,” he says, “death.” Without a doubt this is the death concerning which the prophet says, “The soul which sins will die.” Of this death one could rightly say that bodily death is a shadow. For wherever the one goes, the other necessarily follows, just as the shadow follows the body. But if someone may raise the objection that the Savior committed no sin and death did not come to his soul through sin and yet he still endured bodily death, we shall respond to that one that just as the Savior, though he did not commit sin, is nevertheless said to have become sin through his taking on flesh for our salvation, so also, although he owed death to no one and was not himself subject to it, nevertheless for our salvation the [death] of that condition taken up by him, of which we have spoken above, he took upon himself freely, not under compulsion like [it was] his shadow. As he himself said, “I have authority to lay down my life, and I have authority to take it up again.”

      (20) Now let us see how “death passed through to all men.” He says, “in whom* all sinned.” With an absolute pronouncement the Apostle has declared that the death of sin passed through to all men in this, that all sinned. As he says elsewhere, “For all have sinned and lack the grace of God.” Therefore even if you should call Abel righteous, he cannot be excused. For “all have sinned.” For why was it only “after days” that he offered the sacrifice from his firstborn and not immediately? Why did he offer it after Cain and not before him? Even if you cite Enosh who “hoped to call upon the name of the Lord,” still,
      he hoped. And why does he not immediately call? Instead he neglects and delays. Even if you bring up Enoch, it is not written that he had pleased God until after he became the
      father of Methuselah. But Methuselah is interpreted to mean “emission of death,” from which it is shown that death, which passed through to all men, came to him as well. But hardly at any time did [Enoch] feel death within himself; and having been converted to the Lord he emitted it from himself and cast it out through repentance. And that is why it is said he became the father of Methuselah, because he had cast out from himself the death which had besieged him. It is therefore rightly said that God translated him so that he would not see death, since he was no longer liable to death but had cast it out from himself and had escaped. And even if you conduct a careful investigation of the case of Noah, you will find that it was not until his five hundredth year that it is written of him that “Noah found grace in the sight of the Lord God,” and that “he was a righteous man in his own generation,” and that “he pleased God.” In my opinion, had he merited it prior to this, certainly the Holy Scripture would never have been silent about it. In addition if someone wants to charge that he drank wine and became drunk and naked, he will find in all of
      these actions as well that it was not undeservedly said by the Apostle, “in that all sinned,” even if Noah woke up from his wine. What should I say about Abraham, to whom it is said,
      “Depart from your land and your kindred and your father’s house”? Assuredly this would not have been said if he had been able to please God in his father’s house.

      (21) But it is not necessary, with its great danger, to enumerate each of the saints in these matters. For the opinion which says that death passed through to all men suffices, both that of the Apostle and of him who said, “No one is pure from uncleanness, even if his life should be one day long.” But when that death of sin which passed through to all had come to Jesus and had attempted to pierce him with its sting—”for the sting of death is sin” —it was repulsed and broken. “For he was life,” and death was inevitably destroyed by life. At that time it is said to [death], “Where, O death, is your sting? Where, O death, is your victory?” Because death had conquered all, it is said to death here, “Where, O death, is your victory?”

      – Origen, Commentary on Romans, 5.1.19-21

      Of course notable in this passage is “in whom” when alluding to Romans 5:12. We do not possess a Greek manuscript for this text; only Latin. However, nobody doubts the authenticity of the text. A reasonable thesis would be to suggest that the use of “in quo” here is merely an artifact of the Latin translator. However, interestingly, the Peshitta also contains this “error”. I think a better approach is simply to realize that we have two textual traditions on Romans 5:12 and we need to admit this complexity.

      Nevertheless, Origen continues at length for several chapters with similar dialogue proving that no human has ever been without sin and detailing how this was passed down by human generation to each successive generation. He concludes:

      (4) The Apostle, knowing very well that he was not treating the subject of the common death in the present passage, but rather that of sin, did not say, “For if we are planted together into his death,” but instead, “into the likeness of his death.” For Christ has died to sin once and for all in such a way that he committed absolutely no sin whatsoever nor was deceit found in his mouth. It is not possible for this to be found at all in any other man. “For no one is pure from sin, not even if his life should be one day long.” Therefore it is not possible for us to die that same death which Jesus died to sin, so that we would be completely unacquainted with sin. However it is possible for us to possess the likeness so that, by imitating him and following in his footsteps, we may keep ourselves from sin. This is something, therefore, which human nature is capable of receiving: It may become in the likeness of his death, when by imitating him it does not sin. But to be absolutely and entirely unacquainted with sin belongs to Christ alone.

      – Origen, Commentary on Romans 5.9.4

      Notice that the logic of Origen’s system here is markedly the same as the quote which I provided from Maximus above and of Augustine’s.

      1. Mankind exists in solidarity with Adam.
      2. Adam passed on sin (perhaps best called uncleanness) to his descendants. This is not personal sin, but is nonetheless analogous to it. It’s effect is the inclination of man to sin and, because of which, no man is free of sin except Christ.
      3. Because of this sin, God justly punishes mankind with death of the soul and body.
      4. Thus, there is both a cause and effect: sin is the cause and produces the effects of passability, mortality and corruption (in Maximus’ terminology) or difficulty and death (in Augustine’s terminology).
      5. In order to save mankind, then, it is needed that one assume the effects without the cause.
      6. Since all men share in common the cause via their common descent from Adam via human reproduction, Christ solves this problem by assuming humanity via a virgin birth.

      The term “fallen humanity” can be used to describe both the cause and the effects; which is precisely why the debate over Christ’s assumption of “fallen humanity” has gained some traction. However, the great difficult is that there are those who are using the application of this term “fallen humanity” to the effects in order to deny the cause (or greatly de-emphasize it). Further, the application of “fallen humanity” to the effects is a modern terminology. Its application to the cause is far more ancient, and probably arises with Augustine (I haven’t researched this, it is just a guess).

      Thus, I have difficulty with the application of fallen humanity to effects on three grounds:
      1. It isn’t traditional.
      2. It obfuscates the doctrine of original sin.
      3. It is used to smuggle clearly heretical teaching into the church.

      Regarding Hebrews 2:15, its meaning is somewhat opaque. The author does not state that the fear of death is the psychological cause of sin (as we see in Romanides). He merely asserts that the slavery of man to the devil has “fear of death” as a tool.

      Augustine cites Hebrews 2:15 in favor of his doctrine (A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants I.50). Chrysostom does somewhat psychologize it in his Commentary on Hebrews. However, this is done without any sense of universality that we see in Romanides. For Chrysostom, fear of death isn’t the common malady of all men by which Satan enslaves them. Athanasius cites the verse four times (Epistle LXI, De Decretis and twice in Against the Arians). He does not address psychology at all. His structure is far closer to Origen’s, Augustine’s and Maximus’ than to Chrysostom’s:

      “And at this also I am much surprised, how they have ventured to entertain such an idea as that the Word became man in consequence of His Nature. For if this were so, the commemoration of Mary would be superfluous. For neither does Nature know of a Virgin bearing apart from a man. Whence by the good pleasure of the Father, being true God, and Word and Wisdom of the Father by nature, He became man in the body for our salvation, in order that having somewhat to offer for us He might save us all, ‘as many as through fear of death were all their life-time subject to bondage.’ For it was not some man that gave Himself up for us; since every man is under sentence of death, according to what was said to all in Adam, ‘earth thou art and unto earth thou shalt return.’ Nor yet was it any other of the creatures, since every creature is liable to change. But the Word Himself offered His own Body on our behalf that our faith and hope might not be in man, but that we might have our faith in God the Word Himself. Why, even now that He is become man we behold His Glory, ‘glory as of one only-begotten of His Father—full of grace and truth.’ For what He endured by means of the Body, He magnified as God. And while He hungered in the flesh, as God He fed the hungry. And if anyone is offended by reason of the bodily conditions, let him believe by reason of what God works. For humanly He enquires where Lazarus is laid, but raises him up divinely. Let none then laugh, calling Him a child, and citing His age, His growth, His eating, drinking and suffering, lest while denying what is proper for the body, he deny utterly also His sojourn among us. And just as He has not become Man in consequence of His nature, in like manner it was consistent that when He had taken a body He should exhibit what was proper to it, lest the imaginary theory of Manichæus should prevail. Again it was consistent that when He went about in the body, He should not hide what belonged to the Godhead, lest he of Samosata should find an excuse to call Him man, as distinct in person from God the Word.”

      – Athanasius, Epistle LXI

      Athanasius is not addressing original sin directly. Nevertheless, we still have the same language that Christ assumed the effects without the necessity via the virgin birth. Thus, Athanasius follows the same basic pattern that Origen, Augustine and Maxmius do. And right in the middle of it is Hebrews 2:15, without any psychologizing.

      In short, Romanides’ view is problematic because he greatly expands a minority view from antiquity – which was never historically opposed to the majority view – and then positions it in opposition against the majority view.


Comments are closed.