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THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS.
As a general rule, the rise of successive heresies is the occasion and measure of dogmatic statements of the faith. We do not, therefore, look in the AnteNicene Fathers for any elaborate discussion of questions not yet brought into controversy. Even on the central doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, we know how halting and inadequate, to use the mildest terms, their language frequently is, before the Arian, Sabellian, Monophysite, and Nestorian heresies had forced out into bolder relief the contrary definitions of the Church. This has been conclusively shown by Petavius, and not disproved though disputed in the Defensio Fidei Nicene of Bishop Bull. Neither, again, can we reasonably expect to find in earlier writers that precision of theological statement which only came into vogue when theology, partly in the conflict with error, partly through the influence of Greek phi
i Cf. supr., p. 24.
losophy at Alexandria, began to be formed into a science. On the subject of the Atonement, the AnteNicene Fathers do not, with the exception of Irenæus and Origen, propound any definite theory. The word • Satisfaction' they never use, or use, if at all, of the satisfaction of the penitent, not of Christ;' nor was the idea, as afterwards explained, familiar to them. But they speak, in connexion with the Incarnation, and in general terms, often borrowed directly or indirectly from the language of Scripture, of the sufferings, the death, the blood, the obedience, and the sacrifice of Christ, as being offered for us, and being the means of our redemption. It is from passages of this kind that we must gather their teaching on the subject; and, to present a clear and consistent view of it, a fuller employment of detailed references and quotations will be needful than in the case of more systematic writers, whose opinions can be fairly summed up in an analysis. I will do my best, however, to avoid burdening the reader with more of lengthened quotations than is really requisite, and to select such passages only as will in each case give a fair and adequate specimen of the writer's method of handling the question. We shall afterwards be in a position to draw some inferences, as to the general drift of patristic teaching as a whole, and its relations to later theology.
First in order come the apostolic Fathers, St. Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas, St. Polycarp,
It is used in this sense by Tertullian and Cyprian. There is no word for it in Greek.
and St. Ignatius; but their writings will not detain us long. We have two Epistles of Clement, to the Church at Corinth, on practical disputes which had arisen there, only dealing quite incidentally with any questions of doctrine. He is distinct in asserting, that the blood of Christ is the means of bestowing on us redemption and grace, and that by the will and through the love of God. “In love the Master received us; through the love He had for us Christ our Lord gave His Blood for us, by the will of God, and His Flesh for our flesh, and His Soul for our souls.” And again, “Let us look then to the Blood of Christ, and behold how precious is His Blood to God, since it was shed for our salvation, and has procured for the whole world the grace of repentance.” Clement makes the scarlet cord let down by Rahab a type of the Blood of Christ; and speaks of Him as our High Priest, according to the constant usage of the Fathers. The universality of redemption, and the death of Christ as the source of grace, are here clearly laid down. Let us turn to the General Epistle of Barnabas, which, though not by the apostle of that name, nor indeed a writing of the first century, appeared early in the second, at Alexandria.” We read, in the seventh chapter, of Christ offering the vessel of His Soul (i.e. His Body) as a sacrifice for our sins; and of Isaac's
' Clem. Rom. Ep. ad Cor. l. xlix. 7.
* The Epistle was defended as genuine by Vossius, Hammond, Bull, Usher, and perhaps by Pearson.—See Blunt's Right Use of the Fathers, p. 72. It is, however, undoubtedly spurious.
sacrifice as a type: the writer also dwells, as do others afterwards, on the type of the two goats, one of which was sacrificed, and the other made a scape-goat, being accursed, as Christ was accursed, by the people, not by God. He speaks again of Christ suffering that the strokes inflicted on Him may give life to us, and “that we may be sanctified by the remission of sins, that is, the sprinkling of His blood,” of which the blood of the Passover was a figure. In one passage of the fourteenth chapter, we seem to have the first notice of the conquest over Satan, where it is said, in manifest allusion to Col. i. 13, “He ransomed from darkness our souls, given over to death and lawless wanderings;" but of this theory we shall have to speak later.
The Shepherd of Hermas, which used at one time to be ranked with the New Testament Scriptures, contains but a single reference to the redemption wrought by Christ, occurring in a parable about a vineyard, representing the people of God, where His Son is set to work as a servant, and is said to have “laboured much and suffered much that He might do away
their sins," and afterwards to have “pointed out to them the
way of life by giving them the law, received from His Father;"1 thus connecting the forgiveness of sins especially with His obedience and His teaching.
In the Epistles of Ignatius there are several references, in general terms, to the sufferings of Christ for
In the Epistle to Smyrna the writer says: “ Christ suffered for us (8ņuâs) that we might be saved, and
| Pastor. lib. iii., Sim. 5.
suffered really;" and he elsewhere calls the Eucharist " that Flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ which suffered for (úmep) our sins, which the Father in His goodness raised.” In the account of His martyrdom there is a distinct reference to the triumph over Satan by the Cross of Christ, as alluded to by St. Paul,” when he is made to speak of our Lord as “Him that crucified my sin with him who invented it, and condemned all demoniacal error and wickedness, putting it under the feet of those who carry Him in their heart.” He also calls Christ a High Priest.
The last apostolic Father to be noticed here is St. Polycarp. In his Epistle to the Philippians, he says that Christ “persevered even unto death for our sins, whom God raised, having loosed the pains of Hell;" and again, in language moulded on St. Peter's, that “He bore our sin in His own Body to the tree, who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, but He endured all for our sakes, that we might live in Him;"3 thus connecting the gift of life with His sufferings for us. Further on he calls Christ "the eternal High Priest.”
One more document of the first century may be quoted, the Epistle to Diognetus, which has been erroneously ascribed to Justin Martyr. It contains a passage of importance, as showing that the writer had no notion of that divergence of will between the
'Ignat. Ep. ad Smyrn. i. 7. Ep. ad Ephes. i.
Col. ii. 15; cf. Heb. ii. 14. 3 Polycarp. Ep ad Phil. i. 8.