The Fall in Patristic Thought

Evangelical thought on what happened in the Fall range. They vary from a radical destruction of the image of God in man, so much so that it is neigh unrecognizable, to a propensity to wander. However, one theme emerges as nearly universal in not only evangelical thought, but in the thoughts of Christianity. That is that in the Fall, whatever kind of relationship Adam had with the LORD was severed and needed to be repaired.

The topic of this brief post is to explore what the Patristic concept was, and why Evangelicals need to recognize it. This thought was developed in a recent paper I wrote entitled For an Evangelical Theosis: A Historical Theology of Theosis in Athanasius’ De Incarnatione Verbi Dei.

Now, for the Patristic mind the Fall was not primarily about a movement from innocence to guilt. It would be inaccurate to say that aspect did not exist, but it was not primary. What the Patristic mind locked in on was the destruction of the unity between Adam and God. The Fall was primarily a relational problem, not a forensic (legal) problem. This result of this relationship damage was that humans became corruptible, and would decay into death and non-existence apart from their source of existence, the Living God.

This is significant for a number of reasons, but there is only one I wish to highlight. In order to solve a primarily relational problem, a restored relationship was required. A judge does not need a relationship with a criminal to declare Him innocent. A god does not need a relationship with a acolyte to accept his propitiatory sacrifice. However, to regain the unity of relationship that was lost during the Fall, a restored relationship with God was required.

This is the central truth of salvation for the vast majority of Patristic authors. The Son came and died to restore the relationship that was gifted to Adam. In His incarnation, his death, and resurrection He blessed us with the relationship He has with the Father and allowed us to participate in the warm fellowship of the Trinity.

For further reading, please see Life in the Trinityby Donald Fairbairn