Hello! I think this is the right subforum for this topic, please forgive me if it isn't
I was hoping that somebody with deep patristic knowledge could help me sort through something. And that is, what is meant when a phrase like "fallen human nature" or "sin nature" is used?
Coming from a Reformed/Calvinistic background, it was taught explicitly that our human nature fell into sin and corruption when Adam sinned. For instance, note this language from the Canons of Dordt:
Article 2: The Spread of Corruption
Man brought forth children of the same nature as himself after the fall. That is to say, being corrupt he brought forth corrupt children. The corruption spread, by God’s just judgment, from Adam to all his descendants– except for Christ alone–not by way of imitation (as in former times the Pelagians would have it) but by way of the propagation of his perverted nature.
Article 3: Total Inability
Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.
It was always taught to me that, after the fall, man sins by nature. That is, the very essence of what it is to be human became corrupted, and sin and death became part of the makeup of man. Therefore Christ became man to restore our nature. The problem I've always had with understanding this sort of language, is that if our nature changed from what it was before the fall, then it would seem that we are ontologically different from humanity before the fall. For that matter, Adam himself changed from "human" to "sinful human." Following Augustine (at least, using his terminology...I really don't know that much about what the man himself taught) they said we became unable to not sin.
If that is the case, then if Christ was incarnate as a real human being, "yet without sin" as Hebrews says, then he had a nature that was different from our own. And how can he heal, redeem and glorify us if he is something fundamentally different that we are?
I never did get adequate answers to this from a Reformed perspective.
Since becoming Orthodox, I've discussed this with various people and my understanding is that yes, we do believe that Christ took on the very same humanity that we have, thus shares our very nature. And thus, sin is not natural to us, but rather personal. Humanity as a whole fell into bondage to death and the devil, and humanity as a whole was rescued by Christ. In fact, in Christ, humanity itself rose again (hence the icon of the Resurrection and the raising of Adam and Eve), and humanity itself defeated the devil.
But I still see references to "sinful nature" among Orthodox writers. Including patristics. I recently read the following about St. Gregory of Nyssa:
It should here be remarked that for Gregory the Incarnation and the Atonement would appear to be identical. The Incarnation is the union of the Word not merely with human nature as such but with fallen nature, the sarx. Now the state of fallen nature is chiefly characterized by death. Thus:
Christ did not suffer death because He had been born; rather, it was because of death that He chose to be born. Eternal Life had no need of life, but He entered our bodily existence in order to restore us from death to life. Our entire nature had to be recalled from death; hence He stretched forth His hand, as it were, to the dead body, and came to see the place where we had fallen. Indeed He came so close to death as to touch mortality itself, that He might make of our own nature, in His body, a principle of resurrection.
Thus the Incarnation-Atonement is the union of the Word with man in a state of death to bring about man’s resurrection. Christ’s resurrection is indeed ‘a principle of resurrection’ for all humanity:
Just as death was transmitted to all men by a single act, so too, by the action of one Man the principle of resurrection is extended to all humanity.
(Jean Daniélou in From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa’s Mystical Writings, pp. 16-17)
What exactly is "sarx" to the Greek fathers? If Christ makes "of our own nature...a principle of resurrection," then did he change our nature? And if a nature is changed, doesn't it become something else? I'm terribly confused.
How much of this is due to inaccurate translation, or perhaps just insufficient language in English to capture the full range of thought present in Greek terms (like the issues arising from translating nous as heart.)? Were the Fathers consistent in their use of the term "nature?"
Help will be much appreciated. Especially citations from the Fathers or references to things I can read on the topic.
Edited by Bill Turri, 30 December 2013 - 11:56 AM.