Feast of the Martyr Kalliope
IN A SHORT essay titled “Cur Deus Homo? The Motive of the Incarnation,” Fr. Georges Florovsky affirms that the Christian message has always been a message of salvation. But he also suggest “it would be unfair to claim that the Fathers regarded this redeeming purpose as the only reason for the Incarnation, so that the Incarnation would not have taken place at all, had not man sinned.” The question of the possibility of an Incarnation independent of the Fall has been posed repeatedly over the centuries, as briefly recounted in Florovsk’s essay. But as he notes, there has been a surprising neglect of the most important source: the great Byzantine monk-theologian St. Maximus the Confessor (d. 662). Based on Maximus, Florovsky admits that such a ‘hypothesis’ “fits well enough into the mainstream of Patristic teaching” and is thus permissible in Orthodox theology. But he concludes that only a ‘hypothetical’ answer can be given. By providing a sweeping survey of patristic sources from the second to the eighteenth century (e.g., Irenaeus, Tertullian, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus, Nicholas Cabasilas, Gregory Palamas, and Nikodemos the Hagiorite), this paper suggests otherwise, arguing – against Florovsky – that the idea of an Incarnation independent of the Fall is more than only a ‘hypothesis’. Indeed, the overwhelming amount of patristic evidence supports the idea – with von Balthasar – that the Incarnation is the fundamental mystery of creation, a doctrine not for salvation alone, but predestined before all eternity primarily for the divinization of man.
Erin Doom is the founder and director of Eighth Day Institute. He lives in Wichita, KS with his wife Christiane and their four children, Caleb Michael, Hannah Elizabeth, Elijah Blaise, and Esther Ruth.