Christus Victor – A Primer (Part One)


Anselm of Canterbury

Cur Deus Homo? , or, “why did God become man?” This is the historic question asked by Anselm of Canterbury. In answering this question, he set forth the typical western, and has arguably become the dominant Protestant, view of salvation. By extension, his answer puts forward the typical (again dominant Protestant) view of salvation — substitutionary atonement. Here, God the Son became human to satisfy the Father’s just demand for satisfaction for humanity’s rebellion against his will. God the Father pours out his wrath against humanity on his Son — Jesus dies a horrid death and the Father is satisfied. From this humanity’s sin debt is paid by Christ, and we are in a legal right standing with God the Father — we have peace with God. To the Eastern Church, this is foreign, and somewhat repugnant. As a historic, and ancient, alternative the Eastern Church puts forth the model of salvation known as Christus Victor. A primer is set forth in the following postings.

Jesus Christ Conquers

First of all, Christus Victor is a cosmic drama. It provides an ancient — original to the first century — understanding of the saving actions of Jesus Christ. To my Protestant brothers and sisters, I assure you Christus Victor does not negate the understanding that Jesus forgives our sins, “…Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29). This model declares, with an ancient perspective, why Jesus did what he did.

In the Christus Victor model, atonement is seen as a divine conflict with its resulting victory. Christ battles and triumphs over the evil powers of the world — the “tyrants” under which mankind is bound in sin, death, darkness, and alienation. Christ thus reconciles the world to himself and humanity is freed from the results of the Fall. In this ancient model, salvation does not just effect the individual lives of human beings. Christ’s victory brings about a complete change to the relationship between God and the entirety of the created realm. Christus Victor is truly cosmic.


Where does this cosmic drama and conflict begin? In the Garden. We must turn to Genesis and several of its verses. “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth…Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image and likeness…Then the Lord God took the man he formed and put him in the garden to tend and keep it” (Gen 1:1, 1:26, and 2: 15). Men and women image (verb!) God to the creation. There is to be no heavy-handed exploitation of any creature. (Any lingering 19th century understanding of humanity’s role before creation as its master manipulator is to be discarded and burned as rubbish.)  As image bearers and priests we are to bear God to all creation, and bear all creation to God by loving, wise “liturgical” cultivation. And, as image bearers, we were created for communion, relationship, both with the Creator and his creation.

Temptation and Fall

We move on in Genesis. “Now the serpent was more cunning…” (Gen 3: 1). In its third chapter, Genesis narrates the actors, events, and consequences of the Fall. The serpent deceives the woman. Eve disobeys and eats. Adam plays the coward. He capitulates and eats.  When Adam and Eve ate, they ate the anti-sacrament offered to them by the serpent, the anti-priest. By eating the serpent’s offering, Adam and Eve enter into anti-communion with the serpent.  By consuming the serpent’s anti-communion Adam and Eve are now in the serpent. They are in an anti-relational anti-covenant with the serpent. They now exist in the hellish opposite of being in Christ.  The serpent’s realm is their realm. His destiny is their destiny, “…you shall eat dust all the day’s of your life” (Gen 3: 14). The serpent’s realm is dust. Dust is the fruit of death’s decay — it is anti-form. By his guile, foul pride, and evil, the serpent has his destiny. It is wrath, damnation, and Hell.  These all have been his since his own fall. However, now that humanity is “in the serpent”, his destiny was sadly ours.

Adam capitulated.  By his capitulation, all is scattered abroad from the Garden in exile. All is lost. All is in darkness. All is in alienation, sin, and death. All is prey for the serpent. Happily, humanity and creation were not left in this horrid state of being. “But when the fullness of time came, God sent his Son…” (Gal 4: 4).

In Christ,

Fr. Irenaeus


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