Johannes Quasten, Patrology, vol. II: The Ante-Nicene Literature After Irenaeus (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1990) 200-201.
Hippolytus of Rome was a Christian thinker who lived in the second-third centuries C.E. What follows is Quasten’s discussion of Hippolytus’ views on soteriology (Christ’s salvation of human beings):
[Hippolytus’] soteriology follows the sound doctrine of Irenaeus, especially his theory of recapitulation. He explains on several occasions that the Logos took the flesh of Adam in order to renew mankind (De antichr. 4 ANF):
“…He took upon Himself the holy flesh by the holy Virgin, and prepared a robe which He wove for Himself, like a bridegroom, in the sufferings of the cross, in order that by uniting His own power with our mortal body, and by mixing the incorruptible with the corruptible, and the strong with the weak, He might save perishing man.”
According to Hippolytus, Christ became a man in order to recreate humanity: to transform people who are fallen, sinful, and perishable into people who are righteous and immortal. As the second Adam, Christ was the prototype of a new humanity (Romans 5:16-19; I Corinthians 15:21-22), and Christ came to earth as a man to be this second Adam.
Some form of recapitulation is taught in the New Testament. Paul states in Romans 8:3-4: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (NRSV). According to this passage, our flesh is too weak to keep God’s law, so Christ condemned sin in the flesh, with the result that we can now live righteously through the Holy Spirit. This passage seems to tie Christ’s incarnation with our salvation from sin unto righteousness.
This discussion about Hippolytus reminds me of what I was reading last night in Ellen White’s Desire of Ages, which is her biography of Jesus Christ. Ellen White was one of the founders of the Seventh-Day Adventist church. In the chapter, “The Fullness of the Time”, Mrs. White states that Christ came when the human race was especially corrupt and needed renewal.
Maybe the human race was particularly corrupt when Christ came. Infighting, selfishness, power-plays, hatred, murder, and adultery existed among both Jews and Gentiles in the first century.
And maybe Christ did manage to renew part of the human race, namely, those who believed in him. Ancient authors marvel at the early Christians’ love for one another, as well as their willingness to risk their lives to help the sick and dying, even those outside of their own group. Christians opposed war, the slaughter of children, and (in some way, shape, or form) slavery. In the early days of Christianity, Christians exemplified the new humanity that Christ had established.
But was the change short-lived? First of all, are we any better than those of the “especially corrupt” first century, since we have our own infighting, selfishness, etc.? And, secondly, do Christians truly exemplify the new humanity today, or are they just like the world in their selfishness?