The humanity of Christ. The same church fathers—Origin, Clement of Alexandria, Ireneus, Turtullian and others—clearly and forcibly assert Christ’s humanity and refute doeetism at length. Docetism, denying the full reality of the human nature of Christ, corrupted it to a spectre, an apparition. These fathers attached great importance to Christ’s flesh, that is, to His full and complete human nature, His virgin birth and (His suffering and dying on the cross. They contended that Christ must be man, like unto us in all things, sin excepted, if He would redeem us from corruption and make us perfect. As sin and death came into the world by a man, so they could be blotted out only by a man, though not by a mere descendant of Adam, but by a second Adam, human and divine.
The relation of the divine and the human in Christ. This was not especially discussed and settled until the Nestorian and Eutychian controversies of the fifth century.
The doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It was not developed in this period (1-300 A.D.). It did not become a subject of special controversy until the middle of the fourth century. The early church, experienced the regenerating, sanctifying, and comforting operation of the Holy Spirit but produced no theological definition of His nature and work. Yet the ante-Nicene fathers were agreed that the Holy Spirit is the sole agent in the application of redemption, is essentially divine, and is a distinct personality in the Godhead.
The Holy Trinity. This doctrine was as imperfectly developed, in this period, as the doctrine of the divinity of Christ and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. As already has been pointed out, Tertullian, Novation and the Roman Bishop Dionysius stood close to the Nicene doctrine. Of the view of the last named a fragment is contained in the writings of Athenasius that reads, “Then I must declare against those who annihilate the most sacred doctrine of the church by dividing and desolving the unity of God into three powers, separate hypostasis, and deities. This notion is just the opposite of Sybillius. For while the latter would introduce the impious doctrine, that the Son is the same as the Father, and the converse, the former teach in some sense three Gods, by dividing the sacred unity into three fully divided hypostasis. But the divine logos must be inseparately united with God of all, and in God also the Holy Spirit must dwell so that the divine triad must be comprehended in one, viz., the all-ruling God as in one head.” He concluded, “The divine adorable unity must not thus be cut up into three deities; no more may the transcendent dignity and greatness of the Lord be lowered by saying, the Son is created; but we must believe in God the Almighty Father, and in Jesus Christ His Son, and in the Holy Ghost, and must consider the Logos inseparately united with God of all; for He says, ‘I and my Father am one.’ In this way are both the divine triad and the sacred doctrine of the unity of the Godhead preserved inviolate.”
Redemption. The Scriptures everywhere teach salvation through Jesus Christ, but it required time for the church to gain a clear view of the profound ideas of Holy Writ respecting redemption. From the beginning the church embraced the truth about the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and the cross dominated all Christian thinking and conduct in the early church, but God’s people lived more in the enjoyment of redemption than in logical reflection of it. What is more, this doctrine never became, like Christology and the trinity, the subject of controversy. The symbols of the general synods comparatively say little about it directly. The church first began to develop its doctrine of the work of Christ in its struggle with the Jewish and heathen heresy. The deistic Ebionists held Christ to be a mere teacher. With them man himself establishes his righteousness before God by his good works. The Pantheistic Gnostics defined salvation as an intellectual achievement of man that consists in his liberating his sinless spirit from the shakels of matter, regarded as the principle of evil. Accordingly, they denied that Christ had vicariously atoned for the sins of His people and ascribed to His sufferings and death a symbolical significance.
Clear traces of the doctrine of Christ’s redemption appear in the writings of the fathers of this period. In an anonymous letter to the unknown heathen Diognetus is contained a remarkable passage showing that the church had grasped the idea of redemption long before an attempt was made at definition. The passage reads in part, “When our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward was pending over us. . . . God Himself took upon Him the burden of our iniquities. He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the Holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the mortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we the wicked and the ungodly, could be justified, than by the Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of the many should be hidden in a single righteous one, and the righteousness of the One should justify many transgressors.” Iranaeus is the first church father who carefully analyzed the work of Christ’s redemption. His view is the profoundest that can be found anywhere in the first three centuries. Christ he sets forth as the second Adam, who lived in himself our entire life from childhood to manhood with a view to redeeming humanity from the fall and raising it to a state of perfection. Redemption he defines as the taking away of sin by the perfect obedience of Christ, in the destruction of death by Christ’s victory over Satan, and in the communication to man of a new and holy life. For the accomplishment of this work the Redeemer united in Himself the divine and the human natures, for only God could do what man could not do. The whole life of Christ was a life of continuous perfect obedience of which the climax was His suffering on the cross. Origin considered man, in consequence of his sin, the rightful property of Satan in the sense that the ransom was paid not to God but to Satan, who consequently lost his right to man; but he also conceives of Christ’s (death as an atoning sacrifice to God for ous sin. He extends the fruit of redemption to the whole spirit world, fallen angels included and to all men head for head, including the reprobated. Ultimately, he taught, all rational creatures will be saved. Origin was the first universalis in the historical sense of the term.
Soteriology. The doctrines of regeneration, conversion, faith, justification and sanctification were imperfectly developed in this age, even with Augustine. The fundamental truths that were brought into the foreground in this and the subsequent period are the objective doctrines of the incarnation, the trinity, the humanity and the divinity of Christ. Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith was little thought into. The mein emphasis was placed on sanctification and good works. The germs of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the meritoriousness of good works was already existant. The soteriological doctrines did not receive full attention until the age of the Reformation.
Eschatology. The doctrine of the “Last Things” is logically last in order, but it was first in the mind of the early church, the reason being that the Ante-Nicene Christians were few in number and were persecuted by a hostile world and that it was not foreseen that the leaven of Christianity was toi permeate the whole civilized world. Most of the heathen believed in a kind of existence beyond the grave, but their notion of the future life was false, confused, and vague in contrast to the Christian doctrine of future life which was true, clear, and glorious. The heart of this doctrine is the return of Christ to judgment with its eternal rewards of punishment and bliss.
The doctrine of the intermediate state. The beliefs of the early church regarding this doctrine can be summed up in the following statements.
The saints of the Old Testament Dispensation were in Shoal, the realm of the dead, waiting to be redeemed. This, it was believed, was accomplished by the local descent cf Christ into hell. The martym pass immediately into heaven, but the majority of Christians, being imperfect, enter for an indefinite period the rest called paradise where they remain until ripe for heaven. They who died in, their sins go down to the region of hades or hell, where they remain in expectation of the judgment. For the Christians in paradise the living pray. This conception shows a close agreement with the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory which prevailed in the Western Church through the weight of the authority of Augustine.
The early Christians believed that those who are saved enjoy communion with God forever. On the final state of the impenitent there were three views in the chtireh. a) Everlasting punishment. This was the orthodox view. The final anihilation of the wicked, a conception that originated with Justin Martyr; c) Final restoration of all ratio-nail beings, including fallen angels and those who died in their sin% to holiness and bliss.