The patristics, or church fathers, are those who lived in the first five hundred years of the church and are considered as being the heirs of the apostles in their teaching. After covering theology as it pertains to trinitarianism in Module one, and Christology in Module two, the most excellent chancellor led the students of the institute through the developments of the concept of salvation in Module three. During these classes, which were attended by some one hundred and forty (140) candidates, the chancellor of the institute exhorted students to come empty handed and receive a new understanding from the patristics, with great assurance and confidence that we can reach the modern world with the wisdom from the ancient world. From the very start, Dr. Shawn alarmed his students by informing them that there is no canonical statement that defines salvation throughout church history. In all of the ecumenical councils, the early church fathers did not at any point, canonically describe in a creed form, what the nature of salvation consists of. This is an issue that raised serious problems throughout the debates of soteriology which existed until this moment; is salvation conditional in its effect, is it unconditional, to what extent is it universal, and to what scope is it particular? These are all the issues that were debated and argued on for centuries.
The Chancellor explained that the reason why no ecumenical council ever defined the nature of salvation is because they understood in their time that salvation implies a saviour, and the notion of a saviour was very present in the cultures of their day. As such, when the word saviour was used it was understood in their day. Therefore, to the church fathers, the explanation of Christology was in itself a sufficient soteriology, that is, explaining the nature of the person of Jesus Christ includes in it an understanding of His work and salvation, which is why they did not belabour themselves to develop a soteriology as we will like to understand it. To the early church fathers, Christology was implicit soteriology. This class was particularly about looking at theology from the vantage point of history. And since it is only the apostolic witness of Jesus Christ which contains the salvific effect of the gospel, the chancellor went forth to extract from documents, teachings, treatises and orations of the church fathers the different notions of the apostolic witness of Jesus Christ. Dr Shawn Smith exegeted several crucial soteriological subjects such as the main trajectories of patristic soteriology, being the participation trajectory (mystical and personal) and the juridical trajectory. These trajectories cover the period from the 2nd Century through the patristic, post Nicaean, Middle age, Reformation period, right down to our time – two thousand years removed. Under this head, he highlighted the role played by men like Irenaeus of Lyon (the most important figure in the 2nd Century) who was ordained by Polycarp who himself was ordained by John the apostle of the Lord. Also of significant importance under this head was Athanasius of Alexandria, Cyril of Alexandria, Origens, Clement of Alexandria, and St. Augustine, the father of Latin theology.
Again he presented the six major motifs in patristic soteriology viz. Christ the illuminator, Christ the Triumphant, Christ the New Adam, Christ the Donator of Incorruption, Christ the Only Begotten and the First Born, and finally, Christ the Priest and the Victim. In the later part of the class, the chancellor equally expounded on the historical developments of the juridical trajectory of soteriology, passed down as the penal substitution theory, through the prism of movers and shakers such as St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Anselm of Canterbury, and John Calvin. The thoughts pertaining to the nature, extent and scope of salvation have been passed down to the church over an approximate period of two thousand years through different schools of thought that clustered different ideas. On the last day of the class, after students had taken third module exams, which covered all three modules, the chancellor explained revisited a crucial aspect of theology called cruciformity: how we view what happened at the cross is going to condition how we view God, and how we view God affects how we live. There are many noble souls who will one day be horrified by what they once believed about God, the chancellor concluded. As the chancellor of Theosis Institute concluded these classes, he adjusted the students to a more accurate view of what happened at the cross, slaying the sacred cow; “Was Jesus punished by His Father?” Dr. Shawn enumerated some problems that this view has, such as, it divides the trinity which by definition is indivisible, distorts forgiveness, is contrary to the portrait of God presented by Jesus Christ, and presents a pagan notion of sacrifice, etc. Our Father does not need anything, much less, a human sacrifice, before He can forgive humanity. The cross is an exhibit of God’s love.