The first-created Adam was unable to fulfill the vocation laid before him: to attain deification and bring to God the visible world by means of spiritual and moral perfection. Having broken the commandment and having fallen away from the sweetness of Paradise, he had the way to deification closed to him. Yet everything that the first man left undone was accomplished for him by God Incarnate, the Word-become-flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ. He trod that path to the human person which the latter was meant to tread towards Him. And if this would have been the way of ascent for the human person, for God it was the way of humble condescension, of self-emptying (kenosis).
St Paul calls Christ the ‘second Adam’, contrasting Him with the ‘first’: ‘The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven’ (1 Cor 15:47). This parallelism was developed by St. John Chrysostom, who emphasized that Adam was the prototype of Christ: ‘Adam is the image of Christ ...as the man for those who came from him, even though they did not eat of the tree, became the cause of death, then Christ for those who were born of Him, although they have done no good, became the bearer of righteousness, which he gave to all of us through the cross’.
Few people accepted the second Adam or believed in Him when He down to earth. The Incarnate Jesus, Who suffered and was raised, became a ‘a stumbling block to Jews and folly [Greek, skandalon] to Gentiles’ (1 Cor 1:23). Declaring Himself to be God and making Himself equal to God, Jesus scandalize Jews and was accused in blasphemy. As to the Greeks, Christianity was folly for them because Greek thought sought a logical and rational explanation for everything; it was not within its power to know a suffering and dying God. For many centuries Greek wisdom built a temple to ‘an unknown God’ (Acts 17:23). It was incapable of understanding how an unknowable, incomprehensible, all-powerful, almighty, omniscient and omnipresent God could become a mortal, suffering, weak human person. A God, Who would be born of a Virgin, a God Who would be in swaddling clothes, Who would be put to sleep and be fed with milk: all of this seemed absurd to the Greeks.
Even among the Christians of the first centuries, the mystery of godmanhood was explained in a different ways. In the second century the Docetists claimed that Christ’s human nature was merely transparent: it only seemed that He suffered and died on the cross, while God in fact, being passionless, could not suffer at all. The Docetists considered all that was material and corporeal to be evil and could not concede that God had put on sinful and evil flesh, that He had united Himself with dust. The other extreme was that of Arianism which denied Christ’s Divinity and reduced the Son of God to the level of created being. How were extremes to be avoided and how was the Church to find a legitimate explanation for the mystery of Christ?