Recapitulation is one of the earliest theological ways of conceptualizing the nature of Christian soteriology. In this conceptuality the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, in some sense take all created reality into the person of Jesus, and thus into the life of God, transposing it into a modality of communion in the Trinitarian life of God. What is crucial about recapitulation is to see that it posits the whole event of the Messiah as a sort of microcosm of true worldly reality which, in the midst of the false reality of sin, lives out the truth of redeemed reality, thereby translating created reality out of the false reality of sin and into the new reality of beatitude and koinonia in the Holy Spirit, the very field of God’s own Triune love.
This notion of salvation as recapitulation remains, I think an indispensable one for Christian theology. However, I wonder if there are other modes of conceptualization which would allow us to explore the richness of salvation even further, while still remaining within the thought-world of a theology of recapitulation. If there is a problem with recapitulation, it seems to me that it is the problem of reducing Christ to a sort of microcosmic repetition of created reality which then absorbs us by virtue of his sinless perfection. In other words, recapitulation can come to sound like simply saying that Christ re-performs the human drama the way it should have been originally done by Adam, rather than seeing Christ as apocalyptically irrupting into the human drama of sin in all its brokenness and dissolution and miraculously purging, purifying, and reconstituting it.
This description clearly casts recapitulation in its most simplistic light, and I do not mean to so characterize its Irenaen form by any stretch of the imagination. However, what I do hope to do is point us toward a theology of recapitulation with a slightly (but critically) different cadence. Rather than seeing Christ as the microcosm in whom the history of humanity is re-performed, I suggest we should see the biblical history of Israel and the nations, as preverberations, if you will, of Christ’s apocalyptic recreation of the world in the event of death and resurrection. Such a theology of recapitulation would see the apocalypse of Christ as the macrocosom, the mesoform within which created reality has its being and freedom. Christ does not so much recapitulate humanity’s past so as to re-render it in perfected form; rather the past acts of Yahweh constitute prevenient events of Christ’s apocalypse, being retroactive recapitulations, or perhaps what we could call precapitulations of Christ’s future, which is to say, the resurrection. The reality of Christ is not a re-performance of a broken past, rather the past is a proleptic pre-performance of the Trinitarian future of absolute freedom.
What we have here is a sort of recapitulation in reverse. The past events of the history of salvation that are determined and constituted by their ordering towards the end which is the Trinitarian epiphany of the eschatological Messiah. This is, of course, the grounding of a decidedly eschatological ontology. The being of things is located, not in their protology, but in their teleology. We are what we are because of what we are destined in Christ to become. Our past, both as individuals and as co-humanity, is a precapitulation in progress, a reversed beginning, a primordial death longing for eschatological resurrection which we taste in the irruptions of the future which constitute the life of the church: Word, Water, Wine, and Bread.