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Christus VictorGot the atonement sussed?

I've been re-reading this stimulating book, which first appeared as long ago as 1931. It is Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of the Atonement by Gustaf Aulén (Collier Books, 1986, ISBN 0-02-083400-4). This is the English translation of the original work in Swedish.

The author favours the 'classic' view of the atonement as taught in the NT and held by the church at large for the first 1000 years. It then gave way to the 'Latin' or 'objective' view (which most of us were taught is the 'normal' view) before being recovered by Martin Luther, only to be lost again by Lutheran orthodoxy. Then came the 'subjective' view associated with liberalism.

The classic view sees God as the prime mover throughout in securing the atonement and has little regard for the idea that Christ, as a man, made a 'payment' on man's behalf to satisfy God's justice. Not that it plays down Christ's role at all; in fact it exalts it, in the end, more than does the Latin view. Anyway, if you think you've got the atonement all neatly sewn up in your thinking, read this book to renew your sense of the greater wonder of it.

[Irenaeus] does not think of the Atonement as an offering made to God by Christ from man’s side, or as it were from below; for God remains throughout the effective agent in the work of redemption…  The redemptive work is accomplished by the Logos through the Manhood as His instrument; for it could be accomplished by no power but that of God Himself.  (p33)

The typically Latin view of the Atonement always regards the sacrifice as offered by man to God, and works this out in a logical theory; but the classic idea of the Atonement, whether in the East or in the West, is always marked by a double-sidedness. The Sacrifice is the means whereby the tyrants are overcome; yet there is a close connection between the tyrants and God’s own judgment on sin. (p57)

The Latin doctrine…is in its very structure a rational theory; and from the point of view of this doctrine the classic idea must always seem to be lacking in clearness. It may be doubted, however, whether this demand for rational clearness represents the highest theological wisdom. (p59)

The Latin doctrine of the Atonement is closely related to the legalism characteristic of the mediaeval outlook. Therefore, it ought to appear as a really amazing fact, that the post-Reformation theologians accepted the Anselmian doctrine of the Atonement without suspicion, altogether missing the close relation between this doctrine and the theological tradition which the Reformation had challenged with its watchword of sola gratia.  (p92)

Luther stands out in the history of Christian doctrine as the man who expressed the classic idea of the Atonement with greater power than any before him. From the side-line of the Latin theory he bends right back to the main line, making a direct connection with the teaching of the New Testament and the Fathers. This is his claim to be regarded as in the true sense of the word, catholic. But he is a solitary figure. The doctrine of Lutheranism became a very different thing from that of Luther. (p121)

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Christus Victor

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