Church Fathers, Christus Victor, and the Atonement: Gustav Aulen Got it Wrong

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4 Responses to Church Fathers, Christus Victor, and the Atonement: Gustav Aulen Got it Wrong

  1. johnnsw says:

    I am the first to “like this post”. However, that was without reading it, as I am already very familiar with its contents. Ben Myers is an Australian theologian, based, I believe, in Brisbane. He read his paper to a conference on the Atonement in the States in about 2016. I have read that its title (or contents) did not conform entirely to the terms of the conference, but nevertheless it was stated in what I was reading that it “stole the show”.

    I think that for our present discussions, it is important in showing how easy, but misguided, it is to read Penal Substitutionary Atonement ideas into Patristic writings where in fact they are not present.


  2. Rob says:

    This was a wonderful read for Easter morning. Thank you!


  3. Iain Lovejoy says:

    I loved the article and it sets our clearly the idea, which I think a very good one in the main. I have one thought / comment/ question, though, which is about what is point 4 in the introductory summary list. This is the idea that as death and sin are an absence or negation of God, God cannot be there directly, so must seek other means. This seems less about the “how” of the atonement, and more of the “why” – i.e. why God saved us this way rather than, say, just by sweeping away death and sin by main force.
    Whereas the remainder of the article sets out what I understand was a general consensus, point 4 specifically doesn’t seem to have been? Athanasius I think talks about God not nullifying his own decree by just sweeping death away, and others talk of death and satanic powers overreaching themselves and losing their just entitlement over humankind by unjustly seizing Jesus.
    Are their other reasons given by the Church Fathers on this point? I ask because the “God can’t touch absence” is to my mind the weakest part of the logic of the argument, and the alternatives about God’s decree and justice etc seem to start down the road of telling God what he is and us not allowed to do for sinners which terminates in penal substitution.
    In particular, is there anything of the later “free will” strands of thought, of the “hell is locked from the inside” variety, which might be a better fit here, i.e that God cannot reach us directly in our sin and death because in our sin we won’t let him?

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  4. Logan(mercifullayman) says:

    Seems like a great article that’s very good for listing out key sourcing in patristic thoughts on the matter. The at-one-ment of life conquering death reflects the at-one-moment that the divine entered into humanity and resurrected it by the process that would come. However, I think Aulen’s point was more about showing a more authentic version of atonement than building out a mytho-poetic view, and by going to an extreme that would pull people out of a mis-appropriated and very poor spiritual view of atonement. I mean, you do have to realize he’s swimming in those seas that would have been influenced by Von Baader, etc. But, even in the Aulen text itself, he seems to be returning to tropes and metaphors that are carried throughout Scripture itself and into some of the Fathers themselves and it isn’t so much a distrust of reason, as much as letting the narrative tell itself and the mystery of how the God-Man overcomes Death. There is this moment in Ad Thal. (btw) by the Confessor where he de-mythologizes the Nyssen in his explanation for what did happen in the process of atonement and the resurrection. He couches the same idea in psychological language instead of the mythical and talks about the very real manifestation of powers and principles (which we created for ourselves by falling) searching through the corpse of Christ to find the sin that would lead him to the road of Death. In effect, He does indeed “bait” existence and not essence as a shadow to turn the light on. It isn’t nearly as mythical, but it does flesh out an “in-between” in terms of the model (as Maximus is always able to do, they should call him the mediator or arbiter). I also find the “U” shaped metaphor problematic, because an extended edge turns it into a “J’ and well….you know what that resembles, which is really the point of the fishhook after all. I also wonder about things when we talk about “being motivated by an internal desire” because if we say that, we are glossing over the fact that people like Origen, Nyssen, Nazianzus, and Maximus saw the passions as post-lapsarian (and for that matter, let’s not even talk about how they saw it is an immediate fall once we became “aware”) effects on the human that needed to be rectified via the Spirit and the grace that is afforded us as creative human agents.

    Still a fun read though!


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