Robert D. Crouse, 1990

NOTE: This article is part of a conference report of the Atlantic Theological Conference (The Idea of the Church in Historical Development, ed. D.A. Petley), and available from St. Peter Publications.

One could hardly begin to speak of the doctrine of the atonement in the Church Fathers without reference to a book which, for over fifty years now, has served theological students as a kind of vade mecum for the history of that doctrine. I mean, of course, the book called Christus Victor, by a Swedish theologian and bishop, Gustaf Aulén. Originally a series of eight lectures at the University of Uppsala in 1930, the work was very quickly translated into English and published with a preface by the translator, Fr. AG. Hebert, of the Society of the Sacred Mission.[1] It has been frequently reissued, currently with an introduction by Jaroslav Pelikan.[2] Fr. Hebert, in the original preface, extols the work in most enthusiastic terms:
This book is strictly an historical study; it contains no personal statement of belief or theory of the Atonement. Its important and original contribution is its strong delineation of the view of the Atonement which is summed up in such phrases as Christus Victor, 'and God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself’ - the view that sets the Incarnation in direct connection with the Atonement, and proclaims that it is God Himself who in Christ has delivered mankind from the power of evil. As soon as the meaning of this view is grasped, the patristic teaching at once stands out as a strong, clear, and consistent whole, and it becomes impossible to doubt that it is this view which also dominates the New Testament; it has therefore every right to be called the typical Christian view, or, in Dr. Aulén's phrase, the classic' idea of the Atonement.[3]
According to Aulén, “the history of the doctrine of the atonement is a history of three types of view, which emerge in turn. The classic idea emerges with Christianity itself, and remains the dominant type of teaching for a thousand years." Second to emerge, according to Aulén's argument, is the "Latin Doctrine," the "forensic" or "legalistic" doctrine, associated especially with Anselm of Canterbury's Cur Dens Homo. This Latin doctrine, says Aulén, "belongs to the West, and it becomes the dominant form of the doctrine of the atonement in the West in the Middle Ages."[4] "Though Luther returns to the classic type, and teaches it with unique power, post-Reformation theology goes back to the Latin type, which is therefore common to the scholasticism of both the Roman and the Protestant churches."[5]

Then, against orthodox Protestantism, with its "legalistic" or "juridical" Latin doctrine of the atonement, there emerged in protest a third type of doctrine which, although anticipated in some measure by Abelard in the twelfth century, was chiefly promoted by theologians of the Enlightenment. These last thinkers sought a "more human" idea of the atonement, focusing upon the "simple teaching" and moral example of Jesus, and the love of the Heavenly Father.[6] Modern discussions of the atonement, as Aulén sees the matter, have been mainly the story of conflict between the objective, juridical Latin doctrine, maintained by orthodox Protestants as well as Catholics on the one hand, and the subjective, moralistic view of the liberal critics on the other.

In his concluding paragraphs, Aulén explains that his aim throughout the book has been historical, not apologetic:

I have not had any intention of writing an apologia fbr the classic idea; and if my exposition has shaped itself into something like a vindication of it, I would plead that it is because the facts themselves point that way. For it can scarcely be denied that the classic idea emerged with Christianity itself, and on that ground alone cannot be refused a claim such as neither the Latin nor the subjective type of teaching can make, to embody that which is most genuinely Christian.[7]
Fr. Hebert discerned in Aulén's thesis certain implications which are of special interest in regard to the theme of our conference, and have, indeed, a prophetic ring with reference to current controversies in the Church. He observes, for instance, that "Dr. Aulén's sketch of the contrast between the patristic and medieval views of the Atonement invites us to trace the same contrast in the sphere of liturgy; for the eucharistic rite is the liturgical representation of the Atonement"; and he cites the work of Y. Brilioth, Aulén's colleague at the University of Lund (also translated by Hebert.[8] ), contrasting the euchaiiistic rite of the early Church with supposed medieval distortions in liturgical practice and in the idea of sacrifice, which he claims correspond closely to the change in the idea of the atonement..[9]

Fr. Hebert saw also in Aulén's interpretation of the history the prospect of a renewed and reunited Christendom:

He shows us that at this centrally important point, the New Testament, the early Church, and Luther agree in taking the 'classic view'; while the rationalised theology of the satisfaction-doctrine belongs both to the Middle Ages which provoked the schism of the Reformation, and the post-Reformation period which has continued the schism; and the equally rationalistic subjective' theory appeared in both periods, and failed to provide a solution. In other words, the satisfaction theory and the subjective doctrine both belong to the era of the church's captivity', but the classic' view of redemption is at once truly evangelical and truly catholic. Here then is the hope of Reunion . .[10]
Aulén's argument is certainly a remarkable tour de force, and it has commended itself widely by virtue of its simplicity and lucidity. But does his "classic" idea really represent the patristic view, in contrast to a medieval and Reformation Latin doctrine? Aulén finds the "classic" view notably in Irenaeus and Luther, but he claims that that is very general in the Fathers, dominating the whole of Greek theology from Irenaeus to John of Damascus, and dominant also in the Western Fathers, including Ambrose, Pseudo-Ambrose, Augustine, Leo the Great, Caesarius of Aries, Faustus of Rhegium, and Gregory the Great..[11]

According to this "classic" view, Christ brought about the redemption of man by a victory over the powers of evil, consummated in his death on the Cross, and vindicated in the resurrection. The emphasis is upon divine conflict and victory, with the sort of dramatic imagery which survives, for instance, in such a hymn as the medieval Easter Sequence, Victimae paechali, which sets forth the conflict of Life with Death, and the triumph of the Prince of Life; or in such works of sacred sculpture as the triumph-crucifixes in medieval Romanesque art, where it is the victory of Christ, rather than his sufferings, which is the dominant suggestion. These, according to Aulén, are to he seen as relics of the "classic" view, which was not totally forgotten.[12]

The altogether essential point of the "classic" and authentically patristic view, as Aulén sees it, is that the atonement is entirely, from first to last, the work of God, and not of man. God's agape is its constant and its only source - it is the divine drama of God's triumph over the powers of darkness, which Christians celebrate triumphantly. The Latin satisfaction doctrine, in contrast, is essentially penitential, and grows up on the basis of the penitential system, beginning with such ancient Latin doctors as Tertullian and Cyprian, but finding its fill' expression only with Anseim of Canterbury. .[13] "The Latin idea of penance provides the sufficient explanation of the Latin doctrine of the Atonement."

Its root idea is that man must make an offering or payment to satisfy God's justice; this is the idea that is used to explain the work of Christ. Two points immediately emerge: first, that the whole idea is essentially legalistic; and second, that in speaking of Christ's work, the emphasis is all laid upon that which is done by Christ as man in relation to God. It is a wholly different outlook from that of the classic idea .....[14]
Only with Anselm does the Latin doctrine come to full expression, and then, says Aulén, "the contrast between Anseim and the Fathers is as plain as daylight. They show how God became incarnate that He might redeem; he teaches a human work of satisfaction, accomplished by Christ.".[15] Here, then, is Aulén's essential point about the patristic doctrine of the atonement, and it becomes particularly evident when he discusses Augustine. "The fact," he claims, "that Augustine accepts the classic idea of the atonement is specially significant on account of his theological importance." .[16] Because teaching about divine love is dominant in Augustine's doctrine of redemption, "his thought belongs in all essentials to the classic type.".[17] And yet, Augustine is not quite consistent, for
[I]t is in his doctrine of Love that Neoplatonic influence is chiefly evident; and here the disturbing influence of the Neoplatonic idea of Eros prevented him from holding quite consistently to the typically Christian idea of the Divine Love proceeding from heaven and shedding itself abroad among men. Naturally enough, the presence of the idea of Eros involved. a weakemng of the dramatic view of the Atonement, which depends altogether on the idea of the corning of the Divine Love down from heaven; but in so far as this was the case, it was a weakening of the essential Christian teaching .....[18]
In this assessment of Augustine's position Aulén reveals the fundamental motif and presupposition of his account of the patristic doctrine of the atonement: it is the central principle of what one might call the "Lundensian" theology, more fully explicated in the also extremely influential volumes by his colleague at the University of Lund, Anders Nygren, on Agape and Eros, also translated by Fr. Hebert..[19] Nygren, in the course of what he called "motif-research," found the identifying theme, or motif, of Christianity to be agape, the love of God which overflows to unworthy man, in contrast to both the Hellenic motif of eros (human desire or aspiration) and the Jewish motif of nomos, or law. In Nygren's view, Augustine's concept of caritas (charity), which has profoundly influenced all later Christian thought, was a fusion of agape and eros with eros playing the determinative part. The point, according to the position of Nygren and Aulén, is that there can be no salvific God-ward offering or aspiration, even in the context of the Incarnation; atonement must be the work of God alone, in such sense that the humanity of Christ, qua man, can have no essential role.

Nygren sees more clearly than Aulén how far removed Augustine's doctrine is from the so-called "classic" view. Actually, Augustine holds together in synthesis all the elements which Aulén would separate into classic, Latin, and "subjective" doctrines. Consider, for instance, this passage from the Confessions:

But there is a true Mediator, whom in your secret mercy you have shown to men. You sent him so that by his example they too might learn humility. He is the "Mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ, who is a man" (1 Tim. 2:5), and he appeared on earth between men, who are sinful and mortal, and God, who is immortal and just. Like men he was mortal: like God, he was just. And because the reward of the just is life and peace, he came so that by his own justice, which is his in union with God, he might make null the death of the wicked whom he justified, by choosing to share their death. He was known to holy men in ancient times, so that they might be saved through faith in his passion to come, just as we are saved through faith in the passion he suffered long ago. For as man, he is our Mediator; but as the Word of God, he is not an intermediary between God and man because he is equal with God, and God with God and together with him one God..[20]
All the characteristic language and themes of the so-called "Latin" doctrine are clearly there: divine justitia, propitiatory and substitutionary sacrifice, and satisfaction..[21]

Certainly it would also be possible to draw from the works of Augustine numerous texts to illustrate a "classic or subjective" view of the atonement. Certainly, for him, the work of Christ is a triumph over demons and all the powers of darkness; certainly, Christ is our salvific example, especially in his great humility. But these are not alternative or opposed theories for Augustine, nor for the Fathers generally; they are aspects, and indeed necessary aspects, of one doctrine of redemption through the sacrifice of Christ.

What some modem scholarship, as with Aulén, has tended to divide as alternate views or theories of the atonement is all there in the Fathers from the beginning, as in the Scriptures; but in the Fathers, as also in the Scriptures what are now seen as opposing views are present as necessary facets, or dimensions, of one doctrine of salvation, focusing in the one oblation of Christ. That is not to say, of course, that there is no history of development in patristic thought about the atonement: there is a history. But it is not a history to be understood properly in terms of alternative theories. If we think of Augustine in particular, it is clear that he presents a more complete statement of the idea of Christ's sacrifice as satisfaction of divine justice than do any of his predecessors, Eastern and Western, in developing the "subjective" implications of the doctrine: what it means for faith, what it means in the conversion of the human soul, and what it means in a social dimension. Surely, no author in the whole history of Christian thought has been so emphatic as Augustine on the saving power of Christ's exemplary humility; yet he never loses sight of the objective context of that subjective renewal of thought and will - its objective context in the work of divine love in the sacrifice of Christ, both God and man, reconciling man to the eternal justice which is God's eternal will.

The patristic doctrine of redemption is not "classic" or propitiatory, or exemplary; it is all of those at once, as is the doctrine of the Scriptures. To exclude one dimension or another is to diminish its truth and its power. It is not "objective" or "subjective"; it is both at once. It is not the work of Christ as Son of God or of Christ as Son of Man; it is the work of Christ who is both God and man in distinction of natures and unity of person. Indeed, the full development of the patristic understanding of the atonement depends upon the working out of the Chalcedonian understanding of the integrity of the divine and human natures in Christ. To deny that the humanity of Christ has an essential role in the work of redemption implies a distortion of Christological doctrine in a docetist or a monophysite direction.

As Fr. Hebert remarks in his preface to Aulén's book, "Dr. Aulén's sketch of the contrast between the patristic and medieval views of the Atonement invites us to trace the same contrast in the sphere of liturgy; for the eucharistic rite is the liturgical representation of the Atonement.".[22] Certainly, the wholeness of our understanding of Christ's work for our salvation will determine the wholeness of our worship, and any dilution of that understanding will mean a dilution of our worship.

For instance, if we reduce the doctrine of the atonement to what Aulén calls the "classic" view, our worship will be celebratory witness to the drama of Christ's triumph; if we hold to what he calls the "Latin" doctrine, we shall come for edification and moral uplift. But Christ's work is all of those at once; he is Christus Victor, triumphing over death and every ill, because he is divine and human priest and victim, offering the one oblation of himself in sacrifice for sin; and therein he is manifest as the exemplar and inspiration of human good. He is all of those at once, and so must our worship be. It must be at once objective and subjective: something done for us, and something done in us, It must be a meeting of the divine and the human love in caritas, that charity which covers all our sins and endures to life eternal. For the Fathers, those are not opposed, but complementary motifs.

All of those motifs are present, together, in patristic eucharistic doctrine; and when the Fathers speak, as they generally do from the earliest times, of the eucharist as a sacrifice, they mean that the liturgy recalls - that is, makes present for mind and heart - the once-for-all atoning act of Christ in the fullness of all its dimensions, expiatory, exemplary and victorious. Indeed, as Jaroslav Pelikan makes clear in his fine volume on the history of Early Christian doctrine, liturgical language (especially the words of Christ at the Last Supper) seems to precede and serve as a model for the more explicit elaboration of the doctrine of the atonement..[23] There is no question of the repetition of Christ's one and all-sufficient oblation - that is the sort of question which becomes possible only within a much later and very different frame of reference. But Christ's sacrifice is recalled, or represented in sacramental representation; and inasmuch as the Church is in Christo, it is the sacrifice of the Church. Thus Augustine can speak in bold and striking words: "You are on the altar, you are in the cup." [24]

The doctrine of the atonement and the doctrine of the Eucharist are so intiinately related in patristic thought that a diminished interpretation of the one must inevitably involve a distorted view of the other. That is true in tile interpretation of patristic doctrine, and I think you will find that it is true throughout the later history of doctrine. But I must leave such considerations to later speakers. If I have spent my time (and yours) this evening reviewing a little book which is, after all, half a century old (and must therefore by current academic standards, surely be pronounced passé), I have done so because the view of the doctrine of the atonement it presents, although criticized at various points in more recent scholarship, is still current and strongly influential. This is the view which finds an opposition between medieval and Reformation "satisfaction-doctrine" on the one hand, and a "classic" biblical and patristic doctrine on the other. If you want a practical example of what I mean, you need look no flirther than the explanatory introduction to our Canadian Book of Alternative Services, where the compilers say that their introduction is to employ the fluid images of the Bible and the "liturgies and writings of the early Church," "without binding them to the later medieval and Reformation themes of the atonement." [25] So far as the doctrine of the Church Fathers is concerned, I think that that picture of the history is too narrow. Others will speak more specifically about medieval and Reformation doctrine.

1. Published in London by S.P.G.K in 1981; reprinted in 1984,1937,1940,1945,1950.

2. The new edition, with an introduction by Jaroslav Pelikan, was fint published in New York, 1969.

3. A.G. Hebert, "Translator's Preface," in 0. Aulén, Christus Victor (London: S.P.C.K, 1950), p. v.

4. Christus Victor, p. 160.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid., pp.150-151.

7. Ibid., pp. 175-176.

8. Y. Brilioth, Eucharistic Faith and Practice Evangelical and Catholic, tr., A.G. Hebert, (London: S.P.C.K, 1930).

9. Christus Victor, "Translator's Preface," p. viii.

10. Ibid.,p.x

11. Ibid., pp.53-55.

12. Ibid., p.115.

13. Ibid,. pp. 54-55.

14. Ibid., p.98.

15. Ibid., p.104.

16. Ibid., p.55.

17. Ibid., p.56.

18. Ibid., p.56.

19. Fr. Hebert translated Part I, which was published in London by S.P.C.K. in 1932; Part II was translated later by P.S. Watson; and the complete edition was issued in two volumes in 1938-39. In Liturgy and Society (London:Faber and Faber, 1935), pp.140-144, Fr. Hebert expresses reservations about the thesis of Nygren, which imply a contradiction of Aulén's argument:"... this is insufficient; his exposition of the contrast cries out for a theological statement of the relations between the two. However much it may be true that the conceptions of Agape and Eros represent respectively the Judaeo-Christian and the Greek modes of thought, yet the fact remains that Eros describes a human activity; and since in the Incarnation Agape has become embodied in the flesh, manifestly there must be an ultimate synthesis between it and man's seeking after God." (p.141)

20. Augustine, Confessions, x, 43 (tr. R.S. Pine-Coffin in the "Penguin Classics" edition, pp.250-251); see also his account of Christ as Homo-Deus in De trinitate, IV, 13,17.

21. Cf. R. Crouse, "The Angustinian Background of Anselm's Concept Justitia," Canadian Journal of Theology, 4 (1958), pp.111-119.

22. Christus Victor, "Translator's Preface", p. viii.

28. J. Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, I: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971), pp.146-147.

24. Augustine, Sermo, 229 (on 1 Cor. 10): "Et post illa ieiunia, post labores, post humilitatem et contritionem, iam in nomine Christi tanquam ad calicem Domini venistis: et ibi vos estis in mensa, et ibi vos estis in calice.

25. The Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1085), pp.178-179.



I would like to begin by thanking the organizers for inviting me to respond to Professor Crouse's paper. It is a very great honour to speak before such a distinguished gathering, and especially so, to follow a paper as fine as the one we have just heard.

Gustaf Aulén's lectures on the atonement, given in Uppsala, Sweden in 1930, were published in English under the title Christus Victor. In this historical study, he set forth a view of the atonement which he maintained was not only the view of the entire early Church, eastern and western, but also of the New Testament; that it was, in fact, the "classic," "dramatic," "Christus Victor;" or "divine deliverance" type or idea of atonement. Although Aulén's study was subjected to some very searching criticism,[1] it has been and remains enormously influential.

Briefly to recapitulate its main idea, the "classic" view understands the atonement as the "enactment, in the arena of the cosmos and of world history, of the dramatic battle between God and the enemies of God over the titure of humanity. "[2] The coming of Christ is interpreted as God engaging in cosmic warfare with the powers of evil - sin and death especially - in order to bring about reconciliation between himself and the world.[3] And no doubt the reader of the Bible and the Fathers of the early Church will indeed find many allusions to Christ's conflict with and triumph over the powers of evil. For drawing attention to this aspect of the atonement, we may find Aulén's book to have been helpful.

But, as Professor Crouse so lucidly pointed out, to argue that the "classic" view of the atonement as formulated by Aulén was the exclusive, or even the primary way of understanding the atonement in the early Church or in the Bible cannot be supported.[4] Moreover, taken as an original contribution to theology, the "classic" idea exhibits grave defects. It is based on an understanding of the person of Christ that departs from the early Church's own standard of orthodoxy in this regard, the definition of Chalcedon.

In this response I should like to suggest that there are other problems with Aulén's "classic" idea, and to explore some of the possible unhappy implications his thinking has had for contemporary liturgy, most recently in the Book of Alternative Services.


One of the more revealing aspects of Aulén's study is that he regards it as a virtue that the "classic" view of the atonement defies rational systemization. As he carefully explains:

I have tried to be consistent in speaking of the classic idea of the Atonement, never of the, or a classic theory; I have reserved the word theory, and usually the word doctrine, for the Latin and subjective' types. For the classic idea of the Atonement has never been put forward, like the other two, as a rounded and finished theological doctrine; it has always been an idea, a motif, a theme, expressed in many different variations.[5]
I find it significant of the BAS's own approach to the atonement that it follows Aulén in finding virtue in the lack of rational or theoretical character:
The biblical imagery employed in the eucharistic prayers to express the meaning of Christ's life, death, and resurrection for our salvation is rich and varied.... These images are fluid and entered in this fluid form into the liturgies and writings of the early Church.
In the Middle Ages and the Reformation period these images were given more precise definition with the use of satisfaction' and substitution' language ... In the revised Canadian eucharistic prayers, on the other hand, the images of vicarious suffering, sacrifice, and divine deliverance have been employed without binding them to the later medieval and Reformation themes of atonement.[6]
Both Aulén and the compilers of the BAS prefer to remain at the level of the images and are anti-theoretical, anti-rational, non-doctrinal in their approach to these images, images.

For Aulén, the problem with rational theories is that they lead to unending division and strife. For him, the unity and harmony of the early Church over the question of the Redemption disappeared with the advent of rational theories of the atonement, such as those of Anselm and Abelard.[7] The controversy between rival theories that resulted, he considers reached its sterile nadir in the Enlightenment period. "Since that time," he writes, "the controversy has continued with varying fortunes, and it has finally resolved itself into a war of attrition between the two rival doctrines with no prospect of victory for either side."[8] Aulén considers that "the possibility of a return to the "classic" idea lies in the twentieth-century reaction to the "humanistic outlook" [9] of the Enlightenment. For Aulén, the Enlightenment's baleflil rationalism was just the result of the oppressive rationalism of Protestant orthodoxy and the Middle Ages.[10] After dark centuries of rationalism in the question of the atonement, we are at last reawakening to the happy morn of images, motifs, types and themes.

For Aulén, the virtue of the "classic" type is that it is "characterized by a whole series of contrasts of opposites, which defy rational systematization." To resolve these contradictions "into purely rational scheme is bound to fail; it would only succeed by robbing it of its religious depth. For theology lives and has its being in these combinations of seemingly incompatible opposites."[11] He goes on to cite by way of support the now-exploited idea that in the patristic controversies the task of the orthodox was to protect the doctrine of the person of Christ against "tendencies... to transform theology into a speculative metaphysic or an idealistic philosophy."[12] Ultimately, for Aulén, God's "love is infinite and unfathomable, acting contra rationem et legem (against reason and against law)."[13]

What clearly emerges from Aulén's comments is that in rejecting and reacting against narrow, humanistic rationalism of the Enlightenment, he has implicitly accepted the Enlightenment account of reason. He has thrown the baby of reason out with the bathwater of excessive rationalism. More seriously, he has rejected reason as inadequate to express the divine being. For him, the movement from a multiplicity of various and contradictory images to rational theory or dortrine is a devolution, a decline from original purity to division and fragmentation.[14]

Christian theologians, however, cannot afford to throw out reason. In what other way can the work of theology proceed, than by reason?[15] When we depart from reason, from doctrine, from a true theoretical attitude, this is the end of scholarship. Aulén, moreover, bases his arguments on the Bible and the Fathers of the early Church, and he opposes their authority to the authority of reason. Yet both the Bible and the Fathers exhibit the highest regard for reason's authority. "In the beginning was the Word" - the English "Word" of course represents the Greek "Logos" or "Reason." Aulén's approach - so determinedly anti-rational, anti-theoretical, and anti-doctrinal in character - could hardly be more opposed to the character of the biblical and patristic writings it professes to follow.

In a related point, we may note that Aulén's anti-rational approach seems a most inadequate one for a Christian. "In the beginmng was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. According to St. John, God is Logos - Word or Reason in English. The Son of God, the Word or Logos of the Father, completely receives and perfectly expresses the full being of the Father. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." (John 14.9) Just as the Word is of God, so also reason is indeed adequate to express the truth of the atonement, provided, of course, that it is a reason which submits itself to God's reason, the Eternal and Incarnate Word. Thus if we follow Aulén in rejecting the adequacy of reason, we think in a way seriously inconsistent with the nature of our God. We are left holding to the surfaces of the images, without allowing those images to convey their meaning (cf. Exodus 20.4, John 6.63, 20.17). We are drawn to symbols, but they no longer symbolize anything - they are, in the end,

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief;
And the dry stone no sound of water.[16]


Many contemporary liturgies show the influence of Aulén's "classic" or "Christus Victor" idea of the atonement. In fact, Aulén's work has had almost as much influence on modern liturgists as that other sadly dated book, Dom Gregory Dix's Shape of the Liturgy. Our own BAS can be viewed as an interesting experiment for Aulén's view, because its compilers were able to work on a clean slate, unhampered by any need to maintain historical continuity with preceding liturgies.

As we have seen, the BAS exults in the richness, variety, and fluidity of the biblical images it uses to express the meaning of the atonement.[17] For all its apparent variety, however, one idea is dominant: Aulén's "classic" idea, or, as the BAS compilers refer to it, the image of divine deliverance. The BAS singles out two other images besides divine deliverance, namely vicarious suffering and expiatory sin-offering, but the way they are treated, following. Aulén, subordinates them to the "classic" idea or at least firmly restricts their range of meaning.

Thus for Aulén, the sacrifice of Christ "is the means whereby the tyrants are overcome,"[18] or "the means whereby the Divine will-to-reconciliation realizes itself; and which also shows how much it costs God to effect the Atonement."[19] He states that he finds even in the letters of Paul and the Epistle to the Hebrews that the use of the idea of sacrifice lies "wholly within the limits of the classic idea."[20] Unsurprisingly, therefore, we find sacrificial language in the BAS's first Eucharistic Prayer firmly subordinated to divine deliverance language. "Gracious God," we read, "his perfect sacrifice destroys the power of sin and death." What is surprising is that this is the only place in the BAS contemporary-language eucharistic prayers where explicitly sacrificial language is used in reference to the atonement.[21]

Similar sorts of assimilation, subordination, or restriction of meaning occur in regard to "all the [Pauline] passages which speak of Christ's work as vicarious".[22] For Aulén, all these derive from the central thought of the classic idea, "that God Himself has in Christ effected both salvation and atonement."[23] In the BAS, language of vicarious suffering certainly appears in proflision by contrast to the paucity of sacrificial language, but again it is closely tied to the image of divine deliverance. Thus language (it seems) appears as part of Aulén's insistence on extending the atonement over the whole Incarnation, in what is often called a "holistic" way. Thus in Eucharistic Prayer 2 we read "He chose to bear our griefs and sorrows... that he might shatter the chains of evil and death, and banish the darkness of sin and despair."

In every contemporary language eucharistic prayer (and in the two "Thanksgivings over Water" from the baptismal rite), pride of place is reserved for the image of divine deliverance. Besides the two already quoted, we may note:

Baptism (1): "For us he suffered the baptism of his own death and resurrection, setting us free from the bondage of sin and death and opening to us joy and freedom of everlasting life"

Baptism (2)"the Christ... leads] us through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life."

Eucharistic Prayer 3: "In him, you have delivered us from evil"

Eucharistic Prayer 4: "by his death he opened to us / the way of freedom and peace."

Eucharistic Prayer 5:"on the cross he defeated the power of sin and death."

Eucharisti Prayer 6: to fulfil your purpose he gave himself up to death, and, rising from the grave, destroyed death"

Other approved elements of Aulén's "classic" type are in ample evidence. Following his lead there is always in the BAS. an attempt to link the Incarnation firmly with the atonement, and thereby to provide a more "holistic" account of Christ's saving work, Secondly, the effects of salvation are more often described positively in terms of blessing, than negatively in terms of forgiveness of sins. Thirdly, sin is viewed almost exclusively in its systemic aspect, appearing as an objective force standing over mankind; and fourtidy, the language of "reconciliation" is prominent. There can be little doubt that Aulén's view of the atonement was highly formative of that in the BAS.


Well, what of it? Aulén's view of the atonement has problems from a scholarly point of view, but what difference does it make to the average worshipper? Maybe Aulén made a few mistakes, but was he not right to emphasize the conflict and triumph of God in Christ over the powers of evil? That, we all agree, is a biblical theme.

There are, however, problems that are not just the headache of scholars, but that also effect the average worshipper. The doctrine of the atonement is fundamental to the Christian religion: the way we understand the Cross has far-reaching implications for the rest of faith and practice.

To grasp some of the implications of the "classic" idea we need to look at two elements of Aulén's view that we have not paid too much attention to so far. First of all, he holds that the "work of atonement is,.. [to be] depicted in dramatic [my emphasis] terms, as conflict with the powers of evil and the triumph over them."[24] The atonement is a drama. what Aulén means by this is perhaps a little obscure, but I find it to some extent illuminated by another favourite point of his, to which Father Crouse has alluded, that in the "classic" idea there is only a movement from God to man, not a movement from man to God. From an orthodox point of view, this may have a reassuring anti-Pelagian sound to it on first hearing. But suspicion is aroused when we look at it further in connection with the insistence on the dramatic character. The question then arises, how is man at all involved in the atonement? In this drama of divine deliverance, is there any place for a movement in man? Or does God do it all for us, in a way so completely external to us, that it is as if we were members of the audience watching a play? A play may exhilarate or excite us, but when it is over and we go home, has anything changed in us? Or perhaps we too are actors in the drama. But when the curtain goes down, we discard our roles in the drama. Good guys and bad guys alike go home with a pay-cheque in hand. God has triumphed over the powers of evil - does that mean we may sit back and enjoy the benefits regardless of the roles we have played, or does it perhaps mean that the victory is irrelevant, a long-running play, once entertaining but now past its prime? In the end, going to see Dick Tracy is not a life-changing experience. Is the drama of divine deliverance any different?

Now all this may sound like idle speculation, but I think the difficulty of finding a role for our personal responsibility for sin in Aulén's "classic" idea foreshadows the BAS's curious lack of interest in our response to and appropriation of the benefits of atonement. The new liturgies, as has been pointed out, give little opportunity for the expression of movement within man - what the Greeks call metanoia, and what is nowadays referred to as repentance, conversion, and faith.[25]

There are, of course, the so-called "memorial acclamations" in the new eucharistic prayers in which the congregation "proclaims the mystery of faith." But these are surely no replacement for confession and absolution which is always an optional extra in BAS. Similarly, the Nicene Creed is only required on a handful of major festivals, and the Apostles' Creed is optional even for Sundays.[26] The BAS. explains that "[i]t was in the eucharistic prayer rather than in the creed that the ancient Church gave primary expression to its faith when it celebrated the eucharist."[27] But the confessional statement made in a creed is a rather different thing from the poetic collages of imagery in eucharistic prayers however "rich" and "varied" these are. (Moreover, it is at least arguable that the eucharistic prayers should be focused on the Cross, with other elements of salvation history or dogma finding expression elsewhere, such as in the creed.)

My problem, than, with Aulén's classic idea of the atonement is that it seems to make penitence and faith irrelevant to our participation in the benefits of the atonement. It releases us from any sense of personal responsibility. Moreover, the corollary of this is that where sin appears the emphasis is on systemic sin, sin as something that happens to us rather than something we do.[28] For all the BAS's claim of better involving participants in worship, at a fundamental level the effect of the view of the atonement it relies on is to render the worshipper a passive spectator in life and liturgy.

Aulén was aware that his view was open to the criticism that it was "soft on sin" and the need for repentance and conversion. He concedes that the "classic" type may seem to treat "sin as an impersonal force, and so weakens the idea of a direct relationship between God's work and man's soul; for it is over this objective power of evil that God's victory is won."[29] His attempt to refute this criticism, however, consists solely in an attack on the "Latin" theory of Anselm - an attack whose adequacy I will leave to the tender mercies of Professor Hankey. Aulén makes no real defence of the "classic" idea's implications for sin and faith.

I find it interesting that Michael Ingham, in his semi-official commentary on the BAS, Rites for a New Age, regards the primary spiritual purpose of the "Christus Victor" emphasis in the BAS to be "[t]he transformation of despair into courage, of alienation into hope, and of weakness into joy."[30] For Ingham, Aulén's "classic" idea is an element in the new spirituality that the book is designed to foster, "a spirituality more confident and optimistic",[31] no longer penitential[32] but rather dynamic and positive. Instead of being characterized by a "withdrawal into self; a preoccupation with personal guilt and personal salvation," we are to acquire a "proper self-love and confidence in the unconditional grace of God." We are to be "galvanized" by the "power of the Spirit thrusting us outward into the world. "[33] "Perhaps as a church we may begin to regain our nerve,"[34] concludes Ingham. The way we view the atonement, it seems, is to serve this regaining of nerve.

The question I think we are forced to consider very seriously and carefully is this: are we talking here about properly Christian conviction and joy, the fruit of the Spirit; or are we talking about a new triumphalism, more dangerous than those of old, because more secular and less restrained than any that went before? Is the effect of the exclusive emphasis on Christus Victor that of fueling an essentially worldly self-confidence and arrogance? These may not have been the conscious intentions of Gustaf Aulén or the compilers of the BAS, but there is in my limited experience a worrying amount of evidence that this is its effect, or at least that this is the way this is being used. It is sad indeed that the idea of the victorious Christ should be used to field a triumphalist mood in a church which sees no need to repent of its conformity to the spirit of this present age.

1. e.g. E.R. Fairweather, "Incarnation and Atonement: an Anselmian response to Aulén's Christus victor," Canadian Journal of Theology, 7 (1961), 167-175; J. Mcintyre, St Anselm and his Critics (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1954); R.D. Crouse, "The Augustinian Background of St. Anselm's Concept Justitia'", Canadian Journal of Theology, 4 (1958), pp.111-119.

2. J. Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (1O0-6OO), vol.1 of The Christian Tradition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), p.101.

3. P.E. Hughes, The True Image (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1989), pp.851-352.

4. Pelikan, op cit., p.149.

5. G. Aulén, Christus Victor: an Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of the Atonement, trans. A.G. Hebert, (New York. Macmillan, 1969).

6. The Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada, (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1985), pp.178 - 179.

7. Aulén, op cit., p.144.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid., p.145.

10. Ibid, pp.143-44.

11. Ibid., p.155.

12. Ibid., p.156.

13. Ibid., p.155.

14. Perhaps Aulén's Lutheran heritage is at fault for this. Luther could be hostile to reason: "Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but - more frequently than not - struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God." Table Talk, 353)

15. Aulén's scholarship would surely be impossible without reason, ironical1y the type of scholarship and reason very much the product of Enlightenment rationalism.

16. T.S. Eliot, "The Wasteland: Part I The Burial of the Dead" lines 22-24.

17. BAS, pp.178-9.

18. Aulén, op cit., p.57.

19. Ibid., p.58.

20. Ibid., p.72, cf. p.77.

21. There are two other places where sacrificial language might be detected: Eucharistic Prayer 2's "He chose ... to give up his life on the cross"; and Eucharistic Prayer 6's "he gave himself up to death"; but these are very weak allusions, and again subordinated to "deliverance" language.

22. Aulén, op cit, p.72.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid., p.35, cf. pp.53 and 55.

25. "Metanota" means "change of mind". It refers to the initial moment of conversion, and to the life-long process of conversion that ensues. St. Paul describes the change this implies in Romans 12.1-2.

26. BAS, p.176.

27. Ibid.

28. It is surely no coincidence that historically interest in the question of grace and free will, predestination and justification, really only begins with Augustine, whom Aulén credits as a founder of the "latin" doctrine of the atonement. The early Church writers before Augustine, although they usually maintained a certain overall balance of grace and free will, never treated these questions directly, and as a result can sound naively optimistic and innocently Pelagian. Cf. A. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: a History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.2 vols), Vol. 1, pp.17-23.

Unsurprisingly, Aulén's "classic idea" has been warmly embraced by those sympathetic to liberation theology. Frances Young, a student of Maurice Wiles and a patristic scholar, has written a popular and popularizing study of the atonement, Sacrifice and the Death of Christ (SACK, 1975 and SCM Press, 1983), cf. pp. 87-94. In her view, when the Atonement is understood as Aulén teaches, it becomes relevant to the destructive powers of the "system," the political and economic forces which are more than the sum total of the individuals involved or their conscious intentions, the heredity and environment which so often turn good things to evil purposes. One real advantage of approaching the problem of atonement along the lines of the classic theory is that instead of being limited to the riddance of one type of guilt feeling [!]; the salvation brought by Christ is shown to be relevant to all forms of alienation, all forms of human failure - indeed the total nexus of evil in the world. (p.90)

29. Aulén, op cit. p.147.

30. M. Ingham, Rites for a New Age: Understanding the Book Of Alternative Services. (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1986), p.184.

31. Ibid., p.135, cf. p.127.

32. Ibid., p.119.

33. Ibid.

34. Ibid., p.135, cf. Aulén, op cit., p.159.

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