Patristic and Medieval Atonement Theory: A Guide to Research

The notion of atonement, a process by which humans are made right before God, is central to the logic of Christian theology. In spite of this, major thinkers in the Christian traditions have held vastly different understandings of both the way atonement works and what it means. These differing accounts have become intellectual traditions which continue to influence both academic theology and spiritual practice today. In spite of the strong dependence of much contemporary thought on early ideas, linguistic and cultural barriers often preclude serious study of the original materials.

Patristic and Medieval Atonement Theory takes a close look at the doctrines that depend on and influence views of atonement in order to make clear what place atonement occupies within the larger system of Christian theology. Johnson also considers key concepts and tensions within the doctrine of atonement itself, which may be emphasized or glossed over to create the shape of particular doctrines. Johnson’s guide briefly discusses major figures in the development of Christian doctrines of atonement to the end of the Middle Ages. Johnson then turns to the major primary and secondary sources and provides an orientation to the rich literature existing on this topic.

The attention given to the anatomy of the concepts involved, the introduction to the ideas of major thinkers, and the survey of available literature makes this an essential guide for students and scholars of Christian theology of any period, as well as those who research the Middle Ages but are not specialists in theology.

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Introduction 1

Part I: Atonement Theory Explained

  1. Chapter 1: Introduction to Atonement Theory 7
    1. Defining the Terms: What is Meant by Atonement? 8
    2. The Logic of Atonement 9
      1. Atonement Claims Generated by Reflection on the Nature of Human Sin 12
      2. Atonement Claims Generated by Reflection on the Nature of Christ 15
      3. Atonement Claims Generated by Reflection on the Nature of God 18
      4. Claims Generated Internal to the Doctrine of Atonement 23
      5. The Tension Within the Doctrine 27
  2. Chapter 2: Illuminating the Context 33
    1. Conceptual Continuity and Discontinuity Between Patristic and Medieval Thought 34
    2. Key Ancient and Medieval Concepts 38
      1. Doctrine of God 39
      2. Freedom 42
      3. A Word About Sacrifice 46
    3. Scriptural Interpretation 49
  3. Chapter 3: Christ our Brother: Likeness and Unlikeness in Christ’s Human Nature 53
    1. Christ’s Likeness to Our Human Nature 55
      1. Genetic Models of Likeness 56
      2. Participatory Models of Likeness 57
      3. Temptation 58
      4. The Attractiveness of Likeness 60
    2. Christ’s Unlikeness to Us 61
      1. Divinity and the One Savior 62
      2. Super-Excellent Human Nature 64
      3. The Attractiveness of Unlikeness 65

Part II: Key Thinkers in Atonement Theory

  1. Chapter 4: Athanasius (296-373): The Image of God in Us 71
  2. Chapter 5: Gregory Nazianzen (329-390): Deification 81
  3. Chapter 6: Gregory of Nyssa (335-395): Ransom theory 87
  4. Chapter 7: Augustine (354-430): Legal Conceptuality 95
  5. Chapter 8: Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109): Satisfaction Theory 103
  6. Chapter 9: Peter Abelard (1079-1142): Moral Influence 119
  7. Chapter 10: Bonaventure (1221-1274): Nuanced Anselmianism 125
  8. Chapter 11: Aquinas (1225-1274): Christ’s Merits 133
  9. Chapter 12: Julian of Norwich (1342-1416): Courtesy and At-onement 141

Notes 150

Part III: Annotated Bibliography of Selected Resources

  1. Chapter 13: Patristic Period: Primary Sources 153
  2. Chapter 14: Patristic Period: Secondary Sources 157
    1. Athanasius 157
    2. Gregory Nazianzen 162
    3. Gregory of Nyssa 163
    4. Augustine 165
    5. Select Patristic Authors Not Treated in This Text 166
    6. General Patristic Sources 168
  3. Chapter 15: Medieval Period: Primary Sources 173
  4. Chapter 16: Medieval Period: Secondary Sources 179
    1. Anselm of Canterbury 179
    2. Peter Abelard 182
    3. Bonaventure 185
    4. Thomas Aquinas 187
    5. Julian of Norwich 190
    6. General Medieval Sources 193
  5. Chapter 17: Secondary Sources Common to the Patristic and Medieval Periods 197

Name Index 205
Subject Index 209
About the Author 213