|Gustaf Aulén as Bishop of Strängnäs|
He associates the classical view with most of the Church Fathers, in particular the Eastern Fathers, but also the New Testament writers, Paul in particular. This view is God-centered, God being both the Reconciler and the Reconciled. God enters the world in order to fight the evil demonic powers which keep humans in bondage. The Incarnation, the miracles and the crucifixion are part of the same struggle, which ends in God´s victory over sin, death and the devil. The culmination of the struggle is the resurrection. At no point does God demand “satisfaction” from man (or from Christ´s human side). Man seems to be wholly passive in the drama, God and the demonic “tyrants” being the only actors. The perspective is dualistic, in that God and the Devil are seen as almost equal powers fighting over the rightful possession of man (ultimately, of course, God stands above the Devil).
Aulén doesn´t seem to take this colorful language literally, but rather as symbolic descriptions of a mystical reality. Above all, he emphasizes that the Atonement cannot be thought about in rational terms – something Anselm and the Scholastics attempted to do. On Aulén´s interpretation, Martin Luther had the classical view of the Atonement, while later Lutheran theologians (beginning with Luther´s collaborator Melanchthon) once again tried to rationalize it. I assume Aulén preferred the classical view since it emphasizes that the Atonement is wholly an act of grace from God´s side – salvation really is “by grace alone”, whereas the Catholic view gives more leeway to a human-created penitential system. Lutheran orthodoxy is, to Aulén, the most absurd system, being essentially the Catholic system without the penances!
One thing that struck me when reading the book is that the classical view of the Atonement as exegeted by Aulén presupposes a view of the world as very radically evil and incapable of change. The world in a sense does legitimately belong to Satan and his host of “powers” and “principalities”. Humans have been snatched away from God´s realm through deceit and are now Satan´s property. From a certain perspective, even God is incapable of simply setting things right by fiat – he must incarnate in the evil world and gradually defeat the “tyrants” one by one, even to the point of suffering and dying. While main-line Christianity wasn´t officially dualist, it´s nevertheless obvious how such a view can morph into Zoroastrian-like dualism or Gnosticism. Even Aulén calls it “dualistic”. In a certain sense, God incarnates in a world which really isn´t his…