"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, January 4, 2016

Theories of Atonement

Few things are more tiresome than listening to fourth-rate Orthodox apologetics with their endlessly recycled caricatures of Anselm as some kind of comic-opera thug introducing his horrid theory of "atonement," which theory has then ostensibly tainted the whole of Western Christianity. It's been more than 20 years since I read Anslem, but I found nothing of this caricature in his works. Nor, for that matter, is he cited even once in the 1992 universal Catechism of the Catholic Church. But why let facts stand in the way of a good whodunnit?

Still, one should, I hope, be at least a little less blithe in slandering the great archbishop of Canterbury and making sweeping generalizations about Western theological development after reading a book set for release early this new year: Junius Johnson, Patristic and Medieval Atonement Theory: A Guide to Research (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016), 222pp.
About this book the publisher tells us:
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. Junius 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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