Was Christ’s death a victory over death or a substitution for sin? Many today follow Gustav Aulén’s Christus Victor view, which portrays Christ’s death as primarily a victory over the powers of evil and death. According to Aulén, this was the dominant view of the church until Anselm reframed atonement as satisfaction and the Reformers reframed it as penal substitution.
In Suffering, Not Power, Benjamin Wheaton challenges this common narrative. Sacrificial and substitutionary language was common well before Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo. Wheaton displays this through a careful analysis of three medieval figures whose writings on the atonement are commonly overlooked: Caesarius of Arles, Haimo of Auxerre, and Dante Alighieri. These individuals come from different times and contexts and wrote in different genres, but each spoke of Christ’s death as a sacrifice of expiation and propitiation made by God to God.
Let history speak for itself, read the evidence, and reconsider the church’s belief in Christ’s substitutionary death for sinners.
What a scintillatingly-fresh study of a very traditional theological locus—the doctrine of the atonement—this book is. Dr. Wheaton draws great riches for the explication of this vital truth from the medieval era. Again, one might ask: can any good thing come from the Middle Ages? Well, it turns out that there is a lot of good stuff, if only we have grit and gumption to mine for it. Such mining Wheaton has done for us, and as this book shows, we are the better for it.
—Michael A. G. Haykin, chair and professor of church history, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Benjamin Wheaton serves as a lively guide on a theological pilgrimage with a ninth-century Benedictine monk, the Florentine poet of the Divine Comedy, and a stately bishop. The destination? A more nuanced understanding of medieval views of the atonement. Written with engaging clarity, Suffering, Not Power expands the repertoire of medieval interpretations to include Christ’s death as propitiatory and expiatory sacrifice.
—Gwenfair Walters Adams, professor of church history, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
No scholar of the atonement can fail to grapple with Benjamin Wheaton’s careful historical study of its concepts in the Middle Ages. Wheaton illustrates what it means to “listen” with great care, and in context, avoiding anachronisms and accounting for genres, to the “great mass of literature” on the atonement. He thereby challenges old “mistaken and misleading” narratives about the prevalence of certain models in certain periods, and notices nuanced discussions in the tradition of the themes of sacrifice, satisfaction, substitution, expiation and propitiation that are not merely or even predominantly demonocentric, but theocentric. Here theologians are challenged to be even more rigorously historical in their approach.
—Ross Hastings, Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology, Regent College, author of Total Atonement: Trinitarian Participation in the Reconciliation of Humanity and Creation
Benjamin Wheaton received a PhD from the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto and has written several peer-reviewed articles in Francia and the Journal of Late Antiquity on the topics of theology and society in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages.