The Extent of the Atonement (Gottschalk)

Gottschalk (d. 869) was one of those theologians in the medieval church that stood firmly on the doctrines of sovereign grace (much like Augustine did in the early church context).  In J. Pelikan’s Growth of Medieval Theology, there’s a section about Gottschalk’s explanation of Christ’s atonement – specifically the extent of it (that is, definite or indefinite atonement).  Here’s a fascinating paragraph from that section.

“Any answer to the question of whether Christ had suffered for all men or only for the elect had to be squared, even by those who contended that Scripture dealt only with the predestined, with the various statements of Scripture about redemption.  On the basis of a concordance study, Gottschalk listed ten senses in which the word ‘redemption’ was used in the Bible, and he put his argument into that context….  In this framework it was possible to argue that such New Testament phraseology as ‘reconciling the world’ and ‘expiation for the sins of the whole world’ referred only to the elect rather than to all men, since God had ‘elected a world from out of the world.’  The frequently discussed words of Christ, ‘I will draw all men to myself,’ must be understood to be using ‘all men’ to mean only the elect, ‘gathered together from all classes of men.’  The statement of the apostle Paul that Christ ‘gave himself as a ransom for all’ was speaking of all who were truly regenerate.  It had to be interpreted in light of the parallel statement of Christ himself about ‘a ransom for many.’  By saying that he was shedding his blood ‘for many,’ Christ showed that ‘all men’ identified ‘those many for whom the Lord…says that his blood was shed.’  In instituting the sacrament, Christ had explicitly said, not ‘for all’ but ‘for many,’ not ‘for others’ but ‘for you.'”

This was Pelikan’s summary of Gottschalk’s teaching along with another medieval theologian named Florus, a contemporary of Gottschalk who also taught double predestination.

The paragraph I quoted above is found on page 92 of Pelikan’s The Growth of Medieval Theology.

shane lems

3 Replies to “The Extent of the Atonement (Gottschalk)”

  1. hey there,

    I am a friend of Michael Lynch. If you are interested in material from the non-Gottschalkian but still Reformed perspective (the other Reformed tradition, you might say), then you can see lots of material here: Calvin and Calvinism

    Any questions comments or challenges, feel free to email me.



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