Gustaf Aulén

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The Right Reverend

Gustaf Aulén
Bishop of Strängnäs
Gustaf Aulén.jpg
Gustaf Aulén (Right)
ChurchChurch of Sweden
In office1933–1952
PredecessorSam Stadener
SuccessorDick Helander
Personal details
Born(1879-05-15)15 May 1879
Died16 December 1977(1977-12-16) (aged 98)
BuriedNorra Kyrkogården, Lund
ParentsFJ Aulén & Maria Hildebrand
SpouseKristine Bjørnstad

Gustaf Emanuel Hildebrand Aulén (15 May 1879 – 16 December 1977) was the Bishop of Strängnäs in the Church of Sweden, a Lutheran theologian, and the author of Christus Victor, a work which still exerts considerable influence on contemporary theological thinking on the atonement.[1][2]


Gustaf Aulén's grave in Lund, Sweden

Aulén was born in 1879 in Ljungby parish, Kalmar County, Sweden to Rev. F.J. Aulén and Maria Hildebrand. He married Kristine Björnstad in 1907. After studying at Uppsala University, Aulén became professor of dogmatics at Lund University in 1913, then Bishop of Strängnäs in 1933.

Aulén's first major theological work was 'The Faith of the Christian Church', published in Swedish in 1923. His most famous work –Christus Victor – followed in 1930, with an English translation in 1931. 'The Faith of the Christian Church' was translated into English in 1948. Aulén's work gained international recognition [3] and most of his later works were quickly followed by English translations.

Aulén was also an avid composer, contributing profusely to the Swedish hymnbook. He was the president of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music 1944–1950.

Aulén retired his bishopric in 1952, returning to Lund to devote himself to his academic work. He published an autobiography – "My ninety-six years: happenings and thoughts" – in 1975 and died two years later on 16 December 1977 at the age of 98.


Aulén was a prominent member of the 'Lundensian' school of theology, along with Anders Nygren and Ragnar Bring.[3] The Lundensian school perhaps resembles most closely that of neo-orthodoxy in the German-speaking and English-speaking theological scenes of the mid-20th century, with an emphasis on divine transcendence.

Two significant influences on Aulén's thinking were Martin Luther, whose work Aulén consistently praises, and Friedrich Schleiermacher, of whom Aulén is much more frequently critical.[4]

Christus Victor[edit]

Aulén's most influential contribution to Theology was in the area of Atonement theory. His book Christus Victor[5] has established itself as one of the key reference points in contemporary discussion.[1][2]

Aulén identified three main theories of the Atonement: the 'scholastic' view, epitomised by Anselm of Canterbury (known as Satisfaction theory); the 'idealistic' view, epitomised by Peter Abelard (known as Moral Exemplar theory); and what he referred to as the 'classic' view.

Aulén advocated a return to this 'classic' view, which he characterised as follows:

Its central theme is the idea of the Atonement as a Divine conflict and victory; Christ – Christus Victor – fights against and triumphs over the evil powers of the world, the 'tyrants' under which mankind is in bondage and suffering, and in Him God reconciles the world to Himself.[5]: 4 

He argued that both the other theories put too much emphasis on the work of humanity in the Atonement: the Moral Exemplar view wholly so, and Satisfaction Theory in its emphasis on "the service which Christ qua homo renders".[6]

Regardless of whether they agree with his arguments, most contemporary discussions of the Atonement follow Aulén's three categories,[1][2] and the term Christus Victor has become synonymous with the 'classic' view he advocated.

Studies and career[edit]


  • The Faith of the Christian Church. Swedish: 1923, English: 1948; 5th ed. 1952, English: 1960
  • Christus Victor: A Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement. Swedish: 1930, English: 1931
  • Church, Law and Society. Scribner, 1948.
  • Eucharist and Sacrifice. Swedish: 1956, English: 1958
  • Reformation and Catholicity. Swedish: 1959, English: 1961
  • The Drama and the Symbols. Swedish: 1970, English: 1970
  • Jesus in Contemporary Historical Research. Swedish: 1976, English: 1976

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Young, P.D. (Oct 1995). "Beyond Moral Influence to an Atoning Life". Theology Today.
  2. ^ a b c Fred, Sanders (5 May 2009). "Gustaf Aulén, Lundensian Theologian". Archived from the original on 17 May 2009.
  3. ^ a b Wildman, Wesley J. (1988). "Lundensian Theology".
  4. ^ See, for example, the number of references to Luther in particular, and also Schleiermacher, in the Index of The Faith of the Christian Church
  5. ^ a b Aulén, Gustaf (1958). Christus Victor. New York: Macmillan.
  6. ^ Aulén, Gustaf (1960). The Faith of the Christian Church. SCM Press. pp. 210–13.