Archive for the ‘Anselm of Canterbury’ Category

Cur Deus HomoCur Deus Homo by St. Anselm of Canterbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anselm’s famous book was on one hand exactly what I thought it’d be, and on the other hand refreshingly different from what I expected.

Cur Deus Homo is often referenced in discussions of why the incarnation of the Son of God factored into the atonement which he purchased. It is quite common (praise the Lord) for people to speak of the Savior needing to be man because only a human could pay for human sin and also needing to be God, as only God could do the job of reconciling sinful men to an infinitely holy God. I totally expected to find this explained in Anselm’s book, and I was not disappointed.

I was also refreshed by a few things that I did not expect. The first thing that I didn’t expect was Anselm’s lucid style. This book is set as a dialog ‘twixt Anselm and Boso, a curious and educated inquirer. I think the style of the dialog is excellent and should be used more often. What’s more, I’ve heard Anselm referred to as the Augustine of the Middle Ages. With his clear writing style and the way in which he handles ideas, I can understand why Anselm enjoys that high distinction. Augustine, too, was a fabulous and lucid writer. I find that usually the great ones are far easier to understand than their handlers. Finally, the way in which Anselm conceives of the redemption purchased by the God-man is at once very similar, but also quite foreign to the contemporary discussion of the matter. I don’t want to go into detail here in this short review, but suffice it to say that there is great benefit in reading ancient writers. If nothing else, they can help us to see how our thinking is both modern and all-too-provincial.

One weakness of Anselm’s approach, it seems to me, is that he’s self-consciously and explicitly attempting to give a rational accounting of how the incarnation factors into the atonement. Thus, while he does occasionally refer to Scripture, and even call it the only rock on which we’re to build a sturdy house, reason is his guiding light in this book. In Cur Deus Homo he’s trying to show how the biblical doctrine and the church teaching regarding atonement through the God-man is rational. To that degree, I guess I have no beef. I would just like to see him root his work more deeply in the Scripture, which is, after all, the sword of the Spirit. His reliance upon reason, however, is part of what’s earned him another one of his titles (valid or not): the father of scholasticism.

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Augustine & Calvin

I’m always amused when people say that the majority of church history is not “Calvinistic.” I’m amused because it’s both true and false. It’s true in that the Reformation put a fine point on issues of divine sovereignty and human inability. Take note that I said the Reformation, not Calvin. If by “Calvinism” we mean a commitment to the utter helplessness of humanity and a profound commitment to the sovereignty of God in the salvation or damnation of sinners, then we might just as well call it by a name reminiscent of any of the Reformers. Arminius himself was absolutely committed to the utter and absolute helplessness of humanity. If, however, by “Calvinism” we (anachronistically) mean the five points of Calvinism, then a great deal of the church is not Calvinistic… that is, completely Calvinistic.

When I think of the “Calvinism” of the church in broad historical terms, I’m thinking of it in a general sense: a commitment Augustinian anthropology and soteriology. (more…)

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Anselm of Canterbury

The first thing that struck me when reading Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo (free!) was his humility. Funny enough, the same humility struck me in just the same way when I picked up St. Augustine’s Trinity. Unfortunately, I don’t see much of that same humility in myself. The great teachers always have more to teach than merely what they write.

Anselm’s is asked by Boso (his dialog partner in the book) to discuss the incarnation with these words: “I desire that you should discover to me, what, as you know, many beside myself ask, for what necessity and cause God, who is omnipotent, should have assumed the littleness and weakness of human nature for the sake of its renewal?” Anselm answers thusly:

You ask of me a thing which is above me, and therefore I tremble to take in hand subjects too lofty for me, lest, when some one may have thought or even seen that I do no satisfy him, he will rather believe that I am in error with regard to the substance of the truth, than that my intellect is not able to grasp it. CDH 1, 2

Two things stand out: 1) He recognizes the vast loftiness of the subject and is rightly reticent to take it up. As I mentioned, I found the same humility in Augustine when he took up the subject of the Holy Trinity. This, by itself, is commendable and worth emulating. 2) He’s concerned that his poor articulation may have a negative effect upon someone else. This is a lesson I don’t know that I’ve ever learned. One wonders how many one’s turned off this or that doctrine simply by speaking poorly about it. All that’s in God’s hands, to be sure, but it’s still a gut check for a guy like me.

As to Anselm’s faith, that is (not so surprisingly) in the Augustinian tradition, too. Anselm’s faith seeks understanding. He does not turn that on its head and have understanding seeking faith. He holds to that most excellent principle (which was his motto): “faith seeking understanding.” This concept is, to me, a no brainer. For example, one of the first things we learn about God is that he’s infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. Intellect: *POOF* – is that to be understood unto belief? Impossible. But it can be received in faith and pursued to understand more deeply. Anselm’s a great example for us that Christianity is always faith seeking understanding; it couldn’t be any other way.

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Young Saint Anselm

Okay, right out of the chute, Saint Anselm (or, Anselm of Canterbury, as he’s usually called) is super rad. He’s so much so that we named one of our little ones after him. Our little Saint Anselm is probably the youngest of the Saint Anselms on the planet.

We just celebrated the 900th anniversary of the death of the more famous St. Anselm last year on April 21. That day is Anselm’s memorial day, which is celebrated in the Roman Catholic church, as well as the Anglican and Lutheran churches. Somehow, the Reformed and Presbyterian folks missed the boat on this one. I’m out to change that.

Anselm of Canterbury was born ca. 1033 and lived an extraordinary life. Go do some Google research and read about him. Seems like he’s most famous for his so-called Ontological Argument for the existence of God. I think, however, that he should be more famous for his development of the incarnation and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. He offered his thoughts on these topics in a book called Cur Deus Homo (or Why the God Man?), which I’ve just started to read. As I work through CDH, I’ll post here, and it would be great to get some discussion going on the topics of incarnation and divine satisfaction.

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