Anselm

Theology Thursday – Anselm on the Atonement

Anselm was a brilliant guy. A genius. He published his book Why God Became Man in 1097, so you could say it’s a bit of an antique. Anselm’s book is really about why Christ had to take on a human nature and be conceived of and born to a virgin. But, along the way, he tackled the reason for Christ’s death and thus popularized the “satisfaction theory” of atonement, which envisioned God as an overlord of sorts who was owed “satisfaction” or payment by his subjects for crimes committed, in order to set things right.

This theory is very intriguing, and it’s not too far from the penal substitution theory most conservative Christians are taught. Here is the excerpt:

What it is to sin and to give recompense for sin

Anselm: What we have to investigate, therefore, is the question: ‘By what rationale does God forgive the sins of men?’ And, so that we may do this more clearly, let us first see what it is to sin and what it is to give satisfaction for sin.

Boso: It is for you to demonstrate and for me to pay attention.

Anselm: If an angel or a man were always to render to God what he owes, he would never sin.

Boso: I cannot contradict this.

Anselm: Then, to sin is nothing other than not to give God what is owed to him.

Boso: What is the debt which we owe to God?

Anselm: All the will of a rational creature ought to be subject to the will of God.

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Theology Thursday – Anselm on the Incarnation

Anselm published the final version of Why God Became Man in 1094. It’s a stunning achievement, structured around a fictional dialogue between himself and a curious student, named Boso. It’s popular among many Christians to assume the medieval period was a “dark age” for the church; a time of intellectual bankruptcy and stagnation. Anselm’s work proves that theory wrong.

Step by step, like a Terminator after his prey, Anselm remorselessly and relentlessly proves the necessity and purpose of the incarnation. This book is one of the most important theological works you can read on the incarnation, sin and atonement.

In this excerpt, Anslem discusses whether Christ’s death was truly willing and voluntary:1

Boso: How it is that, even granted that the lowly things of which we speak with reference to Christ do not pertain to his divinity, it may seem to unbelievers that it is inappropriate that they are said of him even with reference to his humanity. How it is, consequently, that it may seem to them that this same man did not die voluntarily?

Anselm: When God does something, ‘the will of God’ ought to be sufficient explanation for us, even if we do not see why it is his will; for the will of God is never irrational.

Boso: That is true, supposing it is agreed that God’s will lay behind the action. The fact is that many people in no way accept that God wishes something, if reason seems to conflict with it.

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