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.
CHAPTER II — AT-ONE-MENT BY PROPITIATION
BY DYSON HAGUE, VICAR OF THE CHURCH OF THE EPIPHANY, TORONTO, CANADA; PROFESSOR OF LITURGICS, WYCLIFFE COLLEGE, TORONTO; CANON OF ST. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL, LONDON, ONT., 1908-1912
The importance of the subject is obvious. The Atonement is Christianity in epitome. It is the heart of Christianity as a system; it is the distinguishing mark of the Christian religion. For Christianity is more than a revelation; it is more than an ethic. Christianity is uniquely a religion of redemption. At the outset we take the ground that no one can clearly apprehend this great theme who is not prepared to take Scripture as it stands, and to treat it as the final and authoritative source of Christian knowledge, and the test of every theological theory. Any statement of the atonement, to satisfy completely the truly intelligent Christian, must not antagonize any of the Biblical viewpoints. And further; to approach fairly the subject, one must receive with a certain degree of reservation the somewhat exaggerated representations of what some modern writers conceive to be the views of orthodoxy. We cannot deduce Scriptural views of the atonement from non-Biblical conceptions of the Person of Christ; and the ideas that Christ died because God was insulted and must punish somebody, or that the atonement was the propitiation of an angry Monarch-God who let off the rogue while He tortured the innocent, and such like travesties of the truth, are simply the misrepresentations of that revamped Socinianism, which is so widely leavening the theology of many of the outstanding thought-leaders of today in German, British, and American theology.
To compare the doctrine of definite atonement with the contrasting view of the Arminians, Lorraine Boettner observes, “For the Calvinist, it is like a narrow bridge that goes all the way across the stream; for the Arminian, it is like a great wide bridge that goes only half-way across.” The question is not whether the atonement is limited in some sense, but how.
CHAPTER IV: THE ATONEMENT*
BY PROFESSOR FRANKLIN JOHNSON, D. D., LL. D., AUTHOR OF “OLD-TESTAMENT QUOTATIONS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT” ETC., CHICAGO, ILL.
The Christian world as a whole believes in a substitutionary atonement. This has been its belief ever since it began to think. The doctrine was stated by Athanasius as clearly and fully as by any later writer. All the great historic creeds which set forth the atonement at any length set forth a substitutionary atonement. All the great historic systems of theology enshrine it as the very Ark of the Covenant, the central object of the Holy of Holies.