Anselm on Reconciliation and the Atonement

ANSELM

Last Week we looked at Irenaeus and how his method was more Biblical and historical withing the framework of the rule. Anselm is not like that. He is more philosophical and he grinds things down to basic premises. Without atonement and reconciliation there would be no relationship with God. Anselm is another way of looking at these great themes of our salvation especially now at this Easter Weekend.

Anselm 1033-1166 was archbishop of Canterbury, thus he always had responsibilities on the political scene. Anselm’s life thus revolved around the monastery and one of the functions of any monk was to pray. Southern says that from the time that Anselm arrived in Bec (in 1059), one can see ‘three threads running through the whole development’ of Anselm’s life and thought; 1) Anselm received his intellectual tools from Lanfranc in who’s footsteps he followed. 2) Anselm immersed himself totally in St Augustine’s thought and language. These two points in some way influenced the writings of ‘Prayers and Letters’ and the ‘Proslogion’. 3) From 1078 new influences in the world took Anselm outside of the Monastery. His theological questioning was also growing due to contact with Roscelin. Jewish arguments were brought to the attention of Anselm via Gilbert Crispin. There were also the teachings from the Laon school which was brought to the attention of Anselm via Boso. These were contributary factors for the culminating works of the Proslogion of 1078 and his more mature work of the Cur Deus Homo in 1098 (15/437). In our search for Anselm’s understanding of reconciliation and atonement we shall concern ourselves mainly with the Cur Deus Homo? (why did God become man?).

Anselm is one of the first theologians to have written a systematic theology on the atonement (1/87). Anselm rejected the view that, ” The Devil, it was held, had obtained, as a result of the Fall certain rights over humankind, either on his own account or by divine permission. Freedom from this bondage was won by means of the payment represented by the blood of Christ” (1/87). (It would be unfair to say that Irenaeus held this view completely as there is also atonement language in his writings). Anselm rejected this view. He wanted to give an account that was rational in relation to the Atonement. Gunton says that at places Anselm is being too systematic with his approach to the atonement and the incarnation (1/88). This does seem to be the case, as in the CDH Anselm does put a great deal of emphasis upon the death of Christ and not enough emphasis on other historical questions in the second part of the CDH.

Anselm viewed the Fall,”…as sin, which was the cause of our condemnation, had its beginning from a woman, so should the author of our righteousness and salvation be born of a woman. And as the Devil had conquered man by the tasting of a tree, to which he persuaded him, so by the suffering endured on a tree, which he inflicted, should he, by a man, be conquered” (2/38). It is interesting to see in this quotation that Anselm does give the Incarnation a high priority, as does Irenaeus. But it must be said that in between the Incarnation and the Passion, the historical works of Christ (for example the miracles etc) are omitted.

Whatever the case maybe concerning the ballance of atonement ~n the CDH there are important points to consider for the rejection of the ransom language which was mentioned before. If one for example holds to the ransom language it does have too much of a dualism in ~t. In Mark 10/45 for example where it says, ” to give his life a ransom for many” (1/88). If the blood of Jesus is treated as a literal price which was for payment to the Devil, then this is going beyond what the NT actual ly al lows in its language (1 /88). The next point to realize

is that ransom language gives too much autonomy and too much authority to the Devil. Gunton quotes CDH1/7,” the Devil and man belong to God alone, and neither one stands outside God’s power; what case, then, did God have to plead with his own creature, in his own affair…?” (1/88 and CDH 1/7).

Satan can only give out punishment according to what God allows. Ransom language does not give an account that is reasonable enough to explain the atonement. Satan is only a creature like all of the other creatures and if he should be given a priority of place as is implied in the ransom language, then the authority of God is undermined. With the rejection of ransom language Anselm turns to a new metaphor which is language of ‘satisfaction’. ‘Satisfaction’ was taken from the legal establishment (1/89). The starting point for Anselm is,” The entire will of a rational creature ought to be subject to the will of God” (2/63). If this formula is broken by sin, then the one that has committed the sin is ‘owing to God’.

Anselm has a particular concept of Justice. God will not allow injustice to have its own way in the universe, otherwise the universe would be seen as irrational (1/89-90). If the universe is seen as irrational, then God does not deserve the name ‘God’. Sin must be punished, ” And since it is not possible to bring sin into accordance with right order without satisfaction being made, except by punishing it, if it is not punished, it is let go without being brought into due order” (2/65).

The important words in the above quotation are ‘right order’. If we also look at CDH I/15 (pages7l-72) where it has the expression ‘order and the beauty of the universe’, we start to see that Anselm sees satisfaction in terms of the welfare of God’s creation. Satisfaction initially is not in terms of the honour of God. Anselm writes that nothing can harm ‘the power and dignity of God’ (2/15/pages7l-72). It is with this in mind that Gunton writes, ” The point is that God does not demand satisfaction for sin because he is in some way personally affronted or offended by transgression” (1/90).

As well as God who is seen as the guardian of universal justice we must also take into account ‘the seriousness of sin’ (1/90). To do something that goes against God’s will is a very serious thing. In the dialogue between Anselm and Boso, Anselm writes,” You do not, therefore, make satisfaction unless you return something greater than that for the sake of which you were under obligation not to have committed the sin”. Then Boso replies,” I see that reason requires it, and yet, that it is altogether impossible” (2/pages 100-101//CDH/I/21). Anselm goes on to say that if it wasn’t for faith, he would despair of there being any possibility of reconciliation to God (2/100).

It is within the framework of justice that mercy must be understood. Man is in a state by which he is incapable of paying God back for his sins. At the same time God cannot forgive man without there being a payment for the debt of sin. God’s Mercy has to be understood within the framework of justice. After what has been said, it must also be noted that ‘satisfaction’ must not be understood in terms of the primary emphasis being on penal substitution.

When Anselm uses the word satisfaction we must also take into account the word ‘poena’ . Satisfactio and poena must be seen as alternatives. Gunton writes,” Satisfaction is therefore according to Anselm the way by which God is enabled not to exact a tribute of compensating penalty from the sinner” (1/90). Then Gunton writes, ” He (Anselm) is therefore not propounding a version of what came to be called penal substitution, in which Jesus is conceived to be punished by God in place of the sinner. There is a substitution, an exchange, but it is not penal in character” (1/90-91).

The framework for the theology of satisfaction in terms of ‘human fallenness’ is only a secondary consideration. The main “focus is on the goodness of God and the excellence of creation’s crown” (1/91). Satisfaction was made because of a gracious act of God. God was not willing to see his creatures annihilated. This act of God is to be understood in terms of a Trinitarian framework. Anselm writes,” Hut this Man (Jesus) freely offered to the Father what it would never have been necessary for Him to lose and paid for sinners what He did not owe for Himself” (2/166 book i I/8). Anselm in the same chapter goes on to say,”…He offered himself for his own honour, to Himself, as he did to the Father and the Holy Spirit i.e., His human nature to his divine nature, which is also one of the Three Persons” (2/170). Barth makes use of this motif and he makes this abstract motif relational, ” … the only One who is judged… He is the only who has come and acts among us as the Judge” (16/237-238). In the same context Barth is also fond of the language of Jesus Christ being ‘ for us’ (16/235). The point is that Anselm did extremely well to think up this motif, yet he misses to bring it into the context of ‘our time’ as opposed to God’s eternity.

CONCLUSON

To begin with both Irenaeus’ and Anselm’s historical settings and hence world views were different. At the same time however they wanted to make a defence of the Christian faith. In the AH, Irenaeus begins by outlining the heresies and showing what is ‘apparent’. After this groundwork has been covered, only then does he begin ~n a rational way to demolish the heretical positions. Contrasting to this method, Anselm has inherited certain philosophical tools for use on behalf of the Christian faith against other religious or atheistic systems. He begins by trying to whittle down ‘ as he sees it’ to the common denominators of the Christian faith, particularly such things as, Fall, Incarnation, Passion etc. Both theologians took the Fall seriously and though their methods differed a great deal, it is interesting that some of the motifs later to be mentioned (in our conclusion) have remarkable similarities. The point is that Anselm looked at reconciliation and atonement from a rational perspective. It has to be noted though that it is ‘faith seeking understanding’ (not natural theology) which is one of his presuppositions. Irenaeus doesn’t spell out a concept of faith seeking understanding, but maybe his ‘rule of faith can in some way be seen a loose equivalent (both presuppose the existence of God). In their search for explaining how God reconciles man to Himself, maybe a way to explain their contrasting methods, one can use the analogy of the Mathematician and the historian. The mathematician uses abstract concepts to gain insight into universal truths, Anselm tends to use this method. Irenaeus on the other hand sees the historical data and sets out to explain and evaluate the data in the best way he knows how. This is a crude analogy, but it does show that both methods are valuable in

explaining reconciliation and atonement.

Concerning the Fall, for both of them Mary plays an important part for its reversal . For Irenaeus Mary corresponded to Eve (in the reversal procedure), for Anselm Seeing that a woman was responsible at the Fall it was only fitting that a woman should be present at the incarnation. Obedience is also an important concept for the two of them. In Irenaeus, Christ obeyed the Father at every point of the natural sequence of human development and thus reversing the Fall at each of those particular points. For Anselm aswell the obedience of Christ was also important. Christ offered himself to his own honour. There is a contrast though, for Anselm propitiation seemed more of an abstract mathematical sum in putting the universe in harmony in relation to its Creator. For Irenaeus on the other hand, the obedience of Christ came out of love and there is more of a personal element of fellowship. With the previous statement it must also be stressed that mercy (as an abstract concept) seemed to replace the love motif as found in the Hible. This contrast must take into consideration their historical contexts. Concerning Satan, it may be true to say that he is given a more elevated role in Irenaeus due to the ‘ransom’ concept, it has to be stressed though, that even in Irenaeus Satan is still only a creature like all other creatures. In the plan of the historico-salvation, ‘the obedience of Christ’ is more important. Irenaeus and Anselm agree on the obedience of Christ but the history-salvation motif is unique to the second century theologian. Irenaeus and Anselm also contrast on the concept of sin and evil. For Irenaeus evil ~s held relative to free will thus sin is not treated as seriously as maybe it should be. Sin for Anselm is a very serious concept because it is this particular evil that knocked the universe out of right order. (presumably Anselm inherited this concept of evil from Augustine, then later after Anselm, Calvin) . So then at certain points anselm and Irenaeus do contrast but ‘at crucial points they agree’. Without the perfect obedience of Christ it would be impossible for salvation to be effected. The other point that I want to make is that, one could probably say and should say up to a point that both theologians seem to be ‘both sides of the same coin’ (colloquialism intended). The reason why I say this is that a great deal of the motifs used by Irenaeus and Anselm is found in the theological grammar of Karl Barth but that is another question.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1) THE ACTUALITY OF THE ATONEMENT/ BY COLIN GUNTON. 2) CUR DEUS HOMO?/ ANSELM.

3) EARLY CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES/ JND KELLY/ 5TH EDITION. 4) MAN AND THE INCARNATION/VINGREN

5) AGAINST HERESIES VOLUME 1/ANCIENT CHRISTIAN WRITERS/TRANSLATED HY DOMINIC J UNGER.

6) THE WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS HOOKS 1-4/ T AND T CLARK 1867. 7) IRENAEUS 2 HOOKS 4-5/ T AND T CLARK 1869.

8) IRENAEUS/ DENIS MINNS OP/OUTSTANDING CHRISTIAN THINKERS SERIES.

9) THE EARLY CHRISTIAN FATHERS/ TRANSLATED BY HENRY HETTENSON. 10) NEW DICTIONARY OF THEOLOGY/ IVP.

11) VISIBILE PATRIS FILIUS/JUAN OCHAGAVIA/ ORIENTALIA CHRISTIANA ANLECTA/171/1964.

12) THE GLORY OF THE LORD/ VOLUME II/HANS URS VON BALTHASAAR. 13) ANSELM AND A NEW GENERARION/ EVANS/ OXFORD PRESS. 14) NEW AMERICAN STANDARD HIHLE.

15) SAINT ANSELM/ SOUTHERN.

16) CHURCH DOGMATICS VOL IV,I BY KARL BARTH (THE DOCTRINE OF RECONCILIATION).

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