Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD:  Anselm, Cur Deus Homo[1]

 

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In Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, he divides the work into two short books.  The first book contains objections raised by unbelievers because of their view that the faith is unreasonable, and responses by Anselm to their objections.  The second book contains the purpose for which man was created and accentuates that its realization can only be obtained in the God/Man.

Responding To the Contemporary Critics: “It’s Dishonoring to God”

Book One: Responding to the Objections Raised by Infidels.  This work begins with Boso (the one asking the questions) raising the objection that “we do injustice and bring dishonor to God…” when we claim that Jesus was born of a virgin, needed the nourishment of men to grow, grew tired and fatigued, and last of which was crucified among thieves.

Anselm’s response: we neither dishonor nor bring upon God any injustice by those things we claim, but instead we do praise and proclaim the inexpressible height of his mercy.  Through the incarnation, God does more deeply demonstrate his mercy and love toward us, for, as by one man’s disobedience death reigns, so also by one man’s obedience life should be restored.  Moreover, as sin had its cause in woman, so also it was fitting that through woman the author of righteousness be born from her, and in the same way the devil conquered the first Adam by the eating of the tree, so also the last Adam vanquished Satan by his suffering on the tree.  Again, Anselm explains that redemption could not have been realized through any other being other than God (whether angelic or human) because if any other being should rescue man from eternal death, man would rightly have to be that redeemers servant.  The problem however is that both angels and man were designed to serve only God through eternity.

“The Incarnation Seems Inconsistent with Reason”

Another objection raised against the incarnation by Boso is that it seems inconsistent with reason for the Almighty to “stoop to things so lowly, that the Almighty should do a thing with such toil”.

Anselm responds by accentuating that God’s will ought to be sufficient reason for whatever he does because his will is never irrational, regardless of our inability to understand.  Furthermore, to think that it is unreasonable for the Almighty to stoop so low and embrace so much toil is to misunderstand our faith.  For we assert that the Divine nature is indubitably impassible, He cannot be un-exalted, nor does he toil in anything He desires to effect.  Moreover, the Lord Jesus Christ is very God and very man, one person who has two natures.  Hence, when we speak of God enduring humiliation or suffering, it only refers to the feeble human constitution, which Jesus assumed.  In the incarnation, there is no debasing of the Deity, but rather there is the exaltation of man’s nature.

 “Why Should the Most Just Man be Punished for the Guilty?”

Something that also seems unjust and lacking wisdom for Boso is that the most just man should be punished for the guilty.  Not only does God deserve condemnation for such an act, but this also argues against his omnipotence and justice.

Anselm responds by asserting that God neither put the innocent to death for the guilty, nor impelled Jesus to die and suffer against his own will for man’s salvation.  Instead, Jesus willingly laid down his life.

Boso objects by citing many texts that demonstrate Jesus’ submission to the will of the Father, and as such, that this act was one of obedience to the Father’s will, not Jesus own free will.  Anselm clarifies the misunderstanding between doing something at the demand of obedience as opposed to what he suffered because of his perfect obedience.  For every rational being owes the demanded obedience to God and the Father claimed it from Jesus (in his humanity).

It would be unjust for God to demand death of a sinless man for whom God created to be happy in Him.  Furthermore, it would not be right for God to make miserable by death a creature who is without fault, for that is not the goal of his creation.  Rather than being compelled by God to die, Christ suffered death of his own accord, and by yielding up his life, Jesus is not offering an act of obedience, but rather on account of obedience in maintaining his holiness, he met death.

And when a scripture like “God did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all”, it simply means that God did not rescue him, not that he sent him to die.

“Sin’s Meaning & It’s Relatedness to Satisfaction”

Now concerning the meaning of sin and how satisfaction for sin is realized, Anselm first explains that sin is not rendering to God his due.  The debt man owes to God is to be subject to His will.   By neglecting the aforesaid, man robs God and dishonors Him, thus sinning.  To make satisfaction for the offence and be cleared of fault, a repayment of honor to God must be made in return.  This is a debt every sinner must settle, yet is unable to repay on his own.  Anselm continues the theme by pointing out that God would be unjust not to punish the unjust for their sin.  For by not executing his justice, God would then not differentiate between the guilty and the innocent, and this is unbecoming of Him.

Anselm also deals with how God’s honor exists in the punishment of the wicked, how man cannot be redeemed without satisfaction for his sins being made, and how Jesus the God/Man necessarily realized the rescue for mankind.  Moreover, how it’s impossible for the devil to be saved and how great God’s compassion really is.

[1] St. Anselm, “Cur Deus Homo,” Basic Writings, (Translated by S. N. Deane, Pp.191-302, © 1962 by Open Court Publishing Company, 2001 Printing).

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Summary of Chapter 3:  THE MIDDLE AGES Part 1_[PP.72-111]

 

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The apostolic struggle during this period was not with old pagans or young barbarians, but with other races that had a rich cultural heritage.  Among these were Jewish and Moslems.

DISPUTES WITH SARACENS AND JEWS: 600-1000 [Pp.72-76]

JOHN DAMASCENE (d. c. 754) is often designated as the last Father of the East. He was born in Damascus.  Among his works the following obtain: In 727, he wrote his first apologetic piece defending the veneration of images contra the Iconoclastic emperor, Leo the Isaurian.  In The Source of Knowledge and The Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (around 745), in the monastery of St. Sabas, near Jerusalem, he composed these masterpieces and from the latter argued that: All men naturally know God through creation; that the Biblical revelation is however the zenith of God’s self-disclosure; and he addresses the controversy between Christians and Jews over the Sabbath.  In his, Dialogue between a Saracen and a Christian, he considers the problem of evil and points to Christ as not avoiding it but rather experiencing its hardships.

THEODORE ABU QURRAH (c. 740 to c. 820) [Pp.73-74] a disciple of John Damascene, became the Bishop of Kara (Haran) in Mesopotamia.  He is best known for his Arabic treatise God and the True Religion, where he analyzes and confronts the problem of choosing among the various religions that claim to be revealed (E.g., Zoroastrianism, The Samaritan religion, Judaism, Christianity, Manicheism, Sects of Marcion, Bardesenes, and Mohammed.

After examining the similarities and differences, Abu Qurrah concludes that Christianity: first, presents the most plausible idea of God; second that it exhibits the fullest understanding of man’s actual religious needs; third that it prescribes the most appropriate remedy and that miracles and the expansion of Christianity point to its truthfulness.

ABD AL-MASIH AL-KINDI (10th century) allegedly wrote an Arabic apology titled The Epistle of Abdallah ibn-Ismail al-Hashimi to Abd-al-Misah ibn-Ishac al-Kindi, inviting him to embrace Islam; and the Reply of Abd-al-Masih, refuting the same, and inviting the Hashimiteto to embrace the Christian Faith.  In this work he considers the prophecies and miracles of Jesus as reasons that testify in favor of Christ, not Mohammed; he contrasts the methods of spreading the message of Christianity and Muslims, where the former by the apostles won people through miracles, their example, and preaching, as opposed to Mohammed’s message was spread through the sword.

ISIDORE OF SEVILLE [P.74] composed a work titled Against the Jews: On the Catholic Faith from the Old and New Testament.  The aim of the treatise was to educate believers on how to converse with Jews, rather than on how to convert them.

CARDINAL PETER DAMIAN [Pp.75-76] (1007-72) composed two polemical opuscules (i.e., a small or minor literary or musical work) against the Jews.

In his, A Reply to the Jews, Peter contends with his monks that it is better to war with the flesh than with the Jews who are but extinct.  Moreover to protect the faithful, it is admonished that vain disputes be shunned and with the Jews to show the most evident prophetic texts concerning the Christian faith.  In the book, Peter also deals with: The Trinity, The Incarnation, and The Sufferings of Christ.

In Peter’s, A Dialogue between a Jew Asking Questions and a Christian Responding, he addresses the non-observance of the laws such as: Circumcision, the Sabbath, the Dietary laws, and Animal Sacrifices.  Unfortunately, in concluding this treatise, he impatiently scolds the Jews for their incredulity.

            ANSELM (A.D. 1033-1109) [Pp.76-81], known as the great Benedictine Abbot who became the Arch Bishop of Canterbury in (A.D. 1093).  Very important to the apologetic enterprise is the thought Anselm disclosed concerning the relationship between faith and reason, which impacted greatly the High Middle Ages.  In his classic, Cur Deus Homo, (started around A.D. 1094 and completed around 1098), Anselm stands in the tradition of the Jewish-Christian polemical dialogues of the Middle-Ages.  This treatise deals with the reasons for the Incarnation of Christ Jesus and the theology of Redemption tied to it.

            In Anselm’s Proslogian (A.D. 1077-78) and the Monologion (1076) he deals both with the existence and attributes of God.  There’s a similarity with the three works:  First, Anselm begins in faith in order that he may ground his understanding in both the Scriptures and in the creeds.  Second, Anselm is far removed from the rationalism of the Enlightenment, for although he uses reason to discover and understand the depths of God, there remains our faith in redemption that keeps us persevering.

Third, for Anselm, to understand is the grasping of objective reasons that underlie and illumine the data of faith.  Fourth, Anselm sees man’s image as effaced, not erased through the fall and as such, man is not fully rational. [P.78]

Theology for Anselm must therefore be conducted prayerfully and with divine aid.  But it must necessarily be conducted sola ratione.  He understands that circular reasoning must be avoided when doing exegesis (Monologion).

Fifth, He does his apologetic partly for the benefit of believers (1 Pet.3:15) thus doing his theological reasoning to equip believers to deal with non-Christians.  Anselm sees theological knowledge as a single science, which operates by reason under the leading of faith, but arguments, as long as they were cogent reasons, could be understood from those who have no faith.  Anselm has a high view of reason.

Concluding Thoughts: Anselm’s ominous contribution to the history of apologetics is seen in his raising so clearly the question of the intrinsic demonstrability of the Christian faith.