Anselm and Abelard

In Cur Deus Homo, a series of conversations between Anselm and his monk friend Boso center around the reason God took on human nature since it seems to be inappropriate for God to do so. Thus Anselm begins to address how unbelievers find it incredibly simple and injurious to God to think that he lived as a human. Anselm argues that incarnation of God is necessary since it is the only way in which redemption can be ascertained. It is important to know to Anselm believes that God kept humanity within paradise to eventually join the angels to understand this treatise. Anselm clearly (and this tradition will also be carried on by Abelard) rejects any notion that Satan has a part of the transaction that must be repaid. As far as I know this flies in the face of what was considered the normative theological understanding of the atonement, since most in Anselm’s day considered the ransom paid to the devil to be part of the gospel.

In what makes sense for Anselm’s way of explaining the “good news” is to relate what God does by way of honor. The idea of honor is a medieval cultural assumption as Thompson has discussed. Anselm sees sin at its basic level as a denunciation of God’s honor, that which is due to God. Thus sin cannot be taken away until his honor is restored. This is essentially the bad news of the gospel. It is what has gone wrong.

So what’s the good news? What God does for humanity is essential the “good news” for humanity. This good news is in part that God desires to restore his honor because according to Anselm God wants humanity’s blessedness to be restored.[1] As stated in order for God’s honor to be restored humanity must not only pay for what gone wrong, there must be something more, over and above the necessary compensation of his honor. Thus the dilemma is that although humanity needs to make recompense, humanity is simply incapable of providing the restoration, since it requires a God-act. The result is that what humankind took away from God (his honor) when it sinned cannot be repaid because is inherently sinful. Moreover, humanities inability to restore what it owes to God does not excuse it from its own culpability.

Anselm will argue in a sort of paradox that the state of sin creates an increase of guilt, a doubling of sin. This doubling is not only the failure to pay what is owed before sin (the refrain from sin) but also the particular person’s own debt after the change in state. Finally Anselm argues that for God to forgive both is to a mockery of God because in ascribes him with more mercy than a justice God is warranted to have. Therefore without someone who can repay both states of sin and make salvation available to humanity. Since God does not want rational nature perish altogether (Anselm’s view), it is necessary for him to complete what he began, which requires a complete satisfaction of sin Thus the “divine cure” is the invention of the God-man. (For Anselm angels can be redeemed as well, but only by a God-angel.)[2] Anselm believes in a perfect number of men to replace the fallen angels.

Throughout one notes the voluntary nature of the Son to die in relationship to the Father. This comes back to the idea in Anselm of an honorific culture. Since God is not bound the necessity to act in help to man, man would not need to be grateful. This idea of gratefulness is going to be picked up by Abelard and developed more thoroughly to the point that what Christ does is become a good example of love that we are grateful toward.

Anselm discusses why it is not fitting for God to forgive sins by mercy alone without repayment. This in effect would have created a world in which compassion more of a value than justice. This is not fitting, since it goes against the very character of God. Sin must be satisfied rather than simply forgiven according to Anselm otherwise humanity would be unequal to angels who have never sinned.[3]

The why of Anselm’s gospel comes in the form of the necessity of satisfaction for sin which has already been stated. In addition Anselm sees it necessary for perfect God and perfect man to be the same person. This is related to the Chalcedonian definition which avoids a third nature in Christ, which Anselm shows would be to create a third species. This would be someone who would not carry the salvific element of atonement specifically for the human race. Anselm and Boso will talk of how Christ’s death outweighs all the sins including the sins the world committed when they killed the Son of God. Anselm’s answer to this problem is that the world unwittingly killed God. He draws on Paul who says if they had known they would have never killed the Lord of glory. Anselm concludes with how great and how just the mercy and wisdom of God is to cancel the debt of humanity.

(2) What is the message of the gospel or “good news” as Abelard explains it in his exposition of Romans 3:19-26? In other words, What did God do for us in Christ, and why did God do it this way?

Abelard begins his treatise with the condition of humanity under the law before the time of grace when the righteousness of God would be shown as an example of his love. All are included in this indictment, Jews since they have received the Law and Gentiles as well.

The gospel according to Abelard is that humanity receives righteousness through the dispensation of grace that is extended in the form of faith in Christ. Yet the ensuing discussion of what righteousness constitutes a show that for Abelard righteousness is highly related to love which exists in the human soul. Thus, love, a type of righteousness, is a free gift or a grace that God acts toward humanity in a redemptive fashion. In this sense what God does for us is that he more fully bounds us to “himself by his love.” This is the message of Abelard’s view of the gospel and more directly the atonement.

Accordingly, it was not that Christ died in order to pay a ransom or make a payment for our sins; rather, that in his death he serves us an example of his love. Furthermore, that he teaches us what we also must do and how we must act. This seems to be a moralistic view of the atonement and one wonders if it lends to a more liberal schematic of salvation.

Abelard makes this explicit in his understanding. He rhetorically communicates that Satan has no more power then than he has now. Satan according to Abelard has no right to possess humanity. He finds it difficult to reconcile the idea of Satan possession humanity since it is not mentioned within the biblical account. Furthermore he argues that Satan has no right to possessing humanity because he did not contractually reward humanity for his transgression in the beginning. Rather humanity was seduced by Satan. This smacks of deception not contract to possession. Thus he comes to the conclusion that there is no ransom. Next, the death of Christ seems to Abelard to be a gross overcompensation for Adam’s sin. Abelard seems to wonder how we can now be justified of the original sin through an even greater injustice. Thus he concludes that righteousness does not come by way of a ransom paid to Satan or even to God. The argument is employed that if Christ forgave sins before his death (as in the case of Mary Magdalene) what empowerment is needed in his death. The result is that atonement in his sense is Christ essentially mending the broken relationship of his followers by way of showing an expansive love.

God did it in the way he did (through the blood of Christ) because according to Abelard, we are inspired to a greater love for reasons of a realization of the gift of divine grace. The idea of inspiration and greater affection is related to our redemption in Christ according to Abelard. We are supposed to be mystified and awestruck with the love of God to the degree that we find justice and solace in this magnificent act of love. He believes that because we have a greater appreciation for Christ’s suffering it causes in us freedom from sin as well as giving us true liberty as children of God. We are to be moved simultaneously at the just act of God and the fact that he justifies us through belief in him. The secondary result is that we may do things out of love rather than out of fear.

[1] Cur Deus Homo, 118. “Let us agree that man was made for blessedness, which cannot be attained in this life, and that, while no man can reach it unless his sins are forgiven, no man passes through this life without sin.”

[2] Anselm spends several chapters discussing the redemption of angels and what their number will be. This is based on a bad reading of Deuteronomy if I remember my history. For the purpose of this assignment, it will not be addressed.

[3] Cur Deus Homo, 134. “Then it is unfitting for God to take sinful man, without satisfaction, to replace the lost angels, since truth does not allow him to be raised to equality with the blessed.”