Celebrating Cur Deus Homo – Part II: Anselm’s use of Chalcedonian Christology

    Jesus Christ is the God-Man who is fit to be humanity’s saviour. He is able to pay the debt, to make the satisfactory recompose required by God on behalf of humanity. For he alone inhabits all the criteria discussed in Part I.

  Chalcedon’s ‘two natures – one person’, offers Anselm the perfect ingredients to explain Christ as the God-Man who can atone for humanity’s sin. Anselm writes, ‘The Lord Jesus Christ is true God and true man, one Person in two natures and two natures in one person.’[1] Anselm is careful to argue that this does not amount to a mixture of the two natures, for that will produce a third being, which would be unfit for purpose. In the Incarnation, both natures were fully present, neither his human nature was swallowed by the divine nor the divine by the human. There is complete and harmonious unity between the two natures;[2] both natures were properly intact, fit for purpose.[3] Likewise, Anselm carefully steers away from the language of conjoined, i.e. man and God co-existing side by side in the Nestorian sense.[4] Rather, they are combined, in the Cyrillian sense,[5] as a whole, ‘in the same way as the body and soul cleave coalesce into one human being’.[6]

   Christ’s connection to Adam is established through the Virgin Mary.[7] Though of the race of Adam, Jesus did not share Adam’s sin. Rather, being divine, the Son possesses independent righteousness – righteousness per excellence. Consequently, by virtue of the union, his human nature possesses the same righteousness as that of the divine.[8]  It is clear that for Anselm the divine Son is the centre of gravity in Jesus Christ.[9] The Son’s assumption of human flesh did no limit the Son, rather his assumed flesh was freed to perform what fallen humanity cannot naturally perform. Looking to attributes Anselm argues, though assuming human nature, the Son was not caged by human attributes which are not compatible with divine attributes. For example, the incarnate Son, unlike other human beings, is not ignorant, for ignorance is incompatible with the one who possesses immeasurable wisdom. His wisdom, all-knowingness, was essential to the purpose of his incarnation. Without wisdom it is not possible to tell good from evil, hence while Jesus may have appeared ignorant, he possessed all wisdom.[10]

   The perfect union of the two natures and the uprightness of Christ made Jesus the first man who succeeded in offering voluntary obedience to God.[11] In Jesus’ submission to God, Anselm sees Christ’s two wills in communication. As a ‘particular man Christ owed his obedience to God his Father, and his humanity owed it to his divinity.’[12] In other words, just as God the Son, willingly and freely, renders obedience to his Father, so does the human nature to the divine.[13] However, despite his success in living in total obedience, what saved humanity was not his submission to God but his death on the Cross. For since obedience is something God requires of all human beings, Christ was not able to offer his obedience and righteousness as a ransom to the Father. This is not to say, obedience did not play part in redemption. For obedience, Anselm argues, consolidated Jesus immortality, making Christ the first man who did not have to taste death; the first man who placed himself beyond death’s reach. This means Christ was not obliged to die, nor was the Father going to make such demand of him.

  The Cross was a free choice. As the divine Son Jesus is omnipotent, hence it was within his capacity to freely choose to undergo death.[14] This being the case, Christ, both as a human and divine freely offers his life to God. As the representative of humanity, Christ offers his life to God on humanity’s behalf. As God the Son, his magnitude matches the value of the ransom required by God. Hence, Christ, the God-Man offers the perfect satisfactory ransom on humanities behalf.[15] This offering results in liberating humanity from sin, making eternal life in the presence of God a sure destiny of the redeemed. For, what is true of the Incarnate Son of God, is now also true of us. As the divine nature liberated human nature in the person of Christ, in the same way, the Incarnate and Crucified Chris liberates humanity from death and decay, investing humankind with immortality. As Anselm puts it, by assuming flesh and suffering ‘no humiliation of God came about: rather it is believed that human nature was exalted’.[16] Click here for Part III

[1] CDH. I. 8.

[2] As Letham puts it, ‘In Christ…the same being who is human is also divine. The Word assumed a human nature not a human person’. Letham Robert, The Holy Trinity, in Scripture, history, theology, and worship, p. 223.

[3] CDH. II. 7.

[4] For an example of Nestorius’ conjoined language, cf. Nestorius’s first sermon against the Theotokos, in, Norris, Jr. Richard, The Christological Controversy, p.125

[5] Cf. Cyril of Alexandria, Second letter to Nestorius. 3, and, Third letter to Nestorius. 4.  

[6] CDH. II.7.

[7] As far as Anselm is concerned, there is no rational explanation for Chris’s unique situation, who while of the race of Adam, yet he does not inherit Adam’s sin, he simply calls it a miracle. cf. CDH. II. 16.

[8] Cf. CDH. II. 10.

[9] As Letham puts it, for Anselm, ‘In Christ, the divine being is not one individual and the human being another, for the same being who is human is also divine. The Word assumed a human nature, not a human person.’ Letham Robert, The Holy Trinity, In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship, p. 223.

[10] Cf. CDH. II. 11 – 13.

[11] Cf. CDH I. 9; II. 11.

[12] ibid.

[13] ibid.

[14] cf. CDH. II. 11.

[15] Cf. CDH. II. 11, 13.

[16] Cf. CDH. I. 8.

Celebrating St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo – Part I

hp_st_anselm_4_21_10    ‘Teach me to seek You, and reveal yourself to me as I seek, because I can neither seek You if You do not teach me how, nor find You unless You reveal Yourself. Let me seek You in desiring You; let me desire You in seeking You; let me find You in loving You; let me love You in finding You.’[1]

   St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033 – 1109), whose feast day the Church celebrates on April 21st, is arguably one of the greatest theologians of medieval Christianity. While at times criticised for favouring philosophical speculation over Scripture and theology, his writings contradict such criticisms.[2] As the above quotation shows, Anselm had a deep thirst for God; his prayers indicate convection
that humanity’s fulfilment lies in the knowledge and participation of the divine. To Anselm theological inquiry went beyond the limits of mere rationality to involve the whole of the human person. God, who lives in unapproachable light, is not an object awaiting human inquiry, rather He is found when, and where he chooses to reveal himself. And of course, the when and where of divine revelation is actualised in God’s Son – Jesus Christ – Incarnate and Crucified.
In a series of four posts, I seek to explore Anselm’s most influential work Cur Deus Homo (Why God-Man?).[3] As well as giving a brief account of Cur Deus Homo, I seek to explore the character of Anselm’s Christology, his Trinitarian theology and its relevance for us today and end with an evaluation of his Soteriology.

Cur Deus Homo

    In many ways the Cur Deus Homo can be compared to St. Athanasius’ De Incarnatione, both works aim to write an apologetic for the necessity of the Incarnation and Crucifixion for Salvation of humanity. Anselm hopes to make a case for the logical necessity of the Incarnation – that, even without the Gospel narrative, logic itself persuades us of the need for a God-Man to save humanity from sin and death. The book is framed as a dialogue between Anselm and Boso, who though a Christian, asks questions on behalf of non-Christians.
Starting with humanity, Anselm argues, humankind is God’s ‘most precious piece of workmanship’[4], created as innocent, righteous beings. As God’s creatures, Adam and Eve were required to maintain their righteousness and ‘absolute obedience to God’.[5] Their willing obedience to God would have served a twofold purpose. First, obedience was a mark of acknowledgement of their indebtedness to God, rendering the honour due to him as their creator.[6] Second, obedience was the means by which humanity could have preserved their happiness in the presence of God, and consolidate their lodging in immortality; placing mankind beyond the grasp of corruption and death.[7]
However, because of sin, humanity lost their immortal place, making death a deserved divine punishment. Furthermore, sin: means taking what belongs to God and rendering it to the Devil.[8] Humanity has committed a theft, and the result is the loss of their original state,. Hence they will not be re-incorporated into their original state till they pay back -in full- the debt[9] owed to God.[10]
The Fall places humanity in an impossible situation, for humans are not able to pay what they owe God. Boso sums humanity’s post-Fall situation as follows: ‘man owes to God for his sin something which he is incapable of paying back, and cannot be saved unless he pays it.’[11] The person humans have wronged measures the debt – in this case, God,[12] the payment needs to measure up to God’s magnitude. In other words, as finite creatures humanity is required to provide a satisfactory payment, with infinite value;[13] the worth of the payment needs to be ‘greater than everything that exists apart from God.’[14]. Given the inability of humanity to make recompense, God will punish humanity, subjecting them to submit their will through torment.[15] As Deme puts it,  man’s ‘Sin is not just an active opposing of God’s will, but also a self-inflicting impossibility’.[16]

The need for God-Man     

   The scale of the debt due to God, and humanity’s barrenness in meeting the demand, prepare the ground for the Incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Anselm draws a list of criterion, which needs to be present in the person who can qualify to meet the divine satisfaction. Firstly, he needs to be fully human. Only a human can represent humanity since the fall came through Adam. Furthermore, the solution also needs to come from within the race of Adam.[17] Secondly, the person must be God. For humanity will be forever indebted, owing to their future standing to the person who comes to their rescue.[18] This is not just standing in gratitude, but an acceptance of lordship. For since man/woman cannot be his/her own lord, they need to have either God or the Devil for their Lord. Hence, whoever saves humanity will become their ruler. This being the case, neither a mere human nor an angel can become humankind’s saviour.[19] Thirdly, the representative’s value of the recompense needs to be a matched to the divine value, ‘someone who can give to God from his own property something which exceeds everything inferior to God, must himself be superior to everything that exists apart from God.’[20]. Taking these three criteria into account, logically, Anselm concludes, since there is no one greater than God, the saviour of mankind must be God himself.[21] In other words, the person who will come to humankind’s rescue needs to be God-Man. In short, if humans are to be saved, then the debt must be paid, ‘which no one can pay except God, and no one ought to pay except man: it is necessary that a God-Man should pay it.’[22] Click here for Part II

[1]Proslogion 1.

[2] For exampleCur Deus Homo, Anselm wrestles with a number of Scriptural texts and works within a Chalcedonian framework. Of course, one can critic his scriptural and theological conclusion (as we shall do), but one should restrain from calling him unscriptural simply on the grounds of a difference of interpretation.

[3] Usually translated as Why God became Man?

[4] CDH. I.4.

[5] Cf. CDH. I.10, 24; II.11.

[6] Cf.CDH. II 11.

[7] Cf. CDH. I.24; II.2.

[8] Cf. CDH. I.22-23; II.11.

[9] Cf. CDH I. 10, 23.

[10] By and large Anselm works within an Augustinian framework, however, at this point, he diverges from Augustin. For in Augustine the ransom needs to be paid to the Devil who enslaves humanity (cf. De Trinitate, XIII 4-5), Anselm argues that the ransom needs to be paid to God.

[11] CDH I.25.

[12] cf. CDH. I. 21.

[13] cf. CDH. II. 11, 14.

[14] CDH. II. 6.

[15] Cf. CDH I. 12.

[16] Deme Daniel, The Christology of Anselm of Canterbury, p.100.

[17] CDH. II. 8.

[18] CDH. II. 8.

[19] CHD I.5.

[20] CDH. II. 6.

[21] Ibid.

[22] ibid.


Easter: abolishment, or reestablishment of Death?

Picture 089

Death, redeemed or destroyed? Did Easter provide a path around the grave or life through the grave? What are we to make of death in light of Easter Sundy?

On Easter Sunday we celebrated the triumphant resurrection of the Son of God, in particular his victory over death; the last enemy (1 Cor. 15:26). This, Christ did, not by cheating death, but by going down to its darkest depth. Christ knew that the grain of wheat, first, had to fall into the ground and die, before it can bear fruit (John. 12:24). Christ had to meet us where we are; He had to die our human death in order to make us partakers of the divine life.

This being the basic story of Easter, the temptation is to imagine that Easter abolished death; hence there is no place for it in Christian vocabulary. It is tempting to preach that Christ died so we do not have to die, as if Easter promises ‘life’ in isolation from death. As attractive as this maybe, yet it is not what Easter promises. A correct understanding of Easter does not suggest abolishment of death but – its redemption.

The Russian theologian Vladimir Lossky makes the argument that,

‘The Resurrection operates a change in fallen nature, opens a prodigious possibility: the possibility of sanctifying death itself. Hence, death is no longer an impress, but a door to the Kingdom.’

So, how is death sanctified?

In Easter, death was transformed, brought to subjection to the rule of Christ. Death, the murderer of life became the bearer of Life. Death became the preacher of ‘the divine Life’, which it could not extinguish. Without Easter, death and life are two irreconcilable opposites; if one is the beginning the other is the end. Or, in the language of the psalmist, if life is to be ‘the flower of the field’, then death is the ‘wind that passes over it,’ making the flower wither into the pit of ‘no more’ (Ps.103.15-16). However, Easter changed that reality, creating a partnership between the two opposites and assigned death a central place.

If this is true then it will have a number of implications for our perception of the notion of death in the light of Easter:

  1. The connection means that, we need to embrace Christ’s death in order to share his resurrection. We are baptized, not simply into the life of Christ, but first into his death (Rom. 6:3). It is in his death that we inherit his life. Death is no longer simply the end, rather the beginning of new life. In Easter, the tomb is transformed into a womb, giving birth to children of light.This is clearly articulated by St. Ignatius, who sees true life in death. In his way to martyrdom he writes to the Roman church imploring them not to interfere with his coming trial, by attempting to keep him alive.

‘Indulge me, brothers: do not keep me from living; do not desire me to die. Do not give the world one who wants to belong to God…Let me receive the pure light; when I arrive there I shall be a man.’

St. Ignatius sees death as his birth into life, where with the resurrected Christ he will experience true life, and true humanity. This does not mean that Christian life only begins after the grave, rather it means that true life begin as we are baptised into Christ, and its full realisation blossoms out of the grave.

  1. Easter calls us to explore the death we are baptized into. In baptism, we are (literally) baptized into the death of Christ; hence, we are to workout our salvation in the death we received in baptism. It means that Lent and Passiontide become an integral part of Easter. We are to carry our cross, die to ourselves in order to live for Christ (Matt. 16:24-25, Gal. 6:14). We are not to seek a way around the Cross, but to embrace it and look to it as the way of life (Rom. 8:13; Col 3.5).
  1. If ‘true life and true humanity’, as St. Ignatius suggests, is different from what we now define as life; then it necessarily follows that Easter falsifies all definitions of life which is not grounded in Jesus Christ. Without redeemed death, Easter will play into current culture’s shallow definition/s of life. Where the Resurrection distortedly functions to reassure people that death is but a small interruption, soon it will be over and you will resume life as you have always known it (A fashionable notion repeatedly heard in funerals).

The biblical Easter, on the other hand, will open our eyes to the tragic reality of death; a death began at our birth, which deprives us from true life. A life, only the Risen Lord can give when we are baptized into his death.

“Yesterday I was crucified with Christ; today I am glorified with Him. Yesterday I was dead with Christ; today I am sharing in his resurrection. Yesterday I was buried with him; today I am walking with him from the sleep of death.’ St. Gregory of Nazianzus