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.