Reviewing “Why God Became Man” by Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm was a Benedictine monk, a philosopher, and a theologian. He served as the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109 AD. His work Cur Deus Homo, or Why God Became Man, covered Christian teachings of central importance: the incarnation, the sin of men, Christology, redemption by Christ, the doctrine of election etc. It answered the question why God had to become man for the salvation of the elects. The teaching was discussed through the dialogues between Anselm and Boso (one of Anselm’s students). There are two books for this work. While the first answered, with clear logic, how men sin, and why men’s sins are so great that they need Christ’s salvation, the second answered why it is Christ, with a perfect divine nature and a perfect human nature, who carried out the act of redemption of the human race.

In Book 1, Anselm and Boso started their conversations by defining which questions unbelievers have in general, including the irrationality of God descending into a woman’s womb, bearing the life of a man who suffered on earth, and being crucified on the cross. Then Anselm started explaining the necessity of all these for the redemption of the human race by a divine person. He first argued that it is the will of God that the death of a just man, Christ, happened. It is not that God is not omnipotent, as if Christ had to die out of obligation. He died voluntarily although His obedience did not demand it. A few verses were cited. (Phil. 2:8, Phil. 2:9, John 6:38, Rom. 8:32, and Matt. 26:39) Anselm wrote this in response to the Muslims (who believe God can forgive as He wishes), and the Jews (why the incarnation). This work is also believed to be a projection of hierarchical submission in the feudal society in the Middle Ages onto theology.

Then they spent an extended discussion regarding man’s sins and the recompense for them. Anselm defined that “to sin is nothing other than not to give God what is owed to him.” (page 283) And the debt which the human race ought to pay back to God is “all the will of a rational creature ought to be subject to the will of God.” (page 283) Just as men who sinned took away what God deserves, they are “under an obligation to repay to God an honor which he has violently taken from him,” (page 283) which is satisfactory to God. Then can God simply cancel the debt, or forgive the sins, out of mercy alone? Anselm explained that it does not fit God to do that. Canceling sins without any punishments would make sinners and non-sinners before God. This would make sinfulness in a position of greater freedom than righteousness. However, it does not fit God who is righteous and just. (pages 284-285) Hence, there ought to be a punishment for sinners, even though God is willing to forgive the sinners.

Anselm and Boso then turned their discussion about the fallen angels. Some angels fell because of their sins. Fallen angels were unable to reconcile with God because God did not give them perseverance. They came to the conclusions that the places of these bad angels have to be filled up from the human race. They even concluded that the human elect will not be less than the number of fallen angels. Although it is not clear these teachings about angels have scriptural basis, Anselm spent a considerable amount of effort to explain the necessity of electing human elects into the places of bad angels, thus requiring redeeming some people. And as good angels do not sin, the elects who replace the bad angels should be sinless as well. Therefore, the elected men have to be saved for the recompense for sin. (pages 289-301) However, in my opinion, without the angelology, the whole framework of Anselm’s teaching does not fall apart because God is willing to save men to restore the original purpose of creation, which will be covered in Book 2.

To fill the places of fallen angels, or to simply put humans back to the original places, Anselm argued that they have to be sinless. Anselm told an analogy that a rich man holds a precious pearl, which is knocked out of his hand into the mud by some others. Although the man can pick it up, he wants the pearl to be perfectly clean, without dirts. (page 301) It is the case that men needs to be saved before God can restore them into the place. This is another explanation why God cannot simply forgive men out of mercy alone, because it does not fit His characters.

Knowing that the recompense is necessary, it is logical to figure out how much it takes for men to repay God for what they have owed. It is agreed that “the recompense should be proportional to the size of the sin.” (page 303) Moreover, unfortunately, in addition to our own being and all that we are capable of, there are things needed to recompense that we could not pay for because our sins are heavy: we sin as our actions contradict the will of God so seriously that the whole universe needs to perish. The sin started in the Garden, when man was created without sins. He was placed there as God’s deputy (Gen. 1:28-30) and was able to overcome the devil. However, he chose to commit sin, despite his greater strength and his immortality. As a result, he is weak and mortal. He is responsible for the sin committed, and “needs to conquer the devil through the difficulty of sin.” (page 308) From many perspectives, it is concluded that the human race is unable to restore to the state of pure righteousness.

Then, it is tempting to say, “a merciful God remits the debt of anyone who begs forgiveness on the ground that he is incapable of making repayment,” (page 311) but this kind of mercy contradicts God’s justice, as Anselm argued. However, given that God is willing to forgive men, it follows as a necessary consequence that mankind is saved by Christ, which is the main theme of Book 2.

In Book 2, Anselm and Boso continued the conversation, but turned their focus on biblical theology. Anselm recalled the creation of man at the beginning that “the nature of rational beings was created by God righteous in order that, through rejoicing in him, it might be blessedly happy… It is rational… in order that it may distinguish between right and wrong, and between the greater good and the lesser good.” (page 315) And man was so perfect that “if he had not sinned, he would never die… If man is to be restored in perfection, he ought to be reconstituted as the sort of being he would have been if he had not sinned.” (page 316) For this, God has two options: completing what God has begun, and destroying the current sinful human race to raise a new one. However, it has to be the former because among His creation, there is nothing more precious than man. Therefore, a redemption of the human race is needed.

The next question becomes how this redemption is brought about, and why it has to be acted by someone who is God and man. Anselm argued that it has to be God because to pay back the property of God, it has to be God himself; and it has to be man, because it is man who ought to repay the debt that he owed. (page 320) This person has to be perfect God and perfect Man, with two distinct natures in one Person, unlike what the Nestorians or the Monophysites claimed. This God-man came from God who assumed a human nature from the race of Adam and from a virgin woman. This man belongs to the race of Adam, instead of a newly created sinless man, so that it is appropriate for this man to pay recompense for the race of Adam. And why it is from a virgin woman? Anselm raised two points: first, to show God’s competence, as He had not made a man from a woman without a man (but He did from a man and a woman together as in usual practice, from neither a man nor a woman as in Adam’s creation, and from a man without a woman as in Eve’s creation); and second, the cause of human’s first sin originated from a woman, so that it is appropriate that “the medicine of sin and the cause of salvation should be born of a woman.” (page 323)

Another question is why it has to be the Second Person of the Trinity to incarnate. Anselm pointed out that it is more appropriate for the Son to make supplication to the Father than other Persons. And the Son, as the Person of the Word, is the Person that the men had sinned most specifically against.

Then Anselm and Boso returned back to the question whether Christ died voluntarily. The discussion brought about the important idea that Christ, as a perfect man, is immortal, but capable of committing sin just like Adam. However, He maintained righteousness while “being capable of abandoning it.” (page 327) Anselm eloquently stated “all capability is consequent upon will.” (page 326) Christ was capable of not dying (because of His righteousness), but He chose to die. His volunteer to do this is undoubtable. He died out of His own free will. And it is of His own power that He died, and rose again, as he is omnipotent, an attribute of His divine nature.

Christ assumed a human nature from the race of Adam and a virgin, He shared our discomforts and other weaknesses. However, out of the weaknesses we have, He did not take ignorance because ignorance is “never useful, always detrimental.” (page 333) Being the God-man, even though He took up the human nature, He is still fully divine: He still possesses the identity of God.

The human race had to die because of our sins, as Anselm and Boso had already argued earlier. And now they argued how Christ’s death is sufficient to outweigh the magnitude of all sins of the human race, committed both in the past and the future. As the sins of the human race have been directed against the Son, it is the Son, who need to be paid in order to pay for the debt due to our sins. It is the death of the Word through whom the Universe was created that the created Universe can be restored. If it were not this man dying, the whole Universe would be cursed to perish. And it is worth noting that this same death destroyed the sins of those who put Christ to death, because, as Apostle Paul wrote, that if they knew it, they would not crucify their God. (1 Cor. 2:8) Their sins were committed out of ignorance.

It is worth noting that the God-man was produced sinless out of the sinful human race in order to restore the creation. This restoration of creation is more miraculous than the creation itself. (page 337) Boso mentioned that it is undoubtable that Adam and Eve had a connection with the act of redemption although the Bible is not clear about it, (page 340) but this statement cannot be easily discerned.

At this point, it has been proved that man’s sins are so great that man cannot repay it themselves, and God cannot forgive man without recompense due to its righteousness, but God is willing to restore the human race back to the originally perfect human nature by redemption, by becoming man, assuming human nature in the same race of Adam, and giving himself to God to pay recompense to God Himself for the sin of the human race. While it does not fit God to simply cancel our debts without any punishment, God shows His mercy by becoming man to save us. This way of redemption does not make mercy and just mutually exclusive, but come together as God’s attributes in harmony.

As God adopt the human nature of Adam to carry out the redemption, devil, the fallen angel, cannot be saved through this way because there is no angel-God that is like man-God to perform this. (page 354-355) Anselm concluded by saying that all these are scriptural based.

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The Biblical Outline of the Doctrine of Scripture

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The doctrine of scripture is usually the first doctrine of any systematic theology study. It examines the relationship between God and His Words, i.e., the Scripture. But it is not independent from everything else: even the knowledge of God is needed to talk about the doctrine of scripture.

I have been recently reading Timothy Ward’s Words of Life. It discusses the doctrine with a biblical outline, a theological outline, and a doctrine outline. In this entry, I am summarizing the biblical outline:

  1. God’s Words is intimately related to His actions. For example, His creative Words were followed by the creation of the heaven and earth immediately. The Fall of Man was the result of God’s curse in the form of language. God established covenants with Noah, Abraham, Noah… with words, meaning His Words constitutes covenantal relationship. Salvation came through His “effectual calling,” which is by a large part His Words.
  2. Obedience to God is equivalent to obedience to His Words. “To disobey the words God speaks is simply to disobey God himself, and to refuse to submit to the commands God utters is simply to break one’s relationship with him.” (page 27) For example, Abraham’s response to God’s Words (in covenant) is a response to God Himself.
  3. Words are used as a means that God uses to make Himself knowable to humans. If God do not put the covenants in Words, it is meaningless.
  4. Human languages are sufficient to communicate God’s Words. As we humans are made “in His image, and His likeness,” in the context of Genesis where most God’s activities are related to “speaking,” “‘the image of God’ in humanity must include… human’s capacity for complex language.” (page 34) God also put His Words in the mouths of prophets such as Jeremiah, or even an animal such as Balaam’s donkey. The words are in ordinary human language.
  5. His Words are incarnational. An encounter with His Words is an encounter with God. Jesus Christ is itself an incarnational Word, i.e., Words became flesh, and dwell among us.
  6. Rejecting words of apostles that were from Christ is rejecting God, which brought condemnation.
  7. The Bible as a whole is God’s Words. It is not acceptable to accept only part of the Bible as God’s Words.
  8. Apostolic writings are considered God’s Words, as an inspiration by the Holy Spirit. In John 16:12-15, Jesus told the Twelve Disciples that He had not yet told them everything, but He would send the Holy Spirit to guide them to all the Truth. It is believed that Jesus was saying this to only the apostles, who finished the apostolic writings; Jesus was not saying to all believers. A focus at the end of the New Testament is to instruct the early church leaders to faithfully preserve and pass on the apostolic gospels and writings to future generations of the believing community (as in 2 Timothy 2:2), and the Book of Revelation prevents people from adding new words to the Bible.

Ward wrote the following as the summary of the biblical outline: (page 48)

God chooses to present himself to us, and to act upon us, in and through human words that have their origin in him, and that he identifies as his own. When we encounter those words, God is acting in relation to us, supremely in his making a covenant promise to us. God identifies himself with his act of promising in such a way that for us to encounter God’s promise is itself to encounter God. The supreme form in which God comes to encounter us in his covenant promise is through the words of the Bible as a whole. Therefore to encounter the words of Scripture is to encounter God in action.

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Miscellaneous About Christmas

Taken from “37 Cats Crashing Nativity Scenes”, Ranker.

Merry Christmas!

This is probably one of the most merry moments of the whole year even in the secular sense: people have vacations at the end of the year.

And there have been a lot of debates whether Christians should celebrate Christmas because of its spectacular pagan origin. (Note that there is a similar argument against Halloween.) However, I would still celebrate it. R. C. Sproul wrote in his blog yesterday:

“I can’t think of anything more pleasing to Christ than the church celebrating His birthday every year… I certainly see nothing wrong with the church’s entering into this joyous time of celebrating the Incarnation, which is the dividing point of all human history. Originally, it was intended to honor, not Mithras or any of the other mystery religion cults, but the birth of our King.”

And what about Santa Claus? It is in memory of St. Nicholas too. The tradition of Santa Claus went through the Catholic Church in the Medieval Times, and Reformation, as Stephen Nichols wrote in his blog.

Jesus was born humbly in a manger, but to be a prophet, a priest, and a king.

[15] “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—[16] just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ [17] And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. [18] I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. (Deuteronomy 18:15-18 ESV)

[4] The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4 ESV)

[6] For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. [7] Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.  (Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV)

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