Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) 76 years

Introduction and Biographical overview (1033-1109) 76 years

Anselm of Canterbury is considered the outstanding intellectual figure of the late eleventh century. He is probably one of those responsible for the intellectual revival in the middle ages.

Some suggest that Anselm is the father of the Scholasticism movement, but some object to that. Overall, Alsem had his contributions to the birth of the movement, and further its ideas.

Anselm was born in Northern Italy, influenced into Christianity by his mother. Grew up studying with the Benedictine monks. At the age of fifteen, he was persuaded to become a monk, but was rejected at first, and his mother ended up dying in the same span of time.[1]

Long story short, he left the house in the year of 1056, and after a period of wandering, tried again to become a monk, but at this time he was accepted, and from that time on, he will immerse himself into the Christian studies until he becomes the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1093.

I’m not really sure when Anselm was saved, but by his words written in 1099, he recounts his condition and his testimony. And I quote from Anselm’s philosophical and theological treatise, quote:

“Being thus destitute of all help, I was illumined by You and shown my condition. For while I was not yet able to know my condition You taught all these things to others on my behalf; and later You taught these same things to me even before I inquired. You cast aside the leaden weight, the heavy burden, and the impelling foes, for You removed the sin in which I had been conceived and born, You removed also the condemnation of this sin, and You forbade evil spirits to constrain my soul. You gave me the name Christian, which derives from Your own name; through Your name I confess, and You acknowledge, that I am among the redeemed. You stood me upright and lifted me to the knowledge and love of You. You made me confident of my soul’s salvation, for which You gave Your soul [life]. You promised me Your glory if I would follow You. And, behold, while I was not yet following You, as You had exhorted, but was even continuing to commit manifold sins, which You had proscribed, You awaited the time when I would follow You and You would give what You had promised.”[2]

Anselm’s Major Contributions are three:

  1. Monologium (Cosmological argument)
  2. Proslogium (Ontological Argument)
  3. Cur Deus Homo (?) Why God-Man? (An Atonement theory)

Anselm’s motto was faith seeking understanding or (I believe in order that I may know). For him, reason alone cannot discover the truth of God rather the truth as being revealed in Scripture can be demonstrated and further developed by reasoning.

The Monologium, written in 1076 is his first apologetic book, an attempt to prove the existence of God on a rational basis, which is the so-called cosmological argument. This really is an inductive argument from effect to cause.

One scholar puts this way, and I quote “ Man has many goods that he enjoys in life. These goods are simply reflections of the one supreme good through whom all exist,”[3] End quote. He tries to argue that the existence of a perfect being is necessary by which all good can be traced back.

Also he will counter the Muslim and Jewish worldviews, providing a systematic explanation and defense of Christian belief, which he specifically uses non-Christian material but logic alone.

The Proslogium, written in 1078, here he develops the ontological argument for the existence of God. The ontological argument can be quoted here:

“God cannot be conceived not to exist. —God is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived. —That which can be conceived not to exist is not God”[4]

This is a deductive argument, which is based on the doctrine of correspondence. Meaning that the idea must correspond to the reality of an objective existence. But to understand what Anselm is saying, we need to understand his definition of who God is.

One scholar puts this way, and I quote, “According to Anselm, God is that being than which a greater cannot be conceived,” end quote. In other words, since no greater idea than that of God as the perfect Supreme Being can be conceived, and God being the most supreme perfection that there is in the mind, therefore, He must exist in reality and actuality. Anselm is not relativizing God in the sense that anyone can have a true conception of God, nor he is suggesting that any human being can get to that perfect image of the divine.

What Anselm is doing is setting boundaries and standards, so that one can have an adequate concept of God.

The Cur Deus Homo is actually a question. Why God-Man? On this work, Anselm deals with the dogma already established by the synods, especially the Chalcedon (451). Truly God, Truly Man. Why God had to become a man? That’s mostly what Anselm is dealing with.

And by doing so, he sets the classical theory for the doctrine of the atonement. This work circles around a discussion between himself and an imaginary friend. The wording goes like this, and I quote, “If then, as is certain, that celestial city must be completed from among men, and this cannot happen unless the aforesaid satisfaction is made, while no one save God can make it, and no one save man ought to make it, it is necessary for a God-Man to make it.”[5]

In other words, since the offense was done to the ultimate being, God, only God could atone for. And since who commit the felony was a man, only a man could perform its payment. Therefore, Jesus Christ, truly God, truly man was the only capable of paying the deal.

Here we must note that Anselm is the one responsible for ending the patristic notion of paying a ransom to Satan.

Interlocutors (Anselm’s counterpart) — Peter Abelard (1079-1142).

Anselm’s counterpart was Peter Abelard (1079-1142). He was a French philosopher and theologian who is known for his solution to the problem of universals and the use of dialectics. His most significant work was named “sic et Non” (Yes and No) in which he arranged statements from the bible and the church fathers on opposite sides of 158 questions. The goal was not to discredit the authorities of the church, but to stimulate study.[6]

His approach to faith and reason was that of the opposite of Anselm. His motto was “I know in order that I may believe,” which is precisely the contrary of Anselm’s (I believe in order that I may know).

Abelard emphasized the need of reason to advance truth. He would claim that reason is the authority, and said that doubting leads to inquiry and inquiry leads to truth.

Another point contrary to Anselm was his view of the atonement. He believed that the death of Christ was not to satisfy God’s justice, but to impress man; leading man and woman to look at the love of God and be morally persuaded to follow Him. This theory is known as the “moral influence theory.”

The best-known event from Abelard’s life was his affair with Heloise, niece of a fellow leader, which was kept in secret. But their love affair was made known when she got pregnant, then, they secretly got married, but her uncle had someone castrate Abelard. Thus, having his views being opposed by Bernard of Clairvaux and forcing Heloise to go to a convent, Abelard dissolved the union and retired into a monastery.

Sources—an overview of the relevant source materials available for and/or used in the research project

The sources I used for this brief project are:


[1] Steven J. Lawson. Pillars of Grace: AD 100 – 1564, A Long Line of Godly Men, Vol. 2. (Crawforsville, IN: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2011), 252.

[2] Anselm, Meditation on Human Redemption, COMPLETE PHILOSOPHICAL AND THEOLOGICAL TREATISES of ANSELM of CANTERBURY Translated by JASPER HOPKINS and HERBERT RICHARDSON (The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis: Minnesota, 2000), 425-426.

[3] Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 229.

[4] Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogium Chapter 3.

[5] From A Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Ockham, edited and translated by Eugene R. Fairweather ( Volume 10: The library of Christian Classics) (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1956)

[6] Everett Ferguson, Church History: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation. The Rise and Growth of the Church in its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 441.

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