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A brief explanation of the subject may be of benefit to the reader for the correct understanding of the issue involved.

“Cur Deus Homo” is the title of a theological treatise from the pen of (St.) Anselm of Canterbury. He is considered one of the most eminent of the English prelates, and the father of medieval scholasticism. He was born in Italy in the year 1033 and he died April 21, 1109 at Canterbury, England. He thus attained the age of 76 years.

The above-mentioned work of Anselm was begun by him in England. He writes in the “preface” on this work that this work was begun “in great tribulation of heart, the origin and reason of which are known to God.” It was completed at Schiavi, a mountain village in Apulia, where he enjoyed a few months rest in 1098.

In the already mentioned “preface” the author gives a brief synopsis on the scope and intent of his treatise. As the title expresses, it is an attempt to show why God became man to bring man to bliss and salvation. After pointing out that the work consists of two parts, Anselm has the following to say: “The first contains the objections of infidels, who despise the Christian faith because they deem it contrary to reason: and also the reply of believers and in fine, leaving Christ out of view (as if nothing had ever been known of him) it proves, by absolute reasons, the impossibility that any man should be saved without Him. And again the second book, likewise as if nothing were known of Christ, it is moreover shown by plain reasoning and fact that human nature was ordained for this purpose viz. that every man should enjoy a happy immortality, both in body and in soul; and that it was necessary that this design for which man was made should be fulfilled, but that it could not be fulfilled unless God became man, and unless all things were to take place which we hold with regard to Christ.” (I underscore G. L.)

The importance of the above-quotation from the “preface” of “Cur Deus Homo” cannot easily be over evaluated. This is evident from the following remark of the author incorporated in the “preface” itself. We quote: “I request all who may wish to copy this book to prefix this brief preface, with the heads of the whole book, at its commencement; so that into whosoever hands it may fall, as he looks on the face of it, there may be nothing in the whole body of the work which shall escape his notice.”

Since no one would be able to give a clearer account of the intention of the author than the author himself, we feel we do him justice and the reader a favor in having written this brief account.

Two matters the author sets forward in bold relief in the part we quoted. 1. That the end in view, the purpose is twofold. Negatively to stop the mouth of unbelieving infidels, who mock the Truth because it is not reasonable. And positively to demonstrate that the Incarnate Word is the only possible way for man to be redeemed. 2. The method to be employed is: a. Leaving Christ out of view as though nothing were known or revealed concerning Him, b. Therefore employ “absolute reasons.”

Now, what has this to do with the Heidelberg Catechism, What is the comparison or relationship involved in the superscription of this essay?

Permit us just a word about the Heidelberg Catechism as such. The Heidelberg Catechism is an attempt at systematizing the revealed Truth of God. Its purpose is not polemical in the first instance, neither is it to be considered to lie in the field of theological apologetics, but it is a practical Manual (hand-book) to teach the children of the Covenant in the faith of the fathers. It embodies the truth of Holy Writ from the viewpoint of the “Only comfort in life and death.” The answers to the questions are taken from Scripture directly or indirectly by logical inference.

However, there are a few questions and answers which might seem to be an exception to this method. We refer to the questions 12-18 of this reformed symbol. At least the form in which the questions are put might seem to indicate this. We refer, of course to: (Ques. 15) “What sort of a mediator and deliverer must we seek for?” (Ques. 16) “Why must He be man and also perfectly righteous?” (Ques. 17) “Why must He in one person also be very God?”

What we are particularly interested in, in this comparison of these two documents, is the method employed in both. Is the method of the Heidelberg Catechism, in the particular questions quoted, that of Anselm in his “Cur Deus Homo”?


The writer of these lines first became interested in this problem while preparing his expositions of the Lord’s Days V, VI of the Catechism. Particularly this was due to the fact first that at that time he was studying medieval philosophy and scholastic theology, of which the latter, Anselm is considered the father. The writer’s interest in this question was further accentuated in his taking knowledge of the against scholastic theology of Dr. Luther in the Ninety Nine Theses. And it seemed to him that he detected some of the scholastic methodology in these questions. One has to preach two entire sermons before he finally can say: this mediator is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ! The reasoning seemed rather abstract to me at that time.

Since that time, I learned that others have thought to observe the same matter. As recently as April 1940 (Ds.) H. Kakes wrote an article touching this very question in the “Gereformeerd Theologisch Tijdschrift” under the heading “Over Method En Oorsprong Van De Vragen 12-18 Van De Heidelbergsche Catechismus.” According to Kakes it was Dr. J. I. Doedes who already in 1881 had objections against this “in abstracto beschouwen van den Middelaar en verlosser dien wij noodig hebben.” Dr. August Lang in a treatise on the Heidelberg Catechism had criticism of a similar nature. He counts this “part without doubt to be the weakest of the whole Heidelberger.” Dr. P. Seinenga in his book report on Knap’s exposition of the Catechism speaks of this part as having its principle via Anselm in Aristotle.

Possibly to be able to give a fair judgment of this important and fundamental question we should attempt an answer to two questions. The first is: How must we judge of the method of Anselm? and the second: Is the method of Ursinus and Olevianus (composers of the Catechism) that of this English prelate?

There can be no doubt but what the method advocated by Anselm and which he himself superscribed above his “Cur Deus Homo” is that of rationalism. He wishes to meet the infidel on his own ground in the arena of reason and there subdue him. Attend to the following once more: “And in fine, leaving Christ out of view (as if nothing had ever been known of Him) by absolute reasons” he wishes to stop the mouth of unbelievers and mockers! This can only mean that Anselm wished enter the field of apologetics (book one) with a method based on human reasoning, owing all its truth to the self-evidence of its principle and the accuracy of its deductions, reaching an accord with faith spontaneously and without having to deviate in any way from its own proper path.

It may be argued that Anselm did not strictly adhere to this principle. That he in the last analysis accepted God’s Word as the criterion of faith and conduct. And indeed many scholars are of this opinion. Thus Dr. H. Bavinck in his Gereformeerd Dogmatiek says: “Anselm lived in the naive confidence that faith can be exalted to knowledge and attempts this. . . . for the incarnation and satisfaction in his Cur Deus Homo” Dr. A. Kuyper contends that Anselm declared the dualism between faith and reasoning consciousness to be untenable; but only to think into it for his heart. Page 96 “Christelijke Encyclopaedic.” With this agrees substantially the appraisal of Etienne Gilson in his “The Spirit Of Medieval Philosophy” page 6. “Doubtless a fundamental difference remains between such a neo-scholastic and a pure rationalist. (Thomas Aquinas is considered such neo-scholastic by the writers G. L.) For the former the faith is always there and any conflict between his faith and his philosophy is a sure sign of philosophical error. When such a conflict declares itself he must reexamine his principles and check his conclusions until he discovers the mistakes that vitiates them. If, however, even then he fails to come to an understanding with the rationalist it is not for lack of speaking the same language. Never will he commit the unpardonable error of St. Augustine or a St. Anselm, and, when asked for proofs of the existence of God, invite us first of all to believe in God. If his philosophy is true, it is solely in virtue of its own rational evidence; if he fails to convince his opponent it would be lack of candor on his part to appeal to his faith for his justification, and this not merely because his opponent does not share his faith because the truth of his philosophy in no wise depends on his faith.”

This latter quotation is of interest to us, for it may be considered a rather clear statement of the application of the method advocated by Anselm in the preface of his Cur Deus Homo. Anselm may not have gone this far, but it is the consistent application of his method. It was in Aquinus that this method found its clearest expression.

We are now placed before the question: Is this scholastic method that of the Questions 12-18 of the Heidelberg Catechism?

It would almost seem that, in the light of the foregoing observations, to ask this question is to answer it. But to call attention to this matter, and to point out that the very opposite is the case can do no harm.

Question 19 asks: Whence knowest thou this? (that we need the Mediator and Savior spoken of in Questions 12-18). And the answer: For self-evident, rationalistic principles? No! We know this from the holy gospel. . . . !

And when we look at the answers given under the question quoted above from this reformed symbol we see that all the answers are scriptural. It is not scholastic to ask “why” as long as we seek the answer in the revelation of God. And the latter is the method of the Heidelberg Catechism.

The arrangement of these questions when taken by themselves may have the semblance of the Anselmian method, and could with benefit be arranged differently as suggested by Ds. H. Kakes. But that would be a matter of pedagogy and not of principle! Whether the “why” and “what” of the Heidelberger reflects somewhat in a purely formal manner the “why” and “what” of the scholastics is a matter of lesser importance. As was said we are interested in the principle not in the form.


A few remarks on the general nature of this subject and some of the problems it has bearing on are in conclusion, we feel, in order.

That the method of “Cur Deus Homo” is disastrous for Christian thinking the history of scholastic theology has abundantly demonstrated. When once, be it in the name of theology one meets the rationalist on his rationalistic ground, it is not possible to defeat him. There is apparently no compromise between “faith” and “rationalistic reasoning”.

To say that revealed truths do not contradict each other is one thing; to say that “absolute reasoning” and the revelation of God do not conflict is something quite different. The former is the position of the Protestant Reformed Churches, the latter of the scholastic tradition. The stand of the Protestant Reformed Churches is that of the first sons of the Reformation as it comes to expression in the Heidelberg Catechism.

This does not mean that we must confine our thinking to mere Biblical terms. Legitimate reasoning is allowed; by which we mean: taking both major and minor premises from the Word of God. Theology is a science, not proceeding from philosophic terms and principles, but proceeding from its own principles! It follows the dictum: I have believed, therefore do I speak!

If Anselm says matters, reaches conclusions in his “Cur Deus Homo” in his dialectic method, which also are taught in the Bible, it demonstrates that one, after having been instructed in the scriptures and having there seen the Christ, can no longer “leave Christ out of view, as if nothing had ever been known of Him, and prove by absolute reasons the impossibility of any man being saved without Him.” Psychologically he can no longer place himself in the place of the Greek Philosophers who reason from self-posited apriori. (Self-evident propositions)

Christ Himself the light of the world, did not come to reason with men, but to reveal God, whom no man can see or has ever seen. He came to reveal the Father, and to testify of Him. Here no possibility of compromise is left. It is faith-salvation, or unbelief-damnation!