In our preceding article we quoted from Anselm’s book, “Cur Deum Homo,” in connection with his doctrine of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. We now wish to conclude our discussion of Anselm’s view of the atonement by quoting from Rev. H. Hoeksema’s notes on this subject:
As to his views, we call attention especially to the conception of the atonement of Christ. This he developed especially in his famous work, “Cur Deus Homo,” or “The Necessity of the Incarnation.” In this work he tries to find the basis for the necessity of the atonement in the nature of God. He reasons as follows: 1) By his sin man deprived God of His glory that was due to Him from man. Hence, man must needs give satisfaction, for this is required by the justice of God. It is true that God is merciful, but His compassion can never be in conflict with his justice. Nor can God ever be so merciful that He sacrifices His justice. The atonement can never be deduced from the mercy of God alone. 2) This satisfaction which man must bring he himself can never make. This is impossible, first of all, because of the enormity of his sin and the fact that the value of the sacrifice must be equivalent to the greatness of the sin committed. Man’s sin, Anselm reasons, is greater than the whole world, for it is committed against God, Who is the highest good. The whole world should not have been sufficient to tempt man to sin against God. And therefore the sacrifice that is required to atone for that sin must be greater than the whole world. And in the second place, even apart from his obligation to bring a sacrifice, man is always a debtor to God with his whole being and with all his life. He must love the Lord his God with all his heart and mind and soul and strength, and that continuously, without interruption. The result is that man has nothing extra to bring. He can never do more than what was required of him. 3) Therefore, since God only is greater than the world, He alone can bring this sacrifice, and it is clearly established that the Mediator must be divine. He must be God. 4) Yet he must also be man, for the justice of God requires that man suffer the consequences for his sin, which man committed. And thus Anselm gives an answer to the question, “Cur Deus Homo?” and establishes the necessity of the incarnation by reasoning from the Divine nature and its relation to man’s sin. We may note here that the reasoning of Anselm is not unlike that in the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Days 5 and 6.
And then Rev. Hoeksema, in his notes on the History of Dogma, gives us his following evaluation of this view of Anselm:
In appreciating Anselm’s arguments we must remember that he answers the question why God became man only from a single viewpoint, namely, that the necessity of the satisfaction of God’s justice to atone for the sin of man was rooted in God’s very nature. The reason for the incarnation of the Son of God can, of course, be considered from a higher point of view. As to his conception of the atonement from its forensic aspect it may be said that his view is undoubtedly correct, lucid, and also profound. It may be said that it is a decided advance over what had been offered beforehand. Yet it would seem that his development of this doctrine is lacking in this respect, that he does not sufficiently emphasize the element that Christ is the Head of His people, and that as such He directly bore their sin on the accursed tree.
The views of Anselm were opposed by Roscellinus and also by Abelard. Roscellinus was a contemporary of Anselm and a teacher of Abelard. He was serving as canon of Compiegne in the diocese of Soissons, 1092, when he was obliged to recant his alleged tritheism (three gods), which he substituted for the doctrine of the Trinity. Abelard, 1079-1142, was one of the most conspicuous characters of Europe. His fame was derived from the brilliance of his intellect. He differed widely from Anselm. The latter was a constructive theologian; Abelard was a critic. Anselm was deliberate, Abelard was impulsive and rash. Anselm preferred seclusion; Abelard sought publicity. Among teachers exercising the spell of magnetism over their hearers, Abelard stands in the front rank and probably has not been excelled in France. He was a man of daring thought and restless disposition, and he was unstable in his mental beliefs and morally unreliable.
Roscellinus and Abelard were nominalists whereas Anselm was a realist. Realism taught that the universals or ideas are not mere generalizations of the mind but have a real existence. The Nominalists taught that universals or general conceptions have no antecedent existence. I may have an idea in my mind but this does not necessarily mean that this idea is based upon an objective reality. We can well understand the implications of such a conception. Just because I may have an idea of God or of Christ does not mean that this idea is based upon the fact that God and Christ are also objective realities. Hence, I may believe something to be true that does not exist.
Another great Schoolman, if not the greatest, was Thomas Aquinas, often called the Angelic Doctor, whose work Summa Theologica may be considered the crowning point of all the efforts of scholasticism. Of Aquinas, Philip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, Vol. V, 661-662, writes the following:
In an altar piece by Traini, dating from 1341, in the church of St. Caterina, Pisa, Thomas Aquinas is represented as seated in the centre with a book open before him. At the top of the cloth the artist has placed Christ, on one side of him Matthew, Luke, and Paul and on the other, Moses, John, and Mark. Below Thomas Aquinas, and on the left side, Aristotle is represented standing and facing Thomas. Aristotle holds an open volume which is turned towards the central figure. On the right hand Plato is represented, also standing and facing Thomas with an open volume. At the foot of the cloth there are three groups. One at each comer consists of monks looking up admiringly at Thomas. Between them, Averrhoes is represented reclining and holding a closed book. This remarkable piece of art represents with accuracy the central place which has been accorded to Thomas Aquinas in the mediaeval theology. Arabic philosophy closes its mission now that the great exponent of Christian theology has come. The two chief philosophers of the unaided reason offer to him the results of their speculations and do him homage. The body of monks admire him, and Christ, as it were, commends him.
Thomas Aquinas, called the Angelic doctor,—doctor angelicus,—1225-1274, is the prince of the Schoolmen, and next to St. Augustine, the most eminent divine of the Latin Church. He was a man of rare genius, wisdom, and purity of life. He had an unrivalled power of orderly and vigorous statement. Under his hand the Scholastic doctrines were organized into a complete and final system. He expounded them with transparent clearness, and fortified them with powerful arguments derived from Scripture, tradition, and reason. Mystical piety and a sound intellect were united in him. As compared with many of the other Schoolmen, notably with Duns Scotus, Thomas was practical rather than speculative. Popes and councils have repeatedly acknowledged his authority as a teacher of Catholic theology. Thomas was canonized by John XXII, 1323, and raised to the dignity of “doctor of the church,” 1567. In 1879, Leo XIII commended him as the corypheus (leader) and prince of all the Schoolmen, and as the safest guide of Christian philosophy in the battle of faith and reason against the skeptical and revolutionary tendencies of the nineteenth century, who “set to rest once for all the discord between faith and reason, exalting the dignity of each and yet keeping them in friendly alliance.” In 1880 this pope pronounced him the patron of Catholic schools. In the teachings of Thomas Aquinas we have, with one or two exceptions, the doctrinal tenets of the Latin Church in their perfect expositions as we have them in the Decrees of the council of Trent in their final statement.
Rev. Hoeksema gives us the following historical survey of Thomas Aquinas:
His work, Summa Theologica, may be considered the crowning point of all the efforts of scholasticism. It was widely used by all Catholic seminaries, and strongly recommended as late as 1879 by Pope Leo XIII. Thomas Aquinas was born in a castle near Aquino in 1224. His family, like that of Anselm, belonged to the nobility. At the early age of five he was placed in a monastery and educated by the monks of Monte Cassino. His education was continued in Naples, where, at the age of 16 and without the knowledge of his parents, he joined the order of the Dominicans. His mother was so depressed at this that she watched for him on the road, forced him to come with her, and confined him in the castle, where he devoted himself to the study of Holy Scripture for two years, But they could not persuade him to denounce the step he had taken. After two years Thomas escaped his prison through a window and went to Naples. He studied under the famous Albertus Magnus, first in Cologne, later in Paris. He was made a doctor of theology in 1255. He taught large multitudes of students in Paris, Rome, and Naples. It was in his latter years that he wrote his Summa Theologica. He died in 1274 on his way to a church council at Lyons. From this description of his life we may easily gather that he was a man of a determined character. Besides, he was known as devout and pious, a man who always labored diligently, as well as prayerfully. He is known as one of the keenest minds of the Middle Ages, was an able defender of the doctrines of the church. And the epithet, “the Angelic Doctor,” is a testimony to his ability as a teacher.
As to his views on the atonement, to which we are now calling attention, Rev. Hoeksema has the following:
As to his views on the atonement, in the main line his doctrine agrees with that of Anselm. Yet there are some elements, as well as some departures, from the view of Anselm by which he prepared the way for the later views of the Roman Catholic church. They are:
1) He denied that atonement through satisfaction was absolutely necessary, as Anselm had strenuously argued. He taught a relative necessity for the satisfaction of Christ, that is, he taught that God’s omnipotence could have ordained a different way in which to redeem His people than by the satisfaction of the Mediator. But once having determined that redemption should take place with the satisfaction of His justice, the death of Christ was necessary. It is evident that in this argument, which is wholly based on reason, and certainly not on Scripture, Aquinas forgets that God’s omnipotence cannot be in conflict with His righteousness and justice. And if it is impossible that God deny His righteousness and justice, satisfaction is strictly necessary.
The Lord willing, we will continue with this in our following article.