The Doctrine of Atonement THIRD PERIOD—730-1517 A.D. ANSELM

Calling attention to the history of doctrine, particularly of the doctrine of the atonement during the third period, 730-1517 A.D., we mentioned Anselm of Canterbury, and quoted from Philip Schaff in his History of the Christian Church as this historian gives a brief review of the life of this esteemed Schoolman. 

Rev. H. Hoeksema writes concerning Anselm the following in his notes on the history of doctrine:

Anselm is often called the father of scholasticism. He was probably easily the greatest of the Schoolmen, and not unjustly compared to Augustine. However, in harmony with the spirit of scholasticism, his chief aim was to provide a rational basis and offer a reasonable interpretation of the doctrine of the church. Anselm like all scholastics, labored with material compiled by the past.

Dr. H. Bavinck, in his “Gereformeerde Dogmatic,” has the following in connection with Anselm’s doctrine of the atonement of Christ, Vol. III, 324 F.F. (we translate freely):

The views, which we find with the church fathers in connection with the suffering of Christ, return in scholasticism. But Anselm’s writing, “Cur Deus home” (Why God man, or the necessity why God became man, H.V.) nevertheless gave to the satisfaction conception an ascendancy over all others. The new element of Anselm did not consist in this, that he viewed Christ’s death as an offering for our sins. But, while men in the past had said mainly that the incarnation and satisfaction were not absolutely necessary but only appropriate (conveniens), Anselm sought a ground to demonstrate the contrary. He found this ground in this, that aut poena aut satisfaction (either punishment or satisfaction) must always follow upon sin and that, if God would forgive mankind and save it, none other than a God-man could bring that satisfaction to God and return to Him His honour. Because Christ, however, was God-man, His completely voluntary death was of such great value, that He not only delivered from punishment, but, in addition, He also merited; and those merits He left for mankind, in whose stead He had returned the honour of God, while He Himself did not need those merits. No one adopted this view of Anselm unchanged. The absolute necessity of Christ’s incarnation and satisfaction was generally denied. Duns Scotus stood completely on the other side, denied the infinity of guilt and the infinity of Christ’s merits, denied that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient in itself, taught that it was reckoned sufficient by God, and reduced the incarnation and satisfaction to pure arbi trariness, to dominium absolutus in God; but also Thomas considered it not wholly necessary and called it appropriate. Besides, a single person, namely Abelard, laid onesidedly the emphasis upon this, that Christ’s incarnation and suffering were not a manifestation of God’s righteousness, but only of His grace and love; that Christ from the beginning to the end of His life had taught us by His word and example and thereby aroused within a love which delivers us from sin and makes us to be children of God, and that in this must be sought the redemptive and reconciling power of Christ’s person and work. 

Various elements in the presentation of Anselm were later rejected by all, such as the entire private judicial (privaatrechtelijk) character which he ascribed to the satisfaction, the conception of sin as offence and of the satisfaction of restoration of honour (eerherstel), the one-sided emphasis which he laid upon Christ’s death with the disregard for His life, the contrast which he makes between punishment and satisfaction, the mechanical connection which he adopts between satisfaction and merit, between Christ’s merits and the reason why it benefits mankind. But this does not remove the fact that the doctrine of Anselm, in its essential parts, as satisfaction for the guilt of sin of the righteousness of God, in order to realize for us righteousness and life, nevertheless received in later theology an abiding significance. The redemption, as brought about by Christ, was interpreted most plainly by Anselm as a deliverance, not in the first place from the results of sin, from death and from the power of Satan, but before all things from sin itself and its guilt; the redemption of Christ consisted primarily in the reconciling of God and man. Yet this view came rightly into its own in the scholastic and Romish theology much less than in the Protestant. Thomas limits the satisfaction not, as does Anselm, primarily to death, but broadens it out to the entire suffering and the entire obedience of Christ, he also brings out better than Anselm that the transfer of Christ’s merits to His own is because Christ is the Head of the church, but he nevertheless does not lead his conception of the suffering of Christ to a central point, conceives of it successively as merit, satisfaction, sacrifice, redemption, reconciliation. . . . Reconciliation does not stand here as yet upon the foreground, that Christ arouses us into imitation, moves us unto love by His love and grace and, in faith, delivers us from sin; the objective and subjective atonement, even as forgiveness and renewing are not separated from each other sufficiently. Many Romish theologians later adopt this, but others, however, place the entire work of Christ under the concept of redemption or satisfaction, or also treat it in the scheme of the three offices.

In the above quotation from the Dogmatics of Dr. H. Bavinck, this writer observes that a thought which does not receive sufficient emphasis in the writings of Anselm is that Christ’s merits are transferred to His own because Christ is the Head of His Church. Also Rev. H. Hoeksema, as we shall see later, makes this observation. But Bavinck also remarks that the doctrine of Anselm, as far as its essential parts are concerned, nevertheless received an abiding significance in later theology. Let us now attend to some excerpts from Anselm’s book, “Cur Deus Homo,” which title means: Why it was necessary for God to become man. 

In his book, “Cur Deus Homo,” Anselm immediately states the question on which his book rests, as follows:

And this question, both infidels are accustomed to bring up against us, ridiculing Christian simplicity as absurd; and many believers ponder it in their hearts; for what cause or necessity, in sooth, God became man, and by His own death, as we believe and affirm restored life to the world; when He might have done this, by means of some other being, angelic or human, or merely by His will. Not only the learned, but also many unlearned persons interest themselves in this inquiry and seek for its solution. Therefore, since many desire to consider this subject, and, though it seem very difficult in the investigation, it is yet plain to all in the solution, and attractive for the value and beauty of the reasoning; although what ought to be sufficient has been said by the holy fathers and their successors, yet I will take pains to disclose to inquirers what God has seen fit to lay open to me.

The question was asked Anselm whether deliverance could not be effected by any other being than God, whether God could not have made a man, without sin and without being a descendant of any man, just as He had made Adam, and saved mankind through this man. To this Anselm answers as follows:

Do you not perceive that, if any other being should rescue man from eternal death, man would rightly be adjudged as the servant of that being? Now if this be so, he would in no wise be restored to that dignity which would have been his had he never sinned. For he, who was to be through eternity only the servant of God and an equal with the holy angels, would now be the servant of a being who was not God, and whom the angels did not serve.

The reasoning here of Anselm is clear. I am, of course, obligated to my deliverer, to serve him. If God be not my deliverer but a mere man by my Saviour, then I am obligated to him and I must be his servant. This, of course, would imply that the sinner would not be restored to his original dignity, the dignity which was his in the state of original righteousness when Adam served his Creator. 

In his “History of the Christian Church,” Philip Schaff furnishes us with a few guidelines to lead us in our quotations from Anselm’s “Cur Deus Homo.” First of all, Schaff (see Vol. V, 604 ff.) writes that Anselm’ argued that the whole world cannot be redeemed by an arbitrary decree of God, nor through man or angel. Man is under the domination of the devil, deserves punishment, and is justly punished; but the devil torments him without right, for he does not do it by the authority of God, but from malice. In his “Cur Deus Homo,” 187 ff., Anselm writes as follows:

Moreover, I do not see the force of that argument, which we are wont to make use of, that God, in order to save men, was bound, as it were, to try a contest with the devil in justice, before He did in strength, so that, when the devil should put to death that being in whom there was nothing worthy of death, and who was God (our Lord Jesus Christ, H.V.), he should justly lose his power over sinners; and that, if it were not so, God would have used undue force against the devil, since the devil had a rightful ownership of man, for the devil had not seized man with violence, but man had freely surrendered to him. It is true that this might well enough be said, if the devil or man belonged to any other being than God, or were in the power of any but God. . . . Or, should God, the judge of all, snatch man, thus held, out of the power of him who holds him so unrighteously, either for the purpose of punishing him in some other way than by means of the devil, or of sparing him, what injustice would there be in this? For, though man deserved to be tormented by the devil, yet the devil tormented him unjustly. For man merited punishment, and there was no more suitable way for him to be punished than by that being to whom he had given his consent to sin. But the infliction of punishment was nothing meritorious in the devil; on the other hand, he was even more unrighteous in this, because he was not led to it by a love of justice, but urged on by a malicious impulse.

In this quotation, Anselm declares that the devil torments the sinner without right. We must bear in mind that the fathers, prior to Anselm, had declared that Christ, in dying for His own, paid the ransom price to the devil. Anselm certainly refutes this. Of course, we must bear in mind that, according to the Scriptures, the devil held the power of death, the authority of death (Heb. 2:14-15), but this authority was vested, not in the devil himself, but solely in the unchangeable justice and righteousness of the Lord. He who serves sin is a servant of sin, must obey sin, not because the devil has any authority over him, but as rooted in the adorable justice and righteousness of the Lord.