Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's that Time of Year Again - Too Bad it's Suppressed!

Not the most pious way to introduce the theme - the Feast of St. Anselm, which is being suppressed this year on account of the fact that it's Holy Thursday.

Attentive readers of theologyofdad are aware of the debt of gratitude I owe great St. Anselm, for it was on the 900th Anniversary of his death, which was on April 21st, 1109, that I successfully defended my doctoral thesis. What a great grace it was, and hence what a great deal of gratitude I owe to God and St. Anselm. I have made it my work to try and glorify God in this saint each year around this time.

I tried to set up a 'St. Anselm Night' at OLSWA this year but the school's schedule was far too full and so the plan fell apart. It was going to include a few talks on his life and thought. So instead perhaps I might share a few reflections on how I have encountered Anselm this year.

One of the things for which Anselm is best known (for a list see my post from this time last year) is his doctrine of the Atonement, which is referred to as the 'Satisfaction Theory,' concentrating as it does on the insult that sin is to God's dignity, an insult that only someone as great as God could pay, but who simultaneously had to be a member of the offending party - i.e., mankind.

(If you are going to read up on atonement theories on Wikipedia, it incorporates a quite significant error with respect to the Early Church, btw.)

Anselm's theory is found primarily in his work, Cur Deus Homo? - Why Did God become Man? I included this among the assigned readings in my Christology course this year, not so much for sake of its Atonement theory, as for sake of presenting his approach to Christology as a whole. If you are anything like me, I think you will find Anselm's method surprisingly, if not shockingly, positivistic, for lack of a better word. This is to say that he is very optimistic about what he believes theology can prove. He speaks in very certain terms. Most theologians are much more cautious, St. Thomas included. Even in the most theoretical matter Anselm is quite comfortable with speaking of his arguments as proving the things to which his demonstrations point, whereas someone like Aquinas would more circumspectly say something like 'it is fitting to conclude that..." or "it is more fitting to believe that..." Anselm is not arrogant. He is, however, quite convinced of the ability of the intellect to do a whole lot that perhaps time (a century of serious theological development from his time to the Thirteenth Century) had been able to show Aquinas was just a little naive. Conviction is a good thing, and though I am not (yet anyway!) an expert on Anselm, he does strike me as someone who can take criticism and correction (see his exchanges with Gaunilon to determine this for yourself, I guess). Of course, the virtue against which presumption works is not spinelessness. Someone should defend their position with as much energy as he employed when originally formulating it, that is, unless he has seen the validity of the criticism. I try to defend my positions energetically in class, not because I am always convinced they are indisputable, but because I believe it promotes deeper thinking.

All in all, Anselm is excited to read. He is totally convinced of the power of reason to expand our understanding of God. His passion must have contributed a great deal to the burgeoning Scholastic movement. In contrast, we live the age of the 'dictatorship of relativism', as the Holy Father says. We don't really care if something is true or not. We should pray that St. Anselm's enthusiasm will continue to rub off on us!

Let me close by wishing a very happy birthday to a wonderful young lady who is finishing up her last few days at OLSWA, Amy MacInnis, who is quite blessed to have this feast day for her birthday!

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