Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Repaying Stolen Honor


From the theme on which it was published I have called it Cur Deus Homo, and have divided it into two short books.  The first contains objections of the infidels…and also the reply of the believers…[and] proves, by absolute reasons, the impossibility that any man should be saved without [Christ].

Cur Deus Homo: Why God Became Man, St. Anselm (also available online)

Anselm begins by stating that his purpose is not to satisfy believers of their faith through reason, but to offer to believers reasons for their faith such that they may stand against anyone who demands these.  It is necessary to accept the deep things by faith, but then helpful, even necessary (in defense), to delve into these through reason.

The issue being addressed here:

… 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.

All the while, Anslem recognizes that what ought to be sufficient on this topic has already been said by the fathers (as I have previously offered the words of St. Atanasius as one such example).

Boso cautiously plays the role of the infidel, asking questions and raising objections.  For example, that we dishonor God by claiming that he descended into the womb of a virgin and grew on the nourishment of men.  Anselm offers that it is no injustice, but cause to give to God the highest honor and thanks.  God offered to us the greatest love possible.

Why our salvation had to come through a man (as opposed to through an angel or simply a decree from God) is considered: as death came through the human race, life had to also come through the human race; as the first sin was through a woman, restoration of life had to come through a woman; and as sin came through the eating of the tree, life had to come through a man suffering on a tree.

But it is not sufficient to consider that man alone could do this work:

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?

We were created to be servants of God, not servants of man or servants of angels.  In sum, there is necessary reason that Christ was man and necessary reason that Christ was God.  But as I am only on page ten (at this point of the argument) of eighty-four pages, there is clearly much more to be said on this topic: Boso doesn’t let it go at this, therefore neither does Anselm.

Boso: For if he could not save sinners in any other way than by condemning the just, where is his omnipotence?  If, however, he could, but did not wish to, how shall we sustain his wisdom and justice?

We will find, through this study, that, once again, God can do anything except the nonsensical.

Anselm: For the Father did not compel him to suffer death, or even allow him to be slain, against his will, but of his own accord he endured death for the salvation of men.

To which Boso again objects: there are many passages which seem to indicate obedience as opposed to Christ’s free will.

It was obedience that demanded of Christ that he maintain truth and justice, and it was for this that the Jews persecuted him unto death.  It seems clearly inconceivable that God might be capable of violating the perfect law that God created.  Hence, Christ had to be obedient to this law of truth and justice, because He created it perfectly.

Anselm takes it even further: what of humbling himself, as the Apostle has said, being obedient even unto death?

… the expression is used because he had agreed with the Father and the Holy Spirit, that there was no other way to reveal to the world the height of his omnipotence, than by his death.

Separate from Anslem’s arguments, but expanding on this point of the So agreeing with the Father and the Holy Spirit: We often consider, at least if we are to grow as Christians, what it means to love as Christ loved – as seen through Christ’s relationship with others and His teaching while on earth. 

However, what of the love shown between and among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?  Is there not a willingness between and among the Trinity to deny self, to submit to authority even thought there is equality, a unity of purpose, and an utmost concern for God’s truth and glory?  Do we not find all of this depth and meaning buried behind the word “obedience” and the simplistic understanding many give to this word within this criticism?

Returning to Anslem, Boso is still not satisfied.  In reply to his next objection, Anslem offers a thought experiment:

Let us suppose, then, that the incarnation of God, and the things that we affirm of him as man, had never taken place; and be it agreed between us that man was made for happiness, which cannot be attained in this life, and that no being can ever arrive at happiness, save by freedom from sin, and that no man passes this life without sin. Let us take for granted, also, the other things, the belief of which is necessary for eternal salvation.

To which Boso agrees.

Therefore, in order that man may attain happiness, remission of sin is necessary.

What is sin?  Anselm offers one view: to sin is to not render to God His due, and His due is that we are subject to His will.  This is the debt we owe God.

He who does not render this honor which is due to God, robs God of his own and dishonors him; and this is sin.

Through sin, we have dishonored God.  It does not suffice merely to restore that which was taken away – just as one who has caused some harm to another does not make full restitution by returning the other to the previous condition.  In other words, if I steal ten dollars from you, it is not sufficient if caught that my only debt is to return the ten dollars.  Such a system offers a risk-free option to every thief.

…so he who violates another's honor does not enough by merely rendering honor again, but must, according to the extent of the injury done, make restoration in some way satisfactory to the person whom he has dishonored.

In other words, everyone who sins must pay back the honor which he has robbed from God.  While this strikes me as not sufficient given Anselm’s earlier criteria, as expanded through my example, consider what even this means: is there a man, a creature, that has sufficient honor to restore to God, the Creator, the honor that the creature has taken from Him? 


Well, conclusion thus far, as I am only about halfway through the first section of this book.

Does even a perfect man (if such a thing were to exist) have sufficient honor to restore to God the honor stolen from God?  Can this theoretical perfect man have enough honor to restore the cumulative and ongoing honor taken by every rational creature that ever existed and will exist on earth?

One man?  Only man?  I think the question answers itself.

1 comment:

  1. I think you answer your last set of questions by merely asking them. One totally human who has no sin can't pay for others' sin because he is finite. Therefore he can only offer a finite sacrifice. To put in the language of the book you are reading, a mere human can't restore the lost honor due to his finitude.

    But a God-man. That is another story. He can return human honor to God and in an infinite way. Sorry if that is a spoiler.

    The other dilemma raised is how can Jesus both have the same will as the Father and yet obey Him? We see the authority of the Father in 1 Corinthians 11:4 "God is the head of Christ". This is posed in the say way that Christ is the head of every man and each man is the head of a woman. So there is a relationship of hierarchy there.

    I think the answer is in the dual nature of Christ. He is both 100% God and 100% man. In His God-hood he desires on His own what the Father desires. In His Son-ship he submits to the Father's will and obeys it. I don't think there is any way to describe it perfectly, but it sounds like it fits the requirements of Bible and logic.