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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  May 2004

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION May 2004

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Subject:

Re: Atonement (1)

From:

Dennis Martin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 11 May 2004 20:28:07 -0500

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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Please read R. W. Southern rather than Matthewes-Green.  I read her
commentary on passion devotion in the West (which sounds very close to
being the source of your excerpts, though perhaps she has repeated these
points in varoius venues) in _Books and Culture_ about two months ago
and made a note to write a letter to the editor protesting the
mischaracterization of Western passion devotion but never wrote it.  The
comments you excerpt below are directed at contemporary Protestant
Evangelicals, from which Matthewes-Greene is a convert.  They caricature
the Western tradition; like Gustav Aulen, she reads Anselm through early
modern and modern Protestant eyes.  I'm sorry, but Anselm lived in the
11thc, not the 16th or 19th.  Matthewes-Green is a journalist writing
for a popular audience, which excuses the caricature, perhaps.  But
medievalists really can do better than that.

There is indeed a genuine and distinct Western devotion to Christ's
passion, of which Anselm is part.  Read his prayers and meditations
alongside Cur Deus and the Proslogion and Monologion.  See Gerhart
Ladner, _The Idea of Reform_ in and around p. 153 to see how the Western
tradition both has much in common with the Eastern (return to
paradisiacal innocence, reformatio of the imago Dei) but focuses
particularly on the Cross as making possible a reformatio in melius
(which in effect is the equivalent of the Eastern theoosis).

Cur Deus was written for a specific context apologetic context (read
Southern)--to deal particularly with Jewish interlocutors' legitimate
question: why did God have to become man in order to save man?  The
question is an ancient one and was answered by the Greek Fathers along
the same lines as Anselm.  Anselm's true innovation is to reject the
theory of a ransom rightly owed to the devil while recognizing that the
devil de facto holds sinners captive, de facto but not rightly or
justly, rather, by usurpation.  None of this is incompatible with the
Eastern Fathers and from an Eastern perspective it's a great improvement
over the "Devil's Rights" theories Anselm was rejecting.

Cur Deus does not paint a picture of a wrathful Father needing
appeasement.  For Anselm not the Father's "sense of justice" (you
psychologize God here) but the _fact_ of God's justice, order, peace,
harmony, righteousnesss will not permit the Father simply to excuse
sin--and that is essentially what Athanasius says.

The "wrathful Father needing propitiation" may well be present in later
Western medieval popular devotion and in theological writers; it
certainly can be found in some Protestant theologizing.  But one has to
read it into Anselm to find it there.   Surely the Eastern Fathers
(including Athanasius) recognize that sin is an offense against
justitia??  If Christ by his death took away, propitiated sin (NT
commonplace), if he offered himself as a sacrifice for human sins, and
if human sins offended against justice, then the only thing missing is
the psychologizing reading you are giving to "the Father's justice."

I see several sources for the misreading of Anselm as a strictly
legalistic, forensic theologian of atonement.

(1) The Reformation and modern truncating of "justice" into courtroom,
forensic thinking.  Medieval Latin writers hadn't made that "juristic
turn" which, in theology, owes a lot to the humanist discovery, taken up
by Protestant Reformers, that the Septuagint used a term to translate
justitia that in secular Greek has only forensic, courtroom acquittal
connotations.  They failed to realize that what was a merely forensic
term in secular Greek could, by being pressed into service for a much
richer Hebrew concept, take on non-forensic, richer meanings.  See
Alastair McGrath, _Iustitia Dei_ for the details, though he sides with
the humanists/Protestant.  Precisely these sorts of blinders have to be
set aside when one reads patristic and medieval texts.  Anselm and monks
of his day lived and breathed the Psalms.  Their world was the Hebrew
and New Testament world of a holy God who called His people to live
rightly, justly, righteously in a full-orbed vision.  For reasons too
complicated to explain here, early modern and Enlightenment Europe
narrowed this.

(2) The charge of "legalistic" has been aimed at Latins by Greeks from
ancient times.  The Romans did take pride in their juridical system and
sensibilities.  But they also had a wide sense of virtue, personal
justice etc. as one sees when one looks at Cicero's De Officiis, for
example.  Like most polemics, this ancient canard thrown at Latins has
some truth to it but in the heat of the polemics, became a caricature.
Moreover, medieval Christian writers were not simply Romans but a people
who lived out of a Jewish book that is narrowly forensic only to those
who read their own legalism into it.

(3) The hop, skip, and jump method of historical theology employed by
theologians: Cur Deus appears in every anthology and manual with which
theologians are trained; usually in snippets, without any
contextualization, without the recognition that it was written for a
specific purpose, without much explanation of its reception in later
theology and without any insight into the broader stream of Latin
passion devotion and theology as a component of Latin soteriology.

Dennis Martin





































>>> [log in to unmask] 05/11/04 6:03 PM >>>
medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and
culture

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dennis Martin" <[log in to unmask]>

> I might add that before blaming Anselm for a false juridicism etc. one
> ought at least to read Richard Southern's _Saint Anselm: A Portrait in
a
> Landscape_ on Cur Deus--"justice" (righteousnesss) as order, harmony,
> beauty, not merely as a courtroom concept.  Eastern polemics against
> Anselm and the West also fail to take adequate account of, say,
> Athanasius's language in _De incarnatione_.


Reading "De Incarnatione" I have never thought that Athanasius is
building a
case for the Atonement theory.   He seems to focus on the usual Eastern
themes of deliverance from death and the devil and not from the divine
justice which required the sacrifice of a divine being to effect
deliverance
from God the Father 'quis voluist immolatione placari.'


 "The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of, otherwise
than
through death..."

"...yet He Himself, as the Word, being immortal and the Father's Son,
was
such as could not die. For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body
capable
of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above
all,
might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself
remaining
incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to
corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the
resurrection.

"It was by surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an
offering
and sacrifice free from every stain, that He forthwith abolished death
for
His human brethren by the offering of the equivalent."
--St. Athanasios, "On the Incarnation."


From Frederice Matthewes-Green:

Many of my correspondents don't know this history [of the notions of
soteriology in the Early Middle Ages and earlier] and insist instead
that
the Blood Atonement theory is the earliest. It just isn't so. They
believe
this because they find evidence for it in the Scriptures, but as I've
said,
this is a matter of your favorite Scriptures lighting up for you, in
accord
with how you've been taught.

The appearance in history of the Blood Atonement, or Substitutionary,
theory can actually be located pretty precisely, in the work "Cur Deus
Homo?" ("Why Did God Become Man?") by Anselm, Bishop of Canterbury, in
the
11th century. Anselm's idea is foreshadowed in some earlier writers,
like
Tertullian, but it was not the general view.

The general view of the early church was not as crisp, as thorough, as
Anselm's. And this is why Catholic and Protestant theologians have seen
Anselm's theory as a great advance. Henry Bettenson, in his anthology
"Documents of the Christian Church," calls "Cur Deus Homo," "one of the
few
books that can truly be called epoch-making."

Catholic and Protestants have never claimed that Anselm's
Blood-Atonement
theory is the earliest; they've said it is the best. It was a
breakthrough.
That implies something else came before.

Anselm's theory, as we know, is that our sins create an overwhelming
offense
against God's honor, a debt. God cannot merely excuse this offense and
wipe
the debt away, because it constitutes an objective wrong in the
universe;
justice would be knocked out of balance. There must be punishment.

Anselm: "Let us consider whether God could properly remit sin by mercy
alone
without satisfaction. So to remit sin would be simply to abstain from
punishing it. And since the only possible way of correcting sin, for
which
no satisfaction has been made, is to punish it, not to punish it is to
remit
it uncorrected. But God cannot properly leave anything uncorrected in
his
kingdom. Moreover, to remit sin unpunished would be treating the sinful
and
sinless alike, which would be incongruous to God's nature. And
incongruity
is injustice. It is necessary, therefore, that either the honor taken
away
should be repaid, or punishment should be inflicted."

He goes on to say that "no sinner can make" complete satisfaction for
sin.
"None can make this satisfaction except God. And none ought to make it
except man...One must make it who is both God and man."

Because Christ did not deserve to suffer for us, but paid the debt
voluntarily, he "ought not to be without reward...If the Son chose to
make
over the claim he had on God to man, could the Father justly forbid him
doing so, or refuse to man what the Son willed to give him?"

I think most of you will recognize this. It is the standard view of
traditional Catholics and Protestants.

During the Enlightenment theologians began to criticize this theory as
legalistic, as too rooted in the Old Testament and not enough in the
New, as
portraying a God who hardly seems to be one of love. They began to
develop
an alternative theory which was little concerned with punishment of sin;
instead, Christ's sacrifice was meant to move and inspire, so that we
voluntarily return to God, and God is moved to reconcile with us. This
theory is called "exemplary" because Jesus is the example rather than
the
sacrifice. It's proponents claimed to root their view in Abelard, a
younger
critic of Anselm. The big debate in the 19th century cast these two
views as
"objective" and "subjective."

Because of this, conservative Christians in the West are disposed to see
any
attack on the Substitutionary theory as a move toward liberalism.

That is not so. There is a whole third viewpoint, which prevailed
throughout
the first millennium, and continues outside Western Christianity
today.

***

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