The Possibility of Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo

Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, part 1

In his Cur Deus Homo, Anselm sets forth his argument for the necessity of Christian view of redemption. Yet the first question Anselm feels the need to answer concerns how it is even possible, after a full millennium of Christian reflection on this topic, to say anything that has not already been said before. To this end, in his prefatory “Commendation of This Work to Pope Urban II,” Anselm rehearses many of the methodological notes with which he began the Monologion and the Proslogion. While the present work, on the one hand, aims “to confound the foolishness of unbelievers and to break through their hardheartedness,” on the other hand he recognizes that this kind of undertaking is only really possible for those “who, having hearts already cleansed by faith, delight in the rational basis of our faith—a rational basis for which we ought to hunger once we have the certainty of faith.” But what is not possible, Anselm is eager to make clear, is that either now or in the future anyone should ever surpass those things already laid down by the holy Fathers. That having been said, it is equally clear, Anselm takes it for granted, that neither was it possible for these same Fathers to say everything that could have been said on any given subject, which is what makes it possible for us in the present to build upon their insights and extend their arguments into areas left unexamined or undeveloped by them. More than this, the nature of the truth itself is “so extensive and so deep” that no amount of expertise, time, or consideration could ever succeed in plumbing such depths anyway. Finally, it is the Lord himself who, through his gifts and his promise to be with his Church, and through his command in Scripture itself, has given both the ability and the divine sanction for our searching out by reason those things once and for all delivered to the saints.

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