Intending the Necessary

Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, part 10.

If Anselm’s account of the merely hypothetical or conditional necessity of Christ’s death for his exaltation gets us a step closer to the much more comprehensive and unconditional necessity at the heart of the Christian account of salvation, it is only a step. For as Anselm’s further explanation of this conditional necessity reveals, an important and illuminating difference remains between it and the kind of necessity he will go on to identify with the Incarnation itself. Summarizing the general principle involved in Christ’s post-mortem exaltation, Anselm asks us to “Suppose that we intend to perform some action (intendimus facere aliquid) but that we decide to do beforehand another action by means of which the intended action will be done.” Under such a circumstance, Anselm avers, “the intended action (fit quod intendimus) is rightly said to be done because of the fact that the preceding action, on account of which the intended action was delayed, has occurred…” The situation, then, is one in which an agent, in a two-step process of deliberation, first decides to perform a particular action (in God’s case, the act of exalting Christ), and afterwards chooses a second, preceding action (for God, the death of Christ) by which, or at least after which, the originally intended action will be achieved. Anselm further illustrates the point with the example of a man who wants to cross a river, but who also decides that he will only cross it by boat, even though he could also cross it by horse. Thus, the man may truly be said to have crossed the river “because” a boat was made available, even though there were other means for crossing it at his disposal. What is important to note is that in none of these cases is it the originally intended action itself—the end—that necessitates or requires the means or occasion upon which the end is brought about, but merely the fact that the agent in question happened to decide that the end should be brought about by this means and no other. This is important because this is basically the situation Boso—mistakenly, it will turn out—believes to be the case with the Incarnation. As we have seen, the question raised by Boso, in effect, is why God, given his first-order intention of saving or forgiving the human race of their sin, did not choose a more economical or felicitous means for doing so, implying that, for Boso, the end of human salvation did not, in and of itself, require or necessitate the means of Christ’s Incarnation and death. Anselm’s initial response, as we saw, was to counter by saying that the Incarnation is not so much inefficient as it is costly, precious, and fitting. From this point forward, however, Anselm’s larger purpose in the Cur Deus Homo will effectively be to argue that the end of human salvation, properly understood, while temporally and conceptually distinct from the means of the Incarnation, is nevertheless so logically and metaphysically bound up with the Incarnation that there really is or was no other possible means for accomplishing it. It is as though the original intention of the man in Anselm’s above illustration was not merely the generic goal of crossing-the-river, only to be followed later by a subsequent intention to cross the river in a particular way, but from the very beginning comprehended the more determinate and complex action of crossing-the-river-by-boat, making the specific action of using a boat not incidental, or even a mere condition of, but in fact essential to the particular action or end in view. Anselm’s strategy in the remainder of the dialogue, accordingly, will be to show that, however differentiable and hence separable the Incarnation and human salvation may seem to the finite, human mind, careful attention to and exegesis of the inner logic and “hidden necessities” of the whole problem of human sin and condemnation reveal a different story: that the entire means-end structure of human salvation comprises on God’s part an inherently undivided, organically interconnected, complex and con-created divine intention in which the very meaning and possibility of the end is lies precisely in its means.


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