April 28, 2006

Anselm

Category: Communion of Saints — Micah @ 12:00 am

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Good day, and welcome to Communion of Saints from stjeromeschapel.org. I’m your host, Micah Jackson. Today is April 28th, 2006: the feast of Blessed Anselm (transferred from April 21th).

There are very few people in Christian history about whom I am more conflicted than Anselm of Canterbury. On the one hand, I acknowledge that he was a great teacher, and theologian, using all his faith and all the intellectual powers that God gave him to learn and understand more about God, and then to teach what he had learned to his people. But on the other hand, I don’t agree with everything that he wrote and taught. Fortunately, God’s mercy is far wider than a single person can teach, and Anselm knew that.

Anselm and I have one thing in common. We both believe that God can be understood in the images and metaphors of our own day. He lived in the feudal system of the late 11th and very early 12th century, and developed his understanding of Christ’s sacrifice in that context. I live in a very different world, so the image of the atonement of satisfaction doesn’t resonate the same way with me. But it made sense to Anselm and his contemporaries, and in any case, God’s work in the the world through Christ was more complicated and more wonderful than any single image could ever convey.

He also developed and taught the “ontological argument” for the existence of God. Again, in the scholastic age, it was a powerful statement that faith and reason could complement one another. Here at the dawn of the 21st century, his argument sounds like a parody of itself, more like the convoluted and intentionally obfuscated speech of someone trying to trick you than the genuine product of a first-rate human mind struggling with the reality of the Divine.

Fortunately for Anselm, and for me, Matthew puts these words into the mouth of Jesus, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” (Matthew 11:250-30) The intellectual achievements that each of us makes can only rise high when built on a solid base of child-like (which is not to say child-ish) faith. And Anselm taught that, too. He wrote, “I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand.” And we agree on that.

Let us pray: Almighty God, you raised up your servant Anselm to teach the Church of his day to understand its faith in your eternal Being, perfect justice, and saving mercy: Provide your Church in every age with devout and learned scholars and teachers, that we may be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thank you for listening to Communion of Saints. Please join us tomorrow at stjeromeschapel.org for the feast of Blessed Catherine of Sienna. I’m Micah Jackson. May God be with you.

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