Adam DeVille, one of our bloggers here at Red River Orthodoxy, maintains a most esteemed site devoted to books on Eastern Christianities called http://easternchristianbooks.blogspot.com/. His site is a huge resource that should be thoroughly reviewed by anyone who is interested in Eastern Christianity and especially anyone who desires to write popular level writings, whether in print, online, or both.
I raise this point for two reasons: 1) books we are about to discuss here on RRO may sometimes be found there, though some books are not and at times, this reading list will cite articles rather than books but regardless, we recommend reading Adam’s blog in addition to this one and 2) we are not seeking to replace, in any way, shape or form, what he is doing there. He’s done all of us a great service and continues to do so.
What I wish to begin now, however, is looking at that book list that I think we Orthodox should read. Indeed, if I were at a seminary (and no, don’t worry, I don’t ever foresee one of our seminaries desiring to hire me–let your beating hears be still!), I would do what I could to make these books required reading. Why? Because I think we Orthodox need more informed perspectives on both our own theologies as well as the theologies of those around us. This is true whether we are “cradle” or “convert.” This is true whether we are Orthodox or Eastern Catholic. This is true, because some of the stuff we author is, well, not as nuanced and informed as it could be. I also think lacking subtlety and information fosters the anti-Western aspect of “Orthodoxy.”
So, here in post one of this reading list, I thought I would take head on, one of the boogeymen that so scares, intimidates, frustrates, perplexes, and/or angers many an Orthodox–Anselm of Canterbury. If you are Orthodox, you might better know him as Anselm-who-proferred-a-heretical-tyranical-soteriology (view of salvation). Or perhaps he’s better known as Anselm-whom-we-love-to-hate. Perhaps you just reduce it to “heretic.” However, you look at him, Orthodox have been using him as a foil by which to describe their own Orthodoxy, especially since the twentieth century.
So, what are some things that Orthodox have claimed about Anselm? Well, Fr. Symeon Rodger could hardly hold himself back in a 1989 GOTR article, wherein he claimed to find numerous problems. One was an alleged Nestorianism within Anselm’s Christology, as expressed in Cur Deus Homo. On this score, one is better off reading my article on Anselm, published in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quaterly back in 2008. I’ve included the file here: AnselmArticleSVS. For some odd reason, an editor mistyped my name as “Oliver J. Herbel,” but it’s I who wrote the piece. What I argued was we need to take a look at De Incarnatione Verbi, an earlier work. If one does that, and then sees how that lies behind Why the God-Man (Cur Deus Homo) one realizes Anselm was not some 11th century Neo-Nestorian.
Another charge Fr. Symeon Rodger brought against Anselm, however, was that of a juridical soteriology that is out of place within Christianity. This seems to be the charge Orthodox are most likely to level at the venerable monk-bishop. Frederica Matthewes-Green has hit on Anselm at least twice: here and here. According to her, sin was viewed in one way until Anselm came along and said sin was a debt that had to be paid and only Jesus could pay the bill and she noted this was in opposition to a view that saw God the Father as lovingly not letting us go such that “Orthodox have a completely different understanding of Christ’s Saving work.” God is this giant dishonored man who must be satisfied–even to the point that “there is no Devil.” At least, that’s the picture of Anselm’s theology she leaves us. An even simpler overview is given by Timothy Copple in his advice to converts and those looking into Orthodoxy. Orthodox Wiki has an article dedicated to showing how different the East and West are in which Anselm is mentioned as a seminal figure in the development of atonement and substitutionary theory (away from earlier Patristic models): http://orthodoxwiki.org/Justification. Additionally, one might see the post and discussion on Justice over at Glory to God for All Things. There, Anselm is presented as speaking of an “infinite” offense against God and comments complain about the aspect of God being “owed.” Moreover, Eric Jobe even pointed out that a guest author here on RRO (David O’Neal) had reservations about atonement.
I would strongly recommend a couple readings and from Adam’s site we can learn a bit more as well. For starters, I’d recommend an article by David Bentley Hart: A Debt Exceeding Every Debt. If you read my article, you’ll notice this is where I had pointed the reader on this question. Hart’s article points out some problems with the Anselmian caricature, even noting Vladimir Lossky’s guilt in this anti-Anselmian slug-fest that we Eastern Christians like to engage in. Indeed, one of Hart’s strengths is taking on the notion that Anselm is all about punitive penance.
In addition to these two articles (by myself and Hart), a most important book, one that can truly help when assessing Anselm’s “juridical” soteriology is Saint Anselm: A Portrait in a Landscape by R.W. Southern. All Orthodox (especially) and even Eastern Catholics would do themselves well to read this. They would become much more informed about who Anselm was, what his contexts were, and what his arguments were. Anselm was a complex thinker responding to real issues of his day and Southern gets at that well. To note just a few things that might help us all be more informed and therefore avoid the temptation to repeat ignorant claims, Southern covers the relationship between freedom and obedience in Anselm quite well on pages 167-74. He also noted, when discussing Why the God-Man, that “freedom of choice between Good and Evil is servitude in Anselm’s system; inability to sin is perfect freedom, to be sought in this life but attained only in Heaven” (219). Eastern Orthodox should appreciate this. Sounds just a little like St. Maximus the Confessor, no? The mere fact of ping-ponging between Good and Evil is, itself, a result of the fall.
His discussion of “honor” is likewise important. “Something more than ‘honour’ in this general sense is required if Anselm’s language is to be intelligible. . . . This background, which sets Anselm as far apart from Patristic as from modern, or even later medieval thought, is the complex of feudal relationships. In the language of feudal tenure a man’s honour was his estate” (225, emphasis in the original). In other words, God’s honor is the universe correctly ordered around him and worshiping him and living in harmony with him. So, when the fall occurs, humanity acts in rebellion and God must assert his honor, not in response to some sort of injury, but in order to re-establish the harmony, order and beauty (yes, beauty is an important term for Anselm) of the created cosmos. “And so the whole sevitium debitum of the universe is re-established, and God’s ‘honour’ in its full extent is displayed in the restored order and beauty of the whole” (226). Ironically, those who see Anselm’s God as some giant tyrant demanding a payment have failed to recognize the feudal imagery or analogy at play. Now, it is true that Anselm did not believe that the Devil could claim any justice against God but this is because Anselm saw that as a diminution of God’s divine majesty. The harmony is disrupted by the fall. The fall does not mean the Devil has a claim (on us) against God. Likewise, the beauty of the universe is the reason God could not simply just say “yeah, sure, I forgive you, no harm done.” The beauty had to be restored. Humanity had to be brought back into a position of free submission toward God. Here feudalism helped Anselm once again. For by likening redemption to the act of a king who accepts the service of one on behalf of the others (who are guilty), he expresses the Christian faith in a manner that fit his context. For all who would present themselves to the king and accept what the one innocent man did would be brought back into a right relationship with the king. In fact, during a time in which intense penances and alms were seen by many as the only means of justifying oneself before God, Anselm actually articulated a way of looking at salvation that was less penance focused.
Anselm does present a unique take on things, by using the feudal imagery of his time. That much, Orthodox Christians seem to have gotten right, but the subsequent conclusion, that feudalism itself was the driving force, rather than a means of connecting with his context, and that Anselm is to be blamed for a view of God as an angry tyrant needing payment or that Anselm created a view of salvation “completely different” from Eastern Christian or earlier Christian views goes too far–way too far, actually. What Anselm is most concerned with is responding to those (primarily Jews, actually) who asked why the incarnation was necessary and in answering that, Anselm fixated not on tyranny but beauty and utilized feudalism as an analogy to show how this is so. All analogies break down, of course, but if we’re intellectually honest, we would conclude that the “honor” system Anselm presented was one that looked less like the Klingons of Star Trek and more like the kind of harmony and beauty an artist intends on a canvas or, to stick with that feudal system, the kind of harmony and beauty that will exist after the Second Coming when all will be rightly worshiping God as our Loving Creator.
In closing, I would like to point us, as well, to two books Adam mentions on his site. Once one has read the two articles and books mentioned (Southern’s and the two by Ward on Adam’s site), then I think the Orthodox reader should move on to read Anselm. Truly, there is much to appreciate there–monasticism, church-state relations, Christian apologetics, the combination of beauty, prayer, and reason. All of these themes, if properly understood, would actually reveal to us an Anselm with whom we have more in common than we might have dared thought, but getting there will require a willingness to see Orthodoxy and Orthodox soteriology as something that can be defined without a “necessary” anti-Anselmian polemic attached thereto.