I thought that I would continue Xavier’s examination of Anselm by looking at his view of the Atonement. I find Anselm very interesting because it seems to me his theology reveals a lot about how people in the medieval world thought. He was a man of the times so to speak.
This comes out in his doctrine of the Atonement. Although most of us probably take the idea of Jesus dying in our place (penal substitution) and of Jesus satisfying God’s wrath for us to be the norm in the church, this view wasn’t adopted until 11th century. Until Anselm the atonement was viewed primarily as having an effect on humanity, whether that be paying Satan a ransom for our freedom, or the removal of sin as a disease. With Anselm, however, it was God that was affected by the atonement and not us per se. God had been dishonored by man’s sin and “demanded satisfaction.”
It has been argued that Anselm’s view of the atonement was decisively colored by the world in which he lived. Otto Weber writes: “But the fact remains that Anselm constructs ‘satisfaction’ abstractly, as an a priori. This is the result of his realism. But that does not make it right.” H.D. Mcdonald ties together everything I have thus far written: “Anselm has in fact built his theory of atonement on a view of God other than he himself affirmed, for his theory is based on the analogy of God as a medieval sovereign quick to react to personal affront to his dignity. But that is not an adequate guide to an understanding of Christ’s work (emphasis mine).”
While Anselm’s view definitely has some merit, it does appear that his worldview prevented him from seeing the truth in the first 1000 years of Christian thought on the atonement. Hopefully scholars today can be creative and inventive but heed this lesson from history and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I want to suggest here what I think are two of Anselms motivations for his insistence that God is metaphysically simple and see what everyone thinks of them.
It would seem, then, that the supremely good substance is called ‘just’ by its participating in a quality (in this case, justice), rather than through itself.
But this is contrary to the already ascertained truth. The supreme nature is what it is–good, great, existing–precisely through itself and nothing else. So then, it is just through justice and it is just through itself. And if so, then what is more necesarily and clearly the case than that the supreme nature is justice itself?…And so if you ask ‘what is this supreme nature we are talking about?’, you my answer ‘justice.’ What could be truer?
In the quote above, we find the first, namely, Anselm’s notion that God cannot be what He is through any other save Himself. I think Anselm might see this in the suggestion that God exists a se. According to the aseity thesis, God is completely self-sufficient and requires nothing for His being. Since His existence is entirely of Himself, there cannot be anything that causes Him to be. But if this is true, then His essence (that is, His essential attributes or properties) cannot be through any other existing thing either. For consider the matter that God is just. The statement attributes some real existing thing–justice–to God. But if God is just, then by virtue of His aseity, He cannot be just through justice (in Platonist talk), or He cannot be just by exemplifying the property justice (in contemporary essentialist talk).
So if Anselm is right, God does not stand in the “subject-exemplifiable” realtion to justice as other just persons do (Abraham, Moses, Mother Teresa), and since He doesn’t instance justice, and yet He is just, we must surmise that He just is justice.
Here is another principle I think that motivates Anslem:
So the supreme nature is many good things. Is it then a composite of these many good things? or is it not rather one good tihng, signified by many names?
The question is pertinent for Anslem because he wants to mantain that if God is a composite, then He cannot be a perfect being.
One might conceive of a composite either as a heap or an organisation of proper parts. A heap seems to have all its parts essentially while an organisation of proper parts can admit of accidental as well as essential parts. In either case however, it seems that a composite depends on its (essential) parts. In this sense, the essential parts of a composite, are more fundamental than the composite itself. For while the composite C depends on its parts x, y, and z for its existence and character, it doesn’t seem that x, y, and z depend on C for the same.
Now if God is not simple, then it appears He exists in an asymmetrical realtion of dependency with His parts. Accordingly, His essential properties such as omnipotence are more fundamental than He. But how can this be true of a perfect being?
Consider further: if God is composed of metaphysical parts then it seems that He is at least possibly corruptible. For like other material composites, His parts can be divided up and separated. Of course, He isn’t a material being so there are no material parts to be separated, but He would be at least separable in intellectu.
But a greater being is conceivable. That is, one who is such that it is not even possible that He be divided up and separated. And that of course could only be a simple being.