Notes on Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo: 7

The first time I read this I thought that chapters XVI to XVIII of Book One were kind of a weird tangent. There Anselm discusses at some length whether there was a specific number of rational beings God intended to bring to eternal happiness, and, if so, whether God’s purpose in saving human beings was to replace the number of angels who fell. But I now think there’s more to be gotten out of this line of thought than I’d originally thought.

Anselm considers two possible views. The first is that there was a specific number of angels that God intended to live in heaven with him, and that his only reason for elevating some human beings to eternal life was to replace the number of angels who defected. The other possibility is that God had always intended to bring a certain number of angels and a certain number of human beings to blessedness, but that, after the fall of some angels, he had to save more human beings in order to make up the deficit. It’s axiomatic for Anselm that God has some specific number in mind: “There is no question that intelligent nature, which finds its happiness, both now and forever, in the contemplation of God, was foreseen by him in a certain reasonable and complete number, so that there would be an unfitness in its being either less or greater.”

Anselm favors the view that God had always intended to save some humans, but that more than originally forseen will be saved in order to make up the deficit of angels:

[I]f the perfection of the created universe is to be understood as consisting, not so much in the number of beings, as in the number of natures; it follows that human nature was either made to consummate this perfection, or that it was superfluous, which we should not dare affirm of the nature of the smallest reptile. Wherefore, then, it was made for itself, and not merely to restore the number of beings possessing another nature. From which it is plain that, even had no angel fallen, men would yet have had their place in the celestial kingdom. And hence it follows that there was not a perfect number of angels, even before a part fell; otherwise, of necessity some men or angels must fall, because it would be impossible that any should continue beyond the perfect number. (Bk. One, Chapter XVIII)

God’s celestial kingdom would not be complete, Anselm argues, unless each nature, or at least each rational nature, was represented. Again we see that God’s purposes for creation are the context in which we need to understand Atonement according to Anselm. Leaving aside whether there is a specific number of beings that must populate heaven (though Anselm’s reasons for holding this are better than might be suspected), it shows that he conceives God as having purposes for (at least some of) his (rational) creatures: to bring them into a life of eternal communion with the divine Self. Rational nature, whether human or angelic, “finds its happiness, both now and forever, in the contemplation of God.”

This suggests why God can’t be satisfied, so to speak, with merely punishing sin. God, on Anselm’s account, is not simply about balancing the books. He is about bringing creatures to the proper fulfillment; anything less would be a frustration of his purposes for creation. Admittedly Anselm’s juridical language can at times obscure this point. But seen in the larger context of his understanding of God and creation, I think we start to get a picture that has more continuity with certain patristic motifs such as “recapitulation.” God is interested in getting the human project back on track so that human nature can be elevated to its proper end.

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