Did you know that the Lutheran church has a “calendar of saints”? Of course we teach that every Christian is a “saint” by virtue of the righteousness of Christ which is given to them in their baptism and which covers all of their sins, just as the Scriptures teach. But we also recognize that there have been Christians throughout the centuries through whom God has richly blessed his people and whose lives have made an enormous impact on the world. One of those saints we remember on April 21 is Anselm of Canterbury.
I’ve never written a newsletter article on a saint before, so it may seem odd that I would choose to begin with someone you’ve likely never heard of. Anselm of Canterbury is relatively unknown compared to theologians like Martin Luther or St. Augustine, yet his work continues to influence the life and teaching of the church even today.
Anselm was born in 1033 in Italy and became a monk. He lived a quiet life of prayer and contemplation until in 1093 he was made the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leading church position in England at the time. Anselm worked tirelessly to keep the English king from interfering in the affairs of the church until his death on April 21, 1109.
You may not know Anselm, but you’ve been the beneficiary of his teaching. Anselm’s most famous book is called Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man) in which he clearly explained the purpose for Jesus’ death. Anselm demonstrated that Jesus died as a sacrificial payment for our sins, and that his death satisfied God the Father’s wrath over our sin. We call that teaching the “vicarious satisfaction.” In simple terms: Jesus died for our sins so that we don’t have to.
Anselm didn’t invent this doctrine. As Lutherans we believe all doctrine is derived from the Scriptures alone, and the Scriptures teach the vicarious satisfaction. Galatians 3:13 says clearly, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree,’” and 2 Corinthians 5:14 reminds us “one died for all.” Anselm didn’t invent this doctrine, but he expressed it so clearly in his writing that his work remains even today the definitive book on this subject.
Anselm was also known for his brilliant Christian philosophy. One of the most famous “proofs” for the existence of God is called the ontological proof. It was invented by Anselm of Canterbury. It goes like this:
- God is the greatest being that can be imagined.
- A God who exists in reality (which a person can imagine) is greater than a god who is only imagined.
- Therefore, God exists.
Only the Word of God can create faith in our hearts to believe and trust in salvation, but Anselm knew that philosophical and logical arguments have their place in stopping the mouths of unbelievers so that they might be able to hear the Gospel.
Rev. Daniel Grimmer