Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Q & A with St Anselm and a Dying Christian (with the tale of an encounter with an Orthodox priest attached)
Q Dost thou believe that the Lord Jesus died for thee?
A I believe it.
Q Dost thou thank him for his passion and death?
A I do thank him.
Q Dost thou believe that thou canst not be saved except by his death?
A I believe it.
Come then, while life remaineth in thee: in his death alone place thy whole trust; in naught else place any trust; to his death commit thyself wholly, with this alone cover thyself wholly; and if the Lord thy God will to judge thee, say, ‘Lord, between thy judgment and me I present the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; no otherwise can I contend with thee.’ And if he shall say that thou art a sinner, say thou: ‘Lord, I interpose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my sins and thee. ‘If he say that thou hast deserved condemnation, say: ‘Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my evil deserts and thee, and his merits I offer for those which I ought to have and have not.’ If he say that he is wroth with thee, say: ‘Lord, I oppose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thy wrath and me. ‘And when thou hast completed this, say again: ‘Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thee and me.’
Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109), Opera (Migne), 1:686, 687 (the trans. is probably by A.H. Strong, in whose Systematic Theology (1886) the quote first appears in English).
Anselm (onetime Archbishop of Canterbury and arguably the first systematic theologian) is one of my "Great Theologians" (see a recent post), and also, clearly, a solafidean, i.e. one who believes we are saved by grace alone through faith alone on account of the merits of Christ alone and not by any merits or good works of our own.
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Anselm's words remind me of the time our dogmatics lecturer at sem invited an Orthodox priest to speak to our class about the Orthodox doctrine of justification [sic!]. The bearded priest, robed in his impressive black raso, delivered himself of a discourse which mightily confused justification with sanctification, going on for almost an hour about how the Christian life was about askesis (works of bodily mortification) designed to quell the passions and "fan into flame the spark of divinity that was in each one of us" (I kid you not - those were his exact words), upon which effort depended our worthiness to enter heaven. In other words the usual synergistic Pietism, but this time in Eastern garb with a neo-Platonic twist that made it look and sound exotic and enticing to a bunch of Lutheran undergraduates who hadn't yet fully digested The Hammer of God.
Finally, being unable to stomach much more of it, I put my hand up to ask a question, feigning an innocence which, I confess, I hoped would mask my true intent, which was subversive of everything the priest had said...
"And what counsel would you give, Father, to a dying Christian who had been asleep, spiritually speaking, for all his life and who was now terrified of dying unprepared for heaven?"
"I could only urge him to cast himself on the mercy of God", replied the priest, his intense back eyes revealing a note of caution, even hesitancy in his thoughts.
"Thank you Father", I responded politely, "I was hoping you would say that."
"Thank God for the 'felicitous inconsistencies' of men", I quietly thought to myself.
[Pic: Detail from St Anselm's Window, Canterbury Cathedral.]