St Anselm: A Father of the Church, East and West?

Feast of Holy Seven Youths of Ephesus

Anselm_Square_2.jpegIN PREPARATION for a lecture next week at the Hall of Men, I've been reading St. Anselm this week. Apart from his Prayers and Meditations, which are absolutely wonderful (here’s a sample from a recent post in our Patristic Word, which focuses on the Cross), I have to confess that I haven’t read St. Anselm since my undergraduate studies back in the late ‘90s. And all I really remember from then is his famous “ontological argument” in the Proslogion. Other than that, I’ve read and heard many severe critiques of him by Orthodox Christians.

So why in the world would I have chosen to present him at the Hall of Men, especially given the bad rap he receives among so many Orthodox Christians (e.g., Vladimir Lossky has a scathing critique of him in his essay “Redemption and Deification”, reprinted in the book In the Image and Likeness of God)?

Apart from the desire to find out for myself what all the fuss is about, Fr. Georges Florovsky is the primary reason I committed myself to present a man revered among Catholics and demonized among Orthodox (David Bentley Hart is the only positive assessment presented by an Orthodox Christian that I’m aware of; see his wonderful piece “A Gift Exceeding Every Debt: An Eastern Orthodox Appreciation of Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo”, later reprinted in The Beauty of the Infinite, pp. 360-373). While immersed in reading Florovsky for research on the second half of my dissertation, I discovered several places where he encouraged Orthodox Christians to engage the Western Catholic tradition, including scholasticism. At the conclusion of his book Ways of Russian Theology, as just one example, he suggests that “the Orthodox thinker can find a . . . source for creative awakening in the great systems of ‘high scholasticism’, in the experience of the Catholic mystics, and in the theological experience of later Catholicism . . .” And Florovsky was no hypocrite. He practiced what he preached, frequently citing St. Augustine and, indeed, engaging the medieval schoolmen in his work on the Redemption. In fact, he even titled an essay after one of Anselm’s most famous works, “Cur Deus Homo" [Why God Become Man], which happens to be the one that provokes the greatest outcry from Orthodox Christians.

So, with a bit of fear and trembling, I’ve heeded Florovsky’s admonition by committing myself to engage a schoolman who is frequently blamed as a source of the widening divide between East and West. But after actually reading a decent portion of his works, I have been delightfully surprised, first with the Meditations and Prayers, and then most recently with his famous Monologion and Proslogion. Over the next several days I’ll be reading the rest of his works:

  • On Truth
  • On Free Will
  • On the Fall of the Devil
  • On the Incarnation of the Word
  • Why God Became Man
  • On the Virgin Conception and Original Sin
  • On the Procession of the Holy Spirit.

Then, and only then, will I be in a position to actually make a final judgement, rather than an uninformed accusation. And then I'll put something together to present St Anselm at the Hall of Men next Thursday evening.

But for now, let me return to Fr. Georges Florovsky, the man whose writings moved me to present St. Anselm. Elsewhere in Florovsky's writings, he argues that East and West had a common patristic idiom and mind well into the twelfth century and probably into the thirteenth century with Aquinas. This postdates the typical date given for the schism between East and West (1054) by over 200 years (Marcus Plested would probably agree with this assertion, based on an exchange with him and my reading of his wonderful book Orthodox Readings of Aquinas; and I think Fr. Andrew Louth would also agree, based on my correspondence with him and his positive review of Plested's book). If Florovsky is correct, and I too think he is, it means that St. Anselm (1033-1109) would have been fluent in that patristic idiom; he would have had a patristic mind. And based on my reading thus far, I will unabashedly submit that certainly seems to be the case. I’ve already seen the influence of St. Athanasius and St. Dionysios the Areopagite all over the place, and possibly even St. Maximus the Confessor. (This does not mean there will not be issues; one problem I've already encountered as an Orthodox Christian is his view of the Trinity, specifically what seems to be an affirmation of the filioque clause; he hasn't stated this explicitly yet, but his view of the Holy Spirit's relation to the Son offers a pretty clear indication of his view; I presume he will be more explicit in his treatise On the Procession of the Holy Spirit.)

Reacquiring that patristic mind and relearning that patristic idiom is precisely what Florovsky so passionately fought for throughout most of his life. And it is precisely that common patristic mind and that common patristic idiom that I am fighting for in all of our work at Eighth Day Institute. The only way to overcome our Christian divisions so we can renew our post/anti-Christian culture, I firmly believe, is to return to the early Christian Fathers, to relearn their idiom and reacquire their mind (which happens to primarily be scriptural!).

I hope you'll join me in our efforts!

Renewing Culture through Faith and Learning in Christ,



Director Doom

P.S. My lecture will be recorded, so if you are an Eighth Day Member and can’t attend the Hall of Men (presumably because you are either a female or you don’t live in Wichita), you’ll be able to listen to it the following week.

P.S.S. If you aren’t yet a part of our Eighth Day Community, please consider becoming a monthly Eighth Day Patron (especially Wichita folks who receive additional perks at our headquarters). We currently have a $5,000 matching offer for 25 new monthly Eighth Day Patrons (25 x $40 x 5 months [Aug-Dec] = $5,000); that offer is good through August 15, so take advantage of doubling your dollars now!

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