Mar 26, 2024

St. Anselm


We use the word “brilliant” much too often. “He pitched a brilliant game.” “She gave a brilliant performance.” Enough already! Yet St. Anselm (1033-1109) was, by all accounts, a perfectly brilliant theologian. He was widely regarded as the most original thinker of the 11th century and one of the ablest minds in the Middle Ages.” His father wanted him to go into politics, but Anselm was far more interested in research and privacy. He sought to join a monastery at 15, but his father interfered. Upon his father’s death, Anselm became a monk at 27 and eventually abbot of a monastery in Normandy, France. He preferred to labor in obscurity, but his enormous intellect could not be denied. His contemporaries asked him to help them think through the meaning of the cross, an appropriate question for us to ponder in Holy Week. Anselm sought exile in 1097AD after locking horns with King William II over the right of kings to interfere in church matters. He retreated to a small town in Italy and polished off his definitive work, Cur Deus Homo (literally “Why a God-Man”), or more commonly translated, Why God Became Man. Anselm reasoned from Scripture that people owe an enormous debt to God that can never be repaid so Jesus took on flesh to pay this debt in full. As fully divine and fully human, Christ is uniquely qualified to serve as our go-between. As God, Jesus perfectly satisfied the demands of justice that sin must be punished and, in his humanity, paid the penalty in our place. The result is an ingenious solution to the problem posed by sin. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross achieves justice for sin and mercy for sinners. Anselm’s prayer for Holy Week is a fitting way to center our day in prayer:

O Father, most merciful,in the beginning you created us,
and by the passion of your only Son
You created us anew.
Work in us now,
both to will and to do what pleases you.
Since we are weak and can do no good thing by ourselves,
grant us your grace and heavenly blessing,
that in whatever work we engage,
we may do all to your honor and glory.
Keep us from sin,
and empower us daily to do good works,
that as long as we live in the body,
we may always perform service to you.
Since you have given us pardon of all our sins,
after our departure receive us to eternal life;
through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
forever and ever. Amen.

St. Anselm, Why God Became Man
Prayers of the Middle Ages, edited by J. Manning Potts

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.