Such Virtue in His Death

From Cur Deus Homo, 16. (ca. 1094-1098)

It was certainly proper that the atonement which Christ made should benefit not only those who lived at that time but also others. For suppose there were a king against whom all the people of his provinces had rebelled, with but a single exception of those belonging to their race, and that all the race was irretrievably under condemnation. And suppose that he who alone is blameless had so great favor with the king, and so deep love for us, as to be both able and willing to save all those who trusted in his guidance, and this because of a certain very pleasing service he was about to do for the king, according to his desire; and in as much as those who were are to be pardoned cannot all assemble upon that day, the king grants, on account of the greatness of the service to be performed, that whoever, either before or after the day appointed, acknowledged that he wished to obtain pardon by the work that day accomplished, and to subscribe to the condition there laid down, should be freed from all past guilt… In like manner, since all who are to be saved cannot be present at the sacrifice of Christ, yet such virtue is there in his death that its power is extended even to those far remote either in place or in time.

St. Anselm (1033-1109) was an Italian abbot and theologian, who served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 until his death. A gifted philosophical theologian, he developed the first ontological proofs for God’s existence and the satisfaction theory of the atonement, which is presented in his famous treatise Cur Deus Homo (“Why God Became Man”). Under his leadership, the Abbey of Bec became Europe’s foremost seat of scholarship. Anselm’s tenure as archbishop was marked by conflict with English kings as he insistently sought reform. His feast day is April 21. The text is cited from S. W. Deane, ed., St. Anselm: Basic Writings (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1962).

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