Advancing in the Knowledge of God: A Comparison of the Thought of Anselm of Bec and Symeon the New Theologian
Kleinhaus, Robert G.
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 4 (1987)
While Anselm of Bec (1033-1109) and Symeon the New Theologian (944-1022) are not exactly contemporaries, Symeon having died about ten years before Anselm’s birth, each stands as a major transitional figure between the Patristic and medieval periods as well as a harbinger of future developments in his respective tradition. James A. Weisheiple views Anselm as one of the outstanding masters of early Scholasticism while Jaroslav Pelikan maintains that Symeon laid the foundations for doctrinal implications of Orthodox devotional practice which culminated in the fourteenth-century Palamite controversy. Thus each in his respective tradition played a major role in the development of new theological themes which were to influence subsequent theological and doctrinal expression. What is particularly interesting is that both Anselm and Symeon address the same topic, namely how the Christian, or more specifically how the Christian monk, is to come to deeper knowledge of God. This seems to be one of the controlling themes of medieval theology in both Byzantium and Western Christendom. During the Patristic period, salvation and God’s action through sacraments and hierarchy seemed to dominate theological discussions in the West while the East was more preoccupied with the clarification of the identity of Christ and the implications of that doctrine for piety, especially with regard to the veneration of icons. But by the eleventh century Anselm and Symeon seem to have a common theological agenda, namely clarifying just how one who professes Christianity is to come to a deeper knowledge of God. Each proposes a quite distinctive path for this journey to a fuller com- prehension of faith, a journey which is in reality a journey to a fuller vision of God.