Feudal Imagery or Christian Tradition? A Defense of the Rationale for Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo
Cohen, Nicholas (Boston College)
The Saint Anselm Journal 2.1 (Fall 2004)
Anselm of Canterbury’s Cur Deus Homo (CDH) is one of the most important theological approaches to the issues of Incarnation and Atonement which may be found in the history of Christianity. Anselm’s ingenuity and rigor in his examination of the rationale for the central doctrine of the Christian faith established the Cur Deus Homo as mandatory reading for a medieval understanding of Christology. However, the Cur Deus Homo has been received with varying degrees of suspicion due to that very medieval context in which Anselm wrote. In his defense of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation of the Word of God, Anselm framed his reasoning within the feudal context in which he lived and he tended to derive analogies and imagery from the legal peculiarities of that society. Unfortunately, the influence of feudalism has caused some scholars to harshly criticize or dismiss outright the entire Cur Deus Homo. In this paper, I would like to address those criticisms and counter those who maintain that Anselm’s argument lacks viability because of its feudal context. It is my hope that, by showing possible patristic sources for some of Anselm’s key imagery, the weight of some criticisms leveled against the argument may be mitigated.