Today, in the calendar of the Episcopal Church, is the day we commemorate Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, who died in 1109.  He was born in Aosta, in northern Italy, around 1033 CE.  He left home as a young man, traveling north, until he reached the Abbey of Bec in Normandy, where at Lanfranc’s urging, he embraced monastic life and took his vows in 1060 — succeeding Lanfranc as Prior in 1063 and later as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093.  So he was roughly 27 years old when he finally settled down.

Anselm is probably best known for his ontological argument for the existence of God — which I studied way back in college.  Basically it says that since God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived, and since we have the idea of God (as unconditional being) in our mind, such a being has to exist (or there would be something greater) and we could not even talk about such a being if it did not exist outside of our mind.

I’m probably not doing a fair summary of the argument, possibly because it has always seemed a circular and unconvincing argument.  I know others are truly moved by it.  It just doesn’t cut it for me.  On the other hand, he saw himself as “faith seeking understanding.”  And that makes more sense to me — though some kind of honest understanding seemed to be necessary for me to embrace faith.  So I may have it, from his point of view, precisely backwards!  Unless you argue (and I think I would) that it was the faith seeking to emerge in me that had me seeking understanding.

I went to college as a philosophy major precisely because I was trying to understand and make sense of life.  And what I found was that there were any number of systems of belief which, if you accepted certain premises, could make coherent sense of the world.  And in the end (though there are parts of existentialism that really make sense to me) I found that the premise of God, looking more deeply into my Christian tradition, made best sense of the world to me.

And later still I found that that which I felt I was beginning to understand (however partial that understanding was destined to remain) became personal and experiential in my life.  And yet somehow some kind of understanding that I felt held integrity for me was necessary for me to have (or at least to acknowledge) these experiences in my life.

Anselm is also the most famous proponent of the satisfaction theory of the atonement.  (Atonement is a made up word in English to talk about how people who are sinners can be reconciled with God and become “at one” with God.)  The satisfaction theory of the atonement argues, at heart, that God can only be satisfied and accept us sinners if someone (Jesus) can make a perfect sacrifice (a sinless life) on our behalf to God.  Jesus’ blood washes us clean in God’s eyes.

I have trouble with calling this the satisfaction theory of the atonement because I like Jim McClendon’s breakdown of atonement theories into three basic theories based on who it is that has to be satisfied.  He argued (back in my seminary days) that all atonement theories have to satisfy God, the devil or people.

The problem with the classic theory, that God has to be satisfied, is that it makes no sense that a God who could not accept us in the first place would come in person to live and die for us so that we could be accepted.  Again, I know most people hold and find meaning is this classic theory of atonement.  But it makes no sense to me that such a God would come to save me.

The problem with theories where the devil has to be satisfied (and these are the least common, though there was an uptick around the time of the holocaust) is that this seems to give too much power into the hands of something other than God.  If God is the final arbiter (and I believe this) then the devil does not have the final word on this.

The problem with people being the one’s who have to be satisfied is that this is a subjective victory.  But it’s the victory that makes sense to me.  In my mind, what holds me apart from God is not that God does not accept me or that the devil will not let me go but whether or not I am able to trust God and turn to God and live in God.

For me, Jesus came and made God’s love and faithfulness known.  For me, that is what allows me to trust God.  For me, that is what allows me to have faith and to let God into my life.  That is what allows me to let God live in my life and bring me home to the place Jesus tells me God has prepared for me from the beginning.  That is what makes going home desirable.

That is a victory that has to be won in my heart (and in each and every person’s heart).  And that is the only victory that matters:  do I trust God’s faithfulness and goodness and acceptance enough to let God be a part of my life?

That is why, when I first came to St. George’s, I told them that the one thing I really wanted them to take with them from my time with them was that they were truly loved and accepted by God as they are.  Not, mind you, that there were not changes God would like to see (and maybe even we would like to make).  But God loves us, not because we are perfect or good enough, but simply because God loves us.  That’s the way it’s supposed to work in a good marriage.  We are loved, faults and all, for who we are.  That’s the way it works with God.

Anselm fought with civil authority as archbishop and was exiled twice.  He was admired by Norman nobility and loved by his monks.  His life had a profound piety and he was well-respected for his spiritual direction.

Certainly there were things, major things, that he believed and is known for that I have real problems with.  But I do find myself in conversation with him (in my mind).  And there are also parts of his life that I not only respect (even if I find myself in disagreement) but also want to emulate in my own life.