Anselm

Anselm

Anselm

Anselm

Synopsis

Sandra Visser and Thomas Williams offer a brief, accessible introduction to the life and thought of Saint Anselm (c. 1033-1109). Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury for the last sixteen years of his life, is one of the foremost philosopher-theologians of the Middle Ages. His keen and rigorous thinking earned him the title "The Father of Scholasticism," and his influence is discernible in figures as various as Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, the voluntarists of the late-thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and the Protestant reformers.
In part I of this book, Visser and Williams lay out the framework of Anselm's thought: his approach to what he calls "the reason of faith," his account of thought and language, and his theory of truth. Part II focuses on Anselm's account of God and the divine attributes, and it shows how Anselm applies his theory of language and thought to develop a theological semantics that at once respects divine transcendence and allows for the possibility of divine rational knowledge. In Part III, Visser and Williams turn from the heavenly to the animal. They elucidate Anselm's theory of modality and his understanding of free choice, an idea that was, for Anselm, embedded in his conception of justice. The book concludes with a discussion of Incarnation, Atonement, and original sin, as the authors examine Anselm's argument that the death of a God-man is the only possible remedy for human injustice.

Excerpt

We have sought as far as possible to make this work a fresh reassessment of Anselm’s thought as presented in his own writings. To that end we have been sparing in our references to secondary literature, both in the body of the text and in the notes. We have engaged explicitly with other commentators only when our own way of presenting an issue is dependent on theirs; we have tried to avoid the obliquity of carrying out exegesis by way of positioning ourselves against other interpretations. Nonetheless, we have profited from reading many scholars whose work we do not address directly in these pages. We list those works in the bibliography. We hope it will be evident that the few authors whom we have discussed critically at some length are so treated, not because their views are most deserving of criticism, but because they have taught us the most about Anselm.

We have in general confined ourselves to exposition rather than evaluation, except insofar as philosophical evaluation helps us bring out more clearly what Anselm’s arguments and views actually come to. Part of the reason for this is severely practical: the book is quite long enough even as it stands. But more important is the fact that it is impossible to comment intelligently on Anselm’s views without first getting clear on what they are, and some of the areas of Anselm’s thought that most invite evaluation are the very areas that have been most obscured by bad exegesis. To take just one example: as much as we would like to engage with critics of . . .

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