The Cambridge Companion to Anselm/Anselm of Canterbury and His Theological Inheritance/Anselm of Canterbury: The Beauty of Theology

By Pearson, Joseph H. | Anglican Theological Review, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

The Cambridge Companion to Anselm/Anselm of Canterbury and His Theological Inheritance/Anselm of Canterbury: The Beauty of Theology


Pearson, Joseph H., Anglican Theological Review


The Cambridge Companion to Anselm. Edited by Brian Davies and Brian Leftow. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. xiii + 323 pp. £45.00 / $65.00 (cloth); £18.99 / $29.99 (paper).

Anselm of Canterbury and His Theological Inheritance. By Giles E. M. Gasper. Aldershot, Hants, and Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2004. xiii + 228 pp. £50.00 / $99.95 (cloth).

Anselm of Canterbury: The Beauty of Theology. By David S. Hogg. Aldershot, Hants, and Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2004. 207 pp. £50.00/$99.95 (cloth).

As we approach the 900th anniversary of Anselm of Canterbury s death in 1109, each year brings the welcome publication of new research exploring the life and writings of the monk of Bee. Unfortunately, if Saint Anselm is read at all today, too often our attention focuses narrowly on a small selection of his works: the Proslogion, with its much-disputed claim that God cannot not exist; the Cur Deus Homo, so troubling and strange with its "feudal" anxieties about God's aggrieved honor, Satan's rights, and Christ's duty; or maybe a few of his inimitable prayers and meditations. Over against this atomizing tendency, content to pick through mere fragments instead of reading the wider corpus of his works, the trend of recent Anselmian studies has been more integrative and holistic. The very title of Sir Richard Southern's monumental 1990 biography Saint Anselm: Portrait in a Landscape, signals his aim to restore his subject to the wider context of his age. Since then, new research has traced out the overarching themes and perduring concerns that unite together, as binding threads, the disparate, seemingly ad hoc pieces comprising the Anselmian canon. This effort to recontextualize Anselm has drawn scholarly attention to some unjustly neglected works, to research the hidden sources of his thought and bring him into fruitful dialogue with contemporary philosophy and theology. Advancing this recent trend in Anselmian scholarship, three new books enrich our knowledge; of the intellectual and cultural background of Anselm even as they illuminate the more obscure margins of his work.

The new volume devoted to Anselm appearing in the excellent series, Cambridge Companions to Philosophy, will be of interest both to general readers in religion and to specialists in medieval philosophy and theology alike. A dozen essays, the contributions of many distinguished Anselm scholars, have been collected together under the editorship of Brian Davies and Brian Leftow. All the essays are both historical and critical: they offer valuable background information on Anselm s life and times-his debt to PIatonism, his relations with his teachers and contemporaries-but they also measure Anselm's assumptions and methods against the standards of contemporary philosophy and theology. Of particular interest to theologians will be the articles on Anselm's ethics (Jeffrey E. Brower) and his doctrines of God (Brian Leftow), the Trinity (William E. Mann) and the Atonement (David Brown). The essay by Marilyn McCord Adams, which investigates what Anselm can mean by his famous definition of theology as, fides quaerens intellectum. is noteworthy for its clarity, breadth of textual evidence, and insight. A particular strength of some essays is their close reading of key texts in the Anselmian corpus: that of Brian Davies on the "Ontological Argument" of the Proslogion, for example, or the essay of Sandra Visser and Thomas Williams on the De Veritate, are models of clear exposition, taking seriously what Anselm is saying but also engaging him critically and intelligently. Among the essays in this volume, there is certainly an impressive range of perspectives and interpretive strategies which represent interesting contemporary approaches to medieval philosophical texts.

Reference material in this volume-a chronology of Anselm's life, outlines of his major arguments, notes on key terms offered within some essays-will be helpful to the student who is beginning to read in Anselm. …

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