1033-1109 Cur deus homo

Cur deus homo
(Why God became man)

by St. Anselm 1033-1109

Anselm’s Preface

I WAS obliged to complete the work hereto subjoined more quickly than was advisable, and therefore to make it briefer than I could wish, on account of some who had transcribed the first portions for themselves before it was as yet finished and ripely considered.

For I should have inserted and added many things that I have left out, had I been allowed to produce it in quiet and with sufficient time. But in great trouble of spirit (which how and why I have suffered, God knoweth), I began in England and finished it while a wanderer in the Capuan province.

I have called it, from the matter whereof it treats, “Why was God made man?” and have divided it into two books.

The first of these contains certain objections of unbelievers who reject the Christian faith because they think it contrary to reason, with the answers of the faithful; and finally, setting Christ aside, (as though He had never been) proves by logical arguments that it is impossible for any man to be saved without Him.

In a like manner, in the second book, (as though nothing were known of Christ) it is shown no less plainly by reason and in truth, that human nature was made to this end, that at some time man in his completeness, i.e. in body and soul, should enjoy a blessed immortality ; and that it is necessary that, what man was made for, to that he should come: but that only by one who is man and God, and of necessity by all which we believe of Christ, could this be done.

I request all who choose to transcribe this book, to place at the beginning of it this little preface, with the chapters of the whole work; so that into whosesoever hands it may come, he may see as in its countenance whether there be in the whole form aught which he will not disdain.


The Question On Which The Whole Work Depends.

OFTEN, both by word of mouth and by letter, have I been eagerly asked to write down the explanatory arguments with which I am accustomed to answer those who ask about various points of our faith: for they say that they enjoy them, and think them conclusive. They inquire, not that they may through reason be led to faith, but that they may be edified by the insight of those who do believe, and that they may, as far as they can, be always ready to give an effectual answer to anyone who asks for a reason of the faith that is in us. The unbelieving often question (deriding Christian simplicity as infatuated), and the faithful wonder in their own hearts, for what reason, and by what necessity, God was made man, and by His death, as we believe and confess, gave life to the world; since He might have done this by another person, whether angelic or human; or by His sole will. On this point not the learned only, but also many unlearned persons inquire much, and ask the reason of it.

Therefore since many desire this subject to be treated, and since the elucidation, though very difficult to carry out, is intelligible to all when completed, and attractive on account of its usefulness and the beauty of the reasoning: I will try (although what should be enough has been said by the holy Fathers on the subject) to show forth to those who are seeking, that which God may deign to disclose to me. And since question and answer is an easy way of explaining things, I shall make one of my petitioners my interlocutor — Boso shall ask, and Anselm answer, as follows.

Chapter II. How Those Things Which Are About To Be Asserted,
Are To Be Received.

Boso. JUST as right order requires that we should believe the deep things of the Christian faith before we presume to discuss them by means of our reason; so exactly does it seem to me to be culpable carelessness if after we are settled in the faith, we do not seek to understand that which we believe. Wherefore since by the prevenient grace of God I so hold, as I believe, the faith of our redemption, as that if by no exercise of reason whatever were I able to understand it, yet would nothing by any possibility have power to tear me away from that firm conviction: I ask you to explain to me that which, as you know many besides me are asking : namely, by what necessity and for what reason hath God, being omnipotent, assumed, in order to its restoration, the humiliations and weakness of human nature?

Anselm.   What you ask of me is above my powers and I fear to treat of these depths, lest, if anyone should imagine or see that I did not satisfy him, he should rather conclude that the actual truth did not exist, than that my intellect was unable to grasp it.

Boso. You should not so much fear this, as bear it in mind (for it often happens during the discussion of a question that God reveals what hitherto was unperceived): and hope for God’s grace, because if you freely impart what you have received of free gift, you will deserve to be endowed with higher gifts to which you have not yet attained.

Anselm. There is another thing on account of which I see that we can with difficulty, if at all, discuss the subject fully among ourselves at present; since to do that some clear conception is necessary of power, necessity, will, and some other things, which are so connected that none of them can be fully considered without the others; and consequently the treatment of these involves a labour, not as I think so very easy, nor yet altogether useless; for ignorance concerning them makes some things difficult, which become easy when these are understood.

B. You might on occasion speak briefly concerning these points, so that we may grasp what is sufficient for the work of the moment, and postpone what more there is to be said to another time.

A. This also strongly restrains me from yielding to your prayer: that since the subject is not only precious, but also, as it is in form perfect beyond the sons of men, so also is it in rational perfection above the human intellect; therefore I fear lest, just as I myself am apt to be indignant with bad artists when I see our Lord depicted under a misshapen form, so it may happen to myself, if I presume to investigate so sublime a subject by rude, contemptible speculations.

B. Neither should this stop you, because as you allow anyone who can to put the thing more clearly, so you prevent no one whom your decision does not please from writing better than yourself: but (and this must put an end to all your excuses) that which I ask of you you are not going to do for the learned, but for me and for those who with me ask it of you.

NPG D23953; St Anselm by George Glover

A. Since I see both your importunity and that of those who out of love and religious zeal are joining you in this request, I will try my very best (God helping me, and I being aided by your prayers frequently promised to me when I have asked for them for this very object) not so much to show you that which you seek as to seek it with you ; but on this condition, which I desire should be implied in all which I say: that is, that if I shall say anything which a greater authority shall not confirm, even though I should seem to prove it logically, it shall be received with no more certitude than is given by the fact that so it appears to me in the meantime, until God shall show me better in any way. For if I am in any measure able to satisfy your inquiries, it will be certain that a wiser than I could do it more fully; and it is yet further to be noted, that whatever man may say or be able to know about it, deeper arguments will lie yet hidden within so great a subject.

B. That is plain enough (to use an infidel phrase): but it is fair that whilst we are seeking to investigate the ground of our faith, we should bring forward the objections of those who will on no account give their adhesion to that same faith without some reason for it.

For although that same reason is sought by them because they do not, but by us because we do, believe; yet what we all seek is one and the same thing: and should you say anything in your answers which sacred authority should seem to contradict, may I be allowed to bring it forward? so that you may explain that this opposition does not exist.

A. Speak as you think advisable.

Chapter III.

Objections Of Unbelievers And Answers Of The Faithful.

B. Unbelievers, mocking at our simplicity, reproach us with doing God wrong and putting Him to shame when we assert that He descended into the womb of a virgin, was born of a w^oman, grew, was nourished with milk and the ordinary food of man, and (to be silent on many other points, which seem unsuitable to God) that He suffered weariness, hunger, thirst, scourging, and death with thieves on the cross.

A, We do God no wrong nor put Him to shame, but giving thanks with all our hearts we praise Him and proclaim the ineffable heights of His mercy; for just so far as by marvellous and unimaginable ways He redeemed us from so many and so well-deserved evils in which we were sunk and restored us to so great and unmerited blessings, just so far, I say. He showed forth for us the greater love and compassion. But if they were thoughtfully to consider how  consistently the restoration of humanity was thus effected, they would not deride our simplicity, but would with us praise the wise beneficence of God. For it was needful that as by the disobedience of man death had come upon the human race, so by the obedience of man should life be given back. And that as sin, which was the cause of our condemnation, had its first beginning from a woman, so the author of our justification and salvation should be born of woman; and that the devil, who had vanquished man by persuading him to taste the fruit of the tree, should in like wise be conquered by man, by that death which He bore on the tree. There are also many other things, which being carefully studied, show the ineffable beauty of the redemption in this way procured for us.

Chapter IV.

That These Answers Appear Superfluous To Unbelievers, And Like Representations Of The Truth, Not The Truth Itself.

B. These are all beautiful sayings, and to be accepted as pictured realisations: but if there be not something solid whereon they rest, they are not a sufficient reason to the ii\credulous why we ought to believe God to have willed to suffer as we assert He did. Now he who wishes to paint a picture chooses something solid Avhereon to work, that what he paints may last; but no one designs on the water or on air, since no trace of the picture would remain thereon.

Wherefore when we display these logical harmonies which you enumerate, as it were in the guise of pictures of a past action, to unbelievers, they (considering what we believe to be not a real thing which happened, but only a fiction) think we do but paint pictures on the clouds. Therefore is to be shown, first, the reasonable solidity of the verity; that is, the necessity which proves that God should or could descend to that which we predicate. Therefore in order that the actual truth should shine forth more brightly, these harmonies should be displayed as a picture of the solid reality.

A. Does not this sufficiently appear to be an effectual reason, why it behoved God to do these things which we assert? — namely, that the human race, His so precious creation, would have utterly perished, and it was not fitting that the intentions of God for man should suddenly be frustrated; and again, that His design could not have been carried out unless the human race had been delivered by the Creator Himself?

Chapter V.

That The Redemption Of Man Could Not Have Been Effected By Any Save By God Himself.

B. If this deliverance were said to be effected by anyone else rather than by God Himself (whether by angel or by man), in what way matters not, the human intellect would accept the fact much more readily. For God might have made some one man without sin, not of the sinful mass of humanity, nor from any one man, but as He made Adam: by such a one it would appear that this same work might have been accomplished.

A. Don’t you understand that whatever other person should save man from death eternal, to him would man rightly belong? If that were so, he could in nowise be restored to that place of dignity which he would have filled had he not sinned; since he who was to have been the servant of God only, and equal in all things to the good angels, would be the slave of one who was not God and to whom the angels owed no service.

Chapter VI

How Unbelievers Object To Our Assertion That  God Redeemed Us By His Death And So  Showed Forth His Love Towards Us As For  Us To Have Come To Conquer The Devil.

B. This it is at which they marvel so much: that we call this deliverance redemption. ” For,” say they to us, ” in what capacity, or in what prison, or in whose power, were you confined, whence God could not set you free unless He ransomed you with so many toils, and finally by His blood? ” And when we say to them: ” He redeemed us from our sins, and from His wrath, and from hell, and from the power of the devil, whom because we could not. He came Himself to subdue, and He bought back for us the kingdom of heaven ; and since He did all these things thus, He shows forth how He loves us   “they answer: “If you say that God could not do all these things by His word alone, He who you say created all things by His word, you contradict yourselves, for you assert Him to be powerless.

If on the other hand you say that He could, but willed it not save in this way, how can you call Him wise whom you would afiirm to have willed without any reason to suffer things so misbecoming .- If, then. He wills not to punish the sins of men, man is free from sins and from God’s anger, and from hell, and from the devil’s power, all which He suffers on account of His sins; and receives those things of which for his sins he is now deprived.

“For who hath power over hell or the devil? Whose
is the kingdom of heaven but His who made all things? Whatsoever therefore you fear or love, all lies in the power of Him whom nought can resist; wherefore, if He would not save the human race except in the manner you assert, when He might have done it by His will alone; see (to speak moderately) how you impugn His wisdom: for if a man were without cause to do by severe labour that which he might do with ease, he would not be considered wise by anyone.

Therefore your assertion, that God thus showed forth how much He loved you, can be defended by no argument unless it be shown that man could not possibly have been saved otherwise. For if it could not otherwise have been done, then perchance it would have been necessary that He should thus show forth His love; but now since He could save man otherwise, what reason is there that on account of showing forth His love. He should do and bear what you say? Does He not show forth to the good angels, for whom He endures not similar things, how much He loves them? But when you say He came down to conquer the devil for you, in what sense do you take the phrase ‘came down’? Is not the reign of God’s omnipotence universal? How then was it needful for God to come down from heaven to conquer the devil?” Unbelievers think they can fairly taunt us with these objections.

Chapter VII

That The Devil Had No Just Right Against Man; And Why It Seems As Though He Had: And Wherefore God Should Have Delivered Man In This Way.

B Continuing. But that which we are wont to assert, i.e. that God should have proceeded against the devil to release man, rather by right of equity than by His own sufferings, since the devil by slaying Him in whom was no cause of death, and who was God, had justly lost the power which he had over sinners; also, that otherwise unjust violence would have been done him, since he justly had possession of man, whom he had not drawn to his side by violence, but who had come over to him voluntarily: all this, to my mind, is of no force whatever. For did the devil or man belong to himself or to any other save God, or were in the power of any but God, this perchance might be justly asserted; but seeing that neither devil nor man exists but by God, and that neither subsists outside His power, what claim should God urge with His own, concerning His own, upon His own, except to punish him as His slave who had persuaded his fellow-slave to desert their common lord and to join him, and had, a traitor, received the fugitive: a thief, welcomed the other thief with the theft from their lord? Each and either of them was a thief, since, one persuading the other, each stole himself from his lord: so what could have been more just, had God chosen so to do?

Or if God, the Judge of all, were to take away the possession, man, from the power of one who holds him in so unjust possession — whether to punish him otherwise than by the devil or to spare him — where would be the injustice? For although man were justly tormented by the devil, he yet tormented man unjustly. For man had deserved to be punished; nor by anyone more suitably than by him with whom he had agreed to sin. Yet was it no merit in the devil to punish; rather did it make him so much the more unjust, as he was not drawn thereto by a love of justice, but was impelled by his own malicious instinct; for he did it, God not commanding, but in His inscrutable wisdom, whereby He brings good out of evil, permitting it. And I think that those who deem that the devil has some right to dominion over men are drawn to this opinion because they see men justly subjected to annoyance by the devil, and God permitting this with justice: and thence they infer that the devil inflicts it justly. But it happens sometimes that the same thing is just or unjust for different reasons, and hence is pronounced wholly just or unjust by those who do not look carefully into it.

NPG D23949; St Anselm after Unknown artist
after Unknown artist, line engraving, late 16th century

Suppose, for instance, some one should strike an innocent person, by whom he justly deserves himself to be smitten, yet if the one attacked ought not to defend himself, and yet strikes him who assaults him, he does this without just right. Thus this blow is wrongful on the part of him who strikes back again, since he ought not to defend himself; but looking at the person who is struck in return it is just, since he who wrongfully strikes rightly merits to be smitten; therefore the same action is just and unjust as it is looked at from different points of view, and it may happen to be considered only just by one, only unjust by another. So the devil is in this way said tq_ harass man with justice, since God justly permits it, and man suffers it justly; but man is not said to suffer it justly because of the justice of the infliction: only on account of his being punished by the just judgment of God. And though there be alleged that “handwriting of the ordinance,” which the Apostle says was “against us, and blotted out by the death of Christ;” should anyone imagine to be signified by this that since the devil, as it were, by the bond of this handwriting, could, before the Passion of Christ, exact sin from man as usury for the first sin to which he had persuaded him, and also the penalty of sin, that therefore by this his right over man should seem to be proved: I by no means think that it should thus be understood. For that handwriting is not the devil’s: it is called “the handwriting of the ordinance,” and that ordinance was not of the devil, but of God. For by the just judgment of God it was decreed, and confirmed as it were by a deed, that man, who of his own free will sinned, can by himself avoid neither sin nor the  penalty of sin; he is a spirit capable of taking a step, but not of retracing it; and “whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin,” nor ought he who sins to be released without punishment, unless mercy should spare the sinner, free him, and lead him back again: yet we are, notwithstanding, to believe that under that ordinance the devil can find no right to torment man. Again, as in a good angel there is no unrighteousness at all, so in an evil angel is there no interior goodness: nothing therefore was there in the devil wherefore God should not use his power against the devil for man’s deliverance.

Chapter VIII

How, Although The Humiliations We Assert Christ Underwent, Belong Not To His Divinity, They Yet Appear To Unbelievers To Be Disparaging When Asserted Of Him As Man: And Whence It Seems To Them That As Man He Did Not Die Of His Own Free Will.

A. The will of God ought to be a sufficient reason for us when He does anything, even if we do not see why He wills thus, for the will of God is never unreasonable.

B. That is true, if it be certain that God does will the thing in question; but many will never agree that God doth will a thing, if it appear contrary to reason.

A. What is it that seems to you unreasonable in one saying that God willed those things which we believe concerning His Incarnation?

B. This, in a word: that the Highest should stoop to such indignities, the Omnipotent do aught by so great effort.

A. They who speak thus do not understand what we believe. For we assert the Divine Nature to be without doubt impassible, and in no way possibly to be brought down from its ineffable exaltation, nor to need to use effort to accomplish that which it wills. But the Lord Jesus Christ we assert to be true God and true Man, one Person in two natures, and two natures in one Person; wherefore when we say that God endured humiliation and infirmity, we understand this not according to the sublimity of the impassible nature, but according to the infirmity of the human nature which He bore; and thus no reason can be recognised as contradicting our faith. For we thus impute no humiliation to the divine substance, but show that there is one Person, both God and man: and therefore no humiliation of God is understood to have been involved in the Incarnation; but it is believed that the nature of man was exalted.

B. So be it: let nothing be imputed to the Divine Nature, which is said of Christ according to the infirmity of man; but how could it be proved just or reasonable that God should so treat that Man whom the Father called His “beloved Son, in whom He was well pleased,” and who called Himself the Son, or permit him to be treated thus?

What man would not be judged worthy of condemnation if he were to condemn the innocent in order to let the guilty go free? So it seems the difficulty follows which was asserted before; for if He could not save sinners otherwise than by condemning the just, where is His omnipotence? and if He could, but would not, how do we defend His wisdom and justice ?

A. God the Father did not treat that Man as you seem to think, nor did He deliver up the innocent to die for the wicked. For He did not either compel Him to die, nor permit Him to be slain, unwilling  but that One Himself bore His death by His own free will that He might save mankind.

B. Even if He did not compel Him to it against His will, since He consented to what the Father willed; yet in some way He seems to have coerced Him by commands. For it is said that Christ “humbled Himself, and became obedient to the Father unto death, even the death of the cross, wherefore God also highly exalted Him; “and that “He learned obedience by the things which He suffered;” and that “the Father spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.” And the Son Himself says: “I came not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me.” And when about to enter upon His Passion, He said: “As my Father gave Me commandment, even so I do.” Also: “The cup which my Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” And elsewhere: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not what I will, but what Thou wilt.” And once more: “Father, if this cup may not pass from Me, except I drink it. Thy will be done.” In all these passages Christ appears to have suffered death more under the compulsion of obedience than by the spontaneous disposition of His own will.

Cur Deus homo by Anselm, Saint, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1033-1109

Publication date 1909

The book is available from two  sources if you’re interested in reading more. The text runs 109 pages and after that there are letters of Anselm to people of his times.


cur deus homo2





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