Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109) on divine simplicity

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What are you, Lord, what are You; what shall my heart understand You to be? You are, assuredly, life, You are wisdom, You are truth, You are goodness, You are blessedness, You are eternity, and You are every true good. These are many things, and my limited understanding cannot see them all in one single glance so as to delight in all at once. How then, Lord, are You all these things? Are they parts of You, or rather, is each one of these wholly what You are? For whatever is made up of parts is not absolutely one, but in a sense many and other than itself, and it can be broken up either actually or by the mind – all of which things are foreign to You….

Therefore there are no parts in You, Lord, neither are You many, but You are so much one and the same with Yourself that in nothing You are dissimilar with Yourself. Indeed You are unity itself not divisible by any mind. Life and wisdom and the other [attributes] then, are not parts of You, but all are one and each one of them is wholly what You are and what all the others are. Since, then, neither You nor Your eternity which You are have parts, no part of You or of Your eternity is anywhere or at any time, but You exist as a whole everywhere and Your eternity exists as a whole always.

– Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109), Proslogion

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Hugh of St. Victor (c. 1096-1141): The remedy of the sick heart

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“The first man was so created that if he had not sinned he would always have beheld in present contemplation his Creator’s face, and by always seeing him would have loved him always, and by loving would always have clung close to him, and by clinging to him who was eternal would have possessed life without end. Evidently the one true good of man was perfect knowledge of his Creator. But he was driven from the face of the Lord, since for his sin he was struck with the blindness of ignorance, and passed from that intimate light of contemplation; and he inclined his mind to earthly desires, as he began to forget the sweetness of the divine. Thus he was made a wanderer and fugitive over the earth. A wanderer indeed, because of disordered concupiscence; and a fugitive, through guilty conscience, which feels every man’s hand against it. For every temptation will overcome the man who has lost God’s aid.

So man’s heart which had been kept secure by divine love, and one by loving One, afterward began to flow here and there through earthly desires. For the mind which knows not to love its true good is never stable and never rests. Hence restlessness, and ceaseless labor, and disquiet, until the man turns and adheres to Him. The sick heart wavers and quivers; the cause of its disease is love of the world; the remedy, the love of God.”

– Hugh of St. Victor (c. 1096-1141), De Arca Noe Morali, Preface

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153): Why should God be loved?

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“You wish to hear from me why and in what manner God should be loved. I answer then: the reason for loving God is God [himself]; and there should be no measure [of that love]. Is that enough to say about the matter? For a wise man it most probably is, but I am a debtor to the unwise also. And though I may have said enough for those with understanding, I must have due regard for others too. For those less apt, then, I gladly will explain what I have said more fully, if not with greater depth.

I might have said there was a twofold reason why we are to love God [solely] for himself. Firstly, nothing is more just, and secondly, nothing is more profitable. The question ‘Why should God be loved?’ includes both of these, for it may mean either ‘What is his claim upon our love?’ or ‘What benefit shall we derive from loving him?’. My former answer stands in either case: there is no other worthy cause for loving God except himself.

And firstly, as to his claim upon our love, he surely merits much from us who gave himself to us, unworthy as we were: what better gift could he have given than himself? If, then, it is his claim we have in mind when asking ‘Why should God be loved?’, the first and foremost answer is, ‘Because he first loved us’ (1 Jn. 4:19). Most plainly is he worthy of being loved in return by us, especially if we consider who he is who thus bestows his love on us, who the objects of it are, and how great it is. For who is he, save he whom every soul confesses, ‘Thou art my God, my goods are nothing unto Thee’ (Ps. 16:2). His is indeed that majestic love which ‘seeketh not its own’ (1 Cor. 13:5). But who are they to whom he shows this selfless love? ‘When we were enemies,’ says the Apostle, ‘we were reconciled to God’ (Rom. 5:10). God, then, has loved us freely, while we were enemies. How much has he loved us? John says: ‘God so loved the world the world that he gave his only begotten Son’ (Jn. 3:16). ‘He that spared not his own Son,’ says Paul, ‘but delivered him up for us all’ (Rom. 8:32). The Son, moreover, tells us of himself, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn. 15:13). This is the claim that the Just One has on sinners, the Highest on the lowest, and he who is Almighty on the weak. You say, perhaps, Yes, that is true of men, but with the angels it is otherwise. That I admit: the angels had not our human need. For the fact is that he who helped man in his misery kept them from falling into such a plight at all; and he whose love gave men the means to leave their lost estate, by a like love preserved the angels from sharing in our fall.”

– Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), De diligendo Deo, Chapter 1

Bonaventure (1221-1274) on the Trinity

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In his Breviloquium, Bonaventure (1221-1274), the great medieval Franciscan theologian and Doctor Seraphicus (“The Seraphic Doctor”), offers a succinct description of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The parts in brackets I have added for the sake of clarity. This excerpt is from Part I, Chapter 3:

PART I, CHAPTER 3 – ON THE RIGHT UNDERSTANDING OF THIS FAITH

  1. Sacred doctrine contributes to the right understanding of this faith by teaching that there are, within the Godhead, two modes of emanation, three hypostases, four relations, and five concepts; and yet in all only three personal properties.
  2. This should be understood as follows. The first and supreme Principle [i.e. the Triune God], by the very fact that He is first, is utterly simple; by the very fact that He is supreme, is utterly perfect. Being utterly perfect, He communicates Himself with complete perfection; being utterly simple, He remains completely undivided. Therefore, within the first Principle there are modes of perfect emanation which leave oneness of nature unimpaired. But the modes of perfect emanation are only two, through nature and through will; the first is generation [i.e. the Father generates the Son and the Son is generated by the Father], the second spiration-procession [the Spirit is spirated (breathed-out) by the Father and the Son and proceeds from the Father and the Son].Hence these are the two modes found here.
  3. Now, while two hypostases [i.e. the Son and the Spirit] necessarily result from two substance-producing modes of emanation, we must also posit that the original producing hypostasis [i.e. the Father] does not itself emanate from anything else, for then we should have an infinite series. Hence there are here THREE HYPOSTASES.
  4. Again, because each mode of emanation implies a twofold relation, there are here FOUR RELATIONS: paternity and filiation [between the Father and the Son]; spiration and procession [the Father and the Son spirate or breath out the Spirit, while the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son].
  5. By such relations, the divine hypostases are made known to us. But the original producing hypostasis [i.e. the Father] is shown to have no originator, which is the very reason for its characteristic excellence. Hence there are here FIVE CONCEPTS: the four relations indicated above, and unbegottenness.
  6. Furthermore, each Person enjoys one property through which He principally is made known. Hence there are here but THREE PERSONAL PROPERTIES, characteristically and principally indicated by the names: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  7. The Father is properly the One without an originator, the Unbegotten One; the Principle who proceeds from no other; the Father as such. Therefore, UNBEGOTTEN ONE designates Him by a negation, but also affirmatively through inference, since it implies existence within the Father of fullness at its source. PRINCIPLE WHO PROCEEDS FROM NO OTHER designates Him by an affirmation followed by a negation. FATHER designates Him in a proper, complete, and determinate manner by affirmation and the positing of a relation.
  8. The Son is properly the Image, the Word, and the Son as such. Likewise, therefore, IMAGE designates Him as the expressed likeness, WORD as the expressing likeness, and SON as the personal likeness. Again, IMAGE designates Him as the likeness in the order of form, WORD as the likeness in the order of reason, and SON as the likeness in the order of nature.
  9. The Holy Spirit is properly the Gift, the mutual Bond or Love, and the Holy Spirit as such. In the same way, then, GIFT designates Him as the One who is given through the will; BOND or LOVE, as the One given through the will who is the Gift par excellence; and HOLY SPIRIT, as the One given through the will, the Gift par excellence, who is a Person.

Hence, the three names, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, convey the personal properties of the three Persons.

This is what we must hold if we would rightly understand faith in the Holy Trinity.

Albert the Great (c. 1206-1280) on cleaving to God with naked understanding and will

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The Apostle Paul said to the Colossians (3:1-3):

“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”

Albert the Great (c. 1206-1280) picked up on this in his De adherendo Deo (On Cleaving to God), chapter 6:

“The more you strip yourself of the products of the imagination and involvement in external, worldly things and the objects of the senses, the more your soul will recover its strength and its inner senses so that it can appreciate the things which are above. So learn to withdraw from imaginations and the images of physical things, since what pleases God above everything is a mind bare of those sorts of forms and objects, for it is his delight to be with the sons of men, that is those who, at peace from such activities, distractions and passions, seek him with a pure and simple mind, empty themselves for him, and cleave to him. Otherwise, if your memory, imagination and thought is often involved with such things, you must needs be filled with the thought of new things or memories of old ones, or identified with other changing objects. As a result, the Holy Spirit withholds itself from thoughts bereft of understanding. So the true lover of Jesus Christ should be so united through good will in his understanding with the divine will and goodness, and be so bare of all imaginations and passions that he does not even notice whether he is being mocked or loved, or something is being done to him. For a good will turns everything to good and is above everything. So if the will is good and is obedient and united to God with pure understanding, he is not hurt even if the flesh and the senses and the outer man is moved to evil, and is slow to good, or even if the inner man is slow to feel devotion, but should simply cleave to God with faith and good will in naked understanding. He is doing this if he is conscious of all his own imperfection and nothingness, recognizes his good to consist in his Creator alone, abandons himself with all his faculties and powers, and all creatures, and immerses himself wholly and completely in the Creator, so that he directs all his actions purely and entirely in his Lord God, and seeks nothing apart from him, in whom he recognizes all good and all joy of perfection to be found. And he is so transformed in a certain sense into God that he cannot think, understand, love or remember anything but God himself and the things of God. Other creatures however and even himself he does not see, except in God, nor does he love anything except God alone, nor remember anything about them or himself except in God. This knowledge of the truth always makes the soul humble, ready to judge itself and not others, while on the contrary worldly wisdom makes the soul proud, futile, inflated and puffed up with wind. So let this be the fundamental spiritual doctrine leading to the knowledge of God, his service and familiarity with him, that if you want to truly possess God, you must strip your heart of all love of things of the senses, not just of certain creatures, so that you can turn to the Lord your God with a simple and whole heart and with all your power, freely and without any double-mindedness, care or anxiety, but with full confidence in his providence alone about everything.”

Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109): Is it proper for God to put away sins by compassion alone, without any payment of debt?

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Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109) systematically set forth his argument for the necessity of Christ’s Incarnation and atoning death in his famous book Cur Deus Homo? A common misconception people have about God’s forgiveness is that He forgives purely out of love and compassion, without any regard to the demands of justice. But God’s justice and mercy are not antithetical; indeed we may receive God’s mercy precisely because of God’s justice against our sins having been satisfied on our behalf in the atonement of Christ. He is both just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus (Rom. 3:36). Below, in dialogue with Boso (abbot of Bec), Anselm addresses this common misconception. The excerpt is from Cur Deus Homo, Book I, Chapter XII:

CHAPTER XII.

Whether it were proper for God to put away sins by compassion alone, without any payment of debt.

Anselm. Let us return and consider whether it were proper for God to put away sins by compassion alone, without any payment of the honor taken from him.

Boso. I do not see why it is not proper.

Anselm. To remit sin in this manner is nothing else than not to punish; and since it is not right to cancel sin without compensation or punishment; if it be not punished, then is it passed by undischarged.

Boso. What you say is reasonable.

Anselm. It is not fitting for God to pass over anything in his kingdom undischarged.

Boso. If I wish to oppose this, I fear to sin.

Anselm. It is, therefore, not proper for God thus to pass over sin unpunished.

Boso. Thus it follows.

Anselm. There is also another thing which follows if sin be passed by unpunished, viz., that with God there will be no difference between the guilty and the not guilty; and this is unbecoming to God.

Boso. I cannot deny it.

Anselm. Observe this also. Every one knows that justice to man is regulated by law, so that, according to the requirements of law, the measure of award is bestowed by God.

Boso. This is our belief.

Anselm. But if sin is neither paid for nor punished, it is subject to no law.

Boso. I cannot conceive it to be otherwise.

Anselm. Injustice, therefore, if it is cancelled by compassion alone, is more free than justice, which seems very inconsistent. And to these is also added a further incongruity, viz., that it makes injustice like God. For as God is subject to no law, so neither is injustice.

Boso. I cannot withstand your reasoning. But when God commands us in every case to forgive those who trespass against us, it seems inconsistent to enjoin a thing upon us which it is not proper for him to do himself.

Anselm. There is no inconsistency in God’s commanding us not to take upon ourselves what belongs to Him alone. For to execute vengeance belongs to none but Him who is Lord of all; for when the powers of the world rightly accomplish this end, God himself does it who appointed them for the purpose.

Boso. You have obviated the difficulty which I thought to exist; but there is another to which I would like to have your answer. For since God is so free as to be subject to no law, and to the judgment of no one, and is so merciful as that nothing more merciful can be conceived; and nothing is right or fit save as he wills; it seems a strange thing for us to say that be is wholly unwilling or unable to put away an injury done to himself, when we are wont to apply to him for indulgence with regard to those offences which we commit against others.

Anselm. What you say of God’s liberty and choice and compassion is true; but we ought so to interpret these things as that they may not seem to interfere with His dignity. For there is no liberty except as regards what is best or fitting; nor should that be called mercy which does anything improper for the Divine character. Moreover, when it is said that what God wishes is just, and that what He does not wish is unjust, we must not understand that if God wished anything improper it would be just, simply because he wished it. For if God wishes to lie, we must not conclude that it is right to lie, but rather that he is not God. For no will can ever wish to lie, unless truth in it is impaired, nay, unless the will itself be impaired by forsaking truth. When, then, it is said: “If God wishes to lie,” the meaning is simply this: “If the nature of God is such as that he wishes to lie;” and, therefore, it does not follow that falsehood is right, except it be understood in the same manner as when we speak of two impossible things: “If this be true, then that follows; because neither this nor that is true;” as if a man should say: “Supposing water to be dry, and fire to be moist;” for neither is the case. Therefore, with regard to these things, to speak the whole truth: If God desires a thing, it is right that he should desire that which involves no unfitness. For if God chooses that it should rain, it is right that it should rain; and if he desires that any man should die, then is it right that he should die. Wherefore, if it be not fitting for God to do anything unjustly, or out of course, it does not belong to his liberty or compassion or will to let the sinner go unpunished who makes no return to God of what the sinner has defrauded him.

Boso. You remove from me every possible objection which I had thought of bringing against you.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274): Sinning against an infinite God is an infinite offense which deserves infinite punishment

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I have often used this argument when doing evangelism to illustrate the immense gravity of sin and the awful punishment due. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to discover that the great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) argued the same way almost 8 centuries before:

“The magnitude of the punishment [of sin] matches the magnitude of the sin. Now a sin that is against God is infinite; the higher the person against whom it is committed, the graver the sin—it is more criminal to strike a head of state than a private citizen—and God is of infinite greatness. Therefore an infinite punishment is deserved for a sin committed against Him.”

– Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Summa Theologica, Ia2ae. 87, 4