Daniel M. Bell Jr: On Atonement, Judgment & Gift

Vox Nova

Read rightly, Anselm’s account of the atonement is finally not economic. It is not a matter of debt, of juridical equity and restitution, of compensatory loss or penal suffering. As Anselm says, in accord with standard precepts of medieval theology, God needs nothing and no necessity compels God to act as God does in redeeming us from sin. Likewise, God does not demand bloodshed, divine justice is not in conflict with divine mercy, and God’s power and dignity cannot be diminished by human insurrection. That Anselm continues to be read in terms of this economic logic (debt, equity, retribution) and these distinctions (justice versus forgiveness) reflects less the deficiencies of his Augustinian vision of sacrifice than it does the way we modern readers of Anselm have been disciplined by an economy that functions in accordance with such logic and such distinctions.

Shorn of such economic distortions, Anselm’s account of the…

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