Saint Anselm and his Ontological Argument for the Existence of God: why do we still care? Questions for Discussion: Lesson 24A Chapter 21 “Anselm & Abelard Speculate About God’s Ways” from  The Story of Christian Theology by Roger E. Olson

1. Justo Gonzalez, a noted historian of Christian theology, praises Anselm of Canterbury as “the greatest theologian of his time”. Now that you have read about Anselm, what would you identify as the accomplishments that most warrant such an assessment?

2. Anselm, prompted by Psalm 14’s reference to the “fools” who “…say in their hearts, ‘there is no God’ “, wanted to develop an “airtight logical proof of God’s reality” without having to invoke divine revelation or scriptural authority to achieve a proof. What were the results of his reflections on this problem?

3. What were the external pressures in the European environment contributing to Anselm’s composing the Monologion and Proslogion? Did Anselm have a “hidden agenda” in developing a theology devoid of reliance on appeals to the authority of Holy Scripture?

4. The power of the Ontological Argument, according to Olson, rests on a logical “hinge” [my term] which demands assent from the person who is opposing the Christian apologist. Explain this hinge and why the logic of the argument rests on this premise. What is the practical consequence for the apologist in the actual dynamics of the developing discussion? Assuming the apologist has moved beyond this issue, how must he now lead the discussion through the distinction between understanding and reality? How does this distinction lead us to a logical inevitability: God exists in reality?

5. How did Anselm contribute to the Doctrine of the Atonement? How might you explain the Ransom Theory of the Atonement Doctrine that preceded Anselm, particularly as it was articulated by Gregory the Great? How did Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory of the Atonement work to explain the Atonement in a more comprehensive way? What did Calvin think of Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory?

6. Peter Abelard is often described as a very controversial figure during this period. What do you think was the root cause(s) of the reaction to Abelard [let us overlook the matter of Heloise right now]? Why do you think students from all over Europe traveled to Paris to study with him at the University.

7. Abelard also contributed to a revised Doctrine of the Atonement. How would you define his contribution and how would you contrast it with earlier Catholic doctrine? How would you contrast it with Anselm’s? [Go to this discussion for further background in this doctrine, especially as it was articulated in early church writings before Abelard.]

8. The spectre of Pelagianism emerged during the debates on the Doctrine of the Atonement, Abelard’s position being of special concern to some. What were the grounds cited for making the charge of Pelagianism?

See Lesson 24B for Correlated Readings:

A Selection From Paul Tillich’s lectures on The History of Christian Thought

Bible Verses for Reflection

See the Bonus Lesson page by clicking here: Alvin Plantinga’s video lecture Science vs. Religion Where the Conflict Really Lies is one hour and fifteen minutes. It is followed by some short videos of Christian journalist interviewing him.


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