Description of author: Anselm (c. 1033-1109) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 until his death in 1109. He was one of the leading Scholastics of the Middle Ages.
Comments: The importance of this treatise is summed up by Louis Berkhof: With Anselm the systematic study of the doctrine of the atonement began. He opens a new era in the history of this doctrine (The History of Christian Doctrines, p. 171). Anselm takes up the question as to why the Incarnation was necessary for the redemption of man. He explains, not by Scripture, but by reason, why it was necessary for God to become man in order to pay the debt that man owed to God for his sin. The work, which takes the form of a dialogue with one Boso, is divided into two books. In the preface, Anselm explains his purpose: The first [book] contains the objections of infidels, who despise the Christian faith because they deem it contrary to reason; and also the reply of believers; and, in fine, leaving Christ out of view (as if nothing had ever been known of him), it proves, by absolute reasons, the impossibility that any man should be saved without him. Again, in the second book, likewise, as if nothing were known of Christ, it is moreover shown by plain reasoning and fact that human nature was ordained for this purpose, viz., that every man should enjoy immortality, both in body and in soul; and that it was necessary that this design for which man was made should be fulfilled; but that it could not be fulfilled unless God became man, and unless all things were to take place which we hold with regard to Christ (p. 177-78). Anselm by no means gives us a full Biblical doctrine of the atonement, but he does present the atonement as a substitutionary satisfaction. The work is very important and interesting from a theological and historical perspective, but not something that the average Christian will probably find very helpful.