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Celebrate the Genius of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part 3

The Verbum monthly sale features several valuable resources from St. Thomas Aquinas, leading up to his feast day, January 28th.

Contemporary moral issues are considered by academics and experts in several fields from the Georgetown University Press Aquinas Studies Collection, specially priced through the end of January!


This 4-volume set has been highly praised. Here’s a review of The Ethics of Aquinas, edited by Stephen J. Pope:

[A] must have for every theology library and an invaluable resource for moral theologians, philosophers, and students alike. Pope has gathered some of the best Thomistic scholars and ethicists in Europe and America to contribute to this book.


Included in the set is Aquinas on the Emotions, lauded by Jean Porter,  John A. O’Brien Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Notre Dame:

Diana Cates’ book thus fills a real need, offering us a comprehensive, reliable, and engagingly clear guide to Aquinas’ complex theory, firmly placed within the wider context of his thought. What is more, by comparing Aquinas’ account with that of central contemporary theories of the emotions, she draws Aquinas into our own conversations, where he proves to be a surprisingly illuminating interlocutor. This fine book makes an important contribution both to Aquinas studies and to contemporary religious ethics and moral philosophy, and it deserves, and I expect it to have, wide influence.

Be sure to take advantage of the savings and add to your library now!

Celebrate the Genius of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part 2

The Verbum monthly sale is featuring several works of St Thomas Aquinas.

Here’s an excerpt from Commentary on the Gospel of John: Chapters 1-5, part of the 8-volume set, Thomas Aquinas in Translation.

Get a hint of the capacious and lucid intellect of St. Thomas in his Prologue to the Gospel of John:

I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and the whole house was full of his majesty, and the things that were under him filled the temple (Is. 6:1)

These are the words of a contemplative, and if we regard them as spoken by John the Evangelist they apply quite well to showing the nature of this Gospel. For as Augustine says in his work, On the Agreement of the Evangelists: “the other  Evangelists instruct us in their Gospels on the active life; but John in his Gospel instructs us also on the contemplative life.”

The contemplation of John is described above in three ways, in keeping with the threefold manner in which he contemplated the Lord Jesus. It is described as high, full, and perfect. It is high: I saw the Lord seated on a lofty throne; it is full: and the whole house was full of his majesty; and it was perfect; and the things that were under him filled the temple.

As to the first, we must understand that the height and sublimity of contemplation consists most of all in the contemplation and Knowledge of God: “Lift up your eyes on  high, and see who has created these things” (Is. 40:26). A man lifts up his eyes on high when he sees and contemplates the Creator of all things. Now since John rose above whatever had been created—mountains, heavens, angels—and reached the Creator of all, as Augustine says, it is clear that his contemplation was most high. Thus, I saw the Lord. And because, as John himself says below (12:41), “Isaiah said this because he had seen his glory,” that is, the glory of Christ, “and spoke of him,” the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne is Christ.

Now a fourfold height is height is indicated in this contemplation of John. A height of authority; hence he says, I saw the Lord. A height of eternity; when he says, seated. One of dignity, or nobility of nature; so he says, on a high throne. And a height of incomprehensible truth; when he says, lofty. It is in these four ways that the early philosophers arrived at the knowledge of God.




Celebrate the Genius of St. Thomas Aquinas During the Month of January

The Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas is January 28th, and Verbum is celebrating with sales on Aquinas texts and scholarship in the Verbum Monthly Sale.

Here’s an excerpt from British Dominican scholar Aidan Nichols’ Discovering Aquinas: An Introduction to His Life, Work, and Influence:

Aristotle had asked, fundamentally, two questions. What is reality like, and what are the rules of argument which get us from one conclusion about it to another? The first kind of question is answered in his Physics, Metaphysics and Ethics; the second in his logical writings, the Organon, a name we can paraphrase as ‘the philosopher’s tools of trade’. The latter had been percolating through, in dribs and drabs, for some time, but a logical rule is empty unless you have some content for it to deal with, and it was the philosophical and ethical writings that caused the stir. In them, the different kinds of things in the world around us, including man, are analysed in terms of general principles of being and action which all beings in different ways exemplify; happiness is said to be the goal of specifically human life; it is reached by the exercise of virtues which are ways of being at harmony with myself and my human environment. There is little in Aristotle about the divine, for the philosopher lacked the concepts both of creation and of the personal nature of God, even if he saw a place for an unmoved Mover to keep the whole cosmic process of coming-to-be and passing-out-of-being in operation.
Thomas’s achievement was to integrate such naturalism into the traditional Christian vision of life which the earlier monastic theologians entertained. In the early Middle Ages theology had been by and large the spiritual theology practised in the monasteries. While issues of logic were beginning to exercise monastic minds (one thinks of St Anselm), and such ruminations on the fundamental grammar of theological discourse were even more at home in cathedral schools, the aim was predominantly (not least in Anselm) the expression of the prayerful orientation of man to God. Preferred theological themes were closely relevant to spiritual living: religious self-knowledge, one’s status as creature and sinner; the grace of Christ and how it heals from sin and raises up to share the life of God; the goal of earthly pilgrimage in the beatific vision, sitting down with the Trinity at the banquet of heaven in the celestial city. Monastic theology, so well described in Dom Jean Leclerq’s The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, included, as that title tells us, ardour for erudition. The same monastic milieux transmitted, after all, much of the pagan classical inheritance as well as the Church Fathers. It was Thomas’s conviction, evidently, that this programme could be taken much further. The naturalism of the pagans at their best—the thinking, both theoretical and practical, of the ‘good pagans’—could be textured into the fabric of Christian theology, without losing—and here is the point that Thomas’s more rationalist disciples in later centuries were in danger of forgetting—the spiritual and eschatological (in a word, the heavenly) orientation of theology itself (14-15).

Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas by Francis de Zurburan, 1631.

Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas by Francis de Zurburan, 1631.


Feast of St. Basil the Great

Acquaint yourself with the fascinating life and writings of St Basil (born 330), one of the the early champions of Christianity!  Although they were written over 1600 years ago, Basil’s sermons are fresh and vivid, and have much to say to us today. Here is an excerpt from St Basil’s sermon, “I Will Tear Down My Barns“:

The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God. Lk 12:16–21

[…] God brought showers upon the earth that had been cultivated by this man’s greedy hands, and gave sunshine to gently warm the seeds and multiply their produce in abundance. From God comes everything beneficial: fertile soil, temperate weather, plenty of seeds, cooperation of the animals, and whatever else is required for successful cultivation. But human beings respond with a bitter disposition, misanthropy, and an unwillingness to share. Such characteristics are what this man offered back to his Benefactor. He did not remember that he shared with others a common nature, nor did he think it necessary to distribute from his abundance to those in need. He did not keep even a word of the commandments: “Do not neglect to do good for the needy,” and “Do not let mercy and loyalty forsake you,” and “Share your bread with the hungry.” He did not heed the urgings of all the prophets and teachers.



The Rich Fool by Rembrandt, 1627.

The Rich Fool by Rembrandt, 1627.

Though his barns were filled to bursting with the abundance of his goods, his miserly heart was still not satisfied. By constantly adding more to what he already possessed, augmenting the existing surplus with annual increases, he fell into this intractable dilemma. He refused to be satisfied with what he already had on account of his greed, yet neither could he store the new harvest on account of its abundance. His purposes thus reached an impasse, and he was at a loss how to proceed. “What should I do?” he wondered. Who would not have pity on someone so besieged with troubles? He was made miserable by abundance, wretched by the good things he possessed, and still more wretched by the good things he still expected to receive. The land does not produce revenue for him, but rather brings forth sighs of discontent; he does not harvest an abundance of produce, but rather cares and sorrows and severe hardship. He laments like those afflicted with poverty. Or rather, do even those hard pressed by poverty give forth such piteous cries? “What should I do? What will I eat? What will I wear?” These things the rich man also exclaims. He is sorely afflicted; his heart is eaten away with cares. What would cause others to rejoice causes the greedy person to waste away. He does not rejoice at all the good things he has in store, but is rather pricked to the heart by the wealth that slips through his fingers, lest perhaps, as it overflows the storehouses, some of it should trickle down to those outside his walls, so as to become a source of aid for those in need.[…]

Do not suffer the same thing yourselves. Indeed, it was for this purpose that these things were written, so that we might avoid a similar fate. Imitate the earth, O mortal. Bear fruit as it does; do not show yourself inferior to inanimate soil. After all, the earth does not nurture fruit for its own enjoyment, but for your benefit. But whatever fruit of good works you bring forth, you produce for yourself, since the grace of good works redounds to those who perform them. You gave to the poor, and in so doing not only did you make what you gave truly your own, but you received back even more. For just as grain, when it falls upon the ground, brings forth an increase for the one who scatters it, thus also bread cast to the hungry yields considerable profit at a later time. Therefore, let the end of your harvesting be the beginning of a heavenly sowing. As the Scripture says, “Sow for yourselves righteousness” (Hos 10:12).  

Steve Ray’s Summer Picks: Focus on Early Church Fathers

early-church-fathers-special-catholic-editionSteve Ray has chosen Early Church Fathers Special Catholic Edition as one of his Summer Picks. Simply put, the world of the Early Church Fathers was a fascinating and tumultuous time.

Have you ever wondered what it was like for the earliest Christians, for the believers who followed Jesus in the first centuries after his death and resurrection?  As the words of Christ were written down and commented upon, as communities of believers began to gather, as quarrels broke out and were resolved, many great writers and thinkers emerged to guide the burgeoning People of God.

The first few centuries of Christianity were especially blessed with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Early Church fathers, who faithfully interpreted and translated God’s word for the Church. Verbum’s Early Church Fathers Special Catholic Edition provides fascinating glimpses into the issues that faced and sometimes rocked the growing church, and began to form the deposit of faith that we still celebrate today.

Take advantage of  the beginnings of the Church with the  Early Church Fathers Special Catholic Edition.

P1080742_Louvre_les_quatre_docteurs_de_l'église_rwk (1)

The Four Doctors of the Church by Pier Francesco Sacchi (1516). St Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, St. Jerome, and St. Ambrose



St. Augustine’s City of God on the sacrifice of the Mass

Today’s guest post is by Brandon Rappuhn, a Logos copywriter.

Verbum makes it easy to compare texts and perform theological and ecclesiological studies across the history of the Church. Since today is the Feast of St. Augustine, let’s take a journey through the history of our faith by way of his writings. In this journey, I’m curious to see how the “sacrifice of praise” from our Mass is echoed throughout Augustinian ideas. Let’s stick with his City of God or we could easily be here all day.

Book XVII of the City of God presents Augustine’s take on Jewish history as a prefiguration of Christianity. Augustine analyzes two orders of Old Testament priesthood (Melchisedech vs. Aaron) and draws the conclusion that Melchisedech’s priesthood was a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ in his own sacrifice (by extension, also the sacrifice of the Mass). He goes further, exploring the priesthood of all believers, and how this priesthood offers up a sacrifice of praise:

Therefore, this short and simple and soul-saving expression of faith, ‘Put me, I beseech thee, to somewhat of thy priestly office, that I may eat a morsel of bread,’ is itself the ‘piece of silver,’ [read: praise] because it is brief and is the word of the Lord Himself dwelling in the believer’s heart. Earlier in the text He had said that He had given the house of Aaron food from the Old Testament victims: ‘I gave to thy father’s house for food of all the fiery sacrifices of the children of Israel’—that is, of the Jewish sacrifices. Accordingly, at this point, He said: ‘That I may eat a morsel of bread,’ for this is the sacrifice of Christians in the New Testament.

In the previous paragraphs, Augustine mentions that the order of Aaron has dissolved away and the order of Melchisedech has been perfected and translated into Christ’s priesthood, culminating in the consecration of himself as the Eucharist. In fact, his whole argument is to the fulfillment of the prophecy in 1 Kings 2:27-36 of the ending of the priesthood of Aaron while yet retaining a priesthood of an eternal order.

The Prophet’s concluding clause, ‘that I may eat a morsel of bread,’ (1 Kings 2:27-36) succinctly depicts the very species of the sacrifice in question, the same of which the Priest Himself said: ‘The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.’ (John 6:51) It is this sacrifice and no other. Let the reader understand, then, the sacrifice according to the order of Melchisedech, not any sacrifice according to the order of Aaron.

Let’s be clear: the “morsel of bread” is indeed a foreshadowing of the Eucharist, but the sentiment, “Put me, I beseech thee, to … thy priestly office, that I may eat…” is the foreshadowing of our sacrifice of praise, our desire to commune with God and to join with him in his Paschal sacrifice. Did Augustine come up with this idea on his own? I wouldn’t think so. Origen echoed this sentiment barely a few centuries before Augustine.

Hear what Peter says about the faithful: You are ‘an elect race, royal, priestly, a holy nation, a chosen people.’ Therefore, you have a priesthood because you are ‘a priestly nation,’ and for this reason ‘you ought to offer an offering of praise to God,’ an offering of prayers, an offering of mercy, an offering of purity, an offering of justice, an offering of holiness. (Homilies on Leviticus 1-16, Hom. 9.1.3)

And well over a thousand years later, Vatican II brings it full-circle:

[The people] should be instructed by God’s word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all. (Sancrosanctum Concilium 48, emphasis mine)

This is why, in the Mass, sometimes referred to as the “sacrifice of praise,” the priest prays in the Eucharistic prayers, “Remember, Lord, your servants, N. and N., and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them…”

For a short time, you can get a library of St. Augustine’s writings on sale with coupon code AUGUSTINE14. This offer ends September 1, so don’t miss out!

St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the Historians

To commemorate the feast day of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church, enjoy this excerpt from Dr. Adriaan Bredero’s masterful study, Bernard of Clairvaux: Between Cult and History.  Bredero’s personal story is fascinating: he began his career-long study of St. Bernard of Clairvaux as a college student, while hiding from the Nazis in 1944 Amsterdam.  Here, Bredero re-evaluates many of the primary and secondary sources about St. Bernard, allowing a carefully considered historical portrait of the saint to emerge. Importantly, Bredero’s erudition raises enduring questions about the use of scholarly sources in history and hagiography.

bernard-of-clairvaux-between-cult-and-historyBernard and the Historians

Through the centuries many historians have paid attention to St. Bernard, all with their own motives and from their own perspectives. As a result, this medieval abbot inevitably was characterized incidentally and evaluated by some in an almost inimitable way. More than once we find an emotional appreciation or disapproval of his actions. Thus developed—even outside of the hagiographic tradition—a number of historically questionable portraits of his person, which persisted for a shorter or longer period. Alexander Lenoire in 1814 provided a remarkable example of this phenomenon. This lodge member argued that Bernard’s unblemished life and compassion resulted from his intimate knowledge of the deepest secrets of freemasonry, which enabled him to draft the Rule of the Templars.

Obviously not all more or less cursory portraits of Bernard were as flattering as that of Lenoire. At times we find extremely negative judgments, based on just a few isolated passages from Bernard’s writings or from the vita prima. To these a commentary or interpretation would be added, with no attention to the context within which these passages were written or, rather, dictated.

It has been established that the frequent presupposition that Bernard was anti-intellectual is based on a remark with an ironic undertone made by Bernard around 1125 in a letter to Henry Murdach about Henry’s armchair learning. The fact that the addressee was completely addicted to his learning, and that this remark of Bernard’s was clearly relativized by William of Saint-Thierry in the A-redaction of the vita prima, is totally ignored. In redaction B this relativizing remark was eliminated. This suggests that this hagiographer intended to confirm this anti-intellectual image of Bernard; the more so, since none of the versions of this vita, which incorporated some passages from redaction A, pay any attention to William’s comments. They seem to be utterly unaware of its existence.


A passage at the beginning of his treatise De consideratione, where Bernard deals with the meaning and the usefulness of “considering,” shows how ill-conceived it is to accuse him of anti-intellectualism. This is what he has to say:

First of all, “considering” purifies the source from which it springs, i.e., the spirit. It also regulates our emotions, gives direction to our actions, corrects deviations, builds our character, bestows honor and order to our lives; to put it in one word: it provides knowledge of divine and human things. It clarifies what is confused, unifies what is disjointed, collects what is dispersed, grasps what is hidden, searches for truth, and discovers what is treacherous and disguised. It foresees and organizes what must be done, checks what has been done, so that nothing remains in the spirit that has not been improved of needs no further improvement. In times of prosperity it foresees misfortune, and it hardly feels the latter when it has arrived. This last ability is called strength, the first one prudence.

There are other dubious portrayals of Bernard by historians, based on biased or incorrect interpretations of particular passages from his writings. Two of these have become rather widespread. The first of these, to which we already referred in the Introduction, concerns Bernard’s observations in his Apology with regard to the luxuriance of the abbey church that was being constructed in Cluny.

Read more by getting Bernard of Clairvaux: Between Cult and History today!

Steve Ray’s Summer Picks

Today’s guest post is by Steve Ray, popular speaker and author of St. John’s Gospel, Upon This Rock, Crossing the Tiber, and host of the popular TV series, The Footprints of God.

When Verbum asked me what books I would recommend for summer reading, it was easy to come up with some great titles.

I use Verbum every day, and there are certain books I use over and over again. The books are all interconnected, so while you could sit and read any of the books I picked (they’re all that good!), I use them more like reference works.

Home pageFor example, from the Verbum homepage, I like to start every day by simply clicking on today’s Gospel. Verbum springs into action. It opens an entire screen of windows—like having dozens of books all open to the exact right page. I have the Great Commentary of Cornelius à Lapide prioritized as a favorite, so it shows up automatically, and I can easily use parallel resources to switch to the Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, and the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. With just these three commentaries, I’ve uncovered spectacular insights about the Gospel (and Verbum has plenty more).

parallel resources

At any point in this process, I can run a Verbum Topic Guide or Passage Guide, and I’m presented with default collections of links to the Catechism, Church Documents, and the writings of the Church Fathers. The last category is often primarily populated by the Early Church Fathers Collection available in most of the Verbum Libraries. However, I’ve found the addition of the CUA Fathers of the Church Series invaluable in my study of any passage. I couldn’t even capture all the results I got just from today’s Gospel reading! Such easy access to our rich Tradition!

passage Guide

anchor yaleFinally, the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary is my go-to source for definitions. See more on why Bible dictionaries are awesome in this video. The Anchor Yale Dictionary has extensive definitions for over 6,000 entries. And it gets pulled right into the Bible Facts frame and opens on a double click of almost any word. With definitions this extensive, even clicking on words I already understand yields new discoveries.

The rest of my recommendations are just great titles that everyone should read or be familiar with.

For a marvelous Catholic Bible Study program that anyone can start in their parish or community, I’ve always recommended Catholic Scripture Study International. It is the best program you will find anywhere!! And it’s even better in Verbum. All the Bible links are connected directly to Scripture and the verse memorization works right in the software.

I used Verbum to write all my books, including Crossing the Tiber, Upon This Rock, and St. John’s Gospel. They take on a whole new dimension within the Verbum software.

See my complete list of recommendations here.



Addendum (by Alex Renn):

Steve asked me to address a question from a user on his blog: “What does your entire screen look like after you click on the daily reading?” Here’s the basic answer plus some additional considerations:

Steve’s layout will look something like this:

steve ray screenshot

1) The Lectionary layout does not actually change as far as panels are concerned. Setting priorities will change what appears in each panel. This post, though old, is a great tutorial on setting priorities. You will be able to customize the order of the Bibles that appear in the top middle pane, and the commentary that populates the bottom middle. This is where he mentioned the Great Commentary of Cornelius à Lapide appearing in his post above.

2) It looks like some of the screenshot panels were pulled out of context to reveal more information (that may be why they look different from what you’re seeing.)

3) The topic guide was accessed by right clicking the Gospel in the Lectionary, making sure “Bible” is selected on the right, and Clicking “Passage Guide” on the left. Scroll down to see the Church Fathers section (pictured above).

open passage guide

4) Lastly, the dictionary was also prioritized as shown in number 1, so that double-clicking will open the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary if possible. If you double click a word that isn’t an entry, it will open a different dictionary instead.

Hope that helps!

Never-Before-Translated Aquinas Titles Coming To Verbum!

Thomas Aquinas stands as the preeminent scholastic doctor and teacher in the Catholic Church. His writings have been revered by Christians for centuries to contain profound wisdom and insight, leading Church leaders like Pope Leo XIII to state that Aquinas’s theology was a definitive exposition of Catholic doctrine.

thomas-aquinas-in-translationThose who are familiar with Aquinas are most likely familiar with his Summa Theologicaan exhaustive theological masterpiece outlining the tenets of the Christian faith. But the Summa is not Aquinas’ only literary contribution to the theological annals of the Church.

Though St. Thomas lived just under 50 years, he composed more than 60 works. And while he is widely recognized for his scholarship, some of his works have never been translated into English. 

Here’s the exciting part:

We are on track to complete the first-ever translations of some of Aquinas’ most crucial works and make them available on Verbum. This means that you can be among the very first to read, study, and glean wisdom from these fully-translated works in the English language.

First, we have Aquinas’ commentaries on the Old Testament books of Jeremiah and Isaiah in addition to his commentary on the book of Matthew:

Aquinas’ Commentary on the Prophet Jeremiah: English and Latin (2 vols.)
Aquinas’ Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah: English and Latin (2 vols.)
Commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew

All of these works offer Aquinas’ critical exegesis on the Old and New Testament text, focusing on the multifaceted meaning of scripture.

Next, a collection of some of Aquinas’ most significant works, the 8 vol. Thomas Aquinas in Translation collection. Herein lies St. Thomas’ commentary on the Gospel of John and some of his commentaries on influential philosophers and theologians ranging from Aristotle to Boethius.

Finally, the most ambitious project of all, a full translation of Aquinas’ commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences:

Aquinas’ Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard: English and Latin (8 vols.) 

Pre-order these works today and help these translations get done even faster.

As with any large and important translation project, our translators will need time and funding for this project. That means that the more interest that is shown in these translations, the faster we can get them shipped. If you’re as excited as we are about any of these projects, pre-order them today and help get the ball rolling.

This is truly a novel and exciting opportunity, both for Verbum users and for top scholars around the world. Getting more of Aquinas’ thought into the English language helps the Church at large, and you have the opportunity to be a part of this historically significant project. 

Pre-order these important translations today and be among the very first to start reading St. Thomas Aquinas’ never-before-translated works in English.

Cited By: Anselm vs. Gregory of Nyssa

The Cited By tool is arguably the most powerful tool in Verbum—it shows you how and where all of your texts are interconnected, making research on a scholarly or lay-level something much easier (and even a lot more fun). My goal today is to demonstrate the power of the Cited By tool, and hopefully discover some insightful and enlightening truths along the way.

Today’s journey begins with a book I own outside of Verbum: Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, a book written in an attempt to trace the history of the development of secularism. It’s a fascinating read, but what struck me today was a passage he wrote concerning St. Anselm:

…There is one enigma which Christians… have to recognize, and that is the puzzle of evil; why in spite of knowing that we are born for the highest, we sometimes not only inexplicably choose against it, but even feel that we cannot do otherwise. The symmetrical mystery is that God can act to overcome this incapacity—the doctrine of grace. Anselm expressed this double mystery in terms of crime and punishment. The incapacity is explained as our just desert for our original falling away… Not only is our punishment now permissible, but some has to be exacted as a reparation for our fault, according to the juridical logic of this conception…. But in order to do this he has to have the reparation paid by his son, and then count it as satisfaction for our sins, in an act of gratuitous mercy. Needless to say, this wasn’t the only way that [this] double mystery could be articulated. Eastern fathers, like Gregory of Nyssa, put things differently. But Augustine and Anselm shaped the theology of Latin Christendom in this regard, and the Reformation, far from correcting this imbalance, aggravated it.[1]

Taylor thinks that Anslem’s (pre-dated by Augustine’s) conception of how we are saved led to the Protestant Reformers taking up an even stricter (and more imbalanced) soteriological viewpoint. But my question is: were Anselm’s and Gregory’s idea about salvation really imbalanced to begin with? Also, how did the Eastern Fathers understand this “double mystery” of punishment and grace as opposed to the Latin Fathers?

The logical place to begin is in Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, or “Why God Became Man.” This is a book written as a dialogue between student (Boso) and teacher (Anselm) in an attempt to answer the questions about the method God chose to save mankind. So, let’s open it up along with the Cited By tool. [Click the images to zoom]

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Clicking on Anslem’s Cur Deus Homo we immediately see 37 references to this work in the Cited By tool. This is great news because it means that I have many different options when considering a place to start researching. If I open up the Cited By tool in a larger window by clicking “more” at the bottom of the pane, I can scroll through to see all of the references made to Cur Deus Homo in my entire library.

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Scrolling down a bit, I see a chapter on the nature of Christ’s suffering I’d like to read in Breviloquium, Bonaventure’s comprehensive work on Christian doctrine. Opening this up to chapter 9, I find a couple of key sentences giving me clues regarding Anselm’s understanding of redemption. Bonaventure’s first reference of Cur Deus Homo is found in section three where he states:

“…the work of restoration must respect the honor of God. Christ, therefore, brought it about by offering to the Father a fully satisfactory obedience. Satisfaction means the repayment of the honor due to God.”

Bonaventure goes on to state that Christ’s divine nature and innocence heals the rift made by mankind’s evil nature. He understands the restoration of man as a kind of “harmonious exchange” by which “evils should be healed through their opposites.” So there’s good evidence here that Taylor is right in thinking Anselm, along with other Latin Fathers, understand man’s redemption—at least in part—as a kind of “penal restitution.”

Going back to the Cited By list, I see a document called: “Soteriology: A Dogmatic Treatise on the Redemption” by Msgr. Joseph Pohle, Ph.D., D.D. This looks promising, as the question at hand is precisely about how the Church Fathers understand salvation.

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Clicking on the reference I read that Anselm is cited here relating that God could have chosen not to save mankind (that is, he wasn’t required to redeem the human race) but chose to do so out of infinite mercy. Reading a bit further, I see that Pohle outlines Anselm and Augustine’s soteriological perspective a bit more precisely:

“Sin involves a sort of infinite guilt and cannot be adequately atoned for except by an infinite satisfaction. (Cfr. St. Thomas, S. Theol., 3a, qu. 2, ad 2.) The Fathers held that not even the human nature of Christ… considered apart from the Hypostatic Union, could make adequate satisfaction for our sins… For, in the words of St. Augustine, “we could not be redeemed, even by the one Mediator between God and men, then man Christ Jesus, if He were not also God.” (St. Augustine, Enchir., c. 108)

I feel at this point I’ve collected enough information about Anselm and Augustine to affirm that they indeed saw redemption as a kind of “trade off,” albeit in a kind of infinite magnitude. But is this really so different from the Gregory of Nyssa’s position, as Taylor states? Let’s take a look at what Saint Gregory of Nyssa had to say and see if there really is an “imbalance” in the soteriological approaches of the early Church Fathers.

I’ll start by typing in “Gregory of Nyssa” in the search bar. If I click enter, I am instantly taken to the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers volume on Gregory of Nyssa.

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Since this volume is so large, it might be best to begin with a search in just this text. Let’s try a term that pertains to the kind of judicial language that Anselm and Augustine have been using. I’ll type in “ransom”:

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The first result that comes up looks promising, and clicking it I find Gregory speaking of a master who wishes to release one slave in return for another. He writes,

“For as they who have bartered away their freedom for money are the slaves of those who have purchased them [Gregory is talking about mankind here]… it was requisite that no arbitrary method of recovery, but the one consonant with justice should be devised by [God]… to make over to the master of the slave whatever ransom he may agree to accept for the person in his possession.”

Gregory’s views here are pretty remarkable. He essentially posits that God gives his son as a kind of ransom to Satan—the master of sinners—in exchange for the freedom of mankind. Of course, Satan cannot “take” Christ in any meaningful way, and so he is beaten at his own game. Mankind is freed, but Satan remains in bondage. Gregory concludes,

“[God’s] choosing to save man is a testimony of his goodness; His making the redemption of the captive a matter of exchange exhibits His justice, while the invention whereby He enabled the Enemy to apprehend that of which he was before incapable, a manifestation of supreme wisdom.”

We learn a few things here. First, that Gregory has a very different view of the satisfactory justice required in the transaction of man’s redemption than a majority of the Church Fathers. But two, we learn that Gregory does indeed think of mankind’s redemption in “legal” or “penal” terms, but he understands it differently than do other Church fathers. From what we’ve seen so far, we may conclude that Taylor poses a false dichotomy between the primary soteriological differences between Eastern and Western Fathers.

If we glance over at the Cited By tool while reading this section by Gregory of Nyssa, we find a reference to A Catholic Dictionary citing this very passage in Gregory’s work. Clicking it, we can read the larger historical context surrounding Gregory’s thinking and the debate circling the questions of how mankind is redeemed through Church history.

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So what have we learned?

First, that Anselm does indeed think very differently than Gregory on the issue of redemption, but not in the way that we first expected. We’ve certainly gathered that more research into this topic will be necessary to better flesh out the differences and similarities between Gregory of Nyssa and other Church Fathers. But we’ve also learned that with just a few simple clicks the Cited By tool is an extremely powerful tool allowing us to dig into topics and books that we may not have even been aware of in the first place. With a library full of Church documents, primary and secondary sources that are all linked together, research is made much easier and engaging.

[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, p. 78.

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