Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7f7b94f6bd-gszfc Total loading time: 0.215 Render date: 2022-06-28T09:05:44.859Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue

Sin and the structure of Anselm's Cur Deus homo

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2022

David L. Whidden III*
Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University, Baton Rouge, LA, USA
Corresponding author. Email:


The hypothesis of this article is that Anselm describes two consequences of sin for the human will in De casu diaboli, and these two consequences structure Anselm's later account of human salvation in the Cur Deus homo. First, sin causes us to deserve punishment for injustice; and, second, sin removes the grace by which humans were able to attain the goal of their creation, which is the happiness of heaven. Book 1 of the Cur Deus homo, then, deals with the need for satisfaction in the face of punishment, while book 2 addresses the need for a supererogatory gift that elevates human nature and restores it to its heavenly end. The article argues that, for Anselm, only a God-man can provide both the satisfaction and supererogatory gift necessary to restore humans to their original divine purpose.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Evans, Gillian R., Anselm (Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow, 1989), p. 78CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Visser, Sandra and Williams, Thomas, Anselm (New York: OUP, 2009), p. 227Google Scholar.

3 Ibid., p. 223.

4 Sweeney, Eileen Carroll, Anselm of Canterbury and the Desire for the Word (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2012), pp. 287–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 David Mahfood, ‘Christus Satisfactor: An Anselmian Approach to the Doctrine of Atonement’, PhD dissertation (Dallas, TX: Southern Methodist University, 2017), p. 68.

6 Anselm, De casu diaboli, 13 (Schmitt I: 255–8). Citations for Anselm are taken from Anselm, Opera Omnia, ed. F. S. Schmitt (Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1946) and will be listed by the name of the work and location, as well as the volume, page and line number in Schmitt's edition. English translations are, with the occasional emendation, from Anselm: Basic Writings, ed. and trans. Thomas Williams (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 2007).

7 Anselm, De casu diaboli, 4, 7 (Schmitt I: 241.13–16 and 245.16–18).

8 The Latin word commodum is translated as ‘advantageous’ and while on its face the Latin word seems to have the sense of economic advantage, the context of Anselm's argument suggests that he is using the word to describe something more generally desired because it is a good for the one willing it, ‘for happiness (beatitudo), which every rational nature wills, consists in advantageous (commodis) things’. De casu diaboli, 4 (Schmitt I: 241.13–14).

9 Anselm, De casu diaboli, 14 (Schmitt I: 258–9). Here Anselm is relying on his understanding of justice developed in his De veritate, 12, where he describes justice as the ‘rectitude of will preserved for its own sake’ (Schmitt I: 194.26).

10 Anselm elaborates on this in Epistolae de incarnatione verbi, 10, where he argues that humans and fallen angels tried to make themselves like God by willing their own wills, instead of willing what God wills. For Anselm, ‘it is the prerogative of God alone to have his own will, a will that is not subjected to another. So those who exercise their own will are trying by an act of robbery to be like God and are guilty of depriving God (as far as they are able) of the dignity that rightly belongs to him and the superiority that is his alone’ (Schmitt II: 27.10–14).

11 Anselm, De concordia, 3.13 (Schmitt II: 286.9–16). In De concordia, 3.11, Anselm distinguishes three meanings of the term ‘will’: will as the instrument of the will, the affection or dispositions of the will and the use of the instrument. The instrument of the will is the power of the soul we use for willing, while the affections or dispositions are ‘that by which the instrument itself is disposed in such a way to will something’. The instrumental will turns our attention to various things, while the affections help us to will a specific thing, such as justice. See De concordia, 3.11 (Schmitt II: 278.27–284.7).

12 Anselm, Proslogion, 1 (Schmitt I: 98.16–20).

13 As Anselm explains in De libertate arbitrio, 12, servitude to the devil ‘is nothing other than the inability not to sin’ (Schmitt I: 223.26).

14 Anselm, Oratio ad sanctum Petrum (Schmitt III: 33.90–2). English translation from Anselm and Ward, Benedicta, The Prayers and Meditations of St Anselm, with the Proslogion (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), p. 140Google Scholar, lines 183–4. Ward dates the prayer of St Peter as written between 1070 and 1080, and no later than 1081, when Anselm sent that prayer along with several others to Adelaide. Thus it, along with the Proslogion, would have been written before De casu diaboli, which might suggest that De casu diaboli is an expansion and exploration of the fall as Anselm already understood it in his earlier works.

15 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 1.3 (Schmitt II: 50.30–51.3).

16 Anselm, De conceptu virginali, 12 (Schmitt II: 154.26–155.3).

17 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 1.6 (Schmitt II: 53.8–11).

18 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 1.7 (Schmitt II: 58.10–59.1).

19 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 1.9 (Schmitt II: 61.29–30).

20 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 1.10 (Schmitt II: 67.12–19).

21 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 2.19 (Schmitt II: 130.32–131.2)

22 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, praefatio (Schmitt II: 42.9–43.3).

23 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 1.15 (Schmitt II: 73.22–5).

24 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 1.24 (Schmitt II: 94.8–9).

25 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 1.25 (Schmitt II: 95.29–96.2).

26 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 1.25 (Schmitt II: 96.16–20).

27 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 2.2 (Schmitt II: 98.10).

28 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 2.3 (Schmitt II: 98.23–5).

29 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 2.6 (Schmitt II: 101.16–19).

30 The discussion in 2.12, which uses the language of commodum/incommodum and beatitudinem, directly reflects the language of the second object of the will that Anselm developed in De casu diaboli, mentioned above.

31 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 2.16 (Schmitt II: 118.23–6).

32 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 2.11 (Schmitt II: 110.24–8).

33 Anselm, Cur Deus homo, 2.11 (Schmitt II: 110.9–10).

34 The doxological purposes of Anselm's ‘faith seeking understanding’ theological method are rarely noticed, but Anselm is explicit about it at the beginning and end of Cur Deus homo. In 1.3 he says that when speaking of the incarnation ‘we praise and proclaim the ineffable depth of his mercy, giving thanks with our whole hearts’ (Schmitt II: 50.29–31). And in 2.20 Anselm engages in just that praise of God's mercy, declaring ‘As for God's mercy, which seemed to you to vanish when we were considering God's justice and human sin, we have found it to be so great and so consonant with justice that it cannot be thought to be greater or more just’ (Schmitt II: 131.27–9).

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Sin and the structure of Anselm's Cur Deus homo
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Sin and the structure of Anselm's Cur Deus homo
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Sin and the structure of Anselm's Cur Deus homo
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *