One of my bright Form III (9th grade) students decided to imitate his older brother and compose his final exam essay question as a dialogue in imitation of St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo. He’s nailed the tone of St. Anselm and thrown back some of Boso’s most sycophantic replies.
Somewhat like my previous Final post from my Quaestio-spinning junior, this answer format puts more focus on his argument and cuts out a lot of flim-flam. His order of presentation is also quite nice–a good streamlining of St. Anselm’s work. A fine project:
Cur Deus Homo?
Student [[name redacted]]: By what reason or necessity did God become man in order to save humanity, rather than by any other means?
Mr. Alspaugh: That question was answered a long time ago by St. Anselm. The Incarnation was necessary because only God could repay man’s sin, but only man ought to do so.
Student: When you refer to “man’s sin” do you mean Original Sin?
Mr. Alspaugh: For the purposes of this inquiry, “man’s sin” refers specifically to Original Sin but also generally to all of the sins mankind has committed.
Student: Why is it that God alone can repay the sin? If everyone lived righteously, without sin, and subjected their every action to God’s will, would not mankind’s debt be paid?
Mr. Alspaugh: No, because man already owes all that to God, even if he didn’t owe the debt of sin. Furthermore, even if man did have something to give to God which wasn’t already owed to Him, even the slightest rebellion against God, who is pure and infinite goodness, is an evil of infinite weight. Man cannot give more than that.
Student: Truly, I find no fault in this. However, why can’t God simply forgive our sin without going through the trouble of the Incarnation?
Mr. Alspaugh: Can you agree that sin can only be addressed either by satisfaction or by punishment?
Student: I see no reason this is false.
Mr. Alspaugh: Can you also agree that to “forgive sin” is really to leave it unpunished?
Student: Well, I suppose that, at the most basic level, that is what it is.
Mr. Alspaugh: Well, if God does not punish mankind’s sin, and mankind cannot make satisfaction for its sin, then that sin goes unaddressed and without consequence. Would it not be an evil itself to allow sin to slip by unaddressed?
Student: I suppose it is so, in the same sense as how it is a sin to stand back and watch someone get beat up.
Mr. Alspaugh: Thus, if God wants to punish sin, but can’t, He is not omnipotent, and if God can punish sin, but doesn’t, He is not good. Are not both of these options contrary to His fundamental nature?
Student: Yes, but if it is against God’s nature to forgive sin, why can I be forgiven of my sins through confession?
Mr. Alspaugh: You’re begging the question. The Sacrament of Confession is based off of Jesus’s crucifixion. There are other absurdities associated with your proposition as well. If God were simply to forgive sin (without an Incarnation), sin, having no boundaries or restrictions, would be equal to God, and would be just as viable an option as holiness.
Student: What is it that sin does that negatively affects God? [[ed. he needed a better segue to this question–first ask why exactly sin hangs a debt on us]]
Mr. Alspaugh: Sin damages God’s honor.
Student: But isn’t God’s honor a divine attribute, and thus mustn’t it necessarily be unbreakable?
Mr. Alspaugh: God’s honor is also the order of the universe, which man breaks when he rebels against God. Since God is omnipotent, it is not fitting for the universe’s order to be permanently damaged or for His plan for mankind to fail. Thus, again, mankind’s sin must be addressed.
Student: What exactly is God’s plan for mankind, and how does the sin of Adam derail it?
Mr. Alspaugh: After Lucifer and his fallen angels rebelled against God, heaven was left with less than its ideal number of inhabitants. Based on a verse from Revelation, Anselm believes one third of the angels fell. In order to restore heaven to its ideal populace, God made mankind so that they could eventually replace those angels. However, Adam’s sin meant that human nature was corrupted. Much like a dirtied pearl cannot be replaced among the rest, neither does our damaged nature belong in heaven.
Student: Truly, you have proven that man owes God but cannot repay. But is it not just to forgive a debtor who is incapable of repaying?
Mr. Alspaugh: Not in this case, since it’s man’s own fault that he cannot repay.
Student: Now I finally understand why mankind cannot be forgiven. From this, I can see how a God-man is necessary.
Mr. Alspaugh: Thank you.
Student: However, I have a few questions. Why can the two aspects of God’s honor, the divine attribute and the order of the universe, be used interchangeably? Why must rebellion against an infinite good constitute an infinite evil?
Mr. Alspaugh: I can assure you that there is a full explanation for all this. For now, however, I will leave you to ponder.