Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Theology as Prayer in Saint Anselm

Saint Anselm was a great theologian, in the most true sense of the term. I have studied his thought and published about it in the past (see e.g. this article [click this link] from 2006). It is good to "visit with him" in a particular way on his feastday by reading words he wrote over 900 years ago. 

He was a thorough and rigorous thinker, who deserves the intellectual esteem he holds in the world of academic philosophy and theology. 

But unlike so many of us today, he was not a "compartmentalized person," doing theology some of the time and preaching some of the time and writing some of the time, and then eating, drinking, or sleeping some of the time. He would have said that he only did one thing, or at least that only one thing mattered: praying. I have begun to realize (after many years of reading and studying his work) that Saint Anselm didn't write theology treatises and then just "put prayers into them." His form of expression wasn't a stylistic device or a pious literary genre. Rather, he really prayed - and sometimes his prayer took the form of theological thinking and writing. 

For Anselm, "faith seeking understanding" wasn't the definition of an intellectual program. It was his living faith that sought God with all of his humanity (seeking, that is, more of what he had already begun to possess). In prayer - in a living relationship and constant loving communication with Jesus Christ - Anselm sought greater understanding with all the energy of his intellectual genius because he wanted to draw closer to Christ and belong ever more fully to Him.

This is what it really means to "do theology."

Here is an excerpt from one of Anselm's famous treatises prayed from his mind and heart, from Cur Deus Homo, 54:

"Consider, O my soul, and you, my inmost self, reflect, how much my entire being owes to Him. 

"Truly, O Lord, because You have made me, I owe my whole self to Your love; because You have redeemed me, I owe my whole self; because You promise so much, I owe my whole self. In fact, I owe so much more than myself to Your love, as You are greater than I, for whom You have given Yourself and have promised Yourself. 

"Grant, O Lord, I beseech You, that I may taste by love what I taste by speculation, perceive by affection what I perceive by the understanding. I owe You more than my whole self; but neither have I more, nor even this that I am can I of myself give up whole to You. Draw me, or rather this whole self of mine, O Lord, into Your love. All that I am is Yours by creation; make it all Yours by love.

"Behold, O Lord, my heart lies open before You; it tries, but of itself it cannot. [Lord, I ask] that what I myself cannot do, You do. Admit me within the chamber of Your love. I ask, I seek, I knock. You who cause me to ask, cause me to receive. You give the seeking; give also the finding. You teach how to knock, open to him who knocks...

"The desiring is from You; let me have the obtaining too from You. Cling to Him, O my soul; cling, cling with importunity. Good Lord, good Lord, cast not [my soul] away. It faints of hunger for Your love; revive it. Let Your sweet election satiate it, and Your unfailing fondness nourish it, and Your divine love fulfill it.

[Lord Jesus Christ], "occupy me altogether, and possess and fill me through and through. For You are with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God only blessed for ever and ever. Amen."