Limits of the Fathers

Limits of the Fathers December 15, 2017

At the beginning of Cur Deus Homo (p. 260), Anselm commends his work to Urban II. In the process, he both commends the Fathers of the church, and suggests that they did not answer every question.

First, the commendation: “Many of our holy Fathers and teachers, following the Apostles, speak frequently and on a grand scale about the logical principles1 of our faith. Their aim in doing so is to confute unwisdom, to shatter the rigid resistance of unbelievers and to nourish those who, with cleansed hearts, already take delight in this same logic of the faith, for which, once we have reached certitude about it, we ought to hunger. Given the greatness and frequency of their utterances on this subject, neither in our times nor in times to come can we hope for anyone who will be their equal in the contemplation of the truth. All this I grant.”

But he goes on: “Nevertheless, I do not think that anyone deserves to be rebuked, if, after becoming well-grounded in the faith, he has conceived a desire to exercise himself in the investigation of its logic.”

He offers several arguments in support. Because of the brevity of life, “even the Fathers . . . were not able to say all that they could have said if they had lived longer.” Besides, the nature of the truth itself makes impossible for anyone to completely grasp it: “the logic of the truth is so copious and profound that it cannot be exhausted by mortals.”

Finally, Anselm argues, Christ promises to be with the church to the end of the age, and during that time He “does not cease to bestow his gifts within it.”

Anselm is right: Neither the fathers of the church, nor the fathers of any particular tradition within the church, said it all. They left work for us to do, questions for us to answer. The same Christ is still with us.

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