Historical insights – Anselm alone


The History of Justification by Faith Alone up to the Reformation

Thomas R. Thompson


In reading Church History it’s clear that apostasy happened early. Christians added onto the Gospel – “another gospel” was being taught, from leading a moral life, to being baptized, to believing the creeds, to maintaining unity with the Bishop of Rome. Only very recently have I learned that the Gospel of grace was absent for a long time. I thought it had to be there. But even the Waldensians didn’t include Faith Alone in their 12th century confession of faith; even the early reformer and martyr John Huss didn’t see this truth.

Anselm of Canterbury was a man who knew that we could not pay our debt of sin, and that only the Lord Jesus Christ, because He is both God and Man, could do this for us and did this for us. Hallelujah!

Man cannot pay the debt owed for his sins (c. 1050)

“Until Anselm of Canterbury it was rare for anyone to speak as if he understood that man has nothing to offer God in exchange for the forgiveness of sins. The dominant thought was being baptized, or performing some act of charity was sufficient to cancel sins committed. Anselm is his writing Why God became Man, explains why this is not possible. Anselm shows man has no capability to make satisfaction to God for even the smallest of his sins.

“Anselm starts by explaining what it means to sin, and how to make satisfaction for it. He notes all the thoughts and labors of a man ought to be subject to the will of God. This is the debt that all men owe to God, and it is sin to not give Him that. No one who pays this debt sins, and anyone who does not pay it sins. Should one sin against God, it is not enough to simply return what was taken. To make satisfaction one must return more than was taken. It is not enough for someone who has injured another to restore his original condition without giving some compensation for the pain and injury suffered. (Anselm, Why God became Man, Book 1, Ch. XI)

“When man sinned in the garden, and surrendered his will to the devil, he took from God whatever God planned for humanity. Therefore, according to strict justice in order to make satisfaction with God, man would need to conquer the devil to regain what was lost. Since man was conquered by the devil and stole what belonged to God, and God lost it, so by the fact of man conquering the devil, the devil loses and God regains it. In addition, man would also need to justify as many men as God had planned for the Heavenly City that was lost due to the fall. However, sinful man is incapable of this, because a sinner cannot justify another sinner. Therefore man has no capacity to merit any justice from God for the things he does. Anything man may consider offering to God is only giving to God what is already owed. (Anselm, Why God became Man, Book 1, Ch. XXIII)

“It would not be until 500 years later and Martin Luther, that many would understand the full weight of Anselm’s arguments. In the light of such convincing arguments, it makes previous church council matters on reinstating lapsed Christians and the like seem rather petty. Man has no ability to do penance for any of his sins, so it seems rather foolish to construct systems whereby satisfaction is made to God based on man’s so-called merits. If the church considered this bigger problem initially, they may not have invented so many things for one to do to obtain forgiveness of sins. They did not before Anselm, nor after him. As a result the church continues to develop its merits based salvational system, until the weight of this system brings about its own collapse.”


15 thoughts on “Historical insights – Anselm alone

  1. Hello Maria, Instead of quoting other people you should do a Bible study on faith alone. Remember these rules to safeguard from any errors, which these are rules that I instituted for me.

    1. Define a word in the context how the author is describing that word and you will get the correct meaning of that word.

    2. The meaning of a verse always gets define in its context either in the verse above or the verse below it and also very important to read the whole chapter in reference to the verse.

    3. Use other references in scripture (scripture interprets scripture) in connection with the theme which will give more clarity and define symbols that are used in some verses.

    If you always keep these 3 points in mind you will be safe in not giving your own interpretation but you will relate the message of the Bible plainly and understandable.

    I just want to encourage you to give your own exposition on any theme that the Lord puts in you with much prayer. God bless.

    Liked by 1 person

      • In scripture, it is prohibited for a woman to be a pastor but not to teach. You have a lot of examples in scripture of women teaching like in Colossians 4:14 which says, Give my greetings to the brothers in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her home.

        The woman named Nympha provided her house to be a church not that she pastored it but was involved in the ministry.

        Also in Acts 18:24-26 which says, 24 A Jew named Apollos, a native Alexandrian, an eloquent man who was powerful in the use of the Scriptures, arrived in Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught the things about Jesus accurately, although he knew only John’s baptism. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. After Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him home and explained the way of God to him more accurately.

        As you can see husband and wife helped Apollos understand the gospel in more detail. Women can teach but not to a congregation of men and women which would make her a pastor. Saying that men and women are commanded by Jesus Christ to preach the gospel and teach it to those who need it. I tell you something WordPress desperately needs the gospel.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s very obvious that the Lord answered your prayer, Maria. It just seems to me that a lot of Christians are quoting dead people (Reformers) and not seeking the Lord through deep study of His Word to hear from Him and to get understanding. The more we read and study, the more mature we get. If we intake too much of someone else theology we run the risk of believing something that can be unbiblical. I say this because the only way to know if something is from the Lord is to know holy scripture very well. I try not to read the Reformers or depend on commentaries because, in reality, our first teacher should be the Holy Spirit, not that commentaries are bad but we cannot rely on them or else we will never really do deep studies on our own.

        Those men that did the commentary on the Bible studied the Bible themselves and they are not in any way superior to us but God delights in those that seek His face through deep study of scripture and He will open up your mind for understanding. If God gave them understanding in a likewise manner He will do for you.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Alix, it’s true that the Spirit of God is our teacher and that we must study for ourselves daily, prayerfully, to grow to maturity – that is what we must do. But I don’t speak of teachers given by God to feed His sheep as dead and no longer helpful:

          Hebrews 11
          4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.

          The Lord commanded Peter to tend and feed His sheep. Oftentimes we sheep are clueless about what they need to eat. We need teachers, and when mature are able to teach one another. Church History is difficult, sad, and glorious, and we can learn so much to help us from it. We need one another, living or dead. He Who believes in Jesus shall never really die, He said. The great cloud of witnesses.


          • Teachers or pastors are there to motivate you to seek the Lord in your personal time. To rely heavily on someone’s theology is to put aside the Holy Spirit’s interpretation and put men’s above. In 1 Corinthians is exactly what happened. Some were calling themselves a follower of Paul, others a follower of Apollos and so forth. The Bible condemns this, Paul himself condemned it.

            Church history is not going to make you get closer too God or feed you spiritually, to say that is to say that it take preeminance over scripture. What I personally care about is holy scripture and learn, hear from God and do what it says.


            • Alix, I’m a Christian, no other name. Sometimes to contend for the faith it’s necessary to know history because, for example, Catholics will use it against us. That is the point of my last two posts, especially the one answering Patrick. Catholics misrepresent us as lawless because of Faith Alone and Christians have to defend Biblical faith as bearing fruit in obedience. Lord bless you, brother!

              Liked by 1 person

        • Hi Spaniard,
          Yes, we need to read and study the scriptures and give them priority over systems of theology and I am afraid that this mistake has taken hold of me. I think that I will brush up on my Hebrew and Greek and read the OT in Hebrew and the NT in Greek and hold to a theology that is derived from an exegetical approach to the bible than allow a theology to determine how I approach the bible.

          Many thanks,
          John Arthur


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