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Comparison of The Theories of Salvation of Anselm of Canterbury and Peter Abelard

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Christianity has gone through many theories of salvation and religions have branched out solely for the differences in theories of salvation. Different theories argue on the most important aspect of what Jesus Christ did to redeem humanity and therefore save humanity. Some focus on the crucifixion, resurrection, or the life of Jesus Christ, etc. Abelard and Anselm are two authors who are completely polar opposites of one another; one focusing on death and the other on life of Jesus Christ. Abelard proposed the theory of Moral-Exemplar focuses on the life of Jesus shining light on the mercies of God while completely neglecting the death of Jesus. Anselm’s proposed theory shifts toward a transactional relationship between humanity and God. Anselm proposed theory of Satisfaction depicts Jesus Christ as the transaction needed to pay the debt owed to God disregarding Jesus Christ’s life. These two authors have two different divergent views on salvation that have been greatly influenced by each others’ separate experiences. They have opposing views on salvation yet the thing that could possibly link the two is their agreement on the effect of Jesus Christ’s death had on humanity.

Anselm proposed the satisfaction theory where humanity owes a debt for its sins to God and only Jesus Christ could pay the debt in order to save humanity. Anselm’s primary issue was that God could not be satisfied purely through giving mercy to humanity, he needed something to match his divineness. Anselm named his work “Why God Became Man” to emphasize his point that the debt could only be paid by someone or something that matched God itself. Therefore Jesus Christ was needed because he was enough to satisfy the debt. Humanity is not worthy enough to simply receive and accept God’s mercy. Jesus Christ was worthy enough to “balance the books” and satisfy God.

Abelard proposed the moral theory where salvation is reached through living by Jesus Christ’s actions in his life and God shall show you mercy and forgiveness. Abelard rejected Anselm’s reason primarily based on the ideology that two evil deeds do not make a right. Meaning that the evil deed of sinning should not be atoned for by the death of an innocent, Jesus Christ. Abelard diverged from Anselm’s theory by believing that Jesus’ death was not necessary for salvation nor forgiveness. Abelard shifts the focus to a more loving relationship between God and humanity rather than a transactional relationship.

This shift in viewpoints can be accounted for by Abelard’s and Anselm’s different experiences in being brought up differently in the world. Abelard was brought up in a lower class than Anselm was allowing for Abelard to be free of worldly possessions not thinking that God required a debt from you. Anselm grew about in a wealthier world and this privilege was what allowed him to steer his theory of salvation towards a more transactional aspect between God and humanity. These two authors have completely opposite experiences in the world that heavily influenced their divergent views on salvation. The different experiences they had created this divergence of viewpoints.

Although the divergence in paths can be connected to one another through the effect they both try to convey in Jesus’ death on humanity. Anselm describes Jesus’ death as necessary to repay the sins of humanity and to satisfy God to save humanity. While Abelard describes Jesus’ death on the cross as an example of how to live as Jesus did through the love and faith of God. Both perspectives are very different, but the common objective between both of them is the intention to get humanity to care for what Jesus Christ did for them. Their end goal can be what connects the two theories, at least in this perspective.

Jesus Christ’s human form can also serve as a bridge between the two theories. Both of them make it known that it is important for God to be represented as a relatable figure in order to let humanity feel empathy towards the death of his son, Jesus Christ. God embodied himself in human form in Jesus Christ, which allowed for Abelard to focus on the kind acts and loving nature that Jesus showed on earth. Abelard focused on these aspects of Jesus Christ which helped create that empathy and sympathy for Jesus Christ died to display that this was all for Jesus’ love for God. Anselm was able to generate this sympathy and empathy for the atonement of Christ’s crucifixion because it was a part of God shown in a human form, Jesus Christ.

Anselm and Abelard held two very different emotional stances on what salvation should be like in relation to humanity’s and God’s relationship. Anselm highlighted the importance of having a transactional relationship with God while Abelard advocated that Jesus died as a way to show love. Both can be seen as bridges to one another in the sense that they both used the death of Jesus Christ to conjure up similar reactions from humanity in relation to salvation. The tension between these two are heavily rooted in their different experiences in the world, this is what made them fundamentally diverge into different paths.

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Comparison Of The Theories Of Salvation Of Anselm Of Canterbury And Peter Abelard. (2020, October 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from
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