Before sharing a rather lovely prayer of Anselm's, here is a short history lesson followed by an equally short theology lesson about atonement! Skip them both if you're not in the mood!
Image via WikipediaAnselm of Canterbury was an Italian Benedictine monk who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093 during the reign of William II. He came into conflict with William and later with Henry I of England as he sought to introduce reform. By the end of his life he had managed to free the see of Canterbury from submission to the King and established the primacy of Canterbury in the British Isles.
He was a scholarly and philosophical man, working on 'proofs' for the existence of God. He also wrote much on theories of atonement - favouring that concentrating on the need for the justice of God to be satisfied. He thus paved the way for the Reformers - particularly John Calvin - to clearly define the doctrine of 'penal substitution'. Theories of atonement before Anselm had largely concentrated on the battle between good and evil - between God and Satan. In the 13th century, Peter Abelard would emphasise atonement as the prime example and expression of God's love. The BBC have an excellent summary of theories of atonement here.
And now for Anselm's prayer. It's rather wonderful to realise that one of the 'fathers' of the church asked just the sort of questions that we still ask, such as, 'why do I not seek you?'
O Lord my God,
teach my heart where and how to seek you,
where and how to find you.
Lord, if you are not here but absent,
where shall I seek you?
But you are everywhere, so you must be here,
why then do I not seek you?...
Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height,
for my understanding is in no way equal to that,
but I do desire to understand a little of your truth
which my heart already believes and loves.
I do not seek to understand so that I may believe,
but I believe so that I may understand;
and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe I shall not understand.
Anselm of Canterbury
The lines, Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height,
for my understanding is in no way equal to that.. remind me of Psalm 131.
If these lines speak to you, then you may like to read/re-read an earlier post which includes a meditation on Psalm 131.