Justice, Anselm, And The Western Tradition -- By: Peter Judson Richards

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 11:4 (Winter 2007)
Article: Justice, Anselm, And The Western Tradition
Author: Peter Judson Richards

Justice, Anselm, And The Western Tradition

Peter Judson Richards

Peter Judson Richards is Associate Professor of Theology and Law, and serves as Director of the Center for Theology and Law at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught and conducted research in the areas of law, ethics, and political science at the United States Air Force Academy, Regent University, and Emory University. He also practiced law for seven years in the United States Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Dr. Richards is the author of Extraordinary Justice: Military Tribunals in Historical and International Context (New York Press, 2007).

It has by now become something of a commonplace to note the reciprocal influences among the disciplines of politics and law on the one hand, and theology on the other. Even if, as we must admit, the influence has not always been wholesome for either, it is perhaps inevitable on some level, since the theological content of the gospel message as the proclamation of God’s kingdom in Christ carries implications for the ordering and priority of this-worldly political concerns. The gospel infuses new content into, and delimits, political concepts such as judgment, justice, authority, and law. The contributions of theological reflection to the practices and institutions of the political order have sustained a long and fertile tradition in the dominions marked by the old boundaries of Western Christendom. Of great importance in this tradition is the figure of Anselm of Canterbury, whose teachings on the atonement have been identified as providing fuel to the “revolution” that generated a distinctive western legal tradition in late eleventh and early twelfth century Europe. Anselm’s theory of the atonement in his most well-known work, the Cur Deus Homo (“Why God became Man”) came to light against the backdrop of a virtually simultaneous jurisdictional dispute between pope and emperor, the so-called “Investiture Controversy.” This dispute was conducted in a decidedly legalistic manner: through argumentation, through the filing of briefs, and ultimately through a kind of litigation. During the course of the controversy, the authority of the church increasingly came to be seen as juridical in nature. For better or worse, the church’s spiritual power of “binding and loosing” amplified to include dimensions explicitly moral, legislative, and judicial.1 Harold J. Berman’s celebrated account of the revolutionary impact of the investiture controversy emphasizes the seismic effect of splitting the world into two competing jurisdictions. A “revolution in theology” accompanied the corresponding “revolution in legal science” in a process whereby the “rationalization and systemati...

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