David Hogg

title.none: Gasper, Anselm of Canterbury (David Hogg)

identifier.other: baj9928.0606.011 06.06.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: David Hogg, Southerwastern Seminary,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Gasper, Giles E.M. Anselm of Canterbury and his Theological Inheritance. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004. Pp. xv, 228. $79.95 0-7546-3911-8. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.06.11

Gasper, Giles E.M. Anselm of Canterbury and his Theological Inheritance. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004. Pp. xv, 228. $79.95 0-7546-3911-8. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

David Hogg
Southerwastern Seminary

As I read this book in which Giles Gasper seeks to uncover the neglected significance of Greek Patristic theology on Anselm's thought, I was reminded of Karl Barth. In an interview late in his life, Barth claimed that Anselm of Canterbury had had the most profound influence on his theology. While many were aware of Barth's work on Anselm, few, if any, had considered it foundational. Needless to say, not a few theologians were thrown into a frenzy reexamining Barth's work in light of Anselm's.

Unlike Barth, Anselm did not leave us an interview late in life from which we may hope to glean a greater understanding of which theologians and works affected him most. The trouble with identifying influences behind Anselm's theology is further exacerbated by the paucity of direct references Anselm made in his works. Gasper is quick to note this and openly admits that determining Anselm's theological inheritance "to any degree of incontrovertible proof" (xiii) is extremely difficult. Nevertheless, Gasper believes it is a task worth pursuing as it will "reveal Anselm in yet more diverse Patristic company" than has heretofore been acknowledged. (xiv)

As Gasper begins his investigation into Anselm's sources he observes that the usual suspects were very much cognizant of and conversant with the Greek theological tradition. Ambrose, Hilary of Poitiers, Augustine and Gregory the Great are all cited as prime examples of Latin theologians who relied, in various degrees, on Greek theologians. Herein lies something of a curiosity. While Gasper moves on in succeeding chapters to make his case for Greek Patristic influence on Anselm, the reader is left wondering if that influence ought to be seen more through the lens of the Latin Fathers than through the Greek Fathers themselves. After all, what Anselm knew of Greek theology came largely from Latin theologians and exclusively from texts written (translated) in Latin.

In chapters two and three Gasper provides a good survey of what manuscripts were available in Norman and neighboring libraries. Above all, Gasper does a fine job of pointing out how much more widespread Greek Patristic works were in these libraries than many may be aware. It is also in these chapters that the reader is reminded of how personal interaction between scholars of the Middle Ages was prevalent despite great distances. The Normans, in particular, are a good example of a people whose interests stretched far enough that connections between Greek and Latin theologians was not only known, but possibly more frequent than usually recognized.

In the fourth and fifth chapters the use of the conditional tense that Gasper warned in his Preface would be forthcoming certainly does come into its own. There are numerous instances where Anselm's theological formulations are comparable to certain Greek Fathers, but only in a general way. While some direct influence from Greek scholarship (in Latin) cannot be denied, one wonders if the fundamental connection between Anselm and Greek Patristic theology has more to do with a single book and a similar world view. In other words, that Anselm should address topics in a similar way to, for instance, Gregory Nazianzen may have more to do with the fact that both theologians knew the Bible intimately and expressed themselves in the context of a world view infused with biblical categories as well as (to varying degrees) Platonic ideas. Here again we meet the notion that Anselm's myriad influences were mediated, for even Anselm's Platonism (and neo- Platonism) is more representative of Augustine (among others) than Plato.

The final chapter deals with the Council of Bari which began in 1098. This is a period in Anselm's life that is generally ignored because of its obscurity. There are a few sources that provide some details, but much of the council's discussion was not recorded. After outlining Anselm's rehearsal of the Latin position on the procession of the Holy Spirit (filioque clause), and engaging in "informed speculation" (188), the inescapable conclusion is that while Anselm was "conscious of a Greek contribution to the Patristic tradition...this was seen from the perspective of the West." (196)

There are a number typographical errors and the use of accents for Greek words is inconsistent (though generally not applied), but neither of these problems are sufficient to detract from the work. Given the caveats Gasper notes and the conditional nature of such a study, Gasper accomplishes his goal of raising our awareness of a broader Patristic background to Anselm's theology.