Aquinas scholar argues against Anselm’s view of atonement

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Steven McDowell
Contributing Writer

On Thursday, Feb. 2, the University of Dallas’ philosophy department hosted the 30th annual Aquinas Lecture in Lynch Auditorium. Dr. Eleonore Stump, the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University, gave the lecture, titled “Love, Forgiveness, and Atonement.”

Stump is the 30th recipient of the Aquinas Medal, awarded every year since 1983 to eminent Thomists and other Christian thinkers who work in the tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas. According to Dr. Philipp Rosemann, the chairman of UD’s philosophy department, the lecture seeks to “honor the heritage of St. Thomas Aquinas” and to bring in contemporary thinkers who work “in the footsteps of Thomas.” Rosemann called Stump “one of the leading American Thomists,” whose synthesis of analytical philosophy, Thomism and the biblical narrative is unique.

In particular, Rosemann cited Stump’s book, “Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering,” as “a dialogue with analytical philosophy that includes biblical narrative and medieval philosophy woven together.”

After accepting the Aquinas Medal, Stump said that her lecture aimed to “look carefully at the Anselmian doctrine of atonement in light of the doctrine that God is perfectly loving,” which is put forward by Aquinas.

Stump then summarized Aquinas’ account of love, basing her argument around the claim that all love consists of “two interconnected desires: the desire for the good of the beloved and the desire for union with the beloved.” Using this foundation, Stump proceeded to explain human and divine love, anger and hatred as aspects of this framework. According to Stump, certain kinds of anger and hatred are actually love, because they aim at the “long-term good of the beloved.”

Stump then attempted to refute the Anselmian doctrine of atonement, which states that a just penalty must be paid before God can extend his forgiveness to anyone. If God were to withhold his forgiveness until a penalty be paid, He would be effectively withholding His love indefinitely, since man is not able to pay the infinite debt he owes to God, she argued.

Stump asserted that such an action would be impossible for a truly all-loving God and that instead, God necessarily extends his love and forgiveness to man at all times. Thus, because God extends His love unceasingly, Stump claimed, the responsibility for union with the divine lies squarely on the shoulders of man, whose free will allows him to accept or reject God’s constant love.

Philosophy professor Dr. William Frank offered a response to Stump’s lecture, which lauded Stump’s ability to use “philosophy to throw light on the contents of faith,” but lamented Stump’s failure to account for the place of Christ in the process of atonement and divine justice.  After Stump responded to Frank’s criticisms, a short question-and-answer period was held, followed by an open reception in Gorman Faculty Lounge.

1 COMMENT

  1. Right, I agree with Frank. Wasn’t the “just penalty” paid by Jesus for us on the cross? Although, God’s grace was present in the lives of the Jews and others before Christ came, and some of those guys didn’t really atone. But again to agree with Frank, before Christ resurrected the Jewish prophets were merely in the “Bosom of Abraham”, not heaven. Original sin has got to play in here somehow, no quite sure how…

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