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Today, Catholic and Anglican churches fondly remember Anselm of Canterbury, who is said to have died on April 21 in 1109. But evangelicals are wise to remember him this day, as well.

For those who can harken back to their intro to philosophy class, they will remember Anselm for his mind-boggling proof for the existence of God—(1) God with the property of existence is greater than a God lacking the property of existence. Therefore, (2) because God is that which nothing greater can be conceived, God must possess existence. Though criticized as a mere word game by some philosophers, others have defended it vigorously, the most famous "recent" defense being that of Karl Barth's 1921 Fides Quaruns Intellectum.

Evangelicals are deeply in debt to Anselm for something else—though most are unaware of it. It was Anselm who clearly articulated in theological terms the biblical doctrine of the Atonement known as the satisfaction theory: Man's sin against God demands a payment or satisfaction. Fallen man is incapable of making adequate satisfaction, and so God took on human nature in Christ so that a perfect man might make perfect satisfaction and so restore the human race.

Though this is only one of three major theories of atonement alluded to in the New Testament (ransom and exemplary would be the other two), this theory has become the fundamental or, among some evangelicals—who refer to it as "substitutionary atonement"— the only theory worth bothering about. It is certainly the root theology behind most evangelical preaching about the Cross—thanks to Anselm.

But events of the last few days—with the ascendancy of Benedict XVI to the papacy—bring Anselm to mind as well. Another legacy of this brilliant ...

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