Anselm: Can God’s Honor Be Violated Even to a Limited Extent?

“Nothing can be added to, or subtracted from, the honor of God, in so far as it relates to God himself. For this same honor is, in relation to him, inherently incorruptible and in no way capable of change. But when any creature whatever maintains, either by natural instinct or in response to reason, the station in life which belongs to it and has been, as it were, taught to it, this creature is said to be obeying God and honoring him.

This is so most of all in the case of a rational being, to whom it has been given to understand what is right. When such a being desires what is right, he is honoring God, not because he is bestowing anything upon God, but because he is voluntarily subordinating himself to his will and governance, maintaining his own proper station in life within the natural universe, and, to the best of his ability, maintaining the beauty of the universe itself.

But when a rational being does not wish for what is right, he dishonors God, with regard to himself, since he is not willingly subordinating himself to God’s governance, and is disturbing, as far as he is able, the order and beauty of the universe. In spite of this, he does not harm or besmirch the honor of God to the slightest extent.

For, if those things which are contained within the ambit of heaven were to wish not to be under heaven, or to move away from heaven, it would in no way be possible for them to be anywhere other than under heaven, or to flee from heaven without approaching heaven. This is because, wherever they came from, and wherever they were going to, and by whatever route, they would be beneath heaven, and the further they would remove themselves from any part of heaven, the nearer they would approach to the part opposite.

Thus, even should a human being or a bad angel not wish to be subject to the divine will or governance, he cannot flee from it, because, if he wishes to escape from a will that issues orders, he runs beneath a will that inflicts punishment; and if you ask by what route he passes from one to the other, it is nowhere other than beneath a will that gives permission; and the supreme Wisdom changes his wrong desire or action into the order and beauty of the universal scheme of things to which I have been referring.

For—setting aside the fact that God does many good things, in all manner of ways, for the benefit of wrong-doers—the alternatives, voluntary recompense for wrongdoing, or the exaction of punishment from someone who does not give recompense, retain their own proper place in this same universal order and their own regulatory beauty.

If the divine Wisdom did not impose these forms of recompense in cases where wrongdoing is endeavouring to upset the right order of things, there would be in the universe, which God ought to be regulating, a certain ugliness, resulting from the violation of the beauty of order, and God would appear to be failing in his governance. Since these two consequences are as impossible as they are unfitting, it is inevitable that recompense or punishment follows upon every sin.

…It is plain, therefore, that no one can honor or dishonor God, So far as God himself is concerned, but, in so far as the other party is concerned, a person appears to do this when he subjects himself to God’s will, or does not subject himself.”

-Anselm of Canterbury, Why God Became Man, Book 1, 15.

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