The Divine Dilemma: Civil Law and the Wisdom of the Cross

…Therefore, we have clearly come to Christ, whom we confess to be both God and man and to have died on our behalf.

Anselm of Canterbury, Why God Became Man

The medieval sign of the cross was not only a symbol of God’s might. It was also an image of His wisdom. In particular, the cross was seen as a symbol of the solution to a divine dilemma: how could humans possibly atone for generations of willful disobedience against God? Many medieval theologians - most notably Anselm of Canterbury (d.1109) - engaged this problem. In Anselm’s formulation, God’s justice demanded retribution, but God’s mercy desired man’s redemption; the former would destroy man, while the latter would undercut the moral order of the cosmos. Only a being capable of paying for the sins of man as a man and making that payment of infinite worth as a God could satisfy God’s justice and his mercy. That being was Jesus Christ, the man, the God, whose suffering and death had atoned for humanity’s sins and restored cosmic order.
Canadian Heritage Information Network, The Provincial Museum of Alberta,
Art Gallery of Ontario, Gandhi Memorial Museum, Malcove Collection, University of Toronto, Musée de la civilisation,

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