Do you know who the first Bozo was? When you hear that question, you may think I’m talking about the clown and who first played him. We’ll get back to the clown. However, my meaning is about where the name most likely originated.
Probably the name Bozo comes from a historical character who lived nearly a thousand years ago. A man named Boso (spelled with an s) was an abbot in a French abbey. Boso and the church father Anselm corresponded a great deal about theological matters in the eleventh century, so much so that Anselm used Boso as a foil in his famous work Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man). In this book, Anselm has Boso asking questions, and in response Anselm explains thoroughly to him why the Son of God had to become man in order to redeem us. As one person stated in a New York Times editorial, “Boso is the dummy, often obtuse, allowing Anselm to chide him, defeat his views and continue in a teacher-to-student relation.” Anselm proves clearly, at Boso’s expense, that no other means for accomplishing salvation would have sufficed.
This same article continues, “No doubt many a slow-witted monk was called ‘Boso’ by his fellows as Anselm’s influence on Christian thought increased.” Most likely Boso became Bozo over time. If you think about the hairstyles of monks and then that of Bozo the Clown, it is not hard to imagine the evolutionary connection between this monk in history and our modern cartoon figure.
One of the striking things about Anselm’s work is how Boso keeps looking at issues of salvation from a human perspective, mingling his experience with being a man into his understanding of how Christ must have behaved. Here is a case in point:
Boso: Though it were not against his will, since he agreed to the will of the Father; yet the Father seems to have bound him, as it were, by his injunction. For it is said that Christ “humbled himself, being made obedient to the Father even unto death, and that the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath highly exalted him;” and that “he learned obedience from the things which he suffered;” and that God spared not his own Son, but gave him up for us all.” And likewise the Son says: “I came not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me.” And when about to suffer, he says; “As the Father hath given me commandment, so I do.” Again: “The cup which the Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? ” And, at another time : “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” And again: “Father, if this cup may not pass from me except I drink it, thy will be done.” In all these passages it would rather appear that Christ endured death by the constraint of obedience, than by the inclination of his own free will.
Notice how Boso portrays Christ as having to have been constrained in obedience, rather than freely offering it to the Father. Why? Because Boso failed to make a proper distinction. Anselm answers in this manner.
Anselm: It seems to me that you do not rightly understand the difference between what he did at the demand of obedience, and what he suffered, not demanded by obedience, but inflicted on him, because he kept his obedience perfect.
I raise this example as a reminder to us how easy it is to fall into theological confusion by imputing to God human thoughts and actions, as Boso was doing. As a friend reminded me recently, often the only difference between truth and heresy is turning a God-given distinction into a man-made separation. We must always be humble in our theology, practicing both an exacting precision where God’s Word has revealed truth clearly to us and an eager trust in the Lord when we simply cannot know (Deuteronomy 29:29). At the heart of true theology is always faith in Christ.
Otherwise, we do become clowns. We will have exaggerated thoughts of our own abilities and knowledge while most everyone else is laughing at us. The sad irony is that in so doing we can make the church a circus instead of the cathedral it is supposed to be. To prevent this, let us hear Anselm once again.
For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe this: unless I believe, I will not understand.