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Anselm of Canterbury, Page Three

Article from the 1911 Encyclopedia

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To such an extent does he carry this demand for rational explanation that, at times, it seems as if he claimed for unassisted intelligence the power of penetrating even to the mysteries of the Christian faith. On the whole, however, the qualified statement is his real view; merely rational proofs are always, he affirms, to be tested by Scripture. (Cur Deus homo, i. 2 and 38; De Fide Trin. 2.) The groundwork of his theory of knowledge is contained in the tract De Veritate, in which, from the consideration of truth as in knowledge, in willing, and in things, he rises to the affirmation of an absolute truth, in which all other truth participates. This absolute truth is God himself, who is therefore the ultimate ground or principle both of things and of thought. The notion of God comes thus into the foreground of the system; before all things it is necessary that it should be made clear to reason, that it should be demonstrated to have real existence. This demonstration is the substance of the Monologion and Proslogion. In the first of these the proof rests on the ordinary grounds of realism, and coincides to some extent with the earlier theory of Augustine, though it is carried out with singular boldness and fulness. Things, he says, are called good in a variety of ways and degrees; this would be impossible if there were not some absolute standard, some good in itself, in which all relative goods participate. Similarly with such predicates as great, just; they involve a certain greatness and justice. The very existence of things is impossible without some one Being, by whom they are. This absolute Being, this goodness, justice, greatness, is God. Anselm was not thoroughly satisfied with this reasoning; it started from a posteriori grounds, and contained several converging lines of proof. He desired to have some one short demonstration. Such a demonstration he presented in the Proslogion; it is his celebrated ontological proof. God is that being than whom none greater can be conceived. Now, if that than which nothing greater can be conceived existed only in the intellect, it would not be the absolutely greatest, for we could add to it existence in reality. It follows, then, that the being than whom nothing greater can be conceived, i.e. God, necessarily has real existence. This reasoning, in which Anselm partially anticipated the Cartesian philosophers, has rarely seemed satisfactory. It was opposed at the time by the monk Gaunilo, in his Liber pro Insipiente, on the ground that we cannot pass from idea to reality. The same criticism is made by several of the later schoolmen, among others by Aquinas, and is in substance what Kant advances against all ontological proof. Anselm replied to the objections of Gaunilo in his Liber Apologeticus. The existence of God being thus held proved, he proceeds to state the rational grounds of the Christian doctrines of creation and of the Trinity. With reference to this last, he says we cannot know God from himself, but only after the analogy of his creatures; and the special analogy used is the self-consciousness of man, its peculiar double nature, with the necessary elements, memory and intelligence, representing the relation of the Father to the Son. The mutual love of these two, proceeding from the relation they hold to one another, symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The further theological doctrines of man, original sin, free will, are developed, partly in the Monologion, partly in other mixed treatises.

Continued on page four.

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