Anselm’s Argument presupposes that God is, as (almost) all men have always thought him to be, that than which no greater can be conceived – the Ultimate Being, along all dimensions of perfection, virtue, & goodness – and goes on to argue that such a being that actually exists, being greater than the mere idea of such a being, cannot but be what we mean by “God.” So, if we are talking about God, we *must* be talking about a being who actually exists. If we are talking about a being who might not or does not actually exist, we are not talking about God in the first place, and so all our talk of that thing (whatever it is) is simply inapt, ergo moot. Since we are in fact talking about God, we must be talking about a being who actually exists. So, in order for us even to talk about him, God must actually exist. The actual existence of God is implicit in the concept of God. This is what Aquinas is getting at in arguing that the existence of God is essential to his nature.
Almost all of Anselm’s critics lose him at that point. His famous Argument – which is perhaps the most famous in the entire history of philosophy – seems to many, if not most, to consist entirely of vain logic chopping; of proving a conclusion by a prior definition, that might with equal reason have been defined some other way.
The valuable EH Looney – an orthospherean through and through, let it be noted, and so our ally and friend (witly or not), whose site I visit daily – has in a recent short post subtly erred, in three different and interesting ways. An Orthodox Christian who admires Rome with fervent intelligence, he nevertheless writes with eyes open:
The problem with Rome isn’t papal supremacy, or even the filioque, it’s that the Roman church is the cradle of nominalism. That sickness should have been condemned immediately rather than being allowed to fester long enough to create Luther and the Protestant deformation.
Also Anselm’s theory of the atonement almost totally obscures the existential nature of the paschal mystery into a legalism of the worst possible sort.
Now, there is some truth to each of these statements. Some truth; not all.
We are pleased to offer another guest post by blogger Mark Citadel.
In Gustav Aulén’s 1931 book Christ the Victor, he writes, “the work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil.”
Such a concept is unsurprisingly alien to most Western readers who have for so long been believers in a very different theory of atonement, that is, what exactly occurred at the metaphysical level during our Savior’s crucifixion. While Aulén’s theory would not have been at all controversial before the turn of the first millennium after Christ, when the east and west were divided, the western portion of the Occident was heavily influenced by the works of St. Anselm of Canterbury and his book Cur Deus Homo?, which was published in 1097. It’s important we understand what this model puts forth.
Once we understand a doctrine properly, it becomes much easier to relate to the rest of the intellectual economy, ergo credible. Indeed, only with elimination of incomprehension is belief really possible. We can’t decide whether we think a notion is either true or false – cannot come to a belief about it – until we know what exactly it is, what it means and portends, how it links up (if it does) to the rest of our experience and knowledge.
Not that we ever attain complete exactitude in our understanding of anything, for we don’t.
Nevertheless there is such a thing as understanding that is good enough for our purposes. Such understanding of a concept generally takes the form of seeing how it fits with other more familiar concepts. What we are really trying to do when we try to understand something new is relate it intelligibly to familiar concepts that have proven reliable in practice – tried and true, as the saying goes.
Once we have arrived at clear comprehension of a proposition, a judgement of its truth often follows with little further ado; or else, the research needed to confirm or deny it makes itself fairly obvious, even straightforward.
Thus the lion’s share of most intellectual work is just getting clear on what is being considered. Once we’ve done that – and provided that a proposal has not in it revealed its utter absurdity – it becomes much easier to see how belief in it could actually work. And once we see how it *could* work, it becomes ipso facto credible. It *could* be true. We then take it more seriously, and then lo! Not infrequently, finding it credible, we find that we credit it. Seeing how it fits into reality as we have understood it, we can find it compelling to accept that in fact it *does* fit into reality.
Commenter Catherine recently commented on a post from 2013 in which I offered an ontological argument for the existence of God, asking for help with the covalent ontological arguments of St. Anselm of Canterbury and of Alvin Plantinga. She wrote:
I’m currently suffering through a Philosophy of Religion course (the democratic nature of these courses is sickening), and we have just gone over the cosmological arguments, arguments from design, the ontological arguments, and their respective criticisms. I’m writing an essay about which I prefer and discussing its strengths and weaknesses. I immediately go toward the ontological argument per St. Anselm, which I have loved for years now. The problem is that each time I study it I find myself peering at it through seemingly various aspects that become obscure to me as the next one approaches (this also could be linked to sleep issues, but anyway). I would love to get your perspective on it. What do you make of St. Thomas’s criticisms of it? Can a Thomist use the ontological argument? Do you think that there are really two ontological arguments made by Anselm? How do you approach Kant’s criticism and does it reject the traditional notion of God as Being? Is modal logic orthodox? (ha…seriously). Lastly (at least for now), what about Plantinga? I’m very unfamiliar with analytic philosophy, so I hardly even tried to tackle his writing on it. I wrote on a paper for a concise summary of his argument, “If it is possible for God to exist, then it is impossible for God not to exist,” and yesterday morning it CLICKED, wonderfully (but at the same time I feel as though there’s a strange gap between the two statements that I need to work out). Is it possible to reconcile this with Anselm’s, whose I am assuming can be thoroughly defended (double question)? What about Aquinas? Please, Kristor, don’t be vague (not to say that you tend to be); I really could use your help even from a personal position. Thank you.
The rest of this post is my response.
Omniscience could not fail to comprehend all truths, and anything less than omniscience would fail as an understanding of the whole truth. Further, only omniscience could fully understand the whole meaning of even a single proposition, so as adequately to evaluate its truth value; for the infinite extent of the realm of the possible entails that the potential consequences in experience of the truth of any proposition are necessarily infinite in number, and until one knows all the consequences of a concept, one cannot fully comprehend its meaning. So only an omniscient being can know the whole truth, or the whole meaning of any one truth. If therefore a proposition is true, it must necessarily be found among that set of propositions entertained by God as the whole truth. So only the propositions entertained as true by God can in fact be true. Other beings may understand their truth, to be sure; but if any truth is to be at all apprehensible by any creature, it must first have been entertained as such by the Divine Mind – for had it not been thus Divinely understood as true, it could not be true at all, to anyone. I.e., it would be false.
This final installment of the series on the economics of forgiveness takes up from where I left off in Part III, and may pose difficulties for those who have not read it (and as Part IV is to Part III, so is III to II, and II to I).
Our compassionate suffering is the means of our social cohesion. Only by virtue of an imaginative participation in each other’s suffering – which is to say, an attenuated but nonetheless real and concrete participation in each other’s sufferings (both positive and negative) – could we understand each other, so as to communicate or coordinate our activities. If we had absolutely no notion how anybody else felt, we could not understand them at all, nor could we make ourselves understood to them. Society would then be to us wholly incomprehensible, and all our social interactions complete noise. I.e., there would then be no such thing as society, at all.