Thursday, November 09, 2006

Review of Anselm's Proslogion

Proslogion (pdf)

by Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Is the Proslogion a devotional or philosophical work?

The Proslogion is a philosophy grounded and springing from intense devotional prayer.

The Proslogion is quite simply a prayer. It is a distillation of intensive years in the prayer closet. Anselm derives his philosophical system of understanding through his intimate devotion to the Creator who saved him. Anselm pleads, “My God and my Lord, my hope and the joy of my heart, speak unto my soul and tell me whether this is the joy of which you tell us through your Son” (chap 26), and God graciously does so through this revelation of His character. He reveals the height of His omnipotence (chap 7), His compassion (chap 8), and His justice (chaps 9-12).

Characteristic of the uniqueness of Christianity among all other world religions is the focus on relationship with the Creator and Savior of our souls. Anselm does not disappoint in this regard. He is as a deer panting for the water. Anselm invites the reader to the place of prayer he knows well and obviously frequents, “Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all thoughts save that of God, and such as can aid you in seeking him; close your door and seek him. Speak now, my whole heart! Speak now to God, saying, . . .” (chap 1). Anselm salts his work with Scriptural allusions, “How long, O Lord, will you forget us” (chap 1); “the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God (chap 2); “if it has seen light and truth, it has seen you; if it has not seen you, it has not seen light and truth. . . . . because it has seen you only in part, but has not seen you as you are” (chap 14); Psalm 27:8 (chap 18); and a dozen references in chapters 25 and 26. Anselm’s philosophical understanding of God is grounded in devotion.

Anselm demonstrates that an understanding of God proceeds from faith, yet faith is grounded in a philosophical understanding of God. Devotion is a synonym for faith for Anselm. His intellectual framework, or philosophy, finds its origin in devotional prayer using the Scriptures, not an uninformed, unreasoned, unintelligent faith, but a well-thought, well-reasoned, well-informed understanding leading to faith. The prayer room is the birthplace of Anselm’s philosophy of God’s character and existence. Anselm writes of the revelation of God in His self-existent person, his unmatched character, his boundless omnipotence, and His transcendent unity. Anselm is not interested in proving God’s existence. He does away with that argument early on in chapter 2. Anselm desires to know God more (devotion), and therefore, this knowledge is how he develops his philosophy of God’s existence.

Anselm posits that more understanding leads not to unbelief, which is the lot of fools (chap 2), but to greater faith. Faith comes as God responds to Anselm’s plea to “speak to the desire of my soul, . . . it strains to see you more” (chap 14). That vision develops as Anselm’s philosophy of God which springs from devotion.


God’s Self-Existent Person

Preface: Faith seeking understanding, not that, but how God exists.

I: Prayer for help to understand God through faith

II: A being existing in understanding exists in reality.

III: God exists more truly than any other being, because He is above all.

IV: “No one who understands what God is can conceive that God does not exist.”

V: God is alone self-existent through Himself, creating all else from nothing.

God’s Unmatched Character

VI: God is able to sense in the highest degree, not limited to bodily sensibility.

VII: God is omnipotent because He is the highest good, for sin in Him would concede power.

VIII: God is of the highest compassion for the sinner, but of no compassion for sin.

IX: God is of the highest justice for it proceeds from His unbounded goodness and compassion.

X: God is of the highest justice in sparing the sinner.

XI: God is of highest justice in punishing the wicked.

XII: God is self-sufficient in life, in wisdom, and in goodness.

God’s Boundless Omnipresence

XIII: God alone is boundless, “uncircumscribed, and eternal,” without beginning or cessation.

XIV: The soul of faith seeks more understanding of God’s person.

XV: None greater than God can be conceived, for the concept of a greater is inconceivable.

XVI: This incomprehensible concept is the unapproachable light of omnipresent invisibility.

XVII: Sin has marred the corporal senses from seeing the Lord in His blessed light.

God’s Transcendent Unity

XVIII: God’s character is whole, not in parts, and exists wholly outside eternity forever.

XIX: God exists outside eternity, nothing containing Him, but Him containing all.

XX: God transcends even the eternal, all eternity being within and by Him.

XXI: God transcends space, endless immeasurability of infinity being within and by Him.

XXII: God exists absolutely and alone, whole, without time or space, all sufficient, all provident.

XXIII: God exists as Trinity in unity, supremely good, supremely equal, and supremely simple.

God’s Irresistible Invitation

XXIV: Conceive now, such a supreme unity of uncreated goodness.

XXV: Will you not enjoy such an overarching goodness and joy that your being cannot contain?

XXVI: Prayer to know God in the fullness of His love and ever-increasing joy.