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Saint Anselm was an Augustinian Christian whose fame rests to a great extent on his belief that faith is prior to reason, a belief he expresses in the well-known words of the Proslogion: “For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this I also believe—that unless I believed, I should not understand.” After one has accepted on faith the revelations given through Scripture and through the church fathers, reason is able to fulfill its secondary role of clarifying meanings and providing proofs. Yet Anselm was an ambivalent figure, for despite his emphasis on the priority of faith, he felt a very strong need to support it with proofs. Indeed, he extended the scope of reason considerably further than did the Scholastics who followed him, for they would not have thought of trying to prove doctrines such as those of the Trinity and the Incarnation. His rationalism led others to characterize him as the first of the Scholastics.

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The Three Proofs

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 438

Anselm delivered three proofs of the existence of God in his earlier work, Monologion. According to the first argument, the goodness of things in this world must be caused and must therefore stem from one thing that is good or from many. However, if many causes have their goodness in common, it is by virtue of this goodness that they cause good things; therefore, there must be a common source. In either case, whether the cause be one or many, a single, unitary source of goodness is indicated. Because it is the source of all goodness, this source is not good because of something else but is itself goodness. (Notice that this argument depends on a realistic doctrine of essences that will allow an essence such as goodness to function not only as a form but also as an active First Cause.) God is Goodness itself, not merely something that possesses goodness.

The second argument follows a similar course with respect to existence. Because whatever exists must have a cause and because an infinite regress of causes is impossible, there must be either one ultimate, nonfinite cause or several causes. If there is but one cause, one has encountered God. If there are several, then either they support one another mutually or they exist independently. The former is impossible, for that which is supported cannot be the cause of that which supports it. However, if there are several independent ultimate causes, each must exist through itself, and therefore they must share this common power. Now, because it is this common power that is the source of all else, there cannot be several causes but only one. (This proof also depends on the doctrine of essences.) God is not something that has this supreme power; he is this power.

The third proof depends on the fact that things in the world can be ranked according to their degrees of “dignity,” goodness, or reality. For instance, Anselm says, everyone will admit that a horse represents a higher degree of reality than a piece of wood, for the horse is animate; similarly, a person outranks a horse, for he or she is rational. However, the sequence of degrees of reality cannot be an infinite one, for there must be some boundary, some limiting value by which all the rest are measured, a value that is real absolutely. If there should be several things that share this degree of reality, it is nevertheless the case that they are equal because of the common excellence they share. This excellence is the absolute reality that is the source of all relative degrees of reality.

The Ontological Argument

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 803

Apparently Anselm thought these proofs too complex, for in Proslogion ,...

(The entire section contains 3361 words.)

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