Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

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.