St. Anselm of Canterbury Criticism - Essay

Hugh R. Smart (essay date 1949)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Smart, Hugh R. “Anselm's Ontological Argument: Rationalistic or Apologetic?” Review of Metaphysics 3 (1949): 161-66.

[In the following essay, Smart argues that Anselm's ontological argument offers a combination of rational proof and spiritual revelation about the existence of God.]

In this paper I propose to consider two possible interpretations of Anselm's ontological argument. According to the first interpretation the argument is purely rational; according to the second, reason and faith together form the foundation of the argument.

The ontological argument, as understood by the first interpretation, runs as follows: The concept...

(The entire section is 1591 words.)

Norman Malcolm (essay date 1960)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Malcolm, Norman. “Anselm's Ontological Arguments.” Philosophical Review 69 (1960): 41-62.

[In the following essay, Malcolm considers whether Anselm's ontological arguments stand up to the scrutiny of logic as well as of faith.]

I believe that in Anselm's Proslogion and Responsio editoris there are two different pieces of reasoning which he did not distinguish from one another, and that a good deal of light may be shed on the philosophical problem of “the ontological argument” if we do distinguish them. In Chapter 2 of the Proslogion1 Anselm says that we believe that God is something a greater than which cannot be...

(The entire section is 8464 words.)

R. W. Southern (essay date 1963)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Southern, R. W. “The Monk of Bec.” In Saint Anselm and His Biographer: A Study of Monastic Life and Thought 1059-c. 1130, pp. 27-76. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963.

[In the following excerpt, Southern describes the content of Anselm's early works, the Monologion and Proslogion, the latter of which features his arguments concerning the existence of God.]


Until he became archbishop, Anselm's life for over thirty years was one of monastic peace disturbed only by the occasional enmities inseparable from the life of men living in close proximity in a small community, and by material cares...

(The entire section is 7602 words.)

Richard Campbell (essay date 1979)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Campbell, Richard. “Anselm's Theological Method.” Scottish Journal of Theology 32 (1979): 543-48.

[In the following excerpt, Campbell asserts that critics of Anselm's ontological argument have misrepresented his point, which is simply to demonstrate “that it cannot be said that God is not.”]

The study of Anselm's Proslogion argument on the existence of God which I recently undertook1 emerged out of a growing conviction that commentator after commentator had been guilty of serious misrepresentation of its structure. Traditionally, Anselm has been taken as presenting in Proslogion 2 the first version ever to be formulated fully of...

(The entire section is 2117 words.)

A. E. McGrath (essay date July 1981)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: McGrath, A. E. “Rectitude: The Moral Foundation of Anselm of Canterbury's Soteriology.” Downside Review (July 1981): 204-13.

[In the following essay, McGrath evaluates Anselm's thought on salvation as it appears in his Cur Deus Homo, maintaining that Anselm's conception of justice is based on theological rather than legal foundations.]

Anselm of Canterbury has attracted increasing scholarly attention during the past century as a major thinker standing at the dawn of the Middle Ages. His greatest intellectual achievement is generally considered to be the monograph Cur Deus Homo, which is of decisive importance in the history of doctrine. Its...

(The entire section is 4200 words.)

Allan Bäck (essay date 1981)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Bäck, Allan. “Existential Import in Anselm's Ontological Argument.” Franciscan Studies 41 (1981): 97-109.

[In the following essay, Bäck analyzes Anselm's ontological argument in terms of traditional logic, suggesting that criticism of it can be resolved through a consideration of the Aristotelian nature of his syllogistic reasoning.]

The ontological argument of Saint Anselm has attracted a great deal of attention. There has been considerable discussion of whether the argument begs the question, by assuming the existence of God in the premises of the argument. But, although the theological, Augustinian context of Anselm's argument has been dealt with, and...

(The entire section is 4945 words.)

Donald F. Duclow (essay date January 1982)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Duclow, Donald F. “Anselm's Proslogion and Nicholas of Cusa's Wall of Paradise.” Downside Review 100, no. 338 (January 1982): 22-30.

[In the following essay, Duclow juxtaposes Anselm's ontological argument with the symbolism of Nicholas of Cusa's “wall of paradise” in order to emphasize Anselm's use of limit or boundary thinking in his Proslogion.]

Perhaps Gilson gave the best excuse for presenting yet another essay on Anselm's Proslogion when he wrote that one simply cannot resist the temptation.1 An author does, however, need some justification for indulging his concupiscence. I would therefore make two claims for the...

(The entire section is 4146 words.)

William Collinge (essay date December 1984)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Collinge, William. “Monastic Life as a Context for Religious Understanding in St. Anselm.” American Benedictine Review 35, no. 4 (December 1984): 378-88.

[In the following essay, Collinge applies a Wittgensteinian concept of “seeing-as” (in this case: viewing through the paradigm of monastic obedience) to arguments in Anselm's Cur Deus Homo and Proslogion.]

Is the study of monastic life of interest to philosophers as philosophers?1 There is much in contemporary philosophy of religion to suggest that it can be.

One of the dominant tendencies of the philosophy of the past two centuries in the West is the effort to...

(The entire section is 4073 words.)

Walter Fröhlich (essay date 1984)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Fröhlich, Walter. “The Letters Omitted from Anselm's Collection of Letters.” Anglo-Norman Studies 6 (1984): 58-71.

[In the following essay, Fröhlich surveys Anselm's collected correspondence, highlighting the monk's efforts to suppress letters that could potentially damage his reputation.]

The writing of letters and the gathering of such letters in large letter-collections is one of the striking features which distinguish intellectual life of the eleventh and twelfth centuries from those immediately preceding and following. This activity blossomed forth from the numerous schools which were attached to the monasteries and cathedrals of western Europe....

(The entire section is 7785 words.)

Hugh Feiss (essay date March 1985)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Feiss, Hugh. “The God of St. Anselm's Prayers.” American Benedictine Review 36, no. 1 (March 1985): 1-22.

[In the following essay, Feiss surveys Anselm's Trinitarian theology as it appears in his devotional writings.]

St. Anselm was a monastic theologian, insofar as the context of his life and thought was Benedictine, and the principal aim of his thinking and praying was to seek the face of the Lord. One would, therefore, expect to find a close parallel between his thinking and his spirituality.1

In his faith Anselm was untroubled; in his approach to monasticism he was conservative.2 In both his theology and his written...

(The entire section is 8074 words.)

Aidan Nichols (essay date July 1985)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Nichols, Aidan. “Anselm of Canterbury and the Language of Perfection.” Downside Review 103, no. 352 (July 1985): 204-17.

[In the following essay, Nichols investigates the biographical context of Anselm's Proslogion and defines the work's fundamental aim as the search for a “language of perfection” that would allow one to articulate the transcendent nature of God.]

The aim of this article is to reconsider the Proslogion of St Anselm in its historical setting, and to suggest, in the light of recent Anselmian studies, that its basic argument is only acceptable if one shares the ‘fiduciary’ view of language represented, in different ways,...

(The entire section is 6318 words.)

Thomas A. Losoncy (essay date 1985)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Losoncy, Thomas A. “Language and Saint Anselm's Proslogion Argument.” In Acta Conventus Neo-Latini Bononiensis: Proceedings of the Fourth International Congress on Neo-Latin Studies, edited by R. J. Schoeck, pp. 284-291. Binghamton, N. Y.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1985.

[In the following essay, Losoncy claims that critical appraisals of the Proslogion have generally failed to recognize and understand Anselm's particular use of language, thus reaching misleading conclusions.]

In the over nine hundred years since Saint Anselm wrote the Proslogion steadfast disagreement over what he meant, and sometimes over what he...

(The entire section is 3677 words.)

William L. Craig (essay date February 1986)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Craig, William L. “St. Anselm on Divine Foreknowledge and Future Contingency.” Laval théologique et philosophique 42, no. 1 (February 1986): 93-104.

[In the following essay, Craig assesses Anselm's arguments against theological fatalism and his ideas regarding free will.]

Contemporary discussions of foreknowledge and future contingency have all but completely overlooked the contributions of Anselm of Canterbury on this score, despite that fact that his treatise. De concordia praescientiae praedestinationis et gratiae Dei cum libero arbitrio (1107/08) contains a very interesting and illuminating discussion of the problem of theological fatalism. That...

(The entire section is 6846 words.)

Drew E. Hinderer (essay date spring 1986)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Hinderer, Drew E. “Anselm's Ontological Argument: What's in the Fool's Understanding?” Michigan Academician 18, no. 2 (spring 1986): 271-77.

[In the following essay, Hinderer contends that Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God fails because its premise that “God exists in the understanding” is problematic and false.]

Anselm's ontological arguments have been the subject of very sustained philosophical interest from his own day through the present. The vast majority of those who have written about the arguments have treated them as proofs, i.e., as efforts to persuade unbelievers that the very nature of God's being is such as to make His...

(The entire section is 3127 words.)

Thomas H. Bestul (essay date 1988)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Bestul, Thomas H. “St. Augustine and the Orationes sive Meditationes of St. Anselm.” Anselm Studies 2 (1988): 597-606.

[In the following essay, Bestul elucidates the stylistic influence of St. Augustine's work on Anselm's devotional writing.]

St. Anselm composed most of his nineteen prayers and three meditations between the years 1060 and 1078, while he was a monk at Bec. As scholars have frequently observed, those Orationes sive Meditationes mark a turning point in the devotional literature of the Western Church. Composed in an effusive, exclamatory, highly personal style, making use of lengthy balanced periods and carefully balanced...

(The entire section is 3433 words.)

Frederick Van Fleteren (essay date 1991)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Van Fleteren, Frederick. “Augustine and Anselm: Faith and Reason.” In Faith Seeking Understanding: Learning and the Catholic Tradition, edited by George C. Berthold, pp. 57-66. Manchester, N.H.: Saint Anselm College Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Van Fleteren highlights some features of the theological relationship between Anselm and St. Augustine.]

It would be but an elaboration of the obvious to prove that the thought of Anselm was greatly influenced by Augustine. Anselm's own description of his thought, fides quaerens intellectum, owes much to the credo ut intelligam of Augustine and indeed is an excellent description of Augustine's...

(The entire section is 4283 words.)

Richard Law (essay date 1991)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Law, Richard. “The Proslogion and Saint Anselm's Audience.” In Faith Seeking Understanding: Learning and the Catholic Tradition, edited by George C. Berthold, pp. 219-26. Manchester, N.H.: Saint Anselm College Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Law summarizes the rhetorical effects of the Proslogion while observing that the work was probably originally drafted simply to bring joy to its first intended audience, the monks of Bec.]

The epigraph for this talk is from Sir Richard Southern's notable book first published twenty-five years ago, Saint Anselm and His Biographer (1963): the Proslogion “was written in a state of...

(The entire section is 2847 words.)

Paschal Baumstein (essay date March 1992)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Baumstein, Paschal. “Benedictine Education: Principles of Anselm's Patronage.” American Benedictine Review 43, no. 1 (March 1992): 3-11.

[In the following essay, Baumstein outlines the influence of Anselm's character and ideals on the fundamental principles of Benedictine education.]

When creating the Benedictine college in Rome in 1687, Innocent XI promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Inscrutabili. That decretal invested Anselm of Bec (1033-1109) as the athenaeum's titular. It also lent him empire, ordaining that his thought, his perspective, should be embraced as the topos of all Benedictine education. The school's faculty was bound to vigilant...

(The entire section is 2676 words.)

C. J. Mews (essay date 1992)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Mews, C. J. “St. Anselm and Roscelin: Some Texts and Their Implications.” Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen age 58 (1992): 55-98.

[In the following excerpt, Mews concentrates on the text and arguments of Anselm's Epistola de Incarnatione Verbi, a polemical treatise aimed against Roscelin of Compiègne's conception of the Trinity.]

The solid reputation of St Anselm as thinker and saint could scarcely be more different from the few hazy details commonly remembered about Roscelin of Compiègne.1 Was not St Anselm a deeply spiritual monk determined to explain his religious faith in terms of reason rather than of written...

(The entire section is 6674 words.)

J. F. Worthen (essay date 1993)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Worthen, J. F. “Augustine's De trinitate and Anselm's Proslogion: ‘Exercere Lectorum.'” In Collectanea Augustiniana, edited by Joseph T. Lienhard, Earl C. Muller, and Roland J. Teske, pp. 517-29. New York: Peter Lang, 1993.

[In the following essay, Worthen asserts that St. Augustine in his De trinitate and Anselm in his Proslogion engage in a narrative process of leading readers toward an understanding of God, and compares the methods used by both writers to achieve this goal.]


The power of speech, Socrates says in the Phaedrus, consists in ψυχαγωγία, which we might translate as “the...

(The entire section is 5594 words.)

Montague Brown (essay date 1994)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Brown, Montague. “Anselm's Argument for the Necessity of Incarnation.” Proceedings of the PMR Conference (1994): 39-52.

[In the following essay, Brown evaluates and ultimately rejects Anselm's rational claims in his Cur Deus Homo regarding the necessity of God's Incarnation as Christ in order to save humanity.]

In Cur deus homo, Anselm presents a rational argument for the necessity of the Incarnation, an argument suitable for convincing nonbelievers that the Incarnation is not only possible (that is, it does not involve a contradiction), but can be shown, by natural reason alone, to be necessary. Since there are many (believers as well as...

(The entire section is 5810 words.)

Ryan Topping (essay date February 2002)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Topping, Ryan. “Transformation of the Will in St. Anselm's Proslogion: A Response to Augustine's Articulation of the Problem of Human Evil.” European Legacy 7, no. 1 (February 2002): 33-43.

[In the following essay, Topping explores Anselm's response to St. Augustine's formulation of human will as the root cause of evil, seeing Anselm's solution to this problem in the transformation of man's will through the contemplation of God.]


Anselm wrote the Proslogion between 1077 and 1078 while abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Bec, in Normandy. While little is known of his youth, much is known about his...

(The entire section is 6066 words.)