ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

151. Metaphysics and Theodicy. -- In accordance with the tendency of his time, St. Anselm approached the problems of philosophy from the side of metaphysics; and, as a result of the plan he adopts, his metaphysical teachings all circle around a vast system of theodicy. His method is that of the regressive, deductive synthesis, so dear to St. Augustine: God is there as the supreme exemplar, efficient and final cause of the whole intelligible and real world. St. Anselm's theodicy is, moreover, the first in the present period really worthy of the name. It takes a large, commanding and masterly view of the whole region of speculation. The influence it exerted on subsequent studies in theology is clearly marked and decisive. Indeed, with St. Anselm scholastic theodicy may be said to have reached the status of a finished science, so that subsequently "the body of the doctrine is unvaried, and each scholastic expounds it after his own fashion".{1} In the Proslogium, and still more in the Monologium -- which sometimes recalls the Confessions of St. Augustine by the sublimity of its inspiration -- we have proofs of the existence of God together with dissertations on the Divine Nature (simplicity, immutability, immensity, etc.), on Creation, Exemplarism, etc. The following points deserve special notice

(1) His arguments for the existence of God; many of which are original. For instance: there is something that is in itself good, in itself great, that cannot be merely communicated but must be or exist of itself; and that is God.{2} Again: the vast visible hierarchy of beings proves that there must be a being superior to all others, a supreme being; and that is the Deity. But the name of St. Anselm is inseparably connected with one special argument for the existence of God: the famous ontological argument.{3} It may be stated thus: "We possess the idea of a being so great that we cannot conceive a greater. But this idea necessarily implies the existence of that being; for existence, being a perfection, must belong to the greatest conceivable being. Therefore God exists."{4} This argument confounds the subjective or ideal order with the objective or real order. To conceive a being which is the greatest possible and which must therefore be conceived as existing is not at all the same thing as to affirm or prove that such a being exists really and objectively.

The argument was attacked by a contemporary of St. Anselm, the monk Gaunilo, who contended and rightly that it was worthless for convincing an atheist. One might as well attempt to demonstrate the existence of an island in the ocean, the most beautiful of all islands, from merely imagining such an island.{5} Most of the great scholastics of the thirteenth century, notably St. Thomas, reject the argument as invalid.

(2) His definition of truth. -- "Res sunt verae quando sunt ut debent," writes St. Anselm in the dialogue De Veritate, -- which shows that he is thinking only of transcendental or ontological truth (the ut debent is the conformity of things with the destination revealed by their essence, the imitation of the Divine essence); though in order to reach this definition he sets out from the truth of judgment. Truth is the rectitude of what is accessible to intelligence alone ("veritas est rectitudo sola mente perceptibilis," De Veritate, 11). It is eternal, stretching beyond the changing mind and having its foundations in God. This language reveals the faithful disciple of St. Augustine (100). The metaphysical teaching of St. Anselm is sound and accurate, though wanting, of course, in the more perfect precision of the later Thomistic teaching.

(3) Defence of the Divine Unity against Roscelin. -- Applying his anti-realism to the dogma of the Trinity, Roscelin fell into tritheism (161). St. Anselm defended the threatened faith in the name of reason, and maintained the unity of God in the name of His infinity. Here his thesis was unimpeachable, but his arguments were not always beyond exception. Indeed, in his anxiety to find weapons in the enemy's arsenal he called in the aid of extreme realistic theories (4). To one excess he opposed the opposite.

(4) Exaggerated Realism. -- St. Anselm is openly realist. "We might indeed call him an extreme realist, were we to take his language literally. We must, however, bear in mind the lack of precision that characterized the language of philosophy in the eleventh century."{6} "He who does not see," says the philosopher of Bec, "how on a multitude of men are specifically one only man, can hardly understand that many persons, each of whom are God, are yet one only God."{7} But St. Anselm did not, any more than his predecessors, interpret extreme realism in that rigorous sense which would have led to pantheism and thereby to the destruction of his whole theodicy: which again shows that the solutions of the Universals problem must be judged historically not by their absolute doctrinal value, but rather in relation to the concrete circumstances of each epoch.{8}

{1} DOMET DE VORGES, op. cit., p. 261.

{2} Ibid., p. 230.

{3} Historians are not agreed about the meaning and value of this argument. In quite recent times new discussions on it have appeared in abundance.

{4} Proslogium, cap. ii.: "Si enim id quo majus cogitari non potest est in solo intellectu, idipsum quo majus cogitari non potest est quo majus cogitari potest. Sed certe hoc esse non potest. Existit ergo procul dubio aliquid quo majus cogitari non valet, et in intellectu et in re."

{5} Liber pro insipiente adversus Anselmum in Proslogio ratiocinantem.

{6} DOMET DE VORGES, op. cit., p. 153.

{7} "Qui nondum intelligit quomodo plures homines in specie sint unus homo, qualiter comprehendit quomodo plures personae quarum singula perfectus Deus est sint unus Deus?" (De Fide Trinitatis, 2).

{8} St. Anselm's realism as expounded in the Monologium, for instance, has nothing in common with the teaching of the De Grammatico, which studies not what things are but what the grammatical forms of language signify.

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