Jacques Maritain Center : History of Philosophy / by William Turner


Life. St. Anselm is a type of Scholastic altogether different from Roscelin and Abelard. He was born at Aosta in Lombardy, in 1033. In 1060 he entered the monastery of Bec. In 1078 he succeeded Lanfranc as abbot of Bec, and in 1093 became Lanfranc's successor in the archiepiscopal see of Canterbury. As primate of England he resisted with extraordinary firmness the encroachments of the secular power. He died in 1109. His life, written by his friend and disciple, Eadmer, a monk of Canterbury, is published by Migne.{1} Sources. The works of St. Anselm{2} include the following treatises: Monologium, Proslogium, De Veritate, De Libero Arbitria, De Fide Trinitatis (against Roscelin), Cur Deus Homo? (on redemption and atonement), De Incarnatione Verbi, and Dialogus de Grammatico. Among recent additions to our secondary sources mention must be made of Rule's Life and Times of St. Anselm (2 vols., London, 1883) and Vigna, Sant' Anselmo, Filosofo (Milan, 1899), Rigg, S. Anselm of Canterbury, London, 1896.


Problem of Universals. St. Anselm seems to have attempted a compromise between the exaggerated realism of Erigena and the nominalism of Roscelin. He is a realist, as appears from his refutation of Roscelin and from his use of the term substance to designate the universal. But what is his precise position as to the manner in which the universal exists outside the mind? In the first place, he is clearly and unmistakably an Augustinian Platonist as to the existence of universals ante rem in the mind of God.{3} In the second place, he speaks of goodness (and what he says of goodness he implies to be true of other universals) as existing "in diversis, sive in illis aequaliter, sive inaequaliter consideretur." It is impossible to determine more accurately St. Anselm's doctrine of universals, because, apparently, he did not succeed in finding a more definite answer to Porphyry's questions. When, however, he called attention to the sensism latent in Roscelin's nominalism, and when, as in Monologium, X, he insisted on the distinction between sense by which the singular is perceived and intellect by which the universal is known, he prepared the way for the moderate realism which is based on a psychological analysis, and which could never have been discovered by means of the dialectical disputes of Roscelin and Abelard.

Relation of Philosophy to Theology. Faith and reason, far from contradicting each other, aid each other. Intelligo ut credam has for its complement Credo ut intelligam. Reason, of itself feeble and liable to error, is illuminated by the supernatural light of faith, so that the new fields of inquiry opened up to it by revelation are not beyond its scope. Indeed, St. Anselm attaches more importance to the Credo ut intelligam than to the Intelligo ut credam.{4} The relation between reason and revelation between philosophy and theology -- is further elucidated by the following principles:

Rectus ordo exigit ut profunda Christianae fidei credamus priusquam ea praesumamus ratione discutere. Negligentiae mihi esse videtur si postquam confirmati sumus in fide, non studemus quod credimus intelligere.{5}

The Credo ut intelligam is evidently an echo of St. Augustine's Crede ut intelligas. The Intelligo ut credam is the formula of Scholasticism, the justification of the use of dialectic and of the application of dialectic to dogma within the limits of orthodoxy. It is interesting to note in St. Anselm's philosophy the development of another element which is as essential to Scholasticism as is the use of dialectic, namely, the union of faith and reason, of theology and philosophy. Erigena united the two sciences by identifying them; St. Anselm recognizes that they cannot contradict each other, yet he contends that each has its separate sphere. It was left for the masters of Scholasticism in the thirteenth century to trace the lines by which the field of theological inquiry is marked off from the domain of philosophy. St. Anselm's Method. St. Anselm adheres closely to the doctrines of St. Augustine. He states explicitly that St. Augustine is his favorite author, and that he never said anything which could not be corroborated by the writings and sayings of the bishop of Hippo. We are not surprised, therefore, to find that both in his philosophical method and in the contents of his philosophy Anselm reproduces the Christian Platonism of St. Augustine. God and the human soul are for him, as they were for his favorite author, the great subjects of inquiry: "Noverim me, noverim te!" He starts, for example, with the idea of the good, the just, the great, and rises by what has sometimes been called Platonic induction to the idea of goodness, justice, greatness, -- to the idea of God.

Theodicy. In the opening chapters of the Monologium Anselm recites the various Platonic and Augustinian arguments for the existence of God, -- from the necessity of a permanent, immutable standard of justice, goodness, etc., from the evidences of order in the universe, and from the gradation of beings. While acknowledging the force of these arguments, St. Anselm (as he tells us in the prooemium to the Proslogium) began to inquire whether an argument could not be found which would of itself be sufficient to prove the existence of God. Such a proof he finally discovered and formulated in the Proslogium. It is known as the ontological argument, and is as follows: We define God as a being than which nothing greater can be thought. Now, there is in the mind the idea of such a being. But such a being must exist outside the mind; for, if it did not, it would not be that than which nothing greater can be thought. Therefore, God exists not only in the mind, as an idea, but also outside the mind, as a reality. St. Anselm presents the argument in two slightly different forms.{6} The résumé just given is a brief form of the argument as it occurs in the third chapter of the Proslogium.{7}

Anselm, in formulating the argument, alluded to the fool (insipiens) who, according to the Psalmist, "hath said in his heart: There is no God." Gaunilo, a monk of the monastery of Marmoutiers, criticised the argument in a work entitled Liber pro Insipiente,{8} to which Anseim replied in a Liber Apologeticus contra Gaunilonem. The controversy was conducted with the greatest courtesy. Gaunilo acknowledged the merit of Anselm's work, and Anselm praised his adversary and thanked him for his criticism. At a later time St. Thomas examined the ontological argument of St. Anselm and called attention to what is really the fatal flaw in every ontological proof, -- the transition from the ideal to the real, from the world of thought to the world of things.{9} Albertus Magnus neither approved nor disapproved the argument. St. Bonaventure did not mention it; Duns Scotus adopted it and endeavored to give it greater strength; Ockam and Gerson rejected it; and in modern times it has been renewed in a slightly different form by Descartes and Leibniz. Of Kant's criticism of the argument mention will be made in the proper place.

It is necessary to remark that in a philosophy based on the ultra-realistic doctrine of universals, according to which the highest ideas of the human mind, substance, body, etc., as well as the generic concepts, animal, plant, etc., are realities existing as such, one may consistently maintain that the highest and most perfect of all our ideas -- the idea of a being than which nothing greater can be thought -- necessarily possesses objective reality.

From the idea of God as supremely perfect (quo nihil majus cogitari potest) St. Anselm deduces a whole system of natural theology: God is infinite, eternal, the sum of all perfection, the origin of all created being.

Psychological Doctrines. St. Anselm did not compose a separate treatise on psychology: the points of doctrine which are here gathered under the title "Psychological Doctrines" are found scattered through his different works. For instance, in the Monologium{10} he describes in general terms the origin of ideas:

Quamcumque rem mens, seu per corporis imaginationem, seu per rationem. cupit veraciter cogitare, ejus utique similitudinem quantum valet in ipsa sua cogitatione conatur exprimere.
From which one may conclude that our philosopher, rejecting the doctrine of innatism, teaches that our ideas are formed from things by the abstractive power of the mind. By the words imago, exprimere, etc., he suggests the doctrine of intentional species which afterwards became so well known in the schools.

In the treatise De Veritate, St. Anseim distinguishes three kinds of truth, -- veritas enunciationis, veritas cogitationis, and veritas voluntatis. A proposition is true when it expresses the relation existing between things; a thought is true when we judge (cogitamus) that to be which is, and that not to be which is not; the will is true when we will what we ought, to will. The truth of the will is moral rectitude. In fact, truth of whatever kind is rectitude; truth may, therefore, be defined "Rectitudo sola mente perceptibilis."{11}

In the Monologium{12} he speaks of the immortality of the soul. In his treatment of this, as well as of other questions, he deals chiefly with the religious and moral aspect of the problem, arguing that the soul is immortal because otherwise it could not love and enjoy God for all eternity. St. Anselm attached special importance to the will and its freedom, devoting to this subject the incomplete treatise De Libero Arbitrio, and the more comprehensive work De Concordia Praescientiae cum Libero Arbitrio. In these treatises he is concerned not so much with proving that the will is free as with showing that freedom does not consist in the power of sinning, that no will is so free as that of the righteous man, and that neither temptation nor sin can take away our freedom so long as we live.{13}

Moral Doctrines. Like St. Augustine, St. Anselm is at pains to show that evil is merely the absence or negation of good. Passing from the notion of evil to that of moral good (rectitudo), he identifies the latter with justice. Man, he teaches, should do good for the sake of the good itself: "propter ipsam rectitudinem." Herein Anselm's teaching apparently approaches very near to the Kantian doctrine of autonomous will and moral purism. The resemblance is, however, merely apparent. St. Anselm never intended us to forget that, while the good, for its own sake, is the immediate motive of action, the ultimate reason of all moral action is the will of God.' Moral evil (injustitia), since it is a negation, does not require a cause. Physical evil such as pain, blindness, etc., which St. Anselm calls incommodum, may be a positive thing, and may be caused by God.2

Historical Position. Perhaps the most important of all the theological treatises of the Middle Ages before the time of St. Thomas is St. Anselm's Cur Deus Homo? a work in which is propounded the Catholic doctrine of redemption and atonement. St. Anselm as a theologian does not, however, interest us here. As a philosopher he is best known by his ontological argument, which is his most important contribution to philosophy. The argument is one of many indications of the similarity of our philosopher's method and spirit to the method and spirit of St. Augustine. St. Anselm has been styled "the last of the Fathers," "the Augustine of the eleventh century." And indeed one cannot fail to observe the tendency of his mind to take the Augustinian, which is ultimately the Platonic, view of philosophical method, -- to proceed by way of descent from the higher to the lower, rather than by way of ascent from the lower to the higher, in human thought and human knowledge. Still, our saint is a genuine Scholastic, a continuator of the tradition of the schools, a precursor of Albert and St. Thomas, a genuine representative of the Neo-Latin civilization. He is the monk-philosopher. His lifelong training in the cloister left its impress on his character as a man and on the style as well as the contents of his philosophical works.

{1} Patr. Lat., Vol. CLVIII, coll. 50 ff.

{2} Ibid., Vols. CLVIII-CLIX.

{3} Monologium, XXVI-XXVII.

{4} Cf. Proslogium, Cap. 1.

{5} Cur Deus Homo, I, 1-2.

{6} Cf. Chapters and 3 of the Proslogium.

{7} The following is a stricter form of the argument: "Nomine Dei intelligitur id quo nihil majus cogitari potest. Atqui id quo majus cogitari nequit, existit non solum in intellectu, sed in re; si enim in solo intellectu est, potest cogitari esse et in re; quod majus est: nam quod existit in intellectu et re simul, certe majus est quam quod existit in mente solum. Ergo, . . ." cf. Divus Thomas, Series 2, Vol. II, p. 307.

{8} Cf. Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CLVIII, col. 242.

{9} Cf. Sum. Theol., Ia, II, 1, ad 1um; and Contra Gentiles, I, 11.

{10} Cap. 33.

{11} De Veritate, col. 469.

{12} Capp. 68, 69, 72.

{13} Cf. De Lib. Arbitr., Cap. 1.

{14} De Verit., Cap. 12.

{15} De Concordia, etc., Cap. 7.

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