Cambridge Companion to Anselm

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Puritanboard Clerk
Davies, Brian. and Leftown, Brian., eds. The Cambridge Companion to Anselm.

G. R. Evans notes that according to Anselm’s biographer Eadmer, Anselm could sometimes see through walls (Evans 9). Big, if true.

Augustine, Anselm, and Platonism

The backdrop to Augustine’s proof for God’s existence is a “scale of being” (Matthews 63). By putting God at the highest point, he ensures that nothing is higher than God. Augustine will now define God as “if x is superior to the human mind (rational soul) and nothing is superior to x” (cf. On Free Choice of the Will,

(1) Anything that is more excellent than our minds and to which nothing is superior is God.
(2) Truth is more excellent than our minds.
(3) Either truth is God or something superior to truth is God.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

Faith and Reason

While I think most discussions of faith and reason are overrated, Marilyn McCord-Adams gives a rather unique take. She notes how many of Anselm’s dialogues are actually training exercises for the emotions and the mind.

Anselm and Modal Logic

On the simplest reading, modality concerns the meanings of possibility, necessity, and impossibility. The difficulty is whether one potency excludes its contraries. Moreover, the following claim:

“Necessarily, if God know that p, then p”

Does not yield

“If God knows that p, then necessarily p” (Knuuttila 114).

Peter Damian: God can change the invariant patterns which are called natural necessities (611bff). This would defend the view later known as transubstantiation. He holds to temporal or conditional necessity.

Anselm: How can something possibly exist? Take the world before creation. It was possible to exist because of God’s ability to create (Knuuttila 118). Normally, we say that something can be “in virtue of its capability to be,” yet things that do not exist do not have those capabilities. Not surprisingly, Anselm gives a traditional Christian answer: “the power of omnipotence is apparently a power which does not presuppose a passive potency in the subject on which it acts.” The world’s not having a capability to be isn’t to be read as an impossibility.

Perfect Being Theology

Leftow argues that this highest good (Monologion 7) is not itself a property. “Properties are not causes” (Leftow 132). The words we apply to God are analogical. They do not fully express God’s substance. Leftow nicely summarizes it: Perfect being theology tells us about words “that apply to God and would still have described Him even if only He existed” (134).

Much of Leftow’s analysis concerns some highly technical material on the divine nature. It is rewarding, though, since such a discussion forces us to reflect on what it means to say that God is good. For example, God does not feel sorrow in his being. He is impassible. However, His inner state...issues [an] effet we correctly identify as mercy, and this is the reason to say that God’s inner state is one of mercy” (153).

First-order language is language about God. Second-order language is the relation of language to God.

The Ontological Argument

Whatever difficulties one may have with this argument, remember that Anselm originally wrote it as a prayer on divine simplicity. It forces the reader to explore issues relating to God and the mind and what it means to exist.

Truth and Freedom

The next few chapters explore Anselm’s unique view of truth and his somewhat eudaimonistic ethics. Simply stated, freedom of choice is “the power to preserve rectitude” (Visser and Willilams, 179). This doesn’t tell us that much. Rectitude, however, tells us that Anselm has a telos in mind. As the authors note, “Freedom is a power for something” (183). While Anselm probably holds to some form of freedom, he isn’t too interested in what is known today as “power of alternative possibilities” (PAP).

Rectitude factors again in his treatment of truth. As in ethics, truth is teleological. He remains in the medieval tradition, nonetheless, as he sees truth as coextensive with being. Everything receives its being from God.

Anselm’s teleological vision of truth anticipates some speech-act theories. A thing is true not simply because it corresponds to reality. It does that. But a thing’s “getting it right” is “a matter of a statement’s doing its proper job” (219).

Anselm’s value for today isn’t always in his specific conclusions. Those who agree with the ontological argument probably don’t use it in evangelism. Those Protestants who agree with him on substitutionary atonement modify his views on many points. Nonetheless, Anselm was a profound thinker who anticipated many key developments in philosophy of religion and analytic theology.
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