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Saint Anselm (1033–1109) was Archbishop of Canterbury and the founder of the philosophical school of Scholasticism.

St. Anselm

Saint Anselm of Canterbury

Quotations of Saint Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury: EGS, Goodreads, Gaiam,

“For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe this: unless I believe, I will not understand.”

“I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that you have created your image in me, so that I may remember you, think of you, love you. But this image is so obliterated and worn away by wickedness, it is so obscured by the smoke of sins, that it cannot do what it was created to do, unless you renew and reform it. I am not attempting, O Lord, to penetrate your loftiness, for I cannot begin to match my understanding with it, but I desire in some measure to understand your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that “unless I believe, I shall not understand.” (Isaiah 7:9)”

“I have written the little work that follows . . . in the role of one who strives to raise his mind to the contemplation of God and one who seeks to understand what he believes.”

“Remove grace, and you have nothing whereby to be saved. Remove free will and you have nothing that could be saved.”

“Thus you are just not because you give what is owed, but because you do what is appropriate to you as the highest good.”

“Spare me through your mercy, do not punish me through your justice.”

“And what we say – that what He willeth is right and what He doth not not will is wrong, is not so to be understood, as if, should God will something inconsistent, it would be right because He willed it. For it does not follow that if God would lie it would be right to lie, but rather that he were not God.”

“Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you: you are gentle with us as a mother with her children; Often you weep over our sins and our pride: tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds: in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us. Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life: by your anguish and labor we come forth in joy. Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness: through your gentleness we find comfort in fear. Your warmth gives life to the dead:your touch makes sinners righteous. Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us: in your love and tenderness remake us. In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness: for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.”

“It is widely accepted that the first ontological argument was proposed by Anselm of Canterbury in 1078 in his Proslogion. Anselm defined God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”, and then argued that this being could exist in the mind. He suggested that, if the greatest possible being exists in the mind, it must also exist in reality. If it only exists in the mind, a greater being is possible—one which exists in the mind and in reality.” from Wikipedia

I have difficulty in considering Saint Anselm’s writing to be central to philosophy, and yet it is a quest to understand human reality and relate to a conception of reality in a responsible manner. The problem arises with Anselm’s core belief, “Unless I believe, I will not understand.”

It would appear obvious that one can choose to believe in any one of an infinity of possibilities, and that many, if not most of these possibilities would be absurd. Thus, by Anselm’s view, there must be some choosing from the infinity of a single thing to believe in, and he has chosen God. There must be some guiding principle for making a choice. Science has chosen testable natural physical reality as its guide for belief, and Anselm has chosen God. The problem becomes one of discovering what it is that Anselm believes. He seems to be addressing a thinking moral being, similar to himself but vastly more advanced. He seems to be addressing a once living human being, Jesus, but even that is only a conduit to the higher being, God. And, he quickly admits that God is unknowable because his thoughts are too advanced for the human being to understand.

My quest to understand Anselm’s, “Unless I believe, I will not understand.”  is driven back to a similar statement, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all your getting get understanding.” Both of these statements seem to be placing an ultimate good before the means to understand what that ultimate good consists of, and yet wisdom isn’t beyond the capacity of humans to understand, as is God. Wisdom consists of common sense to an uncommon degree, and it is developed in response to an individual’s anticipated real needs. Wisdom becomes an open door to personal growth and achievement. Belief in an unknown, and assumed to be unknowable, deity and his desires precipitates one into a permanent state of doubt as to what needs to be done to please him. We don’t know what we should do. We are left no other choice but to beg for mercy, because we will unknowingly fail to please, no matter what we choose to do.

Wisdom will increase your understanding, but belief will shrink it.