Proslogion: Book discussion Ch. 8-11

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I am continuing with my analysis within Fariba’s awesome book discussion on St. Anselm’s Proslogion. In week two, which I am a bit late on supplying my analysis, the chapters that are examined are eight through sixteen. I will be examining chapters eight through eleven as St. Anselm explains how God can be both merciful and impassible.

I do enjoy St. Anselm’s examination on the topic of God being both merciful and impassible more than his examination of the existence of God. I do believe his ontological argument works better when attempting to understand an infinitely omniscient and all powerful being. In chapter eight, St. Anselm really just poses the question, “How can he be both merciful and impassible?” It’s interesting that I find St. Anselm’s response very simple, yet, complex to ponder. St. Anselm answers this question by stating, “ You are [merciful] according to our experience but are not [merciful] according to your experience.”[1] The short answer in explaining St. Anselm’s meaning is that God is simply a divine mystery. A deeper look into the theology of a merciful God that is supremely good is the understanding that humanity not being God cannot understand what is supremely good for humanity operates with the notion of natural rights created by God, but does not confine God. For if something existed that confined God, he would cease to be God. Furthermore, if humanity fully understood the mysteries of God, he would also cease to be God. So again, how is God both merciful and impassible? Many atheists challenge the idea of God because they view the world’s suffering and will not follow a God that allows the free will to commit such atrocities. Overall, this sentiment both St. Anselm’s posed question and the Atheist challenge reminds of the commonly asked question by nonbelievers, “Can an All Powerful God create an immovable rock?” The answer is “Yes, and Yes.” For God can create a rock that he cannot move, and yet, move it all the same because God is not confined to the understandings of humanity.

In chapter 9 of the Proslogion, the reader is met the basic question does a God of infinite goodness do evil by saving those who are evil or allowing evil to exist? St. Anselm writes, “Why, then, good God—good to those who are good to those who are evil—why do You save those who are evil, if [to do] this Is not just and if You do not do anything that is not just?[2] St. Anselm answers the question by stating that “You are also beneficent to those who are evil. For You would be less good if You were beneficent to none of those who are evil.”[3] The logic of St. Anselm here is convincing to me—unlike the logic of his argument for God—because God to be infinitely good must be a state of infinite goodness that is impassible for a supremely good being must good to all or they would be less good, or simply, not God.

In chapter 10-12, St. Anselm continues to develop the idea of how God can be merciful to those who are evil, and if by his will supply what humanity would believe is justice.  St. Anselm explains that in accordance with God’s justice that appears to contradict our own justice that when God spares those who are evil that “You are just in Yourself but are not just from our viewpoint.”[4] A servant of God cannot know His will unless it has been revealed to us through divine revelation, it is a sentiment explained throughout the Book of Job and Job’s conclusion to the events:

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’
I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees thee;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”[5]

The servant of God must simply have faith and trust that although there is suffering and that evil has been given mercy when it appears it deserves justice. We do not have the ability to discern what is for the greater good, because if we did have the ability, God would not be God because he would not be greater in this aspect. In this regard, it is perhaps the best to understand St. Anselm’s argument for the existence of God as a prerequisite to understanding God’s nature as both merciful and impassible—both good and just towards evil.

[1]  Anselm of Canterbury, trans, by Jasper Hopkins and Herbert Richardson, The Complete Philosophical and Theological Treatises of Anselm of Canterbury (Minneapolis: Arthur J. Benning Press, 2000), 97.

[2] Ibid, 98.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 100.

[5] Job 42:3-6 RSV

6 thoughts on “Proslogion: Book discussion Ch. 8-11

  1. I love your reference to Job! Job demands an answer to God but never really expects to encounter God. When God appears to him, Job is reminded that God has never abandoned him. Simply knowing that God hears us and is near is very comforting to those who suffer.

    Your reflection got me thinking about Judas and whether Judas can be saved – in fact whether all people will be saved. Anselm says that a Gos who gives good to and loves evil people is greater than a God who only loves good people. What about salvation? Wouldn’t a God who forgives and saves all people regardless of whether they turn to Him be greater than a God who does not? I am just taking Anselm’s argument to it’s logical conclusion. It seems to me that the universalist hope (like von Balthasar’s) is not only nice to think about but maintains God’s sovereignty. God always wins because Grace always wins over all human attempts to do away with God. It would be a great show of Grace for God to save Judas when Judas thought he was beyond salvation. Purgatory though is consistent and necessary because it upholds justice and purifies the sinner (justice and Grace).

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    1. It’s a very complex thought that branches off into various webs of utter confusion, which is why scholasticism is a pursuit for those who do dive off into at it, do so at their own risk.

      For me, I think I accept the mystery of God’s immutable infinite and omnipotent uniqueness as something that is both beyond me, which makes God divine. Of course, this is what St. Anselm I think means by explaining that God would no longer be God if we could understand such mysteries about him.

      Wouldn’t God save all people? It’s a beautiful thought and also an appealing one, but pulled away from the scholastics web, doesn’t Christ say otherwise time after time? For example, in the parable of the wheat and the tares, Christ examines that the tares have their place after they have been sewn by the enemy; however, when the harvest comes they will burn in the fire. This parable is just one example from the mouth of Christ in accordance to the central teachings of the Kingdom of God.

      We also must explore the Christology of Christ. Christ has two wills, explained beautifully by Father Benedict in volume two of his Jesus of Nazareth series. Father Benedict explains this by illustrating them in the garden during the Passion story. The third council of Constantinople validates the incarnate Lord as both divine and man. After all, Christ prayed to be relieved from death.

      We also get into the protestant theology of Sola Fide. Does Judas still have faith, even though he does betray Christ? Judas is ashamed that he hangs himself, does this protestant theology assert that Judas believes and therefore is saved?

      The more we dig into this idea, we’ll begin to ask about predestination? Was Judas handpicked by God to betray the Son of Man?

      I think St. Thomas Aquinas answers many of these question in his Summa. He explains the wills of Christ. We do, in fact, have free will, but God stands outside of time. It again, must be left as a mystery, therefore, I am inclined to still believe in the doctrine of the Church that our actions do still matter.

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    2. I trust that it was grace of the Holy Spirit that I was reading about Job when I read over those chapters of Proslogion. The Catechism speaks that the world is in the state of gaining perfection, and that we may all be subject to the growing pains, this is the lesson that even Job had to understand.

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      1. I love the idea of the world moving toward perfection. It’s amazing how various elements of the faith come together in our minds and hearts SL that we can appreciate even more a story like Job’s. This is why the Bible should be read as a book of worship. The historical-critical method is important but the Scriptures always have a spiritual sense and go together with the liturgy. They do communicate the Word of God. They are not just some documents from the past. Ratzinger says the same in his works. He insists that theology is best done on one’s knees. Knowledge of God begins in prayer. It is therefore fitting that Anselm wrote the Proslogion as a prayer.

        Anselm, like the other scholastics, does deal with predestination and divine election. I have not read his De Concordia yet which attempts to reconcile Grace, sin, human freedom, predestination, and divine foreknowledge, but I suspect that there will be holes in his argument, which is fine since God is that-than-which-nothing-greater-can-be-thought 🙂 At the end of all dialectics should be the appreciation that we just don’t know everything we thought we did. God is just so amazing and we are merely His creation. If theology does not lead to awe I think there’s something wrong. Good discussion.

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      2. Yes, I remember quite well when Pope Benedict took the Jesus historians to task in the early part of his Jesus of Nazareth series.

        My Father use to say something of the nature, “The Bible is not a history book or a science book, it is a book that reveals God to humanity.” It won’t convince a non-believer, but it’s wisdom nonetheless for us who have faith.

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  2. Pingback: Pope Francis the Relativist or the Merciful? – The Latin Community

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