Anselms Quest and an Opposed Subjectivity

Anselm tells us that the Proslogion was undertaken because he wanted an argument for the existence and nature of God which conformed to the divine nature. He was dissatisfied with the form of the Monologion which he characterized as a concatenation of many arguments woven together. He wanted, instead, unum argumentum which by its own simplicity and self-sufficiency imaged the divine self-sufficient unity (Anselm 1946, Prooemium, p. 93, lines 5-7). The quest for a thinking which conforms in this way to its divine object led him to his famous proof and constitutes an itinerarium mentis in deum. Anselm's quest derives from what in Augustine most distinguishes him from his pagan Neoplatonic sources and even more from his contemporaries, but has good grounds in

Aristotle, namely a conformity of thought's ultimate object and the human mens because the first principle is self-reflective (Hankey 1999a, 116-123; Crouse 2000, 42).

Anselm's quest for one argument in which his reasoning about God has the same form as its object brings him to a state of fatigue and despair because he is able neither to reach what he desires nor to give up the search. The object of his quest seems to belong to him and to be easily reachable, but it slips away each time he tries to grasp it. In the depth of his helpless misery, what he sought is given. Because it was sought, when given it is recognised and "eagerly embraced" (Anselm 1946, Prooemium, p. 93, lines 15-16). The search which led to despair, and in despair received what it sought, involved a comparison carried out by human reason between itself and its divine goal. Reason is not of itself able to pass over immediately by its own power into the divine thinking, but reason is able to know the character of the difference and to compare itself to what is thus for it and beyond it. The difference is bridgeable because the ultimate simplicity contains difference.

The God at whom Anselm arrives is more trinitarian in the Augustinian sense than is the simple Good of Boethius. The human and divine trinities mirror each other.18 The trinitarian unum necessarium which is the satisfaction of Anselm's quest is able to give its very essence to the human, and the human is able finally to remain with and to be satisfied with the divine Goodness (Anselm 1946, 23-26, pp. 117-22). The end of Anselm's quest is union of the human with the absolutely First, a unity in which human reason is preserved and in which every good is found and enjoyed. Anselm's God includes in itself the divided activity and the quest which belong to reason. In consequence, the ultimate result is not a systematic development of the forms of knowledge and reality. The satisfaction of Anselm's desire does not require the production and maintenance of the differentiated cosmos. Rather, a direct dialogue between the human and the divine dominates from beginning to end. So, when Anselm was forced to give the work a title, he called it Proslogion, id est alloquium (Anselm 1946, Prooemium, p. 94, lines 8-13).

Throughout the Proslogion, Anselm's address, or exhortation, is alternatively to himself and to God. To make this evident, the first address to himself and to God in Chapter One begins with the same word, Eia, "Go" (Anselm 1946, 1, pp. 97-98: "Eia nunc, homuncio...Eia nunc ergo tu, domine deus meus..."). Significantly, when the goal of the quest is reached, there is no division between the seeker's address to himself and to God. In the last Chapter, God is asked affirm that the seeker has reached what the Lord counseled him to demand and Anselm asserts that he will go on seeking and receiving in accord with the Lord's command (Anselm 1946, 26, p. 120, lines 23-25 and p. 121, lines 19-21.

The first address (Chapter 1) is by the one who seeks to himself as other and in his otherness. He seeks rest and joy in an inner place of peace but is "exiled a long way off", weighed down by occupations, tumultuous thoughts, cares, and labours. This externalized self is identified in the first Chapter as belonging to the fallen Adam who lost and remembers bitterly a former fullness. In the next Chapter (2), he reappears as the Fool who has said "There is no God". In his various identities, this is someone who can say what neither he nor anyone can think, because of the externality of words to their


Such a one must be exhorted to turn inward toward God. God is addressed with the demand that he reveal his face hidden "in inaccessible light," (Anselm 1946, 1, p. 98, line 4) a place where he ought to be known because it is light, but where, in fact, he is inaccessible because, as we discover later, God is greater than what is able to be conceived (Anselm 1946, 15, p. 112, line 15).20 The work depends upon the self-division such addresses and demands, such a quest and comparison of the states of the self, such a difference between ought and is reveals, requires and intensifies.

Though Anselm begins with an exhortation to search, the fundamental problem is that he must search. But search is inescapable for the believer. Faith by its nature, distinguished as it is from vision, intellectus, and possession compels search. Continuing the quest, which requires acknowledged loss, involves both the intensification of the self-division, and also the intensification of its accompanying sense of loss. Both intensifications are essential for attaining the object of the quest and thus healing the divided self. To resolve the dilemma which the search entails, the questing, reasoning and choosing self must be embraced, what is negative in desire must be overcome. So the seeker prays that God will accept his labours and strivings, will reveal Himself to seeking (Anselm 1946, 1, p. 100, lines 8-12).

Intensified quest leads again and again to the despair whose structure is exhibited in the Prooemium. In Chapter One the kinds of self-alienation are elaborated. There are the problems implied by search and desire themselves and those involved in not being able to see what is everywhere. Problems arise also from the incapacity to know the Cause for and by which we are made and from the willful loss of what was fully possessed. The human will which seeks seems itself to be evil. "I reached out for God and I fell upon my own self" (Anselm 1946, 1, p. 99, lines 11-12).

The problems have, however, correlative solutions. While the inadequacy of faith to its object compels the search for vision, understanding and possession, faith is also the way beyond the loss it both makes evident and creates. The self can remember what it lost and who it was because it remains an image of the Creator even if a darkened one: "You have created me in your own image so that I remember you I know you and I love you" (Anselm 1946, 1, p. 100, lines 12-13). The trinitarian soul is itself the basis for union with its trinitarian source and contains the means of recognizing what it seeks and willing what it has lost. The unknown Cause can remake what it has made and the remaking and renovation are in and through the one who suffered the loss.

The solution is in the relation between two selves, or more correctly between two aspects of the self which reason compares. Comparison is the very heart of this work. Its famous proof of God's existence, the name of God on which the proof depends and the demonstration of the divine nature and attributes, all make this clear. The proof depends upon comparing two ways of existing: what is in intellect only and what is both in intellect and in reality (Anselm 1946, 2, p. 101, lines 13-18). The name reaches to what is mains. The demonstration depends on a comparison which attributes to God whatever it is better to be than not to be (Anselm 1946, 5, p. 104, line 9).

It is in the course of showing what God is (Anselm 1946, 5, p. 104, line 11: "Quid igitur es, domine deus, quo nil maius valet cogitari" that both the intensification of the self-division, and also the intensification of its accompanying sense of loss occur so as to lead to solution. These intensifications result from comparisons, comparisons consequent upon the quest to know God's existence by a single argument depending on no other.

These are comparisons consequent upon the quest to know God's nature by the same formula through which God's existence has just been demonstrated. The formula requires comparing thoughts with one another. But these are thoughts about a being in which thought and existence cannot be separated. Further, being is hierarchically graded. Objects of knowledge are more or less true in virtue of their degree of being, and are more or less knowable or beyond knowledge because of their degree of being. Finally, and crucially, the knower ought to know the divine and would if he had not forsaken his true self. On this account, and because knowledge is equivalent to enjoyment, and because the knower acquires its being and its well being from the divine object of knowledge, there is a direct correlation between the state of the knower and the degree to which the divine is grasped or lost. Failure or success in the knowledge of God determines the knower's ontological status and moral worth.

What kind of human subject do we have here? Anselm's human subject is inherited by him from Augustine. We may call it concrete, in comparison with the stripped down Plotinian subject founded in the One, a subject so abstract as to cause the post-Iamblichan reaction against it.21 In contrast for Anselm the whole human self demands satisfaction. In Chapter One, the lost fullness ructabat saturatite.22 Anselm never surrenders his demand that even the sensual in the human be satisfied in the single Good. All goods must somehow be found in that Good, just as even the divided, questing, varying activity of reason must take us there.

This concreteness adds to what is at stake in the quest. Everything is at stake. In coming to know, and thus to enjoy the divine object of the quest, we are either fully satisfied and fully ourselves, or utterly lost and empty. In consequence each experienced failure to know and enjoy what God is produces a crisis, and each crisis is worse, until we finally come to a principle by which the ever growing distance between knower and known can be bridged.

The first of these crises, reiterating in form the crisis described in the Prooemium is in the middle of the work at Chapter Fifteen, showing that God is greater than can be conceived. Chapter Five began the demonstration of God's nature and attributes: "That than which nothing greater can be conceived" is the greater or better which lacks no good. Attributes are ascribed to God so understood in the chapters from Six to Fourteen so that God has perception without being a body, omnipotence without being able to do everything. God has compassion and is also passionlessness, just and merciful, and all these contradictory things without self-contradiction.

But, in every case, God is discovered to have all these qualities in a way opposite to the way in which humans have them: "according to your nature, not according to ours" (Anselm, 1946, 10, p. 109, line 2). Because of the difference between our mode of being and God's, the more God is known, the more distant he becomes and the less he is knowable by us. This contradiction between our way of being and God's is developed more intensely when, first, the difference between the way in which God has qualities and the way creatures have them is brought out. Unlike creatures: "Whatever you are, you are through nothing other than yourself" (Anselm 1946, 12, p. 110, line 6). Next, the divine spiritual substance is located relative to other spiritual beings: God alone "is, as a whole, at the same time, everywhere" (Anselm 1946, 13, p. 110, line 22). Since Anselm supposes that he knows God best as imaged in his own soul, these reflections bring him to ask "How and Why God is seen and not seen by those seeking him" (Anselm 1946, 14, p. 111, line 7).

There, midway in his itinerarium, Anselm asks himself the same questions he asked at the beginning, i.e. whether he has found what he sought and why he does not perceive what is in its entirety everywhere. God has become yet more distant and is still not perceived (Anselm 1946, 14, p. 111, line 14: non te sentit.). Increased light has brought increased darkness. Because God's illuminating light is the principle of human reason, the knowledge that God is hid in inaccessible light undermines the basis of human knowing (Anselm 1946, 14, p. 112, lines 5-6ff). Attending to that basis, the knower is pushed deeper into ignorance and from his consciousness of this ignorance he is moved to a mixture of despairing questions and urgent addresses to God. Learned ignorance brings him to discover another consequence of the name of God graciously given to the faithful seeker: God is "a being greater than can be conceived." From this discovery we return to the initial paradoxes: what is everywhere is not seen.23 God dwells in light, but humans are incapable of seeing in it. We know just enough to grasp what is hidden and has been lost.24 No contradiction could be worse, yet the following chapters only increase the pain.

Every delight is in God: harmonia, odor, sapor, lenitas, pulchritudo (the stress on the sensible here is crucial), but in a manner unique to himself and beyond us. We are tossed about in darkness and misery (Anselm 1946, 17, p. 113, line 9). In Chapter Eighteen the despair has become wild: "And behold, again confusion. Behold, again grief and mourning meet him who seeks joy and gladness" (Anselm 1946, 18, p. 113, lines 18-19). This depth is, however, the point at which the argument turns.

Chapters Eighteen to Twenty-one, which consider how God contains everything, are the decisive turning. Out of this deepest despair, enfolded in darkness where he does not find what he sought but rather what he did not seek, Anselm prays.25 In the words of the Psalmist used at the very beginning of the work he demands to see God's face. But this time Anselm asks as well for what Boethius decisively prayed in the Consolation. There the prisoner sought to pass from ratiocination to intellection, from a form of knowing appropriate to the temporal, moving and divided to another which grasps the eternal, simple point around which all else moves.26 Like the prisoner, Anselm also wants to pass over to another way of thinking: Anselm prays to be lifted beyond himself: Releva me de me ad te and to have his eyes illumined "so as to intuit you" (Anselm 1946,18, p. 114, lines 10-12). He wants God to reach across the infinite distance between them and bring him over. Nonetheless, he recognizes that he cannot know the many aspects of the divine goodness as God conceives them: in one simultaneous intuition (Ibid., line 17). The Proslogion, like the Consolation, goes on as if the prayer has been answered, but the answer given Anselm is different from that given Boethius in the same way in which Augustine differs from Proclus. The divine simplicity includes rather than excludes multiplicity.

In the Prooemium, Anselm indicated that the Proslogion was the result of his dissatisfaction with his own earlier argument. The move from the one kind of argument to its opposite requires that the seeker who is through another and whose reason is a passage from one thought to another should not only pass over to the simple self-sufficient fullness which is through itself, but also that he should know this simplicity by a form of thinking appropriate to it. What the Proslogion has reached so far is, instead, the knowledge of a greater and greater difference between the human being and knowing, on the one side, and the divine being and knowing, on the other side. Thus, everything now depends on whether what is other than God, yet existing through God, as through another, is, in fact, contained in God. Is the other (especially the human in the questing otherness which is both the cause and the continuing sign of its Fall, which quest now defines it) excluded from God's ever more recognized difference from us? Or, on the contrary, does God's self-sufficient being include what is in principle divided, and divided from it?

The answer emerges. God is simplicity itself: "you are unity itself which no understanding can divide" (Ibid., line 24). But although God is without parts, understanding his relation to the spatial and temporal is the key: "You are not in place or time but all things exist in thee." "You fill and embrace all things."27 The divine eternity has been separated from the temporal so completely that the temporal can be restored to it. The divine eternity contains (continet) all times, just as God is in all things but is not divided into parts in the way that spatial things are (Anselm 1946, 20, p. 115, lines 9-10: omnia sint te plena et sint in te, sic tamen es sine omni spatio). This notion of a simplicity which embraces and contains is so powerful that by Chapter Twenty-two, Anselm has completed the programme set out in the Prooemium. He has shown that: "Thou art nothing except the one and supreme good; thou art all-sufficient to thyself, and needest nothing; and art he whom all things need for their existence and well-being" (Anselm 1946, 22, p. 117, lines 1-2: non es nisi unum et summum bonum, tu. tibi omnia sufficient, nullo indigent, quo omnia indigent ut sint, et ut bene sint). This unique good can be the unum necessarium, because God contains rather than excludes all else in his perfection.

In Chapter Twenty-three the Trinity is introduced as this totally inclusive unum necessarium. As Trinity God is goodness multiplied as three equal substances. And, this does not break but rather shows the strength of the divine simplicity. "You are simple in such a way that from you nothing is able to be born of you which is other than what you are."28 Anselm exhorts himself to rise to the contemplation of this one thing needful. This simplicity is the all inclusive good which satisfies all desire: "This is that one thing necessary, in which is every good, indeed, which is every good, and a single entire good and the only good" (Anselm 1946, 23, p. 117, lines 20-22: Porro hoc est illud unum necessarium, in quo est omne bonum, immo quod est omne et unum et totum et solum bonum; see Luke 10.42). Not multiplied, God includes otherness in his very simplicity, every good in his simple goodness, and thus, the quest of reason in the knowledge of his simplicity. Contemplation of this inclusive simplicity is a union which confers on the knower a mode of knowledge like that of the object known.

In consequence, the last chapters return to the quest for the enjoyment of God but with confidence because God is now known as simple but inclusive goodness. Nonetheless, because we still do not possess all our good directly in this good, it is not evident that the Trinity satisfies the quest as it was defined at the beginning. What is the character of Anselm's final solution?

Anselm makes clear that the complete enjoyment of all the good in the Divine simplicity, though in principle possible and indeed required from both the divine and the human sides, will necessitate a change in our mode of being.29 For the proper knowledge and enjoyment of God in himself we must pass from time to eternity. Nonetheless, and this essential is repeated in several forms, we are included in that other which is the only good and our good. For example, knowledge will satisfy every desire which the senses have. Further, our love for ourselves and our neighbour will be included in our love of God: "for they love him, and themselves, and one another, through him, and he, himself and them, through himself" (Anselm 1946, 25, p. 119, lines 6-7: quia illi ilium et se et invicem per ilium, et ille se et illos per seipsum [diligent]). In virtue of having the divine will, humans shall have the omnipotence which formerly divided the human and the divine (Anselm 1946, 7; and c. 25, p. 119, lines 8-9). Indeed, time itself and its process are included in our possession of that truly infinite good. Though we cannot possess it now, in virtue of being directed toward that good, we can make progress from day to day until we come to the fullness (Anselm 1946, 26, p. 121, lines 14-16: Et si non possum in hac vita ad plenum, vel proficiam in dies usque dum venial illud ad plenum).

Fruitless quest has become growth. Desire, quest, reason's activity have become activities toward the divine. Anselm now has confidence in and can accept the divine counsel to ask in order to receive the fullness of joy which the one who asks is promised (Anselm 1946, 26, p. 121, lines 18-22). This is the subject of the concluding Chapter as a whole. What is positive in faith has emerged. The quest for God, in despair of our own efforts, is known as the activity of the divine in us. We are in God because otherness and what is through another are in God. All this is contained in "that than which nothing greater can be thought" because in this formula what is known and grasped has essential relation to what is not and cannot be thought. Reason and intellect are held together in a comparing thought which must thus be both.

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  • sara
    What is the argumentum of the Proslogion How is it unum necessarium?
    8 years ago

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