April 15, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The wisdom of the saints: St. Anselm

John F. FinkGod is “a being than whom nothing greater can be conceived.” That’s St. Anselm’s definition of God from his book Proslogion. He wrote, “There is truly a being than which nothing greater can be conceived to exist that it cannot even be conceived as non-existent.”

In other words, using a double negative, such a being cannot be conceived of as not existing. If he didn’t exist, he wouldn’t be a being than whom nothing greater can be conceived. This, then, was his proof of God’s existence.

St. Anselm’s feast is usually celebrated on April 21, but that date is Holy Thursday this year.

Anselm is considered the most important philosopher and theologian between St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. He is known as the “Father of Scholasticism” for his efforts to analyze and illumine the truths of faith through the aid of reason.

Anselm wrote, “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe—that unless I believe I shall not understand.”

He was born to French noble parents in northern Italy in 1033. He served as abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of Bec in Normandy until he was named the Archbishop of Canterbury in England in 1093 when he was 60. He had a contentious time with Kings Rufus and Henry I, going into exile twice as he fought for the freedom of the Church. He died in 1109.

His principal writings, which he wrote while he was abbot, were Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man), the Monologion that restated arguments others had made about God’s existence, and the Proslogion with his original proofs of God’s existence and contemplation of God’s attributes.

In the Proslogion, he wrote that he had discovered that God as the supreme being “is life itself, light, wisdom, goodness, eternal blessedness and blessed eternity. He is everywhere, and he is timeless.”

He prayed, “O God, let me know you and love you so that I may find my joy in you; and if I cannot do so fully in this life, let me at least make some progress every day, until at last that knowledge, love and joy come to me in all their plenitude.”

He continued his prayer by asking God to let him learn to know him better while he was on Earth so that in heaven he would know him fully, love God deeper here so that he may love him fully in heaven, and have great joy and hope on Earth so that in heaven he would have complete joy in the fulfillment of his hope.

He concluded his prayer: “Let this hope of mine be in my thoughts and on my tongue; let my heart be filled with it, my voice speak of it; let my soul hunger for it, my body thirst for it, my whole being yearn for it, until I enter into the joy of the Lord, who is Three in One, blessed for ever. Amen.” †

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