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Faith seeking Understanding
on 23 July 2011
This is a full edition of St Anselm's writings, but the main texts are the Proslogion, that first gave us the 'ontological argument' for the existence of God and the 'Cur Deus Homo', or 'Why God became Man'.
The Proslogion starts with the words of scripture 'The fool says in his heart there is no God' and asks why this is foolish. Anselm's reply is that the idea of God is of the most perfect being and such a being would not be perfect if it were non-existent. In other words, someone who thinks of God as non-existent is not really thinking of God at all. This gave rise to Gaunilo's reply that you could say the same thing about a perfect island and Kant's objection in The Critique of Pure Reason that 'existence is not a predicate' with the famous example of the imaginary $100. Hegel replied in his Lectures on the Proofs of the Existence of God that dollars and islands are finite and so we know from the start that they are the sort of things that might or might not be there, but supposing this about God prejudges the question at issue.
Less well known, but as interesting is the 'Cur Deus Homo'. This argues that man's salvation cannot be a work of man, for sin has made him incapable of saving himself by his works, so the salvation of man must be an act of God, but also an act of Man. Hence the Incarnation and Atonement of Christ follow from God's mercy. These to me are the highlights of the book and I would have been happy with a Oxford World Classics edition of just those, perhaps with the debate with Gaunilo as an appendix. Anselm was a major religious thinker and goes a long way to give an intellectual basis to the Gospel and to religion generally.