Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Profundity of St. Anselm

I remember the first time I heard one of my undergraduate professors declare that he was no theologian, only a biblical scholar. I was confused, for I had thought that those two occupations were quite identical. Now, when I make the same statement to my students, I see the same confusion written on their faces.

I do long for a more adequate understanding of classical Christian theology. Recently, a chance to sample some came to me as I was asked to teach an apologetics class to the high school students of my local church. Of course, we don’t get too deep in the class, but our discussion of the existence of God led me to seek out more information about the ontological argument.

I am now slowly making my way through a collection of extracts from those who have discussed the ontological argument through the ages (The Ontological Argument: from St. Anselm to Contemporary Philosophers, ed. Alvin Plantinga, with an introduction by Richard Taylor [New York: Doubleday, 1965]). I am still reading extracts from Anselm, so you can tell that I have not made it far.

I’m not sure what to make of the ontological argument. But the following from St. Anselm certainly brings humor, not to mention despair, to my quest for deeper theological understanding.

This is taken from chapter 2 of St. Anselm’s Reply to Gaunilo, p. 16 of the aforementioned collection.

But you will say that although it is in the understanding, it does not follow that it is understood. But observe that the fact of its being understood does necessitate its being in the understanding. For as what is conceived, is conceived by conception, and what is conceived by conception, as it is conceived, so is in conception; so what is understood, is understood by understanding, and what is understood by understanding, as it is understood, so is in the understanding. What can be more clear than this?

I think I’m beginning to understand this, though I’m not sure if it is understood in the understanding, or by understanding, or whatever. What can be more clear than this?

1 comment:

Michael Jackson said...

That all makes great sense. :)