St. Anselm: Theoria and Doctrinal Logic of Perfection

St. Anselm: Theoria and
Doctrinal Logic of Perfection
Nathan R. Kerr
Presented by: Mike Bombak
St. Anselm
Archbishop of Canterbury
Doctor of the Church
Important Father of Scholastic theology
Died 1109, April 21
Learned piety from his mother, but his father
became so abusive to him when she died that
Anselm was driven out.
• Plato was an important source for him and some
would consider him an extreme realist, as opposed
to the moderate realism of later philosophers.
• Source:
Outline of the Article
1. Preamble
2. The Western Theological Crisis of Intellection
3. Analogia Perfectioni: Deification as Constituent of the Doctrine of
4. Analogia Gratiae: Is Anselm Really a Western Theologian?
5. The place of Deification in the West: Retrieving Theologia as
What is Theology For?
• "...all theology {is an} exercise in theoria- of coming to "see" or
"know" God by way of contemplative ascent to the transcendental
attributes of divine being." (175)
• In the West, deification appears as a "doctrinal addendum" which
might give us some insight into who we are as redeemed creatures,
but "offers very little by way of insight into who God is as such and is
se." (175)
The Western Theological Crisis of Intellection
• What is commonly believed in the West:
• "If deification truly signifies our "becoming divine," should it not be the
case that such "divinity" cannot in any sense be dependent upon or
explained in terms of who we are as creatures, but is explicable only in
consequence of the divine will, inaccessible to us in its potentia absoluta?"
• A person is lost and is asking directions to a certain place. He comes across
someone and asks how to get to the place he is going. The person he asks
scratches his head and says "you can't get there from here."
Q: How much is this outlook an
attempt to protect the Transcendence
of God? How much is conditioned by
a faulty anthropology which sees no
good in humankind?
PS- "yes" will not be accepted as an
• Kerr makes a judgement on the West's understanding of theology:
• "Perhaps it is not the case that the West has failed to articulate the
doctrine of deification, but that it has failed to understand the nature
and function of theology, and to put the vision of deification properly
to work." (176)
"To seek to rehabilitate the doctrine {of deification} in the West, then,
is rather to ask again what it means for theology to make recourse to
theoria, in which God alone is the proper "object" of theology. For this
reason, my aim is to re-employ the idiom of theoria not for the sake of
"constructing" a new doctrine of deification for the West, but as a
therapeutic means of identifying what has always been there, never far
beneath the surface, as an ulterior doctrinal locus for its conceived
theological task." (176)
"It is precisely as an exercise in theoria that Anselm's Proslogion illustrates
the kind of 'therapy' that Western theology needs to overcome its present
crisis of intellection." (176)
Q: Kerr would suggest that the way deification is viewed in the West is
systemic of a misunderstanding of theology. What do you think about that?
Q: Is Kerr using the term theoria the same way we use it in the east? (he says
the task of theoria is "redemptive insight into the perfection of the divine
Analogia Perfectioni: Deification as
Constituent of the Doctrine of God
Review: The ontological argument for God's existence.
Anselm "defines" God philosophically as: "that than which nothing
greater can be conceived." (177)
Anselm uses the word "greater" when applied to God, to redefine what
it means truly to exist.
• God exists in a way that nothing else exists:
• "God 'exists' as the reality of existence itself, as the criterion of all
existence and non-existence which is always presupposed in all
thinking of the existence and non-existence of other beings." (177)
"I AM"
God is "is."
" cannot gain a foot-hold in what it is possible to imagine as not
existing." (177)
In order to say that something does not (a version of "is") exist, we
have to use existence itself (is!) as the measuring stick.
" is not by starting from the question of finite existence in general
that we are able to reason to the perfect, because quantitatively
'greater' existence of God; rather it is on the basis of God's qualitatively
'better,' and thus genuinely true, existence that the being of the world
apprehends its essence solely in light of what is believed concerning
the perfect being of God." (177)
We might not be able to get there from here...but He can get here from
There. (Yeah Plato...)
"In this way, Anselm opens a path down which all genuine existence
leads, namely, to the perfect existence of God." (178)
Regarding the 'Beatific Vision' Anselm writes: "The Father has joined us
to his almighty Son as his body and as co-heirs with him, and made us
who are called in his name to be gods. But God is the one who
divinises; you on the contrary will be the one who is divinised." (178)
Q: Does theosis = the Beatific vision? Is it a different articulation of the
same thing?
1028 Because of his transcendence, God cannot be seen as he is, unless
he himself opens up his mystery to man's immediate contemplation and
gives him the capacity for it. The Church calls this contemplation of God
in his heavenly glory "the beatific vision":
How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to
be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ
your Lord and God, . . . to delight in the joy of immortality in the
Kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God's friends.604
1045 For man, this consummation will be the final realization of the unity of the
human race, which God willed from creation and of which the pilgrim Church
has been "in the nature of sacrament."636 Those who are united with Christ will
form the community of the redeemed, "the holy city" of God, "the Bride, the
wife of the Lamb."637 She will not be wounded any longer by sin, stains, selflove, that destroy or wound the earthly community.638 The beatific vision, in
which God opens himself in an inexhaustible way to the elect, will be the everflowing well-spring of happiness, peace, and mutual communion.
Interesting discussion about this online:
(They bring up a couple of interesting points, namely that the work
starts here, alluding to ascetism now etc.)
Analogia Gratiae: Is Anselm Really A Western
"Here we are led to a crucial observation: there is not a single aspect of
our lives, or of the created world as a whole, that is not now bound up
with the existence of God, and the logic of perfection that God's esse
evinces." (179)
Anselm is a distinctive product of "Western" Augustinianism, especially
in his understanding of original sin.
"Anselm goes some way toward reemploying the Western tropes of 'sin' and
'grace' as a means of stressing the idea that we cannot even think
theologically except by way of a faith that believes that the perfect God is
perfecting our own creaturely life in order that we might live as an
everlasting analogical 'performance' of the perfection of God." (179)
"Because God's life is what it is in its perfect existence, we are what we are,
namely, creatures being perfected as creatures by God. Subsequently, who
we are as finite creatures must be capable of being received in such a way as
to mark out for us our journey into the life and being of God." (180)
The life of a theologian:
"The life of theoria - the true life of a theologian- is a mode of life in
which our creatureliness persists and perdures for us in such a manner
as to continually draw us further into the infinitely plenitudinous esse
of God." (181)
The Fall of Man
Because God's existence is the only true existence, choosing apart from
Him in the Garden, Adam and Eve turned to their own "creaturely
finitude" and took this limitude as the limit-case of existence." (181)
Anselm must be not just relying on Augustine here, but also Ireanaus,
because this is his articulation as well.
"Sin, then, is the failure to receive our own creaturely existence as the
harmony and beauty of the divine esse, as that harmony and beauty
that we shall enjoy in inexhaustible fullness in heaven, where we in fact
"will be called 'sons of God' and indeed 'gods,'' being fully divinized as
creatures in relations to our Creator." (P 25) (181)
Sin is playing out of tune with Existence.
Anselm reaffirms that humanity is not sinful by nature through our
relationship to God: "the very essence of God is to exist as one who
makes and remakes us as creatures in God's own image." (182)
"...true goodness is to be found not in the life that is created good, but
in the Good Life that creates; authentic joy is to be found not in the
salvation that the creature experiences, but in the Joyous salvific will
that brings about this redeeming work; true knowledge is inherent not
to the wisdom of creaturely conjecture, but to the Wisdom whose act
of creatio ex nihilo is the source of all knowledge." (183)
This can lead to problems however...
Q: If God is the only one with True existence, if it is ALL about God,
what abuse can this lead to?
The "Place" of Deification in the West:
Retrieving Theologia as Theoria
"What I am suggesting is that our many attempts to search for an
explicit formulation of the doctrine of deification in certain "Western"
thinkers (without attention to method) is highly misdirected and is the
wrong way of approaching the doctrinal impasse between East and
West." (185)
Anselm's theological process, his "how," is important, because he
approaches theology as theoria. (185)

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