The Proslogion (Latin: Proslogium, lit.'Discourse') is a prayer (or meditation) written by the medieval cleric Saint Anselm of Canterbury between 1077 and 1078. In each chapter, Anselm juxtaposes contrasting attributes of God to resolve apparent contradictions in Christian theology. This meditation is considered the first-known philosophical formulation that sets out an ontological argument for the existence of God.

Illuminated initial from the beginning of the prologue to Anselm's Monologion, late 11th century
AuthorAnselm of Canterbury
Original titleFides quaerens intellectum
LanguageMedieval Latin
Publication date
TextProslogion at Wikisource

The original title for this discourse was to be Faith Seeking Understanding.[1]

Ontological arguments edit

The Proslogion marked what would be the beginning of Saint Anselm's famous and highly controversial ontological arguments for the existence of God. Anselm's first and most famous argument is found at the end of Chapter II, and it is followed by his second argument. While opinions concerning Anselm's twin ontological arguments widely differ—and have differed since the Proslogion was first conceived—there is a general consensus that the argument is most convincing to Anselm's intended audience: Christian believers who seek a rational basis for their belief in God.

First argument edit

There are various reconstructions of Anselm's first argument. Scott H. Moore's analysis is as follows:[2]

  • Proposition 1: God is a being than which none greater can be conceived.
  • Proposition 2: If existence in reality is greater than existence in the mind alone, an imagined being who exists only in our mind is not a "being than which none greater can be conceived." A being than which none greater can be conceived must also exist in reality, where failure to do so would be a failure to be such.
  • Conclusion: Thus a being than which none greater can be conceived must exist, and we call this being God.
  • Because it is greater to exist in reality than in the mind only, the being that nothing greater than can be thought of will exist both in the mind and in reality.

Kant's objection edit

Philosopher Immanuel Kant gave an objection to the argument, although it would be toward ontological arguments in general, rather than at Anselm specifically. In fact, it is actually unclear as to whether Kant had Anselm in mind at all. Kant's objection famously states that "existence is not a predicate." If Kant were considering Anselm's work in his analysis, he certainly left it up to the reader to grasp the applicability of the objection. One possible interpretation is to say that, because existence is not a predicate, a being that exists could not be said to be greater than one that does not exist; they would be equal.[citation needed]

Second argument edit

Donald Viney renders Anselm's second argument as follows:[3]

  1. "God" means "that than which nothing greater can be conceived."
  2. The idea of God is not contradictory.
  3. That which can be thought of as not existing (a contingent being) is not as great as that which cannot be thought of as not existing (a necessary being).
  4. Therefore, to think of God as possibly not existing (as contingent) is not to think of the greatest conceivable being. It is a contradiction to think of the greatest conceivable being as nonexistent.
  5. Therefore, God exists.

Supplement edit

Anselm writes in Chapter XI that "you [God] are not only that than which a greater cannot be conceived, but you are a being greater than can be conceived."

Chapters edit

  • Chapter I: Exhortation of the mind to the contemplation of God.
  • Chapter II: That God Truly Exists
  • Chapter III: That God Cannot be Thought Not to Exist
  • Chapter IV: How the Fool Managed to Say in His Heart That Which Cannot be Thought
  • Chapter V: That God is whatever it is better to be than not to be, and that existing through Himself alone He makes all other beings from nothing
  • Chapter VI: How He is perceptive although He is not a body
  • Chapter VII: How He is omnipotent although He cannot do many things
  • Chapter VIII: How He is both merciful and impassible
  • Chapter IX: How the all-just and supremely just One spares the wicked and justly has mercy on the wicked
  • Chapter X: How He justly punishes and justly spares the wicked
  • Chapter XI: How 'all the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth', and yet how 'the Lord is just in all His ways'
  • Chapter XII: That God is the very life by which He lives and that the same holds for like attributes
  • Chapter XIII: How He alone is limitless and eternal, although other spirits are also limitless and eternal
  • Chapter XIV: How and why God is both seen and not seen by those seeking Him
  • Chapter XV: How He is greater than can be thought
  • Chapter XVI: That this is the 'inaccessible light' in which He 'dwells'
  • Chapter XVII: That harmony, fragrance, sweetness, softness, and beauty are in God according to His own ineffable manner
  • Chapter XVIII: That there are no parts in God or in His eternity which He is
  • Chapter XIX: That He is not in place or time but all things are in Him
  • Chapter XX: That He is before and beyond even all eternal things
  • Chapter XXI: Whether this is the 'age of the age' or the 'ages of the ages'
  • Chapter XXII: That He alone is what He is and who He is
  • Chapter XXIII: That this good is equally Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and that this is the one necessary being which is altogether and wholly and solely good
  • Chapter XXIV: A speculation as to what kind and how great this good is
  • Chapter XXV: Which goods belong to those who enjoy this good and how great they are
  • Chapter XXVI: Whether this is the 'fullness of joy' which the Lord promises

Translations edit

There are different translations of the Proslogion.

Chapter I edit

Excerpt:Psalms 27:8

Editions edit

  • "Proslogion" (in English), St. Anselm: Basic Writings, edited and translated by S. N. Deane. 1962. Chicago: Open Court. ISBN 0-87548-109-4.
  • "Anselmus Cantuariensis Proslogion" (in Latin). The Latin Library. Retrieved July 25, 2006.

References edit

  1. ^ Logan, Ian. 2009. Reading Anselm’s Proslogion: The History of Anselm’s Arguments and its Significance Today. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. p. 85.
  2. ^ Moore, Scott H. "Proslogion." Scott Moore. Waco, TX: Bayler University. Archived 12 May 1997. Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  3. ^ Dowbrowski, Daniel. 2006. Rethinking the Ontological Argument: A Neoclassical Theistic Response. Ch. 1. p. 14. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-86369-8.
  4. ^ St. Anselm. 1078 [1903]. "Exhortation of the mind to the contemplation of God." Ch. 1 in Proslogium (1926 reprint ed.), translated by S. N. Deane. Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company.
  5. ^ Burr, David. 1996. Anselm On God's Existence. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook. New York: Fordham University. ch. 1.
  6. ^ Psalms 27:8